Saturday, July 21

Saturday, July 7

Wednesday, July 4

garden update: community plot, june 2012

The community plot is doing well, despite several incidences, and is filling out nicely. Summer has not quite arrived in Vancouver; we've had a few days of sun but the past weeks were damp and I haven't had a need to put away my cardigan sweaters.

We've been planting seeds and seedlings since April. We've also been harvesting cool season crops, including chard, perpetual spinach, lettuce, radish, turnips, and arugula. There are no more empty spots and everything is growing to be harvested in the next few weeks.

The tomatoes are starting to flower! We've been vigilant in pruning the tomatoes to try maximize the harvest. We snap off all the suckers so energy is spent on growing and fruiting. We also trim stems at the bottom foot of the plant to make way for the basil planted around each plant, but also to ensure no stems touch the ground and remain wet for too long (it's been very damp).

We're just harvesting the last of the quick growing spring crops, including the turnips which our rabbit, Beans, love so much. The turnips germinate easily and grow quickly, so it'll always find a home in this garden.

The purple and yellow onions we bought as seedlings from Tim Chiang's Garden are all doing well in their neat rows. We had several wind storms in spring so their leaves are all bent and whacky looking. They also have a "gangster lean" to the south since the northwest, north, and northeast are shadey. I was initially worried that we won't have a means to distinguish which are purple and and which are yellow onions, but the purple tinge on their stems are very telling!

By far, the star of this garden are the nasturtiums. I planted several varieties, but put off labelling them...then I had forgotten which is which. I love all nasturtiums equally so it's not much of a bother. Some are easily identifiable, but I cannot distinguish between "Peach Melba" and "Vanilla Berry". My plan is simply to collect the seeds and have a grab bag of nasturtiums.

The Green Arrow peas are almost ready for picking! We staggered planting this row to ensure a steady harvest. Each week we filled egg cartons with seed starting soil and seeds (three cartons per week with 6 slots each). Once all seedlings are at least 8cm (3") tall, the entire cartons are buried to soil level. This ensures the seeds are still perfectly spaced and there is less transplant shock. It's being held up (barely) by bamboo sticks fashioned into some semblance of a trellis.

Above is the photo of the transplated Red Noodle Beans. They were originally planted in the back of the plot where their tall trellis will not shade any other plant. Unfortunately, they weren't doing very well and were days away from completely withered. Meanwhile, there was a spot where the lima beans were planted but had very poor germination. (Note to self: Nature cares not how much you love them, it's too cold for lima beans!) The Red Noodle bean seedlings were moved, and just in case they don't make it I've direct-seeded more seeds beside each plant. They went in the ground really late so I'm expecting the worst, but am hoping for the best case scenario!

The sun should be coming out in July so I'm hoping for a sudden growth spurt and a basket full of harvest.

Saturday, June 30

Friday, June 29

harvest: garlic scapes

Garlic scapes are flower stalks of hardneck garlic plants. They are (probably) the most seasonal produce you'll fall in love with. You're not likely to find these at the grocery stores. You may find them at the farmer's market for a few weeks, but be quick because each plant only produces one stalk and supplies could be limited. 

Garlic is the easiest plant you can grow. Timing is the only consideration. We planted our garlic in the community garden at the end of October by burying each clove, pointing up, 15cm (6") apart, 10cm (4") deep on well amended soil. They were then mulched with dried leaves, then forgotten about until it was time to harvest the scapes. I will ignore it again until it's time to harvest the garlic bulbs. It thrives on being left alone, really. We got our garlic "seeds" last year from The Garlic Festival hosted, and grown at, the Richmond Sharing Farm. The farmer advised that scapes should be harvested after it has looped around itself (see below) so the plant's energy is directed to growing a larger bulb, rather than producing a flower.

Scapes can be harvested after it has looped to ensure larger garlic bulbs.

This year, we harvested our garlic scapes in mid-June. Scapes have a delicious fresh, light garlic taste. It was turned into a pesto which was mixed into mashed potato and was also used as a spread for sandwiches. 

Have you ever had garlic scapes? If so, how did you eat it?

Tuesday, June 26

make: strawberry planter

There are many existing strawberry planter options out there, both to buy and to make. A quick search on Pinterest will yield a find PVC, pyramid, tiered pots, and on ground options. However, they are likely to be at least two of the following:
  • Cost more than $10
  • Too heavy to hang onto a lattice fence
  • Not cute
  • Not patio friendly, i.e. needs to sit on soil
  • Has bad irrigation or difficult to water
  • Need to be constructed and require a trip to the hardware store
I don't believe you should spend large quantities of money to enjoy gardening nor make a weekend project just for a few cups of strawberries from the patio. So here's what I put together:

This planter consists of a trash basket from IKEA for ($5.99 CDN), burlap bag, and some binder clips (optional). In other words, it required minimal effort and it cost less than $10. Also, it's pretty freaking cute, isn't it?

This can be adapted to similar items like a small laundry hamper or IKEA's plastic bag dispenser. This DIY project doesn't even need a step-by-step tutorial because it's simple, but here it is anyway:

Sew or find a reusable cloth bag that would fit inside your container. I used burlap because it's what I had lying around, but anything porous or even leftover landscape fabric will do. Drill some holes at the bottom of your container. Put your fabric bag inside, keep in place using binder clips or clothes pins. Fill the bottom with soil*.

At this point, determine in which holes your strawberry plants will occupy. Cut a slit through the fabric at your selected areas. Fill with soil until you reach the first slit. Insert the strawberry roots, hold in place, and continue to fill with soil. Pat down the soil to ensure stability. Do same with the remaining spots for strawberries. Hang it up, water thoroughly, and wait for strawberries.

*Because I'm hanging this planter, I added perlite to the soil to keep it light. Alternately, you can use packing foam peanuts or whatever you use to improve irrigation and weight.

Sunday, June 17

bloom: snapdragon flowers roar

Snapdragon flower. 

Some flowers are meh, some flowers are beautiful, and then there's the Snapdragon flower. It comes in a multitude of colours, available in dwarf to tall varieties, but most fun of's interactive! You can make it roar! Here's a .gif I made to illustrate my point:
Snapdragon roars!

Wednesday, June 13

blargh: sometimes people just suck

Signs we made and posted after several incidents.
I was on a waitlist for almost one year before getting the call that a new community garden will be set-up near my home. It's a plot that Bryce and I built from scratch. The community garden build was during an unusually warm September. On three afternoons during a heatwave, we built the frames, loaded the wheelbarrow with soil using a shovel, and hauled soil back and forth. One heavy load of dirt at a time.

This is the first year that I grew everything from seed. I invested in a pantry rack, heating mats, seed starting soil, grow lights, and everything else needed. I bought seeds from reputable sources and bought only open-pollinated, GMO free seeds. I was excited about everything. Every new growth and every change in that growth was documented and stared upon in awe for a few minutes too long. I created and stuck to a strict schedule to ensure I do not forget anything. I had a spreadsheet!

I fully understand that gardening has just as much disappointment as moments of joy, pride, and accomplishments. I've prepared myself for the disappointment when a seed doesn't grow or when a seedling doesn't transplant well. I know some plants may not bear as much fruit as I anticipate. I know critters may dig up or eat my plants. But I completely forgot to take into account that sometimes people just suck.

Our community garden is tucked away in a small park at a residential neighbourhood. There isn't much traffic and only those who live in the area would even know of its existence. There is a large sign posted at the entrance, as well as smaller laminated signs, proclaiming that all plants are owned and are grown by their respective plot owners. And yet every few weeks when I speak to plot mates, I find that they too have had some leaves cut haphazardly, fruits picked, plant support, or misc. items in their garden stolen. It's heartbreaking.

Signage posted throughout the garden.

As for my plot, I've had garlic shoots cut, root veggies pulled, my row cover box (a mesh drawer I hand-stitched a row cover over to use for newly transplanted seedlings and for salads) stolen, and most recently had four plants dug up. We've also had plants trampled and destroyed by dogs--evident by large paw prints left behind. It makes me upset every time.

I'm trying to set aside some money so I can build fencing around my plot. If you have any great DIY ideas (read: cheap) for a fence, or if you have dealt with garden thieves, let me know!

Tuesday, June 12

grow: take it easy, there's salad from the patio

Salad from the patio. Tom thumb lettuce, baby chard and kale, misc. red lettuces, and pansies!

This weekend I woke up to Bryce already preparing poached eggs with sriracha mayo on english muffins for breakfast. I decided that we should also have salad, so I headed out onto the patio. Everything photographed above was gathered from miscellaneous container garden plants. I find that exciting!

This is the first year I've made a concious effort to commit to edible gardening. In the past, it was a matter of setting up everything all at once on a sunny weekend in May then harvesting whatever comes up and putting it all to rest in fall. This year, I've planted everything from seed and make a habit of sowing something every week to ensure a continual harvest. Logically I understand how and why it's working, but it just blows my mind that it's working!

I have a tendency to over-plan and scrutinise the details. Bryce has encouraged me to just let go, garden on a whim, and treat it as play time. I'm glad he did because it is far more enjoyable this way. I no longer refer to a spreadsheet with a schedule (which I used to and I still think is an awesome tool). Instead, I now bring 2-3 seed packets when I head out to the patio or the community garden. When I get there, I try to find an empty spot. If I find one, I scatter seeds. Sometimes they come up, sometimes they don't. Either way, it's ok.

Thursday, June 7

make: chive infused vinegar

File this under things that sound fancy and looks beautiful but is really simple to make. It doesn't even require a recipe!

Collect chive blossoms and wash them to get rid of any dust or critters inside. Place it in a mason jar with whatever vinegar you have on hand, then wait for two weeks before straining it. Some advise putting it in the dark or in the sun, or using something fancy like champagne or white wine vinegar. I just left mine sitting on the kitchen counter and used white vinegar I had on hand.

It'll turn into a beautiful pink vinegar with a light chive smell and taste! Use it for salad dressing, dips, and sauces.

Monday, June 4

harvest: butterhead lettuce 'speckles'

'Speckles' Lettuce
Speckles is an heirloom bibb lettuce that originated from Germany and Holland. It was brought over 200 years ago to North America. It's a great tasting lettuce perfect for salads and sandwiches.

I grow it on a raised bed in the community garden and in containers in my patio. Matures in about 55 days and does well in cool, damp weather. Sow in batches of 3 every other week from mid-March to June and again from mid-August and through September to stagger harvests.

It transplants well, but make sure to transplant on an overcast or cloudy day! (I transplanted a batch on a sunny day and it withered by the next day. Oops!) Transplant 10cm (4") apart. Once the leaves touch, thin by harvesting every other plant and let remainders grow until you want to eat them!

Tuesday, May 22

garden update: patio, may 2012

Chives in bloom. Find the bug!

It must be Super-Fun-Turbo-Awesome-Plant-All-The-Things Time because Bryce and I are now a familiar sight at the local garden shop, Tim Chiang's Garden. They're a local small business with a no frills approach to their merchandising. This means two things:

  1. Prices are much cheaper than big box stores (Home Depot, Rona, Canadian Tire, etc.) and cute garden shops that cater to hobby gardeners with big houses I will never be able to afford (Art Knapp, GardenWorks, Prickly Pear, David Hunter, etc.).
  2. There are many, many varieties sold but all seeds are locally derived from their own gardens or from local seed sellers.

Both are great news because I'm cheap and given the choice, I will always choose the local small business with local products.

We're at Tim Chiang's at least every other week to buy soil, pots for the patio, and whatever annual flower that I happen to gravitate towards. That said, none of the photos on this post include plants from Tim Chiang's...that's for another post, maybe.

May means our weekly salad harvest will soon begin! Last fall we constructed four 7'x 4' (2.1m x 1.2m) rectangular borders for the community garden so we can practice crop rotation. I used the left-over pieces to create a small salad box. Behold, my DIY prowess:
DIY Salad Box! Contains mescluns 'Mild Blend' and 'Valentine'.

The tomatoes were transplanted the first week of May, both in the patio and the community garden. They're all doing well with the exception of the Toma Verdes in the community garden who may be whispering to themselves, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." I believe both will make it though. In the meantime, we've had two straight weeks of sunshine in May so some plants growing like gangbusters!

The tomato 'Gold Nugget' seems to be growing in height at least an inch a day. It's already started flowering and it may just bear the first fruits of the season. It's accompanied with 'Genovese' and 'Purple' basil.
Tomato 'Gold Nugget', Basil 'Genovese' and 'Purple'

Meanwhile, the 'Hahms Gelbe' isn't getting taller but it's getting leafier and stockier! Like me! I bought the seeds from You Grow Girl so I like to think the seeds were saved from the plant on this post. This was sown on March 26, want to see the photo evidence?
Tomato 'Hahms Gelbe' and Basil 'Sweet'

For the first time, I was crazy enough (and Bryce was even crazier for agreeing to come with me) to attend the VanDusen Plant Sale. If you don't know about the sale and you're not a gardener, I'll have to put it in terms you would understand:

  1. If you love fashion, it's a 7 hour pop-up shop with limited-edition current season designer clothes, bags, and shoes on sale at 70% off. Oh and your favourite blogger got a sneak peek and there are only two of the purses you want!
  2. If you're a nerd, it's a 7 hour sale for the signed, original series, screen-used costume from the show-with-a-remake you love. Oh and it's the one your favourite character wore for the season finale with a twist that changed the entire story!

Anyway, back to the plant sale. It's a yearly fundraiser for VanDusen Botanical Garden. It's a one day event from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. There are about 3,000 plants for sale and draws about 12,000 visitors. The list of plants for sale are published a few weeks ahead. Master gardeners are present throughout the different stations to answer any questions. The main draw for avid gardeners is that many plants come from local master gardeners' personal collections--plants that are often not available in stores! This year, the first person to line up was there at 5:45 AM.

I consulted the master gardeners for advice on which plants would be happy in a container on a north facing patio. They recommended that I begin with hostas and geraniums. That said, I could not help myself and bought some lilies. What? Yeah I know, lilies require full sun...but I still get a solid strip of full sun at the very end of the patio which they can happily share with the tomatoes. Here's my first hosta!
My first Hosta, 'Bressingham Blue'

A gardening post is never complete until there is an obligatory photo of the garden supervisor. Monty has made a habit of perching on this nest of leaves while I garden. I moved his catmint plant right next to it for convenience, which he habitually bats half-heartedly. Also, because he loves boxes I've placed a box next to this set-up just in case the leaves are wet and he can't perch on it. Don't even act like you wouldn't do the same!
Monty on his leaf nest, eyeing his catmint.

How is your garden coming along?

Saturday, April 28

Thursday, April 19

grow: tomato seedling, amish paste 2012

My dad always manage to grow the most ridiculously successful and bountiful tomato plants, despite lack of pruning, fertilizing, and general maintenance. It's so ridiculous that though he leaves his tomato plants uncovered until early October, and while gets soaked from several days of rain, his tomatoes never get blight. His neighbours' plants get blight, but his does not. We don't know how this happens, because from everything I've read and been taught his tomatoes should get blight. I don't question his methods, I just try to imitate them now.

His favourite cultivar is Amish Paste. He loves the plant but hates starting them, so I've been assigned to that task. This year, I started all my seedlings in diy newspaper pots:
It's alive!

On DIY Newspaper Pots

There are plenty of tutorials online on how to make these if you're interested. I started all my warm weather seedlings in newspaper pots–tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and basil. I don't think I'll use them again. Yes, they are cheap (free supply at the building lobby) and are easy to make, but they wick the water away from the growing medium. I tried to remedy this by keeping the plastic dome on my seedlings and simply propping it open for air circulation. The soil remained moist, but it was too moist for too long. After a few days ugly white fuzz appeared! It's fuzzy and just slowly covered the top of the soil. A Google search and several gardening forums confirmed that while unsettling to look at, it is harmless and is caused by the lack of airflow in constantly moist environment for seedlings.

Tomato Roots and Their Super Powers

Deeper and more extensive root system mean sturdier plants that can easily extract water and nutrients from a larger area. In other words, tomatoes do better if they have deep roots.  Luckily they have a wonderful ability (super power, really) to grow roots along their stem (given the right conditions). This means that when it is transplanted to a bigger pot or to the garden, it should always be buried to its neck.

Repotting a tomato seedling. Bury the main stem to get a more extensive root system.

Two weeks after:

See the fuzz along the stems? All potential roots!

This plant has since been transplanted into a larger pot. (I broke off the two lower stems and buried it to its neck again.) It is now hardening off in the patio greenhouse. But more on that later.

Do you start your plants from seed? Or you you buy seedlings instead?

Tuesday, April 17

when days are long and skies are gray...

I look at this photo of Beans. It makes me smile and realize that whatever is bothering me now, likely won't a year from today.
Beans asleep.

Saturday, March 31

stuff this week

It will stop raining in Vancouver, just not this week.

This is not a caterpillar...or is it. Just a little mind-fuck.

I've shared a link about what Jay-Z can teach us about the future of education, on this week's edition look at a corner store in Atlanta that translates Jay-Z's branding ethos to kale.

The (design) nerds and beauty obsessed have collaborated! PANTONE and Sephora team up to create a make-up line promoting 2012 colour of the year: Tangerine Tango.

The Darwin's Bark Spider was just discovered in 2009. They found this one with a web that spans a river 25 m wide. Oh best thing about it: its silk is 10x stronger than Kevlar. If you hate spiders, you can't even kill this one with a gun.

Pollinator bee population has been in a freefall and because of their importance in the ecosystem, long term effects could be devastating. Multiple studies show that insecticides are largley to blame.
The insecticides in question–a class called neonicotinoids–earn well over a billion dollars a year for their manufacturers. These insecticides are everywhere. Virtually all corn in the U.S. is treated with them, for example
It's a complex story. I encourage you to explore and be aware of this issue. Locally, the Land Conservancy of BC have some tips on how to help Bring Back the Bees.

And because bees just can't catch a break, there are also parasites that turn them into zombies with larvaes bursting out of their bodies. No, really.

Tuesday, March 20

the frequency at which i post

...will likely suffer based on what hobbies I pick up from time to time. Last weekend, I played a trial version and immediately bought the full version of Star Wars: The Old Republic. This will likely consume the majority of my free time. My first character is an Imperial Agent. Look at how awesome my character will be!

I've just started out and have just reached level 10. Let me know if you have a character around the same level and if you'd like to play as a group around 7:30-10:00 PST.

Do you play SWTOR? If so, what character and tips can you give me?

Thursday, March 15

stuff this week

Hellebores in bloom.

"As a patrol car arrived on the scene, one of the Amish buggies changed lanes, colliding with the police vehicle. The buggy flipped onto its side, causing minor injuries to one of the people on board. Police say several other buggies fled the scene."
  • Monsanto is evil and owns Seminis. If you're a gardener who, like me, sometimes buy seeds or seedlings from a garden centre, please find out where your seeds truly come from. This list does not mean the cultivars are GMOs, some are even heirloom varieties. However, know that they are now owned by Monsanto and are likely selling them to big box stores under theirs or another distributor's name. If you love any of these varieties, buy them from reputable organic and open-pollinated seed stores*! Forewarned is forearmed.
  • Free and Awesome. Let me teach you some learnings. Fool everyone and act like you know things by listening/watching lectures from top universities for free. Right now, I'm listening to Game Theory by Ben Polak from Yale.

*Visit my "seed list" page to see all organic and open-pollinated seed sellers I've supported.

Monday, March 12

i had a bonus, but i spent it

One pink sewing machine, two pink sewing machines.
I'm lucky enough to work for a company where I get a bonus. At the beginning of the fiscal year, company goals are determined and metrics are clearly laid out. If it has been a good year, and conveniently before the RRSP deadline, we receive this bonus (if any). Because I continue pretending to be a "responsible and productive" member of society, so I forward a portion of it to my retirement savings. The rest, I spend.

I don't readily have a lump of spending money at any given time. Akin to an excited, hungry dog staring into a deli, I salivate at all the possibilities...and also the bacon. I can spend it on responsible things (that word again...ugh), or I can spend it on things that will make me happy. This year's bonus was good, and these are what I bought:

Saturday, March 10

stuff this week

Manneken Pis ensures my flower is well hydrated.

Friday, March 9

heated intellectual discussions with jenn

Photo is unrelated to the conversation. But look, I have owl mugs!

Jenn: I want to know your opinion on (insert whatever thing in the news) issue. Let's have a discussion with random bouts of unnecessarily strong opinions.

Amanda: I don't really know enough about it to take a stance. But I could read the first news story I spot and form an unnecessarily strong opinion based on nothing.

Jenn: Sure! Let's do that. Come back when you're ready.

Saturday, March 3

attacked by a pack of snookis

Jenn: Have you seen @iamjackyblack's tweet joking about Snooki's due date coinciding with the Mayan's end-of-the-world prediction?

Bryce: Hah! Yeah, very clever.

Jenn: Wait, that's not quite accurate. Pregnancy is nine months. What's the actual gestation period for people, is it actually nine months? What is it in weeks? Preggos always talk about things in weeks. I've never been pregnant. Look that up.

Bryce: I think we should account that a Snooki might have a different gestation period.

Jenn: You're right! While we're at it, what if she spawns a litter?!

Bryce: Exactly. This is what the Mayans have foreseen.

Jenn: That'd be a good excuse for teenagers. You know? 
Mom: "Your curfew is 11! It's midnight and you didn't call." Son: "We were attacked by a pack of Snookis. Bob didn't make it!"
Bryce: Oh dumb, slow Bob.

Friday, March 2

stuff this week

Random toy squid found at the community garden.
Has nothing to do with stuff this week!

"At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle. At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate."

Thursday, March 1

ignore the guilt and do what's right

I have to write a letter to a neighbour, the strata, and the property manager that I really do not want to write. The letter will need to specifically outline that the unit above my condo is at fault for the water damage it has cause in my suite. Throughout the two month process of investigating its cause, I've learned more about my neighbours...and that's why I don't want to write the letter. I feel guilty, but I need to do what's right.

Tuesday, February 28

the first post

I'm trained to write for a specific audience with a specific message for a specific communication purpose. In other words, I've always written for someone else, rather than myself. This is my chance. I've almost killed the idea of setting up this blog because I couldn't definitively determine who will read it. Until I spoke to some veteran bloggers who have essentially told me,
Don't take it seriously. Write what you want. Write for yourself.
So that's what I'll do. I'll write about things, many random things:
  • Issues, ideas, events, people, and causes that I care about. As well as ones I passionately not care about.
  • Random sites, products, inspirational thoughts, and information I'm simply trying to catalogue for later reference. These may include cute owls, hula hoop bear videos, and so-bad-it's-good video ads.
  • Progress on whatever half-thought, half-finished projects I've gotten myself into. Including partly finished quilt tops and my vegetable garden!
My goals for this blog are:
  1. Have an editorial schedule. At the very least, post twice a week.
  2. Keep my camera out of its bag and have the battery always charged. Learn to take better photos by taking more photos.
  3. Try new things, such as hobbies, food, recipes, activities, and document them. Even if I fail. Make sure I learned something and share the experience.
  4. Stop being so serious. I'm aware that my writing is ridiculously formal at times. I'm actually a delightful company. Really.
  5. Be helpful, supportive, and nice. I'll share my successes (and failures) so you can emulate or learn from it. If it didn't work out for you, we can figure it out. If you leave a comment, I'll answer! Even just to say: "Dear Commenter, You my only friend. Let's eat tacos together."
Five is enough. Let's do this!
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