Sunday, October 30, 2011

Quinoa harvest

Quinoa providing a lovely backdrop for a stray poppy, in July.

I finally got around to dealing with the quinoa that has been patiently hanging around since I harvested it about 6 weeks ago. The reason for the delay has been puzzlement over exactly how I was supposed to separate the edible parts - the seeds - from the fluffy material surrounding them, not to mention all the dried leaves and stems.

I know how to Google as well as the next person, but I didn't find much to help me. There is general consensus that you need to bash the heck out of the seed heads to break apart the clusters of seeds and fluff, but past that all I could find were very brief references to "winnowing", which were contradicted in the next source by a statement that the seeds are too light for traditional grain winnowing to be of any use: the seeds would be blown away along with everything else. In the end I decided to just make it up as I went along...

The quinoa had been hanging in splendid colour outside under cover of the verandah, but once the rains started the ambient humidity was so great there was no chance they would dry. So a couple of weeks ago it got moved inside to a cozy corner of the wood-stove-heated family room. My first step was to strip the seed heads from the stalks into a big bucket. Because each stalk had numerous seed heads nestled in among all the dried leaves, this meant quite a lot of dried leaf and stem matter made it into the bucket along with the seed heads.

After a bit of experimenting, I settled on a two-step process: I would dump a big handful into a colander and gently mash it to separate out the smaller seed and fluff clusters from the bigger stems and leaves. Then I put the result into a finer sieve and rubbed and rubbed to separate out the fluff (which was fine and fell through into the bowl) from the seeds.

All of that took about an hour, and resulted in about two pounds of this: mostly seeds, but also small pieces of leaves and stems.

I figured I was most of the way there, but how the heck was I going to get the seed clean enough to eat? And then I realized that when I washed the quinoa (which has to be done before cooking because it is coated in a protective soap-tasting substance) the seed should sink but the chaff should float. So I tried it with a small amount and it worked perfectly.

I feel like this deserves a trumpet fanfare: I grew quinoa that I can actually eat in my garden!

Now for some math: 2 pounds from about 32 square feet is exactly the same yield per square foot as the Vermont Cranberry beans. How do they compare nutrient wise? After all, the purpose of growing both was to see how much protein I could produce from the garden. Since 100 g of (uncooked) dried beans provide about 23 grams of protein and the same amount of (uncooked) quinoa provides only 14 g, the beans win hands down. But since one is a legume and one is a seed, they would actually be very nice nutritive complements to each other.

Will I grow quinoa again next year? Yes, and in fact I'll grow more. It was a great crop for this part of the world: sturdy, drought tolerant and nutritious. I didn't have to fuss over it, it germinated well, it looked gorgeous in the garden all season long and, best of all, it's already part of my regular diet so I don't have to learn to like something I really can't stand (can you spell K-A-L-E?). What's not to like about that?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rotten chickens

Things are getting out of hand. Peeking in our family room and crowing on the front porch are one thing. Hanging out all day on our verandah, pooping on our shoes, eating the last of the petunias and sitting on the porch swing are a completely different matter.

Yes, the seven Australorp cockerels have decided the covered verandah gives them the perfect vantage point for basking in the sun and viewing their kingdom. But really - the porch swing? That's our porch swing.

The Boop Boop stick has taken on a new function. Now it's the "Get the #$%@!! off my verandah, you rotten chickens!" stick.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Peeping chickens

Peeping chickens not in a vocal sense, but in a peeking-in-the-window sense. The other day Kim was at the computer, heard a funny tapping noise and looked up to see a whole gaggle of chickens peering in the window of the family room.

Chicken #1: "Bawk-bkaaaaw! So this is where they roost."

Chicken #2: "Hey, they live in a pretty nice place. So what's up with our coop? We don't have TV."

Chicken #1: "No, dummy, we are the TV."

And then yesterday we heard crowing from the living room and opened the (never used) front door to see five cockerels on the front porch looking expectantly at the door, apparently waiting for an invitation to come in for tea.

Okay, we love our chickens, but really. Couldn't they have called first?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hungry bear

We've had a visitor in the neighbourhood the last week or so - a very hungry bear. We're used to bears passing through a couple of times a year, but this one is making himself at home and doing a lot of damage. A few of the small farms have lost some sheep, and many neighbours have had their garbage cans and compost piles raided.

Apparently the bear was feeling the need for some fruit in his diet, because one night last week he/she climbed our biggest apple tree to get the few apples left at the top, breaking many large branches in the process (and leaving some fairly disgusting piles of fresh fertilizer on the grass). So now our lovely tree looks like this...

...and our truck looks like this.

The Block Watch communication lines are humming and the local conservation officers are on the case. The farm down the road (which lost some sheep) played host to a bear trap for most of last week, but it was taken away yesterday as empty as it arrived.

I know this is just part of life in the country, but it makes me more than a bit nervous all the same.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The garden can wait

I've been having a little trouble with my shoulder. It started, I think, when I was painting the stair railings last winter: too much time holding up a paint brush, doing fiddly work. But I get massages regularly, and my massage therapist showed me some stretches that seemed to keep things down to a dull roar.

But it has been getting worse, bad enough that my shoulder doesn't seem to want to support even the weight of my arm. So on Friday, after weeks of not getting around to it, I finally went to see a physiotherapist. The verdict: a little problem with my rotator cuff, compounded by arthritis. The remedy: a few weeks of a thrice-daily heat, stretching, ice routine. A big safety pin, to fasten my sleeve to my waist so my upper arm never leaves my side. Oh - and no gardening.

So there I was, lying on the examining table while the physio poked and prodded.

"Does this hurt? Is this worse or better?" he asked.

"Wait," I interrupted. "Did you say no gardening?"

"Yes, for a few weeks anyway." And then he began to demonstrate the exercises I'm supposed to do.

"Wait, wait," I interrupted again. "Do you mean no gardening at all?"

"No gardening," he repeated,"for a few weeks until things in your shoulder settle down." And then he started explaining about heat, and ice, and using pillows to support the weight of my arm.

"Wait, wait. Wait! No gardening, at all, for a few weeks?"

"No gardening. At all. For a few weeks," he repeated patiently, and kindly, probably wondering about his new patient.

So I lay there on the table, listening to his careful instructions with only half a brain, using the other half to do a complete rearrangement of my life and priorities. At least this wasn't happening in the midst of the spring rush, I thought. The fall clean-up of the garden would have to wait. Kim would have to plant the last two shrubs by herself. The next round of stair rail painting, and the last remaining tiling project would have to be delayed.

And then, all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was laugh. Laugh - in a good way - at the universe, or Mother Nature, or whoever was sending me, the ever-struggling perfectionist, this timely and loving lesson. And, inexplicably, I felt free and peaceful. I can spend this fall taking care of my shoulder. The garden can wait.

(Today, after only a day of the new regime, my shoulder already feels better. It feels like it's resting, happily. But I discovered one thing that absolutely couldn't wait: planting the garlic. So Kim stepped forward to do it, happy to pitch in. And this is what she said on her way out the door with a bowlful of fat, plump cloves headed for the dirt: "I'm on my way outside to pretend to be Miriam.")

Friday, October 14, 2011


This is not a tree. It's not even a shrub. It's an asparagus plant covered in gorgeous red berries.

I'm used to the tall, frondy tree-like version of asparagus that develops over the summer, once you stop cutting the spears to eat. And I've read that mature asparagus plants develop red berries, but mine never have - until this year. Now the big long bed that borders the chicken yard and houses asparagus as the front row attraction is home to Christmas in October. A slightly drunken-looking, listing over sort of Christmas.

I wonder how these would look with some twinkly lights...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


You could consider this two shelves full of food's version of accessories (after all, you can't make a meal from pickles or jam), and it may not be much by serious preserving standards, but it still makes me feel rich and a little bit proud.

Bottom shelf, left to right: blackberry jelly, Victorian rhubarb BBQ sauce, pickled red and yellow beets, gooseberry and lavender jelly, gooseberry and rhubarb jam, blueberry chutney, rhubarb chutney, bumbleberry jam, lavender jelly, peach butter, tomato sauce.

Top shelf, left to right: applesauce, crabapple jelly, crabapple butter, more crabapple jelly, pickled zucchini, bread and butter pickles, pickled red cabbage, fermented deli pickles.

Monday, October 10, 2011


The first year I had a vegetable garden, I grew three kinds of beans: yellow beans, green beans, and some fancy speckled beans that were meant to be harvested as dried beans. When the growing season had finished and all the work was done, I ended up with a double handful of dried beans I then spent hours and hours turning into a single, modestly sized batch of baked beans. It seemed like an awful lot of work for a small quantity of beans, so the next year I didn't bother.

But what goes around, comes around. This year, my third as a vegetable gardener, I was interested to see how much protein I could get from the garden. As Carol Deppe says, all those salad greens are pretty, but they don't provide many calories or much protein for seeing a family through the winter. So I planted quinoa (more on that in another post) and three kinds of beans for drying: Kenearly Yellow-Eye, Vermont Cranberry, and (to my amazement even today) garbanzo beans. I didn't devote a lot of space to them - I really just wanted to see if I could grow them successfully. So each variety got about 16 square feet of space.

Germination was great for all three. The Vermont Cranberry beans were the most vigorous, with much fuller and more robust bushes than the wimpy Kenearly Yellow-Eye beans growing right next door, and the beautiful but spindly looking garbanzo plants. And the yield was much better. There were more pods per plant, and more beans per pod. I ended up with about a pound of Vermont Cranberry beans, and about half that for each of the other two varieties. Not much, but not bad for an experiment. According to John Jeavons, the average yield per 100 square feet for dried beans is about 6 pounds, which means when it comes to Vermont Cranberry beans, I am perfectly average. [Apparently my perfectionist tendencies are leaking through: I can't just be average, I have to be perfectly average. Oh boy...]

I spent yesterday afternoon - a lovely warm, sunny fall afternoon - sitting on the porch swing shelling the beans that had been drying on the verandah for a few weeks, deriving productivity and yield formulas for my bean crop. And I discovered I had neglected one important equation...

Dried up bean leaves + stocking feet = mess.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Did you miss me? I snuck away for a little visit with my parents in Jasper, Banff and Canmore. It was a wonderful trip, surrounded by the spectacular scenery of two national parks, but I will restrain myself and show you just a few of the highlights.

The day after I arrived on the train from Vancouver we took the Jasper Tramway up Whistlers Mountain. It's a gondola-style lift that carried us about 3200 feet up Whistlers Mountain (so named for the hoary marmots and their piercing whistles), depositing us in the midst of a moon-like landscape at an altitude of almost 7500 feet.

This photo was taken shortly after we began our elevation. Near the bottom of the photo you can see the greenish-coloured lower station where we boarded.

I took this photo a few days later from the patio of the Jasper Park Lodge. It shows Whistlers Mountain, with the tramway's upper station where we got off.

Here's what it looks like at the top. That's Jim, my dad, to give it some scale. What the photo doesn't show is the powerful wind and freezing temperatures. Maybe this one shows it better...

That's my mom, Yvonne, and I. She's trying to keep me from getting hypothermia, and I'm reflecting on those questions I used to give my Math students that went something like this: "If the temperature at the base of a mountain is 7 degrees, and the temperature drops 2 degrees every 300 metres, and the top of the mountain is 1000 m above the base, what is the temperature at the top of the mountain?" Answer: really, really cold.

We drove from Jasper to Banff along the Icefields Parkway, which National Geographic describes as one of the world's ultimate road trips. It gave us wonderful views of the many now shrunken but still spectacular glaciers.

On the way back to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway at the end of the trip, we stopped at Peyto Lake, which was just about the most beautiful thing I saw during my week away, but also the most frustrating: the small viewing platform was swamped with two busloads of tourists. Being a tourist myself, I probably shouldn't complain. . .

Once we got to Canmore, another highlight was the hike up to Grassi Lakes. A word of caution: "lake" is used somewhat loosely in this neck of the woods, and seems to be used to describe any body of water bigger than a bathtub. But what mountain lakes lack in size they make up for with beauty, and the most unearthly green-blue colour.

Grassi Lakes (there are two of them, the lower one barely visible through the trees) are named after Lawrence Grassi, a coal miner, climber and early resident of Canmore who constructed many of the area trails used by generations of hikers. Here is an example of his rock work.

Parts of the route are a steep climb, but these stairs make it much easier. And once you arrive there's that electric aquamarine colour typical of glacier-fed lakes.

And here's a view of the Bow River Valley, home to Canmore, and the town's reservoir, taken from the Grassi Lakes trail.

And another highlight - dinner in Canmore with favourite aunts and uncles.

Now I'm home again, up to my ears in apples that need processing, up to my ankles in dog hair because Frankie is shedding like mad, and up to my elbows in perennials that are doing their fall decay faster than I can keep up. But with a smile on my face, because however special a holiday (and this one was really, really special), there's no place like home.

(The photo at the top of the blog is of Lac Beauvert in Jasper.)
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