Posts Tagged ‘You Grow Girl’

New Beginnings

Bounty

Tomorrow is my birthday.

So, it seems only fitting that as I prepare to spend another year in this skin, I should reflect on what it is I’m planning to do in the coming months, particularly in relation to gardening.

With the exception of the various forms of root stock I ordered (potatoes, sunchokes and asparagus) all of my seeds have arrived.  I spread them out on the kitchen table last night and simultaneously felt surges of fear and excitement.  There’s something rather exhilarating about the potential of this year’s garden with the many unknowns I’m introducing into the equation, but at the same time I can also see the immense amount of work all of the seed packs represent.

Of course, the few months between receiving the seeds and actually planting them into the ground is excruciatingly painful for someone as impatient as I am.  There is the distraction of starting the seeds in the basement, but that is just a temporary solution, which is why I invariably end up going back to the seed catalogues that keep showing up at my door and ordering more.  In fact, immediately after I placed the orders for all of the seed packets that you see above, another Richter’s magazine (ironically) showed up, attempting to entice me into purchasing again.  To date I haven’t caved, but only because I’m not sure whether I realistically have room for all of the things I’ve already bought.  Regardless of that concern, I’m sure before May rolls around there will be a few more seed orders arriving at my door.

As an added bonus, the company that sent me the seeds on the very left (Heritage Harvest) included a free package of tomato seeds with my order, and I’m very intrigued by them.  They’re called Henderson’s Wins All and apparently this heritage variety grows grotesquely massive 2-3 pound specimens.  While some of you may be aware of my fascination with all things tiny and squee, I’m also (surprisingly) amazed by those biggest vegetable ever contests that people hold every harvest season.  Between the Sicilian Saucer (another 3 pound beast) and this new Henderson’s I think I’m going to have giantesse all wrapped up this year.  I’m expecting it’ll be a very Alice In Wonderland-esque garden with all of the tiny cherry tomatoes being dwarfed by these 2 oversized plants.

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Forest Floor In Miniature

AM

As the days continue to idly drift by, I’m no closer to getting my seedlings in the ground.

It’s not entirely my fault, though.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been having some difficulty locating a garden centre that can deliver the quantities of dirt, mulch and compost I require without just dumping them on a front lawn I don’t have.  The most promising supplier I found advised me this morning that for whatever reason they don’t deliver to Toronto.  Now I normally love a challenge, but this is becoming a farce.  I need bagged, (not loose) dirt, and it has to be of excellent quality, without chemicals or fertilizers mixed in.  When it comes to homegrown produce I’m a purist, and I like to know exactly what is in the stuff that receives all of my hard labor.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask…

The basement artichoke plants are becoming spiky and menacing, and the tomatoes so tall that they’ve almost hit the lights.  The roots expanded beyond their individual toilet paper prisons and are on the verge of intertwining with each other; it will become an inevitability if I don’t act fast.

I should’ve planted out the beets and salad greens already, but without dirt that seems somewhat fruitless.  Instead I rounded up a small container of dirt that’d been sitting out in the elements all winter and used it to plant a lilliputian lettuce garden in the kitchen window.  I originally read about the idea (credited to Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl) here, and since I wanted to get early lettuce greens sometime soon, it seemed like the perfect distractionary project.  Check out the difference just a few hours can make.  It’s really quite spectacular.

Now all I need is some dirt and to wake up in the morning and find they’ve morphed into edible-sized sprouts.

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Recessionary Times Call For Discretionary Measures

On the back of my post on food stamp spending, I felt it necessary to delve a little deeper into the subject and examine ways one can effectively stretch their food dollars.  I feel like somewhere out there, someone is thinking to themselves, well it’s all fine and good to say it’s possible to live within those restrictions, but does she really do it?  And if so, how?  So, let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?

First off, there’s nothing secret about how I manage to live within my means.  Most of the suggestions and ideas are pure common sense, and if you asked anyone who lived through the Great Depression, (like your grandparents), they’d tend to agree with me.  Trust me; in this day and age there are too many people (especially my generation, unfortunately) that are spoiled for choice, but these methods were quite commonplace back then. I often think the reason more people don’t cook is that they take it too seriously.  Cooking is meant to be fun, not a chore, and really, even if you screw it up, (barring incineration) you can almost always eat your mistakes.

One of the easiest methods to adopt is to buy as much of your food as possible in its natural, unadulterated state.  Put simply, that means instead of buying a bagged salad kit, you buy a head of romaine lettuce and toast your own croutons.  Or you put down the baby carrots and pick up a bunch of whole ones (those bagged baby carrots are just normal carrots lathed into a smaller shape, you know)  Or, as previously suggested, buy a whole chicken and break it into the requisite pieces yourself.  One chicken yields 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, 2 breasts and a carcass that can be thrown in the freezer and used later to make stock or soup and only runs you $8-10.  It may sound intimidating, but after a few tries it’s manageable. Remember; it’s just food.  At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t perfect, because it’s just going to wind its way through your digestive tract anyhow. Another apt comparison; while experimenting with sausage-making earlier this year, I learned it is cheaper (and more reliable) to buy a piece of whole meat rather than buying it pre-ground.  If you happen to have a food mill or a meat grinder, it’s a no-brainer.  Not only can you control the amount of fat that goes into your ground (which is better for your health) you can save yourself some money.  Ground pork can be anywhere from $3.99 to $4.99 a pound, but a picnic shoulder will set you back only $2.99 a pound.  See what I’m getting at here?  This is the premium that the food industry arbitrarily puts on your time.

Another smart idea would be to invest some effort into growing food.  Don’t let lack of a backyard, patio or balcony be a barrier to success.  As seen here on You Grow Girl, Gayla proves that all it takes is a sunny window and an old salad container to grow a lilliputian basket of micro greens (that in a fancy pants grocery store would be $10 a pound).  It also doesn’t hurt to contact your local parks and recreation office to locate community gardens in your area, because they are great places for people with little in the way of garden know-how and access to dirt to get together and learn to grow.  Having been part of one last year, I can’t say enough about them.  They foster community relationships, provide a wealth of knowledge, and beautify public spaces.  Plus, growing from seed can provide the best value for dollar of any of my suggestions.  A packet of seeds typically ranges between $0.99 and $3.00 (though I’m sure there are more expensive ones out there) but contains anywhere from 30 to several hundred seeds (depending on the variety).  Considering that given the right conditions, each seed is capable of producing a whole plant, a $0.99 investment seems like an ok strategy to me.  As we’re moving into spring, it’s also a very timely suggestion.  If you find it too expensive to buy multiple seeds when all you want to grow is a few different plants, pool your resources with friends and share the seeds amongst yourselves (another bonus of community gardening).  As a plus, gardening also has spiritual benefits, and there’s nothing more soothing than a little toil to get back to the earth and centre yourself.

If you really can’t find a way to garden, shopping the harvest is the next best thing.  Whether it’s a trip to your local farmers market, a stop at a highway fruit stand, or just wandering around your grocery store, you’ll notice the food that’s in season is significantly cheaper than the food that isn’t.  And if you can afford the initial outlay of capital, it’s a great time to stock up on seasonal food to overwinter (in the form of jams, jellies, sauces, canned condiments or preserves).  Food at it’s peak is also better for you because it contains more of its nutrients.  To expand on this further, have you ever noticed how expensive strawberries or asparagus are in the dead of winter compared to the first weeks of June?  That’s because it costs money to fly food in from warmer climes where it grows year round (like Peru or Mexico).  You’ll also notice the food that’s traveled farther tends to have less flavor.  On top of that, the more time between the moment something’s picked and when you eat it, the less nutrients its likely to have left.  Buying in season has the added benefit of usually meaning that your food is local (or closer to it), which is good for the community, good for your health and good for the environment.  It’s a win-win situation all the way.

While it’s another method that requires an initial outlay of cash, buying in bulk can be one of the most beneficial ways to stretch a dollar.  Firstly, when food producers don’t have to pay for individual packaging, it allows them to pass on the savings to the customer.  An excellent example of buying in bulk would be connecting with a farmer to buy a side, half or quarter of a whole animal, which is easier than you think.  Not only does this practice allow for greater levels of customization (as you specify what cuts and sizes you’d like made out of your animal), but the cost per pound significantly drops when purchased this way.  For example, earlier this year the Everyman and I purchased a split side of beef.  Weighing in at just under 120 pounds, the side was natural, grass fed, and contained a little bit of everything for just $3.29 a pound.  As the Everyman’s brother pointed out, it’s a great deal, but you either look at it like you’ve bought really cheap steaks (not quality wise) or really expensive ground beef.  I don’t care how I think about it, to me it’s just good forethought.  We bought our side in January and I don’t think we’ve even worked through 20 pounds yet, so at that rate I’d extrapolate that the beef will last almost a year and a half.  Though BBQ season is coming… so we’ll probably see a sharp spike in burger and steak consumption shortly…

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Anything Goes…

Every day that passes brings the gardening season that much closer (fingers crossed that we’re done with snow).  To while away the time I’ve become hooked on something I read about over at You Grow Girl several months ago… Gardening Mama!  It’s a game from the people who making Cooking Mama, which I also obsessively love, but more than that, it keeps my hands busy while I’m waiting for the universe to hurry up and warm up outside already…

Though I may have let the past few months pass in relative silence on the garden front, you can be assured that I’ve not been dormant.  From taking my seed catalogs with me on Christmas vacation so I could pick out my new projects (yes, I am a garden dork and I was mocked mercilessly about it the entire vacation), to harassing the people at West Coast Seeds when an order didn’t arrive, to finally breaking out the potting soil and mucking about in my basement laundry room, the last 3 months contained their fair share of preparatory activities.

Project Sustainability 2009 is well underway, with approximately 60 seedlings chilling out on the grow tower.  Considering that last year was my first attempt at growing anything more involved than a cactus, I was pretty impressed with the end results.  There were definitely lessons learned, and notes made about plants I wouldn’t bother to grow again (read: corn and those weeds I thought were beans).  But this year, along with bringing back favorites and successes from 2008, I also picked a bunch of new plants to try.  As our diet becomes increasingly varied, the memories of how explosively flavorful my completely organic, fresh picked produce was last year inspired me to try my hand at even more.  I can never replace Bob (our organic delivery guy) or our CSA farmshare from Zephyr Organics, but being able to combine two of my all-consuming passions is just too good to pass up.  Plus, creating your own tiny microcosm means being able to experiment with more unique and just plain bizarre produce that larger growers might not bother with.

So far on the rooftop roster this year we have:

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Subterranean Plantsick Foodie

It’s a trying time of year for me here at Foodie and the Everyman right now.  The weather in Toronto has been experiencing the usual ups and downs; it’s just that this year there seems to be a much more extreme variance than usual.  For me this is like some kind of medieval water torture.   The temperature soared to 16 degrees one day last week, and then several days later was back down to below zero.  Of course the way we gauge temperature is all relative, but when it changes so quickly it can feel downright arctic in your head.

It can be also be very frustrating when you’re trying to plan a garden and start seedlings when the weather is neither consistent nor cooperative.  I have about 40 tomato seedlings (as seen below) currently hanging out in my basement, waiting for their turn in the sun.  Every time the weather warms up a bit, I get my hopes up, yet they are continually dashed.  I still have all my other plants to start, but the lack of space and shifting weather have left me slightly confused about how long I should wait to start them.  I read recently that the You Grow Girl folks are starting their seeds in a greenhouse down the street this weekend, so that should be a good indication that I need to get my butt in gear.

I also have a few lonely fig trees cloistered away in my sun room; one of them has even started growing it’s first fig already.  I look forward to the day I can put them (and their lemon and lime tree brethren) out on the deck where they’ll hopefully fare better.

Springtime, won’t you come on down?

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Another Garden Update…

It’s been an interesting week.

Every day I’m learning more about gardening from my experiments on the roof.  Earlier this week I transplanted all of my full-size tomato plants into a kiddie pool so that they’d have more room to sprawl.  Because I’d never separated the roots for transplanting before, I wasn’t sure if I was being too rough with them, and there were a lot that just fell off.  After about an hour of mucking about, I felt like I was done, but I was also very worried that I’d killed all of the tomatoes.  It’s now been about 3 full days since then, and everything is coming up rosy.  I had super-fertilized the bed and amended it with compost before putting them in to (hopefully) give them a boost, and so far, it looks like it worked.  So that was my Wednesday night.  While my plants haven’t gotten much bigger, they are looking much less droopy and are blooming little yellow flower clusters like crazy.

On Thursday I stopped at our friendly neighborhood farmer’s market and bought 8 quarts of strawberries for jam.  And man, does that make a lot of jam.  I have 14 pints (I think they’re pints, they measure 2 cups each) of jam put up now, 9 jars of regular, and 5 jars of strawberry vanilla.  I am very anxiously awaiting blueberry season so I can go through the chaos of 4 hours of canning all over again.  But I digress.  At the farmer’s market, they also had a stand that sold heirloom tomato seedlings.  And I must have had the word sucker written on my forehead, because the first thing I did was pick the wimpiest, scraggliest plant and take it home with me.  After the fact I was reminded of the Charlie Brown Christmas special, when he buys the crappy tree and takes it back to the gang.  I couldn’t leave the poor wilty plant there, so I saved it.  After posting a picture of it on You Grow Girl, I was told that I had in fact picked a great species – Pruden’s Purple is on the majority of serious tomato lover’s top 10 list.  So now all I have to do is keep it alive.  The Everyman practically had a conniption when he saw that I was bringing home ANOTHER plant, but I reassured him that I would only be companion planting it, so Pruden’s is now living with my baby carrots – see if you can pick her out of the lineup.

Lastly, this weekend I tried to start putting my drip irrigation system together, but I must admit, I’ve been feeling rather uninspired to do this, for fear that I will do it wrong.  Some day soon I’ll get to it (I hope), just not today.  It also doesn’t help that I think I’m missing a few key pieces either.  Oh well, tomorrow is another (gardening) day.

Until next time…