Our Own Ontario Garlic

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The garlic is laid out on a mesh screen for a couple weeks to allow it to cure, or dry out so it can be better stored.

Nine months ago we planted our garlic. It was fun, although we were pretty skeptical of it lasting the winter and sprouting in the spring. But it did. Every single clove we planted has now grown a full bulb of garlic. Some are smaller than others, but it's a beautiful relief to pull bulb after bulb out of the ground if only to know we're not going to ever have to buy garlic again.

The garlic turned out to be a great anchor in our garden. It was up early and endured many frosts while we impatiently waited for the soil to dry and be ready for all of our seeds and seedlings.

Our garlic was harvested a week or two before it should have, only because it dried out a bit early with this summer's heat. Next year, if it's as dry, we'll give the plants a few well-timed waterings, and keep the soil looser around the bulbs. This will hopefully let them swell up a bit more and give nice plump bulbs. But really, I'm not sure what we're going to do with 200 bulbs anyways. Plump or not.

A beautiful bulb of Italian garlic. I initially bundled the garlic up, but then figured out I should lay it out to dry.

I'm not completely sure why Ontario garlic is such a rare commodity. There is no reason for there to be Chinese garlic in the grocery store, but there it is, day after day. It's a perfect example of the lunacy of importing food. First, it comes from China, about as far away on the globe as you can get. Then, in order to keep it from sprouting on it's epic voyage, it's often treated with chemicals or rumoured to be sometimes irradiated to kill any form of life in it.

All this for a plant that grows beautifully in our province.

But I do know why Chinese garlic is so popular at the grocery store. It's 99 cents for three bulbs compared with a few dollars for one bulb of local, fresh garlic. But what you get for the 99 cents is 1/3 the flavour and a complete lack of disclosure as to how it was grown and what it was soaked in for it to survive price speculation and shipping.

The Russian garlic grew the most beautiful bulbs. We'll do a taste test and them most likely re-plant it for next year.

So what can you do? Ontario garlic is a notoriously fast seller at farmers markets, so make sure you pick up a few bulbs soon. And if you have a garden, plant the singular cloves from one of those bulbs so you can grow your own for next summer. Just don't try to plant the stuff at the supermarket. There's a good chance there's no life in them.

Zucchini Zucchini Zucchini

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We've been learning that zucchini is a bit of a running gag in the gardening world. It's the one vegetable naive young growers like ourselves will plant lots of, only to realize they can't keep up with the production of even just one plant.

So, from our four plants, we've had a few bushels of zucchinis already. We've grilled some, gave lots away and are now starting to bake and preserve them.

A few weeks ago we were worried about the cucumber beetles that had moved in and were hoping they wouldn't spread bacterial wilt to our zucchinis, cucumbers, and pumpkins. But they've run their course and we're harvesting 6-8 zucchini every few days.

Zucchini is a type of summer squash, as opposed to a winter squash that stores well. They're best eaten fresh when they're 6-8 inches long or else they tend to get bitter, stringy, and seedy if you let them grow bigger (which they quickly will). I've met a few people bragging about the size of zucchini they've grown, but this is always before they try to eat it.

The thought of eating blossoms before they fruit has always made me a bit sad, but when you're fighting an uphill battle against a zucchini glut, stuffed and fried blossoms are pretty tempting.

We had a half bushel of zucchini and needed a plan. I decided to grate and freeze the majority of the zucchini so I can make zucchini bread during the winter or throw some into soups, sauces and lasagnas. I ran them through the grater on our food processor (a huge timesaver) and filled Ziploc freezer bags.

I emailed Josie and Nickey from Cake & Loaf, who we visited this past winter, to see if they would be willing to share their favorite zucchini bread recipe with us. They sent us one and despite the heat, I baked it with no regrets. It is absolutely delicious.

Here is Cake & Loaf's original recipe, I made a few changes to my batch (I used a dark spelt and whole wheat flour combination, butter instead of canola oil, and a bit less sugar than called for, and this time I didn't add nuts or chocolate).

Click here for a printable pdf of this recipe.

Field Trip: A New Beekeeper

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Russell Gibbs is what you might expect a beekeeper to look like. A quiet demeanour, ginger-tinged hair and an impressive beard. But there's one exception. He's about thirty years younger than you'd imagine.

I have known Russ for a while. We both graduated from the same graphic design program, and have a similar music collection. But I was recently surprised to hear of his interest in beekeeping, which I guess lines up nicely with my interest in farming.

I spent a morning with Russ as he checked on his first two hives on a farm near Binbrook, Ontario and asked him a few questions.

Russell wears his dad's old veil from the '70s. It looks a lot better than the modern hazmat-like veils.

Crackers. What got you into beekeeping?

Russell. For as long as I can remember I have been around beekeeping. Whether it's through stories my father would tell me, visiting my uncle Peter and seeing a commercial extractor in his basement, the smell of their honey house, or simply the constant supply of (amazing) honey. It's just always been there.

About two years ago I just got this urge to give it a try and started speaking to my Dad about it. A lot of it had to do with family tradition from a historical perspective.

I turned to books, and once I started reading and researching what a beekeeper does and how a hive works it really spoke to me. (I'm trying desperately to avoid a getting "stung" pun.) I began attending local beekeeping meetings and conferences to speak with local beekeepers. One such local beekeeper became somewhat of a mentor, sharing experiences and insights into the world of beekeeping.

Crackers. What's your family's beekeeping history?

Russell. My grandfather started keeping bees as a hobby and slowly added more as the years went on. Then my uncles Peter and Tim decided to take it over and ramp up production, and they have been doing it ever since. My cousin Jason (Tim's son) studies bees and discovered 19 new species of sweat bees last year.

Crackers. Why bother? Honey's pretty easy to come by.

Russell. Trying not to sound like a hippy, its an amazing thing to be a part of and a humbling thing to do. The bees don't really need us. After all, we're the cause of a lot of their issues. But to feel like I am helping or contributing to something that is much greater in the grand scheme of things is amazing. Also from a family history standpoint I felt compelled.

Beekeeping can be risky business (bees can contract many diseases, there are new pests and predators and they could also just up and decide they don't like the location and swarm), but, the reward is higher than that, and I am not even talking about honey.

Also, it is just absolutely fascinating.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

We're sorry there's no Field Trip today. As you may have guessed, we've got a new addition to the family. Margaret was born early this morning, and right now she's kind of the most important thing in the world.

We'll be back at it soon, but until then, we'll be a little distracted.