Monday, April 30, 2012

This Is Not Fake Bread

We had friends over for dinner on the weekend and they were convinced this was a fake loaf. An imitation of a loaf. A pretend food item. A trick piece of grain.

But it wasn't.

Instead, to prove it was edible, we tore it up, dipped it in olive oil, and then in dukka. (scroll down a bit to find the recipe - I used walnuts and almonds because I had no hazelnuts, nor did I add the mint) We ate the whole thing, I regret to say, so this is the only proof that it ever existed. Even the dukka is gone.

I could not do without cumin. It really is the most delicious of spices. And it makes a fake loaf taste sublime.

Birds In Trees

I was watching a small yellow bird perching in the Granny Smith apple tree this morning, watching it flit over the branches, peck at buds, and wondering what sort of bird it was, when FDPG came up and demanded to know what I was doing with the binoculars. FDPG has a passion (verging on obsession) for knowing what's going on around the yard. I handed over the binoculars and asked her to look at the bird for me.

"What do you think it is?" I said.

"I know what it is," she said, "give me those binoculars." FDPG is nothing if not confident. (Realize that up to this very second she had not actually SEEN the bird in question)

She squinted through the binoculars, then shrieked "OHMYGAWD! LOOKATTHAT!"

"What?!" I say, startled. Did a hawk grab the bird off the top of the tree? Did the bird wave at her? Smirk at her? Pick its nose? I can't think of anything that would warrant such a sudden horrified shriek, so I grab the glasses and look for myself. The bird is no longer there.

"The bird isn't there any more," she says, unnecessarily. No kidding Sherlock, I think. This is our latest favourite household expression, but I seem to be the only one who knows how to use it. I decide that this is a Correct Use Moment. That shriek would send any one out of any tree.

"That tree is filled with caterpillars!" she tells me. "I think I saw thousands of them. Maybe more." And yes, FDPG does think, act, and speak in Hyperbole Mode most of the time. In fact, I think she was born in Hyperbole Mode.

But I'm used to Hyperbole Mode, so my attention is fixed instead on the mention of numerous caterpillar nests in that tree. Always that tree. My heart sinks. I didn't use a dormant oil last year, mostly because it rained every time I thought to spray. I also didn't reapply Tanglefoot around the base of the fruit trees. Truth be told, I didn't do anything to those fruit trees. And we happen to live around a lot of deciduous forest-type trees. Messy, bug covered, deciduous, forest-type trees that like to share their insects. Thus the THOUSAND UPON MILLIONS of caterpillars on my Granny Smith.

I sigh. "Let's go see what kind of bird that was," I say. "Let's get out the bird book."

And so we did. We think it was a Yellow Warbler. I wish I had gotten a photo of it, because it would have been far more interesting than a photo of all those stupid bloody caterpillars.


If you're interested in what to do with YOUR caterpillars, you can do what I'm about to do and spray the trees with BT. It's an "organic usage" bacteria spray that causes the little buggers to get severe stomach cramps and die in agony. Well, I'm not actually positive that it does that, nor do I care at this moment in time, and when I was searching for a link to give those of you who don't know what Bt is, I discovered that its use is now considered controversial, which thrills me even more than the knowledge that my Granny Smith harbours many thousands of caterpillars because now I will have a pang of guilt when I spray, but I do know that it will kill the caterpillars.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Breaking Up Isn't Hard To Do

When you're talking about artichoke division, that is (oh, aren't I the wit?). I always thought it was a difficult procedure, thus the cheesy blog title. It didn't look possible. Which is why I am going to give you a brief showing of my recent triumph on the Artichoke Division Front.

Regard the little plants in this photograph. Ignore for a moment the rampant comfrey (which is useful as a plant fertilizing tea, a compost invigorator, and even as a poultice for torn ligaments and banged up elbows), the couch grass (for which I have no use whatsoever, gnash gnash), and the poor looking soil (ahem, no comment). Focus your eyes solely on those jagged little silvery slips. They are what's known in the garden world as Artichoke Offspring. They were prised off a bigger plant about 2 weeks ago.

 I'd read about Artichoke Division in gardening magazines but never tried it. It looked complicated and tangly. I've broken roots attempting this sort of thing with other plants and it can be traumatic. Mind you, if I'm being perfectly honest I should probably say that I never even NOTICED little baby plants on the artichokes before, but that's not to say that they weren't there. In fact, much to my chagrin, there were quite a few of them, sitting waiting patiently for me to notice them.

What you do is this: on a day when the soil is warm and dry, dig up the main plant ever so carefully, bringing up the entire clod of soil as much as possible. Lay it in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp. Gently knock off the soil around the base, and untangle the roots of the baby plants. You might, as I did, have to do some wrenching. Not fun, and you might even feel as though you're going to kill something; in fact, you might very well kill something, but don't let that dissuade you. Just focus on preserving as much root stock for each divided plant as possible, because you can trick the transplant with a little chemical help. Place the little plants aside (just don't leave them in the sun) and replant the main plant, adding a good handful of bone meal to the transplant hole. Scatter it over the roots, then water well before filling in the hole. Now, turn your Eagle Eye to the transplant divisions. When you plant them, make sure the soil they go into is better-than-garden-soil, add a good handful of bone meal and rock phosphate, even some kelp meal if you have it, then put the plants in a shady place for a week or so, until they recover from the indignity of the experience. If you can't do that, cover them with some shade fabric. That's what I did (it never occurred to me to give them a Proper Transplant Experience until I watched them wilt in the sun for several days in a row, so I'm giving you, once more, the benefit of my - uh - experience).

Let me introduce you to the Happy Parent now.

That large artichoke plant to the left? That's Mummy. Or...maybe...Daddy. Or is that Mummy and Daddy?

Anyhow, it's been delivered of 6 healthy, happy offspring. Congratulations!

Sorry, silvery little slips. Sorry, Artichoke Offspring. Sorry, much beleaguered wallet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Not Just Any Soil

I had one of those coveted A-ha! moments the other day, although to be honest I felt mildly embarrassed by its belatedness; by all rights that A-ha! moment should have come to me at least 30 years ago. Instead, as per usual, it took a rather circuitous route to get to me. Better late than never? I guess. And what, you ask, was my A-ha! moment all about? Well, let me tell you:

I was using the wrong sort of soil to start my seeds in.

I know, I know, that sort of statement probably makes you want to shriek "You had a revelation about POTTING SOIL?" all the while thinking I really need to rethink this friendship with this person, she sounds completely idiotic, right?

But — if you've ever planted seeds and had them pop up only to pass on to the next life almost as quickly, well, then, my NEW friend, read on and my A-ha! experience might come to you earlier than it did me.

It happened on Sunday: Dominic and I were due to spend the afternoon transplanting tomato seedlings, in preparation for their Big Move to another, more accommodating greenhouse. My greenhouse, let's face it, is not only cramped, it's already crammed with stuff (you listening to me, trays of potatoes? get out into that garden already!). Every year I swear I won't have a repeat performance of my Patented Overcrowded Seeding Habit but every year I do the same thing, mostly since I can't say no to a seed. Why plant just enough basil seeds when I can use up the entire packet and spend countless hours later on trying to find places to stick JUST ONE MORE basil seedling (don't laugh, that very method is why I still have pesto in the freezer). I see this as a charming personality quirk, even if I have heard Richard use the word pathology once or twice.

Which reminds me of why my greenhouse is crowded in the first place: I'm waiting on my Greenhouse Builder (aka Richard) to build me a bigger greenhouse, and a part of me thinks that if he sees how crowded conditions are out there he might take pity on me and put a greenhouse higher on HIS list than it is on MY list. Quirky AND hopeful!

So there we were, attempting to transplant the tomato seedlings. They were still too small to transplant, but heck, I am a Master Transplanter. I coaxed those little slips out of the soil they were in, held them in my palm, and stopped.

And that's where I had the first inkling that all was not right with my methodology. The soil they came from looked, well, woody. As did the soil they were going into. Really woody. Barky, even. And it was a weird brown. It also looked clumpy, like dry clay. The seedlings themselves looked alright, but the marigolds next to them, in the same soil, looked as though they were choking to death. I had a definite feeling that we should not proceed. "We can't transplant," I told Dominic, "we don't have the right potting soil. These things will wilt and die, I just know it."

"What are we going to do?" he asked, uneasy.  Dominic hates it when events don't proceed as expected, and he was expecting those tomato seedlings to be transplanted so he could get on with more pressing matters, like checking his room to see if his sister pinched any of his LEGO while he was outside. Or checking the freezer to see if there were any ice cream bars left.

"We're going to make some better soil, that's what we're going to do!" I announced. Dominic likes it when I make announcements like this, because they often presage Exciting Times, involving cars and stores and gumball machines and maybe — don't hold your breath —a free cookie somewhere.

So off we went to find some proper potting soil. We looked at a lot of different bags, so many that I was starting to despair by the time we hit up Home Despot. It all seemed very heavy and reeked of moisture retention, something I wanted to avoid at all costs (encourages damping off). Fortunately we found some, although I had to ignore Dominic's sniggers upon reading the front of the package (WHAT THE PROFESSIONALS USE it announced, rather grandly). We got it home and I was able to give him a quick mini lesson on How To Make The Proper Seed Starting Medium. I don't think it was quite the A-ha! moment for him as it was for me, but he did remark on the difference between our old woody potting soil and the new mixture we made up (we added some clean play sand to ours, so it would drain well, as well as some rock phosphate and a little bone meal). It was almost impossible not to notice the difference, so Richard of course took note when we brought the new trays up onto the deck. "What's that?" he said, peering suspiciously at my trays. "That soil - it looks different than the stuff you gave me for my ferns. It looks better - did you give me the crap potting soil?"

"Yes, I did" I said.

I didn't really, but given that he and I have a sort of Who Grows Better Houseplants war happening, he was unlikely to believe me if I denied giving him crap potting soil. Besides, it's rather amusing to pretend that I'm more devious than I really am.

"I knew it!" he said, incredulously, triumphantly. "You'll do anything to kill my ferns!" Now, at this point I should probably say here that Richard has two humungous ferns in his office, ferns he worries about when we're on holiday, ferns he coddles with special watering bottles and soaker pads, ferns he insists are superior to our ferns at home, so he ALWAYS thinks I'm out to poison his stupid ferns. Of course he would think I'd give him inferior soil while keeping the good stuff for myself. And of course I'd let him think that.

"Oh stop it," I said. "I realized that the soil I was using wasn't right for my seedlings, so Dominic and I made up some new stuff. It's way better than anything I've ever used before. It's so good I wish I had a new greenhouse so I could seed even MORE stuff." I stopped and looked hopefully at him.

I'll leave the conversation there, because it never really went anywhere, although he did take some of that soil to work, to his bloody ferns. Maybe if I promise him more ferns for his office he'd build that greenhouse.

At least now I have some decent seed starting medium. And you have this story. And my A-ha! moment, so you don't need to have one when you least expect it.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Weekend Redux

Last night, before the Canucks kicked themselves out of the play-offs, Dominic gave me a demonstration of an almost-goal, using chopped green onions. He did not find this odd in any way. Schneider was a large chunk of white, his goal? Green bits.

I spent two afternoons weeding in the Former Butterfly Garden, removing 5 wheelbarrow loads of couch grass, dandelions, daisies, and bishop's weed. FIVE LOADS. What's eye-rolling about this is that I'm not finished weeding...

The twins entered a 4-H event - a demonstration event - for the first time ever, doing a demonstration on why we should compost. And they won. They were quite shocked, I think. In all the photos I took afterwards, of the entire group of demonstrators, FDPG is studying the comment cards carefully, while Dominic is staring at his gold medal.

The celeriac is FINALLY up. So are the cactus seeds. It only took two weeks and a plastic bag over the entire pot.

Newspaper is a really excellent weed smotherer. I no longer feel irritated by the fact that Max's paper route company gives him far more papers than he needs, because I will use them in my never-ending Battle of the Dratted Periwinkle. A battle that I am winning, with all these newspapers. Ha, take that, you scurvy Periwinkle, you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some People Read In The Bath

...and I certainly am one of them, but I also like to look out the window. It's right above the tub. It overlooks the garden. After a hard slog in the garden, I go have a bath, and sometimes, when the water is too hot or I feel like reminding my back that gardening really IS fun, I stand and look out at my handiwork. Or watch the birds fly by. Either way, it's a pleasant place to stare out of.

This is a special window. It's big, clear, and looks out onto an expanse bereft of nearby houses or nearby yards. (critical points to consider when standing en flagrante) It has a charming view of the houses on the hills opposite, the Olympic mountains, and an old trestle bridge. Which was why we complained so bitterly when we had the windows - or rather THIS particular window - replaced before we moved in. Nice as the other windows were, this one was frosted AND heavily sashed. The bathroom went from being light and airy and open to being poky and dark and, worst of all, small. The window people, hired by Sears, said "But you agreed to that window!" which in a way we had, if you can call being politely enthusiastic when shown an 8" piece of mysterious white plastic agreeing, but we managed to convince them to change it on a technicality: "you guarantee satisfaction" we insisted, "and we are most definitely NOT satisfied with this window. It's horrible." They removed it and put the current one in, commenting along the way that we were giving up an expensive window for a far cheaper version. But look at that window: would you want that view obscured by two diagonal sections of white plastic, a frosted pane, and a (frankly) ugly winding handle? Didn't think so. Nor did we.

So here is what I've been up to in the garden in the last couple of days, April showers not withstanding.

Weeding. Lots of couch grass around these parts. In fact, my yard seems infested with the stuff. This year I enlisted the help of the twins, who are developing into excellent weeders. Just don't say anything of the sort to them, because they don't take kindly to being known as Good Weeders on the supposition that if they are good at it they'll be asked to do it more often.

Smart kids, those twins.

We also pulled many a dandelion, a lot of cleavers, and some low-growing thing I don't know the name of, but which I let grow out once (to see what it turned into) and then wished I hadn't because it was both unattractive and rampant. Most of the dandelions went into the compost, but I was reading somewhere how dandelion can be turned into a good phosphorus fertilizer for the garden, by soaking it in a bucket much as you would comfrey for comfrey tea. Apparently rock phosphate, which I use each spring to amend the soil, is not a gaily inexhaustible product and we should be thinking about alternatives. At least, this sensible person was thinking about alternatives; I wasn't, given that it was the first I'd heard about the issue. She made Dandelion Tea but at the time of her writing the jury was still out as to its usefulness as a rock phosphate substitute.

The cleavers went into a paper bag so I could dry it for winter tea. Cleaver's is a handy lymph tonic for winter colds, and given that it's so prolific in most gardens, considerably cheaper than buying echinacea tincture.

Netting. Despite having put up a deer fence in one area of the yard, the pesky young female is still getting into our yard from one area, although it seems a rare occurrence, judging from the pristine state of my strawberries and blueberries (one deer + 8 blueberry bushes + half a dozen strawberry beds = Total & Utter Decimation). Sunday I netted the blueberry bushes, although I changed my methods. Last year I used the Haphazard Tie Sticks On Stakes Method; this year I used the Stake It Properly Method, and I was pleased to note that the netting didn't behead the ends of the blueberry branches the way last year's method did.

Soil Whacking. This, despite its highly technical-sounding name, is really just breaking up the hard clumps of soil and rye grass clumps in preparation for sowing seed. It is amusing, though, and we all generally fight to get the fork first.

Mowing. I don't usually mow the lawn, a fact I was glad of when Richard discovered that someone had RUN OVER our extremely-expensive-hundred-foot-bought-specially-for-the-lawnmower electrical cord, because it meant that I couldn't be accused of the crime. Phew. See, sometimes it does pay to avoid certain jobs around the yard...

Now I can sit and think about where I'm going to put what. The last of the winter kale was composted; the purple sprouting broccoli is in full swing; the peas have been planted; and the strawberries and blueberries are at the point of bursting into blossom, as are the apple and plum trees.

Here's the soon-to-be-forgotten Herb Bed. It never did all that well, and was in the way of the Water Slide, so I am moving everything to another spot, except for that circle of grey brick you might be able to see in the middle of the photo. It contains the butterfly fennel, the rosemary bush, and the Evelyn David Austin rose.

And that's about it. Slow but steady in April!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Flowers In The Garden

And yes, I do mean that literally. Is winter almost a memory? Let's hope so. I'm ready for it to be over with, although the other night Max was sitting on the deck and a mosquito buzzed his ear. I'm not ready for mosquitoes. In fact, I'm never ready for mosquitoes.

Saturday we spent driving up island to a regional public speaking event for one of the kids. Long drive up, long drive home. Fun, triumphant, but tiring.

Sunday dawned clear and warm, so I went out to see what I could do with the weeds and quack grass. I spread a tarp on the lawn, for the weeds, and got to work. (dry the weeds in the sun until they are good and dead, then it's easy to dispose of them)

Here you see my nicely edged...edge. I'm all about appearances, you know.

I sprinkled some alfalfa meal over the little pots de pois sucre in the greenhouse. (and yes, I am being silly, no one in their right mind calls a sweet pea a pois sucre)

They are looking pretty green considering the size of their pot. They were the smallest yogurt pots around, I'm sure, but perfect for a seed or two.

I know, just call me Cruel Sweet Pea Potter.

Fuller's Teasel in the background. Tomato seedlings in the foreground.

Another view of the yard. At this time of year clear plastic features heavily in my yard decor.

The boards are keeping the birds from eating the freshly sown lawn seed.

They don't seem to be deterring the cat, though. Silly cat - he's terrified of my new runners but nonchalant among my wire and board traps.

Garlic and strawberry leaves. I like how green the leaves are. Such a warm, clear, glowing green.

Asparagus - we have liftoff.

Finally. Its ears must have been burning because I was on the verge of getting rid of this until-this-moment-non-existent asparagus bed.

Now they're sprouting up all over the place.

And don't be telling me it's all the kelp and rock phosphate I've been feeding it, either, because it sucked that up last year AND the year before, without doing anything.

I am clearly not an asparagus whisperer.

The rhubarb has already given us several pints of jam, two crisps, and a few Chomps In The Garden for the twins.

Nice rhubarb.

Good rhubarb.

Low maintenance pet of mine.


Jack Frost.


No idea which one, though. Got it at a garden sale and they had no idea either. It's extremely pretty though, considering how cheap it was and how expensive the awful Raspberry Splash was (and how underwhelming IT'S been as a plant).

A bright red and yellow note to end on...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Heat Memories

Look at that big slab of cat lying there in the sun.

That's Toffee, also known as FatCat, also known as 'the cat who would prefer never to move again if he could help it' (unwieldy but apt). We had a very sunny, very warm Easter Sunday. Then we had a warm sunny Easter Monday. So warm I dug up the herb bed. So warm I divided the artichokes. So warm I transplanted some roses. I did a number of late but necessary garden chores.

All the while our Toffee lounged in the sun.



Letting ants crawl over him even.

Now THAT is lazy.

Twirling and curling and twisting, all the better to sun his furry furry coat.

And now it's raining. Still warm, but wet.

His memories are of warm sun, while mine are of warm earth.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Return Of The Ruminant

Yesterday morning, after retrieving yet another badminton birdie from the gutters on the roof (no one in this family seems to have very good aim or perhaps that IS what they're aiming for...) I heard Max exclaiming from the back deck.

"Wow!" he was saying, rather loudly. "Wow!"

Now, this kid is a relatively normal teen at the moment, by which I mean the sort of personality not generally given to exuberant expressions of approval unless they involve i-somethings, music, or food, so I went out to see what he was exclaiming over. Was it my charming garden, I wondered. Or the new Seckel pear, gloriously in bloom? Or maybe those riotous blossoming nectarines? I should have known better.

I got there in time to see a large ruminant mammal in my yard, the kind that are currently menacing our fair city with their non-stop molars. Yes, Gentle Reader, I speak of The Deer. The young female, whom I THOUGHT I'd thwarted in the fall, the one who used to chew her way through my kale and purple sprouting broccoli, seems to have left her mother and was in my back garden, being pursued rather ungently by Calypso, the Schnorkie (was there EVER a more unfortunate moniker for a mix?) from next door. Little Calypso was in fine form, despite being about a twentieth the size; she bounded, she barked, she growled, she raced, and in the end that annoying deer fairly flew over the new deer fence Richard and I installed a few months ago. Yes, that, right: The. New. Deer. Fence.


Stay tuned for the Further Adventures the very near future. Methinks there will be a Part II. Don't ask me how I know. I'll even go out on a limb and say that it will likely involve wire and posts and other mysterious items of the sort.


Friday, April 6, 2012

In Which I Muse On The Sweet Pea

I finally found some seeds for those astoundingly gorgeous ruffled pansies that are popping up all over the place, but it took me long enough. I could never find the bedding plants yet all the farmers markets seemed to have baskets of them. They just weren't for sale, which was frustrating. Lo and behold this year I found a packet of Chalon Pansies and just now planted them. They require dark to germinate, according to the packet, so I dutifully placed them in an upstairs closet. After a few days I removed the plastic bag they were sitting in and saw this little intruder. Methinks it's no pansy, but medoesn't know what it is. It looks like a bean sprout.

Upstart! Begone from my ruffled pansies.

Is there anything more heartening after the long dark days of winter than trays of sweet pea seedlings?

I was at a garden sale the other night and I noticed a lot of trays of sweet peas at one table - they were the same size as mine, a fact which gave me enormous satisfaction, because it meant that I was getting rather more organized in my seed starting abilities. Either that or they were just as hopeful (and deluded) as I was about the promise of spring bloom.
Sweet peas are one of the few plants I don't have qualms about cutting for indoor bouquets. Other flowers give me a sharp pang when the scissors snip snip snip them from their rather longer life in the garden, but not sweet peas. As a plant they are less than spectacular. Mildly interesting at best. If they were just bloom I might feel differently, I suppose. Love those blooms.
Some of us took paint brushes to the nectarine trees, because they blossomed before the bees - even the mason bees - were out. And full on bloom, too. There they were, with their almost indecently pink blossoms, flowering all over the place when it was still mid-March. So I sent out the Garden Club members to do their bit, although one of them lost her paintbrush at some point and never did find it, despite the heckling of her compatriot.

Compatriot Doing His Bit To Help Nectarine Pollination (mollified by the prospect of featuring in a blog photo op)

We were rather transfixed by the strange appearance of this squonking band of Canada geese, until we realized that they weren't Canada geese, but Trumpeter Swans instead.

The clue was not just the, errm, white appearance, but those great long necks.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Look What The Pot Forced Up!

We're making Early Rhubarb Jam today. I've mentioned before how you can force your rhubarb (although I prefer the idea of being a Rhubarb Whisperer) by covering it with a large terracotta pot at the first sign of emerging nubs, but I'm going to mention it again because it's such a useful trick. The photo above shows the rhubarb I picked yesterday - real live fresh rhubarb - just in case you think I'm tricking you instead of the rhubarb.

Our recipe comes from the ever so charming River Cottage Handbook No. 2: Preserves, but I see that it's also available online, here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

What We Did On The Weekend

— watched bits of the Junos (specifically the performance by Max's fave Deadmau5). It was hard not to wonder aloud what it must be like inside that mouse head of his, all that flashing and light-popping. Wondered also how Michael Buble's Christmas album won over Drake's (not Christmas) album. Yet another peculiar judging experience we've witnessed in the past month (and yes, we DID all comment on this).

— went to the beach and noticed, amid the sun and waves and wind, that dogs were distressingly ubiquitous on the landscape. I was unable to get a single dogfree photo. And all those curious doggie names: Oliver, Christopher, Jason, Angela, Olivia, Penelope, Jane.

Two words: baby substitute.

— finally cleared the brush from the front garden. Seven wheelbarrow loads of clippings, trimmings, dead stalks, and weeds. S-E-V-E-N L-O-A-D-S. Now reposing damply at the end of the yard.

— noted with dismay that someone in the LEGO contest won with 413 votes. I do not have that many friends on Facebook so my children, despite their delightfully creative designs, did not win. Mostly because I only 'friend' people I actually know. It's a quirk I have.

— watched Sherlock AND Titanic in the same evening. Titanic isn't quite as good as I'd hoped it would be, but it still has some good moments. Sherlock, while completely implausible (Irene Adler naked? Methinks this stretcheth the conceit rather bizarrely) is fun. Benedict Cumberbatch is evidently having a good time in this role.