A little bit about pepper


a pepper close-up

My latest article over at the Sustainable Collective is about exploring exotic places through the spices they export. Pepper is so ubiquitous across cuisines it’s easy to forget about – but it stems from far off lands and has a fascinating history. Unfortunately, pepper is a vine too tall for me to even contemplate growing as a house plant, so I’ll try growing some bananas instead. Check out my article here.

Garden at the beginning of December


The snow is mostly gone – I expect it will be a memory by tomorrow. I always think the garden looks a little sad this time of year.

According to the weather forecast, our cold snap should abate returning us to seasonal temperatures. Since it is an El Nino year we may end up with a warmer than usual year – or not. Most of what had left in the garden has handled the below freezing temperatures with the exception of some arugula and edible chrysanthemum (this is the first time I’ve grown the edible chrysanthemum and I’ve been really enjoying the mild, juicy greens). My celery might also be finished which isn’t a surprise as I wasn’t expecting it to over winter. The leeks, parsnips, kale, broccoli and chicory are all looking great.


The wintercress is looking fabulous (I guess that is why it’s called wintercress) and I’m getting used to its pepper flavour.


On the advice of an elderly gentleman I chatted with in the feed store, I planted broad beans to over winter. He said sometimes they make it and give a really early harvest. The black, withered leaves makes my think this is not the year I’ll get early broad beans.


In the cold frame parsley is taking over.


I’m optimistic my chard in the garden has made it. There is also chard in the cold frame that is looking quite happy.


The hens were not impressed with the cold.


woke to a sprinkling of white


The view from my office

Last night temperatures dipped and the scheduled rain became snow. The garden looks so different covered in white – but it won’t last, I’d be surprised if there is any evidence of snow by tomorrow. With the exception of the chard, most of what is left in the ground will tolerate the cold just fine.


Snow covered chard – the cold might do these in, but the kale, chicory and collards will be fine.


Ice under the drippy gutter. I think it looks kinda pretty.


a diversion to something icy

P1060542In words stolen from the old Monty Python shows – and now for something completely different. I moved away from the pleasant world of my garden to the arctic world I occasionally visit in this article over at Sustainable Collective, check it out here. I’ll get back to garden posts shortly.

building a food forest


The garden at OUR ECOvillage bursting with food (taken last summer)

I’m part way through a new project – this time in the front yard.

I’m very intrigued by the idea of food forests a concept borrowed from the tropics. For me the term ‘food forest’ brings to mind the stories of Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson, both of which I read as a kid and now have fond memories of and both set in rain forests. I live in a rain forest too (temperate though), so why not try creating a food forest in my front yard?

I don’t know much about the complexities of food forests, I’ve only read about them. Unfortunately I’ve not visited a mature one. Last summer I took a cob workshop at a near by eco-village (OUR ECOvillage). As part of the day there we got a tour of the area. It was fascinating to see (I would love to live in a cob house), the sustainable system they are working to build is a great blueprint for what we all should be doing, and their garden was bursting with tasty looking vegetables. There was talk of a food forest but I didn’t see it. I even went back to the garden after our day was done, but I couldn’t find a food forest. All I found was a few fruit trees interplanted with herbs which probably will mature into a forest.

Armed with a complete lack of knowledge, I’ve started planting my own version of a food forest. We’ve started building a deer-proof fortification (necessary here) that encompasses the apple tree I planted a few years ago. I’ll attach netting to the poles when I’m finished sheet mulching the ground – I think easy access will be key when I mulch.


The front yard before – the dwarf apple is in the bottom left surrounded in hog wire to keep the deer out. Every leaf that sticks out beyond the wire gets nibbled.

Within the enclosure I’ve already planted my medlar (the biggest tree) as the top layer, next layer down is the established dwarf apple and a sour cherry. For bushes, I planted the two blueberries and two honeyberries I had in pots. Finally, I have a yarrow to move into the enclosure. On our Christmas holidays I’ll sheet mulch the area with newspaper (I’ve been saving it for a while) topped with whatever organic matter I can find. In the spring, I’ll plant more and hopefully the ‘forest’ will become an attractive feature in my front yard.


The fortification is up and trees are planted (the medlar is right in the middle). The next step is sheet mulching to kill the grass.


A trio of unrelated topics


A different funky ladybug -a Multicoloured Asian Lady Beetle

I don’t have a complete blog post in my head, so here are three unrelated topics I’ve been thinking about.

1. Last week, during our first cold snap of the year, I found another unique lady bug active in the garden (first one here). This one was much blacker that others I’ve seen. It turns out its a Multicoloured Asian Lady Beetle (Harmonia axyridis), first introduced to North America in 1916 to control aphids and is now well established.

2. Here, the rainy season is well underway. I actually don’t mind the rain, but then, I grew up in this environment. I recently read an interesting article (check it out here) about the scent of rain. Like instruments in an orchestra, the smell of rain originates from microorganisms emitting organic compounds as perhaps a collective call for help, plus notes from plant oils and fungus. One of the culprits is the compound geosmin, whose name literally means ‘smell of the earth’. Geosmin was isolated and identified in 1965 – yet I don’t think it is in any of the commercial grooming products (like deodorant) that claims a rain scent as they never actually smell like rain.

3. The colours in nature never cease to amaze me, which is why I’m currently reading ‘Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox’ by Victoria Finlay for a second time (I’m on the chapter about red dyes from insects). Blue in nature is a particularly interesting colour as natural blue pigments are rare. When I first started this blog, I wrote about blues here, here, here, here and here (clearly this is a favorite topic of mine). I recently stumbled upon this article which is a great explanation of the topic.

First hard frost


My charismatic radicchio covered in frost crystals


Last night was our first real frost of the season – I’m lucky that I live in a place in Canada where it is well into November before temperatures dip below zero.. The last of my summer flowers are now done, but my parsnips will be getting sweet.


Chicory flopped over from the frost – I assume they will perk back up as soon as the sun hits them.



Garden on the first of November (many days late)


There was a brief break in the rain today, so I finally got around to taking a few shots. Right now there’s an abundance of leafy greens ready to harvest – plus parsnips, leeks and salsify for winter.


Swiss chard in the sun. The leaf miners have moved on leaving chard leaves to harvest.


I thought I’d try chicory to over winter. They’re doing great, by far the most abundant green in the garden. Now I have to figure out how to eat them as they are quite bitter.


Gorgeous radicchio. I haven’t harvested any yet.


Salad burnet – a medieval solution to winter greens. I love how the drops of water reflect the sun.


My strawberries are still putting on fruit. Unfortunately, the extra water from the rain ruins the flavour.

my seedy saving plan



As I sit in my office overlooking my rain-soaked garden, the rainy season on my Pacific island has taken hold, I can’t help but think about what I’m going to do in the garden next year. There is still plenty to harvest, but the last thing for me to plant this year will be the garlic. Next year is open with possibilities and one of the things I’d like to do better with next year is seed saving.

I keep meaning to become a serious seed saver, but once again I’ve found myself with a few saved tomato seeds, a ridiculously large amount of wintercress seeds (they were so easy to collect, so I kept collecting) and chive seeds (again easy to collect and great for sprouting). Since my chives will reappear on their own, my seed saving efforts will net me only two, tasty, but not very filling crops for next year.

Although, I don’t view my gardening as a cost saving measure, not saving seeds feels like I’m choosing to be unsustainable*. Since one of my gardening motivations is to produce food low in food miles, it makes sense to save the seeds that I can leaving me pondering how to be a better seed saver.

Through a rather round-about way I discovered my local library has a seed library. Serendipitously, I discovered the seed library a week before the Dan Jason of Salt Spring Island Seeds scheduled to talk at one of their events. I dragged a friend to the talk set up outside on a day that turned out rather chilly (we had to rush off for hot chocolate afterwards to warm up).

Dan brought a tub of examples of seeds ready to save – starting with tobacco he originally propagated from 1000 year old seeds, to quinoa, amaranth, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, brassicas, radishes, corn, sage and more.

He filled my head (and notebook) full of useful seedy information. For example, I had no idea that seeds on ripe quinoa plant left outside in the rain would sprout right on the plant – Dan said someone described it as looking like quinoa crawling with maggots. He passed around an example of sprouted quinoa and I wouldn’t describe it that way. Or that quinoa in stores has been mechanically processed rendering them unlikely to sprout at all.

Dan pointed out that there are many varieties of most crops and that it makes sense to keep trying different varieties until I find one that reliably grows well for me and tastes fantastic (why grow anything that doesn’t taste fantastic?). He inspired me to give amaranth another try and to continue on with my plan to grow dried beans. Both of these plants are easy to collect seeds from. If I have success with lettuce and pepper next year, I’ll collect those seeds as well. Perhaps, I’ll leave a couple leeks in the ground to flower and collect those seeds too. There are plenty of easy options to try.

And the seed library doesn’t yet have any wintercress, so hopefully at the next meeting in March I can share my surplus (I plan on joining).

*I accept that I can’t be truly sustainable in any way on a small urban lot – but I can always do better.

should I eat bugs?


Exotic grasshoppers are not on the menu at my house

While we were browsing in a Beijing market, my traveling companion spotted BBQ scorpion on a stick for sale (I know scorpions aren’t insects, but for food stuff they fit in the ‘insect’ category in my mind). Each stick held five scorpions glistening with sauce. The possibility of a novel experience took hold and she begged me to try scorpion with her – I didn’t*. Although that trip was years ago, recently, everywhere I look someone is writing about eating bugs (there is a lovely account of someone who plunged into bug eating here).

There are plenty of good reasons to substitute some of ones protein needs with buggy-goodness – many of which are outlined here. You can raise an insect based protein source in a small amount of space, perfect for an urban gardener like me. I have no problem producing enough leafy greens for my family and to give away, but I’m short on protein sources. Leaving me to wonder if I should revisit my decision to not eat bugs.

In the past for pet food, we’ve raised mealworms in the house. Mealworms are non offensive insects who happily live in an aquarium with a thick layer of bran. Their adult form is a flightless beetle – so they don’t escape. They’re dry, so no smell. They are also edible – I could easily throw a handful of meal worms into my morning smoothie, then blend them in – but I won’t.

Even though I intellectually agree with all the pros for eating bugs, I’m not yet ready to do it. I grew up in a culture where bugs are not considered food and even though I’m willing to eat all sorts of things, the thought of bugs as food still grosses me out. Perhaps some day I’ll work up the nerve to try eating insects or perhaps not.

How about you?

*Without me, my traveling companion went ahead and bought herself a stick of scorpions. On her first bite, scorpion-juice splattered down the front of my shirt – I never got the stains out of that shirt.


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