Earth to Table

Sometimes, life is extra great.  I was incredibly fortunate this week when I got a chance to meet someone whom I greatly admire.  Jeff Crump is the Executive Chef at the Ancaster Old Mill, and the author of Earth to Table, a remarkably beautiful and inspiring book that showcases the amazing rewards that are reaped when you connect with farmers and cook with fresh, local ingredients.

I love it when people turn out to be just like you expected, and this was one of those instances.  Jeff is an easygoing guy who truly enjoys sharing his passion for local food and simple, delicious cooking.  He has also been one of the biggest advocates of the Slow Food movement in Canada, and has founded a network of incredible people right here in the region who share his passion for the Earth to Table philosophy.

Looking for the perfect way to discover the benefits of eating locally and seasonally?  This is the book to buy - it will open the door to a new world for you. 


The time for delicious, crisp, spicy radishes passed quickly this season due to some unseasonably warm weather in May.  My very first harvest of these crunchy wonders is shown in the header photo for my blog, and the pride I felt is clearly apparent.  So, when it became obvious that the plants that hadn't started to swell below the surface were going to miss their biological deadline, I decided to leave them in place so that they could flower and go to seed.  Above is 'Cherry Belle' and below is 'Purple Plum', which surprised me with it's ornamental qualities!  

The ability to save seeds from your plants is one of the most wonderful reasons to grow heirloom varieties!  Hybrid vegetables have their place, and I'm sure I'll eventually grow some, but because they're created by cross-pollination and selective breeding, their seeds never produce a duplicate of the parent plants, usually resulting in less-than-spectacular flavour.  Heirlooms, on the other hand, are plants that are 'open-pollinated' and have been passed for generations through families and friends across time and distance.  Many of them have amazing stories of their origins, while others are ancient and shrouded in mystery.  

I chose to grow heirloom varieties exclusively this season, and I sourced my seed from some very cool companies that are run by some very cool people!  You can check them out to learn more about heirlooms here:
Urban Harvest
The Cottage Gardener
Aimers Organics
Baker Creek Heirlooms 

I'll be saving seeds from my radishes, arugula, and likely the peas and beans this season - which means more to share next spring, and naturally, more room in my seed budget for NEW varieties in 2011! 

Give Peas a Chance

Ok, so it's a terrible pun, but I swear it's relevant!  

A couple of weeks ago, I was almost ready to consider my peas a write-off.  At the start of the season, I chose to sow them at the edge of the garden beside the shed, which is the darkest, coolest spot available.  I knew that it was a bit of a stretch and that little could thrive there, but I figured if anything had a shot, it was the peas.  For weeks upon weeks, nothing happened... they took ages to germinate, and then languished in the cold dirt.  I did what I could to start coaxing them up onto the bamboo tripods, but held little hope that they would actually ever start to flower.  But wait, oh pessimistic one!  In the heat of the last week, they've suddenly sprung to life - climbing, twining, blooming, and just this morning I discovered that I HAVE PEAS!!  The Mammoth Melting Sugar have begun to come into their own, and I now have sweet, tiny, baby peas.  Miniature green victory!

The rest of the garden is really starting to thrive now as well.  I'm thrilled to see the giant, gaudy yellow-orange blooms of male zucchini flowers starting to poke through the carpet of fuzzy leaves, hinting at the female flowers and fruit soon to follow.  Much of the lettuce has now been harvested, and I've replaced it with eight small watermelon plants, hoping that they'll have time to size up before frost.  I chose my varieties carefully for this reason, planting Malali and Cream of Saskatchewan because of their short maturing time.

I'm most excited about the tomatoes.  They all started off slowly, and I was worried that I hadn't started them early enough indoors this March.  But again, with the heat of June finally starting to kick in now, they've grown substantially in the last week, and have now begun forming flowers.  With a bit of luck, oodles of red, green, orange, yellow, purple, pink and striped tomatoes will be mine for the picking in the weeks and months ahead!  It's officially summer now, and these plants have no excuses.

Between the containers on the deck, the back garden and the front mixed bed, I'm nursing 25 tomato plants this season... I'm guessing I'm going to have to learn how to preserve with canning and sauces this fall.  Here's hoping!

Herald of Summer

Is there anything better than the first strawberry of the season?  No, there is not.


While patiently waiting for my garden to grow and produce some substantial food, I'm exploring the region in search of local farmers and vendors who are already accomplishing the life I dream about.  Last weekend, I made a few stops in St. Catharines and then wound my way through the sunny escarpment road to Vineland, and the Upper Canada Cheese Company.  

There are some things that I can't grow in the backyard, and CHEESE is one of them.  Is there anything in the world better than cheese?  Inevitably, when someone says, "Oh wow, this is soooo good!  What's in it?"  The answer is always cheese.  And LOCAL cheese?  Well, friends, this is what dreams are made of.  

I spent some time with Susan, an employee of the company who is clearly passionate about her work.  She talked me through the signature cheeses of Upper Canada, all crafted from the milk of a single herd of Guernsey cows:  Niagara Gold, Comfort Cream, and Guernsey Girl.  Ohhh my my!  

Guernsey Girl is interesting, as it's actually recommended to be served grilled.  Susan said to slice it, and drop it into a hot pan or even roast it on the barbeque.  This is on my 'to do' list for this fall, for sure!  Comfort Cream is a soft cheese, like a brie or camembert, and it is amazing.  It's unbelievably silky and rich, and I had to talk myself out of buying a wheel... I know myself too well, and would surely have spent my next five evenings at home in front of the television, gorging on cheese and crusty bread.  Yikes!  Niagara Gold (pictured) is a beautiful, sharp cheese that you slice and eat like a cheddar or a gouda.  It's pungent, but smooth and tasty, and surprisingly beautiful to look at!  This one, I could definitely justify, and I bought a big chunk to bring home with me. 

You DO Make Friends With Salad!

The cycles of a garden are amazing. Every action taken leads inevitably to some kind of effect, whether positive or negative... pinching off new growth creates robust, bushy offshoots; the addition of bamboo poles suddenly inspires pea tendrils to start clinging and climbing instead of lolling around in the dirt; and tiny seeds thrust teeny, hopeful cotyledon leaves into the air like micro-solar-panels. If you've never grown anything edible, I highly recommend that you start. It can be a single pot of basil! Absolutely nothing competes with the sense of pride and accomplishment that's gained from taking a small action in soil that results in a real, tangible, reward that bursts with flavour and nourishes the body.

Lettuce is almo
st too easy. And I've grown WAY too much of it! That, however, is exactly why growing food is also a way to grow human connections. When you've carefully planned, planted and tended a crop, however small, you become intensely connected to the process that brings food from earth to table. To waste it would be unthinkable. So what to do? Well, my friend, it's time to share! The heat of the summer has arrived early, which means my greens are starting to bolt and become bitter instead of sweet, with their energies now focused on flowers instead of delicious and delicate leaves. Friends, neighbours and family will now share in the bounty, and salads are served daily on Mo Farm this week!

I'll keep sowing lettuce throughout the summer to grow in shaded pots and eat as baby greens, but the precious in-ground space that the Buttercrunch and Black-Seeded Simpson had occupied will now become prime real estate for the watermelons. And I might have purchased one more tomato on impulse today... her name is Arkansas Marvel. We'll find out just how marvelous she is!

The 2010 Crop at a Glance

I can't believe it's June. What the heck happened?

Things have been busy, to sa
y the least, and I thought I'd share a glimpse of the crop to date. I painstakingly selected varieties and started sowing this season's crop from seed indoors in March, after weeks of obsessive seed collecting. I really couldn't help myself! I took a trip to Toronto for Seedy Saturday (on a Sunday) and came back with enough seeds to grow food for the entire city, if space permitted. Here's a look at how it went down...

On March 21 I planted these to grow indoors:
Eggplants - Rosa
Bianca & Little Fingers
Hot Peppers - Orange Thai, Early Jalapeno, and a cook's mix
Sweet Peppers - Little Bells
Tomatoes - Yellow Pear, Rutgers, Green Zebra, Black Plum, Box Car Willie, Black Krim, Fox Cherry, Tigerella

On April 12 I started direct-sowing in outdoor containers:
Radishes - Purple Plum, Cherry Belle
Lettuce - Heirloom Leaf Mix, cook's blend

Evergreen Bunching Onions


While I was outside anyway, I decided to start the back bed too:

Peas - Mammoth Melting Sugar, Thomas Laxton
Beets - Golden Detroit, Chioggia
Lettuce - Buttercrunch, Black-Seeded Simpson
Carrots - Rainbow Mix, Red Atomic
Onion - Mini Purplette
Swiss Chard - Five Colour Silverbeet

As May crept up, miraculously, things started growing. For real! So while the little ones outside started showing signs of life, the indoor plants were thriving and it was time to sow some more!

On May 1
new additions joined the indoor grow-op:
Beans - Dragon Tongue, Littlefields' Special Dry, Lazy Housewife
New Zealand Spinach
Costata Romanesca Zucchini
Cucumbers - Pickling, Muncher, Straight Eight
Watermelon - Malali, Cream of Saskatchewan

On May 14, I ate my first salad of homegrown greens, relishing the sweet, fresh crunch of soft leaves that were still breathing just moments before I put them in my mouth.

On May 1
6, the first tomatoes, eggplants and peppers were planted into pots on the back deck, nestled between seeds of cilantro, dill, and basil.

Then, finally, on May 23, the entire garden was planted. Thankfully, my partner in crime was easy to convince to lend some assistance...

As the season progresses, I'll share some stories surrounding my plant choices, and I can't wait to tell you how they grow, flower, and TASTE!
Mmmmm - sweet summer!