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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.

Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

Without an unseasonably warm March for inspiration I found myself a week behind schedule with my vegetable gardening. So, I was happy to get a bump in the right direction when Bonita from Thomas Allen & Son sent me The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook: Design Plans, Seasonal Checklists, Fresh Recipes, Plant Profiles, Growing Tips, and Flowers for the Table by Jennifer R. Bartley to review.

The book is divided into four sections with one for each season. Each season is divided between crop information, recipes, and garden plans.

There is an aggravating social construct that demands of homeowners who want to grow fruit or vegetables for eating that they hide this shameful gardening away in their backyards and keep their front yards for monotonous swaths of grass and flowerbeds. So, right off the bat, I’m happy to see that The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook offers four seasonal plans for an edible front yard that include a diverse palette of plants. (more…)

Gardening in April

In Southern Ontario we have had a very warm spring this year.  No snow in Toronto in March (though a bit in April) and temperatures over 20°C on more than a couple days.  This is what May is meant to feel like–in good years.  Last year we had accumulated snow on the ground in the second week of April and I wrote a useful (I think) post discussing the concept of degree growing days.

Garden dug, compost spread, and surface raked: A blank garden canvas

From a vegetable gardening perspective the warm weather has caused a strong desire to start planting.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac site puts the average last frost date for Barrie–the city closest to our garden at the cottage–at May 26.  In my three years of vegetable gardening I have not experienced a frost this late and I’m willing to gamble that all the heat and sunshine we have has warmed the water and soil enough to protect hardier seedlings from any freak May frosts. (more…)

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…)

Tomato Conserva

The main haul of tomatoes from our garden at the cottage

The main haul of tomatoes from our garden at the cottage

Tomato harvest day at the cottage came on September 19.  All summer we have taken what we needed as we needed it from the garden but with the passing of the halfway mark in September frost is a possibility and the determinate tomatoes are ripe and a couple are showing possible signs of blight.  It has been easy to find delicious uses for the six to ten tomatoes we have gleaned over the past few weekends but this time I brought home about sixteen pounds of tomatoes.  Roughly a third of this haul was not quite as ripe as I’d like so they’ve been wrapped in newspaper and stashed in a warm, dark room to ripen.  The other two thirds needed to be preserved before they spoiled.

Last summer I made a simple tomato sauce with the extra garden tomatoes and froze it.  This was a good sauce and it made for a meal in February (with some homemade pasta) that did an excellent job of reminding us of summer.  The downside was that while we kept a large brick (about the size of medium-size cookbook) of tomato sauce in our freezer for months we only got to enjoy it with one meal.  This year I wanted to find a way to spread the flavours of August over more time.  Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand–a well-respected cookbook that along with the works of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Michael Ruhlman are often referenced on my favourite food blogs–has an extensive tomato section that includes a recipe for tomato conserva.  It is tough to describe the difference between tomato paste and conserva–they can be used in much the same way to enrich tomato or meat dishes–except to say that they deserve their individual names.  Tomato paste tastes like something that should be called “paste” while conserva earns its more exotic Italian name. (more…)