Gumboot Adventures

gowing and growing green

Freezing Cold September 30, 2009

I am going to start canning.  But not this year.  This year I’m working, and my husband’s working, and our kids are little and we live in the city, and despite the fact that I have a fabulous urban garden that has produced in abundance, I can get away with not canning and not wasting.  I’m going to start canning. I meant to do that this year, but I’m not going to get there.

I am, however, freezing. You probably know that frozen produce has the same nutritional goodness as fresh produce.  It follows that “fresh-from-the-garden” frozen produce is packed full of “fresh-from-the-garden” goodness, in December.

Cherries from public picking

Cherries from public picking

BERRIES are an obvious, enjoyable and easy choice for freezing. We have the absolute joy on the West Coast of having an abundance of berries growing wild in the urban landscape, ready for the picking.  If you’ve followed my past posts, you know that I have a condition that makes it impossible for me to ignore delicious offerings that might otherwise go to waste.   As such, we have a freezer full of wildberries. A few favorites from this year:

  • Blueberries.  We picked up two large cases from an organic grower early it the season.  If you are just thinking about this now, think about it for next year!
  • Strawberries.  From the garden. So easy to grow. They like acidic, well drained soil . At this time of year, cut the runners so that each plant is permitted to grow one new plant.
  • Blackberries. In every alley, ditch and parking lot all over this glorious city.  These are the berry that is most abundant and most easily available free. Please pick it! Our favorite spot this year was near the airport in Richmond.  The kids could watch planes when they tired of picking.
  • Huckelberries. Growing wild in the forests all over the West Coast. Not enough to freeze this year.  Though I did manage to freeze a few dozen huckelberry & blueberry muffins.
  • Cherries.  Technically not a berry. But, at least in Vancouver, available to pick on public land here, there and everywhere, so they qualify in my book.  We did a lot of picking on Translink property this year.  Who knew the train had beautiful well established cherry trees all along it’s path, that hang into many a parking lot and go un-picked? Delicious.

Freezing berries is easy. Wash well. Then lay the berries on a flat surface (cookie tray) that has been covered with wax paper and freeze. This ensures that the berries don’t stick together when they freeze. Once the berries are frozen, transfer to whatever reusable container you’ve selected and repeat with the next batch of berries and the same piece of wax paper.  Obviously cherries need to be pitted first. And actually, I like cherries better stewed. But that’s another post…

Kale frozen in ice cube trays

Kale frozen in ice cube trays

KALE is pretty much the most versatile and persistent leafy green you can grow. It also happens to be the nutritional superhero of vegetables.  Long after my varieties of lettuce have gone to flower, after the spinach has all been eaten, after the second harvest of chard has been sautéed, or devoured by the slugs, the Kale is still going strong.  And by strong, I mean we cut it and cut it and eat it and eat it, and it’s still waist height, and lush. So we freeze it to enjoy year round.

There are two ways to freeze Kale:

  • Blanch it. Slice the Kale into large pieces, removing thick stems but including smaller stems. Boil a large pot of water and fill the sink with cold water and ice cubes.  Plunge the Kale into the boiling water for one minute, then transfer to the ice water.  Dry Kale. Freeze in airtight bag.
  • Mince it.  By far my preferred method. Remove the stems. No need to blanch. Throw leaves in the food processor and chop as finely as possible. Press minced Kale into ice cube trays.  Once frozen, transfer cubes to your container of choice.  Admittedly, the cubes can be tricky to pop out of the trays. Nonetheless, I find this to be more convenient than freezing the minced kale on parchment and keeping it loose in a bag. Throughtout the winter, add a couple cubes to soups, sauces, and everything else.  This is the sneakiest and most effective way to get my kids to consume leafy greens regularly.

TOMATOES only last so long. This is where the canning really comes into play.  I had the best of canning intentions, but said adventures will have to wait until next year. Freezing tomatoes is however, at least as simple, completely hassle free and almost as convenient on the other end. I’m also consoling myself after foiling the canning plans with the fact that frozen tomatoes are nutritionally better than canned tomatoes. I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m going with it.

To freeze tomatoes:

  • Boil a pot of water
  • Submerge tomatoes for a maximum of one minute
  • Transfer immediately to icy cold water
  • Pull the skins off (after this boiling process, they practically fall off)
  • Squeeze to drain seeds and water (this isn’t an art)
  • Freeze in an airtight bag

Tomatoes are now ready for use in sauces, chilies and other recipes all winter long.

In case this little intro has you all excited about the preserving potential in your garden, check out I’ve found loads of useful information about freezing, canning and otherwise preserving on their site.


Urban Potatoes September 23, 2009

a new potatoe from the garden

a new potatoe from the garden

I begrudge buying potatoes.  Whether we’re talking about 5 lbd bags from the grocer or exotic purple potatoes from the market, I resent the very act of purchasing these stables. In my mind, potatoes are cheap sustenance.  Which is not to detract from their deliciousness – there is nothing quite like fresh baby potatoes or fluffy mashed potatoes or perfectly roasted russets. I do like potatoes.  I just don’t like buying them!

But I’ve also never grown them. Potatoes don’t have the luster of sweet tomatoes.  They can’t be trained to climb like our nibble squash.  They don’t demand the spotlight like peppers or corn.  And so, despite my resentment, I have always bought potatoes.  Until this year. It was with a light heart that I set about planting potatoes in tires this spring. I’d learned about the solution to my urban garden potato dilemma earlier in the year and with a renewed vigour for local eating, I happily set about stacking tires and shoveling dirt.

layers of potatoes growing in stacked tires

layers of potatoes growing in stacked tires

Ironically, or not, it was my mother-in-law who first suggested that I plant potatoes in tires.  Ironically, because she doesn’t garden. Perhaps not so ironically because it seems more often that not the keys to sustainable living lie in knowledge of generations past. When my mother in law was a girl, tires were stacked, filled with dirt, and planted with seasonally appropriate varieties of potatoes.  When the early potatoes were ready, they were harvested and the top tire was knocked to the ground, and so on.  After a trip to the neighbourhood mechanic with a request for old tires, we spent an afternoon building our potato tower.

Now here is where things went not-as-well as they could have gone. We planted potatoes stacked in tires four high, with an early variety in the top two tiers and a later variety on the bottom two tiers.  We planted all four layers at once, per my mother-in-laws instructions. I should have researched instead of following blindly! About six weeks later, the top layer of potatoes had flowered and was ready for harvest.  Unfortunately the second layer of potatoes was sending shoots into the top layer, but hadn’t yet produced mature potatoes. It was nearly impossible to harvest layer one without damaging layer two.  The harvest was somewhat tedious, and the yield not as substantial as it could have been. None the less, we’ve enjoyed a fabulous crop of home grown potatoes this year, and since they flourish in the cooler weather of the early fall, we will continue to do so for another couple months as we dive into the bottom rung.

kids helping to wash potatoes - yum

kids helping to wash potatoes - yum

A little research has revealed the proper tire-potato technique, which will surely help with smooth potato adventures next year:

1. pick a nice sunny spot.

2. lay couple inches of dirt in the bottom tire. place about 5 seed potatoes (of a late season variety) in the tire, with the “eyes” (buds) pointing up.  These potatoes will benefit from chitting (storing them in a dark place for a week or two so that they start to sprout shoots), but they can do without since they are late season varieties. cover with dirt until it is level with the top of the tire.

3. when the shoots are about 8 inches tall, add a second tire and repeat the process, again using a late season variety.

4. repeat step 3 for the top two tires, using early or mid season varieties, which require chitting

5. water potatoes really well twice a week.  potatoes don’t like to swim, but they do like a good drink all the way to the bottom of your tire stack. potatoes are very resilient and will grow in almost anything.  that said, they prefer a slightly acid soil (ph 5.8-6.5) that is light and loose.

The tires act as a “heat sink”, which causes lateral roots to grow.  What that means for you is more potatoes.  It’s a good thing!  Plus, the tires are saved from a truly sad fate in the landfill.

A final tip for good potatoes – dig around in the dirt with your hand and pull some of the baby potatoes to make room for the others to grow. I know you are supposed to let your potatoes dry out for a day or two before eating, but we’ve taken to boiling the baby potatoes for dinner the night they are pulled, and they are a thing of beauty with a little butter and a dash of salt.



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