prick out and pot on

if i can give any advice about starting an edible garden it’s to grow your own plants from seed, the cheapest way to get amazing variety and a full garden. it’s so satisfying to spend literally cents on a plant and have enough for filling gaps so there is always something good to eat. truth be told, i have no space whatsoever indoors for starting seed. i don’t have a grow light system or even a sunny window. what i do have is a cold frame, built from an old pallet and covered with salvaged windows. this is my plant nursery, the glass panes acting as a greenhouse for germinating, and protecting the seedlings from wind and cold.

ready to be pricked out and potted up
ready to be pricked out and potted up

i started some seeds about three weeks ago…lettuces,  sunflowers, cosmos, calendula, cornichon cucumbers, nasturtiums, and a few others, and kept them indoors for a few days until it was warm enough to put them out into the cold frame for a few hours a day. i slowly increased the time in the frame until they were out all day and night. if the nights got below 10c, i brought the trays in.

the cold frame is my holding area for new plants
the cold frame is my holding area for new plants

they are now ready for transplanting to bigger pots. i’ve checked the weather and we’re not expecting cold night or frost for the next couple of weeks, so a few bypassed the transplanting and went right into the ground. some seeds can be sown directly into the garden, without starting in trays first, but i have to say, having this holding area and a bunch of seedlings ready to fill gaps in the garden works so well. they’re also handy when i get invited anywhere and can pot-up some different lettuces or annual flowers for my hosts. i also like having each cell or pot provide a sneak preview of what has germinated properly.

they're such cute little babies!
they’re such cute little babies!

pricking out individual seedlings takes a bit of time, but there’s something peaceful about caring for each little seedling and imagining what it will be. don’t do it when you’re rushed, enjoy the moment.

moving "red sails" lettuce seedlings to bigger digs
moving “red sails” lettuce seedlings to bigger digs

wait until you see the first set of true leaves start to emerge, that is, the second set of leaves. pop out your cell plug and gently tease the roots free of the soil. I usually sow 2-4 seeds per cell, so the roots are intertwined a little. fill your new pots or cells about halfway with soil. use a pencil or the end of the spoon to make a hole, and gently lay in your baby plant. sprinkle on more soil and use your fingers to gently tamp around the seedling until it stands up straight. when they’re all in, give a gentle water, and back into your cold frame or sunny window.

i’ve been saving toilet rolls for weeks. cut in half, they make great transplanting cups, and can go right into the ground to decompose.


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wild garlic mustard pesto

wild garlic mustard pesto

ever since I was little, i’ve foraged for wild food.  as a kid it was raspberries by the roadside on cottage weekends. when i got my own place in toronto, there was an apple tree along taylor creek trail in east york i would pick from every fall. one year as i filled my basket, a troop of fire ants protecting their territory ascended my ankles. i wonder what the passing in-line skaters thought of the loopy chick in a dress, picking apples and madly jumping around in extreme pain. if you forage, you get used to the weird looks of curious onlookers. twenty years on, i wonder if that tree is still there, and if someone else is enjoying its gifts.

i’ve moved a few times since then, and every new place reveals new treasures to be found. around the corner is a giant mulberry tree, largely untouched by anyone. there are ramps and fiddleheads in the nearby woods. my current property is shaded by large maples and the side yard is decidedly forest-like. as a result, its a hotbed of garlic mustard.

garlic mustard is an invasive plant that grows everywhere.  in marshy parklands, along waterways, and possibly right your garden. it spreads like wildfire, but the good news is, it’s an edible and useful plant. in the 19th century, traveling Brits brought garlic mustard here to use as a medicinal plant-it is very high in vitamins a and c.  it has an aroma like garlic and a bracing, peppery taste.  add leaves fresh to salads, mixing with other greens, or steam lightly and use as you would arugula or spinach.  if you think you’ve found some, crush a leaf in your fingers and check for a garlic/onion scent.

i harvest this every year by cutting handfuls of stems and leaves. do this before they flower, then dig up the whole plant and throw it on the compost pile, if you happen to have it growing in your garden. the taproot is also edible.

when foraging in the wild, i’m always careful not to take too much of any one thing. in the case of garlic mustard, that rule goes out the window. as with most non-indigenous species, it wreaks havoc with the natural landscape, choking out native plants and taking much needed resources from other slower-growing plants with it’s rapid, rambling growth habit.  harvesting the whole plant, taproot and all, will prevent it spreading to other areas, so go crazy.

so many plants that we consider weeds or pests are useful, and valuable. in the time before the lettuces are putting forth good yields, a handful of foraged greens means salad for dinner. and long before the basil is big enough to harvest, we can have pesto.

wild garlic mustard pesto

garlic mustard pesto

4  packed cups garlic mustard leaves and stems, washed and spun dry.
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts or almonds
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

in a food processor or blender, roughly chop garlic mustard, basil, garlic, cheese, nuts, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle in enough olive oil to make a smooth paste, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula as needed.  Spoon into a clean jar and use within three days, or freeze for one month.

Serve tossed with hot long pasta (linguine or spaghettini works well), grilled in a sandwich with buffalo mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes, or use as a dip for crusty bread before dinner.

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time to grow

Garden Table


i’m on the move. the sun is shining, and maybe it’s greener grass syndrome. for years i was blogging on other sites – words here, photos there, and it’s exciting to be here now on everything but the aga. up-sizing allows for more and different ways to share food and recipes, simple tips about growing flowers and food, DIY projects using old things, links to inspirational sites and the people behind them, and lots of photos. i hope you like everything but the aga, and happy spring to you.

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