Category: Gardening

Garden Update: July 2024

Every year, my husband says something like “this is not a good year for the garden”. It’s either too hot or too dry or too cold or too wet, but usually it’s all fine in the end.

This year… is not a good year for the garden. We’ve had a combination of too cold and too wet. It’s already the first week of July and our garden is weeks behind compared to last year.

For the most part, this will likely be okay. Things might take a little longer and be harvested a little later in the season, but they’ll be fine. Other things that are harvested late in the season — like popcorn, for example — may not do that well. As always, we will see what happens.

One casualty already has been the black beans and kidney beans. Almost none of them have come up. We’re wondering if it was too wet and the beans ended up rotting. John has replanted a ton this past weekend. They might end up being harvested a little before they’re fully dried but in the past I’ve found I can just run them through a dehydrator and they’re fine.

The plants really enjoying this weather seem to be the underground vegetable crops, particularly the garlic and potatoes.

Potatoes and garlic growing in the back yard.

The garlic is about waist high, which I think is the tallest I’ve ever seen it. In this photo you can also see all the curly scapes growing out of the garlic in the front half of the photo. Scapes are the flower stem of the garlic plant. You want to cut or pull these off before the flower opens, otherwise the garlic will stop growing. I’m planning to harvest all the scapes tomorrow—I’ll pickle a bunch of them and the rest I’ll turn into some fermented garlic scape hot sauce.

Not loving the weather this year is the tomatoes, peppers, and corn. Normally this view would be lush and full, but this year it’s kind of depressing.

Small plants in the neighbour's yard.

The weather seems to be taking a turn for the better, though. Today is supposed to be hot and sunny, as is much of next week, so hopefully we’ll see a growth spurt in these plants.

Small tomato plants.

Food for a year

Really, a few plants not growing isn’t that big of a deal — I go grocery shopping every week, so I can always pick up a can of beans if the crop at home isn’t successful. But we like the challenge of eating only what we grow.

We haven’t had broccoli since, I think, January, when our frozen harvest ran out. We just harvested a little bit this weekend and I’m so excited to have broccoli again.

We’re at the low point in our food cycle. This is the food storage room in my mom’s basement. (We use her place since we don’t have a basement, and in return she has free access to whatever she wants.)

While we’ve got a few things left, it’s quite empty. The freezers are mostly empty too.

In a few months this will be FULL of jars and boxes and the freezers will be stuffed to the brim as well…provided the garden picks up some speed with all the growing. Then we’ll eat well until the spring when our choices narrow as things run out and we’ll start dreaming of the upcoming harvest and new round of amazing food.

Mushroom beds

The BIG new project this year are our new mushroom beds!

We’ve been wanting to grow more plant-based protein, which is partly why we’re upping our beans this year, and mushrooms were part of our plan. We weren’t sure if we were going to get it off the ground this year or not.

I received a great mushroom book for my birthday back in March—Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation by Tradd Cotter—which gives great instructions for how to set up mushroom beds on your property. (Despite the complexity of the title, it’s a remarkably novice-friendly book.) But… I was overwhelmed and decided to make this year the research year so that next spring I’d be ready to go.

In the meantime, I follow a local mushroom spawn producer on Instagram and saw a post about mushroom spawn kits that would be great for a garden. After a few DMs to get my nervous questions out of the way, I picked up the kits and we created our first mushroom bed for black pearl king oyster mushrooms.

Bags of mushroom spawn and sawdust pellets.
Mushroom spawn and sawdust pellets.

With how easy it was to set up—and it’s still to early to see how productive it is—we hit up the mushroom guy for some more, and we’ve set up a second bed for white oyster mushrooms.

I’ll do a full post on at-home mushroom production later this summer. A friend of ours has done an in-the-house mushroom set-up that’s quite impressive, so I’ll take some pics and grab some details from him to share in my eventual mushroom post.

Pride season

For many parts of the world, including Winnipeg, Pride happens in June.

As a fairly-masculine cisgender white gay man, I realize that I have a lot of privilege in society. Folks who have different gender and attraction identities or different gender expressions, or have different intersections with skin colour, socioeconomic status, and disability do not have as easy an experience as I do just existing. I don’t experience much homophobia and discrimination, though it does occasionally come up.

When I started this blog, I made a conscious decision to be openly queer here. I want this website to be a place where absolutely everyone is welcome.

Most homesteading sites would make the same claim, but then they also post Bible verses, make explicit statements about the importance of family and children, and often express a distrust of society. While all of these are perfectly fine to find important and have on one’s site, it does not create a welcoming space for 2SLGBTQ+ people who are interested in homesteading. And when I’ve gone onto some of these homesteaders’ social media accounts, I’ve been further alarmed by the content I’ve seen. Unfortunately, most homesteading sites and folks are not welcoming to queer people—they might in theory be, but not in practice.

I imagine some future people reading this section of this post and demanding what someone’s bedroom activities has to do with growing tomatoes. And, really, if that’s your question then that highlights the problem. If a straight person can post about their spouse and kids and importance of family in their post, then why can’t I post about my husband and the importance of Pride in my post? It’s that old double-standard that continually oppresses queer people and their identities.

If you’ve read some of my posts, you’ve likely seen references to my husband. I don’t hide it.

I’ve decided to take a tiny step forward—I’ve updated the banner graphic at the top of this site to include a progress pride flag.

There may be future inclusive changes and posts, once I figure them out. I know one thing I’d like to do is compile a great list of queer homesteaders and farmers. I follow a great account on TikTok, but a list need to be more than one item long. 🙂

Garden and project photo dump

Here are random photos of the things I’ve been up to the past few weeks!

We’ve added chamomile to the garden this year, so I’m working on plucking these flowers and drying them for tea.

Chamomile flowers.

The saskatoons are ripening; when they’re a dark purple, they’re ready. The challenge is to get them before the birds do. Last year on a Saturday evening I looked at the saskatoon bush and thought These look ripe, I’ll harvest them tomorrow morning. Twelve hours later, Sunday morning, the birds had completely decimated the bush, eating every single saskatoon. As I walked up to the bush to take this photo, a robin gulped down a berry and flew away.

Unripe saskatoon berries.

In the realm of preserving projects, I finally tackled the chicken broth. I’ve had a few chicken carcasses sitting in the freezer for months and they needed to get used up before this year’s harvest started filling the freezers again.

I took the carcasses, covered them with water, and added dried herbs and seasonings from last year’s garden. Piled on top here, you’ll see parsley, thyme, and a powered seasoning made from dried onion and garlic peels.

A pot of chicken broth with seasonings on top.

Once it’s boiled and then simmers for an hour or two, everything gets strained and the broth is then canned using a pressure canner. I ended up with just over eight litres of broth.

A jar of chicken stock.

I also made a batch of chive blossom vinegar for a friend. It’s normally made with white wine vinegar, but this batch is made with unseasoned rice vinegar. It has a lovely chive flavour and smell, and a gorgeous pink colour. Over the next few months the colour will fade and turn brown, but the taste and smell will stay the same. I’m hoping to get the recipe up on this site soon.

A bright pink bottle of chive blossom vinegar.

A new-to-me recipe this year is fermented chives. Chives are ridiculously difficult to preserve. Drying or freezing them diminishes their flavour pretty quickly, so it’s very much a use-it-fresh type of plant…which is disappointing because they produce so much chives and you can only eat so much in a meal. These fermented chives turned out pretty nice. If anything, it intensified the chive flavour and smell, and the fermenting has added a bit of a sauerkraut flavour to it. Fermented foods usually last at least a few months in the fridge.

A small jar of fermented chives with a spoon sitting in it.

I’ve also got my annual batch of dandelion wine underway. It’s really cloudy right now, so it’ll take at least a few months to settle and clarify. Normally dandelion wine is made with orange and lemon juice, but I stumbled across a recipe that used lemon juice and ginger and couldn’t resist. So this will be my first batch of dandelion ginger wine. Fingers crossed it tastes good!

A big carboy of golden-coloured dandelion wine

And, lastly, we almost have a gazebo on our deck!

We host a lot of barbecues in the summer but the mosquitoes and wasps make it incredibly unpleasant. We usually have a big mosquito net that drapes over the patio umbrella, but it tears so easily that it barely lasts a summer before we need a new one.

We’ve been talking about getting a gazebo, but we were always put off by the cost…until my mom and step-dad found this abandoned gazebo frame sitting in the middle of a field on public property outside the city. John and my step-dad went back to take it apart and bring it home and they put it together on the deck.

We’ve ordered mosquito screen siding. We couldn’t find the right gazebo canopy since each make and model is different and we have no idea which one this is, so we ordered extra mosquito netting so we can at least wrap the top of this with netting and prevent the bugs from coming in. In a future year we can look at a more formal canopy. All the netting arrived yesterday, so we’ll have it put together this weekend.

A gazebo frame on our deck

And that’s about it for this month’s round-up!

Garden Update: June 2024

After getting through the garden hibernation period—AKA winter—life is starting to appear in our yard again.

Many, many years ago, I knew a newcomer family that came from a very hot part of the world. Their first winter here was their first experience with below-zero temperatures. When the plants died off and the trees shed their leaves, they thought that everything was dead. By mid-winter, one of them asked a mutual acquaintance why no one was cutting down all the dead trees. It amazed and delighted them when spring rolled around and all of those supposedly-dead trees came back to life.

The garden is much the same.

When the snow first melts, all we’re left with is dead plant matter and barren soil. But when the spring sun finally starts to warm things up, then life comes rushing back.

While garden season in Winnipeg usually starts in late May, we’ve had a rainy late spring / early summer, pushing us into June. We’ve almost got everything in the ground now.

The Early Risers

There are a few very early signs of spring in our yard that mean the season is finally starting:

  • The double-flowering plum tree blossoms
  • The garlic we planted in the fall springs up
  • The rhubarb comes rushing back
  • The chives sprout straight up

The double-flowering plum trees covers itself in bright pink blossoms for about a week, then they all fall off and suddenly this seemingly-barren bush is covered in lush green leaves.

The plum tree, at least in this climate, doesn’t produce any fruit. It’s purely an ornamental tree. When I was researching that a couple years ago, amateur gardeners said it’s likely because the blossoms come and go before pollinators arrive, so it misses out on its chance to produce fruit.

I happened to catch a bumble bee happily working away on the blossoms while they were still in bloom. If that amateur gardener theory is correct, well, this early bee might mean we get a plum or two. If anything happens, I will report back on that progress here.

The garlic is always one of my favourite crops. I think it’s because we get two harvests out of them. There is, of course, the harvest of bulbs in mid to late summer—most of which I pickle—but in early summer come the garlic scapes.

Scapes are basically the flower stem of the garlic plant. They shoot up nice and high and then do several twists and turns. You let them get nice and big, but just before they start flowering, you yank them off the garlic plant. These scapes taste fantastic roasted on the barbecue or are a nice little treat if they’re pickled. There’s a vendor at the local farmers market who makes a mind-blowing hot sauce from garlic scapes, an idea I might explore this summer.

The dwindling pantry

This time of year is also where the shelves start to look a little bare.

We still have a lot left from last year, especially frozen chopped bell peppers and frozen chopped squash, but we’re down to our last few jars of apple juice and tomato juice, and we’ve long run out of things like frozen broccoli and salsa.

We really don’t like to buy what we don’t have to, so we haven’t had broccoli in months now and we’re eating a lot more bell peppers than we normally do. Our goal is to see if we can go a whole year without buying vegetables—and except for a few exceptions (like mushrooms and the occasional potato), we’ve managed to do that.

Although it’s a massive amount of work, I can’t wait for the preserving season to hit full-swing and I get to stock all of these shelves again. I always look forward to a year of great food.

Planning for a new year

As successful as the challenge has been, we’re always looking at what changes we need to make to do better next year. For us, this means increasing broccoli, paying attention to what tomato products lasted and what we ran out of, and figuring out how to massively increase our fruit production (because we don’t preserve or utilize much fruit, mostly because we haven’t grown much). A new challenge for us is to also expand our protein production with beans and the eventual crop of mushrooms, though the mushrooms might not happen till next year.

Oh, and we might be expanding our garden space yet again.

We do our whole property, the backyard of our west neighbour, and a strip along the fence of our east neighbour, but this year we might add some garden space at a retreat centre just outside of town. We’ve been offered some space there and John, my husband, AKA the gardener, has been out there to turn some soil over. It’s a great plot of land, but it’s a bit of a drive to get there, and on his first trip out there he came home with 19 ticks crawling all over him. So, we’ll see.

John determines which crops go where and there is a draw to the out-of-town garden. One possibility is moving our popcorn crop out to the retreat centre—they apparently do not have a squirrel problem. Last summer when we had popcorn in our neighbour’s yard, a solitary squirrel decimated our entire popcorn crop in less than half a day.

This Year’s Crop

If I’m remembering everything correctly, here’s what we’ve got ahead of us this year…

Perennials that come up every year:

  • Saskatoons (AKA service berries, June berries)
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Horseradish
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Chives
  • Rhubarb
  • Flowers — I’m not sure if I’ll do anything with flowers this year, but in the past I’ve done lilac jelly and lilac wine, as well as peony jelly
  • Dandelions

Perennials from other people’s properties (not our neighbours) that we harvest:

  • Apples
  • Tart cherries

Things we’re planting, either as seedlings or as seeds:

  • Sweet peas
  • Peas for canning
  • Sunflowers
  • Corn
  • Popcorn
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Chamomile
  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Black Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Scarlet Runner Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell Peppers
  • Jalapeno Peppers
  • Hungarian Wax Peppers
  • Habanero Peppers
  • Kohlrabi (for our neighbour)
  • Cabbage (for our neighbour)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Mustard
  • Ginger
  • Cucumber
  • Sweet Potato

Whenever I do a list like this, I always forget something, so there’s likely more than what’s listed here.

As well, tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary, and a tradition we fell into a few years ago is to go to a greenhouse on our anniversary and buy something new for the garden. We’re going to head out and look for a new fruit for the front yard. I’d love to get a cranberry bush, but they didn’t have it last year, so perhaps a haskap berry bush (which look like oblong blueberries).

I look forward to the summer and fall ahead as I start really filling this blog with recipes, updates, photos, and more. Thank you for tagging along on this journey.

Garden Update: December 2023

It’s been an unusual winter so far for Winnipeg. We’ve had very little snow.

For quite a while, it was looking like we’d have a brown Christmas, something we haven’t had since the mid-90s. But the days leading up to Christmas saw some snowfall. It wasn’t a lot, but it was some. Normally at this time of year we’ve got maybe a foot or two of snow, but so far this year we’ve got about an inch.

While it has been nice not having to do any shovelling, it has left us a little concerned about the garden.

We plant our garlic at the end of the summer and rely on a cold winter to keep the cloves in stasis until the spring warmth brings it to life and growth begins. Our winter so far as been hovering around 0 Celsius / 32 Fahrenheit—some days it’s just below freezing and some days it’s just above freezing. While I haven’t uncovered the garlic to check on it, my fear was that the warm days might’ve encouraged the garlic to grow. However, we’re fully past freezing now, so what’s done is done and we’ll see what happens in the spring.

The garlic patch is covered by garden debris to help insulate it over the winter.

The other risk we run with very little snow is water supply. While we prefer to water the garden with rain water, when we go through dry spells we rely on the city supply of water. This past summer was quite dry, which required a lot of city water. A handful of years ago, lakes in various parts of the province were low and water rationing was put in place. A dry summer followed by a low-snow winter might find us in that situation again. Here’s hoping we get several feet of snow in January through March.

But that’s enough worrying about things I can’t control.

Alcohol Projects

The honeydew melon wine finished a couple weeks ago and I bottled it up. I haven’t tried it yet…but I’m a little hesitant.

For background for folks new to the blog, I really dislike honeydew melon and John, my husband, is not really a fan of it. We grew it because our neighbour gave us some seedlings, and when we realized that neither of us want to eat it, I happened upon a recipe for honeydew melon wine.

Sometimes wine tastes like what it’s made from, like grape wine, dandelion wine, and cherry wine. But sometimes it doesn’t taste at all like what it’s made from and instead just tastes like a nice wine, like beet wine, parsnip wine, and corn cob wine. I didn’t know which type of wine honeydew melon would produce, but I certainly hoped for the kind that tastes nothing like what it’s made from.

Unfortunately, with the tiny spoonful taste I had, it was very melon-y. And it has an extremely intense melon-y aroma. Blech.

John thinks it’s all right.

We’ll leave it for a month or two before we crack open a bottle and see if ageing it changes the flavour and aroma. I found apple wine changed drastically over time, so here’s hoping the same is true of honeydew melon wine.

I’ve taken on a few other alcohol projects in the last couple months:

  • I did up a batch of rhubarb ginger gin. Normally this takes on a nice golden hue, but this time around it turned a bright, gorgeous pink.
  • As a bit of an experiment, I tried a lemon-lime soju, based on my recipes for grapefruit soju and orange soju. It has a lovely citrus taste and could easily be drunk as-is, but would likely taste wonderful mixed with a splash of sparkling water for a sort-of alcoholic Sprite.
  • Back in the summer when I was utterly exhausted from juicing apples and canning the juice, I’d sliced up a bunch and bagged them for alcohol projects. The first I’ve taken on is an apple whisky with a hint of cinnamon.
  • In addition, I’ve started a batch of apple liqueur. This one takes a couple months to make, so I’ll be sipping these summer flavours in the deepest depths of winter.
  • My mom had some leftover cranberries and rosemary at Christmas, so I threw those in a jar and topped it off with gin. I’ll let it infuse for a couple weeks, strain out the cranberries and rosemary, and see what flavour adventure I’ve created. At present, the gin has turned a brilliant red.

The sugar shortage continues

As I mentioned in passing in my recent pumpkin butter post, there’s a sugar shortage going on in Western Canada. Apparently all, or nearly all, of the sugar in Western Canada is supplied by one company that’s been on strike since September, which resulted in the shelves going bare in the grocery store as we were leading up to Christmas baking season.

That also meant I needed to ration my sugar supply. By making kombucha, I require a cup of sugar every eight to ten days to start a new batch—and with no end to the strike in sight, I can’t risk running out…which means not taking on extra projects.

However, a friend visited from Ontario, a part of Canada not experiencing a sugar shortage, and she brought us a 10 kilogram bag of sugar as a Christmas present!

This means I finally get to try out the new steam juicer I bought (CA Amazon, US Amazon). I’ve got three large ziplock bags of tart cherries in my freezer just begging to be turned into wine or liqueur. I normally find it a bit of a laborious process because of the juicing step, so I’m looking forward to using the juicer to easily create sediment-free juice—and then add a TON of sugar to turn it into wine.

When I try the juicer, I’ll post a review here on the site.

Planning for 2024

It seems the garden truly is a year-round project, even in a climate where half the year sees the garden frozen solid and buried in snow.

John and I are already having conversations about what we want more of, what we want less of, and how we might rotate the crops to get a better yield. Some areas of the garden are sunnier than others, the local ecosystem of certain patches can lead to higher yields, and some plants produce more when planted next to each other—all factors we consider when we plan for the summer.

But until then…

While we’re certainly thinking about the 2024 garden, it’s still months before we actually have to do anything. We unfortunately don’t have the space to set up seed starters indoors, so we rely on planting seeds directly in the ground and buying seedlings from the garden centre.

Our neighbour, whose garden we use, also provides seedlings that he starts at his house. Normally this is in the form of tomato plants—he provides us with several dozen seedlings of a whole variety of tomatoes—as well as a few other veggies. This year, after seeing how much we love bell peppers, he’ll also start a bunch of pepper seedlings for us.

But until that time of year rolls around…we just have to enjoy eating all our preserved produce and toasting with our garden wines.

Garden Update: October 2023

With an unusually warm October for Winnipeg, our gardening projects have continued a week or two longer than they normally do.

All of our vegetables and fruit are harvested and preserved (canned, fermented, frozen, and/or put in storage) and as I write the draft of this post, I’m currently drying the last of our herbs. Parsley is in the dehydrator right now and thyme will go in tomorrow. After that, I have to finish up the mustard seed—I have a few plants drying in large paper bags and I need to break out the seeds and filter out the detritus—and with that, make a batch of mustard. The ginger still needs to be dug up, though we’re undecided if we’re going to put it in a pot and turn it into an indoor plant or if I’m going to make candied ginger with it. In my September update, I’d mentioned the plan to dig up and remove the horseradish from the front yard—at this point I think we’re keeping it where it is for one more year.

As I’m typing the draft of this post, my husband is building a pergola in our front yard—a large wooden structure for the grape vine to wrap itself around. Previously he’s used a structure made of dried out sunflower stalks (which are surprisingly durable) held together by rope, but it really wasn’t a long-term solution. This September, a windy storm knocked the whole thing over.

This pergola has become a community endeavour. John (my husband) is one of those people that knows everyone in the neighbourhood. He got initial advice from our neighbour, who directed him to another neighbour across the street—and that fellow has become John’s co-worker on this project. John has little to no experience building wooden structures or woodwork in general, so this across-the-street neighbour’s help is greatly appreciated. In order to put the posts securely into the ground, John borrowed a post-hole-digger from another neighbour down the street, who similarly offered advice on the project.

If it were me doing this, I would have just hired a company, LOL. But, John being John, this has turned into a more-affordable project that is almost community-driven. (On the plus side, when John sent me to the hardware store for the washers he forgot to buy, I noticed another neighbour down the back lane had put their old barbecue out with the trash—so I got a new-to-me barbecue that’s a definite improvement over our old one, which I would have missed out on if John hadn’t taken on this project.)

The pergola is done now!

Our grape vine is certainly going to love this! These are red wine grapes. In the spring, we might buy a white wine grape vine to plant on the other side of the pergola. Hopefully in a few years we’ll have enough grapes in a summer to make small batches of wine.

Speaking of wine…

The garden wines, also from the September update, continue to ferment. (If you’re looking at making garden wines at home, check out my Rough Guide to Making Country Wines post.)

To sum up, the following are still fermenting:

  • Chokecherry wine (this might be almost finished)
  • Beet wine (does not taste like beets)
  • Honeydew melon wine
  • Corn cob wine (does not taste like corn)
  • Grape wine (this might be almost finished)
  • Rosemary wine

Since the last post, the sour cherry wine completed its thing and I bottled it up. It is amazingly delicious! I got seven half bottles (375 ml)—we drank two of them pretty quick, we shared two with the person whose cherry tree we raided, I put two in storage for next summer (my step-dad lives out-of-country and will be back in the summer, so I’m saving a handful of different wines to share with him), and I have one bottle left that John and I will likely pull out soon. We like to share some wine when we’re watching a season premiere or season finale of a show, so we’ll likely share it this week when we start season three of What We Do In The Shadows.

The sour cherry wine retained much of its cherry taste, which was a nice surprise. (Some wines like beet, parsnip, and corn cob lose their original taste—thank god.) And now I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I have a big bag of cherries sitting in my freezer, waiting to be used for something…and I don’t know if I should make more cherry wine, more cherry gin (which tastes phenomenal with simple syrup and lemon juice), or more cherry liqueur (which is also phenomenal). I’ll have to do a survey with friends and family to see which they liked best.

Levelling up

Because of the magic of the Instagram algorithm, the app shows me content from food preservers and homesteaders. Around this time of year, they’re all showing off their pantries filled to the brim with canned and preserved goods.

I think I’m almost at that level. At least for us, a family of two, I’m at that level. (Quite often these social media posts come from content creators who come from families of four or more—they would need to produce and preserve a lot more food than we would.)

Because our house is tiny and doesn’t have a basement, we’ve been using my mom’s place for food storage. Unfortunately, it’s always been a bit of a mess that my mom has thankfully put up with. This year, John got in his organizing mode and decided we needed to treat my mom better. We got a bunch of metal shelving units from the hardware store and lined them along the walls in an unused bedroom in my mom’s basement. It’s now our food storage room. We keep all of our jars of preserved food in there, our wine-making equipment, and the squash.

We keep the potatoes in a separate room in my mom’s basement, one that does not have a window and where the door is rarely opened. The total darkness keeps them fresher for longer.

As usual, we filled up my mom’s chest freezer, mostly with rhubarb. This year we bought a small chest freezer for our house…and quickly filled it up. So we bought another small chest freezer for my mom’s basement…and it’s half full. (And in case you’re wondering, the freezer attached to our fridge was filled to the brim with veggies back in June.)

We clearly have a year’s supply of vegetables.

As a thank-you to my mom for letting us take up so much space at her house, she has free access to any and all food stored at her place. She’s been enjoying the pasta sauce, salsa, and beets that I canned this year.

Celebrating the harvest

Every year as the garden wraps up, I host a Garden Harvest BBQ, where most of the dinner ingredients come from the garden.

This year the dinner included:


  • Pumpkin sourdough bread
  • Grilled baguette slices
  • Basil pesto
  • Pickled banana peppers
  • Cowboy candy (candied jalapeño peppers)
  • Pickled beets
  • Toum (a fluffy garlic spread)
  • The pumpkin, basil, peppers, beets, and garlic all came from our garden.

Main Course:

  • Garlic and rosemary grilled pork chops
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and potatoes
  • The garlic, rosemary, Brussels sprouts, squash, and potatoes all came from our garden.


  • Black bean brownies
  • The black beans came from our garden.


  • Mint tea
  • Rhubarb wine
  • The mint and rhubarb came from our garden.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures to share with you… but it was delicious!

Looking ahead to November

Gardening is really a year-round activity, especially when you go all-in on food preserving and homesteading (even just urban homesteading like we’re doing). While things certainly slow down in November, they don’t cease.

In early November I’m going to treat myself to a steam juicer—this one, I think—as it will make juicing apples, rhubarb, cherries, and tomatoes so much easier. I’ll have to test it next year to see if it works well with cucumbers; my concern is the heat of the juicing process might dampen the freshness that’s associated with cucumber juice.

When it arrives, my first project will be juicing that bag of sour cherries, provided I figure out if I’m making liqueur, gin, or wine.

Buried in the back of my freezer, I also have pincherries. This is something my stepdad harvested when he was here this summer. I’ve never worked with them before, so I’m not sure what to do. Since I don’t have a ton of them, maybe I’ll soak them in some gin and make pincherry gin. (If I do that, then I think that reduces my options with the sour cherries to liqueur or wine.)

Sometime in the next month or so, our popcorn—what little of it we were able to save from the squirrel—might be dry enough to pull from the cob and start using on movie nights.

The squirrel story: We had somewhere around 60 cobs of popcorn, which would have easily been enough for a year’s supply. In half a day—half a day—the squirrel either ate, partially ate, or absconded with 54 cobs. Yes. Out of 60, we’re down to 6. We harvested them right away, but they’re supposed to fully dry on the stalks before harvesting and then dry further in the house, so I’m not sure if the early harvest will affect the poppability of the popcorn.

Looking ahead to next year

We’re always thinking of what to do next year. What do we want more of, what do we want less of, and what do we want to introduce?

There was some concern that the neighbour whose yard we use would move, but he’s committed to staying at least another year. To sweeten the deal, my husband offered to help him tend to his flowers all of next summer.

We definitely want our lengthy list of usuals: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, onions, cucumber, peas (for canning), sugar snap peas (for snacking), potatoes, squash (pumpkin, spaghetti, butternut, acorn), bell peppers, hot peppers, popcorn, sweet corn, tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, garlic, celery, mustard, green onions (I think they’re also known as spring onions), sunflowers, Saskatoons (AKA June berries or service berries), blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, rhubarb, horseradish, basil, rosemary, parsley, mint, dill, and thyme. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two things.

I know we want to increase our mint (John has a renewed love for mint tea) and our fruit. Part of increasing fruit means buying more blueberry plants and possibly getting another grape vine. But it also means figuring out what other fruits we want and figuring out if we can grow them in our climate—I definitely want to try watermelon again (we’d tried it this year, but the squirrel…), and if this honeydew melon wine is tasty we’ll want more of that.

Another thinking project for next year is figuring out where we want to plant things.

Part of this means where in the yard. Mustard is better in the back yard because it gets covered with insect eggs in the front yard. This year we moved the celery from the front to the back and nearly the whole crop was destroyed by slugs.

Very little celery was salvageable.

Part of this also means which property. We been invited to use up some of the garden space at a meditation retreat centre just outside of Winnipeg where—(wait for it…)—they do not have a squirrel problem. Our popcorn is definitely going out there.

John may move both our sweet corn and popcorn out to this rural garden, which frees up a ton of space at home. Ideally, corn is alternated with beans year after year—corn uses nitrogen and beans replenish nitrogen—so we will likely be growing beans in our corn patch next year. We can only eat so many beans, so we also need to figure out which beans to grow and at what quantities and what to do with them. We definitely want more black beans as we’ve almost used up this year’s supply already (I made a batch of black bean brownies and today I made a batch of black bean tofu).

As well, it’s gotten me thinking…if we’re looking at alternative protein sources like beans, should we be expanding our meatless meal options? Both John and I don’t eat a lot of meat and we like the idea of being friendlier to the environment, so this is leading me to wondering if chickpeas and possibly lentils could be grown in our climate. As well, we don’t consume a lot of dairy, so can we look at homemade non-dairy milks and cheeses made from legumes? Those are questions to explore over the winter.

The big unknown for next year is the sour cherries. The couple that owns the property where we pick cherries has pointed out that the tree is dying and might not last much longer. If it does die, we’ll have to find a new source of cherries. (I think a house across the street from us has a cherry tree—the strategy might be to send John over there to make friends with yet another neighbour.)

Enjoying the harvest

The big task over the next eight months or so is to simply enjoy the harvest and the months of effort put into food preserving.

We have a full year’s supply of vegetables—we’ll run out of broccoli pretty quickly, since we didn’t get a big harvest, but that’s easily made up for by our over-abundance of bell peppers—and we easily have a year’s supply of lots of canned goods. As the wine fully ferments and gets bottled, we’ll likely have a year’s supply of it. Grocery bills dip in the winter due to all this, but more importantly, quality of life skyrockets with all this gourmet homegrown produce.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how we expanded into our other neighbour’s yard this year with just a strip of their property along our shared fence. We may or may not expand beyond that strip in their yard next year. I think they want us to expand so they don’t have to mow the lawn, but it’s also a lot more garden work for us, and we’re realizing we do have limits. This neighbour is a group home with a couple residents and a few regular staff. One of the absolute joys this year was to show up at their doorstep and give them bags and boxes of vegetables, most of which were grown on their property. We’ve learned that one of the residents there absolutely loves fresh corn on the cob, carrots, and potatoes. Whether or not we expand further in their yard next year, I think we’ll be sharing more of our over-abundance with them. It helps build neighbourly relations, but more importantly, my husband loves knowing that someone is truly enjoying the work he puts into gardening, and he definitely has a very appreciative fan next door.

The only appreciative fan my husband dislikes is the squirrel.

Garden Update: September 2023

As the height of summer passes and we inch our way slowly toward fall, we find ourselves entering the busiest part of the year for me. While my husband is the primary gardener, I’m the primary food preserver—and everything needs to be preserved in the next few weeks.

Harvesting and Preserving

We learned our lesson last year. We used to like keeping things in the ground as long as possible, meaning that when we get the notification that frost is coming (usually in mid- to late-October), we then hurry to harvest everything all at once. And that means having to preserve non-stop for days or weeks to make sure nothing goes rotten.

I think I really burned myself out last year.

This year, we’re harvesting things when we think they’re ready rather than leaving them as long as possible. Really, an extra couple weeks won’t make much difference.

This means that this past weekend we harvested all the beets—53 pounds—and I pickled 26 pints / half-litres. We also gave some away to both our neighbours, my mom, and some friends of ours. We still have a small pile left. If I can find the motivation, I might try turning them into beet chips.

This past weekend also saw our potato harvest—234 pounds of Yukon gold and red-skinned potatoes. Thankfully, these don’t need anything done with them, at least not right away. In the past, a restaurant has taken some of our Yukon gold potatoes off of us, so I’m hoping they’ll be interested again this year. The red-skinned potatoes are good for canning, so once things settle down in November/December, I might look at canning some potatoes. These make great last-minute additions to dinner (fry them up like gnocchi) or breakfasts (fry them up like hash browns)—and since canning fully cooks them in the process, adding them to dinner or breakfast just takes as long as heating them up and maybe getting a little crispy on the outside. I’m hoping to convince a coworker to teach me how to make gnocchi, as I’d love to have bags of homemade gnocchi in the freezer, ready to be pulled out for dinners.

The tomatoes are ripening at a nice pace. They keep me busy but don’t overwhelm me. I just finished canning a batch of salsa and I’m stewing up a batch of butter chicken sauce that’ll be canned later today.

Looking ahead, I think this next week or two is going to be the herb-harvest period. We’ve got lots of basil that I’ll turn into pesto, lots of oregano that I’ll dry for kitchen use, some mint I’ll dry for a friend for tea, and rosemary that I’ll likely turn into a batch of rosemary wine. We also have some thyme, but I don’t know if I have a use for it—I could dry it, but it’s not really something I cook with—so I might just leave that one in the garden.

A lot of the other remaining things can wait till I have time. The peppers are slowly ripening but they’re fine sitting on the plant until I’m ready; the carrots and parsnips can wait till we have time; and the black beans and kidney beans are slowly drying and I’m in no rush to harvest them.

Legal Mustard

A few years ago, a wild mustard plant took root in our garden and we decided to let it grow. Though mustard leaves are edible, we never really came to like them. The seeds, though…I taught myself how to collect mustard seeds and make homemade mustard.

The first batch was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I threw it in the back of the fridge and forgot about it. And when the following spring rolled around and we were doing our first barbecue, I pulled out that mustard with a wary look. We gave it a try and ohmygod it was delicious. The flavour clearly matures over time.

Mustard plants grow millions of seeds and no matter how hard you try to collect them all, some always scatter. Year after year our mustard harvest grew as the plants spread. We never had to plant them ourselves—nature took care of it all.

Then, last year, we got a letter from the city about property maintenance bylaws. The letter was very unclear but mentioned tall grass (we have about two square feet of grass that got a little long) and noxious weeds. After researching it, wild mustard is a noxious weed. We had to tear it all out.

Turns out, after we tore it all out and contacted the inspector to verify we’d done everything right, he told us he hadn’t even noticed the wild mustard. The letter was just about the tall grass and the generic language included noxious weeds even though that wasn’t what he flagged for our property.

(Wild mustard is a noxious weed because it resembles canola and can infiltrate canola fields. If a canola harvest has too much mustard in it, the whole lot has to be dumped.)

We’ve still got half a jar of now-illegal mustard in the back of the fridge that I pull out when friends are over.

This year, we discovered the seed catalogue we order from has mustard—a legal kind!

The mustard plants are slowly dying off now—the seeds are harvested when the plant is brown and brittle—and I’m throwing the plants in one of those large paper lawn bags. In a few weeks I’ll work on harvesting the seeds and then set out to return to the world of mustard-making.

Since this is a new variety, the heat level of the seeds might be different. Wild mustard was black and dark brown seeds, which are the hottest. I’m not sure what colour these seeds are yet. But I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Looking Ahead to 2024

We’ve been gardening at this scale for a few years now, but we always learn new things and make new plans.

Next year our front yard will fully be fruit-only. My husband is planning to take out the horseradish plant before the summer is over, which is the only non-fruit/non-flower plant on that part of the property.

In the past, our neighbour who lets us use his yard has talked about moving to somewhere that requires less work and upkeep, and he’s talking about it again. This means we have to start coming up with contingency plans in case he does follow through on the idea of moving. (Given what’s been going on in this part of the city, if our neighbour moves, his house will be torn down, his property divided, and two or three new houses will go up in their place. The garden will be gone.)

This year we started gardening a little strip in our other neighbour’s yard. I think they don’t like mowing the lawn, so they’re eager for us to convert their whole property to garden space. If we lose our big space, this could be the route we go.

We’ve also talked about how we could downsize things and do it all on our property. (Do we really need 234 pounds of potatoes, 130 ears of corn, and 53 pounds of beets?)

Lately, my husband has been connecting with a meditation retreat place just outside the city and has volunteered some of his time to help out in their garden. They’ve offered to let us take some of the space for our own use. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s a big space and it could be ideal for things that don’t need lots of attention (since we can’t get out there everyday), like onions, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.

Of course, for all the talk of moving, our neighbour with the giant garden might end up staying there for several more years. But it’s always good to talk about these things so that if and when it happens, it’s not a disaster and we already have a plan in place. It also gets us thinking of what we’re growing and why. Like, this year we grew honeydew melon and realized that neither of us really like honeydew melon. If we’re crunched for space, that’ll be the first to go.

Update since I wrote the draft of this post: I decided to give honeydew melon wine a try—and I had just enough melon!

Honeydew melon wine (green) and corn cob wine (yellow).

Wine Failures

In my recent post about winemaking, I listed the country wines / garden wines I’ve made and the ones that are currently in process.

Well, I’ve had two disasters—one is salvageable and the other, well, we’ll see.

I noticed the airlock on the chokecherry wine wasn’t bubbling. This is concerning as it means that the yeast might not have taken hold and might’ve died off. If that’s the case, then I don’t have a bucket of wine, but rather a bucket of sugary juice that runs the risk of going mouldy.

I do these big batches of wine over at my mom’s place where there’s more room, so I’ll head over there this weekend and see if it’s salvageable. It’s certainly possible that the lid isn’t airtight and the excess gas is escaping elsewhere (and it is indeed fermenting), which is why the airlock isn’t bubbling. We’ll see.

Edit since I wrote up the first draft of this post: The chokecherry wine is indeed fermenting. It smells alcoholic and there have been some positive changes (like there’s no longer a layer of sugar on the bottom). I’m not sure what’s going on with the airlock not bubbling, but wine is certainly being made.

That seems to be the exact problem I had with the Saskatoon wine, though that one is salvageable.

The Saskatoon wine did actively ferment during primary (the first stage of fermentation where the yeast is most active), but after moving it to a new jar (called a secondary), the bubbling seemed to have died off quickly. I left it like that for a few weeks to see what would happen…but no bubbles ever came.

Well, it had certainly fermented earlier, so I knew the yeast had taken hold and survived, so maybe this was a wine that just finished early for some reason? It could have a low sugar content and the yeast ate up all their food quickly.

Anyway, I bottled it and let it sit around for a few weeks. I started to worry, though, that I might’ve bottled it too early. Maybe the lid wasn’t tight enough and gas escaped that way rather than through the airlock?

It didn’t take much convincing my husband when I said we should try a bottle of Saskatoon wine to see if it turned out.

I opened the first bottle…and it shot out like a geyser. There was wine everywhere.

Clearly, I had my answer. The wine had not finished fermenting before I bottled it and it continued to ferment in the wine bottle. This creates a safety hazard because if the pressure builds up too much, it could shatter the bottles. Not only would that be messy, but it’s potentially dangerous.

We opened two more bottles to see if they were the same. They did not shoot out geyser-like.

Anyway, now we had three open bottles of wine, though one was half-empty after the geyser. These are 375 ml bottles (half the standard wine bottle), so collectively it was just shy of a litre of wine.

We got some snacks, poured out the wine, and settled in for the first couple episodes of The Enfield Haunting.

The wine was great! I definitely want to try it again next year and see how it tastes when it’s fully and properly fermented and aged.

There were still three more bottles of Saskatoon wine, but we didn’t want to drink that all in one night. We have a friend that was really interested in trying this wine, so we wanted to save it for our next hangout.

To be safe, I put the three bottles in extra-large Ziplock bags, hoping that this would prevent glass shards and massive spills if they shatter, and then put them in the bottom of the fridge, as the cold air will slow the fermenting if it’s still occurring. When we bring it to our friend’s place, we’ll tell him to put on rubber gloves (in case the bottle shatters in his hand…which has happened to my husband once and required a hospital visit) and do it outside (in case it’s another geyser).

Preparing for Winter

Though Winter is still a few months away, we’ll soon be in fall and then very quickly the snow will fly.

The next month or so will see me harvesting the last of what we’ve got (which is still a lot) and finding ways to preserve it. Last year, we managed to grow enough veggies to last us the year, except for mushrooms, which we don’t grow. I’m hoping this year is the same. Although I’m soon going to an indoor mushroom growing workshop, so mushrooms might soon be off our grocery list.

The only thing we buy in the produce section at the grocery store are mushrooms, apples, oranges, bananas, and ginger (which we’ve got in our garden this year!). That’s it. The rapidly rising cost of fruits and veggies hasn’t really hit us.

As the food preserving winds down in October, I hope to get back into baking bread and bagels. I’ve been maintaining my sourdough starter but haven’t had time to use it to make anything.

I’ve also got other projects I’ve been long neglecting because of the garden. Outside of this, I’m an author and a publisher and while I’ve managed to keep the publishing going, I really need to get back into writing. My favourite part of winter is the slower pace and just enjoying all of the food and drink that we’ve grown and preserved. It tastes so much better when we know we did it all ourselves.

For my husband, preparing for winter means slowly clearing out the gardens and planting the garlic so they come up right as the spring rolls around. As the snow falls, he wedges tree branches in our chain link fence and strings Christmas lights through them, giving it all a sort of enchanted forest look.

And as we get into the real depths of winter, well, that’s when the seed catalogue arrives in our mailbox and we start preparing for the upcoming spring.

Garden Update: August 2023

It’s becoming abundantly clear to me—as if I somehow hadn’t already learned my lesson—that it’s near impossible to do anything else but garden during garden season.

Keeping up with this site has been a challenge. I’ve been making recipes and taking photos and making notes, but finding time to sit down and type it all out has become quite difficult. I suspect that once the end of fall hits and we roll into winter, that’s when I’ll be able to sit down and write about all of my kitchen adventures.

When I tell people we have a big garden and it keeps us busy, I don’t think they truly understand the scale of it until they see it. I had some new friends come to our place for the first time this summer for a BBQ. I gave them the address, but then added “there’s no number on the house, so look for the garden, you’ll understand when you see it”.

Most properties in our area have just plain grass front yards. There are a few front yard gardeners in the area, but they still come nowhere near matching our scale.

The first thing that’s immediately noticeable, especially in late summer, are the sunflowers. My husband lines our front fence with sunflowers and we easily have the tallest ones in the neighbourhood, with them regularly reaching up to 15 feet in height. Along one side of our property is our wall of corn. So when you’re pulling up to your house and you’ve never been there before, it’s like a cube of greenery. And once you pass through the front gate, it’s been described as almost like a secret garden, likely aided by the fact that the sunflowers sort of hang over the entryway, making it look almost magical.

The Crops and the Harvests

The purpose of our front yard has evolved over the years, but it’ll be our fruit garden moving forward. Here’s where we have in the front:

  • Those sunflowers I mentioned along our front fence
  • Snap peas
  • Scarlet runner beans
  • Saskatoons (also known as juneberries or service berries)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Horseradish (not a fruit but it’s where we planted it years ago)
  • Goji berries (we planted the bush this year, haven’t had fruit yet)
  • We also tend to plant squash in the front to fill up the remaining space. In future years, this remaining space will likely be taken up with more fruit bushes. Currently, though, we have:
    • Acorn squash
    • Butternut squash

The front yard is also our most floral area, with a lilac bush, a rose bush, a double flowering plum tree (which just gives us flowers, no fruit), lilies, pots of flowers, and a handful of other things.

Along the side of the house, we have:

  • Corn
  • Snap peas
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Dill

Our back yard is bit of a mishmash:

  • Various flowers and non-edible plants
  • Borage (an edible flower/plant but we mostly grow it to keep the bees happy)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic (and garlic scapes!)
  • Green onions / spring onions
  • Mustard
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Pumpkin
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers

That’s all we can fit on our property, but we don’t stop there.

Our neighbour to the west is a lifelong gardener but isn’t able to manage his entire garden anymore, so he lets us plant what we want as long as we take care of it. We do, and we share some of our harvest with him, and we help him maintain the patches of produce he’s growing for himself.

On that property, we have:

  • Beans
    • Black beans
    • Kidney beans
  • Tomatoes (several types and sizes)
  • Popcorn
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers
    • Jalapeno peppers
    • Cayenne peppers
    • Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Squash
    • Butternut squash
    • Acorn squash
    • Pumpkin (both small edible pumpkins and big jack-o-lantern pumpkins)
  • Melon
    • Honeydew melon
    • Watermelon
  • Potatoes
    • Yukon gold potatoes
    • Red-skinned potatoes (good for canning!)
  • Cucumber
  • Alaskan peas (good for canning!)
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Swiss chard
  • Rhubarb
  • Horseradish

This list still isn’t over.

Our neighbours on the east side have asked us to help them garden a bit—partly because they hate yard work and partly to cut their grocery bill a bit. Since it’s primarily us that would be tending to it and we’re already stretched thin, at this time we’re just doing a little strip along the shared fence between our properties. We share our harvest with them, particularly if it’s something we’ve grown on their property; one of the folks living there loves the corn.

Over there, we have:

  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots

They’re eager to get rid of their grass, so as a solution for next year, they’ll likely put a tarp over their grass and we’ll plant all our squash and melons around the perimeter, filling their yard with the big leafy plants—essentially, the effect of a giant garden, but with minimal work since it just requires watering around the edges.

And… that’s still not it.

That’s what we’re growing, but that’s not the limit of what we’re harvesting.

My husband up on the ladder picking cherries

I’ve also managed to gather:

  • Apples from a friend’s trees (200+ pounds with more coming this week!)
  • Sour cherries from a tree on that same friend’s property
  • Grapes—boxes and boxes of grapes—from a friend’s vine
    • While we have grapes, so far we get just a few bunches a year, most of which the birds eat
  • Saskatoons, foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • We have our own Saskatoon bush, but the birds ate every single berry before I had a chance to harvest them. I distinctly remember looking at the bush on a Saturday evening and thinking “Hmm… some of these are ready for picking, I’ll start harvesting tomorrow morning so I get them before the birds do.” The next morning, the bush was bare.
  • Chokecherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • With this, he had the specific request that I make chokecherry wine because he has good memories of his mom doing the same. Here’s hoping my wine lives up to that memory!
  • Pin cherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park

This has been and will likely continue to be a year of abundance. Last year with approximately the same number of plants, we had an abundance of broccoli but everything else did just okay. This year, everything is in abundance… except the broccoli. At this point I have more than a year’s supply of certain vegetables, and there’s still more coming.

The Preserving Plans

With a garden as big and as overly-productive as ours, the huge challenge is always: How the heck do you preserve all of it so you don’t end up throwing out tons of food?

Well, the answer to that will slowly be revealed over the coming year as I upload all my recipes here. However, I will say that it’s definitely a challenge.

Our little house doesn’t have a basement. (We have a little dug-out crawlspace where the furnace and hot water tank are, but it’s prone to flooding in storms and in the spring melt, so we can’t store stuff there.) Until recently, we only had a side-by-side fridge/freezer. This year I bought a 3.5 cubic foot deep freezer that fits nicely in our kitchen, doubling our freezer space.

However, I rely heavily on my mom’s house. She has a cold storage room in the basement that’s perfect for the potatoes and a deep freezer twice the size of ours that’s great for the rhubarb and various other things that get frozen.

But if we froze everything, we’d need a dozen freezers.

When my husband started in on this ambitious garden project (which began as just a strip in the back yard), I quickly taught myself farm wife skills, to borrow a phrase from a friend. I’ve written about my food processing journey here, but over the years I’ve learned what I like frozen, what I like canned, what I like dehydrated, and what’s fine to just sit as-is.

The biggest challenge has been to get an understanding of what my husband and I like to eat. Sure, there are hundreds or thousands of recipes online to preserve food, but if you don’t like the end result then it’s the same as just not doing anything.

For example, there are lots of great jelly and jam recipes, but we don’t eat jelly or jam. (The one exception is this Inferno Wine Jelly that tastes amazing on a bagel breakfast sandwich.) We’re also not really dessert people, so there’s no point in canning up a bunch of fruit pie fillings. These dislikes of ours immediately cut out a lot of uses for the fruit that we grow.

This Year’s Theme

One challenge I gave myself this year was to try making a bunch of different wines. It’s a great way to use up some of the produce and it ultimately saves us a ton of money down the road. (Here in Manitoba, alcohol is quite expensive.)

The wines I’ve made and plan to make this year include:

  • Dandelion wine (done and aging, but I’ve made it before and know it’s good)
  • Apple wine (super delicious and more coming)
  • Lilac wine (nicely sweet and floral)
  • Cherry wine (still fermenting)
  • Corn cob wine (got some cobs stored in the freezer)
  • Grape wine (notoriously difficult to make but I’ll try it!)
  • Parsnip wine (made it before, quite nice)
  • Rhubarb wine (a favourite of a friend of ours)
  • Chokecherry wine
  • Rose hip wine (not sure about this one for this year)
  • Hot pepper wine (just came across this idea yesterday, so I need to dig in more before deciding to do it or not)

In addition to wine, I have various recipes for flavouring store-bought alcohol. So far all the ones I’ve tried have been incredibly good. These recipes will show up on this site, likely in the winter. So far I’ve tried or will soon be trying:

  • Rhubarb ginger gin (a crowd favourite)
  • Sour cherry liqueur (mind-blowingly good)
  • Sour cherry gin (fantastic over ice)
  • Apple cinnamon brandy
  • Apple pie liqueur
  • Dandelion cordial
  • Hot pepper vodka

Looking Ahead to September

As August slowly reaches its end and we head into September, and then on into the fall, the busiest time of the year for me is about to be here. The tomatoes are just starting to ripen and soon I’ll have boxes and boxes of them. The potato plants are dying off, which means in a few weeks we can dig them up. And the kidney beans and black beans are forming now, and they’ll eventually mature and dry and be ready for harvest.

My husband has his own routine for the end of summer and oncoming of fall. He carefully puts away all the sticks he’s used to brace plants, he prepares the gardens for the winter, and he plants garlic cloves so they pop up first thing in the spring.

The best part of winter, though, is enjoying the fruits of our labours—all of those home-grown and preserved vegetables, the fancy drinks and wines that remind us of summers when the weather is hitting -40 C, and perhaps most importantly, sharing this abundance with family and friends.

But as winter sets in, there’s always one thing on our mind…planning for the upcoming garden season.

How to Grow Your Own Wheat and Make Flour

My husband and I take an experimental approach to our gardening. If we get the slightest idea of something that would be neat to try, we try it.

Thankfully, we have a lot of garden space to work with. In addition to our own property, we are able to use our neighbour’s very large garden and have recently started helping our other neighbour convert some of their property into a garden. So, with all that space, we can try something on a whim.

Like wheat.

My mom had picked up a little bundle of wheat berries for us (wheat berries are what the wheat seed is called) and we decided we’d have a little patch of wheat. However, we didn’t have enough to fill the amount of space we had, so I picked up some more wheat berries from Bulk Barn (a bulk food store here in Canada).

We were thus committed to this project.

Planting wheat is remarkably easy. You just clear some earth and sprinkle wheat berries onto it.

To do this, I just had a fistful of berries, loosened my fingers a bit, and shook my hand, letting the berries slip between my fingers and land on the dirt.

From there, we watered regularly. I did this in the summer of 2022 and we had a decent rainfall that year. It likely would have been fine with the intermittent rain, but since it was a small enough patch, I watered the wheat between rainfalls.

Maintaining wheat is easy. The wheat largely chokes out weeds, so it requires little to no work.

Before long we had a patch of knee-high wheat. Over the course of the summer it grew to about hip height.

I did notice that we had two distinct types of wheat. One would have been what my mom gave me and the other would have been what we got from Bulk Barn.

As I proceed through this post, I’ll explain how I did it on my small scale operation here. If you have a much larger plot and want to grow a lot of wheat or if this is going to become a regular staple crop in your garden, I encourage you to do your Google research to find out how to do all this, because there are certainly better ways than what I did.

When late fall turns to early winter here in Winnipeg, the change happens in about 24 to 72 hours. Winter finally starts and everything needs to be harvested from the garden all at once.

For us that means all the half-ripened tomatoes, the potatoes, and the squash. And in 2022, that also meant the wheat.

My husband harvested the wheat by literally grabbing it by the handful and yanking it out of the ground. I came home from work one day to find our patio table absolutely laden with wheat. Most of it was ready for harvest—it had gone golden brown and was dry—but some of it was still too green.

With a pair of scissors I cut the heads of all the stalks of wheat, this took a super long time.

Anything that was too green was thrown out, but anything that looked dried or on its way to being dried went into a bag to be dealt with later.

My lesson here is to use fabric bags. I had one plastic bag of wheat, and since plastic is not breathable, it contained the moisture and went mouldy. The other two bags dried nicely, though, with everything turning golden brown.

If you have cats, I advise you to keep the bags out of their reach and/or tightly closed. both my cats repeatedly broke into the bags and pulled the wheat heads out to chew on them.

Normally I’d be okay with that because cats are curious and like to chew on plants. However, with wheat, as you can see in the photo above, there are strands that stick out. They are dry and stiff and pokey—I’ve scratched my hands on them. Something like that has the potential of getting stuck in a cat’s mouth or throat.

Anyway, that aside…

Let them sit and dry out completely. This can likely be accomplished in a few weeks, but for me the wheat became this thing I didn’t want to deal with and I ended up leaving it for seven months.

Now to process it and turn it into wheat!

Working in batches, put a bunch of wheat in an old pillowcase and absolutely bash the eff out of it with a rolling pin. If you know someone that needs to let out some aggression, invite them over.

Your goal here is to break the wheat berries out of their papery shells (the chaff).

In the photo, you can see I used a reusable shopping bag—that was the wrong choice. It had so much pokey, scrapey chaff stuck in the fibres that I had to throw the bags out.

When you start pulling it out of the bag or pillowcase, it should look like this…

Scoop it into a big bowl.

Since I was working with a smallish batch of wheat, I took the time to break up heads of wheat by hand if they survived the rolling pin bashing. I also dug my hands into the bowl several times and squeezed the wheat to break up some more and encourage the berries to separate from the chaff.

I recommend wearing rubber gloves or gardening gloves while doing this. The sharp, brittle chaff can easily cut like a papercut. At one point I even got some embedded under my fingernail.

Eventually you’ll have a bowl that looks like this…

Grab that bowl and a second bowl, and head outside. Hopefully there’s a gentle breeze or a mild wind. If not, you might need to bring a fan out with you.

Pour the wheat and chaff from one bowl to another several times. The breeze will blow away the super-light chaff, leaving just berries (and still some chaff) in the bowls.

When I eventually do up a post about harvesting mustard seeds, it’s the same process.

Eventually you’ll have a bowl of mostly wheat berries. I then handpicked out the last of the chaff.

To do this fairly easily, I scooped a handful onto a plate, picked out the chaff, and dumped the berries into a new bowl. Doing this several times soon leads to a bowl of only wheat berries.

Now we need to turn the wheat berries into flour.

You can buy a small grain mill if this becomes a regular crop for you, but there are alternatives.

You could use a coffee grinder (but be sure to fully clean it before using it again for coffee!) or, like me, you could use a high power bullet blender. Working in batches, I used the blender to grind it into somewhat-chunky flour.

I didn’t get it super fine because the blender started overheating. But I got it decently ground. When I use some of this flour, I’ll likely run it through the coffee grinder to see if I can get it finer.

I’m hesitant to use it for bread and general baking because that usually relies on a certain consistency of flour for rising and the other aspects of baking. I’m sure it would be fine for this, but with a limited amount of flour I don’t want to use it for bread and then have it not turn out.

I would, however, use it for recipes that don’t involve rising. For example, it would work great with Irish potato bread since the flour basically just holds the potato together, or as part of the crumble topping on apple crumble, or if you dredge battered fish in flour.

This was definitely an interesting and worthwhile gardening experiment. It’s not likely one I’d try again, but if you have a good patch for wheat, invest in a few tools and equipment to aid the process, and experiment with the best ways to use your flour, this could be a great crop for you.