Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Composting on itvBrandon!

Yes, I'm back on the Web with Karen Chrest! This time we're having a wee discussion on composting. Check it out here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Eating Local is Getting a Whole Lot Easier!

Homemade bread and yummy tomatoes! Now that's summer. As the Farmers' Market season starts for us, eating local and fresh is getting waaaaaay easier. The tomatoes in the picture came from Julie at JR Greenhouses in Souris. She's got a hot house going and it's making me very happy. Julie is selling at the Friday Night Farmers' Market at Shoppers Mall, and I scored a few of her awesome tomatoes! Almost as good as one off my own vine and way better than those in the stores. And, as my tomatoes are only blossoming, hers will do very nicely, for now! She should have cucumbers soon - put cottage cheese on the shopping list!

Hard to believe that this coming Saturday is the first Farmers' Market at Riverbank Discovery Centre. Hugh and Linda Moffat think they may have new potatoes. Maple Valley already had a few bags at the Friday Night Farmers' Market. I dream of new potatoes from about February on. I'll have to get Farmer Man to sneak beneath a few of our plants to see if he can find any - even for a little meal, let alone to take to the Farmers' Market!

I spent part of the morning 'finding' the beets and the Swiss Chard. The rain has encouraged the weeds, and it was really time to wade into the rows and find the good stuff before it gets overwhelmed! I adore Swiss Chard;I have a recipe from my sister Cathy for a green relish made with chard which I'm anxious to try! I'm probably still a couple of weeks away from harvesting any. Patience, patience! It's hard when you read as many international blogs as I do - they've been harvesting in California and Texas and such for months, while we're just cheering on the seedlings! Oh, well, our time is coming......

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mmmmmm! Mockorange!

There is no better place in the whole, wide world right now than the little garden bench on my front patio! It's always a nice place, but right now it is absolutely divine due to the 'Blizzard' mockorange right beside the bench. The shrub is in full bloom, and smells heavenly. It's almost intoxicating sitting on that bench! 'Blizzard' mockorange is a great shrub for Prairie gardeners! It's so tough and reliable, and yet so gorgeous. It's hardy enough to go even farther north: say Flin Flon or even Thompson! Give it room; it wants to be about five to six feet tall and wide and its' natural habit is so nice, you really don't want to get into pruning it to keep it down to a size. It's one of the few shrubs around here that showed no winter damage this year - we love it just for that! Now, if a little hummingbird would come to the feeder while I was sitting on the bench - life would be perfect!

A Farmers' Market Rant

Kate at the blog Gardening Without Skills has a little rant about her local Farmers Market. All we can say is: Amen!! And say it again, Sister!! Check it out here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Borrowing the View

It's a common trick in landscape design to 'borrow' the scenery around you and incorporate it into your landscape. If the neighbour has a great evergreen hedge, use it as the bones of a shrub and perennial border. Or if there is some magnificent trees next door, layer smaller trees in front, so that it looks like the big trees are part of your landscape. Got a great pastoral scene over yonder? Use an opening in your hedge or fence to 'frame' it, making your garden look like it goes on forever! I'm fortunate to be in the country, with a most enjoyable vista. I may have to remove part of the existing lilac hedge to enjoy the neighbour's horses more. Or move part of the existing lilac hedge to the east, so that I don't see as much of the industrial east-end of Brandon!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Great Schoolin' for Prairie Gardeners

I've been spending (too much) time on Blotanical. So many bloggers! So many gardens! So many styles!! So many....well, you get the picture. It's an awesome cyber-place! Found a great new post today with some excellent and interesting info for Prairie gardeners. Have you ever noticed that a lot of our hardy plant material contains the common name Amur? Tatyana, at MySecretGarden, knows something about it. Here's why......

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Little Finch! Let Me Help!

I heard a small commotion in the sunroom. With small dogs and cats living in this house, you get a little 'tuned in' to disturbances. I go to the sunroom, and see Blondie the Cat in full-on hunt mode: crouched low to the ground, tail very slowly swishing, eyes seemingly intent but somewhat glazed over (rather like The Hens when they are laying!). Blondie pounces, and for a moment I see a flutter of little wings! I leap into action and swat the cat and a little wee yellow finch starts fluttering wildly around the glass room! Now, did Blondie bring the little bird in, or did he find his way through the cat door? No one will ever know for sure. But Blondie's on the move again, so I grab him and throw him in the bathroom, then close the drapes on the sunroom door to try to contain the little birdie. The camera is sitting on the table, so I grab it, like a good blogger should! Didn't close the door firmly enough, 'cause Blondie's back in a moment, pushing past me. The poor little bird is just frantic! I grab Blondie again, and put him in the office, door firmly closed this time. The little bird has followed us out through the curtains and heads for the living room, where there are large patio doors. Now The Bears want to know what's going on and they start nosing around. The little bird finally settles on the floor, beside the TV in the mess of wires and cables under the legs of a plant stand. Talking softly and gently, I reach in and she let me pick her up with out much fuss. Perhaps she was tired, or perhaps she knew I was trying to help. Anyway, a short walk through the patio doors and I set her down on the wall around the patio and she flew off in a heart beat. Then I let a rather miffed Blondie out of the office, and things returned to normal here at Aagaard Farms.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm on the Web!!

I'm on iTalk with Karen Chrest on itvbrandon.com! Talking about lawns, this time. I really don't like looking at photos of myself and video is even worse......but, hey, check it out here if you care to!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Are We The Last Place in The Universe.....

Are we the last place in the Universe where the peonies have started blooming? Being that we follow gardening blogs from around the world, I've been seeing lovely peony pictures for months. Even Prairie Chicken, a Winnipeg blogger I enjoy immensely, had pictures of her peonies three weeks ago! Winnipeg is only two and a half hours from here! Well, ours are finally blooming, although I admit I took the few open blooms for a bouquet. Farmer Man loves bouquets in the house, as do I, so we make the most of it while we can! Peonies are such an awesome, easy care, reliable perennial for us. Admittedly, did submerge the peonies in a sink of water for a while to get rid of the ants.....the ants seem to love them for their pollen as much as we love them for bouquets!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Opera at the Farmers Market!

Just for fun - 'Flash Brindsi' at the Philadelphia Farmers' Market! I love this! I want to do this at our Farmers Markets! Wouldn't it be great? You're just wandering around shopping and then suddenly..........well, I won't spoil it for you! Check it out here.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Using the Precious Compost

As the planting of seedlings progresses, Farmer Man has started to make good use of last years' compost pile. As he plants each tomato, a scoop of compost goes in the bottom of the hole. He's done the same with some of the 'heavy feeders' like peppers. A little went in the pot with each sweet potato cutting. We don't have a lot, so we use it carefully! Admittedly, adding the chickens has certainly increased the size of the compost pile, but there is never enough. We compost in piles, that get turned and 'shredded' by the tractor - we're doing things on a slightly bigger scale then the average home gardener. We do end up with sticks and chunky things, so Farmer Man devised a screen from an old bed frame found in the barn and some chicken wire. How to recyle, upcycle and reuse, Farmer Man! Love that! Once planting is done, we'll divvy up the remaining compost in different areas (some for my shrub and perennial borders, some for the perennial crops like asparagus and rhubarb, I hope). We don't really fertilize around here, except for the occasional dose of fish meal, liquid kelp and alfalfa meal. We rely on our soil being healthy: leaving crop residues on in the fall (to prevent soil erosion, as well), tilling them under in the spring, adding what compost we have. That's what being sustainable is all about, isn't it? Using what you've got!

Friday Night Farmers Market!

It kind of snuck up on us - just doesn't seem like Farmers Market weather, and the growing season doesn't seem long enough yet. But, last night was the first Friday Night Farmers Market at Shoppers Mall. It was not great Farmers Market weather - chilly, blustery and threatening rain! Not much to sell, a tiny bit of asparagus, a tiny bit of rhubarb, fresh herbs from the over-wintered pots, some winter onions. Did have some tasty garlic scapes, which made a few people happy and baffled most. Took some bread, so we'll see what the feedback is on that! Did get some shopping done: some local honey, a local grape jelly and some hothouse tomatoes! Time to get busy!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Homemade Bread II: White and Rye!

Yesterday was a rainy day - not much one could do in the gardens. So, I tried more homemade bread! I've made three batches of the whole wheat dough; we bake one loaf a day and it is awesome to have! So thought I'd try other breads. Made the basic white loaf from the original 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day', and the rye/whole wheat loaf from 'Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day'. Now that I've got some experience, making the dough takes about five minutes! You mix it in the container you will store it in (I found some great, food-grade plastic containers that nest at my local box store grocery store at a great price!) You let the dough rise a couple of hours on the counter top, then refrigerate. It's just flour, salt, gluten and yeast, then add warm water. It's really, really, really easy! Take out a grapefruit size hunk of dough, let it 'rest' on the counter for ninety minutes, then bake for 30 minutes. Each batch of dough makes four or five loaves. It's soooo easy. Found local organic whole wheat flour and organic unbleached white flour at Two Farm Kids, happy to have that! Really, anybody can do this! Grab the books from the Amazon link on the side bar, which will also help keep The Hens in scratch! The only complaint so far: Farmer Man, of Danish background, insists I must get liverwurst to go with the rye!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nature Points All Over!

We are lush with wildlife lately at Aagaard Farms! Aside from watching the swallows get organized, we've been enjoying hummingbirds, a large group of little yellow finches have taken up residence in the big, old spruce trees by the house and baby robins seem to be everywhere (except when one has the camera)! We had the pleasure of watching two mourning dove babies have their first foray out of the nest and the little squirrel is getting quite bold about chattering at us as we sit on the patio. Last night, it was a symphony of frogs down by the dugout. And yesterday, when Farmer Man went to let the chickens out at dawn, a deer was calmly munching the grass right beside the coop! Sparrows, finches and chickadees seem to be having a sing-off every morning; and then, of course, the magpie babies add their raucous squawk! Oh, yes, and the veggies are growing - we'll get back to them soon!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Executive Decision Has Been Made!

The swallows have decided, and in the last twelve hours half a nest is finished. They chose to build just outside our front door, beside a column that supports the porch. They're building on a little doo-dad decorative division between the roof of the porch and the roof of the breezeway. They are literally five feet from our front door, which is used a lot because we don't really have a back door (long story...) The little swallows must feel pretty comfortable with us! Talk about birds eye view! The construction of their nest is quite incredible - it's just mud and straw and sticks, plastered to the wood siding! And it comes together quite quickly. Hopefully, we'll be spying on babies, soon!

Late Blight of Tomatoes Found in Manitoba!

itvbrandon.com has posted a piece that late blight of tomatoes has been found in tomatoes in retail outlets in Winnipeg and Brandon. This is a serious disease that can also transfer to potatoes, ruining crops. There's a link to MAFRI's website with pictures and more info. Check it out and be informed!

Monday, June 14, 2010

What You Gonna Do, Little Swallows?

We've had barn swallows nest around our house and garage every year. We adore having them: they are a marvel to watch fly and they eat lots of bugs! Last year, they chose to nest in our garage in the peak of the roof; in the heat of July it was just too hot in our uninsulated garage and some of the babies didn't make it. On their return this year, we made sure the garage was always closed up so that they couldn't access it. So they've been dithering around, trying to decide where to nest! They've been back over two weeks, and still no apparent nest. They tried on a plug-in in the roof of the breezeway but because it controls the little water feature we knew we needed access so Farmer Man taped it off. They've been sitting on the porch light, right beside the front door. We could live with that, although it might be a little crazy with them and us coming and going on a regular basis. There is a swallow perch at the back of the breeze way that they have used before, but they don't seem interested this year. They've got to decide pretty quickly - Mother Nature must be calling!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Homemade Cheese! Well, Pudding.....

In our quest to be a little more self-sufficient and to eat more locally, we tried to make cheese! Now, we're on top of the bread (check it out here) - I'm onto my second batch of bread dough from 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day', and we're about to eat our tenth loaf and we're very much enjoying it! We're going to try some of the other recipes next - we'll let you know how it goes. But I saw, on Etsy, a great kit for cheese making. It's from the Etsy shop Urban Cheesecraft we got the deluxe kit for $50 US, it has everything needed to make different cheeses including paneer, queso blanco, firm and soft goat cheese, ricotta and mozzarella. The kit includes molds, a thermometer, fine cheese cloth, citric acid, cheese salt, rennet and complete instructions for all the cheeses. So, last night, off we go! I love goat cheese, and I can source goat milk quite easily so that's where we started. It's quite simple, really; mix the citric acid in water, add to milk, heat without boiling, pour into a colander lined with the cheese cloth, pack the captured curds into a mold and let set up. Really! It's that simple. We were aiming for the soft goat cheese, problem was I didn't see any curds forming. I re-heated, still no curds. I read the instructions again and then went to the Urban Cheesecraft's website where I found the goat milk has teeny tiny curds so I poured my mixture into the colander. An upside here is that chickens and pigs love the whey that we collected under the colander. After letting it drain for half an hour, there was something sort of solid there, so I packed it into a mold, where it continued to 'weep' moisture. Left it there for longer than the instructions said, and then gently tapped it out onto a plate. Looking good! We have a soft goat cheese! However, within fifteen minutes if had rather melted, so we have awesome goat cheese pudding! It's really very tasty. Referring back to Urban Cheesemaking's website, I may have stirred too much, or I may have skimped a bit on the citric acid. But this stuff is tasty!! And my cracker doesn't care how solid the goat cheese is! We'll definitely do this again - there's enough stuff in the kit for lots more batches. Maybe queso blanco next. I can hardly wait for fresh mozzarella to go with fresh tomatoes!! But I do think Farmer Man, who is of Danish parentage, will have to wait awhile before I get around to havarti!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Little Free-Ranging!

Farmer Man had a little work to do in The Hens pasture. As he was coming and going, he left the gate open. Whether this was spontaneous or pre-meditated is up for discussion. Anyway, The Hens and Rocky thought this was great! Being that they do tend to follow Farmer Man around when he's working around the coop and pasture, it didn't take them very long at all to sashay out the gate and start exploring around the pasture and the barn. A little worrisome for me, because that is how we lost a lot of The Browns last fall; the neighbours have really controlled their dogs wonderfully well and we don't have 'visits' anymore. So, a good time was had by all, a couple of photo ops were presented and a short time later, at bedtime, everybody sashayed right back into the enclosure and into the coop and off to roost!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

itvbrandon.com Comes for a Visit!

Have you been missing Karen Chrest since our local TV station, CKX, shut down? Well, you can find her on itvbrandon.com. itvbrandon.com is our new 'tv' station, featuring local news, entertainment and sports online. It's fabulous to have! Karen is doing weekly segments on stuff going on around town. She's already covered Earth Day, the new show at the Museum at Shilo and a bunch of other interesting stuff. Now, she's going to be doing a few gardening segments, so she and Nate Bower came for a visit today. We covered some earth-friendly lawn and garden tips and composting, including meeting my worms. Don't worry - I'll definitely have a link when something goes online! In the meantime, catch up on what's going on around Brandon on this great site!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

'Blue Moon' Wisteria: The Great Hope

Ahhh, wisteria. This time of year, garden blogs and magazines are featuring pictures of wisteria in all it's glory! And it just doesn't want to grow here - until now! 'Blue Moon' wisteria has been bred and selected to be hardy; depending on which source one reads, hardy enough for Zone 3 or 4. So, of course I had to plant one! If it IS Zone 3 hardy, that would be delightful. My hope is, even if it is Zone 4 hardy, if I can protect the roots, a wisteria is rampant enough to still get to six or eight feet high, even if it gets killed back to the ground. So, I'll add it to the list, along with the barberry, to mulch well in fall, and I'll try to shovel some extra snow onto it as the winter season progresses. Fingers crossed!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sweet Potatoes on the Prairies?

We love sweet potatoes. But they don't really grow here, not just in Manitoba, but in Canada. They want a really long, hot growing season - and well, we're just too short a summer. We've tried to buy them from America, but with bans on soils and tubers coming across the border it was always mission impossible. I was, therefore, very excited when I saw them offered in Vesey's catalogue this spring. Before I had even read all the info I had clicked the icon to add them to my shopping basket! They didn't come with our seed order, didn't come with the back orders and I figured it wasn't happening. I expected tubers and I expected them early, so that we could get them off to an early start. What just arrived - unrooted cuttings. They arrived with an apology because Vesey's seems to have been expecting rooted cuttings. So, after a little dithering as we decided what to do, they got planted in big pots so that we can bring them into the greenhouse or even the sun room in order to get them finished. We'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Patience is the Key on the Prairies

The Barberry is alive!! Many a Prairie gardener would have pulled this little bush out a month ago. I, however, always give everything the utmost chance. I saw a few buds down at soil level, and I waited, patiently. It's coming fabulously! Granted, it was two feet high last year and it is currently six inches - and that's being generous. But, it survived, it has obviously rooted well and it will be a foot high again in a month or six weeks. It's a 'Rosy Glow' barberry, with burgundy leaves mottled with pink on the new growth. It's adorable, and well worth the wait! This fall I will endeavor to protect it a little better with a good mulch. I know the damage was either done in December, when we were cold without much snow cover, or in March, when we had lost the snow cover, got really warm and then got really cold. There's not much I can do to combat the whims of Mother Nature here on the Prairies, but I'll do what I can. And then wait, patiently......

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Planting the Upside-down Tomato!

Got the upside-down tomato planted! We've had this little hanging gadget for three years, and quite enjoy it. Yes, we'll have a field of tomatoes, but we like to keep something close to the house for convenient snacking. We cleaned it out, including a little rinse with vinegar and water. It comes with the hanging bag, a lid and a little foam ring that fits around the tomato. In the wheelbarrow picture, we've fitted the ring around the top growth of the tomato. We chose a 'Celebrity' tomato we started from seed - a reliable producer of medium size tasty fruit. (The hardest part of this whole adventure was picking which tomato to put in!). Now, tomatoes are one of the few things that you can bury the stem, and it will root. So, we've got the foam collar high around the plant. Next, we gently inserted it into the bag, with Farmer Man holding the root ball, keeping the stem from bending or breaking. He kept the root ball in place with the dandelion fork while I filled the bag with soil less mix containing a water-retention gel, mixed with some of the worm compost. A handful of kelp meal on top, put the lid on and - voila! Upside-down tomato, ready to grow!

Friday, June 4, 2010

An Awesome Idea for Urban Areas!

Catching up on my blog reading, found something interesting (as always) on Garden Rant. Gating scruffy urban alleys, to allow the residents, essentially, their own 'park'. It's been a great way to cut down on crime, provide garden space and to provide family and community gathering space. What an awesome idea! Check it out here.

Seed Balls: Slightly Subversive Party Favors

I love this idea! Evergreen, the Canadian charity that is all about greening up cities, has a fabulous recipe on their blog for seed balls. A mixture of (generally) wild flower seeds, dirt and clay; the balls are a fun and easy project for kids at parties. Something a little greener and more useful than trinkets and candies! Aside from the fun of playing in dirt - the seed balls can then be 'planted' (tossed, quite literally) and the kids can watch them grow. The subversive part: guerrilla gardeners can take them and 'bomb' derelict lots, sterile back alleys and other places that could use a little life! Evergreen does not recommend the subversive part - they say nothing about that on their blog. I've read it about it other places, Green Frieda was making some last winter in a quest to spread native flowers in her area. Read about Evergreen's recipe here.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Such A Gentleman!

Rocky the Rooster is such a gentleman. He always leaves the coop first in the morning, checking things out for The Hens. He exits, and immediately begins to scout around, peeking high and low. Some of The Hens, usually Isa Browns, come spilling out shortly after, quite confident that it is safe to do so. The rest of the flock come out at their leisure; usually everyone will be out within the hour. Rocky has been waking up Farmer Man earlier and earlier: this morning he started to crow at 4:30 AM. Since it's nice weather, and our bedroom window is open, we can hear him loud and clear, even though he's locked in the coop. Well, Farmer Man can hear him for sure.....I seem to be able to sleep through it!

New Bad Habits

Just what I needed, new things to take me away from my chores! In cruising the Internet, I've gotten hooked into a couple of great sites, but sites which can take up a lot of my time. Wish I'd found them last winter, but I will have them for this coming winter! Kathy of Cold Climate Gardening has a blog directory that pretty much covers the world. You can search by province, state and country where she has member blogs. The other site is Blotanical, a gathering place for garden bloggers and gardeners. Blotanical is truly international, started by a fellow named Stuart in Australia. You can see fabulous gardens, exotic plants, read of other peoples' struggles with poor soil, cold and wind. Or perhaps you'd like to grow a banana tree - find someone that can grow them in their backyard and learn more about what the needs for soil and situation. Taking the laptop to the beach this summer?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Planting Summer Squash!

Farmer Man and I, with Vartan and Natalia's help, got most of the summer squash planted today. We put in two 500 foot double rows - we plant on a slightly larger scale than your average home garden! These are all bush varieties, so we planted pretty close: these are eventually going to form something like two hedges, side by side on the drip lines. We planted regular black zucchini (which is dark green and the most common variety in the stores), golden zucchini, Ronde de Nice (a round zucchini), Portofino (an Italian Largo type, with a nice herbal flavour), Papaya Pear (one of our favourites, great grilled), Lolita (one of the Moroccan or Cousa types) and a whole bunch of different patty pans or scallopinis. Some good eating coming up! We plant these bush types very close, partly for maximum efficiency and partly because we do like to take them when they are small - that's when they are the best. Farmer Man also got some of the winter squash seeded. Now, for those of you that don't know: summer squash has edible skin, winter squash has hard skin. Winter squash, like butternut or pumpkins, will generally take longer to crop and will store better. Now you know! Are you planting any summer squash?

New Look: Summer 2010

Don't know if it is the latest fashion, but The Bears have a new look for Summer 2010. It's a little over-due, but it's hard to get into a groomer in Brandon; they are the busiest people around here (after the Tim Horton's coffee people, probably). It would have been nice to have The Bears this short before tick season started, but that is how it goes! They look (and smell) gooooood right now! Next on the agenda: Blaze for a summer strip-down and bath. Blaze, who loves swimming in the dugout, smells really baaaaad right now - so we can hardly wait for his appointment next week! We may even have to have an intervention bath before his appointment.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More Aftermath.....

The effects of the weekends' storm are still being felt! All things considered, we were very fortunate here at Aagaard Farms. Parts of Manitoba experienced flooding, road wash-outs and large trees down on cars and buildings. The biggest thing here, of late, is Farmer Man has had to use the tractor twice to pull out renters who tried to drive down to their garden plots. It kind of falls under the category 'what were they thinking', but who am I to say anything? I made an appointment for a meeting right after dropping The Bears off at the groomers. Went into my meeting with paw prints on my trousers! Both the gardeners who got stuck are new renters this year, and they may not have realized they were driving into the lowest part of the land, right beside the dugout, where all the water drains......Now, a picnic table is across the road, to keep any one else from trying to make the drive for the next couple of days!