Category Archives: Vegetables

Our First Potato Harvest

This year we decided to give homegrown potatoes a try. We purchased a couple of assorted seed potatoes from West Coast Seeds, along with a few potato bags to grow them in. I have to say that everything worked out really well!

IMG_1762

Growing the potatoes was very easy. The seed potatoes we purchased were a tri-colour mix of yellow, red and purple, so we planted one of each colour in each potato bag. The neat thing about planting the tri-colour mix is that we could tell which plant was which by the colour of the stalks. The purple potato plant had a deep purple stalk, while the red one had slight red streaks to it. The yellow potato plant had a basic green stalk, but it was easy to spot when compared to the other two.

IMG_1463

The plants grew very well in the growing bags, and eventually we had tiny purple flowers on top of all three types. We even grew a few potato fruits, which look like tiny green tomatoes! However, beware, because potato fruits are actually poisonous so make sure to pick them and throw them away (especially if you have little kids around who might be tempted to pick them, or mistake them for a tomato).

IMG_1461

Since we only grew a small amount we planned to eat them fresh, instead of storing them long-term. After the flowers died off and the plant stalks started to wither, the potatoes were ready to harvest. Voila!

IMG_1770

It was immensely satisfying cutting through these crisp, fresh potatoes with a sharp knife. It felt like cutting butter, or a soft piece of fruit. Once cooked, they were deliciously creamy too!

IMG_1775

I will definitely grow more potatoes in the future again. Next year I think I would plant less in each bag, but gardening is always about experimenting and it’s tough when you’re dealing with limited space on a balcony. If I owned a piece of land, I’d devote a nice big square to them. 🙂

Pumpkin Pollination Woes

Last summer, after devouring Lorraine Johnson’s book City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, I felt inspired to try vegetable container gardening myself. Johnson’s book was filled with countless examples of creative gardeners maximizing their tiny window boxes, back stoops, and unused garden nooks with tomato plants, peppers, creeping snow peas, runner beans and herbs. For a two bedroom apartment in Vancouver, our balcony is actually quite large. We’d already had success with tomato, basil and herbs in previous summers. Why not bump up the food crops on our patio instead of spending a small fortune on pretty, but temporary, summer flowers?

Soon enough I was flipping through the pages of the West Coast Seed catalogue like a little kid in a candy store. As a beginner, I followed the advice of City Farmer and stuck to easy-to-grow varieties like snow peas, Swiss chard and lettuce, but some of the more ambitious seeds also caught my eye. Why not try Brussel sprouts, broccoli and pumpkins too! Since Halloween is my favourite holiday, the idea of growing my own pumpkin sounded too good to resist. I decided to order some Little October seeds since they matured in the shortest amount of days (85) and I liked the smooth skin and perfectly round shape. By the time I actually planted the seeds it was the last week of July. Technically I still had 85 days until October 31st, but technically clearly isn’t everything.

If you’ve visited my blog before then I’m sure you’ll remember my pumpkin fiasco from last year. I did grow some pumpkins last year… just itty bitty little tiny ones! After having such a hilarious failure last year, I knew I’d have to give it another try. This year Operation Pumpkin Patch started earlier… way earlier. It’s now the end of July and I’ve been growing the pumpkin plant for nearly three months now. I wish I could say that it’s been smooth sailing the second time around, but that’s definitely not the case.

Apparently, pumpkin pollination is tricky business. The pumpkin plant itself – coated with rough spikes on the leaves and stalks, and bursting with creeping curlicue tendrils from every leaf joint – has both male and female flowers. Not surprisingly, the female flowers need to be pollinated by the pollen from the male flowers. The surprising part is that the pumpkin blossoms remain open for just one day, and the best way to insure success is to hand pollinate the plants directly using a small, dry paintbrush. If pollination is left only to the bees, it might not happen if a bee doesn’t buzz around your plant on that one fleeting day.

For weeks and weeks I’d come home from work to check for new blossoms, then diligently rub the male pollen onto all the female flowers or unopened flower buds. After a few weeks of doing that, small green pumpkins started to appear beneath the female flowers. At one point we had seven growing, then nine, ten… it seemed we’d hit the pumpkin jackpot! I was impressed with myself, especially once they started to turn the slightest shade of orange. At this point, I thought my work was done.

But then… the largest pumpkin fell off the vine! I was mortified. Even more so since the pumpkin broke off right into my hand as I was brushing an aphid from it’s surface.

A few days later, a second pumpkin dropped effortlessly off the vine again. A third died a few days after that. Strangely, they appeared to be slowly rotting around the connecting vine, turning squishy and moist.

My pumpkin dreams were literally shriveling up.

After searching on the internet I realized the problem. Turns out I’d been pollinating the pumpkins incorrectly. It’s true that the male pollen must meet the female flowers. My timing was just off. I should have been pollinating the female pumpkin flowers once they already showed a pumpkin bulge growing beneath them. Apparently the blossom stays open even while the fruit is beginning to expand and that is when they should be pollinated. If proper pollination is not achieved then the fruit will wither and die. Damn!

It’s been about two weeks since I made this discovery. Since then I’ve been hand pollinating the flowers at every opportunity that presents itself and I’m hoping (fingers crossed) that a few of the presently growing pumpkins will stick around. But just in case I don’t get my homegrown jack-o-lantern this year I thought I’d make the best of it.

Feast your eyes on the world’s smallest, most premature token of Halloween ever…

At least it’s good for a laugh!

10 Reasons to Grow Your Own Brussel Sprouts

About two months ago my husband and I indulged ourselves on our homegrown Brussel sprouts. We grew two plants in a pot on our deck, and we harvested them over a series of weeks in the spring. By the end of the season we’d grown enough sprouts to cook with them four separate times even though our plants were relatively small compared to those grown in an actual garden bed (as opposed to containers).

Even after we’d eaten all the sprouts, the plants maintained a striking presence on our deck. As the temperature increased the plants started to bolt and the new sprout buds went to flower – gorgeous golden yellow flowers. Our two plants got so big and bright we could spot them from several blocks away!

I enjoyed growing Brussel sprouts so much throughout last fall, winter and spring that I’ve committed to growing them again this year. I just put two seeds into some dirt tonight, actually.

If you’re thinking of growing Brussel sprouts yourself, here are 10 reasons why you should go for it:

1. Brussel sprouts are good for you! They’re loaded with vitamin A, folacin, potassium and calcium, and they’re high in fiber and low in fat and calories. They also contain phytochemicals that may protect against certain cancers.

2. Brussel sprouts are relatively easy and cheap to grow. The plants are super hardy by nature since they grow through the cold months of the year, and there isn’t much cost to growing them yourself. All you need is a pot, some dirt, a couple of seeds and some water. Nothing too fancy.

3. Freshly picked Brussel sprouts taste WAY better than anything store bought or, dare I say, frozen. We actually did a taste test to compare our green gems to their frozen counterparts and the difference was impressive. Ours were crisp and fresh and had a slight sweetness mixed into their bitter taste. The frozen ones looked pretty pathetic by comparison, and they tasted about as good as they looked: mushy, starkly bitter and generally unsatisfying.

4. Your own sprouts will have a much lower carbon footprint than anything you buy from a store. Think about all those transportation miles you’re eliminating.

5. It’s fun to watch the plants grow and change, especially once the sprouts start to form in the fall.

6. Come wintertime your friends, family and neighbours will be impressed to see that you still have plants growing in your garden even though it’s snowy and cold.

7. By growing your own Brussel sprouts you can ensure that you grow them organically, if you wish.

8. Even after you’ve eaten the sprouts and the towering stalk starts to bolt, it will continue to impress you with it’s abundance of golden yellow flowers for weeks.

9. It’s a general rule that everything tastes better if you’ve put some effort into it. After you’ve nurtured your plants through several seasons, your first bite of crisp Brussel will delight you more than you might realize.

10. Above all else, you’ll make your mother proud. Every mother wants their children to eat their vegetables, and if you had any sort of childhood aversion to Brussel sprouts I guarantee the best way to get over it is to grow some delicious fresh ones for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!

Our First Broccoli Harvest

Only one week has passed since my first post about our budding broccoli plants, and already they’re ready to harvest. I’m always a little sad when it comes time to chop my plants up, but I was also really looking forward to finally sampling some homegrown green goodness.

For our first harvest we decided to cook a beef and broccoli stir fry, one of our favourites. We sliced off four of the heartiest crowns and accompanying side shoots and piled them out on the cutting board. I hadn’t really realized just how much darker this homegrown broccoli was until I looked at it under our kitchen lights. The plants, true to their name, had very dark purple crowns, nothing like what we traditionally bought at the vegetable stand.

The stalks of the florets were also much longer and thinner than all the store bought broccoli I’ve eaten. The crowns were not nearly as dense. Instead they felt light and delicate. After we extracted all the edible bits off of the massive crowns we had one big purple pile!

To accompany the broccoli we chopped up some carrots, mushrooms, and garlic and sliced two sirloin steaks as thin as we could manage. Since the broccoli florets were so much smaller and lighter than usual they cooked a lot faster. Once all the vegetables were cooked we added a cup of fresh bean sprouts, a cup of stir fry sauce and, voila! Our first home-grown broccoli feast was ready to eat.

It was delicious! And more than that, it was satisfying to eat something that we’d been growing since August.

Next up, what broccoli dish should we cook for our second harvest?

Broccoli – Signs of Life

Some might say it’s overly ambitious to attempt to grow broccoli on a balcony with only partial sun. Some might say this, but not me. Nuts to that.

I hatched this plan back in August after discovering the Purple Sprouting Red Spear Broccoli variety available through West Coast Seeds. The plant’s description got me excited:

These extremely cold-hardy biennial plants grow over the winter months ready for early spring harvest. Purple sprouting broccoli provide very small, sweet purple flowering shoots in the spring. Sow in late summer for February to March harvest.

It was already late summer. Why not give it a shot?

I began my mission by germinating and planting 10 seedling. Over the next months the plants grew taller and leafier and broader, and several of the stalks turned yellow and died. I have a habit of overcrowding all of my pots, so I figured this probably wasn’t a bad thing. This was nature weeding out the weaklings for me.

The plants got taller and broader still and by January my mind began to fill with questions: Had I started my seedlings too late? Or was it too cold, too dry, or too dark? Would these plants ever produce any real, edible broccoli?

Then came the snow.

One month later I spotted the very first semblance of a broccoli crown at the apex of the biggest plant. Exciting! Now that it’s almost April, I’m astounded by the plant’s progress every day.

Though I’ve yet to taste this home-grown vegetable, I’m satisfied that my experiment has been a success. My only remaining question is, how will I know when the plant is ready to harvest?

Homegrown Carrots

Roughly three months ago, my husband and I were wandering through Canadian Tire and we happened to pass a big seed display. We hadn’t put much thought into our summer flowers yet, so while he wandered the aisles looking for camping supplies, I started scanning the seed packets for plants that fit our growing conditions the best.

The flowers did have a certain visual appeal, but many of them required full sun, wouldn’t work well in small containers, or wouldn’t have enough time to fully mature and flower before the fall weather arrived. For a moment I considered whether I should just buy greenhouse-started plants like I’d done in previous years. But then, I discovered the back-side of the seed rack – the vegetable side.

Of course, being late May already, I’d pretty much missed the ideal time to plant most of the vegetables I was interested in growing. But then I discovered a packet of baby carrot seeds. Baby’s, hey? Perhaps they would grow to fruition faster than normal-sized carrots? Luckily, my initial assumption was correct. These “Little Finger” carrots would produce little orange stubs within 55-60 days!

I have to admit that it has taken a little bit longer than 60 days for these babies to mature, but it’s been worth it all the same. Our balcony is partially shaded by the balcony directly above us, so our plants are always a teeny bit starved for light. But I’m a firm believer that if you put seeds in the ground, something is going to happen. It’s just a matter of what.

I’ve now harvested two delicious crops of these baby balcony carrots, and I have to say that I’m very pleased with the results! Although they’re a little twisted, gnarly and oddly shaped, they pack a rich carroty flavour that I never taste in store-bought carrots, and their sweetness is balanced perfectly by their crunchy texture.

I will definitely try planting carrots again next year, and I’ve learned a few things to help me improve my crop. Mostly, next year I’ll start my seeds earlier, and stick more steadfastly to the planting instructions!

I did end up buying some flower seeds as well, but none of them were nearly as successful, or fun-to-grow, as the Little Finger carrots.