When I was in the West Indies, I was surprised to see how much people coveted strawberries. While I was salivating over golden apple and fresh bananas, West Indians were paying through the nose for a basket of pathetic, well-traveled berry-like objects. I don’t think strawberries grow very well in extreme tropical heat. That didn’t stop one gardener I visited in Dominica from trying. As my own strawberries begin to set fruit and ripen I wonder if her little plant has made it and if she was able to savor a few homegrown berries this year.
Here in Toronto, it’s not too late to start strawberries. My first article of the season for the Globe & Mail explains how, but did not include this photo of a mixed planting I put together using an old honey tin I bought at a yard sale. If you are going to use something like this, don’t forget to add drainage holes. I made several in the bottom using a large nail I keep on hand for this purpose. Everything in this pot is edible, including the flowers.
One Each of: An unknown hybrid strawberry (the berries are ripening now!), ‘Golden’ sage (it is not hardy here and does not grow very big), ‘Gem Apricot Antique’ viola (may soon have to be replace for something more heat tolerant as the summer kicks in, or you can just pull it out when it kicks it and let the strawberry and sage spread.)
Recently, our meals have been peppered with ingredients gleaned from the gardens; however, today’s lunch is the first that is all garden grown.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Chive Blossoms: A hardy perennial that has been growing for about a decade in a big container on the roof.
- Lemon Balm: Eat the fresh leaves in the spring. This is a hardy perennial that self seeds all over the community garden.
- Parsley: From the roof.
- Pansy petals: Also from the roof.
- Three types of lettuce: All of which self-seeded in various containers on the roof. I didn’t have to do a thing, although I did transplant a few to the community garden plot.
- ‘Egyptian Walking Onion’: Just the greens.
- Borage sprouts: I got this idea from Julianna, who brought a salad to our Saturday afternoon transplant trade/potluck that included borage from her garden. Borage self-seeds like nobody’s business and is coming up like mad right now. why not use the tender, fresh sprouts rather than tossing them in the compost? The first set of true leaves are prickly but the cotyledon leaves are smooth, with a fresh cucumbery taste.
- Baby kale
- Purple Mizuna: More on this soon. This is my new favourite edible!
- Assorted mustard greens
- Violet leaves and flowers: I have a small patch over at the community garden that is going to expand this year once I add the three additional varieties I have acquired this spring. Eat the young, new leaves and the flowers.
- Bloody Dock: If you’d like to know more, I wrote an article on spring greens including bloody dock, for Garden Making magazine.
For identification purposes, here’s what the borage seedlings look like. You can also identify them by their cucumber scent. The seedling in the top left corner is anise-hyssop. You can eat that too.
We have been enjoying an unseasonably warm March here in Toronto that has lead into the warmest early April I can recall, ever. Temperatures are supposed to soar this weekend, sending gardeners (including me) into a flurry of activity. I have already sown spinach and mâche into containers on the roof. The chives have been shooting up slowly over the last few weeks, and I am starting to identify lettuce seedlings that have self sown where I let mature plants go to seed last season. I intend to spend this weekend cleaning up, amending the container soil, and getting all of the gardens into shape.
Meanwhile, over at the greenhouse, my little seedlings are go. I started tomatoes and peppers on March 5 and have sown the odd thing here and there since. I’m enjoying the simplicity of this stage of the growing season very much. I’ve been through this stage countless times now and you’d think it would get dull, but it never does. Every year there is something new and even the same old same old haven’t lost their appeal. On a basic level I am amazed by my plants’ progress every time I visit the greenhouse. I am relishing just observing the beauty of new seeds as they come out of the package and discovering the early growth stages of plants I have never grown from seed before. This is a happy time all around.
These are a pansy called ‘Caramel Spice’ from Botanical Interests. It’s a little late to start pansies and violas from seed as they are typically started in January. In fact, I just bought the first pansy cell-packs of the season yesterday. Unfortunately, these seeds came late but I figured I might as well give it a shot anyways. I can always try tucking them into a cooler spot once the summer heat hits and hope they make it to the fall cool-down.
This is cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), one of my fun experiments for the 2010 growing season. Cardoon is a gorgeous, and rather massive plant that looks an awful lot like an artichoke or giant thistle. In fact, they’re related. What’s interesting is that you eat the stems of the plant, not the flower bud as you do with an artichoke. But before you harvest it you’ve got to “blanch” it, much like celery, by covering the stems with a large box or some other cover to keep light out and soften the leaves. Perhaps a bit complicated but my curiosity has got the better of me so here we go. Another fun fact: cardoon is often used as a vegetarian rennet substitute in cheese making.
I like the seedlings at this stage; so perfect.
Sorrel or rum punch (sorrel spiked with rum) is a popular, refreshing drink in the Caribbean, especially during the holiday season.
Knowing this, I was particularly excited to get to the market and get my hands on some fresh sorrel so that I could find out how the drink compares when the flower calyces are fresh rather than dried.
In my minds eye I imagined market tables piled high with bright red blooms. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Instead the fresh flowers seem to be sold in bagged portions. It’s only day one as I am writing this (you will read this a few days later) so I’m holding out hope that there is a market stand somewhere on the island where the blooms are beautifully display instead of bagged.
The good news is that the flower calyces I bought were still fresh and crisp inside the bag. I paid about $2 EC (roughly $.80 US) for about 5-6 cups of flowers.
Turns out they make the most incredibly colourful, intense, and tangy drink. It’s so much more vibrantly red than the drink I make with dried flowers at home.
And look at the colour of the calyces when they are removed from the liquid!
It might be difficult to go back to dried next summer.
Here’s my standard recipe and the one I made today, but with so many tropical fruits and fresh spices available here I’m thinking of experimenting with some flavour combinations.
Do you have a favourite hibiscus/sorrel/rum punch/agua de jamaica recipe? Please share it.
With so many options available these days, I wanted to grow a nasturtium variety this year that I had never tried before. I’ve enjoyed these bright blooms but I have to admit that ‘Empress of India’ are still my favourite variety to grow.