How We’re Using Our Summer Harvest.

It’s been a minute since I’ve updated, so here we go.

Over the month of August, the backyard garden kicked into high gear, and we had a few pleasant surprises:

  1. We had no idea there were 2 massive highbush blueberry plants already in our backyard – so exciting! For a couple weeks I was picking a small bowlful a day.
  2. Our green beans finally took off, producing weekly harvests for us to enjoy.
  3. The bugs (aphids?) finally left the chard alone, so we’ve been enjoying not having to cover or monitor the plants so much.

A few new learnings / things we’ll keep in mind for next year’s garden:

  • The pumpkin plants are very susceptible to mold; once they started growing fruit, they seemed to get fussy with humidity / morning dew. We’ve been spraying them a milk and water combo which seems to somewhat be keeping the mold at bay.
  • I suspect we would have had a lot more pickling cukes had our set up been different – next time we’ll use tomato cages or something similar so there’s more space and support for them to grow vertically.
  • In the past we’ve had a lot of tomatoes that split while growing – we seem to have avoided that this year; we believe it’s because we’ve been watering the soil instead of the plant/leaves.
  • Though the beans did eventually take off, we’re still not very happy with the plant overall. Next year we’ll try something different from the Blue Lake Pole Beans.
  • Next year we need to do more reading into determining when each individual veggie is ready to be harvested, and make sure we pick them at that exact time.

Besides all the weeding, watering, and everything else that’s been going on, there’s also been lots of cooking! This has been my favourite part of our garden experiment this year: the challenge of picking produce at the right time, and finding ways to use or preserve it all so we can fully enjoy the *fruits* of our labour.

I thought I’d share a few of the recipes I’ve been using so far with all of our great produce this season.

What to do with…

Tomatoes, Peppers, Basil & More.

Salsa is the perfect recipe for using up lots of odds and ends from the garden. We planted several banana pepper plants and some green chili peppers, so salsa is a great way to use them up so you enjoy some heat but not too much. I typically just chop up anything suitable from the garden (this year it’s been the hot peppers, tomatoes, and basil), mixed with some store/market-bought chopped veggies like:

  • cucumber
  • red onion
  • orange or yellow pepper
  • garlic

I seed the cucumber and tomatoes, and place in a bowl with all other chopped veggies. Then:

  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Drizzle a little white wine vinegar over top; mix it all together.

It’s super fresh and so delicious!

Swiss Chard.

One of my favourite ways to use chard from the garden is with this recipe from Martha Stewart – One-Pot Chicken and Rice Swiss Chard. Any one-pot meal is a bonus in my books, plus, I love a reason to cook with the dutch oven! This recipe is also excellent for work-lunch leftovers. :)

Pickling Cucumbers.

Pretty self explanatory – we pickled these with fresh dill and garlic; YUM CITY. If you’re into preserving, I highly recommend getting Bernardin’s guide to home preserving – it has everything you need to know about the process, and more!

Basil.

Basil is a perfect topper for so many things (my favourite way to use it is on top of scrambled eggs, with a couple chunks of goat cheese mixed in). It’s also the base of the almighty pesto, which I love using on top of soups, and in grilled cheese sandwiches.

Pine nuts cost a million dollars, so use a nut-free recipe if you want to save a couple bucks.

Pumpkins.

Last weekend I picked a few of the sugar baby pumpkins, roasted them in the oven for just over an hour, and then pureed them. I had about 4 or 5 cups of puree, which I’ve since used in these delicious recipes:

Kale.

Salad: This spicy kale and quinoa black bean salad is actually the best thing – ever. One – it uses a bunch of kale. And Two – I used sriracha as the hot sauce. What’s not to love?! This salad is perfect for sharing – think BBQs and picnics, and the leftovers are just as delicious for lunches and sides for a few days to come. YUM.

Frittata: I’ve recently discovered turkey bacon, and how delicious it is. Pair it with kale in this delicious frittata recipe for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Need to try:  I haven’t tried making this at home yet, but I LOVE the kale caesar salad from 2 Doors Down. I got some applewood smoked bacon from the market last weekend to try it out!

Tomatoes.

We had 8 tomato plants, all of which produced a lot of fruit – and of course, all at the same time. I made a couple different versions of sauce, as well as a fresh tomato soup, more or less following these recipes:

I froze the sauce flat in large ziploc bags – ready to be turned into pasta, pizza sauce, etc.

Corn.

Friends introduced us to this recipe, and if you want to improve your life tenfold, you’ll try this recipe ASAP – if not sooner – because Mexican street corn IS WHERE IT’S AT.

We also made up a HUGE batch of homemade corn relish, which has all been canned and preserved for a wintertime pick-me-up. This is another Bernardin canning favourite.

Blueberries.

We whipped up a canned batch of blueberry jam, and I killed the ol’ peach & blueberry cobbler at every summer gathering possible.  This is a recipe my mom used to make when I was a kid, so she had the inside scoop: you should always double the crumble recipe. Smart woman.

In the Garden.

Turning the garden.
Turning the garden in (very) early Spring.

Our first year with a full-fledged garden has been a lot of fun. Before we bought our house, we would always have patio gardens full of as many veggies as we could handle – things like tomatoes, green beans, peppers, lettuces, etc. The biggest issue we faced in patio gardening was that we really never had enough sun on our deck – so some years the garden would yield quite a bit, and other years, almost nothing at all.

This year, we were lucky enough that the previous owners of our home had already built and used a garden bed for many years. This made getting started relatively easy: we bought some fresh soil, manure, and seaweed, and mixed it all into the existing soil. The bed is fairly large, so once the soil was turned we formed several rows to grow the veggies in – one long one lengthwise at the back of the bed, and then several smaller ones running across (this created paths between all the rows so we can easily walk in the garden for watering, weeding, and so on).

Gardening is always about trial and error – we learn new things every time we plant something, whether it be from seed or from seedling. This year, we plunged right into a whole bunch of veggies, eager to see what would happen with each.

Our 2015 seeds from Halifax Seed.
Our 2015 seeds from Halifax Seed.

From seed, we’re growing:

  • Green beans – blue lake pole
  • Corn – honey & cream
  • Radishes
  • Swiss chard – the regular red variety as well as bright lights
  • Cucumbers – wisconsin (pickling)
  • Carrots – nantes scarlet
  • Lettuces – simpson and prizehead
  • Pumpkins – sugar and Howard Dill’s jack o’lantern

From seedling, we’re growing:

  • Corn – I forget which variety!
  • Kale
  • Peppers – hot and sweet
  • Watermelons
  • Melons – cantaloupe and honey dew
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes – scotia
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Lavender

We obviously jumped the gun and were way too excited about planting our veggie garden, so despite the very late start to spring we had here in Nova Scotia, we still planted the majority of our seeds around the May long weekend. This mostly worked out okay, actually, though we were still covering plants with plastic to protect them from frost until early June, believe it or not.

Here are a few photos to show the progress of the garden, to date. From the time we bought the seeds on April 18 (again – eager beavers over here), to now (July 9), there have been lots of changes!

Hover over the photos for captions – and click on the gallery for (some) larger images.

It’s hard to believe the difference between the July 9th photos and May 27th – wow!

Some key learnings & observations, so far:

  • Reseeding is part of the process. If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to start over (we did this with our beans, lettuce, and a few others)
  • Thinning out is important. We initially had way too many radishes planted way too close together. We ended up weeding out a few of the plants to make room for others to grow bigger. We picked our first crop late June and reseeded for another haul in July
  • Weeds are inevitable, if you’re trying to have a low or chemical-free garden. Our soil is covered in little weeds, as seen in the July 9 photos vs. June 5
  • There will be some things you won’t understand, but don’t give up! Our watermelons look awful, haven’t grown at all, and it looks like the stalks have split. Josh was really looking forward to growing melons, so we’ve added in some honeydew and cantaloupe to make up for the watermelon
  • Some things don’t work as expected. In the past, I’ve found green beans to be one of the easiest things to grow. Josh built this great trellis for them to grow along, but for some reason the plants are barely off the ground. They’ve been very slow, and many of them haven’t broken soil yet, despite having been reseeded. Maybe there’s something wrong with our seeds?
  • Pests can be a problem.
    • We’ve laid down tiny pieces of copper pipe alongside some of the lettuces and plants the slugs were getting into – it seems to be helping; we’ve read they don’t like copper!
    • We’ve also tossed citrus peelings around to deter cats
    • This week we’re dealing with the dreaded aphid – or so we think (pictured below). Josh found tons of little baby aphids inhabiting our cha rd, which we’re currently fighting with a soap solution & water – fingers crossed this works
  • Supports are essential – we’re using a lot of sticks, twine, trellises, and cages to keep plants in place and support them as they grow
  • The corn will soon need to be (manually) pollenated. We’re reading up on how to do this now, but have discovered that since we have only a single row of corn, it will be difficult for the natural pollination process to happen on its own (we’ll need to collect the pollen and add it to the silk ourselves)
Some aphids we discovered on our Swiss chard.
Some aphids we discovered on our Swiss chard.

Needless to say, we’re learning lots and the trials and errors have all been part of a very interesting and rewarding experience. There’s something incredibly relaxing and freeing in gardening, and we are so looking forward to seeing what happens next!