I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
John Burroughs

Friday, August 28, 2020

Thankful for cutworms!!..... and turnip lessons

We have a little, insulated building across the drive from the house that we call the Battery House. It houses the solar battery bank in a small alcove at the back, the inverter/charger, as well as the large water pressure tank, and has a propane fired heater, that we light late in the fall. Inside, on the north side, there is a partitioned off room, 2.25 X 3.25 meters, and when we moved up here in 2017, that is the space we organized into a food storage room. The very first construction project Hubby took on was building floor to ceiling shelves for my preserves. On the opposite side of the room, he later added more floor to ceiling shelves for storage, and much later, a big slatted potato bin on castors that fits under those shelves.


2018 spuds

The smaller of our two freezers fits in against the end wall. There was just a wide doorway between the storage room and the heated room, so Hubby built and installed a door so we could close it off. We mounted two thermometers in there, one at floor level and one at eye level. It has worked beautifully. Once there is enough snow in the fall, we bank up the outside wall, and the temperature inside holds between 2 and 4 degrees C, which is perfect. On really cold nights, we crack the door open a bit into the heated part of the Battery House.

As the summer progresses, the warmer temperatures permeate into that room, and now as the nights are cooling to the high single digits, we are opening the windows at night and trying to get the inside cooled down to vegetable storing temperatures. There are no windows in the back room, so it is hard to get the cooler air to circulate back there.

This wild and wonderful summer we've been having, with so much rain in late July and through August, the turnips (technically they are rutabagas, but we call them turnips) have been growing like crazy, and are huge. Last August we were in drought conditions, and the turnips, although planted at the same time in the spring as they were this year, were fine left in their garden bed until late October. Not so this year! I am afraid they are either going to be woody and tough, or hollow. So..on Wednesday, I pulled the biggest ones. Thankfully most of the others had to be replanted at random times due to cutworms in the bed. Who'd have thought I'd be grateful for cut worms! The rest of the turnips will be fine in the ground for a while yet.

I trimmed and cleaned them, then got Hubby with a big knife to whack open the weirdest looking one that had cracked a bit. Surprisingly, the interior was beautiful, pale yellow and solid! We cooked it for supper and it was tender with just a hint of bitterness. A bit of brown sugar and butter mashed in would mask that flavour. I wanted a true taste test, so only added salt to the cooking water.

So, even though the turnips are OK, they wouldn't be if left in the soil much longer. Next spring, I'll not be so anxious to get those seeds in early, but will wait until the beginning of June to get them planted, so they can safely stay in the ground until their winter storage facilities cool down!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020


Last Thursday, I started canning tomatoes. I have grown the San Marzano paste variety for the last two years. They are extremely prolific, with thick, meaty walls and small, compact areas of seedy goo. I find that they don't seem to ripen evenly, and they detach from their stems very easily as they start to ripen, sometimes before they are half way there. Its hard to pick the ripe ones without disturbing the ripening ones and making them drop off. They have a good flavour, but I think I'll be trying a different variety next spring. If any gardeners out there have a favourite paste tomato that is good for canning, I'd love to hear of it!

 I am pleased with the Rapunzel cherry tomato, and will continue to grow it. It just keeps going and going, even though I am steadily de-suckering it now that the season is winding down. The beautiful hanging tresses of tomatoes glow like red jewels when the sun shines through the laden branches. They are a very sweet pop of tomato flavour, and they dry beautifully. 

 The Mule Team beefsteak tomatoes were grown from old seed this year, and they struggled to attain their usual green verdancy, but have and are producing lovely big beefsteak tomatoes now. They have a delicious old-time tomato flavour, and I will be saving seeds from them, although I am going to be growing a different beefsteak tomato next summer. (the variety yet to be determined!)

I start my tomato plants early, and grow them under lights. The seedlings pop up quickly in this wood-fire heated house, with no need for a heat mat under them. Once the plants are big enough to transplant, I also prune the growing tips to make the plants sturdier. I transplant the seedlings twice as they grow too big for their pots. Each time, I bury the stem as much as possible to encourage a good root system. When mid-May rolls around, I am anxiously watching the weather forecast, itching to get them into the ground. At the earliest 'warm weather' forecast, I plant them out, snipping off all the lower leaves, and burying the stems as deep as I can in a good couple of shovel fulls of compost. I put frost protection around them, (a water jacket) so that once the frost possibility is past, the plants take off and produce fruit earlier than they otherwise would.

The first tomato harvested is a culinary delight, especially if you've been hoodwinked into buying those beautiful looking, but tasteless specimens in the grocery stores!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

From wolves, to auction scores

I awoke early this morning and lay there in the dark, listening. It was early. Something had popped me awake. Then, faintly, echoing through the leaf laden bush, a long, drawn out soaring howl. Wolves. I checked the little clock I keep by the bedside, 4:30, then slid out of bed and opened the window wider. The stars were shining across the sky, the darkness soft and velvety, the temperature a little coolish, but comfortable. I stood and listened to a couple more fainter howls, the music soaring up into that vault of star-studded late summer sky. Is there some remnant of genetically inbred primordial memory in humans? A memory of a time when being instantly aware of sounds was important for survival?

We went auctioning today, across the mighty Ottawa River and into 'La Belle Province'... Quebec. Our property is on the far western edge of 'The Valley', up in the hills. Within a 30 minute drive S and E, we enter flat farmland. At first it is sporadic, interspersed with bush, then further south, the farms get bigger and more prosperous looking. There are no road bridges crossing the Ottawa river north of the National Capital Region of Ottawa and Hull, until Chenaux, where the river narrows and plummets through several channels it has carved over millennia, through curiously black bedrock. What an amazing sight it must have been for the Voyageurs who traveled up the Ottawa to the Mattawa and across to Lake Nipising and on down the French Rver to Georgian Bay. Perhaps the name of the little hamlet on the Quebec side says it...Portage du Fort. (Fort meaning....strong or hard which is what that portage would have been back then!)

The highway from the Ontario side cruises through flat farmlands, then at the hamlet of Chenaux, it begins to gently slope down, the bush closing back in until it winds through a channel of blasted rock cuts where one gets tantalizing glimpses through the trees between the cuts, of glimmering downstream water. The face of the blasted cuts reveal black rocks veined with white, like ripple ice cream, the swirls of white tortuously contorted from some ancient cataclysmic force. The highway crosses three bridges, actually the top of the dams, the big hydro-electric generating station visible off to the side.


The last bridge terminates right at Portage du Fort, and once through the tidy little village, and just beyond it's outskirts, the farmland commences and flows off to the far tree lines, blue in the distance. The landscape is gently undulating, dotted with silos and grain bins as far as the eye can see. Acres and acres of productive, beautiful soil.

The auction was at one of those farms, 110 acres of productivity, the owners pulling up stakes and moving to Tunisia in northern Africa! That job offer must have been very good to leave their verdant Eden. I wandered around a bit beyond the barns to find long, black-plastic mulch covered rows, one labeled "d'arachide”. Yes.....peanuts! The vegetable garden beside the house was amazing, just overflowing with large, healthy plants..and the herb garden! I was green with envy...particularly of the two varieties of lavender, big and blooming vigorously. I am having trouble overwintering a Munstead variety, supposedly a hardy one.

I scored on a big, heavy, hardwood butcher block that fits perfectly on my kitchen counter for bread-making and dough-rolling; a pair of stainless steel mixing bowls and a large tray with handles for carrying meals out to the verandah for dining ' al fresco'.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020


We had a few 'pop-up' thunderstorms over the weekend, and Sunday was particularly warm and humid, a good time to go foraging for mushrooms. So, we headed out for our weekly, (more or less), walk around the trails to exchange the SD cards in the trail cameras and see what was new in our woods.

Well, there are mushrooms popping up everywhere, and I was lucky enough to find a King Bolete, a choice edible, before the slugs and bugs got to him, his pore surface was still smooth and white.

I've been gradually expanding my knowledge of the wild edibles here, with the help of several good mushroom guides, and the internet. I do spore prints and combine all the information I can, until I am positive of an ID. After poring over many, many mushroom pictures, you begin to get an eye for them, and begin to know which section of the mushroom guides to look at first. I do know which mushrooms to leave alone, the white amanitas and the numerous LBJ”S, (little brown jobs), that are so hard for a newbie to ID. There are surprisingly few deadly mushrooms, once your really start looking into the subject.

We have Parasol mushrooms on the property, another choice edible. They have very long stems and a large cap, and are unmistakable when you see them. I've been checking the spot where they come up, but so far, none. We did find one in a new place along the trail, but I left it to spread spores and make more. 


Half of the King Bolete was sliced and well cooked in a little butter. We each had a couple of slices, delicious, then waited until the next day to finish it. I returned to the spot I'd picked it early Monday morning, and sure enough, there was another one, young and fresh and unmolested by bugs. It got sliced, sauteed and added to out spaghetti sauce for supper.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Picking, Digging and Processing

It has been a busy few days. Picking and processing beans has been a daily affair. Yesterday I canned a batch of Hubby's favourite relish in the morning, his Grandmother's recipe, then picked beans and dug up the garlic in the afternoon. This morning, after processing and freezing yesterday's bean picking, I canned a batch of salsa. It is so rewarding to walk out and pick the ingredients needed, from dirt to pot in just a matter of minutes! Later today, I pulled my onion crop. The garlic is laid out on an old screen door to dry and cure, and the onions are tied in bunches of 10 and hung from the ceiling, both crops are up in the barn. They will stay there for several weeks, then, some day in September, I'll take a chair up to the barn, sit in the sun and clean and trim all the bulbs, then gently pile them in storage bins for their winter stay in the cold room.

I did a final picking of bush beans this afternoon, then pulled the plants. The climbing beans will continue to produce until frost. It feels good to start reducing the garden, and get it stashed away. The cucumber patch is slowing down, but I'm hoping for a few more to make a batch of dill pickles as the dill will soon be perfect for that. 

This coming Tuesday, I am going to have cataract surgery, so want to be caught up as much as I can. I had my left eye done last September, and was scheduled to have the right one done in April, but Covid changed that. It will be good to have both eyes on the same page...so to speak! At the moment, I am near-sighted in one eye, and far-sighted in the other. Knitting or doing close work for any length of time is headache inducing!



Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Free food

 When we started looking in earnest for our retirement property, (it took a couple of years and a lot of frustration) we made a list of things we wanted. Some were negotiable, but some were not.

One non-negotiable was a place for me to garden. We were interested in finding, maybe, an old farm with fruit trees. We wanted the area around the house to be tree-free, as once we got older, it might be difficult to remove them, if necessary, and we didn't want the on-going hassle of cleaning eaves-troughs etc.

Well, both those criteria (as well as many others) were found here. Other than a couple of apple trees, not too close, we have open space around the buildings, bordered by lots and lots of bush and trees. Its wonderful to have a garden that is exposed to the full sun. It makes such a difference in the growth of the plants. (see previous post 'What a frustrated gardener does') It would have been OK with me if there had been established gardens, but I have enjoyed creating them, even if it is hard work.

When we moved up in June of 2017, I searched in vain for any asparagus, rhubarb or horseradish plants. None. As time went on, I've found other flower relics of previous owners, but all overgrown and stunted. (see previous post 'The Rock Garden') There is a large lilac bush which we are working at rejuvenating, and....lots and lots of gnarly old apple trees! (Eleven in the cleared area around the buildings alone!)

I thought about establishing raspberry canes and blueberry bushes, BUT, nature provides free ones! There is an area, many acres large, 13 Km away, where blueberries grow. 2017 was a bumper year, and 2019 was a very good year. I managed to sock away lots in the freezer. Closer to home, there are 3+ areas on the property that produce raspberries. I manage to get enough for several batches of jam. Because they are wild ones, they are a little seedy, but a food mill helps with that. As for blackberries...there are patches of huge canes in several places and in a bumper year for moisture like 2017 was, I was freezing bags of them as I'd filled all my jelly jars. I made jelly well into 2018 from the stash in the freezer. Picking them is no easy feat, as one needs armor...denim coveralls, long sleeved shirts and leather gloves.

And, finally...Apples. We had a taste-testing walk around to all the trees on the property, the first fall we were here. Early the following spring, I spent a lot of time with a ladder and a saw, pruning the old trees as best I could. There was a lot of climbing up and down the ladder to stand back and make pruning decisions. Some of the trees we chose were being choked out by encroaching bush, so there was a lot of chainsawing and dragging away of trees and brush to let the sun in.

So, every year, we have tons of apples. Some are earlier than others, some are yellow-green, and never get rosy, some are rosy cheeked with pink streaks inside. I can them, I freeze them, I make apple butter and I dry them. The fallen apples from the trees in the clearing go into the compost bin, and once layered with fallen leaves, make a super rich, black compost. 


Saturday, August 8, 2020

Garden Production

Its August already...when did that happen!!! The produce is rolling in. My bean bed has been amazing and its far from done yet. The Eastern Butterwax, and Provider bush beans have been prolific, and the climbers have been producing steadily as well. The second sowing of bush beans is blooming now, so there will be no shortage of beans this winter! We had our first toasted BLT sandwich yesterday for lunch...a big Mule Team beefsteak whose juicy slice pretty much covered the slice of toast....yum... The sweet Rapunzel cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen, tresses of little red jewels, and the paste tomatoes are turning yellow and orange on their way to red. One batch of Bread and Butter pickles is on the shelves in the storage room, and a batch of 9 day pickles are in the brine. I've managed, so far, to keep up with just one Black Beauty Zucchini plant. The turnips are big and pushing their tops up out of the soil and mulch, onions are starting to keel over, and I've dug a few hills of new spuds and a couple of garlic bulbs, and they are beautiful. The butternut squash and pie pumpkin vines are competing to see who can produce the most fruit. A batch of basil pesto is portioned and frozen, as well as a batch of garlic scape pesto. Broccoli are giving enough side shoots for fresh eating every few days, and the ever-bearing strawberries are producing about half a cup every few days as well. Just enough to decorate two servings of ice cream! The first planting of carrots is just perfect now, and the second planting is almost big enough to be thinned. The California Wonder peppers are loving this hot summer. We've already used a few, and there are more hanging on the plants, as well as a myriad of blooms. The first planting of beets is processed, pickled and frozen, and the second planting is up. A fresh planting of lettuce, spinach, kale, chard and radishes are growing. The 4' X 4' bed of parsnips are growing large leaves, with the promise of big delicious roots to be dug early next spring. Its such a delight to go out and wander through the garden beds, picking something here, pulling something there, and having fresh, 'dirt to table' meals. Its the very best time of the summer! (At the far end of the second picture is a new bed, just created, that I am 'lasagna' layering with cardboard, grass clippings and manure. It will be ready to be dug up next spring!)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Orphan Fawn

July 27th, just after 7 PM, we were sitting out on the verandah, enjoying the cooling air, after a humid and uncomfortable day, when a good sized coyote appeared close to the bush edge, on the mown area, on the front west side of the driveway. It walked along close to the edge, then scooted out the driveway entrance heading back to the west! Less than 5 minutes later, the fawn came running across the front of the lawn from the same vicinity, crossed the driveway, turned north and bounded along through the un-mown, wild flower section to the east of the field garden, then with two big leaps crossed the path to the compost bins, the path to the garden shed, and disappeared down the trail around the pond. Just a few minutes later, the coyote reappeared, nose to the ground and was following the path the fawn had taken! It crossed the drive in the time it took us to get up out of our chairs, yelling and clapping to dissuade it from its quarry! It turned tail out the driveway entrance, and headed back in the direction it had come from. Whew!

The coyote had the distinctly sharp snout and pointed ears, but was large, with quite a bushy tail, probably one of the crosses between a wolf and a coyote that are around here. The fawn is bigger than when last seen, its spots are fading, and it seems to be doing OK on it's own.

Today, we picked up the SD cards from the trail cameras. There is a blurred shot of an airborne fawn, obviously running, and at a camera further along the same trail, a picture showing a small portion of what could only be the coyote. The time stamp was July 27, so the coyote had been stalking the fawn before they emerged in front of us.

Last night, in the gathering dusk, the fawn casually bounded across the lawn near the bush edge in front of the house as we were sitting out on the verandah. Apparently he/she has chosen this area as his/her home.