Sunday, December 28, 2008

sorry for disappearing

Whew, the Christmas season, she did me in... I am completely exhausted. But we're done our holiday visiting, and I am done my masters. I've started a new job and the two of us are trying to get our house back on track. Things around here have been pretty non-stop, and I figure we have a week or so more of that, and then there will be a routine that we can start to settle into and I can start thinking about things like cleaning, and gardening, and cooking again.

Got four cookbooks this Christmas, plus some pretty stellar ingredients, and a beautiful salad bowl, and lovely placemats. The cookbooks and I are going to have a sit-down in a bit and we're going to find some delicious dishes to make. And then I will report back. Also, I've got some garden plant ordering to do in the next month or so... which I am already getting excited about, even though there will be no planting until the end of February. It's not as far away as it seems.

Happy new year, everyone! When things are settled, I'll come out of my shell.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

variation on a famous theme

This is one of the projects I'm working on that I've been meaning to blog about. I'm a terrible knitter. I try, I really do, but I can't keep my tension consistent, and I think the worse problem is that I get bored with projects really easily and drop them before they're even close to finished. I have an afghan I started just before I got my wisdom teeth out. In case anyone's counting, that's nine years ago. Then there's the scarf I was making for me that I started when I was working at the Royal Botanical Gardens -- that's... six years ago now, I think.

I am attempting to change that this time. Mostly because this is fishy's main birthday present, and I want to have it done for his birthday. The chances of that happening are relatively slim, since the scarf is incredibly long, but I'm actually moving along at a relatively good pace. For me.

I knit in the American style, and I taught myself from the Internets, so I think I'm relatively inefficient with my knitting. My mother knits Continental and she can whip up a pair of mittens in a day. I haven't even really gotten increasing and decreasing down yet, hence: scarf.

The great thing about this particular scarf is the colour changes. A friend who knits looked at the pattern and was like, "wow, that's -- a lot of colour changes" as though it were a bad thing. But the thing is, it keeps me interested. Because I can look forward to the next colour.

I'm not doing the exact Tom Baker season 12, although that was the original intention. My needles are large and the colours are different, and so this particular version is going to be wider and possibly not quite as long, depending on how much yarn I end up with. I may end up changing the pattern a bit to accommodate my lack of yarn. But that said, I'm very pleased.

Will keep you posted.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Vesey's Seeds arrived!

I think Vesey's is trying to ruin me. How? Well, let me count the ways:
  1. I love winter. Now I want it to be over.
  2. Financially. Currently I want everything in the catalogue.
  3. My relationship may not survive the number of plants I want to add to the garden this year.
I also have to remember to buy my seeds from the local providers, if I can; I should really be saving Vesey's for the rare, hard-to-get stuff.

Also I just remembered I haven't protected the currant. I bet that the rabbits have already eaten it. The dogwood was free, so I don't mind so much, but I'm going to be very disappointed if they kill my currant.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

open letter to Stephen Harper

Dear sir,

Please stop presuming to tell me, as a Canadian, what I want or think. No, I do not think you have a stronger mandate this time around. No, I do not want you for my Prime Minister. I wanted Stephan Dion, who appears to be the last politician left with a sense of respect and any class at all. I have been listening to your sly verbal mooning of the opposition now that you have your way and have seven more weeks to continue to break apart the country along geographical lines. You appear to confuse "classy" with "slimy" and listening to your speech made me want to take a shower.

I do not want our children criminalized and I do support the arts, galas and all. I do not think that the Bloc is "the devil" and I frankly give the separatists my blessing. I would also like to separate and am thinking of cleaning up my French so that Quebec'll let me in. I am embarrassed to be Canadian right now. How can we tell the rest of the world that we support democracy? We're a bunch of hypocrites, with you at the helm.

Let me tell you, instead of having you tell me, what I think: I think you are a smug bully. I think you are a liar. I think you are authoritarian, if not downright dictatorial. I think you will stop at nothing to stay in power, including being viciously divisive in the name of "loving our country." Mr. Harper, the country you love is Alberta, and you seem to have forgotten about the rest of us. Even those Albertans who don't agree with you.

Democratic leaders don't desperately avoid votes that might actually be in the interests of the majority. As many have mentioned, your math is a little off: the majority of Canadians did not vote for you. The majority voted for anyone but you -- 63% of us voted for the opposition, Mr. Harper, so a coalition government that uses the tools given to them by the democratic process to take power, is actually a more democratic government than the government we have now.

If I had the confidence in you and the rest of your cabal to actually listen to the 63% of us who don't want you there, I would hope that the opposition would give you guys a chance because the country is completely dysfunctional at this point. However, I don't trust you. You have repeatedly proven that you do not have the desire to share power with anyone, and your policies are designed to keep you in power, sir, not for the good of the country. I've been trying to reconcile this avoidance of the vote with the good of the country, and I just can't. And perhaps that is what will eventually make Canadians wake up to the fact that our democracy, under your watch, is falling apart. The problem with being an autocrat is that it is very, very clear who is primarily to blame when things go horribly wrong.

Enjoy your holidays, Mr. Harper.

Monday, December 1, 2008

brownie attempt

As part of a group presentation I'm involved in today, I have baked (or am in the process of baking, to be entirely accurate) a pan of brownies. I have not baked brownies in a very, very long time, and I'm trying to remember if they look the way they should look. I think so. My mother used to make these brownies for every occasion where sweets might be required and they are rich and delicious like no other brownie I have ever eaten.

From Edna Staebler's Food That Really Schmecks:


Mix ingredients in the order given.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup flour
pinch salt

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes in a greased cake pan.

Simple, right? It occurs to me that I forgot the salt, as I'm writing that down. Well. I guess they'll be that pinch more heart healthy. Heh.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

shredded brussels sprouts and apples

First of all, I think it actually turned out okay. I am always apprehensive when trying out a new recipe, especially when it says things like "serve immediately" because the taste apparently goes off if left sitting for even ten minutes. No pressure. But it was colourful, and looked fresh, and was a really great combination of fall flavours.

The full recipe is from 101 cookbooks, btw.

Let's see, then. Recipe debrief, as it were.

The recipe calls for juice of one lemon, and I always forget that this particular author likes to do everything from scratch. The lemon juice is basically to keep the apples from going brown before you cook them, so juice of one fresh lemon, with the attendant squeezing, reaming and stinging fingers, is probably not 100% necessary. Two or three tablespoons of lemon juice out of a bottle would have sufficed. I figured this out after I'd reamed the thing, though. Brilliant.

I did do the tofu, as I had a slab of it in the freezer. Only used a third. It cooked up very nicely from frozen, and with the frying, garlic and maple syrup, had a wonderful, delicate flavour. I would definitely do that again. I might make the cubes a little tinier. They were also a little bit chewy, which means I slightly overcooked them.

The pan was too hot when I added the maple syrup, but I managed to pull things off the heat quickly enough that the syrup and garlic didn't burn. Mixed that all up, added the apples (which only cook enough to be hot through, not mushy) and then pulled all that and cooked up the sprouts.

Remembered at that point that I'd forgotten to toast pine nuts. That went really quickly though, so that was good...

And voila! It was pretty tasty. I don't see myself doing it regularly, but I would definitely make it again for lunch. I don't think it would work for a large group for dinner, for example, because of the fast turnaround time for serving. But for lunch again, I would definitely try it, even with the sprouts. fishy also suggested a variation with walnuts and cinnamon, which I imagine would be quite tasty.

adventures in the kitchen

I have two posts I really want to do. Both of them require photos of current projects. Not difficult to do... just haven't gotten around to that. So instead I will point you in this direction, to a recipe that I am going to attempt to make for lunch.

I am waffling on the tofu, but seriously... fried in garlic and oil and maple syrup? Even tofu should be delicious after that.

What I am trying to do here is introduce myself to brussels sprouts in a way that I will enjoy. Fried in oil seems like the way to go.

I've also put on a slow-cooker tortilla soup for supper. I am a little concerned that it is nearly an hour later and the soup is still cool. It is supposed to cook on low for eight hours. I got a little
anxious and turned it up. Likely I will overcook it now...

Friday, November 7, 2008

feed the birds

I have birds. Lots of birds.

The list for today:
  • House sparrows
  • Starlings
  • Goldfinches
  • White-throated sparrows
  • House finches
  • Chickadees
  • Blue jays
  • Cardinals
  • White-breasted nuthatches
  • Downey woodpecker
  • Mourning dove
  • Juncos
The joint is jumping. Which makes me quite happy, of course. It's fun to watch the finches try to figure out the finch feeder, too -- they have to hang upside-down to get the seed, which goldfinches (and I believe house finches) can do. The goldfinches have got it for sure. Haven't seen anyone else attempt it yet. It's niger seed, so not too many birds are all that keen on it, other than the finches.

I put up the suet when I saw the nuthatches. So far the house sparrows are hogging it, but I did see the downey woodpecker working on it earlier.

Christmas Bird Count season is coming up, too, and barring a nasty virus like Eric and I had last year, we're going to be heading out to our usual area in St. Catharines and having a blast. It's the weekend after I am done school for good, so that's awesome.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

and when I wake up in the morning, will things still be the same?

What a night. I am... really? I think I might actually be hopeful.

I wonder if this will translate into true change. I can listen to Obama and believe it and be hopeful. We will have to see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

geek pumpkins

For the librarians out there:


And tasty. I made two sets of toasted pumpkin seeds with the innards of these pumpkins, following recipes from 101 Cookbooks. The curried pumpkin seeds are extremely tasty, but the sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds were undercooked. I expect I could re-toast them, but I haven't yet. The curried pumpkin seeds were in the oven for 15 minutes or more, being checked every minute after 13 minutes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Among other things I finally got around to today was doing a little renovation of my worms' house. They currently reside in the basement, which is a fine place for them, in a green box with air vents and a snap top.

I am amazed they are still alive.

I have really neglected them since... well, a long time ago. fishy has done a little bit of work with them -- mostly draining the wormwater, which is what I call the anaerobic compost leachate that reeks like silage. But we haven't actually taken any of the castings out since last April (by which I mean, like, April 2007, actually) and not only is it full, it desperately needed a good draining.

I have gotten over a litre of leachate out of the composter so far today. I think there is plenty more to be had. There are red mites crawling all over, which is usually a sign of things being too wet. I have to suck the leachate out with a turkey baster, since there is no drain out the bottom. It is an experience. A stanky experience.

I have gotten a bunch of the castings out to in my house plant pots, to fertilize them, which they need. I took off an inch from the top and I need to do more. Much more.

And the worms. There are worms everywhere. There are big fat worms. There are little, tiny, threadlike baby worms. There are egg sacs. There is everything in between. They are loving the neglect, apparently. I am impressed with their resilience. They are apparently the perfect pet for me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

feeder's up

Because I am supposed to be writing a paper, and am giving myself about 20 minutes until the panic starts, I have been procrastinating like mad with the Internet.

I read all sorts of interesting things. The best thing this morning, though, was this post from Garden Rant about bats. I wish that bats hung around here (pun intended) more than they do -- stupid winter.

We have birds to make up for it, though. The juncos are back, and there was a very fat song sparrow hopping on the back porch this morning. fishy and I got seed and I hung the feeder on Saturday, and already we're starting to see the cardinals and chickadees, too.

I just always figure that once the juncos are back, it's feeding time. I can't have my juncos getting skinny.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I voted...

Did you? You currently have just over an hour left to do so.

I'm not fool enough to think that this election will determine the course of the world's environmental future. Given another minority government, Conservative or Liberal, there will be no movement on the environment to speak of. Everyone is too damn scared.

I want someone to catch on, though, that the environment does matter. It's likely already too late, I guess. But I want someone to try.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

nocturnal visitor

I had another post. Well, I still have it. And I'll maybe post it tomorrow or in the next couple of days. But I am too excited to hold off. We had a skunk in the back yard!

fishy and I got in from a turkey dinner with his family and we were getting some bricks to hold down the tarp that is keeping our roof safe (this is another story -- I will bring it to you with pictures later, if I get around to it) and in the faint glow at the very back of the yard, right in front of the jungle that is the part of the yard we let grow into a meadow, I saw a white stripe making a beeline for the hole in the fence.

Now I don't want to close the hole in the fence. I was going to, to try to foil the rabbits. But that's how the skunk travels, and I love skunks. Any number of rabbits are worth the occasional skunk.

Instead I will raise the veggie beds. And if that fails, I will fence them. And if that fails, I will just grow things that rabbits don't like.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

fiery chilled soup

Was thinking about recipes this morning, when I got a recipe exchange email in my inbox. I love recipe exchanges. I love recipes in general. Because I love food. I like eating food, but I also like thinking about food to eat.

The one I sent on the exchange was this one, from Linda Matthie-Jacobs' superlative cookbook Light the Fire. I should review that one some time, I suppose. Anyway. The following recipe is hers and I made no changes to it. I consider this an advertisement for her cookbooks.

It's a chilled soup, and I decided to try it even though I'm not a big fan of cantaloupe myself. It does indeed make enough for 6 (even when recipes say that, they never seem to mean it) and it's a lovely summer appetizer or even lunch. It does not keep very well, I wouldn't say even more than a day in the fridge. So if you have to, halve the recipe and use the other half of the cantaloupe for something else.

Fiery Chilled Soup

1 large ripe cantaloupe, peeled and cubed
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cubed
1/4 cup liquid honey
grated rind of 1 fresh lime
juice of 1 fresh lime (about 1-2 tbsp.)
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cups plain fat-free yoghurt

Blend cantaloupe and cucumber in blender until smooth. Pour half of mixture into bowl. To remainder in blender, add honey, lime rind, lime juice, jalapeño, cumin and yoghurt. Blend until smooth. Add to mixture in bowl and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serves 6.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

progress update: weeds and seeds

Okay. Just a quick update. It's fall, things happen around here in the fall. Some good things, some not so awesome.

The garden is wildly overgrown. I did some mildly drunken weeding a couple of nights ago while fishy and I and some friends hung out on the porch. Despite the rum and coke, the weeding actually made a positive difference. Or perhaps because of it...

The carrots, which seemed like they were going to disappoint at the beginning of the summer, have turned out fantastic. I am probably going to plant another two rows next year. I don't even really like carrots, but aside from the butterfly factor there's also the fact that I really do like growing things that make me feel like I know what I'm doing. Hence, garlic and carrots and herbs.

We pulled off the cilantro seeds, or a large portion of them, so now we have our own home-grown coriander seeds. I am quite pleased. I was a little concerned that there didn't seem to be a lot, but then I realized how often we used coriander seeds -- which is not often at all. So for our needs, there is really quite enough.

I'm going to try to save some of the beefsteak tomato seeds, since they're a heritage plant. The way they grew in the garden this year suggests to me that they'll be an ideal container tomato, which is really all I need. I'm the only one in the house who eats tomatoes, and while sauce remains an option, I suspect that one container of tomatoes will likely be just enough.

Friday, September 12, 2008

sauce: the conclusion

I survived the tomato canning. Other than the frustration of being up until after midnight to put tomato sauce in jars, the other frustration?

3kg of tomatoes = 1 L of sauce


That is two 500 mL jars, if anyone is counting. 'Cause I am.

We go through tomato sauces at a rate of at least two jars every couple of weeks to a month. So, this tomato sauce isn't going to last long.

The good news? It tasted pretty good, and it smelled delicious, and it sealed just perfectly. So, that is good. But I'm thinking, maybe it is too much work to grow all those tomatoes for TWO JARS of sauce.

As fishy said, it's a good thing we are not pioneers. We'd definitely starve.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

progress update: thicken, damn you tomatoes!

So, update on the canning. Because I know everyone is waiting with baited breath.

Let's see, it's 10:45pm and... the freaking tomato mix isn't ready to go in the jars yet. And there is a 35 minute processing period after the tomato mix is in the jars. And the mix has to be strained prior to going into the jars.

The recipe said 1.25 hours for the tomato mixture to come to the proper thickness, and we're going on 2.25 and we're still not there yet. I guess it makes sense that my tomatoes are really watery given all the rain this summer, but it's hell on the thickening.

The good news is that I did, in fact, have enough tomatoes right out of the garden for the complete and full recipe, so I am very pleased with that. There are even enough left over to make bbq sauce! And probably something else, too. Also, the sauce smells really good. It's a very basic tomato sauce, with oregano, bay leaf, garlic, onion and a whack of roma tomatoes. It's going to be made with my very own tomatoes and my very own garlic, so that makes me happy.

However, I must say, we will not be making the bbq sauce tonight. That will be an effort for tomorrow. Or possibly Friday. Or Saturday. Sometime before Monday, anyway. Really.

fall planning and canning

So, nothing big for 50, I decided. Too much pressure.

Speaking of pressure, tonight fishy and I are going to try some canning. We have made jellies successfully, both sweet and hot, and now we're going to attempt a tomato sauce, with any of the good roma tomatoes that are left in the garden. According to the recipe I have I need 6kg of romas. I am thinking I might halve everything. I know you're not supposed to fiddle with the ingredients of preserved foods, but the ratios will all stay the same...

That is our task for tonight. This coming weekend is going to be a major garden cleaning blitz. I am going to order some garlic from Veseys again, because I was thrilled with the way the garlic grew this summer and I'd love to have more next summer -- I ordered 1lb of bulbs last year and I think I'm going to go for 3lbs this year. Yes, that will be a lot of garlic. But the amount we have in storage now is not going to last us the winter, and if I can avoid buying garlic from China I will. Nothing against China, but it seriously chafes me to buy a little bulb of garlic flown all the freaking way from the opposite side of the world (you can't get much further away) when it is something that grows in Canada perfectly well.

So, I will grow my own. And lots of it. The other thing is, the garlic made me feel good about my gardening skills. Such as they are...

Friday, August 22, 2008

"wild" grape jelly

This is my 49th post. Should I do something special for the 50th, or is that right reserved for the 100th?

Anyway. The grapes that shadow our back porch bloomed and then produced like crazy this year. Turns out we have green seedless grapes, not at all table grapes but deliciously flavourful and very productive.

I thought I'd toss out some photos of the grapes and the jelly that fishy and I (though mostly fishy) made. We used a recipe from the Internets: Wild Grape Jelly. fishy did some modifications for the second batch, with more juice and less sugar, and it turned out better. We have no idea how many pounds of grapes we used. More than three for sure. We made two batches of jelly and still had juice left over. It was quite simple, but very time consuming, for the de-stemming of the grapes, the washing, and the crushing. Which we did with our bare hands. After the crushing, we got something that looked like this:

It was delicious, but a little painfully sour. We strained (not overnight) and ended up with this crazy, cloudy, grey-green juice. Something like I imagine the Limpopo River looking like. It tasted fine though. We added food colouring (doing it again, I don't think I would -- I'd like to see if the jelly clarifies a little and looks a little more appealing) and pectin, and away we went. Well, fishy. I was making cornbread and marinating tofu. So, fishy did all the actual canning bits. This is what we ended up with:

It's lovely. The first batch is a little sweet, but the second is just about perfect. Looking forward to testing it with cheese. The first batch will have to be for toast and dessert, I think.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

postmodern Belfry

In the "cool creatures in my life" vein, I have another story.

I had an exam today. Thus last night, I was all about the getting to bed early and sleeping well. We did pretty okay. I was starting to drift off by about 11:30 when fishy says "Did you hear that?"

Yes, I'd heard it. But I wasn't about to get out of bed to investigate. I'm lazy that way. fishy, on the other hand, is not so lazy, and is quite proactive about investigating strange noises in the house. He got up and headed into the hallway... and he was gone for quite a long time. By this time I was wide awake and thought I'd maybe better get out of bed. Especially since there was definitely something in the hall.

It was out of the hall, closed in the sunroom with fishy, by the time I was out of the bedroom. And when fishy poked his head out to warn me to stay low, I could see it.

It looked something like this. Only much faster. And bigger. They look a lot bigger when they're flying in your house.

I've seen lots of little brown bats before, and this one was clearly larger, even when one controls for apparent bat-in-house size. When it landed on the windowsill, I'd say the body was the length of my palm, which is pretty big for a bat. Big brown bat it was.

fishy wanted a hat, and though I would normally scoff at such a request (what the hell does a bat want with your hair?) it was pretty clear that our guest was dive-bombing. Out of respect for the fact that I was pretty sure both he and the bat would have simultaneous heart attacks if it did manage to hit the head, I got him a hat. Then fishy managed to keep the sunroom door closed, light off, and open all the windows and remove the screens. The door to the rest of the house was closed, and we left our guest alone.

We decided to name the bat Belfry, since we don't have a belfry for the bat to be in. However, now the bat is the belfry and thus we have both. Problem solved.

Also, the bat is no longer in the house. At some time in the night he found the open windows, and when we checked this morning he was gone.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

backyard bugs

Today it is quite warm out there. I am technically working on an essay today, but I did manage to get out and weed one of the veggie beds... while out there, witnessed a black swallowtail laying her eggs on my carrots. Super exciting! I am torn between leaving the single egg I could find out there to fend for itself naturally, or bringing it inside to be coddled into adulthood by me. I think I might leave it out there, since that's really the way things should be. But the caterpillar is welcome to my carrots. It can have my share. That was my secret second reason for planting carrots: butterflies.

Also saw an adult cicada resting on the (remaining) garlic, and a white-faced meadowhawk on the spiderwort by the birdbath. There are cabbage white butterflies everywhere. fishy and I found a cardinal's nest in the white lilac not all that long ago, too, which is pretty neat. There are nuthatches and chickadees around, and goldfinches constantly singing.

As for the rest of the garden, well... it's still there. Which is a good thing. Must get the rest of the garlic out and put the brussels sprouts seedlings in.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

magazine dreams

I received my Canadian Gardening this week. I have always kind of wanted to be subscribed to a magazine, and I've never done it, just for myself. I think I was subscribed to Chickadee when I was a kid, but does that really count? I always buy CG in the grocery store, and this is technically cheaper.

The result has been that I had wonderfully vivid, realistic gardening dreams last night. There was one garden and patio that I am still trying to figure out -- is it a place I have been before, or did I really just dream it? That only happens very rarely in my dreams (because usually there would be some sort of clue -- like the fact that I was flying over the garden, or perhaps there was a stationary tornado in the background) but I think this was maybe just a very realistic dream.

The other nice thing it has done is convince me that we are not alone in being incredibly frustrated by our garden at this time of year. With us it's been a combination of not having enough time, or enough will is probably more like it, to do the weeding and deadheading that is required of a garden the size of ours. And July is always a terrible time for gardens. So I am pleased to see that it affects other gardeners, too. Reading the suggestions from experts at on the last page of this issue, some of them are practical, but some of them are completely "Don't worry about it, this happens -- throw some colourful annuals in there and see what happens..."

I don't know if I'm going to go with the annuals, but I am going feel secure in the knowledge that gardeners everywhere have problems with July.

Monday, July 14, 2008

i found them!

Quick update for tonight...

There will be carrots. Unless the rabbits get them between now and the time they're ripe, now that the carrots can be found, out from underneath the crab grass as they are now. There are going to be maybe a dozen carrots. Out of three rows. But that is some! Better than none.

Next year will be better, I'm sure. I will either fence or ... stand guard over the new young shoots of various plants with a water gun ...

The tomatoes are looking great, too. The peppers look like they might give life a shot if the warm, sunny weather continues. I am proud of them.

feeling better

Somehow my garden journal has vanished. I have no idea where it has gone. So, in lieu of that, I'll let you know what I've been up to this morning here.

I pulled up about a third of the garlic bulbs this morning, and decided that though they're fine, they do seem to have a little more growing to do. So I left the rest in and cut off the flower stalks. It turns out the flower stalks do make a difference, at least with this species ('Music'). So I might be a bit late to really make a difference to the bulbs, but we'll see. I'm going to leave them for another week, I think.

The ones that came out are flat on the [clothes] drying rack in the shade. I'll bring them in tonight, and then hopefully by Wednesday they will be cured enough for me to braid them. They're hardneck garlic, which apparently doesn't braid particularly well.

I replanted the area that I had pulled the garlic out of with 'Royal Burgundy' beans, and we'll see if anything happens there. Or if the rabbit destroys them. Maybe I will spread bone meal over the area again and see if that actually does anything. If not, I am totally building a fence next spring.

The compost pile actually seems to be doing something, so I am hopeful that I will have compost to mulch with. I might attempt that this afternoon. It's such a nice day out, and I'm trying to salvage what's left of the vegetable garden. I might plant some more beans in the spots that could use a little something. I might even re-try beets. I am feeling optimistic today.

Friday, July 11, 2008

the mid-July rant

Somehow I hoped this year would be different -- that I would be able to get the weeds under control, deadhead the flowers, and generally keep things blooming in a relatively tidy fashion.

I know, I know. What was I thinking?

The weeds are even bigger this year. I think they're going to eat me. Even my poor little vegetable garden is a weed factory. The only thing I'm going to get out of it is garlic, cilantro and tomatoes. Maybe peppers, but they've hated this summer weather. If I am lucky I will be able to plant the brussels sprouts out and they'll just grow like mad. I'm hoping. At the rate they're going right now they will not even make it to a foot high, because the rabbits will eat them and they'll freeze before the first sprout even appears.

The front yard is a sloppy mess and I am feeling particularly discouraged by it, I have to say. Now, the past couple of weeks I haven't been around and when I've been around I've been preparing for this week, which was a really, really heavy week at school. It's not a surprise that the garden is out of control. And then it rained last night (which was really good) very hard (which was not) and everything, even the things that were looking great, has flopped over and given up. The lamb's ears in particular are forming a soggy mat over the rest of the garden.

I have totally had it with those lamb's ears. I am so giving them away when it comes time to dig and divide in the fall. And I'm going to put in some less maintenance-heavy plants. I am discouraged enough that I just want to re-do the entire front but somehow, I don't think that is going to be the right solution to my problem.

Sorry, just had to vent. Now I will concentrate on the good about the garden. Later.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July Long Weekend 2008

In my mind, I have two prototypes for perfect gardens. The first is a lush, green, mossy secret garden, with fairytale flowers, ponds, and hidden, dewy, whimsical spots. Slightly overgrown but never too much, with vines and little benches.

The other looks something exactly like this:

The Bruce Peninsula has yet to find an equal in my heart, despite travels over much of Canada, through France, and portions of Central America. There is no place on earth quite like it. The closest I have come has been the Atlantic Coast: Grand Manan or perhaps Cape Breton, or other parts of Nova Scotia. But even then. The only thing Georgian Bay lacks is whales and jellyfish. But the ocean can't compare to Georgian Bay blue.

fishy and I are back from a lovely mini-vacation. The weather was fantastic, and the scenery, as always, sublime.

The wildlife was good, with invertebrates, as always, making up the majority of sightings. Like a dope, I forgot my net this time around, leaving the dragon and damselflies quite safe. The above monarch was extremely obliging for fishy.

The flowers at this time of year are sort of between. The strawberries are starting to fruit, most of the columbine are done (not all, though), as are most of the blue flags and potentilla shrubs, and the gentians haven't started flowering yet.

The bluebells are flowering, though, and the (above) Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) and a number of lovely, delicate little white flowers are poking out of the rocks pretty much everywhere you look. The yellow lady's slippers are just finishing, although to my dismay we saw them blooming one day and the next it looked like some rabbit had chewed off just the flower. It was bizarre. The plants we have on the property are nowhere near the road, so they aren't really in danger of being stolen or picked by jerky humans. A hungry rabbit is all I can think of. Of course they have to go for the rare orchids and not any of the other plants...

Ah well. It was a lovely trip, and I'm glad we did it. It is back to school for me next week, with the Week from Hell starting things off. Hooray!

(photos by fishy)

Friday, June 27, 2008

i can't see you, but i can hear you

It has been a long, hot day, during which I had planned to do several things in the garden and accomplished none of them. In fact, I think I accomplished less than none; I forgot to water one of the front window boxes, and they really need to be watered every other day at the least. Oops.

But I have been listening to a Pewee singing his heart out all day, and a Red-Eyed Vireo off in the distance. The vireos are one of my favourite singers, and one of the first bird songs I ever learned to identify on my own. Partially because they are so easy: "Here I am. ... Where are you? ... Here I am. ... Where are you?" and so on. And on. And on.

Tonight was another treat. I thought I heard them last night, too, but tonight I am definitely sure: the nighthawks are back. I love this bird with a passion. I have no idea why, exactly. But they are very special, and they are amazing fliers. I've seen them at dusk before around here, a couple of times last summer. Infrequently, but they're around. And they make a very distinctive buzz as they fly over after dark, and I heard it tonight. It feels, for some reason, like a gift.

Monday, June 23, 2008

roofer madness

Since we purchased the house, there has been a leak in the roof over the bedroom. More specifically, there has been a leak where the chimney and the roof meet. Any time it rained with any gusto at all, the wall right beside the bed would drip. The floor is hardwood, the baseboards are hardwood... and fishy and I are both allergic to mold. So as you can see, this isn't an ideal situation.

Last weekend... was it only last weekend? Yes. Well, we decided to take the chimney down. It's not used anyways, and capping it would be costly, and capping wouldn't fix the problem. Saturday was a lovely sunny day... and so we began.

By the end of the day Saturday we had pulled all the soggy drywall off the wall, taken the chimney down, and managed to start the patching. By the end of the day Sunday fishy had put a first layer of protection down. So from inside it looked like so:

And from outside, like so:

Would you believe that it rained ALL NIGHT on Sunday?

However, I am pleased to report that it actually leaked less, despite the fact that the roof was only partially finished, than it has since we moved in.

One week later, the patching is done. Doesn't it look awesome?

I wish I could take credit but I cannot. I know nothing about roofing. fishy, on the other hand, is now something of an expert, and he did a fantastic job. This section of the roof will never, ever leak. You can picture me touching wood just in case I jinxed us.

Now, you may have noticed that there was no insulation in the wall in the bedroom. Those of you who have houses will be nodding knowingly now, because it appears that one project seems to lead to another... and rather than moving back into the bedroom now that the roof is finished, we'll be insulating it first. And then I have some decorating plans to be carried out. And we're going to have to sand and polish the hardwood before we get everything back in there. So... well, we'll get it done by the end of the summer. Right?

Friday, June 20, 2008

the dames on show

I'm trying to avoid an essay that is already a day late. Let's have a look at what's blooming in the garden!

This is a very tall salvia in the backyard middle bed. Last year it blew over in a storm, but this year it's sturdy enough that I think it would take a heck of a wind to knock it down. I love this plant. I honestly could have just salvia in my garden and I would probably be happy.

The rose I tried to kill last summer has returned the favour by being covered with blooms this summer. It's a climber, and it is still suffering from aphid problems, but I decided that since it didn't die it gets to stay, and I even applied a nice coating of soapy water to kill off a bunch of the aphids last week. The colour of the flowers doesn't really go with anything else in the garden, of course, and it's one of those roses that has been patented: Paprika (Pat. 9537). Seriously. I wanted to kill it partially because of that. There's something a little too corporate about a rose that has to have the patent number appearing after its variety name.

But I can't blame the plant. It's not the plant's fault.

This peony is going to outgrow its alloted spot in the garden next year. I think I'll have to divide it next fall. It has a lovely fragrance, and it blooms like crazy. It requires no love. I love it anyways.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

an ode to the easy girls of the garden

I have always kind of had a thing against peonies and petunias. Not because they both start with "p" although that might have some subconscious thing to it. I have nothing against the letter "p"... I don't think.

No, it's because I've always thought them a little, well, whorish. You know, with the constant, profuse blooms in bright, showy colours. Flowers flaunting themselves in the garden. No subtlety! No secrets! Easy to care for, don't require much other than the occasional deadheading, and yet still showing themselves off to everyone who passes.

... ... Riiiiight.

So those things that always made me just the slightest bit disdainful of both peonies and petunias when I had no garden of my own?

I loves them. I loves them very much. I even planted petunias this year, and I really have a thing against them. But the little ones in my front window boxes are ... just, well, cute. And delightfully pretty. And exuberant, and joyful, and easy to care for. Such colourful payoff for so little work.

And the peonies. Oh my word, the peonies. They are flaunting like crazy. They have enormous, profuse, fragrant Flowers-with-a-capital-F. They are flopping all over the place. They are stunning. And the foliage! I never really appreciated the loveliness of the peony foliage before. It's dark green and rich and really interesting. It looks good! And it takes me nothing! And I have cut flowers in the house, and cut flowers to give away, and there are still more blooms coming.

Woe is me for ever disdaining the carefree peony and petunia. I humble myself before thee, cheerful dames of the flower garden.

Friday, June 13, 2008

progress update: garlic gone wild

News, news! We finally planted the front window boxes. And I was surprised one day to walk out onto the front porch and find myself endowed with surprise geraniums. I think Grandma and Grandpa were by and didn't realize I was home.

The tomatoes and peppers are loving all this hot weather, but I need to get the radishes out shortly before they kill the carrots. The cilantro seems to be hanging in there. The shallots are resentful, and disappearing quietly. I'd blame the rabbits but I think, for once, they're innocent.

The garlic has thrown up its flower heads; I have been advised that they don't necessarily have to come off, and if I do want to take them off, the stalks can be peeled and sliced and used as a mild garlic clove substitute in salads. I think I'll try that tonight, with romaine and radishes.

I will try to get some photos, but the camera is doing something strange where the light meter doesn't seem to be working. I think more correctly it's that I don't know how to work the light meter, so perhaps it's time for me to learn.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

feelin' hot hot hot

30 Celsius three days in a row! It's too much.

And I am beginning to realize that I am starting to use this blog as a forum for small talk... all about the weather, all the time. So I'll cut that out.

Good news! fishy and I picked up some plants to put into the front baskets, so I am going to plant those this evening. And I need to water the butterfly flowers, I just remembered that. Put Mr. Droopy back out into the yard to see the sun, which I think he will enjoy, and all the tomatoes and peppers are now planted.

So I think that means everything to be planted this year is in the ground, except for the basil and the brussels sprouts. The brussels sprouts I'll put in pots today, and the basil might just go straight out into the garden. It's hot enough for it, and it's an herb; I don't think anything will eat it.

Speaking of getting eaten, the lettuce I planted for a second time is looking awesome, so shortly I will have to take it down to one plant per pot, and then plant them in planters. I have lots of planters, so there's lots of place for lettuce. And basil, frankly. The place where I was going to put the basil may be used instead for beans. Or something. Who knows. I'm still fooling around with this stuff. It's all about the learning.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

sorry rain, I didn't mean it... please come back!

The lack of rain is starting to get to me. Did I think I was going to be saying this? No. However, I have had to water my poor shallot seedlings several times now to avoid them dying on me, and I was a little late for some of them.

I did plant the Roma tomatoes out into the garden today, and surrounded them with tomato cages, to keep them from going wild all over the place. They grow incredibly fast. I'll plant out the heirloom beefsteaks tomorrow, I think, and maybe even get some basil into the ground. That said, it shows no sign of warming up enough for basil any time soon, so I'm not sure what to do about that.

I'm also stuck on what to put in the front boxes. I need some very drought-tolerant annual, because I'm not going to water them every day in August (the lobelia was a bad choice last year) and I almost bought a fuchia, but I don't think they're very drought tolerant either. Maybe gazania or something. Or some sort of mixture. I just don't know. There are not a lot of annuals that I actually really like.

One thing I did pick up today that makes me happy is two big bags of mushroom compost. One for the veggie beds and one for the front yard. Well, a piece of the front yard, anyway. Since one bag will probably cover such a small part it won't make much difference.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

warblers as I wander

One bright spot during this year's rather dismal birding season has been a trail I love down by the river at school. There are short sections I occasionally wander and I have yet to come away without seeing or hearing something cool. This is mostly because it's along a major river, I think; but also because the trees are mature and the vegetation is wonderfully lush. This morning I was running late, but as I was rushing I still managed to hear two different kinds of vireos, a catbird, and yellow warblers. This afternoon, wandering and weeding garlic mustard as I went, I heard:
  • a chestnut-sided warbler
  • yellow warblers
  • a rose-breasted grosbeak
  • catbirds
  • goldfinches
  • house wrens
  • red-eyed vireos
  • mallards
  • Canada geese
  • robins
  • a downy woodpecker
  • cardinals
Not bad for a ten minute stroll.

Monday, May 26, 2008

progress update: goodbye lettuce, hello tomatoes

I have replaced the lettuce. In my imagination, it is growing strong and beautiful and big. In my garden, it is non-existent. If I am not careful I'm going to lose the carrots and the beets, too. Although the carrots are currently being protected by the interplanted radishes, which are far too bitter for bunnies, I think.

So, instead, I am going to use the space from the lettuce rows to grow two more tomatoes; the beefsteaks that I got from Grandma. I still have not started the basil, but hopefully this week, and the beans can go in this week too.

Everything else seems to be growing according to plan. fishy and I did some heavy-duty cleanup in the front garden yesterday. There are a couple of clear dead spaces now, but that means more plants, right? Next weekend I intend to find some of that salvia I love so much ('May Night') at a nursery around here, although I am concerned I won't have much luck. I tried to order it from Veseys last year and got daylilies instead. I should probably have complained, but I didn't.

I will be planting the butterfly flowers I have, the little seedlings are just about ready to go out. That will be either today or Wednesday. I am a little worried that they're going to get stomped on before they get big, but I'm still going to try. The one front corner of the garden looks like absolute hell.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

May Long Weekend 2008

Every year on the May long weekend we go birding with my mother's family. We have done this since I was eight. It started just being my mother, my grandparents, my great-aunt and great-uncle, and my uncle and I. It has expanded in recent years to include as many of my mother's siblings and their spouses and children as can arrange to come along, as well as the occasional poor soul who is a friend of a sibling or a child. These poor, unsuspecting folk never seem quite prepared for the intensity with which we attack this weekend birding sojourn. We are out to see birds. Rain (or sleet, or hail, or snow, as has been the case sometimes) is no barrier. Freezing cold winds? No problem. Hunger? There are muffins in the car. And bathroom breaks are for the weak and whiny.

You are, however, welcome to look at/for other wildlife, and maybe even plants. So this trip, despite the annual grousing about the weather (which was awful, except for the two hours during which fishy took these photos) we had a great number of sightings. Not just birds, but enormous rainbow trout, a muskrat, a garter snake, dragonflies, turtles, leopard frogs, green frogs and a bullfrog, schools of dace, and a fox. One of my favourite flowers, the marsh marigold was blooming:

There are always at least a few good birds to see too, and this year was no exception. We had fantastic luck at a couple of flooded field patches; at one we saw a stilt sandpiper, which I believe is a first for me, and at the other we saw black terns, which I have never seen outside of Point Pelee and which we failed to see there this year. They're one of my favourites, so I was really pleased that we had the chance to see them after all.

It's one of my favourite spring rituals. I had to miss it a couple of years ago, and I cried. I always wish the weather was better and that we'd seen more (four warblers! that is not enough!) but that, I think, is part of the fun.
(photos by fishy)

rain, rain, go away...

There are veggies up in the garden. And since I didn't really plant anything last year that animals would be interested in, I wasn't prepared for the combination of irritation and sadness that set in this morning when I discovered my lettuce had been "thinned" without my supervision... It's cayenne and blood meal to the rescue! After the rain today.

There has been so much rain, and it has been so cold. Now, the rain is good, and I think a lot of things went a little nuts yesterday because it was sunny and almost warm, and there is lots of water to be had. But today it is grey and cold again, and it looks like it's planning to stay that way. Everything seems to have stalled. I just did the first deadheading of the tulips in the backyard this morning -- way behind.

Grandma provided me with two plants of heirloom beefsteak tomatoes this past weekend (from which I will have pics, by the way) but I'm not exactly sure where to put them. I already need all the space I have for the Roma tomatoes and the cayenne peppers. I might attempt to stick one of them in a large container I haven't dragged out of the garage yet.

I also need to rescue the worms in my vermicomposter from themselves. They are going nuts. I love the castings they produce, and I want to use it to fertilize the houseplants, but what I really need is a nice warm day above 15 Celsius when I can take them outside for the separation work. When it gets warm, too, I'll take a bunch of the worms out and stick them in the composter where they can get to work on that. They won't survive the winter, unfortunately, but when it comes down to it, they won't survive their overcrowded vermicomposter either.

More on the weekend birding trip later today...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pelee trip 2008

(Bennett Rd. in Rondeau PP, by fishy)

The birding weekend was cold, cold and rainy, except for Saturday. Saturday we got sunburns. No going halfway, apparently.

Due to the weather and our own chickening out (which I prefer to think of as our pneumonia prevention program), we didn't quite hit 100 species, which for a Point Pelee Mother's Day weekend is not awesome. But, we did see some awesome birds. We got a lifer, the Mourning Warbler (Oporornis philadelphia). I know they're supposed to be "common within their range" but they are very secretive, and have always been one of the warblers I wish I could see. I identified it myself, too! That was at Rondeau Provincial Park. The next one to tick off the list would be the Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) but I am afraid that will have to wait until next year, unless something very spectacular and unusual happens at MacGregor Point Provincial Park this weekend.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

April showers brought May flowers

Today has been a super-productive day. I can see one advantage to the literary appreciation course I'm taking: I can read an entire novel in a day and call that homework. Hooray! And yes, I did like Pride and Prejudice after all. I have ordered the next book to read from the library, and I am wondering if it is cheating to get it as an audio book to listen to during my commute?

Aside from that, it has been raining all afternoon, so I didn't get much done in the way of gardening. This is all right, I think I burned out on that on Monday and Tuesday. The seeds needed the water, and I needed the break. Friday I will finally take the pruners out of their hiding spot and apply them to the raspberries. After this rain, there will be no shortage of weeding to do, either.

I did pop trimmings of my sole geranium in water to try to root them. Grandma gave that geranium to me and I'll be upset if it goes south. On the other hand, I suppose she could always give me another cutting... I'm just really lazy with geraniums. This is the only one I like. If it ever flowers I'll take a photo; the colour is quite stunning.

Speaking of photos, I'll post two. The first is of some of the bulbs in the garden. The second is of the garlic doing it's thing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

the vegetable garden is in

Whew. My back, it is sore. Yesterday I did more digging than I should have, after going months with no digging at all. The plan changed from digging an entirely new third vegetable bed to just expanding one of the beds that's already there. Frankly, it is a better plan. Less digging.

But the good news is that things are planted! I got the lettuce and the beets in last night, and then the carrots, shallots and cilantro in this morning. I need desperately to pot up the tomatoes, which probably can't go in for another week but are far outgrowing their little peat pots. There are five peppers up now, of which I am only going to need two. The African daisies are starting to pop up, although once they're out they're growing quite slowly despite the sun they're getting. And the asclepias are not quite ready to plant out. I figure another week or so for them. Have to remember, too, that the last frost date in this area isn't until May 9, which is the end of this week.

I have no place to put the beans I bought, or the basil, or the brussels sprouts. I think the brussels sprouts are going to go in where the lettuce and beets are planted once those have sort of done their thing. The brussels sprouts apparently do better if planted a fair bit later, so that they get a bit of frost once ripe. I might actually get a crop of basil in there before the sprouts go in... have the lettuce and beets out around the end of June, basil in until the end of July, and then the sprouts after that?

I'm just thinking out loud here.

Will have pictures of the newly planted currant and dogwood, as well as of the amazing garlic. It occurs to me that something else is going to need to go where that garlic is, actually... hmm. Sprouts there, perhaps? Or beans...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

home at last

I am home! I am home and I am so glad to be here. I have missed my husband and I have missed my house. And my garden is growing on without me!

That's okay, though. The front bed is gorgeous. The bulbs are all out and blooming in force, and because it's been so cool the past couple of days they are lasting quite well. Only the very early species tulips, Dutch iris and the croci seem to be past their best. The fritillary is absolutely amazing in the back yard, one of the cornflowers is already blooming. And so is the little prairie smoke I planted in the front yard:That isn't the best picture, but it's not bad. The other photos I took of the front bed are all washed out. Today is very grey. It is too wet to do much other than weeding today, but that's okay because there's weeding to be done. "One year seeding makes for seven years weeding"? Yeah, I get it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oliver, Jamie. Jamie at home: cook your way to the good life. Hyperion: 2007.

Not much one for celebrity chefs until we started watching cooking shows, I have turned out to be a food voyeur. I love cooking shows. I am a fan of certain chefs. And yes, the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver himself, has a fan in me. Specifically the series Jamie at Home, which I am anxiously waiting for on DVD so I can watch it again and again and drool at his garden and his kitchen and his amazing outdoor oven.

While waiting, though, I will satisfy myself with the most excellent (and enormous) Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life. It's full of delicious-looking recipes, and notes about the produce and meat used in the recipes. A food voyeur like me doesn't really need it to be a functional cook book. Just pretty and tasty-looking. Which it is.

It is also functional. The kofta was the "Grilled lamb kofta kebabs with pistachios and spicy salad wrap" on pg. 44. It was just as easy as the recipe made it sound, not to mention straightforward and very tasty. I would reproduce the recipe here, but I'm not sure that I'm allowed. Copyright and all that.

A warning: if you find books that are written extremely informally, this may not be the book for you: "However, my favorite thing to do is boil them for 10 minutes, toss them with some good olive oil, salt, pepper, a little swig of red or white wine vinegar, woody herbs like thyme and rosemary and some smashed garlic, and roast the little monkeys at 350 F until they're lightly golden, with intense flavor. Come on Eileen, now we're talking!" The monkeys in question are carrots and beets. Mm. Monkeys.

Friday, April 25, 2008

kofta away!

I cooked lamb kofta over the barbeque last night, and I happen to be proud enough that I have to brag about it. I meant to take a photo but completely forgot. Suffice to say it not only tasted delicious, but it looked really damn good too.

I don't often cook with lamb (actually, I think this was maybe the first time) and so I was a little nervous. I also had to deal with the fact that the only pistachios available were of the salted, in-shell variety; so I had to shell and rince them before adding them to the lamb mix. Aside from these very minor inconveniences, the recipe really was as fast and easy as it looked.

The idea for serving is to toast up a flatbread then pile salad greens plus lemony red onions on top, then add kofta and top with plain yoghurt. I decided to make a cucumber-yoghurt sauce instead, and this was really my crowning achievement. Because I am not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook. I need to have a recipe and I need to follow it exactly. I have been tentatively stepping out of this shell.

And boy, did it turn out well! I added fresh mint, finely chopped cucumber, cilantro and freshly squeezed lemon juice to the yoghurt, turning it a little more saucy. Then I added a touch of salt and also just a wee bit of sugar, because I found it a bit too bitter -- and it was just perfect to top everything off. If I was doing it again, I would add diced tomato and squeezed garlic. But that's a minor quibble.

The kofta itself were a little bit... bland, maybe. I would add a bit more salt and a bit more pepper next time, and definitely a couple cloves of garlic, I think. And I would grind up the pistachios first as opposed to just adding them whole to the mix. They were a little chunkier than they needed to be. I wouldn't want them creamed, of course, but maybe a little smaller in size. And I'd add a few more, too. If they happened to be hulled for me.

All in all -- kofta = success! Love bbq season.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

duck watching and frog listening

A spontaneous trip with my aunt to a flooded field near a creek led to some lovely birds last night:
  • two yellow-shafted flickers
  • mallards
  • ring-necked ducks
  • buffleheads
  • two green-winged teals
  • a black duck
  • a male pintail

The pintail was in his very best breeding plumage. Seeing them is normally a treat; this time was an experience. He was gorgeous. Previous to heading out for the ducks, we had a great look at a male turkey doing his best to impress the ladies. The ladies didn't look too impressed. Felt a little sorry for him. He sure impressed me, but I guess I'm not a turkey.

There were also several peepers doing their thing quite loudly, and later on in the evening the wood frogs got going. Now that I know what to listen for with the wood frogs, I realize just how many times I may have heard them without realizing. It's a very innocuous sound, too, next to the exuberant peepers.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ed Lawrence and chickens

A couple of things of note for today:

1. For some reason, I missed that Ed Lawrence has a book. I think I probably knew that, but haven't really clued into it. It's now on my list. I can probably get it from the library. I expect it is awesome, but with two terms of school coming up I have to watch my spending. I have always loved listening to Ed on Ontario Today. It used to make me feel grown-up. Now it's about his gardening tips. As an aside -- he never looks the way I expect him to. Each time I see a photo I'm surprised.

2. Today, the City of Waterloo is considering a proposed bylaw regarding raising urban chickens. Thinking about urban chickens leaves me with two questions: a) does one ask one's neighbours if one wants two chickens in one's backyard? and b) what are the best books to tell me about how to raise chickens? I think my grandfather would have gotten a kick out of me trying to raise chickens in my urban back yard. I know my uncle is going to laugh at me.

Not that we have decided we're going to have chickens, not by a long shot. But it's kind of a cool thought, isn't it?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

thoughts on skinny moose

I have finally seen moose in Algonquin Park. Yesterday after work I left straight to drive to a little spot where fishy and I were meeting near the West Gate, and on my drive through the park I encountered two deer, what I believe was a screech owl, and three moose. Heretofore, I have to admit that though I have seen moose many other places, and have spent a fair bit of time every year for the past three or four in Algonquin during both winter and summer, I had never seen a moose actually in the park.

The three moose I saw were looking a little rough. Okay, the first two were looking emaciated. It has not been a good winter for ungulates anywhere, and here in the park there are still large patches of snow and a lot of ice on the lakes. The third one I saw looked like he had a little more meat on his bones, but it occurs to me, maybe this is part of the reason that males loose their antlers in the fall? Because they clearly don't have the strength to carry them around through the end of the winter and into the spring.

I also thought, my god they look mangy, but it occurred to me just before I saw the third that I believe moose also go through a bit of a shedding process in the spring, and lose their heavier winter coats.

The other thing that occurred to me was that I really think people shouldn't be allowed to get out of their cars and chase wildlife. The first two moose, the really wretched ones, were being pursued by tourists with cameras. I thought about stopping and snarking, but that never makes me feel good, and I doubt it really actually helps. And if I had never seen a moose before, I would probably want some photos, even of a sickly moose. Those poor moose really don't have the energy to waste getting away from tourists.

So, instead of feeling really down on humanity, I decided to feel good about the fact that I did see moose, and a screech owl, and deer (who were looking hungry, but not nearly as hungry as the moose) and that I am here for a weekend in the sun, and am going to go birdwatching today.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mr. Droopy

I made an impulse plant purchase earlier this year. The IGA on my way home from work has some of the most interesting plants I have ever seen in a grocery store, including beautiful cacti and other weird succulents. But the plant that caught my eye was a little banana plant, hanging out with the potted pineapples and coffee plants. You know the kind, in the little 4-inch pots with the colourful tags, that appeal to people who like the idea of growing a plant that produces something they are familiar with (like coffee, pineapples or bananas).

Did I mention that it was January in Quebec when I bought this plant?

The next day, I drove my banana plant, tucked in a bag, into work with me. Now, the car I was driving at that point did not have a working heater. Also, the parking lot is quite large, and by the time I got in to work that morning I had to park in the back forty and walk.

Now, January in Quebec can be quite cold. This particular day turned out to be the coldest day of the year.

By the time the banana plant was sitting on my desk, it was looking a little desperate. The leaves, previously so glossy and green, were now dull and wilting. All except for one, which had been hiding behind one of the larger leaves. The stem was still quite crisp. So, despite the skepticism of my co-workers, I set him on my desk in the south sun that pours through the window, christened him Mr. Droopy, and let him decide whether or not he wanted to keep growing (see the post from yesterday for a description of my gardening philosophy, which extends even more so to indoor plants).

Three months later, Mr. Droopy's got seven new leaves, plus an eighth starting to spiral up from the centre of the stalk. The other damaged leaves are slowly falling off, and he looks less morose. He is gorgeous. When I get him home in a couple weeks, I'm going to have to repot him and give him a good feeding.

This morning, when I came in to work, I noticed that he had little water droplets on the tips of his healthiest leaves. Now, I knew that banana plants needed heat and to be fairly moist but in well-drained soil; it occurred to me this morning that I know nothing else about banana plants. So I had no idea whether or not the water droplets were a good thing (am I overwatering? Is excessive transpiration healthy? Is this a sign that he is very very happy?)

Gardeners, by and large, do not put together beautiful websites, by the way. Most nursery and seed websites are appallingly bad and very hard to navigate around.

Anyway. I still don't know about the droplets, but I do know now that there are an enormous variety of decorative banana plants out there, and that much of the info on growing bananas relates to growing them outside, and that they like to be heavily fed, and that I can put Mr. Droopy outside for the summer and bring him back inside for the winter. In the spirit of the internet, mind you, I have no idea whether or not I should cut him back and leave him in a cool spot over next winter, or whether I should put him in the sunniest window I can find and have an extra light for him.

I'll update as I find out more info. This may be a job for the *gasp* public library...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

musings on the will to live

So, yes. Of the earlier seedlings planted, all the tomato seedlings came up, and got a little scrawny from the lack of light (they sprouted faster than I expected, and I didn't tell fishy to move them to the sunroom soon enough) but by all reports they are doing fine. The peppers are taking longer than I expected, but I am sure part of that is due to cold temperatures. More than one are up now, so that's good. The peppers I really want, because I will make jelly with them again.

And much to my surprise, all the asclepias sprouted! And fast, too. They were up as fast as the tomatoes, and got their first true leaves faster too. Who knew? I expected them to be too soggy, as I over-wet the seeding mix I had them in.

One of the things Abbie Zabar says that always gives me hope is that plants want to grow. So you can do a lot of terrible things to most plants, and they'll still try to grow through it. Seeds especially. This is part of my gardening strategy. I figure that the plants are going to try to grow anyways, so any help I give them is totally a bonus. If the plant doesn't have the will to live even with the help I give it, well, I tried. Generally, this works out quite well for me, and surprisingly well for most of my plants.

Incidentally, the latest Norfolk pine in the house is showing every sign of being a wuss. In my experience, most Norfolk pines are wusses. So is rosemary. And lobelia. And thunbergia. And morning glory. Asclepias, on the other hand, is a fighter.

/insert random hockey note (I promise not to do this very often)

It's a good thing the asclepias is a fighter, because the Ottawa Senators crushed me again this year, despite all the very loud yelling and cheering I did. If this year's Ottawa Senators were a plant, they would be the hostas in our front yard -- looking awesome at the beginning of the season, and wilting away to burnt-out husks by the end. Ah well. I am going to transplant those hostas to a more suitable location, where they will flourish. And Bryan Murray, sadly, going to be forced to do some uprooting of his own.

/end random hockey note (seriously, the season is over, I'm done)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Zabar, Abbie. The potted herb. Stewart, Tabori and Chang: 1988.

I am cheating a little by reviewing this book. I have had it for years. I think, to be honest, that it was the first gardening book I ever purchased for myself. I bought it as a hardcover. I don't usually buy hardcovers but this one is absolutely lovely as a hardcover specimen. Unfortunately, much to my dismay, a raindrop hit it once and the matting on the cover was discoloured in one place, which is frankly ridiculous. Shouldn't be that easy, especially for a garden book.

What attracted me in the first place were Zabar's pen drawings, which are whimsical and delightful and perfect for this whimsical, delightful little book. Frankly, the drawings are really much of the charm of the book itself. Zabar's style of writing is charming, but sometimes a little... well, I suppose patronizing might be the term, although it's not quite right. I can ignore those moments. Some of the data is also dated, including contact information for various suppliers. But that's also easily ignored.

What drives me a little crazy is how easy she makes everything sound. Growing rosemary is not that easy! I have tried it numerous times. I always, always kill it. The one time I didn't kill it, fishy did (although if we are honest with ourselves, I didn't kill it because I really hadn't had time yet). But I suppose one of the things about gardening books is that it gives me a standard to aspire to. So I will probably buy another pot of rosemary this spring and try again.

This book makes me want to do wonderful things with herbs in pots. But what I really love about it is the little bits of historical information and folklore that thread their way through the text. Herbs have a long, sometimes crazy history (the Greeks, for example, used to put curses on basil, and the Roman man who accepted a sprig of basil from his lover was destined to love her for life). I read this stuff and get all inspired, not just to garden in pots, but to plant a bay laurel tree to keep the lightning and flames from entering my house; and maybe even to write a short story or two about the beekeeper who rubs thyme on the hives to entice the bees.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

i'm starting to feel like an adult

I may end up posting a whole bunch today. I wonder if I should hold off, so I've got some stuff to say next week too... but this is exciting. The new dining room table is here:

I think it looks great.

growing again

It is raining. Things are growing, or starting to. I would have taken pictures except that I have had bad experiences in the past with cameras in the rain.

The ground is extremely soggy today, and there are portions of the back yard, and the front boulevard, that are completely covered in a mat of leaves from last fall. We kept an eye on that, so I'm not sure how it happened -- but if the leaves in the front don't get dealt with, they are going to kill the grass completely. I guess I could plant sedum there, then.

I haven't really had a good look at the front yard, but I walked around the back yard in the rain this morning. The iris I planted are starting to come up, or some of them are. It looks like I planted them a little too shallowly in the fall, so I think I'll lay some thick compost mulch around them this spring. The fritillaria is shooting up, the daylilies are starting to grow (no word yet on whether or not the ones I planted, the ones I got instead of the salvia, are growing; I can't remember where I planted them). There are tulips and croci sprouting up everywhere, with apparent minimal damage from squirrels. I half wonder if it's because the squirrels are full of birdseed. Daffodils and hyacinths are up. I couldn't tell if the ferns and the single dog-tooth violet I got from Veseys have sprouted around the tree. Since I didn't get any photos today, here's a photo by fishy of the fritillaria in bloom from last year (it was quite spectacular):

The spring garlic is going like mad. And interestingly, one of the rhubarb plants, both of which I thought were quite dead, is alive. I don't exactly know what to do about that. I do want rhubarb in my garden, but my suspicion is that it is not going to do at all well where it is. I don't think rhubarb really likes to be moved, though. I don't really have time to do it today anyways, since if there is any garden work to be done it will be to move the hostas out of the front yard and into the back somewhere, and then maybe even move the grass to the front.

The shallots I planted last year and didn't manage to harvest are all up this year, which kind of blows my mind a bit. I will have to take them out, but I don't know if I can do anything with them (like divide them and let them grow, and harvest them?) or not. Will have to do some reading.

Will have photos of the sprouted plants in the sunroom, and of my efforts to plant strawberries later on.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

happy bird times!

Spring birds are definitely back. I have to say, to my chagrin, the phoebes are back in earnest -- I saw one singing like mad from the top of a tree as I walked back from the cafeteria with my coffee. I could hear him once I was back in the library too. The windows here are hardly sealed tight.

Scaups and ring-necked ducks are on the river, and I saw a black duck dabbling in the driving range/lake across the road from work here. Song sparrows, swamp sparrows and tree sparrows are all singing, robins wake me up in the morning, and the grackles are really actually quite gorgeous.

I've also figured out that my summer schedule will allow for a four-day trip to Pelee, and a four-day trip to Tobermory later on. Hooray!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Wilson, Emily Herring (ed.) Two gardeners: A friendship in letters. Beacon: 2003.

I am getting inspired as I start looking at librarian blogs all over the place. Let's try my hand at reviewing books! I've always done a little of that over at but it's never been permanent. But I figure, since I read a fair number of garden-related and cookbooks, why don't I just pop the reviews I have in here. Good for record purposes, if nothing else, to remind myself of what I might consider giving to others.

I will be putting a link to the book I am currently reading in the sidebar, I think, although for now it's a link to the one I have just finished because I haven't picked up anything else yet. That said, the next one is on its way from Amazon, to arrive in my excited hands by next weekend...

The following book I was thinking I would give to my grandmother after I was done with it, but it's not really in any shape to be gifted anymore. Or really shared. But I'll suggest it to Grandma as a library read, I think.

Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters
(Emily Herring Wilson, ed.)

I picked this book up at Nicholas Hoare on Sussex St. and have finally finished reading it after several months. It's been in my bag for a while, and unfortunately looks a little worse for wear (there was an applesauce accident). This is a collection of letters from Katharine S. White (editor of the New Yorker and wife of E.B. White) and Elizabeth Lawrence (a garden writer from South Carolina). The letters themselves are wonderful, but I'm not sure about the editing. It's hard to know without seeing the letters myself, but one gets the impression that the editing was a bit heavy-handed in an effort to impose a narrative on the correspondence. I don't like feeling like I'm missing part of the story. Some of the best stuff is outside the narrative; Lawrence in particular had a wicked sense of humour, and I thoroughly enjoyed when she got off-topic. All-in-all, informative (I have picked up a couple of titles I think I should have a look at now) and a very pleasant read.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

birds in the morning

I have neglected to mention the birds. There are birds. They are starting to come around in good numbers now. For most of the winter, all we've seen are pine grosbeaks, redpolls, chickadees, and the occasional nuthatch and woodpeckers (of the downy and hairy persuasion.) Sometimes there are evening grosbeaks, and I did see a beautiful cooper's hawk at one point.

Spring is on its way. There are now red-winged blackbirds at the feeder constantly, singing my favourite spring songs, along with grackles. Robins are starting to sing at work and I've heard the mourning doves in the morning for a couple weeks now. The first time I heard it I was surprised to realize I'd missed it...

With the river opening, the omnipresent goldeneyes and mallards will soon be joined by other ducks. I am 90% sure I saw a black-backed gull on the ice this morning, but I was on the parkway and unable to stop to get a good look. They're pretty hard to miss, though.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

front yard, i challenge thee!

Ah, the front yard. It is a challenge, having a garden that big. Especially one that hasn't been really renovated for quite a while. I think, as much as I was alarmed at some of the things that happened in that garden this past summer, it was a good idea for us to let it grow and see what came up. I have a much better idea of where I want to go with it now.

The main issue for me, aside from the periwinkle and excessively happy euphorbia, is the cedar tree. It is kind of stuck there like a giant phallis. Okay, it might not be quite that bad, but it's definitely out of place. Part of the challenge is going to be incorporating it, because I'm pretty sure it's not coming out. It's big enough to have a sizeable stump at this point.

I think I'm going to surround it with other shrubs, maybe a small tree. I was thinking a witch hazel, but fish wasn't so sure about that idea. Whatever it is, we need to get it in there soon-ish. If not this year, then next. I am going to turn that corner into a little shrubby, sheltered area for the birdbath.

The spirea is coming out too. I don't like it. It's too bland.

The other big change we're making this year is taking the hostas out and putting some of the backyard grass up in the front. The hostas were lovely in the spring, but by late June they were getting burned, and by August they were really struggling. They're lovely hostas, big and sunny green, so I'd like to keep them.

Those asclepias are going to go in the front corner, where out of desperation I planted nasturtium that promptly took off like wildfire. That may say something about how hot and dry it is in that little corner. The lavender we were given last year grew like crazy, too, despite being planted up there in a dry spell in mid-July. If it keeps it up, it might give the periwinkle a run for its money.

Anyway. I have been scheming this winter, as part of my staying-sane-therapy, and here is the result:

Surprisingly enough, that is the product of several hours of work. Sigh. And it will take years to turn out the way I picture it, and I'm not fool enough to think that it will ever look as neat as I plan. Still. It has been good fun, and a good distraction... and it gives me guidelines to go on.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

the first seeds planted of 2008

Voila! The fruits of my labour. Or they will be fruits. Or vegetables and flowers, I suppose. There are asclepias (butterfly flower), the Roma VF tomatoes, and the Long Red Cayenne peppers. Ten of each. Not sure how the asclepias are going to do, but I have to say, finding them at the OSC was a bonus. I hadn't really considered planting them from seed, but why not? If it doesn't work out, I can just buy some plants. I like to try, though.

I will be planting the strawberries and the shallots next time I'm home. We found a good hanging basket for the strawberries, so that should be excellent. I wanted two, but maybe I'll just go with one for this year and see what happens.

Next post: the saga of the front yard...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

she's alive!

Really, I am. Surprise surprise. It is March, and the result is that I am suddenly ready to spring into gardening again. I have been hankering to plant things since early February, but there are a number of problems with this, the primary problem being that I'm not actually living at home right now.

But today I am home, and we're going to go purchase some seeds so I can get some of the vegetables started. I'm going to aim to purchase everything I am planting as far as veggies today, but with the understanding that most I will not be planting until May. Which is coming faster than I sometimes think.

So, the veggie list for this year:
I am also planting strawberries in hanging baskets; the seed arrived from Veseys a couple of weeks ago. This is an experiment I've wanted to try since watching Jamie at Home. I love that man's garden. Also, I would like to cook like him. Heh. I should probably stick to attempting the garden.

Also on the way from Veseys is a black currant shrub ('Black Wellington') which I intend to stick in the back corner of the yard near the veggie plots.

I'll post shortly on the plans for the front yard, which have been gestating through a very snowy Ottawa winter...