Monday, November 24, 2014

Sunflower Seed Color Variation

My mom gave me some sunflower plants earlier in the year, and the ones I planted outside my kitchen window, on the South side of the house, did quite well.  I got three large flowers, and amazingly, this is the first year the squirrel didn't completely strip the seeds while they were still white.  So I just picked them about a week or so ago, since we had some frosty nights already in Vancouver.

Here are the flowers :
Sunflower dried seedheads with sunflower seeds

I found it very amusing that the color of the seeds from each of the flowers was very distinctive.  The one almost reddish, the second one very pale, and the other with the more characteristic black and white markings (except a bit pale since they were not fully developed) :
Dried sunflower seeds harvested from the garden showing color variation
I would think my Mom got all the seeds from the same source, so I was amused to find such variation.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Beautiful and Deadly Amanita Muscaria Mushrooms

I was delighted to discover a large number of Amanita muscaria mushrooms (the classic fairytale "toadstool") growing in the small islands in the parking lot at work, when I went for a walk today at lunchtime.  They are so incredibly photogenic, so I took a lot of photos.






What do you think?  Aren't they delightful?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

After Hallowe'en...

My 15-year-old gave our pumpkin two faces this year.  One was a happy one, greeting the children as they arrived at our door.  The other, knowing his fate after Hallowe'en.  But his sacrifice will make some yummy pumpkin seeds, and many pumpkin loaves.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

I had the pleasure to host a Thanksgiving dinner at my house last night.  In the morning, I went out in the garden, and found some flowers to display in a pumpkin vase :
Floral arrangement in a pumpkin vase, with autumn flowers such as sedum "autumn joy" and dahlias.

I got 5 1/2 cups of cooked pumpkin from cutting up the lid, and a light scraping of the insides.  So today I baked 6 pumpkin loaves :
Pumpkin loaves, and my floral arrangement in a pumpkin, for Thanksgiving.

The house smelled delicious.  I love the pumpkin spices.  Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians!

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Last of the Espalier Apples

I thought I took a photo of the last basket of apples I picked from the espalier apple tree, about a week ago now.  They were more ripe than when I picked the previous basket, since the seeds inside are now brown, not white.  However, they are still a bit more tart than I like.  Fortunately, I discovered that if I slice and dry them, the dried apple slices turn out sweeter, and quite delicious.  So my counter has been full of apple slices, air drying, every since :
As they shrink and we keep eating the dried ones, I keep adding more.  Perhaps I should have spent the time to dry them in the oven on low heat, but since I haven't been in a rush, this method has been working for us.  I think this is now the last of my fruit, other than a few more Autumn Gold raspberries, which will probably be turning moldy now that the weather has turned to light rain.  I will miss this steady harvest coming from the garden this past month or two.

After I visited my Mom Wednesday, and saw her sunflower buds, I came home and noticed that one of mine was already in flower.  I had not noticed from the kitchen window, since the flower was facing in the other direction.  I should have taken a photo then, so I didn't need to step out into the rain this morning, to take a photo for the benefit of (bragging to) my Mom.  The two taller ones on the left of the photo are also in bud :
Another one is much shorter, but has a large bud also:
I have a fall crocus (which I didn't intentionally plant originally, but it has been popping up for a number of years now).  It looked better before the rain hit it :
My dahlias weren't impressive this year.  Again, they got off too a slow start due to slugs, and perhaps are a big crowded out now with my other plants.  My banana did re-grow since it was cut down, but didn't get very big.  But at least I was able to create some ceramic leaf platters from it :

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What's Up with the Canning?

Anyone who has read my blog recently will know that I have been doing a LOT of canning this season.  Several batches of grape and apple juice, and a number of batches of mint syrup.  On the weekend, a good friend of mine wanted to make antipasto with me, so we spent the evening together, making a big batch of antipasto, both vegetarian as well as with tuna.

Today was a beautiful sunny September day, and I had the kids (who are still waiting for the teachers strike in BC to be resolved, so they can go to high school!!) help me pick a very large basket of mint, which I brewed into a mint infusion this afternoon (wow, the whole house smells amazing!), and then I made a huge batch of mint syrup tonight :
Jars of homemade mint syrup.
I also have about 6 liters (6 quarts) of mint infusion remaining, but I need to buy more sugar and find more jars before I will be able to process it.

I laugh to myself that I am doing more canning than cooking lately.  Tonight my 13 year old ate before soccer practice, but the 15 year old and I were rushing from shopping and errands, and ate while he was at practice.  This is my "caterpillar roll" which actually looks like a caterpillar!  With food this creative, tasty, and affordable ($7 for the roll, which was pretty much dinner), why would I want to cook?  I need to save my energy for the canning.  :-)
Caterpillar roll sushi roll.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Harvest of Apples and Grapes Continues

For someone who doesn't even cook dinners more than once or twice per week, I have been doing a LOT of home canning lately.  First was the apple juice from the "mystery" apple tree.  Then a few batches of mint syrup from the chocolate mint in my garden.  Then I did that batch of grape juice from the grapes I needed to pick a bit prematurely last week.  Funny how such green grapes can turn into such pink juice:
Anyhow, today I picked some of the apples from the espalier tree, mostly to thin the top-most apples, since I have been a bit neglectful recently, and to pick the bottom-most apples which are ripe.  I also picked some of the asian pears, to lighten up the branches.  This is what I brought in today, and I have much more on the two espalier trees :
Since some of the apple (top-most ones) were too tart, I decided to make juice from some of the apples, and from some of the grapes left over from last week which we didn't end up eating.   (I picked some grapes today, and they were much sweeter and easier to eat.)  I ended up with a large juice jar, and small individual size juice jar.  The apple-grape blend is particularly tasty but ends up pretty drinkable, without adding much water (although quite a bit of sugar).

The bottom-most apple was ripe, but many of them appeared to be bruised, even though I know they didn't fall.  That must be some sort of disease, which shows up as brown spots inside the apple.  I don't remember it last year.  Does anyone recognize this condition?
Anyhow, I still have more fruit coming, in addition to the apples and asian pears.  The italian plums produced a very light crop this year, not a heavy one like last year, but when I sampled one today, it was sweet.  I would have asked my husband to help climb a ladder to pick them today, but we'll be mostly away the next couple of days, so won't likely have a chance to eat them.  Better we wait and pick and eat them fresh.

The fall gold raspberries are absolutely amazing, with large and sweet fruit.  I ate quite a few handfuls today, when I was out cleaning up the garden.  I put in about 3 hours today, and had my 13 year old join me also, and managed to haul out 8 wheelbarrows of weeds and cuttings!!  Mostly blackberry vines and morning glory vines, which were quite out of control this year.  The few areas I tackled look MUCH better now.

On a totally unrelated topic, I stumbled upon these adorable bear-hugging-a-nut cookies at this site, and had to share them.  Wouldn't that be awesome for a kids' party (except for a nut-free one!) ? :

Monday, August 25, 2014

Premature Portion of the Grape Harvest

I have a crew coming tomorrow to repaint the white trim on my house and my shed, so tonight my son and I cut down the grape vines which were climbing through the railings of the shed.  The grapes probably need a few more weeks to be fully ripe, but I decided to harvest this section early, and at least I can make juice from them, it will just need a bit more sugar added.

We were out for dinner and visiting my parents briefly, so only had half an hour before it became dark, so we had to work quickly.  By the end, the mosquitoes were already biting.  But I was amazed at how many grapes we harvested.  The basket I usually pick into, was full and spilling over, and this is only about half of the grapes!  I look forward to harvesting the remainder when they are riper.
One of the varieties is softer and sweeter, and almost pleasant to eat.  The other one is only good for juice, in my opinion.  But I've been impressed by the vigour of the vines, and the good crops over the years.

Looking back in my blog, I've been too lazy to posting my grape harvest photos consistently (although I'm sure I take photos of them every year), but here is the grape harvest in 2009, and the grape harvest in 2011.  The grapes are definitely plumper in those photos, but there were MUCH more of them this year.  Yay!  I must be doing something right.

Oh, and the Fall Gold raspberries are bearing their second crop now.  This is the crop where they are super large and juicy.  Yummy.  I didn't have time to pick them tonight, it was too late when I was finished with the grapes.  I also needed to come inside to finish making the mint syrup I had started a couple of nights ago.  I finished three batches.  This is two of them :
The syrup "recipe" is extremely simple.  One part mint leaves and stems, cut into sections (with the flowers removed), to two parts water.  Bring to a boil, turn off, and let steep for about 10 minutes.  Mmmm, the house smells absolutely wonderful at this point.  Remove/strain out the mint, and you have a very strong mint infusion (tea).  Then mix one part infusion with one part sugar, and bring to a rolling boil.  At that point, the frothy water will become clear and dark, and the bubbles, if any, will disappear.  Add a few drops of green food coloring, to your preference.   Then I keep this syrup at or near boiling temperature while I boil jars and lids, and then scoop / pour the syrup into jars.  One day I should buy some nice jars, so I can be proud to give them away to friends.  I save so many, I haven't needed to buy any.

The mint syrup is wonderful on ice cream, in milk, in steamed milk, in hot chocolate...  Or this summer, I tried making mojitos with it.  Yumm.  One part lime (or lemon) juice (I use the "Realimon/Realemon" stuff, and it works fine), about 2 parts mint syrup (or to taste), and maybe 5 parts cold water.  Very refreshing for summer.  Rum optional.  I don't like rum.

Tomorrow night I will run the grapes through the juicer.  I love this time of year, even though it can be quite busy, making the best of the harvest.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Mystery Apple" Harvest

While we were away last week, my mom emailed me that apples were falling off my "mystery apple" tree at the back, and she picked up a few and made some applesauce with them.  So today, after recovering from my cold, and waiting for the rain (yay - that was welcomed after such a stretch of dry weather) to stop, I went out, and sure enough, there were quite a few apples on the ground.  So I picked those up, and picked any in the tree I could reach or pull into reach.  This was the best harvest yet from my "mystery" apple tree (when I bought it, it was unlabelled, so I'm not really sure what variety it is) :
Apple harvest.
Unfortunately, since my fruit trees are 100% organic and untreated, they are a bit scrappy :
...so I decided to make apple juice.  After 2 hours in the juicer, and a bit of sugar, I had a couple of liters of fresh apple juice in the fridge :
Fresh made apple juice.
...and from the mushy apples left behind in the juicer, I pressed those through a sieve, and got a similar quantity of applesauce :
All that's left of the apple harvest is one apple who looked too nice to juice, so will be eaten raw :
Organic apple from my garden, unknown variety.
I still have lots of apples and asian pears coming on my espalier trees.  I look forward to harvesting those soon, too.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Peach Harvest

When we planted our little Frost Peach tree a few years ago (in 2010), we didn't know how much fruit, if any, to expect.  I don't think I've ever had more than one to taste, and when I did, I picked it a bit early, so the squirrels wouldn't get to it first.  This year, the tree produced nine peaches!  Here is 7 of them:
I picked one earlier today, to sample it.  Wow!  It was really amazing, and I don't usually even like peaches, I prefer nectarines.  Very sweet and just juicy enough.  It separated nicely from the pit, as I like them.  Here are a few photos of that sample :
I'm really impressed.  The tree is still young, and very small.  It really doesn't look like it could bear so much fruit successfully :
I took photos of the peaches before picking them, since they look so beautiful on the tree:

Ha ha, this one is hiding next to our Black Veil Brides / Blood on the Dance Floor themed bird house.  That is a painting of Andy Biersack from BVB :

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Japanese Plum Harvest

Considering we bought our Japanese plum (Methley) tree only three years ago, it provided a good harvest this year.  Yesterday, I noticed the plums started disappearing (squirrels!), and falling (squirrels?) to the ground, so I picked most of them, leaving only a half dozen which were not fully ripe (which were already gone today - squirrels!).  Here is my harvest :
As the description promised, the plums have "dark red juicy flesh" with "mild and sweet flavour" and it is an "attractive and vigorous tree".  It is a truly beautiful tree, and I think I've done a reasonable job of pruning it so far, so it is growing in nicely.

Since the forecast yesterday was for rain, we had postponed our big BBQ for the following week, and then it didn't end up raining at all, so I spent a few good solid hours in the garden.  One of my projects was to fight through a solid mat of ornamental grass, which is growing all around my red Japanese maple, so that I can get to a nasty blackberry vine which is growing up from under the tree, and pushing through it for the last few years.  After more than an hour of chopping through the grass, I had cleared a path which is close to the blackberry, but removing it, and the grass directly under the tree, will be a job for another day.  The path I cleared was more than one wheelbarrow's worth :


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Japanese Plum

We bought a Japanese Plum tree only a couple of years ago, and it is doing very well.  This time, we dug an extra large hole to plant into.  Last year I got one plum, to sample, which was a nice surprise.  This year, it is fairly loaded with fruits, although many of them look scarred, so I don't know if that is some insect damage, or ...?  Anyhow, today I thought one of the plums looked dark enough to sample.  When polished, it looked like this:
The flesh is VERY red, mild (I'd prefer it a bit more punchy) but sweet, and the fruit clings to the stone, so the best way to eat these little sweeties will be to pop them into your mouth, then spit back the stone.  This little tree was definitely a good investment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Frog for My Garden

We went camping in Osoyoos BC (a few hundred miles from here, the home of Canada's only desert) on the weekend.  One of my friends caught me this frog in the campsite, and I decided to bring him home for my garden.  It is much more moist here and I have lots of bugs, so I hope he'll be happy and stay here for the remainder of the year :
I set out a ceramic cylinder, although maybe it is too small for him to hide in (see my ceramics blog for more of my creations), and a couple of bowls of water, in case he wants to sit in them (frogs don't drink, they absorb moisture and oxygen through their skin).  This is the last I saw of him last night, but I hope I will see him again many times :

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Banana Tree Devastation

This picture will look odd, it is taken from above, and shows 4 young banana shoots / trees, savagely chewed / broken off near the soil level.  Who or what does this kind of thing?
Last week, in preparation for ceramics, I went out on Tuesday evening to look at what leaves would be useful, and then when I went out to cut some the next morning, my largest banana shoot was chewed / cut down near the base of the stalk.  Now, a week later, all 4 shoots have suffered the same fate.  But the leaves don't even look chewed, and only enough of the stalk to destroy the plant.  What kind of creature would wreak such apparently senseless havoc?  It couldn't be this masked bandit which makes himself at home in my yard, could it?  He looks so sweet....
...doesn't he?
 What do I need to do, to protect my dear bananas from this fate, if they ever re-sprout?  Perhaps a roll of chicken wire around the whole set of them?  Or do I spray them with hot pepper, and give this garden visitor a hot mouthful?  Has anyone had a similar situation, and what did you do?
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