Baked Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

At the end of the growing season I had a large container of cherry tomatoes (thanks to my very productive Tumblers) and decided that I needed to find a new recipe. I had simply been popping them in my mouth every time I opened the fridge door. At that rate I wasn’t going to get them all eaten, so I decided to try baking them and having them as a side dish. Here’s the delicious result.

Recipe:

Cherry tomatoes

3 cloves garlic

fresh thyme and chives

fresh ground pepper

1 tbsp olive oil, drizzled

1 tbsp lemon juice, drizzled

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes and enjoy

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Ratatouille

Ratatouille (before the oven)

I love ratatouille – the combination of flavors is amazing. I especially like to introduce it to people whom have never tried it. I found this recipe for Ratatouille’s Ratatouille (from the movie) and I have made it several times. I use my own tomato sauce if I have some on hand – I make it with plenty of garlic, oregano, thyme and basil simmered for several hours to make a nice thick rich sauce. A good quality tomato puree is a fine substitute if you don’t have any homemade tomato sauce.

This year I can proudly say that I grew my own eggplant from seed. I planted Hansel (from T & T Seeds) and although I had great germination, only one of my plants produced flowers – the one against a warm south-facing wall with plenty of heat. It was purely an accident that I planted one there in my flowerbed – I did it because I had one leftover plant and I thought “what the heck”. Now I know that if I want eggplants to flower they need a cart load of heat.

My Eggplant Hansel

Edible Garden Tour 2010

Ron Berezan Talks to the Tour Participants

This year’s Edible Garden Tour, hosted by Ron Berezan AKA The Urban Farmer, was held on August 14th. Meeting at Giovanni Caboto Park on a cloudy Saturday morning, fifty enthusiastic gardeners split into two groups and proceeded to visit ten amazing gardens distributed about the Edmonton area. Some of those taking part in the tour already had enviable gardens of their own, while others were planning for the day when they might.

The tour featured everything from backyard orchards to front yard vegetable gardens, and was brimming with inspiring ideas for both experienced and novice gardeners.

Each home on the circuit incorporated aspects of permaculture gardening; landscapes that work with nature to provide food, medicinal plants, and animal products and in a sustainable way. Permaculturists create a sustainable, productive environment through recycling, composting, reducing water needs and using microclimates to their advantage.

The forest garden is one example permaculture in action. Berezan’s own backyard is a testament to multi-layer design with stacking of canopy trees over shrubs and herbaceous plants followed by root and cover crops. Each layer in this polyculture interacts, creating a complex yet fundamental ecosystem.

A visit to the Mustard Seed Community Garden, aptly named “Peas Be With You”, demonstrated what can be done when a small plot of land is transformed into a neighbourhood garden space. Shared by both local residents and the homeless, the Mustard Seed garden produces food that is prepared and eaten by the green thumbs that participate.

We saw some amazing private gardens throughout the city as well. The fruit of years of grafting and nurturing were apparent in one homeowner’s apple orchard which featured trees drooping under the weight of as many as four different species of apple.

A Glenora area homeowner encourages people to slow down and smell the roses – literally. She has incorporated rest stops in her front garden and a nearby public access area with signs which invite people to stop and explore.

We met Roy Berkenbosch, winner of this year’s Front Gardens in Bloom (Edible Garden Category). Roy and his wife have transformed their front yard into an edible landscape full of beans, beets, and other culinary treats, while maintaining an attractive aesthetic.

I personally enjoyed our visit to a backyard apiary, although I have to admit I was worried that the bees might be able to smell my discomfort. As many as 50,000 bees inhabit this backyard beehive and it has already produced over 40 lbs of honey for the amateur beekeepers.

The 2010 Edible Garden Tour was an amazing private view into the yards of ordinary Edmontonians with extraordinary vision. I’m always inspired by touring other gardens, and this year was no exception.

I’m already working on plans to build a solar food dryer, rebuild my square foot raised beds to be more efficient, and I’ve dug my mom’s old canner out of storage so that I can experiment with canning more varieties of vegetables this fall.

Thanks to the Urban Farmer for hosting the tour. Here’s hoping that after Ron departs for warmer B.C. climes the tours continue. Permaculture is increasingly popular among those of us who enjoy the feel of dirt under our nails, and we can all use a little inspiration now and again.

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.

Building a Rotating Composter

Commercial rotating composters are costly, but effective. I have one that I bought from Lee Valley Tools and it works great. Unfortunately they sell for $185, so adding a second one was over my budget.  

I also have a standard square wood-slat composter that I never remember (or should I say bother) to turn with a pitchfork because it’s difficult to do. Some of the material in that compost bin has been there for eight years. It was when I bought my first compost drum that I really began to take full advantage of the medley of leaves, grass and kitchen scraps around the house and yard.

I decided to make my own rotating compost bin with the goal of keeping it affordable and humble. I did some research and found plans for a number of rotating bins on the internet, but I was particularly inspired by one that I saw in person when on a garden tour last fall in Edmonton. It was simple, inexpensive and, according to the owner, effective.  

To make the composter, I used repurposed 2×8 preserved wood that I had on hand and an olive barrel from The Italian Centre Shop which cost $23. I also bought four tie plates at 87¢ each and four joist hangers at $1.17 each.  

I cut the 2x6s in the dimensions as shown below. I’m not sure the precise angle of the cut, but I designed it so that the legs would be 40 inches apart (outside measurement) at the bottom. 

I put two legs together as shown and screwed a tie plate on each side to hold them solidly. I then stood the legs up and used a level to place the joist hangers six inches from the bottom of each leg. I then used 30 inch cross pieces of 2×6 lumber to attach the two sets of legs together.  

I had some 2 inch PVC pipe on hand, so that’s what I decided would serve as my bar. I know I’ll have to reinforce the PVC eventually, but for the time being I thought it would do. (I replaced it a few days later when I found a discarded metal bar of the same size.) 

I cut two 2 inch holes 20 inches from the bottom of each side of my barrel. The barrel was 40 inches in total height with the lid, and I wanted to have the barrel well-balanced when it is rotating. Once the holes were cut, I inserted the PVC pipe and placed the barrel on the stand.  The notches hold the pipe in place.

The next day I decided to make it into a double composter, so I built another set of legs and added a second barrel. Now I should have lots of composting space for the year. If not, I know where to find another barrel and where to buy some more tie plates and joist hangers.

Using the barrel is simple, and when it’s a quarter full it spins with almost no effort. It’s wise not to overfill the container (keep it under half full), as I imagine it becomes more difficult to spin as it gets heavier.

I leave the lid off so that oxygen can reach the amalgam of yard and kitchen waste, although if it rains hard I like to cover it up. I might need to put a small drain at the bottom front, but for now it seems unnecessary. I try to remember to spin it every day (with the lid on of course) and I hope that in a few weeks I’ll have some great compost.

           

 
 
 
 
 
 

Making a Clothes Pin Bag

OK, technically a clothespin bag has nothing to do with gardening.

Still, I can’t resist sharing a good idea and I think that having a funky clothespin bag is a great idea. Gardening involves using sunshine. Drying clothes on the line involves using sunshine. Ergo, making a clothespin bag could be seen as a garden project. Besides, every self-respecting gardener loves the smell of sheets dried in the fresh spring air. 

I have supplied a two part pattern which you need to print, cut out and paste together. Once you’ve done that, you should have a pattern that is 27 cm by 25 cm. My pattern follows the shape of a specific clothes hanger – your shape my need alteration. In addition, note that the pattern is 2 cm wider than the clothes hanger to allow for hems.

Choose a funky fabric or something classic. If you want the inside of the bag to be a different fabric than the outside, then pin two pieces of fabric together before cutting (making sure the wrong sides are together).

Fold the fabric over and place the pattern near the top.

Trace the pattern onto the fabric, then measure 80 cm and place the pattern in reverse at the bottom of the fabric. This length will determine the depth of your bag, so adjust it to your own needs. I have made some at 80 cm and some at as much as 110 cm. I use one bag for clothespins, one for an office organizer for my coat and personal items, and one at the back door for dog treats.

Cut out the pattern, and open up the center hole. If you are working with two fabrics, pin them together and baste them near the edges with the right sides showing.

Carefully pin and sew double fold bias tape around the opening. If your fabric is likely to fray, zigzag the remaining edges.

Fold the bottom to the top with right sides together and sew the exterior from the bottom corner to the top and back to the opposite bottom corner. Invert and press.

Gardening and Vegetarianism: Join the Club

Yum: Fresh Vegetables

Gardening and vegetarianism seem like a match made in heaven. Once you’ve decided to forgo meat, having fresh produce at hand is a wonderful way to enhance the vegetarian lifestyle.

It’s not just the fresh vegetables; a large part of what I appreciate most in my garden are the fresh herbs. Cooking with basil, oregano and cilantro straight from the plant is what makes culinary experimentation enjoyable.

So when I heard  that the South Edmonton Vegetarian and Gardening Club hosts a monthly potluck on the last Sunday of every month at Pleasantview Community Hall (10860 – 57 Ave NW), I was excited to bring a dish and find out what the group was all about.

The Club hosts the potluck which features a food demo by someone in the group followed by a tremendous and varied buffet, culminating in a presentation by a local speaker.

Ron Berezan, the Urban Farmer, was the guest speaker at the first potluck I attended back in May of 2009. Last month we heard from Bruce Bashforth of Bedrock Seed Bank about Xeriscape Gardening and use of native species.

The group’s April 25, 2010 speaker will be VcToria from VcToria’s Raw Food; she’ll be presenting “The Benefits of Raw Food”. VcToria teaches Beginners Raw Food classes (see http://www.vrfc.ca for more information).

Everyone is welcome: vegans, vegetarians, veg-curious, meat reducers, omnivores! I guess I would consider myself veg-curious, as I haven’t completely given up my chicken fingers just yet.

The potluck begins at 5:00 pm, and guests need to bring a vegetarian or vegan dish to serve approximately six people as well as their own reusable utensils and plates, mugs, bowls, etc. The cost is $3 per person / $6 per family for the potluck and speaker, or you can come for just the speaker at 6:30 pm. It’s a family event, so children are more than welcome to attend.

More information is available at: http://www.meetup.com/edmonton-vegetarians/