16 Days…

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

…until the last frost! We’re coming down the homestretch to spring, to digging in the dirt, to sowing seeds. But we’re not there yet so, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m still depending on CBC Radio to keep me sane until the snow melts, and, specifically, this morning, it was a Spark interview that I enjoyed with my morning coffee – an interview with Ingrid Fetell and her research into the “aesthetics of joy”.

I felt she made a convincing case for the importance of designing for joy but it’s probably because I already believe that we need more joyful spaces – more places that lighten our mood, make us smile, engage our hearts. It’s why I designed my kitchen garden the way I did.

Believe it or not, but I’ve gotten flack for my kitchen garden. I’ve been told it’s not efficient, it doesn’t make the best use of the space, and some parts are too tight to work easily in. These things are all true, to a certain extent, but only if the goal of my kitchen garden is to produce the most amount of food in the allotted space with the least amount of effort.

Hear that sound? That was the sound of joy being sucked out of my garden!

That’s not my goal for my kitchen garden. My goal always has been for it to bring me joy – in the looking at, the working in, and the eating of.

I designed the garden with raised beds because I like tidy edges; with bamboo trellises because I like the feeling of walls; and with lots of flowers…because I like flowers. These things also allow me to control the type of soil I use, provide support for tomatoes and climbing vines, and attract pollinators, but that, to me, is secondary to the joy it brings me to see these elements.

I decided to lay down gravel for the paths – I love the crunchy sound it makes when I walk on it and raking it smooth reminds me of those Japanese sand gardens. Okay, so it’s an inexpensive and easy to lay surfacing material – that’s so not the point.

I plant things we love to eat fresh – peas, radishes, tomatoes, lettuces, beans. These are almost all consumed during the course of the growing season because to me, the flavor of food harvested right from the garden, sometimes still warm from the sun, brings me intense joy. Frozen beans eaten in the dead of winter don’t always produce that same intense sensation – although the Romano bean I grew last year tasted better after being frozen, which was a joyful discovery (Ingrid talks about surprise being one of the elements in creating joy).

And the other thing that gives me joy in my kitchen garden, when the snow is white and thick on the ground, is the designing of it. Below, is this year’s plan for the garden. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

2011 Kitchen Garden Plan; click on plan for a larger image

2011 Kitchen Garden Plan

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Winter Tonic

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

Wintertime is teatime in our household – or, if you want to get technical about it, herbal infusion time, since some people feel that you can only call it ‘tea’ if it comes from the true tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Whatever you call it, our evening ritual, after the sun has been set for about 3 hours, is to put on the kettle (yes, it whistles!) and ponder my dried herb collection. Will it be lavender and lemon balm? Or bergamot and anise hyssop? Sometimes just rosemary is all I want. But this year, peppermint and lemon verbena are the combination I’ve been reaching for over and over. The flavor and aroma of the sweet mint and floral lemon blended with a teaspoon of unpasteurized organic honey is comfort in a cup on a cold winter night.

Dried herbal teas make great gifts and friends, knowing my fondness for them, have given me many good blends over the years, and I also like to try the intriguing combinations that line the grocery store shelves. But nothing, for me, beats the flavor of herbs that I’ve dried myself and it’s so easy to do – all you need is a dark-ish location with good air circulation and a way of hanging bundles of herbs.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

I didn’t dry many herbs this year since I’m having trouble finding the herbs I want to grow at my local garden centers (this spring I’m, unfortunately, going to have to rely on online retailers to provide me with what I need) but I did have an abundance of peppermint and borage, which I harvested regularly throughout the season. I cut fairly long stems, about 30cm long, bundled them in bunches about a couple of centimeters around, and tied them with twine (some people use rubber bands but I didn’t have any on hand). I left long enough ends on the twine to tie the bunches to the shelves on my seed-starting table and, in about 3-4 weeks (the leaves should feel dry and strip relatively easily from the stems but not crumble into dust), I have dried herbs that can be used for anything, including teas.

To make a tisane, I use about a tablespoon of dried herbs to a cup of water and steep for about five minutes. Most teas I sweeten with a little honey and sometimes I’ll add a little lemon. I like to keep it simple and don’t usually blend more than two herbs but you’re only limited by your creativity and sometimes orange peel, a cinnamon stick, and/or a little ginger can make a tea extraordinary. And don’t forget about other parts of the plant such as hips, although be aware that they take a little longer to dry than leaves.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

It’s so easy to dry your own herbs and, on a cold winter night, when my hands are wrapped around a hot cup of aromatic tea, I’m reminded of summer and the good things I grew – it helps to get me through these dark, snowy times. 

Snapshot: July18, 2010

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

July 18 2010

 

1. Spinach was bolting – I cut it back and used it in an Indian lentil dish.

2. First sowing of cilantro bolted and I pulled it out.

3. California poppy is blooming.

4. Arugula is flowering – I must pull it out soon.

5. I pulled out the bolting red mustard and sowed basil around the bed edge instead.

6. The borage is blooming, encouraging lots of bees!

Borage blooms a luminous blue.

Borage blooms a luminous blue.