A Year in Review

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Well suffice to say my blog efforts didn’t quite pan out the way I intended in 2015.  Not to say that progress hasn’t been made on Our Old Island Home, I just haven’t been faithful in sharing our progress with you.

Vanessa and I have been working full time at our new jobs.  I’m with Paul Davis Systems, an insurance-related restoration contractor on the island.  Vanessa is working at Cavendish Farms, processing one of PEI’s grandest commodities.

The gardens did equally well for us this year as the previous year.  We had greater success with some of our crops – our winter squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, garlic and onions were not only superior to 2014, but provided above and beyond our needs for the year.

Some of the successes in 2014 however, were failures in 2015.  Our corn was one such crop.  Between the dry summer, our neglect resulting from working full-time to just bad luck we didn’t have a single ear come to maturity.  Most formed on the plant, but went directly to the chickens where the ears were picked (pecked?) clean.  Our beets and cucumbers didn’t come to much this year either.  I blame the new garden plots we haphazardly prepared in the spring for their lack of contribution to our table.

Otherwise, the remaining crops (carrots, potatoes, turnip, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, peas, greens and zucchini) did as well as the previous year’s effort.

The hen house welcomed six new layers this year.  We did lose a couple of birds, but the remaining nine hens are providing, on average, seven eggs per day.  We’ve been selling our excess eggs to friends and co-workers.  The sales cover the cost of feeding the birds, but even still as I’m writing this, we have thirteen-dozen eggs in our fridge.  Vanessa has already frozen a couple dozen eggs for baking (yes, that’s do-able) and I’ll be pickling a couple dozen this weekend.  No, I’ve never had a pickled egg, but a co-worker of mine suggested it.  Hey, I’m game to try anything.

As the gardening season was drawing to a close, our attention was refocused on the house restoration.  This year, we completed the insulation in the attic, installed several new windows on the second floor, started taping and seamfilling the drywall, started setting the piers for the new porch and framed the floor for the new mudroom addition.  With fall coming to an end and winter bearing down on us, the added insulation, vapor barrier and windows will make for a much more, um, comfortable winter than last year.

That’s what’s been happening here.  On a more personal note, here’s how we’re doing:  good.  Very good, in fact.  Life is busy and looking back, I cant believe another year has passed.  But we’ve made intentional changes this year.  We’ve made time for each other.  No matter how busy life gets, we take time to watch the moon rise over Pleasant Valley and the sunset at the beach.  We go for long walks together with Murdoch along the trails behind our house and explore parts of the island we’ve not seen before.  Ultimately, this is the one true gift we can give each other – time.  Virtually every other gift will fade, tarnish, wear out or breakdown, and instead of filling our lives with stuff, we rather make memories and experiences.

And finally, in spite of my rather sporadic posts, we still get people asking how things are going here.  For whatever reason, some say we inspire them, others just enjoy the read.  Whatever the reason you find yourself reading these words, I make this promise (no it’s not a resolution):  I will do my very best to keep posting and updating our progress regularly at Our Old Island Home.  That’s all I can do: try.

Vanessa and I wish you all the best that this new year can bring.  Blessings!

 

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.

 

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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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From river to plate: catching dinner

Well I guess it’s no surprise as to what the content of today’s post will be – at least not to any of you who follow us on Facebook.

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A few weeks ago, Vanessa and I enjoyed a series of six weekly “get to know you” evenings with our pastor and a few new couples at our church. One week we were asked: if money were no object, how would you spend the “perfect” day off? I knew exactly how I’d respond: I’d be sitting by a stream – fishing rod in hand, enjoying a beautiful day in solitude, enjoying the beauty of nature around me. Actually catching fish would be optional bonus.

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With an endless array of freshwater streams rivers and ponds, there is no shortage of fishing opportunities for us in PEI.  Most of the rivers are short, spring-fed streams that originate from cool freshwater springs providing a near-constant flow of 6 to 7 degree water throughout the year.  As a result, these streams support a good trout fishery.  In particular, it’s said that brook trout can be found in nearly every stream on the island.

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In addition to the brook trout, Atlantic salmon can be found migrating on a few of the larger rivers on the island, and rainbow trout (a non-native species) have taken to a number of rivers and are now a self sustaining fishery.

We had previously fished a couple of ponds around our house without any success so we decided to try a river just minutes from our home.  On Sunday, we had scouted an area of the river when we took Murdoch for a run.  It wasn’t long before we saw big shadows just under the surface and a few fish rising.  That’s exactly where we headed on Monday morning.  And like Sunday, the fish were there to greet us.

We tried the go-to presentation for river fishing: drifting worms.  Nothing.  Then I switched to artificial trout eggs with the same success.  Perhaps a nymph fly pattern?  Nope.  And to top it all off, our presence likely spooked the fish – they were now nowhere to be seen.

The one thing about this location was the deep pool just upstream from some fast-flowing rapids.  Any fish heading upstream would take some time to rest in the slower moving water of the deep pool.  That’s what I was telling myself, anyhow.

I figured the fish were there – we just weren’t offering them what they wanted.  So, I tied on a lure I had some success with back in Ontario – a tiny streamer I tied on a 1/32 oz jig-head.  On the first cast, I had a huge trout chase it into the open.   My heart was pounding.  Another cast.  Another follow.  I could hardly believe it.  Another cast.  I saw a flash of white as it swiped after it….and missed.  Fourth cast.  BAM!  Fish on!

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My first PEI trout – a 16″ rainbow trout.  I noticed the yellow tag on it’s dorsal fin.  The University of PEI is undertaking a rainbow trout study to monitor it’s habitat and possible expansion into other watersheds.  Rainbow trout were introduced to the island accidentally when a hatchery malfunction resulted in the mass escape of a steelhead strain of rainbows.  I noted the tag number and released the fish.

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There is a UPEI hotline to call when a tagged fish is captured.  Simply note the tag number, the size if the fish and the location of the capture.  Your report is even eligible for a reward.

Fishing continued for another while, but this was the only fish that little jig would catch today.

Time to regroup.  Clearly the fish didn’t want worms or eggs.  I did get one with a minnow-imitating streamer, so let’s go with that.  I tied on a small floating Rapala plug, tossed it downstream swam it over the deep pool.  This time it only took three casts.

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My second fish – and probably the biggest river-trout I’ve ever caught – a 22″ rainbow.  I didn’t want to keep it.  Vanessa did.  We kept it, but to be honest I wrestled with that decision.  I hate the thought of keeping the big, brute, breeding-stock.

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It was a male – not a female capable of still laying thousands of eggs.  If it were, there was no question – she’d go back.  And it was a rainbow trout – a non-native species, said to be pushing out the native brook trout and Atlantic salmon residents.  So, I agreed.  It would become dinner that night.

Fishing continued again for a while and we didn’t have much more luck with any of the other lures we tried.   It was getting colder and I really wanted Vanessa to catch one before we left so I tied on a spinner with rainbow trout colors.  I figured if the fish got annoyed by a little trout buzzing around, we might get a strike out of anger.

On her very first cast with this spinner, Vanessa had her first island trout: a perfect pan-sized rainbow.

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And that’s where it ended up – in the pan.  No hesitation.  In fact, given the option, I’d rather keep six of these little guys over one of the big ones.  The big ones may be more fun to catch, but the little ones come guilt-free when eaten.

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So that’s how our fishing trip went.  A rousing success, I think.  And being only minutes from the house, a place I’m sure we’ll frequent again and again.

So once home, I cleaned both fish and the little one went right into the fry pan. We split it as a snack while I prepared supper.

Very few of you know that I really enjoy cooking.  I love it actually, so I wanted to be sure the big trout we kept was enjoyed to the fullest – the fish deserved that at least.  It can also be a real challenge when cooking for a non-fish-eater.  I’ll give credit where it’s due, though – Vanessa has eaten more fish since coming to PEI than in the previous twenty years we’ve been together.

I froze one of the two big fillets.  The other was baked with a lemon-dill butter and served with an apricot and almond pilaf.

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So just like the fishing, it too was a success.

Snow day – Part II

It snowed again last night.  And all day today.  Again.

"Not again!"

“Not again!”

It started around bedtime.  It woke me at 1:30.  And 3:00.  And 4:00.  I would say it was the windiest storm we’ve had since arriving on PEI.  They were predicting 35-45 centimeters of snow but it’s hard to say exactly how much we actually got.  The snow falls sideways around here.  I think it’s got something to do with the gravitational pull on the east coast.

Our backyard is relatively bare of snow, but the front is another story.  We have two driveway markers at the end of the driveway – they’re almost 3′ high and are currently buried under the snow.

Back yard/Front yard

Back yard/Front yard

So today, as usual on a snow day, we spent our time in the kitchen.  Vanessa was baking – biscotti and coconut tea buns.

Collage biscotti

I made another batch of the pickled radishes I wrote about on our last snow day.

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 I also dehydrated some fruit.  The supermarket had apples on sale, so I made some apple chips….

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….and some banana chips.  I also love dehydrated pineapple – dried until just chewy.  The flavors are so more intense.  You really only need/want a couple of pieces.

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Dehydrating these fruits takes anywhere from 8-16 hours.  Once done, I’ll post some pictures of the final product on Facebook – so be sure to find Our Old Island Home on Facebook and “Like” it (if you haven’t already).

For now, I just keep reminding myself Old Man Winter’s days are numbered.   Spring is only a month away.  Tomorrow we shovel.  Then demo will continue upstairs.  Until then, I will conserve my energy and nourish myself on biscotti and tea biscuits.

Happy Family Day / Islander’s Day, everyone!

Snow day

So the first major winter storm of 2014 hit us today.  Actually it continues to hit us.  As I’m typing, the wind is howling and the snow is blowing.  It’s not even fit for a dog today.

"Open this door!"

“Open this door!”

So demo and cleanup is ruled out.  Even though we filled our first disposal bin yesterday and managed to get an empty one exchanged before the snow started this morning, there’s no way I’m hoofing any garbage outside today.

So what’s one to do when the weather makes a detour to your plans?  You roll with it.

Whenever we get house-bound for any reason, Vanessa goes full-on-baking-mode.  Today was no exception – the jar of fresh biscotti and a couple loaves of homemade bread on the kitchen counter proves that.

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And as much as I’d like to just sit by the fire with a coffee and some of that biscotti – I kept busy too.

We bought a few bunches of fresh radishes this week to attempt something we hadn’t tried yet – pickling them.   And this is about as easy as it gets.

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Wash the radishes, cut off the tops and root “tails”, quarter them and add them to a mason jar.

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I’m sure slices would be fine – and probably easier for sandwich stacking, too.  In a small saucepan, boil 1 cup vinegar (cider vinegar would be nice, too), 1/2 cup water, 2-3 tablespoons honey (or sugar), 1-2 teaspoons salt and two or three cloves of sliced garlic and pour into the radish-holding mason jar.

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Allow to cool and store in the fridge.

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We didn’t water-bath these pickles for long-term storage – it didn’t seem necessary as we only one made one jar.  And to be honest, we’re probably going to eat all of these by the weekend, anyhow (they’re that good).  The radishes have a nice, peppery/pungent flavor that’s not like a typical pickle and retain they their crunch (because they’re not cooked, as such).  Guaranteed, we’ll be making these in a large batches come the spring with the radishes we grow in our own garden.

So, as it turns out, snow days aren’t so bad.  If it means you can’t do Plan “A”, there’s always Plan “B”.  And when you’ve finished Plan “B”, move on to Plan “C”.

Plan "C"

Plan “C”