May flowers

March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers.   English proverb 1886


It has always been difficult to plan activities based on the weather forecasts, here in Canada. Even old English proverbs only serve to remind us of the conditions to expect and then Mother nature will give us a show. And if you read about the history of this proverb, there could also be hail, sleet and snow.

The nice thing about Spring is the time frame. All bursts of weather are short-lived, but the general trend is warming. If you have a blanket of snow in May, it will be melted away in no time. Then to counteract that, as we saw this year, a super warm Easter in March. Patio furniture was out, BBQ’s were fired up and the clothing of winter dropped away. There were even a number of sunburns walking around town.

The only thing to do is take advantage of the place you find yourself. Rain jackets and umbrella’s, a sweater, a warm coat and warm boots are just some of the choices. On the other hand, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and sun screen are not to be forgotten as the sun shines more seriously.

But for now, it is still Spring. I like to dash out into the sun when she shines and catch a few of her rays whenever I can. Even if it is just for a 15 minute walk, read the newspaper or just sit and relax. Last evening I did just that and here are a few of the images from my journey through the yard.

Artichoke, (actually a flower)

Artichoke, (actually a flower)

Chives....almost a weed

Chives….almost a weed

Thyme - couldn't live without it

Thyme – couldn’t live without it

Pansies - the most reliable beauty in the garden

Pansies – the most reliable beauty in the garden

White Lilac, (her scent is fantastic, too bad I have a cold right now, too hopped up on medication to smell anything)

White Lilac, (her scent is fantastic, too bad I have a cold right now, too hopped up on medication to smell anything)

Buttercup, (don't be fooled by her - invasive weed that she is - parading around my backyard like a tramp)

Buttercup, (don’t be fooled by her – invasive weed that she is – parading around my backyard like a tramp)

Summer will come

You can feel it in the air. There has been a shift in the overall temperature. No more teasing now.

Unlike the rest of North America, we have had a long steady winter. Lots of snow in the mountains, cold and damp up until a week ago. We really were beginning to feel this winter may never end.

And then there is that one day, when the scale tips. No matter how many days ahead will not be “nice”, the trend is sliding towards favourable conditions and I like it.

Last night I spent a good 30 minutes watering in my greenhouse where a bunch of different herbs and veggies are in various stages of growth. I like to watch the water seep down around the plants and smell the oils from the leaves of each one. I imagine the new and vigorous growth to come. And eventually the tasty harvest.

“Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”   ~Winnie the Pooh

Time to think, (and keep thinking), is one of the things I like about summer and having a garden. There is a good amount of time spent weeding and watering and thinking. I think these kinds of activities are what our modern brains need. Easy mechanical tasks that allow your muscles to develop and your brain to wander over and work on more significant thoughts.

And summer is when you truly can stop and smell the roses, for that is when they come into bloom. Or notice the other types of flowers as they have their days in the sun.

This sea of cherry blossoms lasted for only a couple of days before they faded and then turned brown. If you don’t sop and notice, you just miss these great sights.

Winter apples

A few people have commented to me this fall/winter season – “you have apples left on your tree”. And I would feel guilty. I had gone to all that effort to water them, weed around the tree and pick most of them at perfectly ripe. But somehow that last bunch was left on the tree after my enthusiasm for gardening fades in the fall.

It happens every year. I start off the Spring roaring and ready to go. I have long lists of tasks and planting schedules. It is going to be the best season ever. And as the weeds begin to get the better of me, and the watering becomes drudgery, I am doing well just to harvest. So the apples outside my bedroom window were mocking my lack of enthusiasm for the last of the harvest, general clean up and the final weeding.

About 2 weeks ago, I asked my husband, do birds eat apples? My thinking was that some good would come from them. He wasn’t sure. Then a week ago, a flock of robins on migration stopped through my yard. It was really cold and they were really fluffed up and they were taking refuge in my apple tree and eating away at the apples. And then a few days later, a squirrel was darting through the yard and turned to face me with a mouth full of apple before it launched up onto our roof.

So now I can say that I am leaving a bunch of apples on my tree for the wildlife. I never would have imagined that I would have a tree that could produce enough apples for me, let alone leaving some out.

Listening to buds and bugs

I was standing in line at a grocery store the other day and in the midst of the clutter of tabloids and diet magazines stood a lone publication called, “Hobby Farm Home – True Country Living“. On the cover was a fantastic shot of pesto crostini. It was so lonely looking, the magazine. Slightly askew and completely out of its element. I grabbed it, just to be polite.

Later that night, when I was reading before bed, I got a chance to be alone with my new magazine. I knew it was going to be good when I was not even through 5 pages and already there were too many articles and tidbits to count that I would have to come back and re-examine. I love it when that happens.

But the most interesting part of this issue was learning about a field of study called phenology. Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and inter annual variations in climate. In other words plants and animals react to the seasonal weather by instinct, not by watching a calendar. We humans have lost this skill over time.

We have not all lost interest in this subject. Over the pond at the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in London, their phenological work spans 200 years. It is now a well documented fact from the work at KRBG, that the growing season over the last 50 to 60 years is a full 2 weeks longer.

That may not seem like a big deal, but to our farming ancestors it would have been critical to know when to plant and how long to leave the crop on the field, to yield the best harvest.

Today, it is possible, all over the world for ordinary people to become “citizen scientists” and help record what is happening to our natural environment.

My thoughts went immediately to my Daughter and Father-In-Law who are very interested in things like this already. A great way to teach a child stewardship and the joy of volunteering.

In Canada – Plant Watch for more information and to check in with the activities in your province.

In the USA – National Phenology Network

In the UK – Nature’s Calendar

New carpet

As the fall season sets in and Thanksgiving is almost upon us, we are starting to get all the warm and cozy comforts into place at our house. Changing the drapes, pillow shams and carpets are just a few of the things that herald in the season when we spend a good deal of time inside.

Over the years, and the various places we have lived, there has been quite an effort to remove all the carpets. So now it seems a bit strange to be adding them back.

Usually we have small rugs in the middle of the room that are easy care, low pile, decorations for the floor, really. But not today. We purchased a huge, deep pile, polypropylene, piece of softness.

As I spread out my new rug and was giving it a first vacuum, it occurred to me that what I had put down what we used to call “shag” carpet in the ’70’s. The stuff my Grandma used to “rake” to have the nap all going in one direction. This is the despised carpet of many home renovation projects, and may have been pulled out in one of the places we have worked on.

But I don’t care about all that. As we sit here in the living room tonight with our socks off, digging our toes into the nice soft, pile of the new rug, life is good. (Now all we need are some La-Z-Boy® recliners and we are officially middle-aged.)

It is the simple stuff that is truly best.

When life gives you a great cookbook

Sometimes you have a great new cookbook that is calling out to you – “try me, try me“, but a variety of problems conspire against you. You don’t have enough time, ingredients are too hard to find, recipes are too complicated, etc, etc. But today, the food gods were shining on me, even if the sun clearly was not.

The forecast promised rain, and the lovely West Coast did not disappoint, but we had some amazing fog first. This kind of day is the best kind for cooking. So I busted out my new book, “Seasons” by Donna Hay. I have gone past this book in the store too many times to count. I finally made the investment last week and had to walk

by the book each day at my house without having the time to dive in. Finally today, the stars aligned.

The “Coconut bread” with “Grapefruit jam” was up first. Really good bread, actually more like a cake in a loaf pan, but really nice. The jam recipe needs some work, my grapefruits must have much thicker skins that the Aussie varieties.

I taught my daughter the secrets of yeast with “Garlic pizza”. This is amazing and everyone liked it. I think you have to go the extra mile and make real crust like we did today. The toppings for this one are:

  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • shaved parmesan
  • 40 sage leaves
  • sea salt

All afternoon I was soaking porcini mushrooms in olive oil for the “Cauliflower soup”. This was not as good as my standby recipe:

  • 1 head cauliflower broken into florets
  • 1 onion cut into big chunks
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and diced into small chunks
  • 900 ml stock

Roast in 400 degrees F, cauliflower and onion tossed with olive oil and S&P until browned. Slide into a pot with potatoes and stock. Simmer until tender and puree.

All in all a great day. Finished reading a book in the morning, listening to an audio book while cooking and the back of a wool sweater tank is completed. In reading the instructions for the front, realized that I forgot some decreases on the back. So will have to quickly do the front with the same mistake!

Finally Spring in time for Summer

It has been a nice long winter. Skiers have had a great time. The grizzly bears at the top of Grouse Mountain are just coming out of their dens and being welcomed by 10′ of snow. But we are in Canada, and we don’t like to complain. With the official start of summer fun set to begin next week with the May long weekend, the cold weather holding on is getting tired.

We kick off the summer with a holiday on a Monday that is meant to be a celebration of the Queen’s birthday. It is not a sombre event, mind you. If the Queen meant us to also fondly refer to this as the May 24, (in reference to 24 beer – per day or for the whole weekend is optional), then we are all on the same page.

So here are a few pics and commentary of life around my garden. It is a bit unusual not to have strawberries already. I love nothing more than to send taunting pictures to my family in Alberta and brag – but not this year!

Chives seem to do well anywhere. I have 5 clumps and that seems a bit much. I just don’t have the heart to dig some of them out and cart away like a weed. I have found a recipe for chive pesto with potatoes. That will be on the table tonight!

Chive pesto

Pack one half cup each of chives and parsley. Add to food processor with 2T nuts and 1 clove garlic. Pulse and with the motor running on low, drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and mix in 2t lemon juice and 2T water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Here is the state of my poor little strawberries! At least a month away from ripe fruit. And that supposes good weather from this moment on, which is not what the forecast says.

This little guy doesn’t know his place. It is most certainly not to be in the middle of the path like this. I worried about raspberry plants in the beginning. I carefully

tended the plants that were given to me by my mother in law. The reason she was giving them away was, as I now know, they are like weeds! You have to be ruthless to try keeping them in line.

And here she is – my cherry tree. For all her glory, I just wish bore fruit! Alas she is only an ornamental. Once the pink blossoms cover the ground like snow, she only gives us shade all summer long.