Complete Fruit & Vegetable List for 2012

This is the final list of what we will be planting this year.

Celery
Lettuce (various)
Artichokes
Tomatoes (cherry and roma)
Cucumbers (for pickles)
Cantaloupe Melons
Raspberries
Apples
Pears
Rhubarb
Radish
Garlic
Carrots
Snow Peas
Hot Peppers (cayenne, banana, jalapeños)
Potatoes
Beans
Hops
Mint
Parsley
Chives
Basil
Tarragon
Rosemary
Sage
Bay
Camomile (for tea)

Garden Plan

Last year was our first summer at this house and one of our goals was to get the gardens in order. The previous owners had put up a terraced garden with retaining wall in the back that was divided by stairs leading up to it. So far, it sounds nice, until you look at what they planted. There were various small trees (sumac, pine, and some unidentifiables), patches of random flowers, and a shed load of weeds. It looked as though someone had started and got distracted for a few years. Our first spring, with the help of my mother-in-law, we weeded everything. As the soil was very poor and full of clay, we brought in a few truck loads of triple mix to spread. The trees were cut down and uprooted (the pine was used as our Christmas tree) and we built raised beds so we could add even more soil. After our first year, we had the gardens under control and had quite a good harvest of various fruit and veg for preserving and eating fresh.

Now in year two, we wanted to really plan everything out to maximize our limited space. We sat down earlier in the week to decide what we were growing and where all of these plants were actually going to grow. The below drawing is the slightly out of proportion plan for this year.

Click for the REALLY big view.

We divided the back terrace into three gardens; the left for fruit and veg, the centre and right for flowers. When you sit on the patio you can see the flower garden in all its glory, while the frames and boxes of the veg are hidden out of sight. The flower gardens are half unplanned and we didn’t bother drawing in what is going where in that area.

If you look at the veg garden, you’ll see the five 4×8′ raised beds. This is where the majority of everything is grown. Outside of the boxes we have our raspberries from last year (already growing very well) and hopefully another rhubarb plant. Our neighbour gave us one last year, but the squirrels didn’t read the gift tag on it and assumed it was for them so the ripped it to bits and ate what was left. Also from last year are the three artichoke plants. They’ve been cut back for the winter and covered with tarp and straw, which has hopefully kept them alive until now.

All the lovely veg!

One of the most useful vegetables we grew last year was hot peppers. They were great fresh, preserved in vinegar, and in hot pepper jelly. In one of our beds we are putting in banana and jalapeño peppers for the aforementioned uses, but we also wanted cayenne peppers for hot sauce, so we needed to find more space. We tried to claim land rights to some of the neighbour’s back garden but after a lengthy court case, we were evicted and stuck with what we started with. Luckily, my mom was at a dollar store where they were selling upside down hanging hot pepper planters. Five of these hanging off the fence should produce enough peppers to make a good batch of hot sauce this year. Burning bums coming soon.

The chickens flanked by peppers and hops.

From the drawing it’s hard to tell, but our garage is two stories. With such height not being used, I ordered in some hops from BC to grow up the side of the building. Hops grow vertical, up to 30′, on lines strung straight up. To maximize how much we can grow, we are planning to do a criss-cross pattern to give us even longer vines, and, in return, more hops for beer making. A few years ago we were in England and my aunt was driving us past the hops farms. She was telling us about the plants and the Polish migrants that pick them. As neither of us had seen hops before, we asked “What do they look like?” to which my aunt replied, “Just like you and me, only Polish.”

All over the garden we have different planters and pots to hold long-term veg and invasive plants. A friend of ours is a furniture designer who creates her pieces with cast concrete. She had a few bad casts of a bedside cabinet that she was throwing out, so I saved them from becoming landfill to become filled with land. Once laid on their backs, the cabinets were perfect planters for mint, which is notorious for taking over gardens. I’d like to see it get out of concrete. Not really, I’d rather it stayed where it was meant to, in the planter, and in my tea. Another waste of space in the garden beds are potatoes. They take ages to grow, aren’t the prettiest, and require mounding soil over them every few weeks. To save using up space, we plant spuds in green tarp bags. The bags are cheap (dollar store), reusable, flexible, and you can simulate mounding by just topping up the bag with more soil. More on the potatoes as they grow.

Another big space taker is beans. We were originally thinking of growing them up the fence, but found an even better spot in the end; the patio. Our patio is covered by a proper roof that makes our outdoor space look a little like a Muskoka tiki bar. There is a mini wall on the one side that was never finished (past owners must have been distracted again) that we are building a bed to sit on top to hold our beans that will climb up cords to the roof. The bean stalks will act as a privacy/sun wall and supply fresh beans for dinner.

Bean wall. Not that we want to block out the neighbours, they're actually really nice.

So that’s the lay of the land, literally. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but when it comes time to eat it all, you remember why you did it. Also, for any hunters reading, you’re more than welcome to come over and kill every bastard little squirrel you see.

We couldn’t resist….we ate a cheese!

Looking at those lovely red cheeses ageing made us salivate every time we opened the fridge, and as we wanted a quick and dirty dinner, we gave in. Best decision of the day.

We both sat in the kitchen with our spread of jalapeño jelly, crackers, bubbly cider and of course, young cheddar. Nice sharp knife did the trick of lobbing off the first chunk. As the cheese was made with whole milk, each stroke of the knife pulled up and left behind a smear of the soft creamy heart on the edge of the wax. We peeled back the wax to reveal the cheese layering of firm curd on the outer edges and the soft insides. After a good deep sniff, we took our first bites. Looking at each other, we realized we were eating home made cheese, and the taste was perfect!

Delicious!

The cheese wasn’t sharp in any way as it’s only 4 weeks young. The best comparison of texture and flavour would be to a Friulano. Someone I work with has a fantasy involving him buying a giant wheel of cheddar and spending a weekend devouring it on his own. If you know someone like this you must bring cheese into work for him to taste. Not quite the wheel he was dreaming about, but after he made me watch him eat it, I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed it as much as we did the night before.

Making cheese isn’t economical if you factor in your time (the above cost about $200), but the pleasure that comes from making and eating it, makes all the effort well worth it. Just ask Jon.

Summer Solstice Mead

Most likely the first alcoholic beverage ever consumed by humans was mead. Many experts believe that mead wasn’t create by our ancestors, but instead discovered. As mead is essentially fermented watered-down honey, it would occur naturally when honey deposits found in hollow trees were flooded with rain and the yeast in the air would inoculate the blend. After some time it would ferment and would be found by someone thirsty enough to take the risk. Imagine all of the people who must have died horrible deaths from trying something for the first time? I’d like that thank them on behalf of those who survive them.

Once it was realized that you wouldn’t die from drinking this magical juice found in abandoned bee nests, but would instead feel pretty good, people starting making their own mead. Mead has helped ugly people procreate for thousands of years.

I’m not ugly (in my humble opinion) and I’m definitely not ready to procreate, but I thought that mead would be a nice addition to our cellar. When I say cellar, I mean the spare room in the basement that we put cardboard over the vent to stop it getting warm, and blocked out the windows to keep the sun from turning the beer and wine.

I’ve called it Summer Solstice Mead as the recipe I used is a traditional one that takes 18 months for the brew to mature into a drinkable liquid. I started just before New Years 2011, and as I’ve heard that mead is notorious for tasting like sweet cat piss, we will be waiting until the full 18 months are up. This happens to be roughly on the summer solstice of 2013. What better time to celebrate an ancient holiday than with an ancient drink.

Our trees don’t have bees in them. Our trees don’t have hollowed out areas either. To save the work involved in hollowing a tree and starting an apiary, I decided to use a demijohn. Into the boiling water went locally sourced honey, nutrient, and few other bits and bobs. Once cooled enough (this kept me up for a while), the yeast was pitched (added), and the whole lot went into the fermenting vessel with an airlock fitted to keep out the unwanted (bacteria, like the cat).

Mead has a tendency to form a layer of lees at the bottom in its first few weeks of fermenting. If you don’t siphon the mead off of it, it will go terribly bitter and you’ve just thrown out a lot of expensive honey. Never mind the expense, but some poor bees worked all summer to collect that honey for your batch of mead and you’ve gone and tipped it all down the sink!

So once the sludge has stopped collecting, you let it sit in the dark. If you’re worried about it getting lonely, you could put a bottle of cider next to it, but they do go on a bit.

The mead siphoned from its non-tree fermenting vessel, ready to be bottled.

After all the waiting, you then get to do the fun part: bottling! Why fun? It’s 9am on a Saturday and you get to take some “quality control samples” from a nicely sweetened liquor. After you’re done sampling, it simply goes into wine bottles. Using a corker, the stops are put in and you can stand back and look at your collection of prehistoric brew.

A great way to smash all the bottles in one go.

The bottles we used are exactly the same as the bottles with our wine in, so to avoid confusion, I had the brilliant idea of marking the corks with an “M” in script to indicate mead. Only problem with this cunning plan is that an upside down letter “M” looks a lot like a “W” when written in script. Turns out “W” is the first letter in wine. Hopefully the line underneath will remind us of the correct orientation.

This will be a lot more confusing after a few bottles.

So, summer solstice 2013, come visit and we can indulge in a bottle, or two, and toast those who were brave enough to drink out of a tree.

Waxed cheddars!

Sorry I’ve been a little sparse with my posting. My computer burnt itself out (sounded a lot like a jet engine falling from the sky) and work has been way too busy to even attempt taking 10 minutes to post.

But never mind all of that. The cheddars have been waxed! I left the cheeses for a few weeks to get a rind on the outside before I waxed them. I aged the smaller of the three in the fridge and getting a rind to develop took ages and they cracked quite a bit. After reading my new cheese book, I switched to their method of drying at room temperature for a few days on the larger cheese. It seemed to do the trick, as a thinner rind developed much faster.

Unwaxed cheddars. Both around 1lb each. Note the cracking on the surface.

The cheese wax is a proprietary blend of waxes that are food safe, don’t crack, and allow the cheese to breathe enough to age properly. You wouldn’t want to melt a bunch of crayons and candles for cheese waxing, although there are some articles online suggesting this as a cheaper alternative (it is also a great way to introduce botulism to your diet). Instead of using a microwave, which would super-heat the wax and could cause it to explode, I used a double boiler system. Thank you dollar store for the little stainless bowls.

Melting the typical-red cheese wax by double boiling.

Using a natural hair brush, I built up two layers of wax over the surface of each cheese. You can dip the cheese for a thicker, smoother coating, but this uses quite a bit more wax, and at $5.50/lb, I’d like to keep things a little more economical.

Labelled cheddar.

To help differentiate the cheeses, their contents, and the dates they were produced, I added little labels between the layers of wax. The code below the date, 2H1R · CC, means 2 gallons of Homo, 1 gallon of Regular (2%) milk with Calcium Chloride added. The calcium chloride restores some of the properties the milk lost during pasteurization and helps create firmer curds.

Waxed cheeses!

With the cheeses waxed, they were put back in the fridge to age. The longer they age, the sharper they get. One of the small ones will be consumed on Victoria Day, while the others will be kept until the fall to see how sharp we can actually get them to go. I must say that it is extremely tempting just to eat it all right now, but thanks to a generous donation of Irish Blue, I’ll be able to keep my hands off a while longer.

New cheese making book!

To get out of the office at lunch, we tend to gravitate towards Chapters for something to do. After making fun of gourmet bird seed, stealing “Heather’s Pick” stickers, and getting staff there to open high-end taffy for us to sample, one of us usually ends up looking at an actual book. This week it was my turn, so I went looking for cheese books.

Most books in stock were the history of, and how to cook with cheese. The only cheese making book was Artisan Cheese Making At Home: Techniques & Recipes For Mastering World-class Cheeses. Looked like it had a lot of good recipes for cheese making, so after a co-worker convinced me to buy it, I headed to the shortest, in length, and longest in duration, queue.

After work I was finally able to have a good look at it, and I haven’t stopped salivating since. The descriptions that go along with the gorgeous photos make you want to quit life and move to a dairy in the English countryside surrounding Cheddar. Ever page turned revealed another recipe to put on my list of things to try making. The author, Mary Karlin, doesn’t just give basic recipes, but also explains the whole process in great detail. The book is dedicated to using pasteurized milk, and doesn’t spend its time pushing raw milk (which in Ontario is illegal to sell, which makes it near impossible to purchase).

Some recipes of interest include Blue Gouda, Stilton, Brew Cheddar (using homebrew to flavour cheddar) and Irish Cheddar (using whiskey). Using some of the techniques in her book, I started a three gallon (3.5lbs of finished cheese) batch of basic cheddar using two gallons of whole milk and one gallon of 2%. So far, this cheese has turned out the best (still early days I suppose) and it’s definitely a result of having read this book.

Next time you’re in a book store, have a browse through this book, and then quickly run to a cheese shop and gorge.

The cat grows older

The message below is not authored by me, nor is the idea of celebrating the birthday of such an evil little animal. Must say though, I’d miss her if she was gone. The following from my long suffering wife:

“Happy 1st birthday* Gia!
*approximate date estimated by vet
A year ago she was a hissy runt from a feral litter with a nasty eye infection.  Today, Gia is a diminutive, anti-social cat with nasty stink eye.
Aside from ice cream sandwiches and tuna juice, she also shares our passion for home grown delicacies, such as this cat grass.
This will be her first summer at our house with full run of the garden.  We have high hopes of her terrorizing the squirrels that routinely dig up our plants. She’s been perfecting her ambush technique.”
So there you have it. The cat is older.

Summer Solstice 2012 Cider Showdown

I know there are a few readers on here that have been making their own cider as well, and I think that we should all put our brews to the test. This Summer Solstice, June 20th, I think we should all meet and have a showdown to blind taste-test each others cider. As the solstice is actually on a Wednesday (booo), and most of us will not be in the greatest shape after sampling all of the brews, we’ll hold it at my place on Saturday June 23rd to give everyone a day to recoup/purge before back to work on the Monday. Anyone else who hasn’t already made a cider is welcome to brew their own and bring it along for the competition. For the winner of the taste-test, I’m offering a dozen eggs (our personnel will be notified in advance to increase production), a bottle of Merlot (homemade in January) and a large jar of jalapenos jelly (from last years peppers).

For anyone who can’t face our evil cat, we’ll send her away to behaviour modification camp, ie our basement, for the duration of the festivites.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to make a cider, bring something equally as good and equally as homemade.

Let the brewing continue!