Friday, March 29, 2013

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why do I have a greenhouse?

I've been thinking a lot about my greenhouse lately, for three reasons.

Reason #1: The plastic covering has accumulated so much algae Kim has started writing love notes in it with her finger.

Reason #2: It's seed starting time.

Reason #3: It will soon be tomato time.

Here's what I've been thinking...

Algae: this came off the outside pretty easily with a floor mop (the squeegee sponge kind) and hot water with a bit of dish soap and a bit of bleach. (That's the "After" shot above.) But the inside still needs doing, and this will be a real pain because of the framing of the walls and the shelves. It will mean lots of stooping over and under things, and lots of individual areas of plastic to wash. I'm procrastinating on this. Plus, I know the plastic will only be good for so long, and it's already five years old. When I was on a ladder scrubbing the roof I noticed there are areas where it has deteriorated enough that it's beginning to crack and split. Which means eventually it will need to be disassembled and replaced. Hmmm.

Seed starting: it occurred to me this spring that I start my seeds in about the coldest place I possibly can. I know greenhouses are supposed to be toasty but mine isn't especially warm, probably because it's in a location that doesn't get much sun this time of year. Which means I not only have to use heat mats, I have to use grow lights. (I know, I know, you're wondering why someone would put a greenhouse in a shady spot. All I can say is (A) our property has lots of trees, (B) it's sunnier through the summer, and (C) I didn't put it there.) Between my greenhouse and Kim's brooder lights for chicks, our spring hydro bill takes a beating. And if I have to use grow lights and heat lamps anyway, why am I not just starting the seeds in the house where at least it's a bit warmer and I don't have to haul water?

Tomatoes: All I have ever grown in the greenhouse (other than some wimpy basil and a single pepper) are tomatoes. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. It works pretty well - the plants are protected from rain, they get lots of heat through the summer, and with windows on two sides and a fan in the door I get enough ventilation to avoid blight and other problems. There's just one big issue, though - crop rotation. According to everything I have read tomatoes should be rotated like other crops, to avoid diseases. But in a greenhouse where nothing but tomatoes are grown, that means replacing the soil in the raised beds every year. (Okay, hands up, who wants to volunteer for that job? Anyone?) I've begun to think that I should put the tomatoes into rotation in the vegetable garden, with a plastic roof to keep the rain off, like I have seen some of my neighbours do.

All of which makes me wonder why do I have a greenhouse at all?

Monday, March 25, 2013

This one's for Ann

If you haven't met Ann at Shim Farm yet, take yourself over for a visit. She lives on a  beautiful rural property in Quebec, has a wicked sense of humour, and is the most expert knitter I (virtually) know. Just have a look at her Saga sweater, for a start.

Ann's beautiful sweaters were what prompted me to pick up my knitting needles after a long hiatus. I was never an expert knitter, but a long time ago I did manage a couple of Lopi sweaters knit in the round, and I seem to remember spending one long winter in my university days knitting mittens as a fund raiser for a disarmament group.

But mostly my needles have been buried away in a cardboard box in the storage room. Until I met Ann, that is.

So last summer I dug out my needles and learned to cable knit, and at Ann's recommendation I ordered a bunch of Lopi wool direct from the manufacturer in Iceland. (Man, what a deal!) But I couldn't get started on a sweater: I couldn't find the perfect pattern, and I worried about it turning out the wrong size. But again, at Ann's urging, I got off my butt and got started. (Are you getting the idea this sweater wouldn't have seen the light of day without Ann? You're correct!)

The pattern is the Iounn cardigan by Ragga Eiricksdottir with a major tweak: I liked the pattern, but my heart belonged to this little sweater and so I adapted the pattern to incorporate this design. That was one of the things I learned with this project. Another was how to use short rows for shaping: the cardigan has short rows through the upper back which makes the neck come up higher in the back, which I like, and it also has short rows at the elbows to give a little more fullness there so they don't get worn out.

But the biggest thing I learned was how to use a steek to knit in the round (which is easier than back and forth). Once it's done you do the scariest thing imaginable: you cut it open to make a cardigan. (That's why they call it a stEEEEK!) It was nerve racking but it worked. And then the hard part was figuring out how to finish the front edges. The pattern was a little vague in that regard, and to complicate things further I knew I wanted buttons but I had never done a button band before. But thanks to the all the kind people who post how-to videos on You Tube, I managed to sort out something I'm pretty happy with.

Of course I've finished it just in time for the weather to be too warm to wear it...

Thanks, Ann!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Welcome spring

Today the CBC was telling us that Canadians all across the country would be greeting the arrival of spring with rotten weather. According to a climatologist with Environment Canada, "If we sent out search parties for spring, we would not find hide nor hair of it. Everyone is in misery, and everyone has a cross to bear." The article went on to say that "every region would be either windy, rainy, wet, snowy, drifty, blowy or there will be a big snow dump to clean up."

Well hello to you, too, Spring.

We got the windy part. Yesterday was wet, with a drenching steady downpour, but the sun came out this morning and then this afternoon it started to blow. Man, did it blow. We don't often get enough wind in our little protected river valley to move the trees, but they were dancing today. At one point I looked out the window to see a shower of twigs and branches blowing down from the sky - a shower that went on, and on, and on.

When it was over our property was covered with tree debris. Little branches...

...big branches...

...and lots and lots o' branches.

It will be a lovely afternoon's work raking all that crap up. But it beats shovelling snow.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

United Nations in the garden

Winter aconite, rhubarb, snowdrops and a fawn lily 

The most splendiferous perennial bed this time of the year is the circular bed in the middle of the lawn, which houses a crab apple tree and a lovely mishmash of other plants. This time of year it is a carpet of snowdrops and aconite, fawn lilies and crocus, and the shoots and sprouts of rhubarb and daisies, yarrow and yellow loosestrife, poppies, primrose, tulips and columbines. As the growing season progresses there's even more variety, but that's what's visible right now. A veritable United Nations of all sorts of plants growing higgledy-piggledy in the bed, all mixed up and happy to be so. Everybody has room to grow and interesting neighbours to talk to. A community of plants more beautiful in its whole than in its parts.

Snowdrops, rhubarb, crocus, and an early tulip

A poppy, some tired snowdrops and a columbine

Fawn lilies in front of sprouting daisies

Crocus and primroses

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A little reminder

Two years ago, near the end of an April filled with worry and weeds and battles with sore joints and perfectionism, I wrote myself a letter to be read every April 1 thereafter.

It was a good letter, with good advice. (I am a wise woman, if only I would listen to myself...) The only problem is that April 1 is too late to be reminded about how not to work myself into a state over the garden. So, in the interests of positive mental health, physical well being and balance in the garden, here is The Letter a few weeks early.

Dearest Miriam,

It's your self here, with a few words of wisdom and advice for the month ahead. April may be a month of cherry blossoms, sunshine and gentle spring showers - in some other universe, maybe, not yours. Honey, you need to hike up your pants and lace up your boots because the month ahead is going to test you.

The weeds in your garden will outnumber the flowers by two or three orders of magnitude. Don't worry. This is normal. It was the same last year and it will be the same next year. When you look at the whole garden it will seem overwhelming, but please remember that every time you get started on the weeding it goes much faster than you expected, and you end up thinking "That wasn't so bad..." If you're really desperate, you can remember the year you were so keen on the weeding you mistook baby poppies for dandelions and pulled them all out. That would be a good excuse for taking it easy.

The grass will grow 3-4 inches every night while you are sleeping, but it will keep raining so you won't be able to mow it. Don't worry. This is happening to everyone. Instead of fretting, think of the romance of lush green pastures and remember that as soon as the hot weather hits the grass will go back to sleep.

Your muscles will hurt. Don't worry. This is a normal by-product of a lazy winter. You will get stronger every day - just remember to take breaks and change tasks every so often so you use a different set of muscles. And please, please, pay attention to that little voice inside your head that whispers "Maybe you've done enough for today..."

There will probably be lots of jobs that just don't get done. For example, how does anyone in this climate find three consecutive rain-free days to apply dormant spray to fruit trees before they leaf out? Don't worry. This is normal. So maybe you didn't get to the pruning early enough, and maybe that ramshackle raised bed didn't get rebuilt before you had to fill it with onion seedlings. The onions will still grow, and the beautiful old apple trees will produce fruit like they have been doing for many years.

If you are still feeling overwhelmed, please make yourself a cup of tea and remember April only has 30 days.

May will be much better, and it has 31.

With much love-

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Lentil salad

I have been making this salad for at least twenty years, so I guess I like it. I have made it so much I don't need to look at a recipe any more, but when I opened the book this morning the dog-eared, balsamic-vinegar-splattered page (I am a messy cook) spoke volumes about how often I have made this salad. It's substantial and flavourful, healthy as anything, and the best part is it easily lasts in the fridge for a week, so you can make a really big batch and enjoy it all week long.

It comes from Still Life With Menu, by Mollie Katzen of Moosewood fame. I have a good selection of Moosewood cookbooks and Mollie's cookbooks, and this is hands-down my favourite, especially for its salads: Jewelled Rice Salad, Cabbage Salad with Peanuts, Levantine Carrot Salad, to mention a few. And there are other recipes, too, for red pepper soup, banana and cheese empanandas, and the best scone recipe I have ever tried.

The book is out of print now, but Mollie has kindly provided the recipe on her website. So go there right now, get the recipe and make this salad. Right now. You won't regret it.

You're welcome.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Sometimes all you need to do is go outside in the rain, stand surrounded by your friends the trees, breathe in deeply, register the smell of damp earth, and feel comforted that spring is almost here.

But in case that's not enough, here are a few photos to help you along the path away from winter-induced insanity to hope-filled spring.

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