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Balcony Gardening

Dinosaur kale in our balcony garden. What a show-off.The one question about apartment gardening that I am asked more than any other is: what should I grow this year? Fair enough. My sort of obvious, kind of cop-out answer has always been: grow what you like to eat.

My expertise on small-space gardening was always a bit theoretical. I’ve grown tomatoes and a whole bunch of other things in a small garden at the cottage, but it’s really twice as big as some community-garden plots in downtown Toronto. Stretches the “small space” definition. This year though, we moved into a new place with a balcony, just in time to cultivate some plants that gave us food this summer and that made our apartment a more pleasant space.

Peppers in the Oven

On the continuum of slow cooking drying and slow-roasting are pretty near the end of the tail.  In arid, sunny regions an oven isn’t even necessary and the sun stands in. But with an oven at hand and the recurring problem of what to do with its residual heat (see my post on making Chardonnay Apple Butter) I used it to roast/dry sweet and hot red peppers.

I went to Highland Farms the week after Labour Day in search of a bushel of tomatoes for tomato sauce.  They were all sold out but had sweet red bell peppers by the bushel–that’s 36.36875L to be absolutely exact.  I bought one of these, took it to the cottage and divided the peppers between six pans that went into the oven after a pizza session.  The fire had died down but there were still hot coals near the back of the oven. (more…)

French Cornichons

I think I have finally entered the secret brotherhood of homemade cornichon and gherkin makers. My specific goal was not sweet gherkins (which are the right size but way too sweet) or just small versions of a dill pickle but what I wanted is the intensely sour french cornichon that graces my favourite protein delivery system: the charcuterie plate.

The hardcore, pure acid required recipe that I started looking for back in February is, not surprisingly, from Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail cookbook.  It doesn’t explicitly call for them the idea of needing black, elbow-length laboratory gloves to make pickles appealed to my  inner Alton Brown.  Problem is that I don’t have the first idea where I could find pure acetic acid and also, after some quick math, I’m not sure there’s any point. (more…)

June Garden Update

May was probably drier than is strictly optimal for my vegetable garden but June has brought even hotter temperatures (particularly warm nighttime temperatures) and a more optimal amount of rain.

In my vegetable garden at the cottage I have even been lucky with weeds.  I learned to identify the edible lambs’ quarters and the runner up for most prevalent “weed” is an unruly (though fragrant) crop of dill.  My selection of vegetables has also been fortuitous because I have temporarily abandoned spinach and radishes–both lovers of cool weather–for more beans, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Witkiem beans with their black spotted, white flowers


Asparagus Season

Those who follow my Twitter feed (@ortdavid) may  have seen some pictures I tweeted last weekend of the garden at the cottage.  When we got there at an ungodly early hour there was still a heavy dusting of fresh snow on the ground but in the garden green and purple asparagus were poking through the soil and were having none of this held-over winter.

Solitary asparagus spear being kept company by a strawberry plant

Alex–cousin, cottage neighbour, fellow culinary schemer–and I decided to collaborate (we often compete in the world of vegetable gardening) on planting a bed of asparagus.  In late spring 2008 we planted some Isla asparagus that I had started from seed and some asparagus crowns that he found at a gardening centre.  The first year they produced these wispy crosses between a fern and a baby pine tree.  In the second year, 2009, they were a bit more substantial but still too small to harvest.  But, this our third year is supposed to be when we can finally take a limited harvest for eating a sample of the future (some sites say decades) of asparagus bounty. (more…)