Tuesday, November 11, 2014

End of Season for Duck Dynasty

~ Percy ~ Horatio ~ Tuesday ~ Monday ~
Well, it's time to admit to everyone - we've harvested our darling little ducks. They are waiting for us to pick them up in a friend's freezer after being crated up & taken to the butcher. 

It's hard having 4 boy ducks. The plan was to have some girl ducks so that there would be eggs to eat & they would in turn be the bug, slug & weed eaters of the yard. Interesting how Mother Nature throws a good wrench into the plans.

They lived a good & spoilt life - full of peas & other stolen garden greens & treats. They had lots of admirers stop along the road & talk to the them through the fence. Many times the ducks would run along the perimeter of the fence, trying to keep up with those on the road, just so they could have a few more moments of their attention.

Who knows what next year might bring. More ducks? Maybe just meat birds (a short growing season of only 12 weeks), or maybe some pre-sexed ducklings so that a set number of egg layers is brought in for longer term... who knows what next year might bring...

But Christmas dinner will be rather special this year: brined & smoked duck, slow roasted in the oven with homemade marmalade & homegrown veggies!! That will be a special dinner indeed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Another Mushroom Kind of Day in the Forest

~ sulphur cap ~
 Went for another wander through the forest, as I knew there was an abundant amount of mushrooms still out there. I was hoping to be able to harvest some winter Chanterelles for dinner as I had seen quite a few on my previous walk.

~ sulphur cap ~
There was an over-abundance of sulphur cap mushrooms - growing in colonies all over the place - small ones - huge ones - ones that looked edible until you came right up close - ones that even the slugs wouldn't touch...

~ glow-in-the-dark ~
There were even some glow-in-the-dark mushrooms growing out of a tree branch!! Pretty to look at & admire in the murky shade of the forest...






~ day's harvest of winter Chanterelles ~
Eventually we did manage to start spotting the winter Chanterelles & managed to also find a small bolete (my favorite!).

There was just enough to fry up in a pan with some butter & a dash of salt to make mushroom gravy to go along with the evening's meal of beef & lamb meatloaf.

Hopefully there will be a few left the next time we head out for a hike through the forest. Always remember to bring a paper bag with you because you never know what sort of edible treats you'll find!!

(* note: if you don't know your mushrooms - don't pick them - either bring someone who does, or buy a good field guide & do some research before going out!! *)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Saving Seeds for Next Season

Well, I'm a bit behind in my garden chores as well as my writing. The weather has either been too stormy for gardening, or too pleasant for writing or the internet has slowed to the speed of a glacier, which makes sharing a bit difficult...

So, I shall play 'catch-up' as best I can!

~ runner bean seeds ~
I finally hauled down my runner bean trellis systems (beans still don't like growing on or near plastic piping - new solution required yet again for next year), after they were wind blown & tossed around by some wonderful October storms.

The beans I harvested were ripe with seeds - seeds I want to save for next year's planting.

As you can see, they have amazing colours!! Someone asked me if they might make good additions to their jewelery creations once they dried... I will have to wait & see what they will finally look like once they are dried.

~ runner bean seeds ~
I've never dried my own bean seeds before & hope that my system of just lying them out on a cookie sheet, on top of my freezer, down in the laundry room where it is cool, will work!

I suppose I should go & inspect them now that I think about it! Wonder if there are more beans out there in the garden... just in case...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mushrooms Still Putting on a Show

 Foraging for wild mushrooms is an interesting hobby that many people here on the Coast enjoy. Some are extremely avid about it & devote many (if not all) of their free time during prime season to gathering enough to last through the winter months. Others, such as myself, have a few favorites & will consider themselves lucky to 'stumble' across them when out for walks or hikes through the soggy woods in the Autumn.

Today, I went on such a hike & unfortunately forgot my camera...

These mushrooms are growing in my yard - no doubt a simple 'sulfur cap' - an inedible variety, but pretty to look at. Maybe the ducks know that they can't eat them because there are quite a few growing on the edge of my flower bed!

~ Bolete ~
But today I did manage to stumble upon a Bolete! Last year I found a patch growing just steps from my house & 2 of them were well over 2 pounds each. This year, they did not return to the same area. Today's little morsel was just enough to give me a taste & remind me that I should go out with a bag when taking a walk through the woods... there are still lots of mushrooms out there!! Always research your mushrooms & learn some of the key identifying aspects of what grows in your neighbourhood. I have an excellent book - it's about 3 inches thick, so not really a field guide... But there are about 4 or 5 that I'm confident on identifying & will pick when I see them. I do always verify with my book once I make it back to the house...

I hope to find some more treasures out in the woods the next time I go for a walk!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Garlic Planted - Finally!!

~ garlic bed turned ~
 There was a break in the weather today & as soon as I got home, I knew it was finally the moment for me to plant my garlic! Generally, I've had it planted around the Thanksgiving weekend, but our October weather this year has been wet... very wet... & I didn't relish the idea of digging up an entire bed & turning it into a mud puddle.

So, with the waning hours of the afternoon, I grabbed my pitchfork & dug up the bed. This year I grew potatoes in here, so I knew there would be some soil amending required as garlic enjoys rich soil. Thankfully I remembered to buy bone meal & my composter is full of rich home made compost just waiting to be applied!
~ garlic I grew last year! ~
 I had a very successful harvest this past summer & have more garlic for the winter than I'm sure I know what to do with!

Pick the largest cloves & don't bother to peel them.

An interesting twist on garlic is that it is capable of evolving it's flavour based on the growing conditions. I started with Salt Spring Island garlic (healthy & solid history of growing very well) & so this year, I'm planting my own version of this variety - I'm sure that what I harvested this summer is slightly different than the original. Each year you plant your own variety of garlic that you've grown in your own soil, with your own amendments & seasonal changes, you'll find slight changes in flavour. If you really like the flavour of the original variety - than you should make sure to go & find a reliable source & continue planting someone else's variety. I'm looking forward to developing my own special brand of  'Bamfield garlic' & I think it might take a couple more growing seasons before we are able to notice a difference... if you are that picky about your garlic of course...
~ plant it deep ~

I made sure to dig deep down - you don't want your garlic freezing during the winter & I have the feeling that this winter, we will have a very cold one!! I sprinkled in a heavy amount of bone meal & planted the bulbs a little bit closer together than I did last year - maybe only 2 or 3 inches apart - but staggered.
~ top dress with compost ~
I applied a couple bucket fulls of compost to the top of the bed & over the next couple weeks I will bring a bucket down with me to harvest kelp that I find drifting in the harbour when commuting to & fro to work. All the beds could do with a top dressing of kelp this year!

Percy supervised the entire procedure & even jumped up in the bed to investigate the freshly turned soil for insects...

~ cover to protect soil ~
At the end of the day I threw a plastic cover over top as I knew it was going to rain quite heavily over the next week & I really didn't want all that fresh compost to be washed down & away too soon. With the cold weather predicted, I just might leave the plastic lying down until late in January & then once the early spring sun returned, I'll prop it up on the garden hoops...

I'll also throw in a couple buckets of duck house litter to add to the soil.

All this talk about home grown garlic has me craving roasted garlic for dinner tonight!!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Green Thumb vs Green Fingers

 I'm doing a bit of reading this week while away from the gardens & came across this short piece that I thought I'd share with you.

"A person with a 'green thumb' of course has a natural talent for gardening. However, the origin of the phrase is hard to pin down.

In Britain, the idiom for such a person was one with 'green fingers'. Some believe the name originated with King Edward I, who had a great passion for gardening. According to legend, the king enjoyed fresh green peas so much that he engaged several serfs to keep him supplied. The serf who had the 'greenest fingers' from many hours of shelling was always given a prize.

In the United States, the phrase 'green thumb' seems to date to colonial times, when tobacco provided a major cash crop for early Americans. Farmers handpicked the flowers from the crops to increase the size & weight of tobacco, using their thumbnails to simply cut the stem, which after some time could turn their thumbs green."
 (found in my current reading material: The World's Most Fascinating Flora - the Big, Bad Book of Botany by Michael Largo)

Thought I would share that with you - in case you've ever stumbled across either or expression. I'm going to delve more into this book to see if there are other interesting tidbits or facts - gardening related or otherwise...

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Sweet & Sour Kind of Day

~ lavender honey in the works ~
Today is a dark & stormy day out on the coast. Some of us are calling this the first 'winter' storm. Huge amounts of rain & ferocious winds which mean it is a day for indoor projects!

My first winter project was to make a batch of flavoured honey... I made a citrus honey last year that was extremely interesting in flavour - mostly because it fermented, I believe, due to the extra added liquids from the lemon & limes. This year I wanted some more lavender honey.

So simple to make! I had just finished drying my last harvest of lavender & put about 1 cup of whole blossoms into a large jar - covered it with honey & then gently warmed it all in the microwave. Stir it around & let it steep for a few days or a few weeks (depends on how intense you want your flavours) & there you go - flavoured honey!

I usually strain out the herbs by gently reheating it & pouring it through a strainer into a clean jar, but with honey - that gets really sticky very quickly. I might scoop out the herbs (as they will float to the top of the jar) & use this thick, gooey mix as a coating for on top of roasted salmon or chicken. The rest will be used in teas & other recipes throughout the winter. Honey is a great item to have in your pantry - super healthy!! I tend to go for the unpasteurized varieties which still contain a little bit of the 'extra goodness' from the bees & pollen.
~ sage apple cider vinegar ~
Next on my list was to strain out & rebottle my herbal cider vinegar. Earlier this spring I had made up a large batch of marjoram vinegar & that one went very well with my brines & marinades.

At this time of year, the marjoram had already been harvested for drying for use during the winter, so I pruned back my large sage shrub & brewed up a batch of sage vinegar.

Try marinading your chicken breasts for about 20 minutes a side in a dish with some cider vinegar. Then bake or bbq it as you normally would. There is an extra sweetness to the chicken & the meat is super-juicy!

My favourite is to brine a whole bird overnight in a mix of salt, water & cider vinegar, rinse off the next morning & let sit in the fridge til it's time to roast it. Amazing flavour!

~ fruit vinegars ~
I also have a couple batches of fruit vinegars that I like to sell to the local foodies at the beginning of the holiday season.

The first is a fresh raspberry white wine vinegar - since this year was such a great berry year, I added extra raspberries to the jar & the result is an intense raspberry flavour. I like to strain the vinegars many times through cheese cloth so that the end product is clear with as little sediment as possible. I might do one more strain before rebottling in time for the Craft Sale at the end of November.

The other fruit vinegar is a deep fruity-herbal blend of salal & rosemary with red wine vinegar. Every year it is different, depending on the amounts of salal juice & fresh chopped rosemary I put in the jar. Some years I'll add a touch of balsamic vinegar or maybe even a 'secret spice' to mix up the flavours. This is a great vinegar to have for salad dressings - add a bit of dark fruit jam, grapeseed oil, Keene's dry mustard, salt & this vinegar... voila! You'll never go back to store bought salad dressings again!

Now the house smells a bit tangy from working with my vinegars, but I'm going to sit in front of the fire with a cup of tea & a spoonful of lavender honey! Perfect way to spend a quiet Thanksgiving Day out on the stormy west coast...