Category Archives: DIY

Vegetable Gardening

Twice in the last month I have had each of my sisters ask me about how to start a vegetable garden.  One has a rather large-ish city lot, but more interest in eating local than the actual act of gardening.  The other is helping a school create a large garden plot.  As I was researching various aspects of their projects for them, I came across mysquarefootgarden.net, which had a great comparison of three different types of veggie gardens:

Traditional Gardening

  • A large plot of earth tilled up, and organized in long rows.
  • Requires a lot of space, and a lot of work.
  • If you have good soil the startup costs can be very low–just purchasing some seeds.
  • Challenge:  weeds. Mulching can help, but you will inevitably battle as many weeds (or more!) as you have plants.

Square Foot Gardening

  • Garden beds are built and filled with soil. Raised beds are easier to access, especially for those with physical limitations.
  • Plants are spaced very close together, eliminating “rows.”
  • Utilizes vertical gardening–supporting plants with trellises, staking, etc. This reduces the space needed on the ground by growing vining plants up instead of out.
  • Challenges: startup costs can be much higher because beds must be built or purchased, and soil must be replenished each year. You may need fertilizer to provide enough nutrients for the plants to grow and thrive.

Container Gardening

  • For those with very small yards or just a balcony or a porch to use, container gardening is a great option
  • Many “dwarf” varieties have been developed to help those growing in such small areas.
  • Benefit: requires very little space.
  • Challenges: harvest may be limited, the soil will need constant improvement and fertilizer, and plants grown this way can be more susceptible to disease.

 

And because whenever I begin looking at pictures of veggie gardens, I have to dream a bit, here’s my ideal garden, a blend of traditional and square foot gardening!

Potager Garden

What to Plant in Sunny Planters

IMG_7097

 

Last week, I outlined some basic ideas for containers in shady spots.  The same principle of “thriller, spiller, and filler” applies for sunny containers too.

Sun Plants:

Thriller: Plants that add height and a bit of unique appeal.

Dracena (spikes), Ornamental Grass, Canna Lilies, Banana, Gaura, Cleome, Geraniums,                   Kanga Paw

Filler: Mounding plants that won’t reach the height of your thriller, but will fill in around and in front of the thriller.

Geraniums, Angelonia, Annual Daisies, Alternanthera (red threads), Potunias

Spiller: Adds interest and flows out of the pot. Can be either flowers or foliage.

Lobelia, Bacopa, Wave petunias, Million Bells, Silver Falls/Emerald Falls, Creeping Jenny

 

The thriller is usually placed in the middle (if seen from all sides) or towards the back (if front/side views only). Then moving outwards/forwards add the fillers. Then finally along the outside edges add your spillers.

pot_placement

12″ pot= 5 plants

14″ pot= 7 plants

16″ pot= 9 plants

 

Remember, when you first plant your containers they will look sparse. They will fill in as the plants mature. Try not to over stuff them as it can result in over-crowded and unhealthy plants.

 

Starting Seeds Indoors

Welcome to another great year of gardening! I’m super excited to share gardening tips and tricks, and learn new things along with all the staff and customers at Lacoste this year!  This year on the blog I’m hoping to try out some “gardening hacks” from around the web, experiments with new varieties and old favourite plants, and as always new recipes from local produce! I hope you’ll come along with me, and share your experiences too!

Today, I have a few thoughts on starting seeds for springtime.  The other night we were watching a program on Netflix called “The Mind of a Chef”.  Chef Sean Brock is very keen on using heritage crops in his cooking, and is a big proponent of seed-saving from one year to the next. Starting seeds indoors can be a great way to get a head start on your garden for spring, and help to speed the transition out of winter!

By the end of March, it will be time to start any indoor seeding, so now is a great time to gather supplies.  You’ll need a growing medium (peat moss), containers (cell packs are available at the store, egg-cartons will also work!), and a variety of your choice of seeds.  Most seed packets will have general instructions regarding when to start the seeds, how much light they need, how far to space them and how to water, but here are a few more tips!

  • Moisten the growing medium (peat moss) so that it isn’t soggy, but rather similar to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
  • Cover the freshly seeded containers with a transparent lid.  Once the seeds begin to germinate (sprout), remove the lid to allow air to circulate, and the plants to become stocky rather than stretch out.
  • Grow-lights, or cool fluorescent tubes are the best option for providing light, however a bright sunny window will often do the trick too!
  • Water the seedlings when the top layer of the soil appears dry.  Use a small watering can with a fine spray.  Be careful not to overwater, as soggy soil can lead to a fungal infestation!
  • Seedlings first sprout with two “cotyledons” or “seed leaves”, once there are true leaves, you can begin adding fertilizer when you water. Begin at half strength for a few weeks.
  • Once the risk of frost has passed, and you’ve gradually acclimatized your plants to outside, you can plant your plants in the garden!

When you’re choosing seeds to seed, consider what you will actually use, and enjoy in your garden.  Basil is a great choice for beginners, as are beans.  If you’d prefer to skip the veggies, and concentrate on flowers, pansies and petunias are also quite reliable!

Before we know it, all those little seeds will have turned into mature plants that every at-home chef can use for their own delicious creations!

Custom Christmas Planters

When it comes to home decor, especially at Christmas time, sometimes I get an idea in my head of something I’d like, and search and search and search for it, never ever to find exactly what I’m looking for.  Times like these, I pull out my DIY skills, and attempt to make it for myself.  Sometimes this works very well (I love the embroidery hoop frames in my daughter’s room), and sometimes it’s a bit of a disaster (one Halloween I thought I was dressed up as a tomato; kids thought I was Lady Gaga).

I have similar (mis?)fortunes when it comes to my Christmas décor. I’ve attempted to make wreaths and winter planters, but my results are often not quite as elegant as I picture.  Last year, I discovered a secret.  It’s a secret that I should have known about, as I see it happen all the time.  I talk about it to customers and friends.  I post about it here, and on Facebook.  I see the fliers on the doors at the store.  It is all over lacostegardencentre.com.  (Can you see a theme….it is not such a big secret!) At Lacoste we offer workshops for fresh greens! You can attend one of these workshops on your own, with friends, or even book your own private party (schedule can be found here).  At these workshops, you get to design your own planter, or wreath, or swag.  You can choose from all of the accessories we have on hand.  AND best of all, you can draw on the experience and style of the wonderful ladies who make all of our ready-made greens!

Last year, I found a picture of what I wanted for outdoor planters, and brought it with me:

Christmas planter

What I ended up with was wonderful!

PlanterEdit: I wrote this post in advance, and apparently all of you wonderful people have discovered our workshops already!!  I hope your planters are turning out as wonderfully as mine.  If you are feeling rushed, or overwhelmed at the idea of making your own, there are many beautiful  planters to choose from!

 

Pumpkin Carving Ideas

In preparation for all the pumpkin-carving fun that’s coming up this weekend at our pumpkin party, and next weekend for Halloween, here’s some fresh ideas!

Last fall, I blogged about all the crazy ways people are carving pumpkins these days, and how I usually end up with a traditional triangle-eyed, toothy-mouthed jack-o-lantern.  Well, this year I’ve done it again.  A spare couple of minutes spent on Pinterest have inspired me to attempt something a little more adventurous this year. To make sure that I follow through, I’ve enlisted my secret weapon: I showed my 4-year old daughter my plan for one of our pumpkins.   I try not to use this technique to often, because it is sometime just TOO effective!

 

http://letsgoflyakiteuptothehighestheight.blogspot.ca/2011/10/crafting-with-my-kids-pumpkin.html

Fortunately, I’m pretty sure that this will be quite achievable, with a little bit of glitter glue, and not too much intricate carving!

Of course, however there are countless other options for carving out there, this is another one that would be a definite winner in our house:

http://parentinginnky.com/frozen-pumpkin-carving-templates/

 

No-carve pumpkins are becoming more and more popular, and it certainly opens up a whole world of possibilities of what to do (with more than just pumpkins!)

http://www.parents.com/holiday/halloween/decorating/halloween-door-decor/?socsrc=pmmpin140909hpisquashghosts&crlt.pid=camp.Oa4vPG5N929q#page=3

 

If you’re still looking for ideas, check out these150 ideas for pumpkin-decorating, and here are some basic (and achieveable) carving templates:

Highlights from Kids Club: Chlorophyll and Pumpkin Power

 

This month’s Kids Club explained what Clorophyll is and why it is important for plants to have light to grow.

Chlorophyll is a pigment that makes plants look green.  Plant leaves also have Xanthophyll and Carotene, which makes leaves yellow and red.  When the days get shorter in the fall, plant leaves don’t get as much sunlight, and the Chlorophyll fades.  Xanthophyll and Carotene do not fade the same way, which is why leaves change colour in the fall.

Here’s the experiment we used to show the different colours; you can try it at home again!

Materials:

3 leaves (from the same tree)

Rubbing Alcohol

Jar

Plastic baggie (or plastic wrap)

Paper Coffee Filter

Small bowl or pan

Steps:

1.  Have your child break the leaves into tiny pieces and put in the jar

2.  Pour rubbing alcohol over the leaves until they are just covered

3.  Mash and stir the leaves into the rubbing alcohol until the alcohol turns slightly green.  Really give it a good mashing – this is key.

4.  Cover the jar with the baggie or plastic wrap and place the jar in a small bowl and pour hot water into the bowl.

5.  Leave the jar in the water for 30 minutes, swishing the jar occasionally to stir the leaves a bit.  The alcohol should be a very dark green (leave longer if needed).  If you can resist, wait even 45 minutes or an hour.

6.  Cut a strip in the coffee filter so the strip can reach the rubbing alcohol.  Place it in the jar. (You can also just cut a strip off the coffee filter and tape it to the edge of the jar)

7.  The liquid will travel up the coffee filter and the colours will separate as the alcohol evaporates off the coffee filter.  Let this happen for about an hour for the full effect.  The leaves we used turn to a beautiful yellow in autumn.

From: http://www.howweelearn.com/science-experiments-for-kids/

 

Plants need sunlight to make chlorophyll, and will grow towards the sun, even if they have to grow around obstacles.  Here’s another experiment to try at home:

http://www.governorsresidence.ohio.gov/garden/plantmaze.aspx

The Runner Bean will grow through the maze to the top of the box, in order to get the most sun they can!

Fall Garden Clean-up Checklist

We can certainly all remember the joy of jumping into a pile of freshly raked up leaves, and perhaps we can also remember the frustration of having to rake up that pile again and again and again.  However there is more to fall clean-up than simply raking.  A bit of searching around online, I’ve compiled this list which will hopefully assist in your end-of season tasks!

Not included in the list is of course, the fact that you should be rewarded at the end of all the work with a bonfire with friends, while drinking some warm apple cider (or Pumpkin Spice Latte, if that’s your style ;))

Bulbs

*Fall is the time to plant many favourite spring flowers.  Crocuses, tulips, allium and daffodils are all planted in the fall.

*Dig up tender bulbs (Canna Lilies, Calla Lilies)

Trees

*Rake leaves

*Rabbits love to chew the bark off of newly planted trees, but damage is easily prevented by wrapping the trunks.

*Springtime damage from cankerworms is also easily prevented by banding with Tanglefoot

Perennials

* Fall is a great time to both divide and plant new perennials.

* As perennials finish, trim off the dead foliage. You can compost the healthy trimmings to continue the cycle of nature.  Alternatively, some perennials, if left alone, look great as winter interest and can provide winter food for wildlife. Leaving the perennials can also ensure greater snow cover, which can help protect tender perennials against winter kill.

*covering any marginal (tender) perennials with mulch will also protect these plants from exposure to the elements

* Clean away any and all diseased plants and dropped leaves.

Vegetables

* Vegetable gardens are best completely cleared up to prevent any disease or pest overwintering.

Tropical Plants

* Tropical plants should be brought inside before the first frost

Miscellaneous

* Tools should be cleaned and sharpened so they are ready for action in the spring

* Containers should be emptied, at least partially and covered to prevent cracking

* Even the best quality cushions on lawn furniture need to be dried and stored inside

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Dill Pickle Recipe

It is definitely produce-season at Lacoste; we’re continually receiving all sorts of local veggies and fruits, and some not-so-local fruits too (maybe one day there will be orchards of oranges and peaches here ;) ). All this produce means one thing to many people; myself included.  It is time to can all this summer-goodness so we can enjoy it long into the winter.

So far this year I’ve made both strawberry and raspberry jam, and have a bunch of peaches waiting in the fridge for me to tackle this week.  Salsa is on the horizon too, and likely some spicy beans. BUT the most important of all the canning I do is the dill pickles.  It is both the most important and the most work intensive.  Between washing and prepping the jars, the lids, and the cucumbers, peeling the garlic, and trimming the dill, making pickles it is definitely a two-person job.  Come to think of it, it is a three-person job, as these days someone needs to be on baby-sitting duty, to keep the little monsters away from the boiling, salty brine!

I wish I could share my recipe with you, as it is delicious, but it isn’t so much a formula as a general guideline.  It was given to me by a woman who worked in the nursery, and everyone loves her pickles, so my goal is to just make sure that they are as tasty as hers! Some years, depending on the freshness of the garlic and dill they may be more dill-y or more garlic-y, but they usually all are eaten by the time the next batch is ready!

Debbie’s Dill Pickles

Brine:

7 ½ cups water

7 ½ cups vinegar

½ cup salt

Fill the jar with as many cucumbers as you can, mixed with 2 dill flower heads, and 4 cloves of garlic.  Pour the brine to fill the jar, and seal up in whatever manner works for you!

Notes:

  • I make sure to use not only local cucumbers and dill (because they’re both plentiful this time of year, and so delicious!) but also local garlic.  I find its spicier, and more flavourful
  • To determine how many pounds of cucumbers to use, I usually assume that it’s a little less than the number of jars I make. i.e.:

30 lbs cucumbers = 26 Jars of pickles

(I used 12 bunches of dill and 16 bulbs of garlic)

  • I’m not sure if my method of sealing jars is safe from food-code violations, but the jars seal, and I don’t sell them.  I usually wash the jars in the dishwasher, and keep them in a 250° oven.  The lids I keep in a boiling pot of water.  After I pour the brine into the jar, I place the lid on, and while they cool, the button pops to seal them up.  I know there’s lots of ways to seal jars when you search google, but this works for me!

The occasional year when I’ve not made pickles, or run out early has convinced me that the effort is worth it, as I’ve yet to find a store-bought pickle that satisfies what I’m looking for in a pickle.  Hopefully this will be the year you try it out too!!  It’s fun and delicious, and make great Christmas gifts for neighbours, friends and co-workers!!

Strawberries

Recipe: Vanilla Strawberry Jam

Yesterday afternoon the first baskets of strawberries arrived at the store.  I’m not sure about you, but strawberries are possibly my favourite fruit of the summer! Every year the kids and I go strawberry picking, and we usually end up bringing home more than one basket from the here too! For years, I usually froze most of them to use in smoothies through the winter.  I still freeze a bunch, but have also added a few more ways to enjoy them as well.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jamie-oliver/creamy-rice-pudding-with-the-quickest-strawberry-jam-recipe.html

(this picture is an actual picture of the pie made by a friend; mine didn’t look nearly this perfect :))
http://www.anyrecipe.net/dessert/recipes/fresh_strawberry_pie.html

My favourite of last winter was this recipe for jam.  I found it was too liquid-y for use on toast or sandwiches, but as a syrup on yogurt or ice cream, it was HEAVENLY!

Ingredients:

1 vanilla bean pod
4 pints strawberries, hulled; larger fruits halved
3 scant cups sugar
Juice of 3 small lemons

1.  Split the vanilla bean lengthwise into four pieces and place in a bowl with the strawberries, tucking the bean pieces in amongst the fruit.  Cover with the sugar, and leave for 12 hours or overnight.

2.  Pour the fruit, vanilla bean, and juice into a preserving pan and add the lemon juice.  Cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring only now and then so that the fruit stays intact.  Turn up the heat and boil rapidly to reach setting point.  Skim if necessary.

3.  Remove the vanilla bean pieces, scrape the seeds from them, and add the seeds to the jam. Stir through the jam.

4.  Pour the jam into hot sterilized jars and seal.

Of course it is fun to dream about all the strawberry recipes to make, but the best way to enjoy the freshest strawberries: just eat them!!

Aging Terra Cotta Pots

 

Terra Cotta pots are a great low-cost solution for small container gardening. In our garden we have 13 scattered through the backyard.  Each of the kids has one that is their own to choose the plants for, and to care for. The remaining 11 are typically used for herbs, or miscellaneous leftovers that didn’t make it into any of the larger containers.

When it comes to Terra Cotta, people have definite preferences.  I was talking to a lady this weekend, who scrubs her pots at the end of each year to make sure that they stay clean and fresh.  Other people prefer the worn-in, white and greenish patina of well-used pots.  Ours at home are somewhere in between these two extremes.  I think that the oldest one is 5 years old or so, and is starting to acquire a nice white-ish layer, and definitely no longer looks brand-new.

Fortunately, if you’re someone who likes the look of well-used pots, you don’t need to suffer through years of waiting and use, before your pots get the look you love!

I’ve heard of using yogurt to age pots, but haven’t tried it myself.  Fortunately, Martha Stewart has come through with a set of directions how to do it!

“One of the most natural-looking patinas can be achieved by simply slathering plain yogurt on a new pot. Yogurt applied to dry pots yields more dramatic results. For a subtler look, above, first soak pots in water for 15 minutes.”

Materials:

Plain yogurt

2-inch foam brush

Directions

1. Stir yogurt.

2. Use brush to coat surface of pot with yogurt, covering it completely.

3. Set aside in a shaded place until pot achieves the desired look, at least 1 month.

Follow this link to find her other suggestions on how to achieve that perfect aged look!

http://www.marthastewart.com/271159/making-history-aging-pots