When you live where fresh maple syrup is produced (like I do), you look forward to the month of March. Roadside stands advertise fresh maple syrup, and the pancake houses are open!
Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of visiting my friend Jim Lumsden and his son Mike at their farm, Lumsden Brothers Maple Syrup ,to see first hand how his family makes this golden Canadian treasure. Situated on 20 acres of land, his family has been making maple syrup for over 100 years, and, as I saw, they have it down to a science!
The set up of the production actually starts in January with the unravelling of 18,000 feet (3.4 miles) of four seasons tubing, which is made out of 100% resin. Each piece of tubing is numbered and labeled and is attached to a specific tree in the maple sugarbush. These lines are cleaned out with a solution of 70/30 alcohol to water each year and reused, making this an environmentally friendly operation. This complex maze of tubing, in the case of Lumsden Brothers Maple Syrup farm, includes specific hookups to about 1,100 trees.
A tree can be tapped when its diameter of the tree reaches 10″, and when the diameter is 18″, the tree can support two taps. For the health of any tree over 18″, at most two taps can be installed each year. So, in the case of Jim’s maple farm, he installs 1,435 taps!
To keep the tree nice and healthy, it is important that the taps occur in a different spot on the tree each year. In fact, you would have to wait about 50 years before you can tap into the same spot.
Once the overnight temperature does not go below -4°C and the daytime temperature stays above 5°C, the sap will flow and the process of collecting the sap can start.
The system used to collect the sap is quite nifty. Collection is by vacuum and the pump is set to pull 25 lbs. of sap and is set to operate as long as the tree’s sap is running. The vacuum pump is set to turn off automatically when the air temperature hits 0°C .
The sap is collected and then, using reverse osmosis, 55% of the water is removed. Then the sap enters a wood-fired evaporator which is 3 feet wide and 13 feet long. It evaporates 90 gallons of water per hour!
It takes approximately 3 hours from the time a drop enters one end of the evaporator until it condenses and accumulates enough to be able to draw off a batch of syrup.
The syrup is ready when the temperature reaches 219°F and is stored in 34-gallon stainless steel barrels or 10-litre plastic jugs in the freezer until ready to bottle for sale.
There are four grades of maple syrup: golden, amber, dark and very dark. You get these shades naturally from the tree because the first sap to come out of the trees produces the lightest colour which is the golden and every week further into the season a darker syrup is produced. So, at the end of the sugaring season you will get the darkest syrup.
Now let’s talk about all the fantastic ways you can use maple syrup! Typically, the golden is used to make candy and confections, the amber is what most people use for pancakes and waffles and the dark and very dark are fantastic in cooking and baking. Each shade of syrup has its own unique flavour so if you get a chance to sample before purchasing, do so because you might find that for your palate you prefer one shade over another.
To learn how to make “Maple Pecan Scones” check out this video.
And, here are three of my favourite baking recipes that use maple syrup:
Rosemary is such an amazing herb! It’s part of the mint family, great in sweet and savoury baking, awesome as a part of a rub for beef or chicken, and beautiful in a cocktail or steeped for tea. And it’s healthy for you too! Rosemary contains carnosic acid, a potent antioxidant that is believed to be beneficial for your brain – improving brain health and memory.
In my early gardening years, I would always buy the largest rosemary plant available at the nurseries every spring, grow and harvest for one summer and then discard it. The sad thing is that rosemary doesn’t grow too quickly, and it sure did seem a shame to be tossing it at the end of the season.
If you live in growing zone 8 or above you do not have to concern yourself with overwintering because rosemary can be left out all season in that growing zone, but, for me in zone 6a with my beautiful Canadian winter, keeping rosemary alive outside was not possible. Trust me I tried!
So instead, we have discovered a nifty way to keep that rosemary alive in the winter by moving it either into our garage or into the house for the winter. We have found that we get the best results, though, when we first shock it into dormancy.
In the part of southern Ontario in which I live, we do not have early or harsh winters, which serves us well for keeping this plant. It is very tolerant of cool weather and harsh conditions. We don’t really think about moving our plant inside until it consistently stays below zero, which for our area usually happens sometime in November.
So, every year, we keep the rosemary outside and let it get a frost. Then, we move it to our garage. If the weather turns and gets warm again, we move the rosemary out for some sun. When it gets cold, we move it back in the garage. This pampering can sometimes keep us busy for about a month.
In late December, we get winter and that is when we will leave it in our garage. This year, we left one of our rosemary plants in the garage until the first week of February. We moved it inside when the temperature was going to dip below -20° C. That plant has been in the house for 10 days now, and it is starting to bloom beautiful purple flowers.
In March, when we start to get sunny days above zero, we will take our rosemary plants out for some sun – just an hour or two a day. Once the days are consistently above zero, we will keep the plants out longer, until the beginning of April when we move them outside for the spring and keep them out until the following November.
Rosemary can live a long time this way, decades in fact, and we have rosemary trees that are five years old. Usually after that they get too large to keep moving them around. So, in anticipation of the end of this shrub, we start another plant from a cutting or just purchase a new one from the nursery.
Rosemary is very drought tolerant and it actually takes in moisture from the air through its needles and keeps itself hydrated in the humid summer months. You really do not need to water your rosemary plant too often. In fact, overwatering will stress the plant and potentially kill it, if its “feet” (roots) are too wet. However, you also do not want to completely dry out the soil.
When we have the rosemary plants in the garage from December through to the end of January, we do not water them. Because the plant is not respiring and the soil was damp when we moved them into the garage, the soil does not dry out. If we take them outside for some sun when the temperature has risen above zero, we water them then.
So, this year when you are planning your garden, pick up a large rosemary plant, grow over the summer, and follow our lead, keeping your plant alive throughout the winter. When spring arrives, like children, you will be happy to see your rosemary outside basking in the sunshine and enjoying your garden!
If you want to see just how healthy my rosemary stays in the winter, check out this video:
Here are some great recipes using fresh rosemary at Cansanity :
Shopping for a stand mixer these days can be overwhelming. There are so many models to choose from with different bowl shapes and capacities, motor sizes and fancy names. I hadn’t realized just how many options there were until a friend asked me at Christmas which stand mixer I would recommend. I did a bit of research on the topic, and then it got me thinking I should write a blog and make a video about KitchenAid stand mixers and the differences between the tilt and the lift models. So here it is.
I have only ever owned KitchenAid stand mixers, and so I will focus the blog on this particular brand.
Let me start by telling you about when I upgraded from my hand blender to a stand mixer. I was in my thirties, my daughters were young, and we were in those prime birthday party years.
Prior to this time in my life, I hadn’t really made too many cakes; I just wasn’t a fan of icing. However, my eldest daughter was diagnosed with allergies to nuts and peanuts, and because nut-free cakes were not readily available for purchase, my cake making journey began.
I thought the best way to learn how to decorate cakes was to take some courses. I took all the cake decorating courses that were offered by Wilton, and, in the end, learnt how to use fondant, colour flow, and meringue powder. I finished the course knowing how to decorate a three-tiered wedding cake.
Sometime in the midst of all this flour, shortening, butter and icing, my mom came to visit from out of town. She saw first hand all the hand mixing I was doing and thought it was madness. She asked me to put on my coat and took me to The Bay. She didn’t tell me until I got there that she was going to change my baking life forever; she was going to buy me a KitchenAid stand mixer.
I remember telling her, “No really it is fine, I can manage with my hand blender”. But kitchen gadgets were my mom’s thing, and when she decided to buy something, that was it, there was no changing her mind. I remember carrying that big beautiful box of icing salvation on my shoulder – tall and proud.
I have had that mixer, called “Heavy Duty” ever since.
This “Heavy Duty” mixer, nicknamed “Ice Baby”, has a 325-watt motor, a five-quart bowl capacity and functions with a lift mechanism. She has performed well for me for 20 plus years!
The options were limited back then – the appliance was only offered in white and I believe was only available with the lift mechanism. Now there are two types, lift or tilt and a range of bowl and motor capacities. Just to make this easy to compare, I have put the options in these tables.
white, black, red
white, black, red
Ultra Power Plus
white, black, red, ice blue
glass or metal
metallic in chrome & empire red
black & graphite, red, ice blue, milkshake pink
Pro Heavy Duty
red, black and silver
white, red, pewter, black, silver, milkshake pink, ice blue
1000 (1.3 HP)
red ,black, silver
Pro Line Series
1000 (1.3 HP)
red, black, silver, white
Limited Edition Pro Line Series
1000 (1.3 HP)
1000 (1.3 HP)
pewter, red, black, white
So, for the average home baker, how can this information be useful?
In a nutshell, bigger is not necessarily better. About 8 years ago, I bought a second-hand Ultra Power KitchenAid stand mixer which has a four-quart bowl, runs with a 300-watt motor and is a “tilt” model. I jumped at the chance to buy this smaller stand mixer second hand because even though the “Heavy Duty” lift model has been a reliable appliance, she does have her downfalls.
The shape of the “Heavy Duty” bowl or any “lift” stand mixer is not ideal for whipping up small quantities (for example 1/2 cup) of whipped cream or meringue. My new-used “tilt” mixer, the Ultra Power, has a tapered bowl which is distinctive to all the “tilt” models and so the whip attachment works great for small batch whipping. So, it’s quite fitting that I nicknamed this stand mixer “The Whipper”.
The other great feature of this smaller stand mixer is that she fits well under my counter, and there is quick access to the bowl which allows you to add ingredients while mixing. To stir, just tilt the beater up and mix with a spatula. With the larger lift mixers, accessing the bowl requires dropping the bowl and having to work around the beater.
My latest KitchenAid stand mixer acquisition has been the “Commercial”. It has an 8-quart bowl, runs with 1.3 Horse Power (equivalent to 1000 watts) and is a “lift” model. I bought her this year because of all the work I am doing for Cansanity and so have nicknamed her “Cansanity”.
Not only do I use my stand mixer appliances for baking, but I also use them for making pasta, grinding meat, and making pasta sauce from garden fresh tomatoes. To do this, I just attach the pasta maker, the meat grinder or the fruit/vegetable accessory. I wanted a stand mixer that I could run several times a day without worrying about it overheating. It is important to note that these extra accessories work on all of the KitchenAid stand mixers. You do not have to have the “Commercial” KitchenAid stand mixer.
For those new bakers out there, that are not sure what bowl size is appropriate for you, here are just some examples of what you can process in a 5-quart bowl.
9-10 cups of flour. This is the amount of flour that I use in my “Classic Bread Recipe” which yields 4 loaves of bread. For your reference here is the Classic Bread Recipe
12 egg whites. This is the amount of egg needed for angel food cake. When you whip these egg whites they really increase in volume. For your reference here is the Angel Food Cake Recipe
If you choose to buy a stand mixer with a 4.5-quart bowl size, you will easily be able to make single batch cookie dough, meringue for pie, whipped cream for desserts, and a three-layer cake. For those bakers, that want to make double or triple batches of cookies, then consider getting the 6-7-or 8-quart bowl.
The bottom line is that you should ask yourself how you plan on using your appliance.
Will you be making bread dough?
I jump to this question because bread dough is one of the stiffer doughs that you can make using this appliance. It is important to consider the stiffness of the dough because the stiffer the dough the harder the motor needs to work. The stand mixers with wattage under 300 can certainly handle making a bread dough for one loaf of bread, but if you are planning on mixing up enough dough for more than one loaf of bread regularly you should consider buying a mixer with a higher wattage.
Are you planning on making bread every day, week or month?
If you run the motor on your stand mixer for long periods of time, it can heat up. So, if you are planning on running your appliance a lot and or many times a day, you should consider getting one of the models that has more power. The higher the wattage, the higher the power.
Are you only interested in making cake batters, icing, meringue and whipped cream?
All of the stand mixers, with maybe the exception of the Artisan Mini, will work for these purposes. I would suggest that you consider the tilt models because adding in colour tints and add-ins like chocolate chips or nuts can be scraped down and mixed more easily.
Are you considering purchasing one of the accessories so you can use your stand mixer for other things? For example, you can use the fruit/vegetable strainer attachment for making pasta sauce.
I buy bushels of tomatoes to process into pasta sauce, and so using the “Commercial” KitchenAid stand mixer is great for me because I run the appliance for long periods of time. Having said that, I have used the “Ultra Power” when I am only processing 2 batches of 10 pounds of tomatoes, and that works just fine.
The only other differences that you should be aware of are presented in this table.
Key Design Element
Very efficient at whipping small batches of whipped cream and meringue because of bowl shape and size
Shorter (My Ultra Power is 14” tall)
The tilt models are lighter
Movement on the top of the mixer can occur especially when mixing stiffer doughs. This is because the tilt design has a lever
Double and triple batches are easily made because of bowl size. Very efficient at mixing large batches of stiff bread dough
Taller (My Heavy Duty is 16 ½” tall)
The lift models are heavier
Sturdier design with the lift mixer and so there is little movement when the machine is running
If you plan on putting your KitchenAid stand mixer on the countertop under your cupboard, measure the clearance. The tilt stand mixers are shorter and lighter. But be aware that when the appliance is running, you might find that there is a bit of movement in the top of the tilt mixer.
I am so happy to be able to share what I have learned about KitchenAid stand mixers. I love all three of my kitchen “babies”. I hope this blog has been helpful; please leave a comment and share your experience!
“It came with some cookies; it came with some bread. It came with two daughters and board games, we said. Maybe a pandemic Christmas doesn’t have to feel bad, maybe it is just one more Christmas we had. ” Cansanity 2020.
Like most people, we had no idea how our Christmas and holiday season was going to play out. The COVID-19 pandemic most likely meant that as we got closer to Christmas the restrictions, on places we could gather, were going to tighten. I decided early on to lower my expectations for Christmas 2020 and just carry on with the activities that I could safely do.
So, getting ready for the holidays this year was unlike no other. We put up our lights and the Christmas tree, but as the holidays approached, we decided that shopping and gathering with our friends was not something that was necessary this season. Instead, we would have a modified early Christmas, on December 21st, so that we could see our daughters, perhaps before a lockdown in our area.
I busied myself the entire month of December working hard on Cansanity. I concentrated on sharing some of my very best cooking and baking holiday traditions, like making pierogi,
All activities that I normally do at Christmas time, but usually with the help of my two daughters and my niece.
But I wasn’t sad, because as I meticulously worked through all the steps and the nuances of each recipe, I felt like I was reaching out and connecting with all of you. It was fun to create the videos, and because of them, I never felt alone while cooking and baking this season. Thank you!
I gave most of the cookies and baking away – something I usually do – but this year somehow it felt more meaningful.
My daughters, both university students and both continuing their studies at their homes online, were eager to see us, and so prior to coming home, both took extra precautions to minimize contact with people. I cooked the turkey prior to them coming home, so that the two days that they were with us could be spent together without having to worry about cooking or kitchen cleanup. This worked out perfectly! In fact, it was so nice not to have to cook when they were here that I am considering making this a new tradition!
It is the 23rd of December and my daughters will go home tomorrow, and my husband and I are going to spend the next two days relaxing, eating leftovers and being thankful that we had one more holiday season. My heart goes out to all of you that have suffered with COVID-19, especially to those who have lost loved ones.
Here is hoping that vaccinations roll out fast, and that life returns to normal in 2021. In the meantime, stay healthy, safe and strong. I hope that you all found something precious and good out of 2020 and the holiday season. Merry Christmas!
Well, it has been a busy couple of months! For starters, I have added over 150 recipes to the Cansanity website and taken some incredibly interesting photos of delicious food and fun gardening projects, which will be featured in some upcoming blogs. It has been eleven months since I first published the website and I feel I have only scratched the surface on all the gardening and cooking tips that I want to share with you. This is so exciting for me because I am loving this journey. I want to say I am so thankful to all of you for supporting Cansanity by following the posts on all the social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. You make my day when you like, comment and share the posts and I hope Cansanity has been a wonderful distraction from the COVID-19 pandemic for you; it sure has been for me!
As November draws to a close, I want to share with you some of the ways I put the garden to bed for the winter. To begin, we have rabbits that frequent our yard in the winter, and so we have found that putting up a temporary fence around the roses protects the bark.
Rabbits have amazing jaws and will gnaw at these plants – thorns and all. Even though roses are pretty hardy and have withstood considerable damage in past years, I find that protecting them this way gives me peace of mind that the roses will come back strong and healthy the following year. If you grew roses for the first time this year, you should not prune them until the spring. The rose hips that form on the stems signal the rose to go dormant. They may look scraggly this winter but just leave them. In 2021, I will be doing a series of blogs talking about roses. So, if that is of interest to you, stay tuned.
I have a raspberry patch near the back fence, and once the last leaves fall from the plants, I like to get in there and prune the canes. By cutting the canes back by a third, I encourage new growth and more berries the following year. While I’m in there, I will also find those canes that have died, and I remove them, making the patch tidier and more pleasing to look at.
For my garden boxes in which I planted garlic, we rake up the leaves and add them to the top of the box. This does two things. First, it acts as a blanket to protect the soil from wind and rain erosion, and then secondly, as they start to decay, the leaves add compost to the box.
The garden boxes that we leave empty without any winter plantings are just amended with some well rotted cow manure and compost, and the soil is turned over, leaving the box set for early planting in March the following year. You can leave the amendments to the following spring, but I like to do it in the fall so that as soon as the ground is workable, I can plant.
For the many dozens of planters that housed flowers or vegetables, we remove the soil and add it to our raised vegetable garden. We turn the soil over and leave it for early planting the next spring. The potting soil has vermiculite or perlite and adding it to your garden soil will help with the quality of your soil. Once emptied, I like to clean the containers and put them away in the garage, as this will prevent the cold weather from causing cracks in the containers. I do, however, leave my 3’ Mayne garden boxes half full of dirt on my deck and have not had any problems with them cracking or getting damaged.
Most of the plants that were in our gardens or pots are composted but there are some exceptions. We never compost kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower or any of the plants from the Brassica family. If you compost these plants, you may be overwintering pests like the cabbage moth which will lead to damage to the leaves of brassicas the following year. We always, however, remove them from the garden. You may be tempted to leave the kale in the garden because it might come back the following spring. But in doing so, you may be encouraging pests like the cabbage moth, which will overwinter even in extreme winter temperatures.
One other tip to deter pests overwintering in your garden is to create hills in the garden. By doing this, when the temperature drops to the frigid, the cold is more likely to penetrate through the soil and kill off pests.
Plants I leave in the garden boxes include herbs like parsley, thyme and sage, which will continue to hold onto their leaves even after a couple of light snowfalls and low overnight temperatures. I can usually harvest my parsley well into December.
Root vegetables like carrots and beets can stay in the soil until you are ready to use them. I usually harvest carrots right up until the ground freezes, but I do have to say that I have left carrots in over the winter and have harvested them the following spring too!
I love growing celery even though it takes a long time to develop in the garden. I usually leave most of my celery in the garden until the snow accumulates. When the snow is here to stay, I harvest the remaining celery and make chicken or vegetable stock that I then pressure can or freeze for the winter.
Now, like I said, I do take out all the brassicas plants and toss in the garbage but some I leave until the winter sets in because kale and Brussels sprouts can withstand a couple light snowfalls. So, before you pull out the plants and discard them, get the most out of the plants by using them in your fall recipes. And when the snow looks like it is there to stay, remove the plants.
I have only touched the surface of all the information I plan on sharing with you. I look forward to expanding on this content in future blogs, and I am very excited about new topics to be covered. As we move into December and the holiday season, I will be sharing my favourite Christmas recipes and, for those that are following Cansanity for canning recipes and tips, stay tuned because the “Cansanity” has just begun!
Well, this has been a great year to write my tomato planting story!
May weather fluctuated from -5°C overnight one week to a rocking hot temperature of 37°C the following week and then back down to a low of 5°C. Now that we are into the second week of June, the weather still is unsettled with wild fluctuations from week to week.
This is how Mother Nature and I tango. You see the tango, much like tomato planting, is not a smooth passionate love story, it is a dance that is intended to remind you that there is drama and suffering in passion. With the tango there is always a lead and a follower and my lead in this dance is Mother Nature. She is a dominant lead pushing me to my limits, but I am seasoned in this dance with her; I am intuitively in tune to her next move. And even though I can hold myself properly and almost relax into this rhythm, in the tomato tango, I must always be engaged and ready in anticipation of what will come next.
This part of the tomato planting story starts with the anticipation of cooler than normal overnight temperatures. You see tomatoes grow the best when the daytime temperature is at least 22°C (73°F) and the overnight temperature does not go below 13°C (56°F). It is recommended that you plant your tomatoes when the daytime temperature will be consistently in that range. Tomato plants grow well when their roots are warm.
You can prepare your planting area in advance of these temperatures by amending your soil with some well composted manure and then laying some black plastic over the area. The plastic will hold the heat from the sun and warm the earth below. You can do this several weeks before you are going to plant your tomatoes.
Once the daytime and nighttime temperatures are in the ideal transplanting range you can go ahead and plant your tomatoes. And this is where we tango. Like I mentioned, Mother Nature is a dominant lead in the tomato tango. Just when you feel you can relax and plant your tomatoes and count on the weather to cooperate, Mother Nature throws in a dip.
And this is how it played out this year. At the end of May, it was hot, the overnight temperatures were good and so I planted. All of my tomato seedlings had at least 3-4 true leaves and my garden tomato seedlings were at least 6 weeks old and were at least 6” tall. In fact, since some of the tomatoes were started in the first week of April, they were 16” tall!
For each plant, I made sure to dig a hole that would bury the stem. I removed the first leaves and even some of the true leaves for the taller plants because tomato plants will root wherever the stem is buried. For my taller plants I prepared a trench so that I could bury a significant amount of the stem. (Check out this video How to transplant tomato plants into your garden or patio pot. to learn how to trench plant.)
To each planting hole, I added 1/4 cup of bone meal, added the plant and then made a basin around the stem about 12” in diameter. This is to ensure that the water pools in the area before being absorbed by the soil. The two benefits of doing this is that one, you will see how much water you added and two, when watering, the water will not just run off – it will stick around and be taken up by your plant.
My raised garden is not that large but it is deep and so I plant my tomatoes 24” apart. I mostly plant determinate tomatoes in my garden and so I will prune my tomatoes regularly to make sure there is good air flow between them.
For the indeterminant tomato plants, I add a stake on the opposite side of the prevailing winds, 2-4 inches away from the plant. I want the plant to move towards the stake when it is moved by the wind.
Each plant is watered deeply and I will do that every day. Tomatoes need consistent watering to grow well. I am pleased, and sigh a bit of relief, my babies are in the ground.
And then Mother Nature and I tango! I notice the weather is going to dip below 9°C for several nights!
But I am prepared. In my garage I have black perforated plastic, tomato cages, clear plastic and packing tape. So, before the cool nights, I remove the stakes and lay down the black perforated plastic. This will help trap the heat from the sun ensuring the roots of my plants stay warm. To further keep the plants warm on the cool nights, I gently push in tomato cages, wrap each one in clear plastic and secure the plastic with packing tape. I leave the top of the tomato cage open so that the plants can get sunlight and good air flow during the day.
In the evening, I place either a cotton towel or a blanket and use elastics in the corners to secure the coverings.
Every morning, I remove the towels and blankets and every evening I put them back on. I do this until the evening weather is in the range that is favourable for tomatoes, at which time I remove the cages and put the stakes back in the ground. I could just leave the cages for the tomatoes that are small, that might be sufficient support for them until maturity. However, my taller plants are now already 21-27” tall, some already above the top of the tomato cage, and I feel that a stake will provide better support throughout the season for these taller plants.
It may seem like these steps to growing tomatoes take too much time and energy and when you have setbacks you may want to give up and go and do something else with your time. But much like the tango, as you master the steps and observe the eloquence and beauty, it won’t be long before you are a passionate devotee of growing tomatoes.
The tango is about as much fun as you can have dancing with a person and I hope that your tomato tango is worth the effort in growing your tomatoes and becomes the most rewarding garden experience you have this year.
It is that time of year for me when I have to decide whether I am going to have the time and space for growing squash. Squash are warm-weather plants requiring daytime air temperature of at least 21°C (70°F) and soil temperature of at least 16°C (60°F). Mother Nature is taunting us this year with her frigid, unseasonable temperatures, but I am hopeful that she will reward our patience and soon give us good planting weather. By the end of May or the beginning of June, with no risk of frost in sight, I will be able to plant these warm-weather plants.
The seeds can be started, in compostable pots, 2-3 weeks prior to transplanting. So, I have decided to go ahead and start seeds of five different kinds of squash, indoors this week. For outdoor planting, I can get prepared with the first consideration for my plants being the soil. It will have to be rich, fertile soil with a lot of compost and be located in a sunny location. Secondly, I need a lot of space devoted to these plants since they need to be planted on average one metre apart, and the vining varieties of squashes can grow up to 15 metres in length.
Further consideration regarding spacing is that squash plants will cross- pollinate with other plants within the same species. For some, that can occur within a mile of proximity. This does not affect fruit production but, if you want to save the seeds for future planting, only plant one type of squash of each species. (The plants within each species will cross-pollinate resulting in seeds that will not be viable.)
Knowing that squash plants, especially winter squash, can vine up to 15 feet long and take up a lot of space, is it worth planting in a small yard? Well, I think so. The plants are beautiful, almost ornamental and it sure is exciting to spot your first zucchini or pumpkin on the vine. If space is your worry, one way to increase available space is to grow your vines up on a trellis, but for heavy fruit like pumpkin, once formed you will have to support this fruit through to maturity with netting.
We have had great success growing our cucumber vines on a trellis, and so this year, we are going to grow some of our squash vertically. Stay tuned for pictures!
Here are the squash plants that I have decided to grow in my garden this year.
Dark Green and Gold Rush Zucchini – species Cucurbita pepo- days to maturity: 50
This summer squash is one of my favourite plants to grow. It prefers to be grown from seed in warm soil, but will do fine from a transplanted seedling that has been grown in a compostable pot. We grow only two zucchini plants because one zucchini plant grown successfully will produce up to 16 zucchinis in a season. One tip that I can give you is that once the plant fruits, it is important to pick the fruit 4-8” in length regularly, as that will stimulate further fruit production.
Naked Bear Pie Pumpkin-species C.maxima- days to maturity: 105
I am particularly fond of this pie pumpkin because it has hull-less seeds which are ideal for roasting for eating and baking. My job is to roast the flesh of the pumpkins which I puree and freeze for use in the fall and winter months in baking and cooking. I set the seeds aside for my husband to roast, since this is one of his favourite fall snacks and he has perfected the art of roasting the seeds. His recipe and method for roasting the seeds, as well as many of my pumpkin recipes, will be added to the website in time for use in the fall. If large pumpkins are what you are after, allow only one pumpkin per vine to grow to maturity.
Tiana Butternut Squash -species C.moschata- days to maturity: 95
I love using butternut squash in my cooking. One of my favourite dishes to cook in the fall is my Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts and Bacon side dish and my favourite Easy Slow Cooker Butternut Squash and Apple soup. For this soup, I can prepare the vegetables and freeze them, which makes this soup a snap to put together in the winter. I have had really good success with growing butternut squash in my garden and look forward to growing it every year.
Baby Blue Hubbard Squash -Species C.maxima- days to maturity: 95
Intrigued by a dark orange hubbard squash at a farmer’s market one year, I purchased that variety of squash to try in my baking and cooking. The skin of this squash is very firm and I was almost turned off by this squash because it was very difficult to slice into. However, I will tell you that the flesh of this squash is so delicious that it is worth the trouble. Also, for people wondering about growing it, it is the best squash to grow for winter storage. Use a diluted bleach solution to wipe down the squash to kill bacteria and mold and this squash will last up to 5 months stored in a cold dark place!
This year intrigued, I decided to grow the blue-grey hubbard squash. Wish me success! Because I am growing pumpkin as well in my garden, I will not be able to save and use the seeds from either of these plants.
Acorn Table King Squash-C.pepo- days to maturity: 105
I have grown acorn squash with success in my garden, and I am excited about growing this variety this year. I chose to grow this squash because it is a better producer than many other squashes. This compact plant should produce 5-8 small (1 ½ pound) fruits, whereas most squashes only produce 2 – 4 fruits. The flavour for this squash (and many squashes) improves with storage, making it an ideal vegetable to plant for use in the fall and winter months.
Uchiki Red Kuri Buttercup Squash- C.maxima days to maturity: 80
When choosing the squash varieties that I grow each year in my garden, I like to check out the days to maturity so that I can have squashes available for harvest at different times. I chose to grow this variety of squash, because it will mature in 80 days. In my area, we typically have hot weather at least until mid September but sometimes right up until the beginning of October. If you have a shorter growing season, you might want to choose this squash for your garden.
Review and more detail about how to plant and care for your squash plants.
Plants need rich, fertile soil that has been amended well with compost.
Choose a sunny location that is protected somewhat from the wind, if possible.
Create a little hill that you will grow the plants in. The hill should be at least 12” in diameter and 6-8” high. The hilled soil will warm quickly in the sun and will improve drainage, both important factors for growing squash.
Plan to plant seeds or transplant seedlings when there is no danger of frost.
Add one cup of organic fertilizer to each hole prepared for planting. I have never added fertilizer after this but you can fertilize with a 5-10-10 fertilizer once a month.
Plant 3-5 seeds or transplant 3-5 seedlings to a hill and then thin to one or two of the strongest vines. Check your seed package for specification of the variety you are planting.
Plan to give a least 1 metre spacing between plants. Refer to your seed package for exact spacing.
Some vines will grow up to 15 feet. So, plan for the vine to take up that much space or plan to prune the vine back after some fruit has formed. It will produce less fruit but all the energy of the plant will be directed into growing the existing fruit which will result in larger fruit. Keep in mind that some squash vines will only produce 2-4 fruits in total.
Plan to remove malformed fruit that can occur early in the growing season. The fruit will not be useful and leaving it on the vine will just draw energy away from successful fruit formation.
Once the plant is established, water deeply at the base once a week. Watering at the base will help prevent mildew.
Plan to keep a consistent watering schedule. Extreme fluctuations in moisture can cause disease in your plants.
Summer squash, like zucchini, need to be harvested regularly to stimulate more fruit production.
Winter squash vines may require some pruning during the season to grow larger and better fruit. You can also discourage fruit rot by placing boards under fruit so they are not touching the soil as they mature.
Plant flowers near your squash vines to improve pollination.
Do not plant squash in the same area two years in a row. You want to discourage pests and problems and you do this by rotating your crops.
Do not plant squash plants near potatoes.
Plant squash plants near radishes, lettuce, peas and melons
Nasturtiums and marigolds planted near your squash plants will be beneficial because they will repel pests.
Winter squash will survive a light fall frost but will store better if picked prior to a frost.
Pests and problems:
Powdery mildew – As a preventative, apply bone meal around the base of the plant.
Here is a powdery mildew spray that you can prepare and spray on your plants once a week if needed:
1 tbsp baking soda
1 gallon of water
1 tsp dish soap
Or prepare: 1:9, milk to water in a spray bottle and spray at 7-10 day intervals
Cucumber beetles – These beetles will drain energy from the plant because they eat the leaves and fruit. You can cover your plants with a row cover until the flowers have formed. We just check our plants regularly and squash the beetles when we see them. Planting nasturtiums before planting your cucumbers is a good companion plant. Nasturtiums protect themselves by producing an airborne chemical that repels insects and so plants near them benefit from this protection as well.
Squash vine borers – Wasp-like moths lay larvae in the vine stems. You can be proactive and use a section of a pantyhose and cover the stem from about ½ inch below the soil up about 4 inches of the stem. This will prevent the laying of the eggs.
If you notice sawdust-like particles on the vine, this is the excrement. You can slice the vine to open to remove the larvae. If you bury that portion of the vine it will heal and the plant will continue to grow.
Blossom end rot – Will occur when the plant does not have consistent water intake.
We turned over the soil in our raised vegetable garden this week, in preparation for the next stage of planting. That includes planting seeds when the last frost date is in sight. Carrots are one of the vegetables whose seeds can be sown 2-3 weeks before the last frost date. So, when is that?
In my area, the last frost date typically occurs sometime between the last week of April and the second week of May. I usually plant some carrot seeds in my cold frames in the middle of April, but it has been unseasonably cool this April and so I decided to wait to plant my seeds until this week, April 27th. (To determine your area’s expected frost date use Google by typing in “Expected last frost date … your city name” into the search bar.)
Eager to get growing my favourites, I chose to sow Little Fingers and two Nantes varieties this week. Little Fingers mature in 60 days and at maturity are only three inches long. They do well in large containers and so if you are container gardening you might want to try this variety or a variety with a similar size and maturity date.
Nantes have long been my absolute favourite carrot to grow. They are a medium sized carrot, and typically not found in the grocery stores. They are sweet, crunchy and juicy, making them great to serve raw or to cook in your favourite recipes. When you harvest them, be gentle though, they are susceptible to breaking.
When I prepare the area of the garden where the carrots will be sown, I like to mix in some sand. Carrots do best in loose soil and so adding the sand to the area where I plant not only aids in seedling success but it also helps in root development.
Now, carrot seeds are very small seeds, and the general rule is that you should plant a seed only about the depth of the seed. Carrot seeds, therefore, do best when only a ¼ inch of soil is sprinkled on top of them. With this in mind, sprouting carrot seeds can take a bit more work than sprouting radishes, for example.
Producers of carrot seeds, however, have provided two very easy ways to plant carrots. One is carrot seed tape and the other is pelleted carrot seeds. Both options are a bit more expensive than just carrot seeds, but in my opinion are so worth it. I buy the carrot seed tape for planting Nantes carrots in my garden. The tape holds the seed in place, making it very easy to put only a thin layer of soil over the seed, and it also makes wetting the surface easier. You do not have to worry so much about your seeds washing away when you water.
The same ease of planting comes with the pelleted carrot seeds. In fact, the pelleted carrot seeds are even better because the seed is surrounded by organic matter; you can easily see the seed and place it with a desired spacing. But pelleted carrot seeds require even more attention to watering, meaning that the area must be damp consistently to ensure proper seedling development.
But don’t be discouraged from trying to plant carrot seeds that are not in tape or pelleted. There are some amazing tasting and colourful varieties of carrots that do not come that way and are worth trying. I would just suggest that you expect to pay a little more attention to the planting and watering of these seeds. Here are my general tips for successful planting:
Prepare the soil. For carrots, you never want to add fresh manure just before you plant your seedlings. The resulting carrots will be hairy and malformed. We always add 3-year composted horse manure to our garden and cold frames in the fall to prepare for spring planting. Carrots need loose soil to grow well. It is important therefore to loosen up the soil with a pitchfork or spade, and remove any large clumps of soil from the area. Now having said that, you do not want the soil to be so fine that it washes away easily when watered.
Use carrot seed tape or pelleted carrot seeds to improve your likelihood of success. If you are not using these products to sow your seeds, make sure to sow your seeds thickly. Thickly sown seeds produce seedlings that sprout together which means that they will aid each other in emerging from the soil.
Keep the area damp where you have sown your seeds. Carrots seedlings are not very tough, and so you need to make it as easy as possible for the “babies” to push through the soil.
Keep the area weed free. Again, these weak seedlings need every advantage you can give them.
Don’t be discouraged if you do not see seedlings in a week; carrot seeds can take up to three weeks to germinate. Also expect only 75-80% success regardless of the seed method you use. That is typical of carrot seeds.
Make sure to keep the soil damp during the germination period and make sure to water the carrots well until you can see the root forming. You can observe the development of the carrot by brushing away the soil at the top of the root.
Don’t worry too much about thinning carrots; just pick carrots and eat them to thin them.
As I peer over my computer and gaze through the window that showcases my backyard, I notice the grey sky and the occasional snowflake falling to the ground. I can’t help but wonder, did I start my tomato plants too early this year?
This is the salsa dance that Mother Nature and I perform every year. When she offers seasonal weather, I easily glide through my eight counts alongside her, relaxed, cool and centered. Our moves flow seamlessly. This year, I wonder just how smooth we will be.
You see, I eagerly started some of my tomato plants this year from seed in the last week of March. I kept the soil damp knowing that the germinating seed would be very intolerant of dry soil and would die if the soil became dry for even a short period of time. I kept my trays of newly planted seed pots near my warm gas fireplace and, as expected, within seven days my seedlings appeared. When they were up, I moved my seedlings to my daughter’s bedroom (good use of a room for empty nesters like ourselves). Even though it has a sunny south-facing window, I still placed my grow light on the plants for six hours a day, making sure that there is at least a couple of inches between the grow light and the plant. I feel I am on track to keep to the general rule of having my tomato plants ready to be planted six weeks from the day they were seeded. I am smug. I know that the typical last frost in my area is the third week of April and by early May I am usually golden for planting my tomatoes. All is good, I think; I look up again and cringe at the snow.
The grow light that I have been using for the past three years on my plants ensures that I have a more compact tomato plant – this is good. But the longer my tomato plants are in the container, the leggier they will be and this would not be good. However, I know from past experience that if my tomato plants become leggy, the best way to plant them is to trench plant them so that their long stems do not break in the wind. So, I do have a plan if planting is delayed by the weather. ( I will explain trench planting in the next tomato blog.)
Then, I smile to myself, as I daydream about eating those summer tomatoes warmed by the sun. I am excited about the tomato plants I chose to grow this year. One variety called “Manitoba” is an heirloom bush determinate variety which grows a nice slicing tomato. It is a very productive plant, but I am mostly excited about this plant because it is open-pollinated, and so I can save the seeds and use them to plant in the following years.
I have seeded a nice variety of tomato plants this year. Some are indeterminate, and so will need to be staked and pruned for better yield, a small price to pay to have the quantity. The Manitoba being my only determinate tomato plant will need less of my time because I will not have to stake or prune it, since it will only grow to 24” tall and only take up 24” in width.
I hope that you find time to plant even one tomato plant. It could be one of the most rewarding gardening projects you do this year. If you think you missed the boat timing-wise on seeding tomato plants or would prefer to start your tomato story with a nursery grown tomato plant then consider the following things:
There are several types of tomatoes, including cherry, paste, slicers, and huge beefsteaks. So, choose the plants that best suits your culinary needs. I like to have a variety of tomatoes in my garden; so I grow some paste, cherry, medium sliced tomatoes and some beefsteaks. Because I make 50-60 pints of tomato-based salsa in the fall, I do buy bushels of Roma and San Marzano tomatoes from farmers markets.
Tomatoes come in a variety of sizes and colours. Pick the size and colour that suits the way you intend to use the tomatoes. That is, are they for salads or sandwiches?
Determinate tomatoes are a smaller plant and do not require staking or pruning whereas indeterminate tomatoes need to be staked and pruned.
Tomato plants have a range of age of maturity. If you want a plant that will give you tomatoes earlier rather than later in the season then choose a tomato plant that is mature in and around 60 days.
Large plants sold in a nursery store that are already in large (1-gallon) containers will give you the earliest tomatoes.
If you buy small tomato plants in the small 4-cell packs, it will take longer before you will get a harvest.
Most importantly, do not buy a plant that has broken branches, is yellowing, or is really leggy and thin.
In the following couple of weeks, I hope that I can provide steps that will help you to have a smooth and easy experience with growing your tomatoes. I know that planning when to seed and then when to plant tomatoes is much like a salsa dance. Much like dance, if we relax and let our heads follow without thinking too much we will succeed.
I remember the summer that sparked my interest in gardening. We had just moved into a 27-year-old townhouse which backed onto green space. We had a beautiful south facing, shady backyard with a deck, a large maple and the privacy of tall cedar trees lining the back of the yard. The sides of our yard were fenced from our neighbours by chain-link and on the east side of the yard stood a beautiful lilac tree. We decided that our best option for growing flowers or vegetables was on that east side of the yard at the farthest point of the backyard. We built a raised garden and set out to plant. I have to say that at this point my husband held most of the enthusiasm for planting, and so he was the catalyst in our gardening adventures. I wasn’t too optimistic that we would get very much out of our garden…. boy was I wrong.
We lived in this townhouse for five years, and every spring, after building that raised garden, we would take trips with our girls to the nursery stores in the area. They loved the smell of the greenhouse; the first sign of colour and greenery would brighten our moods. We would let the girls pick out the colours of the bedding plants, such as impatiens, and they even got to know the nursery garden’s cat by name – Pumpkin.
When we got to planting in the garden our daughters would get elbow deep into the dirt to help. They would enjoy helping Dad in the garden watering and be constantly on the look-out for new growth on the plants. We discovered early on that cherry tomatoes were a fantastic plant to grow with children. Daily, once the plant was fruiting, the girls would “snack” as they saw fit.
So, I began to see that growing fruit and vegetables in the garden is so much more than getting food. It was a family experience. Every year I would learn just a little bit more until, before I knew it, we were all planning our garden as spring approached. We all got just a little bit excited about when we would taste the first lettuce or tomato out of the garden, and with that have come endless stories and fond memories of being in the garden together.
Getting started today with growing your own vegetables will be the beginning of your gardening story, and it will be more than just growing a couple of plants. In this time of uncertainty about what is happening in the world you can be assured that you are also doing your part in helping not only your family but your country.
When you grow your own herbs, fruit, and vegetables, you eliminate all the fuel spent and pollution created in transporting that food to your house. When you improve your garden soil by composting, you remove vegetable waste from the municipal landfill. Also, you improve biodiversity by creating a habitat that is friendly to microbes, earthworms, pollinators (like bees), and birds. And, importantly, you improve the food security of your country by removing some of the demand on the food supply – freeing those resources for people who cannot grow their own food.
Today on April 7, 2020, it may seem early to be starting to prepare your pots for transplanting vegetable or flower plants but, in fact, it is the ideal time. To get started you need to purchase the appropriate size pot. I have a variety of pot sizes ranging from 9” diameter to 16” diameter. A 9” diameter pot will only support about 3-4 small plants, and I would only recommend planting small flowers such as pansies.
Ideally, you will purchase a 12” diameter pot, as this will allow you to plant a variety of plants over the years. You could easily plant a pepper or tomato plant, or if you prefer to plant flowers, a pot this size will allow you to plant 6-8 small plants. Now when I say a 12” diameter pot, I am referring to the top diameter. You want to make sure that you have a depth of at least 8”, as a small pot will really heat up in mid-summer. If you have a shallow pot and want to plant many plants then you will need a larger top diameter 14”-16”. This will allow a good volume of soil to support the plants.
If you want a low maintenance, weather tolerant, super functional planter, I would recommend a resin (plastic) planter that has a build-in water reservoir. I have several of these containers around my backyard in a variety of sizes. The manufacturer, Mayne, has quality planters of this style. In fact, that is the brand that I purchase for use in my backyard. I have three 35.6” x 20” Mayne black containers on my deck, and I have grown, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, tarragon, basil, lemon verbena and even strawberries in them. The built-in water reservoir is a time saver for you. In the heat of the summer, I would only have to water these planters at most twice a week. In contrast, the clay pots, even at 14” in diameter, may require a daily watering.
Let’s talk soil. You want to create a soil in your container that has the nutrients that the plants need, so as to minimize the need to fertilize and, at the same time, maximize the capacity to hold water, which is especially important in the heat of the summer. I don’t think that there is necessarily only one right recipe for potting soil, but here is what works for me. I like to include some “living” soil in the pot. By “living” I mean soil that contains the microbes and other soil creatures that you would naturally find in a garden. So, I fill a third to a half of the container with soil that I “borrow” from my garden (I will return it in the autumn). I then mix compost or manure into the pot (about a quarter to a third of the container’s volume). This will be less dense than the garden soil and helps with both nutrients and water retention. For the remainder of the container, I use a potting soil. The potting soil will contain a fertilizer – either natural or chemical – and things like peat, perlite, and vermiculite, which help with water retention.
I hope this blog inspires you to begin your gardening story. Even if you start this adventure with just one pot and one plant this year, you can take satisfaction in knowing that you did it! Here’s hoping your experiences bring you joy and fond memories.