A summer of firsts – part 1

Selection of winter squash on a counter

As we come to the end of our second summer in our new home, we’ve racked up another bunch of firsts, in the garden and elsewhere. The quiet success of the gardening season has been a fine selection of winter squash which has been building up in recent weeks. Pictured here: Long Island Cheese, Guatemalan Blue Banana, Butternut, and Fordhook Acorn. We’re particularly rich in the Guatemalan Blue Banana squash, but have a nice selection of all four, and frankly managed to grow a lot more than I expected. I’d grown squash before, but only one or two, here and there.

Also a first for us this year was potatoes, planting three 20-foot rows at the start of the season. As we experienced a pretty serious drought for much of the summer, the resulting harvest was modest, but I still have one of the rows left to dig and will look forward to enjoying these into the fall months. Just knowing that we can grow potatoes here was thrilling for us, as it’s all still about experimentation on our clay ground.

Rows of potato plants under cages

One of new favourite quick dishes, on heavy rotation in the second half of the summer, was roasted potatoes, carrots and green beans from our garden, tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs (I loved my red basil to death this year!).

Roasted root vegetables

Another first this year was rhubarb, thanks to the generous donation of several stools from a garden being wound-down by a friend of my mother’s. Throughout rhubarb season we produced crumbles, cakes, muffins and purees, and there is much more I’d like to try next year. I particularly enjoyed the blueberry rhubarb crumble from the Museum of Forgotten Pickles, and the rhubarb spelt muffins that I whipped up in July.

Bowl of kale next to rhubarb stalks

I made no secret of my new bond with chard (over my usual love, kale!), and continue to enjoy both the Lucullus and Swiss Rainbow varieties into the early fall. Lucullus was the newcomer this year, and it found its way into many delicious dishes.

Lucullus chard

My greatest sense of amazement likely came from growing Red Rock Cabbage, a truly impressive thing, both in our greenhouse and outdoors in a bed up at the house. I’ve got another head ready for harvest now, and the plant in the greenhouse has two small heads on it…we have been promised an extended summer, so who knows?

red rock cabbage on a cutting board

Casting about for something different to do with the first head of cabbage earlier this season, I tried out Roasted Sesame Winter Slaw from My New Roots (I guess the winter in the name comes from the fact that some cabbages are good keepers in storage), which was really quite good, if in need of a bit more of a kick (for me). While the original recipe called for Savoy cabbage, purple cabbage and kale, I instead used my red rock cabbage, lucullus chard and rainbow chard, for a lighter treatment overall.

roasted sesame winter slaw with red cabbage

I made many old favourites with kale, but also ventured into new territory, making kale chips for the first time, as well as a kale based version of Colcannon. The kale chips (with a bit of sea salt and some red pepper flakes) were good, although acquiring an oil sprayer would seem to make sense, as it’s hard to distribute the small amount of oil evenly in any other way.

kale chips on a baking sheet before baking

The canning season is not yet past, but I’m already ahead of myself from this time last year, having made strawberry jam, apple marmalade, apple chutney and experimented with veggies packed in oil as well as more short-lived quick refrigerator pickles.

Quick refrigerator pickles

I also gave canning pears in a light syrup (water and honey) a whirl, but failed to pack them tightly enough to give me any confidence in long-term storage. Having only canned four jars, I happily deposited them in the fridge, knowing that we’ll easily consume them in the coming month.

Canned pears in light syrup

We’ve already found them absolutely delicious on oatmeal with dried cherries on several mornings.

Oatmeal with pears in light syrup and dried cherries

The tomatoes were really reliable and showed up on the 29th or 30th of July, like a well-oiled machine, and are still coming in wonderful waves. I still don’t seem to have the knack of planting enough of them to end up with the crazy glut required for urgent canning, but I’ll keep trying (perhaps I can blame it on the drought, as I do have close to 20 plants). As with my potatoes, I think I just need to plant some really serious amounts next year to get closer to my target. With another 24 twenty-foot beds to be dug in the next six weeks or so, we’re certainly planning on having enough space for the harvest that we’re trying to achieve.

Our biggest first, perhaps, is about to arrive, in the form of two six-week old Americaunas. Chickens? When I basically said ‘not over my dead body!’ to my husband after acquiring a dog this year? Yes, I’m eating my words, folks, after being gifted two chicks by a wonderful older couple at our farmer’s market who convinced us that it was indeed time to get going on that front. We’ve spent this whole weekend preparing for their arrival (we’re supposed to collect them early tomorrow morning), which is a story in itself. I can’t believe I’m still correctly spelling any words right now given how exhausted I am (my husband has been putting the finishing touches on the coop in the garage, with help from me in between some late night cleaning up and baking as we spent the whole weekend outside). An update will be coming pretty soon!

I would truly love to hear about any firsts for you and yours this summer!

16 thoughts on “A summer of firsts – part 1

      1. Dave says to lock them up tight at night to protect them from marauders. This is why he is so resistant to bringing chickens onto our farm…he is worried about possums, foxes, and raccoons.

      2. I really appreciate Dave’s words of advice, and we are taking them seriously. We’ve got coyotes and foxes here that we know of, and undoubtedly raccoons are also about (and scary clever they are!). Our chicken enclosure is temporary until we have a more permanent set-up, but safety is paramount. When our farmer friend showed up tonight, he gifted us with a hen and about half a dozen chicks – quite a bit more than we were expecting! It’s in at the deep-end for us…

      3. That’s a really good question Libby, to which I don’t yet have an answer. As we got quite a few more birds than we were expecting, I think I’ll chat with the donor at the farmers market on Saturday morning and see what to do about the boys (there may be two)!

      4. Dave had chickens as a kid, and he said that they tried eating them, but it seemed wrong to eat what was essentially a pet, so they decided to give the spares to friends.

  1. I too have more winter squash coming in than ever before. I am growing two new varieties, Chersonskaya and Burgess Buttercup. They are not quite ready to harvest yet, and I can’t wait! I am also growing sweet potatoes for the first time. Can’t pull those up until the end of October. If they do well, I am going to try my hand at producing my own slips to plant next summer :).

    1. Your squashes sound wonderful; love the sound of those varieties. There is something so satisfying about putting up squash for meals ahead. So simple and reassuring for me. I can’t wait to see and hear about your sweet potatoes, I just love those! Fantastic idea to produce your own slips for planting; I’m trying to move more in that direction too.

  2. It sounds and looks like a fabulous set of firsts! The squash, roasted veggies all delicious! a fellow allotment friend manages to grow red cabbages, I never seem to be able to though, so I must give them a try again as I love them raw in salads. Happy gardening 🙂

    1. Thank you! Good luck with the red cabbage, as it is quite wonderful and apparently full of even more nutritious vitamins than their green counterparts. Happy gardening to you too!

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