Buried in beans and amaranth – beginning of September update


The garden at the beginning of September with the household berry monster at the raspberries.

In the last week my amaranth and beans had to be harvested – the two crops are my main plan for winter eating so I’d planted what I thought was a reasonable amount. Well… the amaranth decided to do well this year giving me twice as much as I’d expected. Good news except I didn’t have enough containers to harvest it all before rains were predicted. I got the orange amaranth in, then the rains came. My black amaranth got harvested a couple days later. A kind local farmer let me come over and clean my amaranth with her gear – in future if I’m going to keep growing this amount or more, I’ll need to come up with my own way to clean the grains. I think they look rather pretty.


Black amaranth as clean as I could get it considering it was slightly damp


Orange amaranth – sadly it was the plant that was orange not the grain.

Next up was my beans and I was a week late in harvesting them – so I’ve lost a fair amount to rot. Here’s what we’ve cleaned so far:


Beans in baskets drying. There has be enough for a family of three for a year there.


More beans drying.


More beans drying in the greenhouse


Popcorn drying.


Brussels sprouts growing


Kale for winter


One of my sunflowers.

beginning of August update


I actually took this picture on 1 Aug 2016.

We are now in my favourite time of year – late summer to early fall. Most meals now contain home grown veggies from broccoli to tomatoes. And for the first time I’m getting enough cucumbers at the same time to make pickles. Soon I’ll be able to harvest my many varieties of dried beans.


Here’s a view of my front ‘lawn’. A neighbour asked me what my secret is … horse shit. We spread a load over the area early spring.


My onion and shallot harvest – I’m not really sure which is which, but they all look good.


Purple rain beans (named after the song) ready to start drying down.


Some of the last of my tasty summer broccoli. I’m letting them flower now with the hope of collecting seeds for next year.


Baby Brussels sprouts forming. They should be purple and hopefully tasty.


Green zebra tomatoes


Hot peppers


Self-seeded black amaranth heading for orbit


Popcorn in the sun

Beginning of July Garden Update


Here’s the back yard. Sadly, the raspberries are almost done for this year – but I spotted the first blackberry changing colour this morning.

Everything is growing! This year I’m growing lots of normal stuff, like potatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, and some oddities, like masha, chuffa, and job’s tears.


Here’s a view of my new front bed safely behind the deer proof fence 2.0. It contains brassicas, beans, corn, amaranth, and sunflowers.


Cabbage is cabbaging


Hot peppers in the greenhouse are coming!


Purple tomatillos – also in the greenhouse. I also have an assortment of tomatoes on the way both in the greenhouse and outside.


My four stevia plants are trying to take over the world. Most of what’s here is in the dehydrator right now.


My chamomile is flowering – now I just have to figure out when to harvest it to dry to tea.


Pretty shiso – some of which I’ve already fermented.


Onions are looking good.


Black amaranth in the back. I’ve also planted an orange variety in the front.


A chuffa plant in the food forest.


Job’s tears – they look healthy, but I’m wondering when they are going to flower.


Here’s an awesome combo that’s sprung up in a newly planted part of the back – toad flax, valerian and random kale.

Some tidbits


Black amaranth growing in a random place.

Here are some tidbits of science-y garden bits I’ve come across in the last little while.

Blue Food
I grow blueberries and blackberries. My brassicas all have a nice blue-ish tint. Last year I grew blue tomatoes (not tasty enough to bother growing again) and this year I’m trying to grow blue popcorn. I have black amaranth from last year volunteering itself everywhere, which I’d argue fits into the same colour category as those above – which is really more purple than blue. So, Why are so few foods blue?

Along the same vein of blue, I stumbled across this berry eons ago – too bad it isn’t edible (it sure is pretty).

Space Grass
We’ve been actively converting grass to vegetable garden here. This spring, we doubled my veggie growing space by taking over most of the front lawn (the area in front of the food forest). It has the most sunlight of anywhere on my lot, so I’ve filled the space with beans, corn, amaranth, sunflowers and brassicas. What I don’t want is grass, so I was surprised to read about astronauts growing grass on the space station. Why not more food? Lettuce has been grown successfully up there. Or more flowers? There has already been zinnias in space.

Hot Peppers
One of the podcasts I listen to recently had an interview with one of my favourite authors – Mary Roach. The interview was about her most recent book (Grunt) which came out earlier this month, and I ordered. The book is about the science behind keeping soldiers alive, I’m hoping to start reading my copy this weekend. It turns out she was inspired to write Grunt after a research trip to study the science behind hot peppers. Here’s the article.

Although, I have no plans to weaponize my hot peppers, my plants are growing big and healthy. Hopefully I’ll get a bumper crop to turn into hot sauces.

a saga of imperfect timing


I captured a shot of this guy while on a recent trip to our local butterfly gardens – I love its eye.

In April my PhD funding was scheduled to officially end. My awesome supervisor had scrounged extra money for a few more months, to the end of the summer at most. But, I was suffering from financial angst, i.e. a fear of being unpaid which would quickly become a problem. I’m progressing on my dissertation, its mostly just writing now. Most of my first draft is done, but I expect to be revising for quite some time. I knew I was very unlikely to finish before my funding ran out. The best case scenario I could come up with would have me finish early fall. Timing that just didn’t match my funding.

To abate my financial angst, I started dabbling in freelance writing, actually found a few paying gigs (I discovered a secret talent for creating logic puzzles). It was an interesting experience, but there was no way I could earn ‘enough’ doing it in the short term.

I planned a massive garden as groceries cost. We turned most of what was left of the front lawn into food garden – effectively doubling the annual veggie beds at the house. Plus, there was my parent’s garden to plant and I signed up for an allotment with some friends. Because I wasn’t busy enough, when I came up with an idea for a novel last summer I decided to start writing. It’s a science fiction who-done-it with lots of plants (and butterflies), and writing it has been a fun diversion from dull academic writing. And, my busy three-and-a-half year old deserves plenty of my time.

In the midst of everything, a job in my field came up. I got it and with rather short notice started in April. It’s a perfect fit for my skill set and has removed my financial angst and much of my free time. It’s all good – however, adding full time work onto my already full plate left me overwhelmed. I had to let some things go (unfortunately this blog was an early casualty). I dialed back my garden plans, backed out of sharing an allotment, and gave my chickens to a friend with a farm (a literal farm, not a figurative one). I stopped freelance writing and cleaned up many of the ‘experiments’ I was running around the house.

I’ve managed to keep puttering on my dissertation. I no longer have to be in a rush, hopefully I’ll be done in a year. Surprisingly, I’ve finished a first draft of my novel and am puttering away on the second. It turns out, for me writing fiction is a nice late evening task. I like my story and am planning on self-publishing it, maybe late fall.

The garden is looking organized, beds are dug over, sprinklers on timers are set up and plenty of things are planted. I lost a few pepper plants due to not re-potting them in time, so I just bought replacements. With my husband’s help we are in good shape to finish planting in the garden. Plus, we’ve created a small plot for my daughter which she has chosen to fill with strawberries and flowers. I’ll try to keep posting updates here, but I don’t promise to be regular for a while.

April garden update – and I cause wind storms


Garden on 1 April 2016. The new raised bed in front of the chickens will be for my daughter to fill – she’s already been discussing the relative merits or radishes and carrots.

The last few days have felt like someone switched on spring. Plants have been rushing to bloom (including the last of my overwinter greens) and there is new growth everywhere. I’ve been able to putter outside in just my t-shirt – and the monster mud pit is starting to dry up.

At the beginning of March we finally got the greenhouse covered, but not strapped down yet. Within 24 hours we had a major wind storm that nearly blew it away. That day I was out there holding the greenhouse down (not easy to do) while my husband was screwing the strapping on (my three-year old ran around inside delighted with the excitement). For the next few weeks we had a windstorm every other day – since windstorms around here are a November thing, I’ve concluded putting up the greenhouse caused them. We’ll need to do some fixing, but the greenhouse has survived and is now filled with young plants.


Inside the greenhouse – originally I got specifically-for-outside-poly clear tape to hold the cover on, but it didn’t stick. So we resorted to the red tape, which is ugly, but holding well.

The front food forest has been a bit of a deer-ravaged-weed-zone, but I’ve started to get a handle on it. The perennials, bushes and trees are coming to life and I hope will grow enough this year to drown out some of the weeds. And, even though the deer have been eating my sprouting broccoli, there was still plenty left over for me to harvest. On the agenda for April is putting up a better fence!


The sawdust paths are looking more defined and it looks like I’ll get boatloads of blueberries.


Blooming honey berries, which should be the first berries ready to eat.



I know these aren’t edible, but they are pretty


Primroses in the morning – these are edible, but not tasty


The plum behind my back fence is putting on a nice show of blooms – and there have been plenty of bees.

practice, practice, practice


These guys are now up.

It’s interesting how sometimes I notice the same idea coming at me from wildly different places. Lately, the concept of ‘practice’ has repeatedly emerged from very different sources.

A few weeks ago I listened to a podcast about Tetris (the 1980’s computer game). Compared to other video games out there it’s shockingly simple, yet it has endured in various forms since its invention. There is even a version on it on my computer right now. Tetris type games are my favourite type of games – mildly addictive and I never seem to tire of them.

The thing is, it’s impossible to win Tetris. No matter what one does, those blocks keep coming faster and faster until eventually they fill the screen. Every single game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot, I’ve lost. But winning isn’t the point, in fact, there is no set end point. Which links to the concept of practice, I can always play a tiny bit better, manipulate those shapes a little bit faster and that’s what keeps bringing me back.

I recently signed up for a new yoga class. The instructor has been talking a lot about practice and how it’s a way for an individual to push their own boundaries. There is no real end goal to yoga – well… enlightenment maybe, but that’s well outside my expectations in the same realm as winning a game of Tetris. For me yoga (or physical fitness in general) is not a project that ends. I can always push myself incrementally a bit further through deliberate practice.

Along the same vein, I just finished reading a writing book (The Creative Compass) that’s also advocating for a deliberate practice of generating words, a push to get ideas down. Although, I’m working on several finite writing projects (with my dissertation being the biggest) when I finish, I’ll simply start writing something else, a different project – I suspect there is no set end to my writing.

Gardening also fits into this practice model, as there are seasonal cycles but no real end. I can tweak what I do from year to year but it’s never complete – I can’t ‘win’ in any absolute sense (nor would I want to). There will always be weeding, planning, planting and harvesting to do. It’s the process that drives me, which is perhaps the point of considering it a practice.

(Perhaps parenting counts as another sort of practice as there is no real end state, no ‘winning’ just moment to moment choices.)

How to like squash


This is one of my fancy French heritage squash I planted last year (Sucrine du Berry), according to the seed package it is supposed to have “a sweet, musky fragrance and a delicious sweet flesh” – it just tastes like squash to me.

So I have a little secret – I don’t actually like squash (the exception is pumpkin pie, which is the best desert on the planet). I thought I would grow to like it, but it was recently pointed out to me that turning all my squash into curried squash soup only really means I like curry.

But, for the last few years, squash has turned out to be my most productive crop – I’m still working through the 67kg I harvested last year and there is only so much curried squash soup one family can stand. Which has left me with no choice but to experiment. So we’ve had coconut squash pasta (which was good, but could just be me liking coconut milk), squash and black bean burgers (also good, but I couldn’t taste the squash) and squash muffins (about as far into baking that I ever venture). All reasonable options for reducing my squashy stash.

The best option by far is lacto-fermented squash. Once fermented it’s ready in the fridge whenever, and is an easy addition to a plowman style lunch. I’ve only had it, so far, styled as kimchi, but there is plenty of opportunity to experiment here – but not with spaghetti squash (I fermented some last year and it was not good and I’ve since come across others who’ve tried and come to the same conclusion).

Anyone have other ideas on how to prepare winter squash for those of us who don’t really like it?


February Garden Update


This time of year the garden turns into a monster mud pit as we aren’t far off the clay base and the water just stays – which is why we have raised beds. Our chicken tractor has seen better days so I hope we’ll get a more permanent home built for the hens over the summer (The coop we build is the type of coop that one builds when company is coming and chickens are living in the guest bathroom). Check out the bones of my new greenhouse.

I think I’m finally escaping my January blahs and a little extra light has brought new growth to the garden (perhaps the two are related). I’ve got big plans for this year, including finishing the greenhouse, a watering system and a new chicken coop – plus extending the front garden to take over much of our front lawn. I’ve also had enough with weed-wacking around the raised planters, so I’m finally going to get wood chips down.

Garlic has emerged

Garlic has emerged


The collards are putting on new growth (as is the kale)


So far, the chard has survived the winter

and there is corn salad too

and there is corn salad too


In the event of an unexpected apocalypse, there is plenty of purple dead nettles to eat (or I could just feed them to the hens).


Once, over five years ago, I planted borage – now it comes up all over the place (I even spotted some of it already blooming in the front). The flowers are pretty in salads and the birds and bees like it.


Last year I added two goji plants – now they’re getting ready to take over the world.


and finally, a pretty shot of some calendula that never stopped blooming.


garden in a cube


an edible chrysanthemum – blooming when I rather it didn’t

As I sit looking out to the garden six lemon yellow flowers provide a cheerful punch in the winter garden dominated by greens and mud. They’re edible chrysanthemums, planted to provide winter greens, but they decided to bloom – in January.  The only other flash of bright colour comes from the Steller’s Jay that has taken up foraging the footprints of past compost bins, presumably ground full of tasty delights. The flash of blue keeps distracting me, but I don’t mind. Looking out always reminds me, the garden is about more than the food it produces.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a company that outfits sea containers with hydroponic gardening systems. Inside, lights cast an optimized spectrum of wavelengths on vertical crops creating a glowing purple world. These gardens (factories? systems?) are reminiscent of a retrofuturistic world without ground to plant and gardens are for one purpose only – human food production.

This kind of food production could feed a lot of people. Since I have a ridiculously long and flat driveway for an urban dweller, I could easily accommodate one of these portable systems – and it’s even tempting. I wonder if there has been thought of sending these systems to the remote communities in the north? Could they produce fresh produce cheaper than flying it in?

I have to admit, I prefer a more polyculture style garden. I would never sit in one of these systems, while I’ll sit in my garden and observe. I prefer the lushness of a polyculture set up along with the wildlife that come in. Plus, I like the illumination of the full visible spectrum, not just the wavelengths that serve growth best.

Hey, there’s the Steller’s Jay…