Posts tagged Garden

Delicious Autumn – part 2

Yesterday I blogged about unexpected harvests from the compost garden. Perhaps the sweetest surprise we had, however, came from a completely unexpected source: a retirement home’s flower garden.

Here’s a tip: don’t throw out the browned-out ornamental pots sitting on your front porch too quickly. If you’ve planted sweet potato vine do some digging for the sweet potato (they’re not called “sweet potato vine” for nothing). We got two small spuds from our two pots this year, but nothing compared to the mammoth 8lb beast that maintenance staff dug up at the retirement home where my mother volunteers.

the biggest sweet potato I've ever seen

Since the skin of these sweet potatoes is pink and the insides white, the maintenance guys didn’t recognize it as a sweet potato and didn’t know what to do with it. They pulled several monster spuds out of the ground and were ready to throw them out before my mom got her hands on one. I made scalloped sweet potatoes out of 1/3 of the one pictured, which gave our family of 5 two meals. Here’s the recipe:

  • approx. 2 or 3 lbs. sweet potato
  • sliced or cubed ham, sausage or cooked chicken
  • parmesan cheese
  • mozzarella cheese
  • white sauce:
    • melt 1 Tbsp butter in a medium saucepan. Thoroughly mix 2 Tbsp flour with 2 cups milk and add to saucepan, stirring constantly. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

 

Arrange potatoes in a glass baking dish. Layer ham, sausage or chicken on top. Spoon ½ the white sauce over the potatoes and meat. Sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese. Repeat. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top, cover, and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover and bake 10 – 15 minutes more until the potatoes are soft and the cheese is golden.

This recipe beats regular scalloped potatoes because the sweet potatoes have more flavour (in my opinion, anyways).

 I’ll bet you never knew you were growing food in those urns!

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Delicious Autumn – Part 1

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
George Eliot

It turns out that George and I think a lot alike (probably because “George” was actually “Mary Anne” and therefore female). The fall chill has finally set in after a beautiful Indian summer and I say “bring it on!” It was sunny yet blustery this morning as I dropped our son off at school and turned to walk back home, and each person I met offered some comment about the weather: “cold today!” or “winter’s coming…” Folks, we have a cast iron woodstove sitting in our living room, so I don’t have a problem with fall, or winter, for that matter. Still, embracing the cold weather is one sure way to get strange looks from fellow Canadians.

The obvious and first autumn wonder is, of course, the leaves. When does one ever see a flower garden on a larger scale than in the fall? By the way, while I understand that the leaves change their colour for a biological reason (they produce an “antifreeze” to protect the tree throughout the coming winter), I fail to see how anyone with any level of sophistication can deny that there had to be a creative Genius behind it all. (I’m sure were Monét alive he would take great offense to the suggestion that his work was the result of an accidental explosion inside his paint supply cupboard. Kaboom! There! A Masterpiece!) But I digress. Hiking through colourful forests and pausing on hilltops to admire the vast and perfectly-executed landscape design is one of life’s simple yet awe-inspiring delights.

Fall also means harvesting the last of the vegetable garden’s produce and putting the garden to bed. Our compost garden (link here) (the one we didn’t plant but that just came up on its own out of the compost heap) yielded 4 small melons, 14 full-sized acorn squash, 3 pumpkins, several pounds of tomatoes and 2 lamb’s ears (perennials!). So as it turns out, you really don’t need to know a thing about vegetable gardening to bring in a harvest. As long as you can toss kitchen scraps onto a pile and work that pile properly (composting does require some know-how) you stand to harvest as much as the next door neighbour does who starts with transplants!

Perhaps the best part about fall, though are the leaf piles. Not only are we the fortunate stewards of 3 mature Maple trees on our property, we are also located down-wind from every other Maple tree on our street. (In our first year living here we put approximately 60 bags of leaves to the curb. Now we keep many of those leaves and use them for mulch and the compost pile. Though Maple leaves provide little in the way of nutrients, they improve soil structure which is equally important.) Our kids welcome fall with squeals of delight because of the enormous leaf piles we build. Raking leaves and then jumping in the pile beats the Wii for several reasons: kids learn to do useful work with their little purple plastic rakes, they entertain the neighbours who like to sit on their front porch to watch “that crazy family across the street,” their immune system is strengthened as it is forced to deal with a barrage of air-born foreign particles, they get lots of exercise for a long time, it’s totally free entertainment, and it’s super-fun. At our house they even help bag the leaves when they’re done! It’s a win-win situation for the whole family.

How can anyone not love this season?!?

 “I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Prodigal Returns

He found him while mowing the lawn. When Oliver told me that he had found toad #3 in the grass, I immediately feared the worst. When you’re a ground-dwelling animal so small that you can have a picnic on a postage stamp, and you’re found by a person mowing the lawn, this usually means that you’re either squished or shredded, depending on the path of the mower. Evidently though, my husband has the eyes of a hawk, because he carefully returned our prodigal little amphibian runaway back to his terrarium-dwelling brethren, much to the delight of the family.

What is not so delightful – disturbing, in fact – is that our wandering friend is now almost twice the size of the other boys on the team. While we have been diligent about feeding the little buggers, it is apparent that we cannot keep up with the demand of these bug-eating machines. I am now a woman on a mission: let the poor frogs go so they can fatten up before they have to hibernate for the winter. The problem is convincing their “owner” of that.

For the first day Teddy was in denial: no, the vagrant frog had always been the fattest, he insisted, and the others weren’t that much smaller anyway. By pure chance, the toads all assembled for a little frog huddle as I broached the subject of their release from captivity this morning. Seeing them next to eachother it became clear even to Teddy that yes, the Prodigal is definitely fatter and bigger, and the others need to be released as well.

As we were talking about an exit strategy for the frogs yesterday, Daddy suggested making one of our clay “stepping stones” (an upside-down flower pot-saucer) available as a toad house. It’s crawling with living things on the underside, has a convenient toad-sized hole on top, keeps the tenants safe and warm, and will hopefully keep our much-loved toads “at home” and eating insects in our vegetable patch.

At the outset of this experiment in pet care I was sure we would all learn something. And so it is that our family has learned the following things about toads:

  1. Pets need food. Toads need more than we thought.
  2. Toads eat only live food, and it’s really cool to watch. I must say, though, that I have trouble with the spiders. Seeing wiggly spider legs protruding from hungry toad lips is disturbing. Seeing a toad spit out an unpalatable spider is even worse.
  3. Toads hibernate
  4. Toads need to be fat to hibernate.
  5. Wild animals should be free to be just that: wild.

 Hopefully our toads will like their new toad house and make themselves at home in our vegetable garden. I hope they have a restful winter sleep burrowed snugly under the soil of our lettuce patch. And I do hope they stay off the grass. Oliver’s eyes may not always be so keen.

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Mucho Mulcho

mmmm.... mulch

A friend of mine recently told me a story about sitting in her fenced backyard and accidentally overhearing a conversation her new neighbour was having with someone on the other side of the fence. While working in her flowerbed this new homeowner complained loudly about “all of the bark s*#t” lying around. (I’d say that one is most likely not gardening material.) My friend commented on the irony of the fact that the previous owner had put so much effort into properly mulching her beds every year, and here was someone who obviously had no clue about the benefits of her efforts.

At the risk of insulting everyone’s intelligence therefore, here is the definition of mulch: any protective cover that is placed over the soil to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination.[1] The one benefit this definition doesn’t take into account is that the effort of spreading 3 cubic yards of mulch over all the flower beds is a perfect opportunity to teach kids to take up a shovel and work.

Is it just me, or has “work” become a bad word in the context of children? I’m not talking about child labour, which is undeniably horrific. I’m talking about the notion that little suburbanites should be catered to and not be expected to pull their weight in the family. Most of us would agree that it’s only right for a teenager to be expected to mow the lawn, but how does that happen unless children learn to work when they are young? The norm today is for adults to run themselves ragged working, while their children do nothing but play all day.

Children are more capable of channeling their energies into meaningful work than one may think. This isn’t to say that they enjoy the prospect of work on a regular basis, but as long as they live under our roof, that’s beside the point. Kids as young as three or four can be taught to do a variety of chores around the house, from cleaning up their own piles of laundry to cleaning out the dishwasher (remove the knives and breakables, please!). Children can set and clear the table, and be expected to tidy up their own messes, particularly at the end of the day. At our house, we divide up the regular responsibilities so that both of the older children are involved, though in different capacities (given their differing levels of ability). I will admit to it being more work to teach children to do chores rather than just doing them ourselves, but oh, how sweet it is when you can just tell them to clean out the dishwasher after breakfast and go have a shower!

What we are finding is that our rather large lawn and ever-expanding flower and vegetable beds are a perfect opportunity to teach them the value of breaking a sweat doing manual labour. Yesterday was mulch-day, which is exciting for several reasons: the kids get to ride along to pick up the mulch from the local soil depot, where a big front-end loader dumps the load into the trailer. Exciting every time. Next, they may get a turn shoveling the mulch out of the trailer (how often do you get to stand in a trailer?!). After the initial excitement wears off, however, there are still 3 cubic yards of mulch waiting to be spread around the yard and that translates into a lot of hard work for several long hours. While we don’t expect our children to stick with it for the entire time, we do encourage them to put in their best effort.

We have found that special treats for the workers are a great way to keep them engaged. A cookie or freezie break here and there helps. And let’s not underestimate the value to the entire family of jointly getting behind the proverbial plow and being able to celebrate together at the end of a long day’s work. These are good memories we are building with – and for – our kids. Amazingly, our 6-year-old stuck with the task until the bitter end yesterday. In fact, while working side-by-side we had some great conversations, including one about the value of hard work. Curious to see what he would say, I asked him whether he thought that a big job like this deserved a reward or not. As though he had previously prepared himself for this question, he replied, “even if there is no reward for doing a job, we can still feel good about a job well done” (I could almost hear his grade 1 class reciting it in unison).

As it was, our neighbours invited us to use their pool afterwards, which was quite possibly the best reward of all for everyone. Anyone who has ever spread mulch on a humid day knows that there’s nothing like jumping into water once you’re done. This applies to adults and kids alike!


[1] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulch. Accessed:July 3, 2011

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