2013 Edible Garden Tour a Great Success!

I want to thank Claudia Bolli and Amanda for bringing a bunch of fabulous green thumbs to my place to view my garden and yard. It was great to meet people who love gardening as much as I do.

Here are some quick links to some of the things we discussed:

Sheet Mulching Workshop (2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 
Thanks everyone for coming by!
 
 

Edmonton Journal’s Homes & Design Magazine

 
Wow! The Summer 2013 issue of Homes and Design features an article called “Backyard Eats are Treats” and it has a series of photos of my awesome herb spiral. This online magazine is pretty swanky and worth a read, but if you want to see my herb spiral you can fast forward to pages 36/37.
Thanks to Claudia Bolli of Wild Green Garden Consulting (interviewed along with Jim Hole) for the opportunity to provide the Edmonton Journal with photos of my garden.
I built my herb spiral in 2010 and I grow oregano, thyme, sage, parsley, rosemary, mint, lavender, Serrano peppers, chives, garlic, cilantro and basil right outside my back door. It’s one of my favorite features in my garden.

Silver Spoon Plant Markers: Buy Them at Salisbury Greenhouse

imageYup, I finally got up the nerve to contact Salisbury Greenhouse and ask if they’d be interested in selling my silver plated spoons. They were kind enough to place an order for 22 spoons, all herb markers.

I was so excited about making them that I forgot how hard it is to pound out two dozen spoons (not to mention the several spoons I made only to have a letter skip and destroy the finished product).

Anyways, it’s not going to make me rich, or even remotely famous. But it was a good learning experience.

Now go buy them!

Winning Garden 2012!

The Edmonton Horticultural Society holds an annual contest to determine the city’s finest gardens in twelve different categories. Anyone who has the entry fee can participate, and this year I threw my tilley hat in the ring in the “vegetable garden” category.

To my surprise and delight, I won first place. My Mom’s first response was to ask, “How many entries were there?” So like my Mom.

In any case, here are a few pictures.

Drying Herbs: Saving Thyme in a Bottle

Picking Oregano Leaves

The best time to begin picking your herbs for drying is long before they flower. I always seem to miss that date when they are hearty enough to have a good supply of leaves, but not so hearty that they’ve begun to set flowers and seed. This year I was a little late, especially with my thyme which was blooming profusely when I finally got around to harvest.

For best flavour I pick my leaves early in the day before they get too warm. I put out a stool, sit down with my basket and scissors and start clipping away. Depending on the herb, my technique varies.

For oregano, I grasp the stalk low and pull up slowly to tear off the leaves, leaving a bare stalk behind. Usually the stalk breaks near the tender top, and I pick those leaves off by hand, avoiding any of the blossoms. I wash them in a salad spinner and place them in an even layer in my dehydrator.

I dry them at somewhere between 105C and 115C for as long as they take to become crumbly. Depending on the moisture content and relative humidity, that can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days. If the leaves are overlapping here and there, it’s good to move them around every once in a while to get more even air distribution.

The slower you dry the herbs, the more flavour they retain, so some patient people dry their herbs at room temperature. This may be impossible in humid parts of the country where mould would take advantage of yummy herbs sitting out on a counter or hanging in a dark corner.

To pick individual leaves off of thyme would be unbearably tedious so I cut the stalks whole, trim off the flowers and bring in the entire bunch to wash. Once they’ve been dried in the dehydrator the leaves are easy to separate from the stalks.

It takes a lot of thyme (and patience) to collect a small amount of the herb

Basil, parsley and sage are simple to harvest if I just patiently sit and pluck off the foliage, trying not to take too much of the stem along with the leaf. If I save any chives at all for drying (and I sometimes don’t bother), I’m careful only to take the freshest youngest leaves.

I love coriander seed, although they aren’t ready to harvest just yet. When the time comes I simply pull the ripe seeds off in my hand and leave them to dry for a few days on the kitchen counter in a wooden bowl. The leaves (cilantro) don’t keep very well, but I put a few in the freezer for soups and winter casseroles.

Rosemary I primarily use as a fresh herb, but whatever is left at the end of the season will be harvested similarly to thyme, stalk and all, then separated after drying.

For those without a dehydrator (heck, mine’s borrowed from my sister-in-law), herbs can be dried in the microwave. Use two layers of microwave-safe paper towel under the herbs and two more on top. Dry for thirty seconds at a time, and most will be done in under two minutes. It’s easy to over-process herbs this way, so be careful.

I find that some years my oregano produces ample leaves, while my sister-in-law might be drowning in basil and a neighbour may have more rosemary than he knows what to do with. Exchanging and bartering herbs is a custom that goes back centuries, and who am I to argue with tradition?

Sage

Thyme

Oregano

 

Update: The Herb Spiral

Herb Spiral: July, 2010

It’s been two months since I transferred over my hardy herbs and seeded the annuals in my new herb spiral.

See May 2010 The Herb Spiral

Visually, the spiral does not disappoint. I love the way it’s slowly filling out, with cilantro growing tall on the north-east corner and oregano getting bushy on the south. Basil and sage enjoy the afternoon and evening sun from their vantage point on the west. Rosemary sits cheerfully atop the spiral where conditions are driest and most intimidating. Alternating  jalapeno and habernero pepper plants wind their way slowly from the bottom of the spiral upwards. Parsley thrives in the relative shade of the cilantro, while thyme enjoys its own space in the full sun. Garlic plants fill out the remainder of the  north-east side of the herb spiral, towering over a struggling lemon basil plant that a friend donated to my culinary garden.

Chives and spearmint have been banished to pots on the side (spearmint invades aggressively if left to it’s own). Ok, if you look closely you’ll see that I have chives in the spiral as well, but I swear that if they produce so much as one offspring, I’ll banish them entirely. Chives left to blossom and go to seed can produce dozens of little plants that pop up yards away from their mama plant. Much as I love chives, I don’t love them that much. (I harvest the chive blossoms for Chive Blossom Vinegar – see June 2010 – and that generally prevents those pesky progeny).

I’ve been eating oregano, sage and thyme for two months now, cilantro leaves for at least six weeks, and bits of rosemary in recent days. My favorite is the fussy sweet basil that began slowly this spring but is now gaining ground. I’m hesitant to strip my two plants of too many leaves before I’m certain they are strong enough to endure the annoying fluctuations in weather that have plagued us this summer.

Herbs are an essential part of my kitchen, and having the herb spiral a few feet out the back door has proven to be a spectacular addition to my culinary creativity. It looks and smells fantastic as well, and isn’t that the goal of any zone 3 gardener?

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The Herb Spiral sits just outside my back door:

Sifting Your Compost

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never find that everything in your composter is ready to use at the same time.

When my composter is ready to be unloaded, I place it all in a rubbermaid container and let it dry for several days. I then sift it to make a nice consistent compost that is ready to go on the garden.

Sifting is important to get out the big chunks of material that have perhaps not fully composted yet. Putting non-composted material on your garden is not wise, as it will continue to break down in your beds and may create excess nitrogen. In addition, you don’t want to attract insects and other critters directly to your garden – or in my case my dog. I’ve actually seen her pick out bits of rotten banana peel as if they are a delightful treat I put in the compost especially for her.

I use a combination of a cardboard box (the one you get from the garden centre when you buy bedding plants) and a plastic bedding plant tray with 3/8 inch holes. They fit together perfectly and by shaking the combination I get just the right size material in the bottom cardboard tray. The remaining material goes in the composter for more work.

The result is a nice fine compost that is ready to be used and full of nutrition.

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Chive Blossom Vinegar

Chives blossom all summer long, but the freshest and most ample blossoms are in spring. Pick blossoms when they are young to get the best flavour.

Chive Blossom Vinegar

2 cups chive blossoms

2 cups white wine vinegar

6 cloves garlic

Wash chive blossoms and pat dry. Soak in vinegar for two weeks, then strain. Pour the vinegar into a decorative bottle and add fresh garlic cloves. Seal with cork and wax.

Chives can also be used for a punch of colour in a fresh salad; simply add the petals of  several blossoms. Or, if you’re more adventurous, try this recipe:

Chive Blossom Dressing

1/2 cup low-fat mayo (or yogurt/mayo)

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp chopped chives

1+ clove pressed garlic

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp cilantro (optional)

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

1/8 tsp salt

Petals of 3-4 chive blossoms (as garnish)

Mix the ingredients and use on your favourite salad. Garnish the salad with chive blossoms before serving.

This also makes a great veggie dip or a replacement for plain mayo in any sandwich.

The Herb Spiral

An herb spiral is a raised circular bed designed to provide herbs with a variety of growing conditions. They’ve been around since the middle ages and are once again in vogue among gardeners, especially those who practice permaculture.

Herbs that prefer drier conditions are placed near the top of the spiral and those that prefer more moisture are placed near the bottom. Micro-climates allow for some plants to have access to more heat and others less. Shadier spots near the north side favor herbs that prefer less direct sun.

I began building my own herb spiral last fall. Early this spring I transferred my sage, oregano, thyme and chives from other locations in the yard and planted some garlic. I seeded cilantro and parsley and they are well on their way.

I was given some spearmint but left it in a pot alongside, as it can become very invasive if planted directly in the soil. In the fall I’ll bury the pot to the rim and that should allow the spearmint to over-winter.

I bought basil and  rosemary from the garden centre and planted them this week. I’ll use an empty juice bottle to cover them overnight for the first few weeks until all risk of frost is over. I also added a dozen pepper plants – red hot cherry and jalapeno.

Building the herb spiral:

This was a fun project. I picked a location close to my back door and began by laying out a pattern using a garden hose. I dug up the grass around the herb spiral and saved the sod. On the circular area where I planned to put the spiral, I placed cardboard over the grass to kill it, then placed the clumps of sod upside down on the cardboard to build volume.

I placed landscape fabric over the area surrounding the circle and defined the spiral with pavers and bricks. I filled in the surrounding zone with cedar chips and small flat white stones. I added soil and created a spiral pattern with stones, and left it for the winter.

In the spring I added more soil and raised the spiral an additional foot to create a greater difference in height. I then transferred my plants and seeded some of the others. I bought a few bedding plants to fill out the spiral and in the end I was very happy with the outcome.

Making an Upside Down Tomato Planter

 

 

This year I decided I wanted own an upside down tomato planter, similar to the Topsy Turvy planters seen in magazines and on TV. With the price as high as $20 for a single planter, I had to figure out a way I could make one for far less. I wanted it to look nice and be functional, but not break the bank. 

I bought some green waterproof fabric at the discount fabric store for $2.50 a meter. It was great to work with because it had no fray. I also purchased a 90 cm package of no-name velcro at the dollar store for a buck. 

I had a 23 cm (9 inch) peony ring (plant support) that I wasn’t using and I thought would work perfectly for the upper support. At the dollar store there were also some  25 cm wire hanging baskets which would have worked nicely and were only $1.50, but I didn’t buy them. If I hadn’t had the peony ring I would have used a wire coat hanger or two.

Using  C= pi x d , I calculated that I needed approximate 73.5cm of fabric for the circumference and I added 2.5 cm for the seam allowances and 1 cm for flexibility for a total of  77 cm. I cut out a piece of fabric 77cm by 66cm.

I folded over 5 cm along the long side of the fabric and pressed it. This would become the top of the planter. I made three buttonholes 25 cm apart along this folded edge, with one of them 1.5 cm from the end. Between the buttonholes I sewed an upper row of velcro and a lower row of velcro, each 24 cm long.

I sewed the side seam, making sure to leave the buttonhole near the edge just outside the seam. Then I folded over the bottom seam of the planter 2 cm and sewed a hem leaving an opening large enough to insert a cord.

Instead of a cord I found a plastic cable tie that I thought would work  just as well. I ran it through the pocket at the bottom and cinched it up to make about a 5 cm hole.

I put the peony ring between the upper and lower velcro, folding a flap over and securing the velcro to itself. The three legs of the peony ring were threaded through the buttonholes. All I had to do was make a bend at the top of each leg and I had a three evenly spaced hooks to hang my tomato planter from.

Voila: only $3.50 for my tomato planter and I think it looks as good or better than the store bought version. I plan to plant a tomato in the bottom and perhaps a wave petunia in the top.