Friday, 19 July 2013


We have talked about plant guilds before in our posts and I think that most of you would have tried some guilds or companion planting before in their garden, but for those that don't know about it:

A guild is a combination of plants that are beneficial to each other. Mostly, a guild consists out of three or more different plants where one is a nitrogen fixer to fertilise the ground for the other plants, one plant is the main crop plant that uses the nitrogen and the third plant is acting as pest control for pests likely to damage the main crop plant.
One of the most famous guilds is called "The Three Sisters" and is comprised out of beans (nitrogen fixer), Corn (main crop) and squash(crop). While no pest control is present, these three plants thrive in each others vicinity and yield three different crops while maintain soil fertility.

I have several guilds in my garden. Some of them work really well, others not so well. A lot of the work is trial and error. One of the guilds that is doing fantastic is a combination of beans and peas with tomatoes and calendula. Calendula is supposed to repel the tomato hornworm and also keeps the number of nematodes in the soil in check. The beans and peas are the nitrogen fixer and the tomatoes are for my belly.....yum.

Tomato, beans, peas, and calendula guild
Some of these guilds I plant look chaotic and they certainly don't have to be stacked that dense. I happen to like guerilla camouflage gardening and the patch depicted above came about of me finding more seeds and just sticking them in the ground where there was a spot. The tomatos I did not plant at all, but there was tomatoes growing here last year and the ones in the picture are volunteers. Let's see how they will do. 

I also had some fantastic success planting beans cabbage and wormwood together. Not a bite taken out of the cabbage all year by any bug!!! And this year I am making absinth with the wormwood and other herbs I planted. So while the wormwood is not actually for consumption (it is a toxic plant in higher doses) it can be used to yield a product.

Trying out new combinations of plant guilds is fun and can result in an even more successful garden. In our opinion everyone should try this out. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

An old friend we are just getting to know (again)

When looking through old cookbooks (I mean the really old ones) it is surprising how many different vegetables are mentioned that we have completely forgotten about. Most of us know that dandelions were once a commonly used green, but who has heard of marhsmallow? I am talking about the plant and not the little white sugar balls that make a camp fire complete. We know Solomon's seal as a horticultiural addition to our gardens, but did you know that it is edible and delicious at that too?

One of those long forgotten vegetables that once used to be a staple food amongst many Europeans and also the settlers of America is salsify. Salsify (Trappogon porrifolius) is currently making a bit of a comeback in the foodie scene and I always have to grin when I hear about this "new food" that is hitting the market.

Salsify is a plant from the Aster family. It is a bi-annual, meaning it flowers in its second year with some wonderfully showing flowers that depending on the variety can be purple, yellow or pale near to white. The most common vegetable variety is the purple one. Different parts of the plant are edible but for the most part the thick taproots are used along with the young tender leaves. The roots are similar to that of dandelion but have a dark skin with brilliantly white flesh inside. A thick creamy white liquid can be pressed from the roots when cut.

 We planted some salsify last year and most of the plants came up. At first it looked a lot like wheat grass. In the fall some deer mowed all of the leaves right down to the ground, sparing the lettuce that was growing right beside it. I can only assume that the leaves were more appealing to the deer. Since the plant is a bi-annual I didn;t care about the deer getting a meal out of our garden....we are after the roots in any case. This year all of the plants came back and started to produce lovely big flowers. Apparently these flowers are supposed to open and close with the sun, but I have only seen the flowers open once and that was early in the morning. I assume that whatever variety I have is a night bloomer as some of the flower heads are starting to form seeds and as I said, they don't open during the day.

Salsify flower

Fresh out of the ground
There are also some conflicting reports about when to harvest the root. Some sources suggest to harvest the roots at the end of their first year after the first frost which is supposed to bring out the flavour best. Other sources say to harvest the roots after the plant has bloomed.  I think we left it a little too long, so when the flowers are out before the seeds form might be the best time. The roots aren't as large as carrots would be, but still are of formidable size. 

After cleaning. Not the prettiest vegetable in the world. But tasty...yum yum.
There are many different recipes that can be found when searching then web. I scrubbed the root and scraped off the hard outer rind. The white flesh were chopped into small pieces and fried in a pan with some olive oil until they were golden brown. Since we didn't have much salsify this year (we just wanted to try it out), I decided to throw the pieces into a salad. The taste is fantastic. I can't really put my finger on it, but it did remind me of something. There was some sweet component to it. I think you will just have to try it for yourself. It definitely does not taste of oysters which it apparently does....the plant is also referred to as vegetable oyster. So far I found no one who could confirm that. In fact the internet is full of statements that it does NOT taste of oysters.

I collected a lot of the seeds this year, so that I can seed it out again. This time I will grow more, a lot more. Why not try it yourself. Give the old chap a chance.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


There is little in our daily environments that I loathe as much as a lawn. 
I can't get my head arround the concept of this abomination. Let's think about it objectively a little. There are people who own a 1 acre property or even more and they cover it all in lawn. Well, it gives the kids something to play on. That is if the kids would play on it. In reality the lawn is most often forsaken for the driveway when it comes to playing and video games are more interesting than the least in this respect I agree. There is little as boring as a lawn. It is green....and flat....and that is about it. Green and flat platitudes of boredom. Neat and even conformity where everything different will stick out like a sore thumb - or a cursed weed. 
What for? There are many different reason that people will list when you ask them why they like a lawn so much. Here are the top 5

1) Everybody has one

Not a real argument here. It is just the norm, inexplicably so, but it is the norm nevertheless. It is 'keeping up with the Jones's' in its purest essence.

2) It looks good

Well if flat green and square pleases you there is nothing anyone can say about that. Most of the time I find that the same people marvel at a nicely designed flower garden or take the weekends to go into the woods because it is so beautiful there.

3) It is for the kids

As mentioned before, mostly the kids don't play on a lawn that much anyway. Latest by the age of 14 they will rather spend time at the mall with their friends. There might be the odd exception, but for the most part kids do not like lawns. If you would give a kid the choice to play in a woodland or on a lawn most kids will choose the woodland, while the rest would choose the playstation. I remember two girls that were interviewed by a TV station about growing up on a permaculture property. There is a specific sentence that stuck in my mind that one of the girls said: "All the other kids never had long grass to be tigers in, they never had trees to climb around like a monkey...." This is in my mind the best way of putting it. Give your kids a lawn and all they might be able to do is kick a ball around.

4) It keeps pests away from my house

Really? Well having a 3-4 ft strip of clearance between your house and any vegetation is good for several reasons, but having a lawn will not help in this matter. In fact, lawns can increase pests such as house flies as they provide a good habitat for such insects. 

5) What else would I put there?

This is a symptom of how deeply engrained the concept of a lawn has become in our culture. While 400 years ago the word 'lawn' was pretty well non-existent in the English language and even the mere idea of a grass area for recreation was only heard off from rich estates, within this short period of time a lawn has transformed from a status symbol to a symbol of moral integrity. 

Yes, I did finish that last paragraph with calling a lawn a symbol of moral integrity. It is. What are your thoughts when you drive through a neighbourhood and see a lawn that hasn't gotten much attention in the last 2 weeks? The grass is visibly longer and less "tidy" than all the other lawns. Often in North America the appearance of the lawn is synonymous for the appearance of the indivduals owning the lawn. neglected lawns show their owners to be untidy; maybe even morally corrupt. This perception has made its way into movies such as 'Pleasantville' or 'Edward Scissorhands' and into literature such as 'The Great Gatsby' where upon seeing his neighbours untidy lawn, Gatsby gets his gardener to cut it to restore uniformity. A lawn that isn't maintained is appauling to the esthetics of most 'modern' people. 

Ah, so you have a
Looks like a blanket has been put on the ground
In actual fact this thinking is absolutely unnatural. Nature does not confine itself into neat geometrical forms. At least only very rarely. Nature is not 'tidy', it isn't square.
And we know that, we appreciate that. Beautiful pictures of untouched nature will spark the wish for vacation time in most of us. Woodlands, mountains, lakes, rivers and streams, all that is more appealing than a lawn. Every lawn owner will testify to that. Yet, nobody would even entertain the thought of restoring nature to their backyard.
And here is the funny part. Most people think that it would be too much work to do so. Here is the good news. It isn't that much work at all. And it is only logical that it isn't. 

A lawn is the opposite of natural. It is artificial, man made, anti-nature so to speak. Everything that is against nature will take effort and also money to maintain. We have to swim against the stream, make the land what it doesn't want to be. If we instead make it what it wants to be, then we don't need to do much. Take some flower seeds and some clover seeds and pepper your lawn-area with it. Then wait and see. You can cut in some small walkways and an area that you might want to use as a seating area, but let the rest grow. No more effort, no more chemicals, no more time spent on the mower instead of with your kids. How many hours a week do you mow your lawn? Maybe two or four? Imagine what you can do in 4 hours with your kids. Maybe go for a swim, and ice cream. Instead it is spent mowing, while your kids are bored. How many chemicals do you use in order to keep it in shape? How much money in gas and herbicides do you spent? 

I left this part alone this year, all the flowers have blown in, there are also edibles and medicinals hidden in there, such as salsify, sage, plantain and violets.

Another bonus of a wild meadow is that the other wildlife in the area is going to congregate in spaces that are more 'wild'. There is an abundance of birds, fireflies, butterflies and even deer that come to visit.

All in all having a lawn is more trouble than  it is worth. If people could evaluate the use of their lawn and what else might be done with the area that is more productive, it would be better for the environment, better for the peoples pockets and better for their health. 

A word on chemicals

If you really want that lawn, think twice about using chemicals.
There are more chemicals used on an acre of lawn in North America than there are on an acre of agricultural land...this is SHOCKING! RoundUp for example is the commercial name for glyphosate. There are more and more studies surfacing that show that glyphosate is carcinogenic and toxic in many other ways. Think about it. It is a chemical that is designed to kill. And then people let their kids roll around in it. For some information on RoundUp you can scan the internet e.g.:

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Vertical planting update

Just to show how our vertical box is coming on. I had some mishaps due to hail and what not, but it finally is taking. Mostly calendula in the vertical part. Tomato, cucumber, pepper and basil with beans in the top parts. The cucumbers will be trellised along the plastic.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Bbq time

This is our bbq. We built it out of recycled brick. The foundation is 4 inches of concrete and the Coal rests on a piece of recycled sheet metal approx. 1/4 inches thick. It takes a little longer to get it heated up in comparison to a gas bbq but the taste is so much better. Yum!