Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Home Garden for Food Security

Cheery Crocus and Narcissus
With the explosion of Covid-19 and a World Health Emergency, we must learn to live a new normal. I've heard from numerous friends who are ramping up their food production this year. In Linda Gilkesons latest letter, she mentioned receiving many emails from first time gardeners wanting to grow food in this year of the pandemic.

We are so grateful to live on Denman Island where much of our small population lives isolated on a normal day. For many of us, growing food is part of our life here and for me, a big part of my heritage that started with my grandparents in 1919.
Garlic Bed; excess mulch removed & watered~Mar. 21, 2020

We are already experiencing climate change. Extremes of hot, dry summers then cold and snow in winter. Hmm, I moved here to get away from that!! The past few years I've noticed how dry it is in March. Last year I didn't notice it until the garlic was limp and leaf tips were turning yellow. We have had a stretch of cold nights lately, so I haven't checked the garden since the carrot harvest. Several days ago I removed the top maple leaf mulch from the strawberry and garlic beds and hooked up the water system. The strawberries, garlic, kale and rosemary were all in need of water on March 21st.
Strawberry Bed; maple leaf top mulch removed
The strawberries have a good start already, even though they were under the maple leaf mulch. Notice in the foreground where the leaf mulch has been removed from covering the plants. Compared to the top right of the photo where the plants are still totally covered with winter mulch. At this point it's really easy to also pull up the little maple trees that have started. A small price to pay for the benefit of the winter mulch! Maple leaves are free, with a bit of raking and bagging they provide a fluffy mulch for the winter rain and snow. I keep extra bags on hand for when the weather gets too cold or if snow is predicted. In that case, an extra layer is piled on the beds and also used to cover the carrot and beet tops. If the mulch gets packed down, another layer of fluffy leaves gives added cold weather protection.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Before all the Covid-19 restrictions and our plunging Canadian Dollar, I ordered some unusual seeds from a very interesting company called Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. I placed my order on March 5th 2020, shipping was free and the parcel arrived 11 days later. I was impressed! Their catalogue is huge and colorful with the most incredible photography, I was salivating after looking through the melon and fruit pages!! I put in a small order of some unusual vegetables; 'Taiwan Yard-Long Beans', 'Little Gem Lettuce' and 'Thai Double Blue Butterfly Pea' ... and a few new winter varieties to try; 'Green Mountain Winter Celtuce' and 'Kyoto Red Carrots'. Every order is sent with a free packet of seed and I got 'Rouge D'Hiver Lettuce', a French Heirloom red romaine winter lettuce. A few of the unusual edible flowers I wanted were already sold out. If you're into heirloom, non-GMO, unusual or rare seeds, take a look through their website. Unfortunately now is probably not a good time to order, but it is entertaining and exciting to browse their collection of seeds.
Bald Eagle down feathers

On my walk near the Eagle nest I found what I think is Bald Eagle down feathers. The most amazing, soft, wispy yet strong strands. To show size, the down is on the finger tip of my black wool glove. The Eagles have been very loud with the female in the nest, hopefully on eggs and the male hanging out in the perch tree. It is exciting entertainment!

Our household has been under self isolation since March 17th 2020. I can't think of a better place to be. We are saddened and shocked with the daily News. We live in such peace and beauty, it's hard to fathom the suffering and loss in the world right now. It is a strange and uncertain time living in the Covid-19 pandemic ... please, take physical distancing as a serious matter, stay home unless it's absolutely essential, keep two meters away from the next person and avoid groups ... all to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus and ease the burden on our health care workers. Continue to follow regular, thorough hand washing and do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth. There are vulnerable people everywhere and we want to do our part to protect everyone.  

Until next time... Please stay healthy and be safe... Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Signs of Spring ... and Winter Carrot Harvest

Snowdrop, Narcissus and Crocus buds
We've just flipped the calendar to March ... frogs are singing in the marsh, the first flower buds are an uplifting sight and the air is filled with raucous eagle chatter. A pair of Bald Eagles have been building a nest within our view and it looks like they're back to mate this Spring! We are incredibly blessed and excited to watch this magnificent spectacle of nature from the comfort of our living room!
Bald Eagles and their nest on our property


In the garden, it's time to get those winter carrots out of the ground! I checked some of the first crop, planted May/June 2019. It was a small test plot planted in a narrow, 1-foot wide raised bed, covered with remay since planting to keep the carrot rust fly out. It worked, the carrots were clean!! I planted a larger bed on June 29th, 2019 for winter harvest, mulched then fully covered with remay from the time of planting to the beginning of November. Once the remay was removed, all of the winter vegetables were heavily mulched again with straw. Later the carrot tops were totally covered over with maple leaves to protect the crop from cold temperatures and our January snow. Yes, we got about 22" of snow although it didn't stay on the ground for long.
Carrot harvest March 1st, 2020 ~ planted June 29th, 2019

Cleaned for use and storage
A few days ago ... March 1st 2020, I pulled back the mulch and checked the carrots. They were not yet going 'hairy' which is when they start to grow small roots in warmer spring temperatures. There were lots of active worms in the soil so I decided to pull the remaining winter crop while the weather was still cool. Needless to say I am really impressed and thrilled with my 15+ pound harvest! 

From the June 29th, 2019 planting there are some really good sized roots with great color and so sweet! There were very few carrots with insect damage, the majority being from slugs at the green ends that are cut and composted anyways.

When properly cleaned and stored, this harvest will keep in the fridge for a few months... if they last that long! The carrots are first rinsed to remove any heavy soil, see the first photo in a stainless steel bowl. 
The tips removed, any insect damage removed and the carrot is lightly scrubbed with a surgical scrub brush. (Also called 'The World's Kindest Nail Brush' through Lee Valley Tools.) This little nylon brush is gentle and very effective ... compare the 2 photos; before and after cleaning for use and storage.
Ready for the fridge

Once the carrots are cleaned and sorted into sizes, pack into large zip type bags that have a paper towel liner to absorb any excess moisture. This prevents them from going slimy from being in contact with the plastic and keeps the carrots crisp. The bags are marked with the harvest date and stored in the crisper/vegetable section of the fridge. I previously used this method with great success for years. Every few weeks, check the stored carrots for any signs of spoiling. Remove any culprits and use immediately or discard.

Growing winter carrots takes a fair amount of attention and work ... but have you ever eaten a fresh carrot from the garden between December and March? It is worth the effort and time growing this incredible winter crop in our West Coast climate!

Until next time... Happy Spring, enjoy those carrots ... and Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae