Dandelion Syrup

Spring is coming! It's just aound the corner and the snow is half gone now! Soon the dandelions will be blooming all over our fields. We have fields and fields of them and they are pesticide free! I sort of cultivate the dandelions, or I don't actively try to get rid of them. I like them. They really do no harm and they are useful. They don't get tall enough to be a nuisance. Last year I made dandelion wine, which I just bottled this morning. This year I am going to make more dandelion wine and also dandelion syrup. I also plan to collect the tiny leaves for eating and freezing like spinach for soups and stews and sauces. I have collected only the petals in years past for wine making but I have been told that the entire flower can be used for making syrup without bitterness. I don't know about that but it will certainly make the collecting of enough material go a lot faster. I think I will try it with the whole heads this year.

Here is my recipe (sort of) for dandelion syrup: Collect as many chemical free dandelions as possible. Put just the washed heads into a pot and barely cover with water. Boil for some time, about 20-30 mins. Remove those heads with a sieve and add another pot full of flower heads to the water and boil these for 20-30 mins. The more dandelions you boil in the water, the stronger the flavour will be.

When you have boiled all the flowers you plan to boil, remove flowers with a sieve and strain liquid. Add sugar, 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Let boil until thick and syrupy.

It taste slightly nutty with a hint of vanilla all by itself! Eat over waffles or ice cream or make a drink with it, glaze meat with it. You can even heat it up and serve hot over desserts!

Bring it on, Spring! I'm ready!!

Growing Your Own Grains

One vital step on the road to self sufficiency is growing your own grains. We are moving in that direction, but only on a small scale. I grow a few grains but not enough to make our bread, just enough to sprinkle on oatmeal or cereal.

I originally started growing grain to use as chicken feed. While it does make good chicken feed, the ones that I grow are also good for people to eat.

My objective for the years to come is to grow all of our own grain needs, organic wheat included. At the moment we don't grow wheat but I am looking into it.

We do grow flax, both the yellow grain variety and the blue variety. Both are good for eating but the blue ones are beautiful enough for the flower bed. They are one of the few true blue flowers and reseed to come back year after year. I do grow a few in the flowerbed, but I grow rows of them in the field. It's hard to keep the deer away from the flax! Just as the pods were full and ripening, they ate a lot of it to the ground. Very frustrating! (Really, I love the deer but they have to stay away from my garden!! ) A big dog helps to keep the deer away but a big dog will destroy the garden as fast as a deer...

There are other grains that I grow but the deer seemed to like the flax the best. I also planted rows of millet, amaranth, and poppies. I am currently doing germination testing on quinoa, red quinoa, and chia. I did plant millet last year but was unsuccessful at getting it to germinate so I won't be planting it again this year.

Quinoa and chia are new to me this year and I don't know if I will get them to grow here. I think quinoa and chia are long season plants, but I have them now sprouting in trays 
early indoors.

Quinoa is not a real grain but akin to spinach. Chia is a salvia.

Even if I cannot grow the grains to ripeness, I will grow them for sprouts. Sprouts are very nutritious eaten, as is, in a salad or on a sandwich! While we do eat them like this, my aim is to grow the seed for grinding and for sale in the seed store. I would like to see more people on the road to self sufficiency, growing their own grains and providing their own basic food needs.

All are extremely good for you! Both chia and quinoa are very high in protein, just about as complete a protein as it is possible to get in grain. Next year I am going to grow my own organic wheat...maybe.

I have yellow and blue flax seeds and amaranth seed for sale in my seed store. Now that I know the quinoa and chia will germinate well and quickly, I will be offering those soon, too!

Next year I am going to look into growing my own organic wheat. I don't tolerate wheat very well. One of the major side effects of this are migraines. I know from personal experience that I can cut my migraines down to a few a month if I cut out the wheat. It's hard, but if you live with severe migraines on a regular, almost daily, basis, it is worth it. I am hoping that organic wheat will be more easily tolerated.

Growing my own grains is another step for us on the road to self sufficiency. It's an exciting change that we are looking forward to!

Bean Varieties

How many different types of beans are there? I had no idea there were so many until last winter when I began researching them, looking for the perfect beans to grow. We have always grown yellow wax beans and love them, but hubby is not fond of the standard green beans, so I went on a quest for really good beans. If we are going to devote that much space and time to something, we should really, really like it and not just grow it because, well, you know everyone else does. I mean, what's a garden without beans?

We still grew the standard yellow wax bush beans because we love them, but we also grew other kinds, unusual and different kinds, this year.
One that we like a lot is the "asparagus" bean. It's touted to taste like asparagus and it does! It's delicious! This one is actually called "Gow Dauk Yard Long Asparagus Bean". It's not a yard long but it is long. Each bean is about a foot long, slender and tender and good and it does taste like asparagus! We will definitely grow a lot of them next year! I only have a few plants this year, not even enough for us to eat, just enough to grow seed for a row of them next year. I will probably also buy some seeds next year, if I can find them. I got these in a trade from another gardener.

One of the most promising and interesting beans I planted is "Aunt Mollie's Mushroom Bean". The beans themselves, not the pods, are suppose to taste like mushrooms when cooked in things. Interesting! I only have one plant and it doesn't have beans on it yet, so we may not be able to see if this is true. If we do get a few beans this year, it won't be enough to sell them, unfortunately. Not this year, anyway. If we do get beans and, indeed, they do taste like mushrooms when cooked in things, I might have some seeds for sale next year, maybe. If we like these, I may buy these seeds to plant next year, as well. Again, if I can find them.

Another bean I am growing and we like is an heirloom yellow flat bean from Romania called "Gold of Bacau". It's a fast, tall grower and good producer. I will have these beans for sale in the seed store this year. They did really well. That's them in the picture, growing above the hibiscus beside the deck and covered with beans!

I also grew "French Duet" beans, called "duet" because they are a mix of yellow and green. We liked these a lot! They are slender and tender too and grew very well. I may have these seeds for sale this year, still not sure if there will be enough or not.

I always grow scarlet runner beans, for decoration as well as eating. The young tender green beans are very good. Not sure if we will have these beans for sale this year or not. They sure are beautiful in the flower garden! 

We also grew Kentucky Wonder yellow pole beans this year. These are excellent and I might have these seeds for sale this year. I grew these in an attempt to switch from bush beans to pole beans,
(much easier on the back!) but they are ready much later so I will still grow both. The yellow bush beans are ready all through late June-July, while the Kentucky Wonder beans come after and are ready in August. Growing both will prolong the bean season.  

I planted a few Blue Lake Stringless green beans too but, while the plants are up and growing well, they have not produced any beans yet, nary a one. That one is probably not going anywhere. Must need a longer growing season. Oh well, as previously stated, hubby is not fond of your standard green beans anyway. He LOVES the asparagus beans, however!

The beans that we grow are for eating of the pod. We don't grow beans that are for eating of the seed. Our season is not that long and, frankly, we don't eat them. I have considered growing pinto beans for chili, but we just don't eat enough chili to bother, but I do consider it every spring. It just doesn't go anywhere, maybe next year...

Although I have said here that I will probably have some of these bean seeds, nothing is definite until it is actually in my hands. Such is the life of a gardener.

There are so many different kinds of beans out there that I could not possibly grow them all. I keep looking for the fabulous, the unique and the useful, not just in beans, but in everything we grow! I am thrilled to find the "asparagus" beans this year!


Our asparagus is finally ready!

Its really past ready as you can see. I cut it about three days ago then got busy. Oops! Looks like I am one day too late for a few of these. Oh well, I need to let 3-4 stalks grow to maturity for the health of the plant.

I did cut a good bunch today. I cooked them slightly, cut off the tips and put them in a salad for dinner. I wolfed down the bottoms. They were so good with a pinch of salt! I like cooked vegetables in tossed salad. I put all the left over vegetables in a salad the next day. Its all good!

The above photo is the older end of our asparagus bed. This is the new end. I planted these from seed three springs ago, so these are three years old.

Some have pencil sized stalks and so could be cut, but most are still too small. I moved them last summer when they were still growing, so they suffered a bit of a setback. We get a few meals worth of asparagus from the older bed anyway, I just wanted to add to it.

Seed is by far the cheapest way to grow things, if you have the time to wait for it.

The older bed was here when we moved in. It is not a wild bed because it is planted in a circle and has purple tipped asparagus. The best kind! You can sometimes find a wild asparagus bed along the sides of a country road or in a field, but they are rare here.

Fresh spring asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables! After a stale winter, a fresh picked veggie of any kind is very welcome!

Coffee Planter gift

I am seeing a long time friend in about a week. She is also a gardener so I thought I would take her a few seedlings for her garden that I know she has not grown before.A couple of weeks ago a large fast food chain started selling really good, high quality coffee and had a promotion, giving it away free. Shortly into the free coffee promo, I had quite a collection of coffee cups. One day they were sitting on the counter and this idea came to me. What a unique temporary planter that would make! Being a big coffee drinker, I was able to collect quite a few cups and a holder. The medium size worked better than the large tall size which were tippy.

I thought this could be used to start seedlings, since it comes with a lid as well, but for this purpose I am just going to transplant seedlings I already have growing, into the cups. One week is not enough time to grow things from seed. I could also take another set to her planted with seeds and the lids intact if I have time before I go.I poked holes in the bottom of the cups for drainage and added a piece of aluminum foil to the bottom of the cup to catch the water.

Into the cups I planted: Garlic chives, 'Keri Blue' dahlia, Aunt Molly's ground cherry, Sweet potato, 'Super Shepherd' pepper
. I put a label in each cup and put them upstairs in the warm room, under lights. I am hoping they will all be growing and healthy in a few days.

I use slats from horizontal window blinds for plant labels. You can cut them to size and write on them with permanent marker. They last a long time and you get hundreds from one small blind. You can put holes in them to tie onto branches and colour code them too.

I am hoping it will be a surprise but if you are reading this, Diane, see you then! 

Growing Potatoes

I have finally gotten everything planted except the potatoes and tobacco seedlings. I have not planted the potatoes yet because I have been undecided about growing them this year. This is the potato capital of Canada and we have friends with a huge potato farm. These friends have let us pick up potatoes off the ground after the machines have harvested them in the past, also, 50 lb bags of potatoes are so cheap in the fall here. It is not really worth planting them.

The only reason I am considering it is because I want them to make dog food next year and I like the red ones. Most of what is grown around here are white commercial potatoes. Its not the same and they are not nearly as good as homegrown red ones with our own chicken manure. So, all things considered, I am thinking about planting some red ones this week. My father in law assures me that it is not too late to plant them now and I have the room and can make the time for it now that everything else is in the ground and it rained last night. This constant hand watering and sprinkler moving has been killing me! Well, its been taking all of my time, anyway.

I want to plant potatoes in trenches lined with cardboard and covered with thick mulch instead of soil. Since the potatoes grow above the seed potato, they will grow onto the cardboard in the trench. You can also just lay them in the trench on the soil and cover with mulch and still have fairly clean potatoes without any digging. The cardboard is optional.

Thus we will have fairly clean potatoes without any digging. The digging is work, yes, but it also results in a lot of large potatoes cut in half or stabbed. This is what happens when I dig them, anyway. I don't seem to be very good at it :-(

If the trench is covered with straw, we can just lift the mulch to see how the potatoes are progressing or to pick up a few little ones to eat.

I think I may be planting potatoes in this manner this week, perhaps with the cardboard, perhaps without it. Writing this blog has helped me make up my mind. I will let you know how the cardboard/mulch plan works out. I do have a small square bale of old hay I can use for that and some fall leaves I can cut up and add to it.

Another reason to plant potatoes is for the flowers. I like potato flowers in a cut arrangement. They are very pretty and people don't seem to recognise them. Everyone asks what they are and seem quite surprised when I tell them that they are potato flowers. I wonder if I can make a gallon of potato flower wine?

I am still a bit undecided. I might look at the work I already have to do in weeding and harvesting and decide not to plant potatoes this year. I keep changing my mind. That's a woman's perogative, isn't it?

Squash Harvest

Yes, this is my picture above. It is a picture of the squash we harvested today! After a summer of carefully tending the squash, we picked them all today. They will need to age in a warm and dry place for about a month before we cut into one, but we're ok with that.

Squash can be left to age in the field in the sun, after frost has taken the leaves. I think they cure faster this way than in the house as long as you get them inside before the very hard frost damages the rind. You can tell when a squash is ready to be picked by the curlycue nearby. If they have begun to shrivel and turn brown then it is ready to pick but still needs to be cured. You can also tell by the stem. If it is turning brown and no longer green, then the squash is ready. We just picked them all before the frost. The slightly immature ones will not grow any bigger but they will ripen over the winter, off the vine. We had to leave a few babies behind but we had a lot of good squash anyway.

The very large light blue ones are hubbard. Those have to be cut with an axe, but produce the most lovely, sweet, not stringly squash. The long ones with the bulb at the end are the butternut. Those are best for making squash soup, or so I hear. I have never grown butternut before and have used the buttercup and hubbard for everything. The orange ones are ambercup, a buttercup of a different colour. The green ones are nutty delica. I have never grown or eaten delica squash before. They are a Japanese Ebisu hybred that are suppose to have a nutty flavour. We will see.

They are aging for now, but when we do cut a few open, we will judge for ourselves which ones we like the best.

Next year I will also grow Hopi pale gray and Hopi black squash.

I grew acorn squash in the back pasture this year, but have not checked on them yet. I believe there was only one that sprouted. I will have to see if there are any acorn squash very soon.

I have seed to try many other types next year, but we will always grow hubbard.

Building A Bat House

What I have built is a place for REAL bats to take up residence in the wild, not a piece of finely crafted garden decor.

Bat houses are very simple. Bats will live in caves and inside a wall, how complicated can it be? There are dozens of websites with plans for bat houses on the internet but I found the article "Efficiency of Bat Houses" by M.J. Pybus - Alberta Environment, to be the most useful source of general information about building one. I think you should understand why they are built the way they are and what the necessary components are, in order to build a successful bat house. Following are a few important points that I have learned:
  • The interior surfaces must be roughened to give the adult and baby bats something to hold onto. Many directions say to line the inside of the bathouse with nylon screening for this but I have some doubts about the safety of screening. I have seen too many tiny creatures caught in small fencing and screening.

  • The 3' tall bat houses are the ones used most often.

  • The cavities can be from 3/4" to 2" but the opening should be only 3/4" to prevent predators from entering. My bat house is 3' tall and the spaces are 3/4" thick. I don't think the width of the house matters much.

  • Old wood is best. The bats will wait a year until it is aged in the weather if you use new wood. It can be artificially aged by rubbing it with mud. Bat guano is apparently great for this, too. (Uh...I don't think I'll be going there.)

  • The bathouse needs to be mounted about 15-20' off the ground, in the sun and not near trees with branches to get in the way of direct flight. A post is better or an old TV antennae, like I have.

  • In the north it should be painted black, with non toxic latex paint, to absorb the heat. In the hot south it should be painted white to reflect the heat.

  • When mounted it should tilt back about 10 degrees. This will cut down on the percentage of babies that fall out.

After a lot of research I have decided that I am ready to start building. I have been collecting the materials for months with this planned as one of my many winter projects. This one has to be completed and in place before the bats return in the spring.

With the addition of my new radial arm saw (I love power tools!) I am on my way.

First thing this morning, after opening the hen house door, turning on their light and waking them up, (Good morning, Ladies and Gent!) I went to the shop and began pulling out the wood.

I decided, after some thought to make it 3' long and 18" wide with the required 3/4" gap for the cavities. I gathered the pieces of wood from the pile and cut them to the correct sizes. Here is the pile of 18" wide cross pieces and 1" x 3/4" framer pieces which are 3' long. I am fortunate enough to have aged framer pieces. I will have to artificially age the cross pieces with dirt. I will leave it outside for the remainder of the winter to help age the wood, as well. I hope to have it mounted the same week it is finished, if there is time for that. Yes, my shop table is BLUE (not my doing.)

Before putting it together I have to roughen the inside walls of the bat house. I looked at all the tools I had for this and started with a raster on the drill, didn't work very well. I then switched to a large bit, also not very good for this. After trying a few things, I settled on the claw of a hammer. It worked the best. I covered one piece with holes, then turned it upside down and did it again, slanting the other way, so there are crevices for the bats to hold onto going up and down. Finally I had each piece covered with dents. The interior pieces needed to be done on both sides. This turned out to be the most tiring and time consuming part of the project.

These are the inside pieces after rubbing dirt on them to age them. I used a large hand brush for this instead of a cloth. I should have used muddy water as it would have soaked in and filled the crevices, but I didn't. (Hindsight is a wonderful thing.)

Now that the individual pieces are finished, it is time to put it together. While I prefer to work with screws, I used 3" nails for this job. Obviously 3" is not long enough for the entire depth of the house, which has two large cavities, each 3/4" side. I nailed it together in stages. I put one nail in each board to hold them in place. After it has all been put together, I will put in two nails, in each side of each board, on the outside. In the above picture they are not yet nailed or aged. I am just putting them together to make sure it all fits.

This is the basic house, before it has all been nailed together.

The underside of the top piece needs to be roughened and aged, as well.

Basic completed and nailed bat house. It will need a slanted roof piece to keep the rain and snow out. Some internet sites recommend sealing the cracks on the outside to further help keep out the weather. I have also read that it needs air circulation so that it doesn't build up too much humidity from the bat bodies. I am not going to seal it, as I don't think this one needs it, but I do have some scrap shingles that I may tack on the back which will be facing north. I will add them IF I can find them under the snow. I was using them to line the flowerbed but can spare a few to help keep the bats warm and dry.

I already have bats that have made their home for two summers inside the wall of my house. It's these bats that I don't want to lose when I seal them out this spring so I am going to put this bat house near by, on the unused TV antennae attached to the house in the back yard.

Now to put the back piece on to use for mounting it on the pole, or wherever you are going to put it. Mine is going up there.

I tried several mounting methods and settled on this one in the picture below. (It worked very well when mounted!)

I added a piece at the bottom to give it the desired slant to help keep the baby bats in the house.

This is the finished product. It is a large bat house and will hopefully hold many bat families. Obviously it is not a piece of garden decor but has been built solely with the requirements of the bats in mind. No one will see it up there. I may still run water into the cavities to soak the mud into the wood and help age it before it is hung in place. If I can find the shingles, I will put those on the back, as well.

I have mounted it on the antennae here, near the ground, just to test the mounting method. One of us will climb up there and put it in place after work today. (It won't be me. I don't do heights.)

Ontario Flower Garden Photos

Here are a few pictures of my flowers, taken yesterday:  Pics of my rugosa rose, whose petals I am collecting to make a gallon of rose wine.

Sweet William in front, sedum to the right and malva moschata not yet in bloom behind the rail.

Peach foxglove digitalis and Japanese iris

Russell Lupins

Peony and Buck behind.

Miniature roses.