Sunday, 30 September 2012

Pre-winter Cleanup

Pre-Winter Cleanup


The days are getting shorter, less daylight means less heat and the plants are fading away.  In the greenhouse I have cut back the tomato plants to leave just enough to support the last few tomatoes of the year.  Any green ones left will soon be harvested and stored to ripen slowly.  
 My grandpa & Granny Delcourt used to wrap their late green tomatoes in newspaper and store them in boxes to ripen.  The problem with doing that is the need to check once or twice a week to see which ones are ripe enough and also to check for any going bad.  I have  found it is really not necessary to wrap & box them - just put them on cardboard or layers of newspaper a shelf in a cool place and  make sure they are not touching each other.  You can then just walk past and choose the ones that are ripe enough or get rid of any going bad.  
I was going to pull out the purple bush beans but they are still trying to give us a few beans so I will wait until they are finished then pull them up and dig up the soil.  
The carrots are OK where they are until we are ready for them.  They last quite well in the soil as long as there are no bugs eating them.
 From left to right - the edge of the carrot patch, some of the purple bush beans, the new growth of peas and the mass of strawberry runners.

My Egyptian onions (aka Walking Onions - as mentioned on previous blog page) are doing great.  I did pick all the little onion bulblets and planted them out 2 or 3 weeks ago.  They have sprouted up and are doing very nicely.  As a matter of fact a couple that I had planted about a month ago were large enough to pick as green onions, which we did harvest today.

The outside garden looks very barren compared to what it was a month or two ago.  All the squash vines are in the compost as are the bean vines.  Some of the beans that I didn't pull up but only broke them off have re-sprouted and are trying to start all over again.  We will soon be having frost which will do them in.   Next it will be time to turn over the soil for winter, and I guess I will find out if the acorns that are raining down from the big Oak Tree are going to sprout or just become organic boost for the soil.  The picture below is the big Oak Tree that rains acorns and leaves down on the shed & greenhouse.  When the acorns hit the shed roof it sounds like someone is attacking with a sling shot!

The flower garden at the front of the house has been trimmed back some as some of the petunias were taking over and looking a bit weary.  In their place we have put in some chrysanthemums and the one we planted in the spring is getting ready to bloom.  It will soon be time to take out all the annuals and clean up the beds for winter.  Don't want to leave any trash on the surface for bugs to hide under.

The salmon pink geranium is one huge plant, and the purple petunia is also just one huge plant.  The white Alyssum were just a few small plants in spring but nearly took over the whole bed.

Another chore I am not looking forward to is moving our peony plant.  It is hidden behind the end of the greenhouse and is going to be moved to where a hydrangea has been removed.  It didn't do very well so we decided it would be nicer to have the peony out where we can see it. 

Of course there is another problem to deal with - leaves, leaves & more leaves, plus acorns raining down constantly.  When the acorns hit the shed roof it sounds like someone is attacking with a sling shot!  I have found the best way to pick them up is with an aluminum scoop shovel as a rake just doesn't work.  There are at least 3 or 4 Oak trees and a few Maple trees - of course they are the kind with giant leaves.    

The Times Colonist newspaper today (August 30th) stated that August and September were the driest on record.  And the forecast for the next 10 days or so promises more of the same.  When the rains finally come ... they probably won't know when to quit.

The temperature is bound to start dropping soon so it will be time to drain the garden hoses and shut off all outside faucets, then have the irrigation system winterized.  

Regards to all

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Fall Harvest

* Fall Harvest *
And what do you do with all that bounty?

So you had a good growing season and you have produce that you really don't know what to do with.  I am sure many people would love to have that problem.  
As mentioned in previous blogs, there has been a lot of fruit that is being shared through "Cowichan Valley Recycle".  The group operating this site is doing a fantastic job of trying to get people to offer things for free instead of just throwing them away.  Like they say, "one person's trash is another person's treasure" - and some of the items offered by people are weird and/or wonderful.  The website address is -

Another way of sharing the bounty is offering fruit & veggies to the food bank or to your local senior's centre.  Many seniors have had to move into apartments or condos as they are no longer able to look after gardens, and they really appreciate fresh produce.

OK OK - it is a terrible picture, fuzzy, out of focus due to me not checking the camera settings.  And we ate the biggest one before
I realized the problem.
The biggest tomato in the picture was
17 ounces / a bit over 500 grams.
And it was delicious! 
The remainder will be cut up & preserved.

 I let some of the scarlet runner beans go to seed, the pods shown are drying out and the seed saved for next year.  I will have enough that I will be offering some seeds to anyone on Recycle that wants them.  Many of the beans were over a foot long, but are best picked before the beans start forming inside the pod.
 * * *

 Well, the squash did OK - 2 are missing from the lineup, having been picked & devoured.
The variety is "Sweet Meat", the largest in the picture is about 10" across and 12 lbs.
Janet (gramma & wife) cuts the squash into pieces about 1 2/2" or 40mm in size, trims the hard skin off, steams the pieces then puts them in a pan with brown sugar & butter and bakes them.  They come out tasting like sweet potatoes.
* * *
So that takes us to the abundance of apples and plums, and all the work that was done - as was mentioned on the last blog.  The following will give you a bit of an idea of what was accomplished. 


Jams & Jellies lined up 

all nicely trimmed

ready for Ashley's sale.

Complete display 
of all the various items
Ashley made, often with a little
help from "Gramma"

Apple Sauce
Apple Jelly
Apply pie filling 
Apple Butter
Plum Jam
Plum Jelly 
Raspberry Jam
Raspberry Jelly
Blackberry Jam
Blackberry Jelly 


Outside bake sales are 

not always fun

as Ashley found out!

Once you get a bit more organized  

and established things work out a 

bit better.

Another day

Another display

 of "Yummies by Ashley"

with pastry so tender

it melts in your mouth!

* * *
So - now it is up to you!
If you have the produce, time, energy and a little initiative,
you too can cook/bake up a storm and make a little extra money.  

* * *

Friday, 21 September 2012

Indian Summer

Indian Summer

Summer hardly came here on Vancouver Island but fall has been terrific.  We have had a long spell of sunny days and cool nights.  The leaves are turning colour and starting to fall and so are the acorns and when they fall on the roof of my shed from about 50' up they make a noise that is quite startling - especially if you are inside the shed!
There has been a lot of work going on here, cleaning up the garden is only one small chore that was pretty much completed a week or two ago.  As I don't have a chipper/shredder I cut everything into small (about 6") pieces before heaping it on the compost.  The outside bush beans are gone but the ones I planted in the greenhouse very early are still producing.  They will probably go on until the frost gets them.  The variety was "Royalta", a purple bean that turns green when cooked.  We still have some beets and carrots to harvest and a late planting of peas are up about 6" already.  It will be interesting to see if they produce anything.  I guess it will depend on how cold it gets as they are pretty hardy.  The tomatoes are still producing and I guess there are at least 3 dozen good sized ones on the vines with half of those nearly ready to pick.  Some are about 4" across but have cracked at the stem end.  I think I mentioned that in a previous posting.
This is the time of year when one has to consider what to do with all the bounty that is available.
Here on Vancouver Island people have many fruit trees that more or less go wild and the fruit is not always harvested, but instead it just ripens then falls on the ground.  I hate to see this happen so I "shopped around" and found a few people who were willing to share rather than let the fruit go to waste.  I have been taking beans (which I had in abundance plus some donated by others) to the Cowichan Valley Senior's Centre here in Duncan.  The beans are done but now they have been getting plums and apples.
I have a Granddaughter who is really into cooking, preserving and eating healthy.  You may have seen the link to her blog on the right side of this page, which is "Cooking with Jax".  Our other granddaughter (Ashley) who lives here on Vancouver Island is following in her footsteps and I think would like "Jax" to be living closer so she could get together and compare recipes etc.  
Anyhow, Ashley has been working with Gramma Drew and learning the tricks and shortcuts when it comes to making jelly, jam, plum and apple pies and apple sauce.  In addition they produced a lot of apples cut in thin wedges, put in quart sealers and the space filled with a special cinnamon sauce so that all you have to do is make a pie shell and add the filling all ready made.  Yummy!

And if you think the special cinnamon sauce is only good for pie filling - I sure have news for you!
It is terrific on pancakes, waffles, ice cream - you name it!
I think Jax has the recipe for it so if you want it drop her a line.
 * * *

 Gramma and Ashley processing the plums.

After being washed & pitted, they go into the chopper then are cooked & made into jam.

We have also experimented with making what we call "PLUM DELIGHT".  It is sort of like Turkish Delight, or if you have been to Cashmere in Washington State you might have tried "Aplets and Cotlets" which are world famous.  This is a variation on what they make.  Probably not as good as the professionals make but we think they are winners!  (both the cooks and the product!)

 We ended up with two varieties of apples.  Don't ask the name of the variety - all I know is "the price was right!"...

The green ones were larger than the red ones and were firmer when cooked so they made very good pie filling.  The only problem with them was they were uneven shapes so the hand crank peeler didn't work too well.

Nothing earth shattering about this picture - it just shows the apples being cooked down.

Some were made into sauce using a food mill and some went into a cloth bag and hung up to drip the juice to use for apple jelly.  Or just plain juice. 

Another load of apples.  We gave away a couple of bags to a lady in Lake Cowichan who was making sauce for her baby, and the boxfull went to the Senior's Centre to be shared there.

Gramma & Ashley get started on peeling and processing apples.

A few jars of plum jam on counter.

There is a saying that "You can't get too much of a good thing"... well, when it comes to apples and all the work it takes to pick, wash, peel & process,  I can tell you from experience that after a few days of having my thumbs turn brown and cracked from splitting & pitting plums followed by cutting and trimming apples by the bucketful, I was getting to the point of "too much".  Ashley did accuse me of being "like a machine" because I  kept going and going.  At least she didn't call me the Energizer Bunny!

 * * *

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Walking Onions

Walking Onions
Egyptian Onions

At the end of my last post  I said I would do another posting on how lettuce is grown in the desert.
I think I will postpone that - didn't seem to be much response for readers.  So, I offer this instead.
About 70 years ago, my Grandfather was probably growing these onions.  I don't remember it very clearly, but he grew huge leeks, blue potatoes and lots of other terrific veggies.  When I started my own garden (much much later in life) I obtained some of his strange onions.  
As grampa was born in Belgium, I always thought they were Belgian onions.  Much to my surprise I found out different.  Mind you, I hate to admit how many years I gave away "babies" all the while telling people they were Belgian onions.  Wrong!

Not many years ago I finally found out they are Egyptian Onions, also known as Walking Onions.
 Live and learn!  And to my surprise I find Wikipedia refers to them as "Egyptian Tree Onions".

File:Egyptian Tree Onion, Walking Onion, Topset Onion (Allium cepa var. proliferum).jpg 
This view of them kind of says it all.  Instead of setting seeds on the top of the stalks, they form a clump of small onions.  Bulblets?  
No matter what you call them, they are very interesting to grow.  As you can see from this picture the bulblets/babies/sets (whatever!) grow at the top of the stem, then often send another shoot out and form a second set of "baby onions".

So - now you are probably wondering what possible use these onions can be other than a good way to start a conversation when showing off your garden.

When the bulblets have formed in late summer, you can harvest them.  I think you might have a problem with trying to peel them to cook as they don't get very big.  The largest are sometimes the size of a penny, but many are the size of peas or smaller.  In the fall the main plant stems with the bulblets will die back, letting the bulblet cluster land on the ground.  Hence the term "Walking Onions" as they sort of walk away from the main plant, and when they land on the ground they will root and develop into a cluster of new young onions.  It might be spring when you notice them doing this.  The best way is to pick them as the stems start wilting and you can store them in a cool dry place and plant them very early .  OR as a better alternative you can separate them and  plant them in late summer.  Make sure the "pointy end"is up,of course, and don't cover them with dirt but just put them sort of half way into the ground.  They will sprout and be rooted and ready to go very quickly.  This gives you green onions much quicker than planting seeds.

One nice thing about these onions is they are very hardy.  They survived sub-zero weather in the Interior of B.C. (Quesnel) and didn't seem to suffer a bit.

When you plant a bulblet  you can either used it as a green onion or leave it to mature into a large hardy plant.  After the first year it will start to send up shoots around the main little bulb and then you will have a larger number of "main shoots"  to produce little bulblets.

So - my Grampa's onions are now spread all over the place.  I used to have a lot of large plants and passed them along through "Cowichan Re-Cycle".  I am sure he would be pleased to know his plants have survived the generations and are going strong.

If you want more information there a lots of images on the internet and if you just want to tell me if you have these and enjoy them, I would be happy to chat or exchange e-mails.


Monday, 3 September 2012

Lettuce & how it grows in the desert

L e t t u c e 

And how it grows in the desert

What wonderful stuff!  Lettuce goes with so many things and is so commonplace that it is taken for granted.  And there are so many varieties!  Lots of types, colours and some taste different than others.  Leaf, Romaine, Butter, and probably the most popular, - Iceberg.  The most popular colour of course is green but there are various shades of red too.
Much of the lettuce sold in stores is from either California or Arizona.
If you are interested in seeing how it is grown & harvested in Arizona, I am posting a number of pictures taken in the Yuma area.  Not interested? Yawn?  Oh well!  I am posting it anyhow! LOL
* * * 

Gourmet or "baby" lettuce - overhead irrigation.  Most crops are flood irrigated.
When the farmer wants to irrigate the field they call  the water district and order
water by the acre foot - meaning the field would be flooded to the depth they order
if the water was not soaking in as it floods.  Also the planting beds are raised so the
plants don't get covered with water.

Are you thinking "rain?" in the desert?  Well, yes, it does rain in the desert and when it does
rain it really does a job of it.  And even though the area is mostly sand & rock it DOES not soak
in right away.  When touring the area you will see a "dry wash" and even a river with no water in it.  But when it rains, those dry washes and rivers become raging torrents.

The trailer goes along beside the mower and the filled boxes are transferred from the mower to the transport vehicle.  The lettuce is then taken to the processing plant.

The lettuce is planted in two rows in each raised bed.
I know, I switched from leaf lettuce to head lettuce but I wanted to show a picture 
of how wet it gets in the fields.  Hard to do any harvesting in the rain - you can see why.

It is important to get the lettuce into the cool and on to market quickly.

A small hand operated forklift is used to move the stacks of crates of lettuce 
around inside the trucks.

* * * 
My next blog will be "Lettuce - Part 2"
and I will deal with head lettuce then.
* * *
If you find this interesting, please let me know
otherwise I am going to drop this idea.

I have dozens more pictures showing all the many crops being grown and how they  
are harvested in the Yuma AZ area 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Fall Cleanup

FALL CLEANUP time is starting a bit early this year.  I keep telling people that fall is going to be 3 weeks early to make up for spring being 3 weeks late this  year.  Oh well!

For those of you in Australia following this blog, you can disregard this and instead go back to what I said about spring.  I hope you have a nice warm spring so everything grows quickly for you.

My scarlet runner beans are destined for the compost heap very soon.  I think the "Enormous" variety that I tried was tasty and had huge beans but they seem to quit producing too soon. I sem to remember many years ago I grew a smaller variety and I recall them producing right up until they got the frost.
Gardening clip art

I have already trimmed my tomatoes back.  Like I mentioned previously, my tomatoes went wild due, I am sure, to the imported soil I filled the raised beds with.  Must have had too much nitrogen in it as the leaves were huge and the suckers that normally only grow at a leaf joint were growing part way along the leaves.  I also have cut off any flowers and the teeny tiny tomatoes that won't get big enough to save for later.  I have thinned out the leaves some so the air can circulate better and also I can see the tomatoes as they ripen.  It has been a bumper crop, but the end is in sight.
* * * 

The leaves have started to fall off the maple and oak trees.  I wish I could train them to fall into the yards where they grow instead of onto my lawn!  As many of you may have found out (the hard way), some leaves break down into compost quite quickly.  Maple leaves and leaves off fruit trees usually go quickly but Oak leaves are a different story.  They don't do bad if they are chopped up so picking them up with a lawnmower helps.  Our plastic composter is not large enough to take all the darn leaves we end up with so last fall they all got piled in one corner and were hauled to the dump where they have a huge composting facility. The main culprits are on the property next door so my neighbour came over and we wrapped them in a tarp and hauled them away.  Nice!

As mentioned, my composter is not big enough so I took some fairly heavy wire fencing and made an enclosure in a horseshoe shape with a stake at each end.  Makes a decent enclosure where all the larger garden waste can sit and "simmer" all winter.

I have also used old shipping pallets as the wall of a composter.  They work well but this one takes up less space and seeing as we no longer have 2 acres to mess about in, this one is good for us.

There are a number of things you can do to hasten the composting process.  If you have a chipper shredder you are fortunate.  However, the price of even a small one means it isn't practical for the small garden so you just have to make your clippers work overtime!  Things like corn stalks take a while to break down but you can hasten this by clipping them into short pieces.  The shorter the better but be reasonable!  Another thing that helps is grass clippings.  They break down into a mush and that keeps the more solid waste damp.  Once it starts to "work" then you should turn the pile regularly so it all breaks down evenly.  And if you have lots of grass clippings, you can make a separate pile for them and when they break down into a soggy black mush you can use them in the spring under your corn plantings.  Corn loves grass clippings.  Then later in the spring you can use new clippings as mulch around your raspberry canes.  They like the nitrogen and your canes should grow nice and tall and produce lots of berries.

Don't work too hard!
Kick back and relax!


  . I have already trimmed my tomatoes back.  Like I mentioned previously, my tomatoes went wild due, I am sure, to the imported soil I filled the raised beds with.  Must have had too much nitrogen in it as the leaves were huge and the suckers that normally only grow at a leaf joint were growing part way along the leaves.  I also have cut off any flowers and the teeny tiny tomatoes that won't get big enough to save for later.  I have thinned out the leaves some so the air can circulate better and also I can see the tomatoes as they ripen.  It has been a bumper crop, but the end is in sight