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Bush Beans A-Plenty

Bush Beans A-Plenty

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Gardens, Recipe, Vegetable Gardens |

In addition to the joy I get from my flower gardens, I love being able to go into my own yard and pick vegetables for dinner.  One of the easiest things that I have found to grow are Bush Beans.  Unlike pole beans they do not require any special structures. They grow about 30 cm high and produce lots and lots of beans.  If you are very organized, it is worth planting new batches about every two weeks so you spread out your harvest and you can enjoy fresh beans for a month or six weeks. The big caveat with beans is that they are best planted when the soil is warm, so I waited until nearly June to plant my first crop.

Last year I purchased this package of tricoloured seeds.  Of course you can tell from the seeds whether you can expect yellow, green or purple beans.

Bush Bean Seeds

Bush Bean Seeds

I planted the seeds in front of a south facing fence that received full sun.  The seeds sprouted within ten days.

Bean Sprouts

Bean Sprouts

They grew with little intervention on my part, save having run the weeping hose down the middle to water them most days.

Young Beans Plants (about 4 weeks)

Young Beans Plants (about 4 weeks)

Then about six weeks or so, they began to flower.  They really filled in the empty spaces in my garden quite nicely with a beautiful green ground cover.

Beans a-blooming

Beans a-blooming

At about nine weeks, we were able to begin harvesting.  I think I might have planted them a little too close together, but they seemed to do alright.

Thick with Bush Beans

Thick with Bush Beans

I was able to harvest at least three times from these plants.  The results were beautifully colourful.  The purple ones are my favourite.

Tricoloured Bush Beans in Yellow, Green and Purple

Tricoloured Bush Beans in Yellow, Green and Purple

What to do with all those beans, especially if you plant multiple times?  Bush beans seem to freeze well and I was able to share lots with the office.  My all time favourite recipe though is for spicy Szechuan Green Beans courtesy Gwendolyn Richards of the Calgary Herald.  It smells amazing when you fry up all my favourite things: garlic, ginger in some sesame oil, then topped off with some toasted sesame seeds.

Spicy Szechuan Beans

Spicy Szechuan Beans

Interestingly, the purple beans turn a shade of green when sautéed this way.  Enjoy!

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Garden Sketch Tests Well at Beta, Soon to Launch

Garden Sketch Tests Well at Beta, Soon to Launch

Posted by on Aug 14, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Front Yard, Garden Design, Garden Sketch, Irrigation | 2 comments

Our design team from Denim and Steel has been working hard to implement the suggestions recommended by our alpha testers and we were pleased to present the results to our discerning panel last week. We had two returning members and two newbies to test the latest version. Overall, the feeling was that Garden Sketch tests well at the beta phase.

Opening up the App, small changes made it easier to get started.  We provided a lot less verbal direction at this phase as the instructional tutorial was now functional. We noted any user friction, seeing where our testers ran into difficulty.

Garden Sketch Live Testers

Garden Sketch Live Testers

Testers seemed excited by the variety of house shapes they could now incorporate but he biggest news was on the design tab. The colours were much brighter and our designers now had the choice of small, medium and big of any of the shapes they wished to use. We also add yielded to the public outcry for the option of a water feature and flower pots.

Garden Sketch Tester Design with Notes

Garden Sketch Tester Design with Notes

It was a lot of fun to watch our testers as the navigated. Their focus and intensity was notable and lasted at least forty-five minutes to an hour. There was complete silence as they worked to perfect their designs.

For me, the biggest surprise was how much I enjoy using the shape drawing tool to give a sense of space. I used it to represent the Pergola in my back yard because it didn’t match the shape of the gazebo.

Our goal at the outset was to develop an iPad App that would help the home gardener to map their yard, noting the existing structures, trees and plants and enabling them to make garden plans. We thought these plans could be useful by getting people looking at their gardens in a new way: is this space working for me? What would I like to change? What would my dream garden look like? How can I achieve it? Garden Sketch creates a low risk opportunity to try out different ideas and share them with your friends and family for input and feedback.

Garden Sketch is being submitted to Apple’s App Store for approval this month and we expect to announce its release in September. Stay tuned!

Here are some of the other designs we’ve been creating:

Garden Sketch Plan

Garden Sketch Plan

 

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Just Like Grandma’s Rhubarb Pie

Posted by on Aug 7, 2014 in Do it Yourself |

A few weeks ago, I performed an experiment to try and recreate my grandmother’s rhubarb pie that I loved as a child.  With the good fortune to have a rhubarb plant in my own back garden, I have plenty to play with.  I charted the first attempt here.   The pie was delicious but wasn’t exactly the same.  My grandmother’s pie filling was a particular texture, not the chunky version you normally get in the grocery store. My version had a pretty smooth texture, but it still had distinctive rhubarb chunks.  I wondered how my grandmother got hers so fine.

I decided I need to take the experiment to the next step.  I thought perhaps she might have grated her rhubarb, so I tried that first.

Trying to Grate Rhubarb

Trying to Grate Rhubarb

The results were not impressive.  As you can see, the stringiness of the rhubarb made the process pretty slow and did not yield very much fruit.  This was not a likely option as my grandmother was probably one of the most efficient women I’ve ever known.  She’d been a Housekeeper when she first came to Canada and later a ran a boardinghouse.  She just wouldn’t have spent her time that way.

So I decided to chop my rhubarb even finer than the first time.  I also reduced the amount of rhubarb to make the thinner pie that was my grandmother’s signature.  I cut the amount from four cups to three and reduced the sugar to one and a third cup, but kept the same amount of flour.

Finely chopped rhubarb pie filling

Finely chopped rhubarb pie filling

My last adjustment was to change the temperature and cooking time.  I reduced the temperature to 375° but increased the cooking time to fifty minutes.  My intention is to try and stew the filling and get the rhubarb to break down just a little more.

The results proved pretty effective.  Although I am not sure that anything could live up to the memory, I thought the results were pretty close.

The Final Product

The Final Product

For those keeping track, here is the final recipe:

*3 cups extremely fine cut rhubarb pieces

*1 1/3 cup sugar

*1/3 cup flour

*1/8 tsp salt

Mix together and let stand 15 minutes. Fill pie shell, dot with 2 tbsp butter and apply top crust. Bake 50 min @ 375F.

Thanks to le127 on Reddit who shared the original recipe.

Do you have a favourite summer rhubarb recipe?  Let us know!

 

 

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Introducing Garden Sketch

Posted by on Jul 24, 2014 in Do it Yourself, Flowers, Garden Design, Garden Sketch, Gardens | 1 comment

The Front Garden

The Front Garden

My quest to build a gardening App began two years ago. We had finished landscaping the yard at my new house. The lawn and garden beds were beautiful, but empty. I knew I had to get started but I had no idea how. It was classic blank page syndrome.

Front Yard Blank Slate

Front Yard Blank Slate

As I stared at my property from the sidewalk, I thought, “There must be an App for that!”  It’s exciting to be here a couple of years later and be introducing Garden Sketch, our flower gardening App.

At the time, I visited out the App store looking for something to simplify the job of mapping my yard so that I could plan what to plant. To my great surprise, there weren’t any. There were encyclopedias and ‘look books’, gardening magazines and weird photo Apps, which would allow you to take a picture and then paste pictures of plants into your garden on top.  Nothing to help me map the yard and then make a good plan for a flower garden.  There were lots of functional Apps to lay out vegetables gardens, complete with tips about how to grow carrots and lettuce. I was interested in planning flowers gardens. Vegetables would come later.

In the absence of a technological solution, I reverted to pencil and paper and got started.

Rough Sketch August 2012

Rough Sketch August 2012

We planted a Japanese Maple and added in the Shasta Daisies. I had loved the cheerful Black-Eyed Susans all summer, so I lined the sidewalk with them. It seemed like a couple of Smoke Bushes would add a wide brush stroke of colour to compliment the Maple, so those went in as well.   We planted in September and then we waited. Unsure how anything would look the next summer. It has been all trial and error, but I am happy with the way things have come along.

As I was moving through this process, I began talking to other people, friends and neighbours, but most understood and seemed excited about the idea of doing their garden planning work on an iPad. So I approached Todd and Tylor from Denim and Steel about what it would take to actually build what I imagined in my head. This past winter we applied for and received funding from Creative BC for the purposes of building a working prototype of what has become Garden Sketch.

With a cash infusion, we’ve begun construction. This past Thursday night we shared an Alpha vesion (early days!) with a small group and they got to play with the App and provide feedback to what we’ve built so far.

Alpha Testing Team for Garden Sketch

Alpha Testing Team for Garden Sketch

Our testers had a short steep curve to get started by learning how to use the App. They quickly go the hang of it and were soon calling out suggestions, especially to brighten the colours and the thickness of lines. Our older eyes are rather unforgiving. Here are some of the maps and designs they produced.

Alpha Tester's First Garden Sketch

Alpha Tester’s First Garden Sketch

I’m afraid our Todd from our tech team has thumped us all with his beautiful plan of what his perfect yard would look like.

toddsieling_2014-Jul-19

 

Coming soon? Water features.

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The Quest for a Perfect Rhubarb Pie

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Gardens, Inspiration, Recipe | 4 comments

Summer Flavour

Summer Flavour

The joys of summertime in Canada are the flavours that burst from the earth as soon as the ground warms and the snows melt away.  My all-time favourite flavour growing up was my Mummo’s homemade rhubarb pie.  I haven’t had a slice in nearly thirty years but I can still imagine its tanginess tickling my tongue.

Recently, I set out on a mini quest to try and recreate the culinary marvel of my childhood.  It was not like the rhubarb pie that you’d buy from the bakery at the grocery store, deep and puffy.  The profile of her pies were quite low, probably about 10 cm or so.   The filling was more like a rhubarb puré.  The texture was very smooth and did not have the stringiness we usually associate with rhubarb.

With this is mind, I turned to the internet and posted a query on Reddit.  In response, a generous gentleman posted a recipe he had from an old cookbook.  I decided to give it a try, figuring that if nothing else I would have a baseline to work with in my quest to recreate Mummo’s delicious pie.

Crazily, I chose Canada Day, July 1st to launch the experiment.  It was record breakingly hot day here in White Rock and I harvested the stocks of rhubarb from my back fence.

Rhubarb: easy  to grow and delicious

Rhubarb: easy to grow and delicious

Thank goodness for my granite counter tops that day as I rolled out the dough.  It kept things cool enough that the crust didn’t stick too much.

Rolling the Crust

Rolling the Crust

I learned to make my pie crust from our family friend Sylvia Rukkila.  Her secret, which she learned in turn from her father, was to replace the one cup of shortening called for on the Crisco box with equal parts shortening, butter and margarine.  I’ve always found this to make a wonderfully flaky crust.

The filling recipe shared with me by le127 on Reddit called for:

*4 cups cut rhubarb pieces

*1 2/3 cup sugar

*1/3 cup flour

*1/8 tsp salt

Mix together and let stand 15 minutes. Fill pie shell, dot with 2 tbsp butter and apply top crust. Bake 40 min @ 400F.

With all the ingredients added, I topped it with dabs of butter as required.  Would this be the secret ingredient?

Is this the secret, dabs of butter?

Is this the secret, dabs of butter?

Then added the top crust and fluted the edges.

Rhubarb Pie with fluted crust

Rhubarb Pie with fluted crust

As the temperature rose inside the house, I could have baked the pie on the counter, but the air was filled with aroma of baking rhubarb.

The pie looked beautiful.

Rhubarb Pie: fresh from the oven

Rhubarb Pie: fresh from the oven

My son and I enjoyed a slice à la mode, and it was very tasty.   However, it was not quite the same as Mummo’s.  Next time I’ll try a little less rhubarb and try to grate it to get it really fine.  My quest for the perfect rhubarb pie recipe continues.

Rhubarb Pie à la mode

Rhubarb Pie à la mode

How about you?  Ay secret tips for an amazing rhubarb pie?  I’d love to hear from you!

 

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Tentative Gardener

Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 in Backyard, Do it Yourself, Garden Design, Gardens |

Very few things are permanent in my garden.  I plant them, stare for a while (sometimes for a couple of years) before making a change.  I guess I’m something of a tentative gardener.  I need my plants to be hardy enough to sustain a move or two.  I suppose the best way to avoid this problem is to make a good plan.  Unfortunately, however, sometimes I fall in love with plants at the nursery and have to find a place for them when I get home.  Other times I second guess myself and must reverse the initial decision.  Finally, there are the times when I just realize that the plant just needs a better home.

Let me give you a few examples.  I really love what Proven Winners has done in the last few years.  You can buy a set of four to six plants to create your own beautiful containers and hanging baskets.  I bought this white set and added the Heliotrope to the centre for a bit of colour and some height. As the plants grew in, it looked ok, but not perfect, at least in my mind.

Container Garden Original

Container Garden Original

So I replaced the purple with a bit of Japanese Blood Grass that I had in another pot.  This is how that looked:

Container Gardening Take 2

Container Gardening Take 2

I think I really like the difference in height better.

Check out the side garden in my back yard the first summer after I set my hostas.  The was a fun exercise the autumn before.  Having spent so much money on landscaping, I then pillaged Ian’s and my friend Debbie’s garden for donations.

Stater Hosta Bed

Stater Hosta Bed

As I stared at my garden over the next summer, I decided that the lack of symmetry, was making me a little crazy, so I decided to move the large hosta from the front row to a position in the far right corner.  I also decided to split the Siberian Bugloss in the middle which had really begun to spread this spring.

The garden looks more balanced now.  It benefits from the symmetry, and of course the additions I have made.

Hosta Bed Makeover

Hosta Bed Makeover

There are risks.  My Siberian Bugloss looked rather limp for about six weeks after I made the move. I had split this chunk off to create a third patch.  Siberian Buglosses have become one of my perennial favourites.  It is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring and then literally explodes with tiny blue flowers reminiscent of forget me nots.  With a little prune, their variegated leaves have a metallic sheen for the rest of the summer and last long into our temperate winters.

Traumatized Siberian Bugloss

Traumatized Siberian Bugloss

I needn’t have worried.   With six weeks of gentle rehabilitation, my Siberian Bugloss had made a nice recovery.

Rehabilitated Siberian Bugloss

Rehabilitated Siberian Bugloss

There are lessons of course.  For me anything I bring into the yard will have to be hardy and bear with me as I find the ideal spot.  This may mean a couple of moves, but that is the way of the tentative gardener.

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