Disaster

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

We’ve had our first letdown on our old island farm.  And it came in the form of a disease called “late blight”.

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Sadly, once infected, the affected plants (in our case, tomatoes) are essentially doomed and destroying these plants is the only hope of preventing it from spreading to other plants.

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This disease is famous as the cause of the Irish potato famine in the 1800’s. Phytophthora infestans is not a fungus or a bacterium or a virus. It belongs to a group of organisms called “protists”, although they are still commonly referred to as “fungi”.

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On tomato, the first symptom on plants is often a brown/black lesion on the stem. Leaves develop large brown/black blotches, often starting at leaf margins. In humid weather and in early mornings, a fuzzy mould can often be seen on the underside of the brown/black blotches or on the stem lesions.

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On tomato fruit, infection causes a brown/black, leathery rot.  It may also become soft and mushy if invaded by secondary organisms.

In cool, wet or humid weather the pathogen produces structures called “sporangia”. These sporangia can travel up to 20 kilometers in wind or wind-blown rain. Rain-spread sporangia can cause infection even in a garden where tomatoes or potatoes have not been grown before.

Potatoes are also very susceptible to late blight – hence the cause for concern when it is detected here in Prince Edward Island.  Fortunately, our potatoes seem to have come away unscathed.  We’ve been enjoying new potatoes daily for a couple of weeks and we’re ready for our big harvest for cold-storage this weekend.

We first heard of a blight-outbreak in our area on the local news.  It was just a few days later when we started seeing the signs of infection on our own tomatoes.  And once it started, everything went downhill quickly.

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With the onset of the disease, we moved to remove the plants and bag them for disposal.  It’s strongly recommended that you NOT compost the affected plants as the organisms may not die in the composting process.  Burying, burning or sending the plants to the landfill is the best way to rid your garden of the active problem.

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Although the plants were dying, we could still use the green tomatoes if we acted quickly.  Often with late blight, even green tomatoes brought in the house to ripen may still rot anyway.  In wet weather, green fruit may have been infected already, or be carrying spores on the surface. As the fruit ripens, rot develops.

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Some gardeners report that washing green fruit in soap and water after picking, or dipping green fruit in a 10% bleach solution (1 part household bleach to 9 parts water) followed by a soap and water wash, reduces fruit rot during ripening.  We didn’t take any special measures to allow the tomatoes to ripen – so we did lose quite a lot to rot, but we still enjoyed a few fresh tomato sandwiches in the meantime.

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So with the glut of green tomatoes, we spent a couple of days making a few different preserves – Salsa Verde, Green Tomato and Pineapple Chutney and Piccalilli.  I’ll be sharing some of these ideas in future posts, but today, it’s all about Green Tomato Chow.

On Prince Edward Island, these firm, under-ripe green tomatoes are transformed into a tangy-sweet condiment that is often served alongside salt cod cakes.  I’ve had Green Tomato Chow (or Chow Chow, or Yum Yum, depending on your upbringing) on a couple of occasions since moving to the island.  Most recently with crab cakes from the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico.   Think of it as a relish, to be served alongside seafood, pork, sausages or even hamburgers.

At any rate, it’s a great way to use up some of your end-of-season green tomatoes – whether by choice or by….blight.

 

tomato collage 2

GREEN TOMATO CHOW

  • Green tomatoes, sliced – 5-1/2 lbs.
  • Onions, halved and sliced – 1-1/2 lbs.
  • Pickling salt – 1/3 cup

Layer tomatoes and onion with salt in large pot.  Cover and let stand on counter overnight.  Drain.  Add the following ingredients to the tomato mixture in pot.

  • Granulated sugar – 3-1/3 cups
  • Mixed pickling spice (tied in cheesecloth) – 4-1/2 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 2 tsp
  • White vinegar – 2 cups

Heat and stir until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally.  More turmeric can be added for color and more sugar can be added for taste.

For canning, pour into hot sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Seal and process for 10 minutes in hot water bath.  Makes about 4 pints.

 

So not all was lost.  Although our first season growing a variety of tomatoes was a bit of a bust, we have learned a lot.  We lost about 90% of the tomatoes we planted.  One variety we chose is labelled as blight-resistant, and these “Mountain Merit” tomatoes are chugging along nicely in their beds.  So it seems we’ll still be enjoying some red tomatoes after all.

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This Chow recipe was inspired by “Company’s Coming – Preserves” by Jean Pare.

 

 

 

I know it’s been a while. A lot has happened.

It’s said: “great things are believed of those who are absent.”  If that’s indeed true, I hope I don’t let you down.

It has been a great few weeks since my last post.   A lot of things have happened to us and through us.  We’ve had a great time visiting with family and enjoying the bounty that’s come from our garden.

My last post spoke of the busy couple of weeks getting the house ready leading up to our vacation.  I won’t revisit that, but suffice to say, we enjoyed our little trip to Ontario.  Not that is was solely for our amusement – my brother Scott and his fiance Dawn were married.  That in itself was reason enough for us to drop everything and head back, but the honor was mine when I was asked to perform their wedding ceremony – to the surprise of everyone in attendance.

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It was a beautiful day spent with family and friends.

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While in Ontario though, we had a little scare.  I ended up in the hospital with a blood clot in my leg.  As the doctor said however, I got lucky.  The clot was in an arterial vein and I wasn’t at risk of it moving to my heart or lungs – so I was sent on my way with blood thinners to enjoy the rest of the vacation.

Once the newlyweds were married, we all convoyed back to PEI for a “familymoon”.

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Scott and Dawn, Scott’s kids Carrie and Ryan, one of Dawn’s daughters, Jordan and her husband Christian, and my Mom spent the week with us to see the life we’ve been making for ourselves.

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We did some of the usual touristy stuff – went to the beach (several times), ate some lobster and visited the sights and scenes.

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It was hard to see the family leave after only a week here, but we had a tremendous time together.

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Vanessa and I weren’t done with the vacation just yet, though.  We’ve been mackerel fishing now a couple of times.

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I want to take advantage of this as much as we can while the summer is here.  There is no catch-limit or license required to catch mackerel here – so while we’re able, we’ll be stocking our freezer with these freebies.

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And speaking of freebies, our garden just keeps giving and giving.  While our guests were here, we enjoyed produce picked daily from the garden – including broccoli, lettuce, beets, new potatoes and zucchini.

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Since our visitors left, the tomatoes are turning, the beans are almost ready and the corn is almost there.  We haven’t bought any produce – other than some fruit – in about a month.

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What we haven’t been able to eat fresh, we’ve been canning or freezing.  We’ve pickled fourteen pounds of beets and have a second crop planted for an early fall harvest.

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We’ve also processed fifteen pints of pickles – dill and bread & butter

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and have about ten pounds of cabbage fermenting for sauerkraut.

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So while we’re not entertaining guests, or fishing, or tending to the vegetable garden we also have our chickens.

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We now added six laying hens to our family so we quickly built a brooder for the chicks and Vanessa and I are currently building on a small coop from some of the reclaimed wood from the renovations on the house.

So needless to say our month-long absence is not the result of not having anything to write about, but rather the opposite – we’ve just been too busy to keep up with everything.   Hopefully we haven’t lost anyone along the way.

We’ll get back on track, but for now, some pictures from our garden:

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Red soil and red sky

So with the foundation work chugging away, we finally have an opportunity to get our gardens planted.

Whenever we had some spare time over the last couple of weeks, we raked the old grass and straw from the garden area, laid-out the bed locations and tilled the soil.

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Last week we had a load of compost delivered to our place to help enrich the beds.  With time running against us, we didn’t test the soil or composition – we’re just trusting that the fertile soil of PEI doesn’t stop at our property line.

Speaking of fertile PEI soil: I suppose it’s only fitting that even compost in Prince Edward Island would be full of lobster bits.

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Once the compost was worked into the bed, it was time to start planting.  We started with the tomato beds – all from seeds started earlier this spring.

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In all, we’ve planted about twenty-four Roma tomatoes for sauces and canning.  In addition to the paste tomatoes, we also planted six each of four Heirloom-varities: Brandywine, Pruden Purple, Mountain Merit and Golden Cherry.

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With the tomatoes planted, we jumped over to the potato bed.  Not originally planned as part of our garden, the potato bed was a last minute addition.

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We never really thought we’d need to grow potatoes in PEI – we’re living in Canada’s potato capital, afterall.  Heck, we even have lobster in our soil!  So, like everything else, we went all-out and planted four types of potatoes: red potatoes, Yukon Gold, Russet and a purple-fleshed variety.

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Before the day was up, we planted two of our berry beds – raspberry and blackberry – and also got our asparagus bed planted.

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We’ve never grown asparagus before but have dedicated a 25-foot row for it – although it will still be a few years before we’ll actually be able to harvest spears to eat.

Finally, before we headed out for our drive, we finished up one more bed.

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Three types of cabbage, rutabaga, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, kale and collards.

All in all, not a bad start on the gardens.  We’ve still got the beans and peas to plant, as well as carrots, beets, sweet potato, corn, summer and winter squash, cucumbers, onions, garlic and peppers.

As of late, our backyard is taking on the appearance of a motocross course.  As exciting as it is having the foundation-work done, I’m really looking forward to getting the mess cleaned up.

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We’re still deciding where to use all of the island stone salvaged from the foundation….

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….and exactly how to get it all in place.  I do know, it’s going to be a beautifully landscaped property once we get to tackle that pile.

But as the sun was going down, we decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight to go for a walk on the beach.  A quick drive from the house and we arrived in Cavendish just in time to watch the sun set.

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Still early in the season, we had the beach to ourselves.  Tide was low and we walked along the shoreline to take it all in.

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I think this was the first time we really stopped to let it all sink in: this is our home.  We’re only minutes form the ocean in any direction from our house.

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With the sun down, we walked back through the sand dunes to the car.

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No matter how crazy the renovations get, we’re exactly where we want to be.  With the house.  With the gardens.   With each other.

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The start of something new

At long last, the foundation work is underway.  The long, cold, wet spring has put us a little behind schedule but hopefully we’ll make up some time with the nice weather as of late.

Vanessa and I were sitting at the breakfast table last week when this hauled up outside our house.

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We stopped traffic on Highway 2

The huge carrying beams had arrived, the excavator was already delivered – so it was time to get underway.

First, make a cut in the topsoil to provide access to the sills – the first to be replaced.  Once all of the old sills are removed and replaced and the walls are re-supported, the house can be lifted and the excavation can start.

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So I thought I’d take you on the grand tour of what’s under our house before it all disappears.

Go ahead....after you.

Go ahead….after you.

The original foundation is hand-cut sandstone, dry-stacked to about 5′ high.  The mortar you see in the joints was applied sometime in the past in an attempt to keep some of the moisture out.

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All of these stones will be removed and salvaged from the foundation and stored at the back of our property.

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A lot of these stones will be used in-and-around our property as part of our landscape design as garden borders, retaining walls, walkways and steps to the deck.

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The stones are beautiful – all hand shaped and fit precisely for the foundation – and will have a prominent place in our garden.  But still – that’s a lot of rock.

The whole process for the new basement will take a few weeks, but while that’s underway, we’ve kept busy building our gardens.  The plants we started inside need to be transplanted so our first job is to build the garden beds.

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The areas we’re working in have never been farmed before.  Decades of grass growing waist-high and dying back every season has made the digging difficult (to say the least) but because of this, I suspect the soil is going to be very fertile.  We’ve easily got a couple more days of digging and tilling the soil before we actually plant anything.

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There are some vegetables that should have been planted by now, but with the disagreeable weather and the house demolition monopolizing our time, we will just have to make do.

Fortunately, out seedlings have been thriving inside our grow-op.  We’ve slowly acclimated the plants to living outdoors by daily increasing their outside exposure.

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Hopefully by this time next week, the veggies will be all planted and we’ll be starting on the new shed/chicken coop.

So, things are looking up.  We’re turning that corner that we’ve been waiting for – restoration instead of demolition.  We still have a lot ahead of us, but it’s a nice feeling that we’re into a new stage.  Until then, though, we continue working in the garden and getting our beds planted.  That in itself is like therapy.

Vanessa says: "ever feel like you're being watched?"

Vanessa says: “ever feel like you’re being watched?”

"No idea what you're talking about."

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

 

Distractions…..and extractions

Another week and another unexpected and unwelcomed delay.

Not that it really made much of a difference with the yesterday’s rain and all, but an stray sliver of bone in last night’s dinner resulted in an emergency trip to the dentist and an extracted tooth today.  So as per doctor’s orders, no heavy lifting, bending or straining that might cause the socket to bleed.  That puts our demo on hold again for a day or so.

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The weather has been in our favor this week otherwise and we did start demolition of the back porch.  We also got most of our storage out of the rear addition – readying it for demolition too.  I’ll have more of that to write about shortly.

So while sidelined, we distracted ourselves by starting some more of our vegetable seeds.

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We’ve been germinating our seeds in trays set up on shelving in our kitchen.  A space heater on low below the shelving provides the perfect temperature to get the seeds started and the newspaper pots reduces the stress of transplanting later – the pot and all will be planted.

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Most seeds don’t require light to germinate, but once they’ve broken through the soil, the energy stored in the seeds is used up and the small plants start reaching for light – this is when we move them to our “grow-op”.

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Upstairs and out of the way, we have another set of shelves equipped with fluorescent lights on a timer to provide 15-16 hours of light to the newly germinated seedlings per day.

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The seedlings need sufficient light to keep them from becoming too leggy and spindly.  We have the lights suspended from short chains and are able to raise the lights as the plants grow upwards.

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Ideally, you’d want to keep the lights to within one or two inches from the seedlings.  The lights are timed to turn off around 9:00 in the evening – and it’s quite a sight to see the upper level of the house lit-up like a greenhouse at dusk.

In addition to the asparagus and peppers started a couple of weeks ago, we’ve now started two flats of onions and the remainder of our tomato seeds – five varieties, totalling about 80 plants.

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As spring approaches we will also be starting some of our other plants – squash, broccoli, cabbage and lettuce.  And with the majority of the snow gone from our garden area, we’ll soon start preparing the beds for planting by the end of May or beginning of June.  That will be around the time our foundation is underway, so we’ll have time to tend the garden.

The spring thaw couldn’t have happened soon enough.  Next week, fishing season opens and I’ve already told Vanessa, regardless of the weather, I’ll be wetting a line when it does.

Until then, demo will resume as planned tomorrow.  And a little free advice:  be careful of little bone fragments when eating ribs.  You’re welcome.

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It’s official – spring is here! Time to start the garden plans

Well, Vanessa and I have been enjoying a few days off from working on the house.  After a bit of a snow/ice storm last week, the past few days have been beautiful.  It’s been sunny and clear – albeit a little cold – so we’ve been enjoying some time outside.

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We’re just back from a long two-hour walk with Murdoch on the Confederation Trail

Murdoch discovers the sunroof

Murdoch discovers the sunroof

and with a quick coffee-to-go, a drive up to Cavendish and along the shoreline.

....to see the sights

….to see the sights

....and a little wildlife.

….and a little wildlife.

And with the official first day of spring on us, we’ve been thinking planning dreaming of the planting season and the gardens.

We went to town over the weekend and got all of our vegetable seeds from Veseys for the spring.  One of my earlier posts (https://ouroldislandhome.com/2014/01/18/spring-dreaming/) outlined all of the vegetables we would be trying – and that hasn’t changed much.   I know it all sounds very ambitious – and it probably is – but we have nothing to lose.  It’s not like we’re pressed for space and don’t have the time to tend the garden.  We’ve settled on the back south-east corner for the garden – it’s a clear and wide-open area that receives sun all day.  The space around the house is being reserved for flower beds, patios, BBQ and entertainment area – and around the barn is the driveway, shop and (eventually) greenhouse area.

So with the location of the veggie beds determined, we now need the snow to go (who doesn’t, amiright?) and we’ll prep the area.  We have two huge rolls of black poly (plastic) to roll out over the bed areas.  We’re planning on eight beds – each measuring 10′ x 25′.  The black poly serves two purposes: first, it will inhibit any grass and weeds from starting to grow as the weather warms, and secondly, it warms the soil in anticipation of planting.  A number of our plants need warmer conditions: sweet potato, corn, tomatoes and peppers don’t like their feet cold.  Other crops are less fussy and can be planted as soon as the soil is workable.

We’ve planned an eight crop rotation.  Different vegetables can be grouped together in similar families.  Utilizing crop rotation, you change the location of each vegetable group from year to year.  This reduces the likelihood of a pest or disease problem overwintering and attacking the same crop in the same location of the following year.  For example tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes all belong to the same family and, as such, are susceptible to the same pests and diseases.  Because these plants all belong to the solanaceous or nightshade family, you wouldn’t plant tomatoes in the same plot that potatoes were planted in the previous year.  The goal is to have at least three to four years before the same crop-family is planted in the same location again.

So, here’s our rotation plan – the eight beds will be:

  1. Legumes: beans and peas
  2. Brassacas: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip
  3. Nightshades: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, tomatillos
  4. Umbeliferae: carrot, parsnip, parsley, celery
  5. Lettuce and sweet potato
  6. Cucurbits: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin
  7. Goosefoot: beet, chard, spinach and Alliums: onion, garlic, leeks, chive
  8. Corn

And in addition to these eight beds, we’ll have permanent locations for the perennial plants: asparagus, rhubarb and berries.

Yup – that’s a lot of produce.  But think about this: one seed packet of broccoli costs $3.00.  A packet of 1000 carrot seeds cost about $4.00 and for $8.00 we bought 1000 corn seeds.  The list goes on and on.  For what we would spend on groceries in one week, we bought the potential for the same grown by ourselves – one hundred times over!

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We realize that’s far more than we’ll ever need – even canning, freezing and preserving as much as we’re able.  So we’ve already decided the surplus would be donated to needy families or a food bank.  Either way, our needs will be met and others will be blessed with the surplus.

Over the next short while, we’ll be starting some of the plants inside in anticipation of the last frost – transplanting around the end of May.  I’ll show you how we’re geminating and growing the plants before transplanting – and how we prepare the beds.

I’d love to hear what you grow in your home gardens – and any helpful tips you might have.  Until then, enjoy your spring!

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Spring dreaming

Fresh air, warm sun, digging in the soil, planting seeds……sorry, I was dreaming there.  It’s the same every year, though – by mid-January, we’re pouring through seed catalogues and making our wish-list for the vegetable gardens.  It probably makes it all the worse because of the early and (so far) harsh winter.

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The big difference for us is the space we have to grow our plants – and it’s a BIG difference.  Back in Ontario, we had the largest lot in our subdivision – a nice pie-shaped lot – but still a subdivision lot.  We used our 30’x150′ lot to it’s maximum potential, growing lots of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, spinach, peppers, carrots, beets, parsnips, peas), fruit trees (cherry, plum and peach) and berries (raspberries, blackberries and blueberries).

Now we have an acre of space to grow….things.  When I look out my window, I think “yeah, that’s a lot of space” but when I actually walk to the other end of the property and look back, it really puts the size of it into perspective.

Murdoch loves it!

Murdoch loves it!

So here we are reading the Vesey’s Seed Catalogue and making our list, checking it twice.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead as spring approaches – clearing and tilling the soil and preparing the beds for planting – but not until things dry out some more.  I’m just hoping that as early as winter arrived, spring will follow suit.

Here’s a look at what we’d like to plant:

  • Asparagus – takes a few years to mature enough to harvest, but a perennial that is very hardy and will continue to produce for years
  • Soy Beans – steamed in the shell with a sprinkle of salt (mmmm, Edamame)
  • Yellow & Green Bush Beans – freezes very well or pickle some “Dilly Beans”
  • Beets – a typical red variety for caning and a yellow version for roasting or grilling that doesn’t stain everything pink
  • Broccoli – never had much success in Ontario, but the cooler PEI temps may help
  • Cabbage – a summer variety for fresh use and a winter variety for storing and sauerkraut
  • Carrot – chose three types, all sweet and stores well
  • Celery – again, another vegetable new to us, but we’ll give it a try
  • Collard – we enjoyed trying and eating different greens last year, wanted to try this one
  • Corn – two varieties that mature two weeks apart so we have time to blanch and freeze portions
  • Cucumber – a “burpless” variety for salads and a standard pickling variety
  • Garlic – easy to grow and stores well, will never go to waste
  • Kale – have you ever had Kale Chips?
  • Leeks – freeze for use through the winter in soups and stews
  • Lettuce – a couple of varieties of Leaf and Romaine, planted in the spring for early use and another planting in the fall
  • Onion – two kinds, a storing onion and a red onion
  • Parsnip – added to soup and stew or (my favorite) roasted or grilled like fries
  • Snow Peas – for stir-frys or salads
  • Peppers – a couple sweet varieties and some hot (jalapenos and Hungarian wax for pickling and chilies for roasting Ancho)
  • Sweet Potato – not seeds but grown from vines – needs warm soil but does grow very well in Vesey’s test gardens
  • Pumpkin – small cooking variety for pies and loafs
  • Radishes – for salads and pickling
  • Rutabega – soups, stews and side dishes – can also be fermented like sauerkraut
  • Spinach – “I’m strong to the finish, ’cause I eats me…..”
  • Zucchini – love grilled zucchini with olive oil and sea salt
  • Winter Squash – a buttercup and butternut variety
  • Swiss Chard – greens
  • Tomato – two heirloom varieties, one plum-type for canning and a cherry tomato
  • Tomatillo – we grew it last year in Ontario but never got to use the fruit – we’ll be making Salsa Verde this year
I think that's good

I think that’s good

And that’s it for veggies.  I’ve also got my eye on a few apple trees.  We’ll likely plant a couple Macintosh trees for cooking and Honeycrisp for eating fresh, and of course we’ll also be growing my favorites: raspberries and blueberries.

When I get some time, I’ll sketch out what we want to do with the gardens.  Until then, happy daydreaming.