24 May 2009

Getting Busy pt 4

I'm down to starting the last seeds as other garden tasks take over. Soon new plants will have to be transplanted into beds and containers (it's still a bit chilly around here, although there hasn't been a frost warning in a couple of weeks). It'll be nice to stop worrying about seeds and start enjoying the results of my efforts!

Mid-to-Late May's Seeds

Started indoors on peat pellets:

Dames Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

Started indoors in peat pots with Miracle Gro potting soil:

Calendula (C. officinalis)
Butterfly Bush/Buddleja
Lavatera, Silvercup

Seeds soaked for 12 to 24 hours before being planted outside:

(Soaking the seeds makes it easier for them to germinate)

Sweet Pea Mix 'Starry Night'
Sweet Pea 'Old Spice' Mix
Morning Glory, Heavenly Blue
Morning Glory, Flying Saucers
Morning Glory, Crimson Rambler

Started outdoors in beds and/or containers:

Nemophilla, Penny Black (see photo at right)
Garden Pinks, 'Spring Beauty'
Datura, 'Belle Blanche' (see photo above)
Aster, Crego Mix

At some point over the course of the summer I'm going to try starting Hellebores. They're incredibly fussy to start (germination can take up to a year and the wait for blooms can be up to 18 months), but they're beautiful and flower when there's little else happening in the garden, so I'm willing to give it a shot. If all else fails I can always fork out $15 to $20 per plant and buy some ready-grown!

Happy gardening!

22 May 2009

Scrubbing and Skiving

Because I'm in the middle of reviewing not one but two books on housework (not to mention suffering the genetically ingrained urge to scour everything I own as soon as temperatures rise above 10C), cleaning is on my mind lately.

Cleaning is one of those things that, unfortunately, needs to get done whether you like it or not (and if you generally don't get it done, you might want to take pity on your guests and consider keeping a few Hazmat suits on hand for them).

There are a few jobs I absolutely despise: cleaning the fridge, cleaning the bathroom--basically anything with a high gross-out factor (which, in fairness, is lower the more often you take care of these things, but still...) There's just no redeeming aspect to be found in doing these tasks other than the completion of them.

There are other housekeeping jobs, though, that--while I don't exactly enjoy doing them--are incredibly satisfying. Dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, washing dishes, ironing. I think a zen factor is also inherent in these tasks; you can zone out while you do them, hear your thoughts, sort out whatever's on your mind, and when you're done you have something shiny and fresh to look at and enjoy. Not the worst way to spend some time.

Of course, working on this post has just been an excuse not to get started on all the things I just wrote about. There's a pretty good zen factor in listening to good music and putting your thoughts to keyboard too :)

(Photo from www.freeimages.co.uk)

15 May 2009


Welcome to Domicile's first giveaway! Exciting stuff :)

So I have copies of

to give to five lucky people out there (Canada/US only, no PO Boxes--sorry). I'm going to make this simple--first five who comment get a copy. And...go...

Smart Mama's Green Guide

05 May 2009

Getting Busy pt 3

Now is definitely the busy time in the garden! Having just finished cleaning up the backyard, I still have the front to take care of, as well as planting, staking, fertilizing, weeding (so much weeding), and all kinds of little necessary jobs like acidifying the hydrangeas (as nice as pink hydrangeas are, blue blooms are the real stars--and you need acid soil to get those).

On top of all that, there are still seeds to start, both indoors and out. Here's what's keeping me busy at the moment...

Early May's Seeds

Started indoors on peat pellets:

-Sunflower, Hybrid Infrared
-Sunflower, Dorado
-Achillea/Yarrow, Cassis (photo above, www.damseeds.ca)
-Canterbury Bells, Cup & Saucer

Sunflowers need to be started inside around here or the squirrels just dig up the seeds and eat them. They usually end up eating the flowers too--they just cut them off and drag them away. I'm not sure how anyone ever manages to harvest the seeds.

Started indoors in peat pots with Miracle Gro potting soil:

-Larkspur, Giant Imperial Mix

Started Outdoors in containers:
-Poppy, California (Eschscholzia californica)
-Poppy, 'Falling in Love'
-Poppy, Iceland Mixed
-Poppy, Ladybird
-Poppy, Black Paeony
-Poppy, Angel's Choir (photo above, from www.tmseeds.com)

Started outdoors in garden beds:

-Poppy, Double Shirley Mixed
-Poppy, Black Paeony
-Vervain, Blue
-Poppy, pink (perennial)--Seeds saved from plants in my mom's garden

You really get a sense of my poppy obsession here! I'm also thinking about sowing some of the red poppies that my mom also grows. Speaking of, I just remembered that squirrels also tend to abscond with entire poppy seed pods. I used to think someone in the neighbourhood was cutting the unripe pods for their own nefarious purposes--and then I watched as a squirrel made off with one. Mystery solved.

Has anyone else noticed whether the squirrels are being particularly greedy this year? I couldn't believe it as I watched one tear apart and snack on my young tulip buds. I've never seen this before! I knew they ate bulbs, but buds? And then my mom, who lives in another town about 25 miles (40 km) away, discovered they had done the same thing to her tulips. Seeing as how neither of us have ever noticed this before, it seems an odd (and annoying) coincidence. I firmly believe plants, gardens, and pests function cyclically. I guess this is the squirrels' year for eating tulips (at least I hope it's limited to this year!)

04 May 2009

Got some weed?

Ah, 'tis spring and a young woman's thoughts turn to...dandelions.

All right, for the record, I'm not entirely opposed to dandelions. They have a lot of medicinal and culinary uses, and they're cheery-looking and kind of fun, unlike most other weeds. But as anyone with a lawn knows, they're a fairly major pain in the neck to deal with. And unless you're one of those people who think throwing toxins at unwanted greenery is a good idea, you will have to deal with them. If you happen to like the serene calm of a swath of lawn the last thing you want to see are the saw-toothed clumps of dandelions marring it. Not to mention they spread faster than the popularity of insipid boy bands through an all-girl middle school.

As I was digging masses of Taraxacum officinale out of my yard this morning, I suddenly remembered one of the more-pleasant things one can do with this plant: dandelion syrup. All you need is a decent amount of clean flowers, water, and sugar. I can't remember where I originally found this recipe (I think it might have been way back in the days of BBS yore), so if it happens to be yours speak up and get credit.

If life hands you dandelions, go make some syrup (and maybe a tasty salad with the greens).

Dandelion Flower Syrup

fresh-picked dandelion flowers (do not pick from roadsides or any place that was sprayed with pesticides)

Pick as many dandelion flowers as possible. Pour flowers onto a sheet of newspaper in the shade to give bugs a chance to leave. After 15-20 minutes, remove all green parts from flowers (warning: will stain). Twisting off the stems works fairly well. Do not leave even a tiny bit of green. At this point, you can store the flowers in a bowl in the fridge for 1-3 days.

Pour flowers into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil for some time. Pour through a sieve and discard flowers. Add more fresh flowers to the same water and repeat process until no flowers are left. Next, add 1 part sugar (by weight) to 1 part water (by whatever measure you choose). Sugar may need to be adjusted. Boil on low heat until you get a syrupy consistency. Watch carefully to prevent burning.

Pour into sterilized jars/bottles. Syrup will crystallize if kept in the fridge long, but will stay fluid in the freezer.

Use over fruit, pancakes, waffles, cereal, oatmeal, ice cream, desserts, in tea and anywhere else you'd like. I won't judge ;)

02 May 2009

Review: The Fruit Hunters

I confess: I wasn't that interested in reading this book. I won it in a contest, and while I was giddy over winning (book! about food!) I wasn't particularly enthused about the specific subject. Ooh--fruit: Exciting.

It turned out it was. And fascinating. And a little gross.

Around the middle of the book I started obsessively reading chapters like some junkie mainlining heroin (which, by the way, is a product of the fruit of the opium poppy). I knew then I'd be giving this book a great review.

Gollner has a way of bringing you right along with him as he traipses through tropical jungles or encounters the eccentrics who are obsessed with fruit (the so-called hunters of the book's title). The man has a way with words. Describing slugs eating coco-de-mer blossoms: "It's like watching an educational film about venereal diseases in outer space." (p112) By the way, to get the full sense of this statement you might want to google a few images of coco-de-mer (you will anyway as soon as you read about it in the book)--just be forewarned that this fruit is not entirely work-safe.

Some of the more offbeat topics--alternative health, spiritual beliefs, the nature of obsession--are the most interesting. I could have read an entire book about any of them. Of course, Gollner occasionally delves into the territory of TMI. I don't care how much you think it adds to your narrative, no one reading about food (or in my case, about anything) wants to come across anecdotes about what the author discovered floating in a toilet.

The book also covers some fairly depressing issues: monoculture, species extinction, corporate greed, and the sad reality that "local and organic" food production will remain, at best, a beautiful and futile dream. Still, the overall tone of the book is one of hope, and plenty of it. By the end, I know I felt pretty good about humanity's future, possibly for the first time ever.

The book has its share of problems, as well. Some of the factoids are questionable. Do we really owe gravity to apples? I thought the story of Newton making his discovery after being hit by a falling apple was apocryphal. Gollner also states that medlars are "now-forgotten." Mostly forgotten maybe, but I know what they are and I've read about their existence and use in other relatively recent sources. I wouldn't relegate medlars to complete obscurity just yet. And again, Gollner makes the too-common mistake of claiming that a vomitorium was a room used by the Romans for purging during feasts. (Despite what it sounds like, a vomitorium is simply a passageway; musicians can tell you that signs pointing them to the vomitoriums--vomitoria?--backstage still exist, with nary a feast or a Roman in sight.)

Gollner's most egregious error is possibly this laughable statement: "Even severe arctic climates produce fruits. Doyenne du Comice pears...do well in gardens north of Toronto, Canada." (p 73) As a resident of Toronto, I assure you--we're nowhere near an arctic climate! The fact that this comes from a fellow Canadian makes me think the inaccuracy was born of a desire for brevity, rather than out of ignorance. Still, sometimes it's better not to say anything at all.

Overall, I think the problems can be easily overlooked, especially once you get lost in the writing and the stories. The further I got into the book, the greater my sense that somehow there's a deeper meaning to the world than I'd ever hoped for. That has to be the rarest fruit of all. This is Adam Leith Gollner's first book--I hope to see many more from him in future. For now, do yourselves a favour and read The Fruit Hunters.