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 : 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?

Friday, July 04, 2014

Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, BC

My absence of posts from my garden are in no way reflective of lack of activity there, since I've been spending a lot of time weeding and pruning and hauling away wheelbarrows of plant material every week.  But I guess I've been getting lazy with not carrying the camera with me into the yard.

Today I went with my 13 year old to Queen Elizabeth Park, and was also too lazy to carry my camera, mainly since I knew I had my mobile phone camera anyhow.  I ended up taking a number of photos, because there was just so much beauty there.  I hope I convey some of it with my sample of photos here.

The beautiful dome roof of the Bloedel Conservatory, which apparently was built in 1969, is under repairs (although the conservatory remains open for visitors), so in the meantime there is this funny tent-like scaffolding rising high above the dome.

As you may have noticed, the Gunnera manicata (which as a kid I used to think was a giant rhubarb!) is featured in many of my photos.  This plant is the highlight of the park, in my opinion, and is now also a much-loved plant in my garden, too.

Another much-loved plant in my yard, the Davidii involucrata (dove or handkerchief) tree, was also inspired by the grand old tree at Queen Elizabeth Park.  Mine is still years away from blooming, but the QE tree not only blooms but is full of fruits/nuts at this time of year.  The gardeners had removed a branch, and I pinched off this piece, which shows the beautifully textured leaves and the nuts.  (If you follow my ceramics blog, you'll soon see some pieces which were inspired and created from the Davidii leaves.  The first one is #28 of this set, and I have two more pieces in progress.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hey You!

Oh, hello there!  What are you doing there, on the edge of a commercial parking lot?

Who me?  Just hanging out, lookin' pretty!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Liriodendron Tree

I walked to the nearby playground with my kids this evening, and while I was sitting on one of the playground rides / structures, I noticed the beautiful lobed leaves of a large tree next to the playground, and then was surprised to see yellow flowers, too.  The flower reminded me of a magnolia, but the leaves were very different than what I'd expect from a magnolia.

Looking it up this evening, it seems to be a Liriodendron, and it seems the Liriodendron tulipifera (although with all the inconsistent information, I couldn't be absolutely certain it's not the Liriodendron chinense), and it is in the Magnolia family.  What a beautiful tree.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Maple Bonsai

A few years ago I spent some time looking at photos of bonsai trees, and being quite inspired.  I think at that time I had already noticed a small red maple seedling in my front garden.  I had hoped it was an offspring of my red Japanese maple, but it didn't have the same leaves.  However, it did look like it had a weeping form, rather than an upright one.  Anyhow, about that time, I actually searched for and bought a bonsai pot, for when I was ready to try my hand at it.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally dug up that small maple, which has grown in the past few years, but has a really beautiful shape, even without manipulating it.  Here it is, after planting it up.  It is a deep red color, not glowing, as the photo would indicate, since it was taken in the evening with artificial lights on it.
I have not tried to manipulate it any further, yet.  At this point, I have it in a sheltered location in my garden, and am monitoring that it stays well watered, and will settle into its little pot.  Once it safely settles in, I will take another good look at the shape of it, and what I would like to alter.  But I already like it quite a lot.

We had the privilege to visit China in March, and I got a few photos of the bonsai collection in the "Humble Administrator's Garden" in Suzhou (near Shanghai):

Here are a couple more photos from the garden, which was quite peaceful, even though there were lots of people everywhere, even on a rainy day :

One these days, I'll sort out some technical difficulties, and post more photos from China.  We had a wonderful trip, visiting Beijing, Xi'an, Qingdao, and Shanghai (including nearby Suzhou and Wuzhen).
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