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Posts Tagged ‘ontario’

It has been an amazing season so far for the garden. Everything is growing so well and we’ve been enjoying full-sized tomatoes for over a month, which is the earliest we’ve ever managed.

We’re also getting lots more than is typical since the late blight usually cuts into the peak production. Not only are the large amounts of tomato, the tomatoes themselves are really big! This one is our personal record for size and was 2 pounds, 8 ounces! It’s also the third one we’ve had over 2 pounds so a remarkable harvest. There are so many we’re actually doing some canning but this one will be carved up for dinner!

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The black raspberries have mostly settled in so I thought it was time to talk a bit about the findings so far.

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I put in a number of plants in early 2016 and was given another group last spring so we have a mix of 1 and 2 year olds. Last fall was busy so we didn’t do much in the way of care or clean-up on them either. They are planted in bed that has partial shade to almost full sun. It was were the neighbours hooked up to the sewer system so while it was well dug earth, it wasn’t really improved.

This variety fruits on the second year canes so there was only a very light crop last year. This year was a different story!

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We’ve been getting an average of 1-2 cups a day for most of the past couple of weeks. There are still some left to ripen but most are finished now. I expect we’ll only get another 6-8 cups.

While they are very productive, getting the fruit is a bit harder than picking the fall reds. The branches are very high, so some easily rise above 5′ to 6′ high in beautiful arcs, and all are equipped with vicious thorns. The light picking last year left my hands and arms really scratched up so this year I made some armour. A pair of older leather gloves had their fingertips cut off and a bit of brown faux leather was used to make a pair of bracers. They may not be pretty but they work. I’m still getting a few scratches around my elbows and some clothing snags, but am otherwise unscathed. To be clear, this isn’t me being overly sensitive, some sort of protection is a requirement. Even the birds have left them alone.

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The fruit itself has a surprising, unique flavour that is significantly different from the red. I’d always wondered why “blue raspberry” flavour had no bearing on any raspberry I’d ever tried but it’s clear it was based on fresh black ones. While they are pleasant fresh, they are, in our opinion, best used as a cooking berry. They cook up with solid, yet juicy texture and a deeper, richer “raspberry” flavour. The colour is also lovely. The red ones tend to both get a bit mushy and their red colour can also end up looking grey when cooked and mixed with other things. With the blacks, they cook to a rich purple with deep reddish juice. The smaller, drier fruits also hold together better and they work more like a blueberry in terms of being easy to be mixed in and still hold on to their shapes. They make a lovely pie.

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Overall, the black raspberries have made a well timed addition to the fruit collection. They are a great cooking berry and their timing has fallen in a fairly empty period. The strawberries are done and the blueberries are just starting so it gave us a nice bit of small fruit coverage. The plants seem low maintenance. We’ll need to remove this years fruiting canes in the fall and intend to do a deep leaf cover again. While they are extremely well armed, it is possible to pick around them and they have fended off both birds and other berry thieves.

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For the first time, I’m trying to grow some potatoes. My general philosophy about food gardening is to stick to growing stuff that either has a very high value or where there is a significant taste/quality difference between what you can grow and what you buy. Also, things that just aren’t available to easily buy. Permaculture is preferred as is ease of growing/care/harvest.

Perennial herbs are the best example of paying for themselves. A few dollars for a pot of something like thyme, lavender or lovage and you have a permanent and constant supply of stuff that can run several dollars or more for a tiny amount, if you can find decent quality at the store. Most herbs are also extremely low-effort too. Put them in and forget about them until you want some!

The small fruit plants like the raspberries, haskap and strawberries are ones where you save your money over the long term. Even in season, raspberries run $2-$3 a pint and we’ll pull 2-6 cups a day off the hedge, often for 1-2 months, and have for years. Aside from some fall clean-up and feeding, they also need very little care. (they taste better too and we know they are pesticide free)

Tomatoes are a case where there are some savings overall in growing them, but the big value is in the quality difference between homegrown and what’s available in market. There are few cases where you can now find some of the more interesting and exotic varieties at some farmers markets, but generally, the best tasting tomatoes are too finicky or fragile to be grown commercially. There’s a reason something like 80% of home veggie gardens include tomatoes!

This has all be a long-winded way of saying that I generally don’t bother with potatoes. They are something that is easy enough to find at the seasonal markets for great prices and good quality so I haven’t been giving them garden space before now. They only went in this year because the bed beside the store is partially shaded and it just doesn’t work out that well for most of our priority crops. Last year, I put in some sunchokes and hope to eventually have them take over about half (the most shaded section) of the total bed. They’re not there yet so I needed to fill the space for this season and found a nice bag of assorted, slightly exotic, seed potatoes. One of the types is a deep, beet level purple and I was wondering if it would be hard to tell which is which, but looking at the plants as they come up, it’s really easy to tell which ones are the purples due to the deep red veining on the leaves. They went in in a random mix and we might end up trying to dig some as early as July, in the hopes of tiny, tasty baby spuds. I’ll update as the experiment continues.

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Curiosity got the better of me and I set aside the nuts from the black walnuts I’d husked in the ink making process. While I know the nutmeats of the black walnut are edible, I’d never tried them. Considering how expensive all nuts are getting, it seemed worthwhile to see if they any good since they are easy to get for free. (or at least for the time you have to put into getting the actual nuts) I had already collected and stripped them, for the ink, so a chunk of the work was already finished.wanuts1

While the husks were soaking, the stripped nuts were laid out on cardboard to dry and cure. They sat for a bit over a month and then I spent some time each day over the next week or so cracking them and collecting the nutmeats.

It is not a fast process and the larger ones were much easier to get the meat out of than the smaller but I ended up with a total of about 4 cups. blkwalnutmeats1.jpg

While I read that you can do a light brine soak to soften their flavour, I decided to go ahead and use them in their natural state. Since the idea was to see if we liked the taste, it only made sense to experience it in it’s unaltered state.

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I used a Southern recipe for a Black Walnut cake and went with cream cheese icing. It turned out well but it also turns out that we don’t like the taste of black walnuts! Even my father, who can always be depended on to eat even the worst of my baking failures, wasn’t much interested. My mother almost spit out the one bit she did try and said the taste reminded her of gasoline. I…have to agree with her somewhat. There is a happy ending however since the friend who gave me the walnuts to begin with did like it and was happy to take away free cake.

 

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We have a couple of freestanding flower arrangements on bf the property and when I saw this huge butterfly flitting about one I ran off to grab the camera. Luckily, it stuck around long enough for me get some shots. It seemed to not be comfortable with me getting too close so I hung back and used the zoom feature. Going through some websites, it looks like it is a Giant Swallowtail ( Papilio cresphontes ) and from the descriptions of their flight differences, probably a male. The flight movement was much closer to a bird than most other butterflies and he was incredibly flappy about the wings, even while feeding, which made taking the pictures difficult. I really couldn’t get over just how large he was, which shouldn’t be a surprise since they are the largest butterflies native to the region, but I don’t remember ever coming across one before. The marigolds seemed to be what he liked the best and he sampled several ones, on both sides of the planter, before heading off.

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