Late August Garden Ups and Downs aka Three Parsnips

We are working alongside Mother Nature for another growing season.  She’s been mostly tolerant with us although she continues to let us know who has the upper hand.  This past few years of active vegetable gardening has made me realize how much you need to know to grow a parsnip.  Or a cabbage.  Or a squash.  To grow anything really.

Here are some late August vegetable garden observations from the Ottawa valley.  It might be seen as wisdom but that would mean I had knowledge and while I/we learn more every year, it’s a drop in the bucket of garden smarts.  We have some particular ups and downs in our little plot.

1. Beans mature in 20 minutes.  When you pick beans from the row or from the pole structures, you move along and pick all that are ready.  When you turn around to walk back you see many more.  They weren’t there before.  Honestly.

Beans in camouflage
Beans in camouflage

2.Parsnips are not easy to grow. I blogged at one point about our efforts to grow parsnips last year.  The package says parsnips take a long time to germinate.  We knew that but found there were many “weeds” along the row and we pulled them up regularly.  We learned, too late, the weeds were parsnips and so we had no parsnips last year.  This year we tried again.  Now we recognize their little tops (and know they don’t look like carrot tops).  We sowed a row.  We waited.  Three parsnips came up.  We re-seeded.  None came up.  

While parsnips will be sweeter if you wait to harvest them after a frost, I decided we’d eat them when they were big and healthy.  By the time they got sweeter another creature might have decided they were tasty.  And we only had three.

The Entire Parsnip Harvest 2013
The Entire Parsnip Harvest 2013

3.A Day Can Make a Big Difference.  

Saturday:  I visited the garden last Saturday.  Mildew was showing up on the many squash plants, those ugly squash beetles that we had kept at bay were making a reappearance but overall the squash plants looked pretty good for this time of year.  The tomato plants were burdened with tomatoes.  So much so they were falling over.  Should we have staked them differently or perhaps removed blossoms to make it so there wasn’t so much fruit?  The leaves looked pretty healthy.

Sunday: When I arrived I wondered if this was the same garden.  Overnight it seemed the plants had receded from their fruit.  Squash plants looked shrivelled and beleaguered.  Leaves on the tomatoes had spots on them and a number had started to curl and die.  This process must have been under way the day before but it seemed to be such a big change.  Anyone got any suggestions/advice?  The fruit looks fine and there will be lots of both.

Garden Starting to Look Tired
Garden Starting to Look Tired

I spoke to our neighbour Kahlil and asked him about a couple of other things in our garden.  For example, our pepper plants are healthy but only now do we have a couple of blossoms on them.  It is way too late.  Kahlil said he has been gardening at his community plot for 32 years and his observation is that every year there are “two things that don’t work”.  It’s a mystery, he says.  One year green peppers are great and the next year the same variety of seeds will have disappointing results.

We won’t be at the garden for 32 years.  Perhaps Mother Nature is handing us more than two failures a year as she realizes our overall experience will be shorter than Kahlil’s and we need concentrated lessons.  On the other hand we have harvested beautiful cauliflower and broccoli, cabbages and carrots and we will have tomatoes and huge butternut squash.  It’s a pleasure to visit and work at the garden, ups and downs and all.

Someone Wrote “Grow Your Soul”

In our community garden, someone wrote “grow your soul” on the billboard next to Hope Garden. The Shepherds of Good Hope is a mission “dedicated to compassion”.  Located in downtown Ottawa, ON, the mission has several programs, one of them is the soup kitchen.  And that is where the community garden plots come into the picture.  By way of the talent, commitment, time and generosity of volunteers and donors, some six plots of the community garden are known as “Hope Garden”.

We learned about Hope Garden when we started to tend our single plot.  Hope Garden is managed (extremely well) by volunteer Barbara Harris.  It is a garden to emulate, if you can.  Things grow so well and look very healthy in their plots.  There was an article in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper recently about Hope Garden.  

This past weekend there as a garden party at Hope Garden.  It was a beautiful day.  You could stroll through the garden and see what they are growing this year.


There was a quiz about plants, species, latin names.  I left that one to others to complete.  There are many volunteers at Hope Garden.  Some are in charge of specific plants while some are “drop-ins”.  Many businesses donate goods and services.  



They keep meticulous records of what is harvested.


You could enjoy food and beverages while walking around the garden.   I went to the party but also spent time in our own garden plot listening to (well singing along with and maybe doing a little dancing) the music that carried across the gardens as I worked.  Now that was a very pleasurable garden visit.  But then again, aren’t they all.  

Growing beans, growing your soul and in the case of Hope Garden helping other souls.

Do you find gardening good for your soul?

Roy Romanow and Gravy on the Side

This is a true story. It was brought to mind when my (all female) golf league, CWGI,  listed for sale recently.  It’s a great league and I hope the new owner will grow and develop it as much as the current owner has done over the past decade.  The thing is, leading and /or belonging to an all-female organization can be interesting.   I say this based on my experience and assessment but hey, I am not a man and men may feel there are unique qualities, shall we say, about all-male organizations.  

And the story?  It was around 1980.  We are long time Saskatchewan residents and were  living in Regina.  I was in business and a friend invited me to a meeting of the Regina Business Women’s Network.  Great, I thought, this will be a wonderful opportunity to meet others, make new friends and to learn from each other.  I’ll go to this meeting and see how things work and if it is a good fit, I’ll join the Network.

The guest speaker at the evening meeting was Roy Romanow.  At the time Mr. Romanow was an elected member of the Saskatchewan provincial legislature and he was working on patriation of the Canadian constitution.  This from Wikipedia “During the 1981 discussions over patriation of the Canadian constitutionAttorney-General of Ontario Roy McMurtry, Chrétien and Romanow worked out the final details of Canada’s new constitution, resulting in the famous late-night Kitchen “Accord. Romanow objected strongly to any protections on private property in the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and none were included.”  This was very high profile and important for our country.  I was very impressed that as busy as Mr. Romanow would have been at the time that he came to speak to a group of business people in Regina mid-week on a cold early winter evening. 

The business meeting was still in progress when Mr. Romanow and his assistant quietly slipped into the room and patiently sat at the back waiting to be introduced.  People were aware he was there as the meeting continued.  The final item on the business agenda was the Christmas gathering, the President reviewed the date and time.  At that point a woman asked for the floor and proceeded to make an impassioned plea for gravy placement at the upcoming dinner.  You see, last year the gravy was put on top of the potatoes and there was too much gravy.  This year, she said, please ask the restaurant to serve the gravy on the side. 

Roy Romanow is waiting at the back of the room to tell us the patriation of our country’s constitution and the subject just before he speaks is about serving gravy on the side.

I’ll leave it to your imagination as to whether I joined the Network.



Green (sometimes) Thumb-Gardening Year Three

Good year for strawberries
Good year for strawberries

Caroline and I are well into our third year of tending our vegetable garden plot at a local community garden.  Previous years I blogged more often on our efforts to become locally renown green thumbs.  Come to think of it, other years I just plain blogged more often.  

Since it is August already I’ll give a very quick history of our efforts and observations to date:

  1. Planning next year’s garden starts pretty much as you are gardening in the current year.  It also takes up to three mid-winter coffee and muffin meetings at Grounded Kitchen and Coffee House where you spread out all the books and records and bring out the planting wheel.  We talk crop rotation, soil amendments, powdery mildew and companion crops.  The planting wheel indicates which crops grow well or not well next to each other.  It’s planning to make a project manager proud.
  2. We decided to start many plants from seed this year.  Let’s just say Caroline is much better at it than I am.  For weeks on end I had plants downstairs with grow lights, upstairs in the bedroom and living room, using watering mats and transplanting when they got bigger.  End result?  By the time I moved the plants out to harden them off gradually, I’d say at least 50% of those plants perished.  Someone, please, tell me what I did wrong!  What a bunch of work for nothing, I thought when it happened. I’ll never do try that again, I thought.   And the next week I thought, this won’t beat me, I’ll go at it again next year.  You have to be part masochist part eternal optimist to be a gardener.  At least if you have my level of knowledge, you do.
  3. Spending money on vast amounts of mushroom compost, Lee Valley Tools Drip Irrigation systems and row covers is a good investment.  Accountants and economists would not find the investment cost-effective if you look solely at the cost of buying things at the grocery store versus our inputs.  We rationalize by factoring in the value of working with Mother Nature (good for your soul), knowing how the food was grown (totally organic, no animals were harmed in the making of these beans), spending time with a dear friend and boring our family and friends with talk about our “farm”.   I think it’s similar to having an ugly baby where the parents see beauty and others look and say politely “Well, that’s a baby!”
  4. Parsnips are very difficult to grow, at least for us they are.  They don’t want to sprout and after two plantings we have 4 lonely parsnips.  Pretty pathetic.  We had trouble last year too.  However we learned then it was because we thought their tops looked like carrots and when other shapes emerged we weeded them out.  Pulled out our very own parsnips, we did!
  5. You cannot outsmart Mother Nature.  For example, we didn’t plant potatoes this year as there were too many potato bugs and diseases in the past.  So this year the potato bugs decided to go at our tomato plants as a surrogate!  Fortunately they haven’t been too bad at all compared to past years. Also, we have some sort of grassy weed that grows right next to our wanted plants.  If you pull up the grass then you pull up the vegetable too.  The weed is saying “Oh yeah!  If you take me, I’m taking your plant with me .
  6. For every hour you spend picking vegetables be ready to spend one to two times as long cleaning and storing them when you get home.
  7. Zucchini wear camouflage.  You look for them one day and there are none and a few days later they are as big as a baseball bat.  
  8. Your vegetables will not necessarily be the size you see in the grocery store.  We waited for a few of our tidy smallish cauliflower to grow into monsters and they grew grotesque and discoloured instead.  We should have picked them earlier. 
What is this annoying plant?
What is this annoying plant?
Cauliflower in its prime
Cauliflower in its prime
A farmer out standing in her field
A farmer out standing in her field
Good things to eat from our garden
Good things to eat from our garden