The Garden Path

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Super Duper Compost

Build a pile, ideally 4-foot x 4-foot in size, in no more than 6-inch layers at a time. Make it 'Super Duper' by adding comfrey, nettles or dried horsetail, because these plants are 'bio-accumulators' containing valuable nutrients that make high-quality compost. TIP: Leaving food waste out prevents problems with rodents.

Ingredient List:

Manure (cow, sheep, horse, llama, goat or chicken-can be fresh)

Leaves (TIP: store in circular wire cages in fall)

Herbaceous prunings

Weeds (avoid weeds in seed or pernicious weeds)

Spoiled hay

Grass clippings

Nettles (in season)

Comfrey (in season)

Horsetails (in season)

Seaweed (follows winter storms)

Wood ash (uncontaminated)

Sawdust and fine woodchips (not cedar)


The Do's and Don'ts of Composting

Do mix layers of carbon-rich materials with nitrogen-rich materials. For speedy breakdown the ideal ratio of compost is 30: 1 Carbon:Nitrogen.

Do provide aeration, by allowing air to flow freely through the pile. (Free palettes work perfectly!)

Do make sure the pile is moist for the aerobic bacteria to work. Keep a hose running on the pile as you turn it from one bin to another.

Do avoid compaction by adding no more than a 6" layer of material at a time.

Do not build compost piles too big - no more than four feet high and four feet wide.

Do avoid weeds that have gone to seed, unless you heat compost to reach the high temperatures needed to destroy weed seeds.

Don't compost diseased plant waste, pet litter, toxic chemicals and any pernicious weeds such as couch grass, ivy, mints, goutweed or morning glory.

Don't use cat, dog, pig or human feces in the compost, because it can spread infectious disease or parasites.

Do avoid large quantities of seaweed with high salt levels. The salt preserves the compost pile instead of decomposing it!

Don't use meat and fish scraps that attract animals and flies; grease and oil do not break down. To avoid attracting rodents keep kitchen waste in rat proof composters, or bury in trenches around the garden, covering with 9" of soil.

Do add 'activators' to your pile to accelerate decomposition. One of the best you can add is fresh manure, steaming with microbes! Empty bins in fall, and apply 2" layers of compost as protective winter mulch. Feeding the soil and smothering weed seeds at the same time is what I call 'organic weed & feed'.

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Roasted red pepper jelly

 Roasted Red Pepper and Chili Jelly (Makes 3 pint jars)

This jelly is sweet and tangy with a bite from the chili peppers. It's one of our favourites with egg and rice dishes, and goes perfectly with a plate of cheese and crackers.

8 sweet red peppers, roasted

1 onion, roughly chopped

4 red chili peppers, halved and seeded

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup (250 mL) water

1 cup (250 mL) white wine vinegar

1½ tsp (7 mL) sea salt

2¼ cups (535 mL) sugar

Pomona's natural pectin

Puree the roasted peppers, onion, garlic, chilies and water in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Press the puree through a sieve using a wooden spoon, extracting as much as you can- ideally 3 cups (700 mL). In a saucepan add the puree to the vinegar and salt. Mix in the sugar and add the pectin, stirring into the liquid until they have dissolved. Bring to the boil stirring for 4 minutes. Hot pack into sterilized pint mason jars and process in a water canner bath for 15 minutes. See below:

How to Process High-Acid Foods

Wash Mason jars with hot soapy water and rinse. Fill a canner or large pot with water and heat it to boiling. Using tongs, completely immerse the jars in the boiling water. Allow the water to a simmer at 180F (82C), leaving the jars immersed until ready for use. Place the lids and metal rings in a small saucepan of water heated to 180F (82C), but do not allow the water to boil. Leave the lids and rings in the hot water until ready for use. TIP: Do not use recycled lids if the rubber seal has already been set.

Ladle hot food (hotpack) into the hot jars to prevent cracking from a sudden temperature change. (TIP: Use a wide mouth funnel). Leave ¼ inch (5 mm) of headspace for jams and jellies. Leave ½ inch (1 cm) of headspace for fruit, pickles, tomatoes, chutney and relishes. Using a sterilized non-metallic utensil, remove any air bubbles in the jar, and readjust the headspace if necessary. If the jar rim is sticky, wipe with a clean wet cloth. Centre the snap lid on the jar, and twist the metal ring securely over it, but do not over tighten. Place the filled jars on the rack of a canner; when full, use oven mitts to lower the rack gently into the canner bath, three-quarters full of boiling water, so that water covers jars by at least 1 inch (2.5 cm).

Put the lid on the canner and bring water back to a rolling boil. Process for the time recommended by the recipe. Turn off the heat and remove the canner lid. When the boiling water becomes still (approximately 5 minutes), carefully pull the rack up out of the canner by its handles, without tipping the jars, and place it on a heat-proof surface.

Using tongs, space the jars on a heatproof surface, and leave to cool upright, without adjusting the metal rings. After cooling, check that all the lids are sealed. Sealed lids curve inwards and do not move when tested. Jars that have not sealed can be refrigerated and consumed within 2 days. Remove the metal rings if desired, and wipe the jars clean if sticky.

Label with food and date it, and store in a cool, dark place. Food processed this way will keep well for up to 12 months.

... Read more »
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Preserving plums

Our gardening columnist Carolyn Herriott drops by with some tips for how to stay well-stocked for the winter.
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Dried Fruit Compote
My favourite way to get healthy servings of orchard fruit in winter is to start the day with fruit compote--alone or combined with yogurt and granola, or on top of steaming oatmeal. It's as easy as selecting a mix of dried fruit in the evening and pouring boiling water over it to just cover. The secret is to leave the fruit to rehydrate at room temperature for a few hours or overnight without putting a lid on the bowl. The compote will store in the fridge for up to a week, and the longer it sits the better the syrup becomes. TIP: Add a cinnamon stick and/or a slice of lemon during soaking to make the syrup even tastier.
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Saving seeds

Saving seeds. Our gardening columnist Carolyn Herriott tells us about the benefit of harvesting your own seeds.

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Carolyn's Seed Saving Tips:

Tomato seeds should undergo a wet fermentation process for a few days, which eliminates seed-borne pathogens and allows dead seeds to float to the surface of the water. Choose tomatoes that display desirable traits such as high yields, early ripening, disease resistance or excellent flavour.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Squeeze the seeds and pulp into a container, and put a plastic label in for identification. Leave the seeds to ferment for four days, during which time a white 'scum' forms on top. This dissolves the gelatinous seed layer, preparing the seeds for future germination.
After four, but no more than five days, rinse the seeds in a large bowl of water. Good seeds sink to the bottom. Gently pour the floating 'scum' off, repeating the rinsing as many times as you need, until all that's left in the bottom of the bowl are clean seeds.
Give these a final rinse through a sieve; tapping off excess moisture before spreading the seeds over a plate to dry. Label the plate, so you don't muddle up varieties being collected.
Place the plates of seeds in a sunny window for a day or two to dry them. Crumble the seeds with your fingers to separate any that are stuck together. Leave them in a warm place for a few more days to thoroughly dry. Store the seeds in labeled, airtight tubs. Tomato seeds stored properly will germinate for at least five years
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Winter gardening

Our gardening columnist, Carolyn Herriot, tells us about winter vegetables.

Mesclun Dressing
1cup (250 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup (80 mL) vinegar- red wine, white wine, apple cider
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) soy sauce
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) prepared Dijon mustard or 1 tsp. (5 mL) mustard powder
1/2 tsp. (2 mL) black pepper,
1 tsp. (5 mL) fresh or dried oregano

Whisk together to blend.

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Summer herbs

Our gardening columnist, Carolyn Herriot, tells us how to keep our summer herbs all year round.

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A good way to use garden herbs

Fines Herbs from the Lower River
(Fines Herbes Salees Du Bas-Du-Fleuve)
A traditional family recipe from Quebec to preserve fresh herbs from the garden for winter soups and stews.
Choose herbs such as parsley, chervil, chives, oregano, sweet marjoram or thyme.  Choose vegetables such as onions, leeks or carrots.
1 cup (250 mL) of processed herbs and/or vegetables
1/4 cup (60 mL) of coarse salt
Using a food processor, finely chop the fresh herbs and/or vegetables together. (If using carrots, they should be grated first) Toss the chopped herbs thoroughly with the salt. Put into a sealed glass jar and store in the refrigerator. Wait 3 days before using. The herbs will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months.
Herbal Vegetable Salt
Makes 3 cups (700 mL)
1 cup (250 mL) dried chard leaves
1 cup (250 mL) dried kale leaves
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried thyme
1/2 cup (125 mL) dried Greek oregano
Optional: 1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried cayenne pepper flakes
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Cream of tomato soup

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups (10-15) fresh tomatoes, skins removed in boiling water and chopped into quarters
1 bay leaf
1 tsp (5 mL) sea salt
1 tsp (5 mL) black pepper
1 cup (250 mL) 2% milk
½ cup (125 mL) heavy cream
Optional: 2 Tbsp (30 mL) sherry
Saute onion in butter until soft for 5 minutes. Add skinned tomatoes, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook over gentle heat until the tomatoes are liquid for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Puree in a blender until smooth. Return to the saucepan.
Stir in the dairy gradually to prevent the soup from curdling and heat without allowing to come to a boil. Add sherry if you wish (nice touch). Garnish with croutons, or basil sprigs and serve.
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The Humble Bean

Our Garden Path columnist, Carolyn Herriot, takes on how to grow the humble bean and more importantly, how to eat it!

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1 lb. (454 gr) green beans, topped and tailed
1 sweet pepper, thinly sliced
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup (60 mL) almond or extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) white wine vinegar

Steam the beans for 8 to 10 minutes until just tender. Leave to cool. Whisk the oil, garlic and vinegar in a bowl and add the beans, green onions and peppers. Marinate for a two hours or more. Serve adorned with the mint dressing.

Mint Dressing:
½ cup (125 mL) plain yoghurt
½ cup (125 mL) sour cream
½ tsp. (5 mL) paprika
½ tsp. (5 mL) grated lime rind
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) lime juice
2 tsp. (10 mL) liquid honey
1Tbsp. (15 mL) fresh mint, washed and finely chopped

Combine all the above ingredients and blend to a smooth consistency.