Oh geez. Here we go again.

Farewell manicure. 

Farewell any sense of “just two minutes”. 

Farewell SVB, recession worries and Putin.

Hello dirt under your fingernails. 

Hello ‘Omigawd, where did the time go?!’ 

Hello NPK, as in nitrogen, phosphate and potash.

Hello NPK, as in nitrogen, phosphate and potash.

Spring! For some of us, that means dirt under your fingernails. Trowels and trugs at the back door. And seed catalogues – the pornography of the produce world – with their glossy photos of perfect specimens recumbent on beds of chocolate coloured soil. The varieties are boggling. Who knew there were so many kales to choose from? Ethiopian, Russian, Red Russian, Siberian, Improved Siberian. There’s a Winter Blend kale, a Summer Blend kale, and a Scottish kale.  

Because nothing compares to a fresh, home-grown tomato, page after page is devoted to the garden’s marquee player.  Each tomato variety has a unique selling feature. The Manitoba tomato claims to thrive in a short summer season and cool climates. The Black Krim, an heirloom tomato identified by its purple and green shoulders, is a darling on social media. As tomatoes go, however, the Black Krim can be temperamental as its delicate skin tends to split.  The Medusa Certified Organic tomato, however, has been bred to have the appearance of an heirloom tomato but with less likelihood of skin cracking, or something known as ‘catfacing’.

… the name for a deformed tomato is ‘catfaced’.

Cat fanciers won’t be happy about this but, the name for a deformed tomato is catfaced. Catfacing doesn’t just happen to tomatoes but to strawberries, as well. Catfacing is a risk if seedling gets planted out before the soil has warmed, generally considered to be two weeks past the last evidence of frost.  Extreme fluctuations of temperatures can also cause catfacing and heirloom varieties are particularly susceptible to these distortions.  Whatever its genesis, catfacing happens when the blossom scar becomes enlarged or perforated and the fruits’ growth pattern is disrupted. 

Photo from Gardensall

Catfaced tomatoes, likely as a result of temperature problems or perhaps too high a nitrogen level.  Then again, maybe there was a dry period followed by heavy rains. Either way, they still taste delicious!

As usual, I’ve turned my catalogue into a dunce’s origami. Things that pique my interest get a downturned upper corner. If something puzzles me, it’ll be the bottom corner that gets dogeared. Black radishes? Hmmmm. Is there any good reason to grow kohlrabi? Hmmmm.  Things there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll order, get a large triangle of the corner dogeared. Pages that list things I am absolutely ordering get folded to the centre line. The corn salad lettuce page, which is also known as lamb’s lettuce or mâche, is folded lengthwise. Corn lettuce is a quick crop and a perfect lettuce to grow in containers. I’ll plant some zucchini, lots of herbs, and maybe some brussels sprouts. Some nostalgic tick makes me alway review the varieties of corn on offer. As kids, we considered corn to be the garden’s highest achievement. You could chart the passage of the season by its height and then there were all those silken ears to unfurl.

I love the idea of growing fruit and vegetables but, for the most part, I stick with flowers: perennials that I leave up through the winter so the birds can have the seed pods. I have the standard range of herbs: oreganos, various mints, sorrel, parsley, chives, sage, rosemary, thyme and garlic that laid siege to one section of the garden a few years back. Rhubarb happily makes its home all over the garden so, when there’s pie, it tends to be some variation of rhubarb pie.

Rhubarb happily makes its home all over the garden …

In my next life, I’m going to have six raised beds. I’ll have a cold frame, and – let’s shoot for the moon – a small greenhouse. I’ll grow leeks, cape gooseberries, and the fattest blueberries.  I’ll be famous for the blindingly hot horseradish I’ll grow.

Either that, or I’ll have gorgeous, bejewelled hands with perfect, red lacquer nails.

But I gotta say, I’m leaning toward that horseradish on page 51.

This week’s question for readers:


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Submissions to last week’s question:

In light of recent warnings about alcohol consumption, have you changed your drinking habits?  And what about coffee – hot, cold, or not at all?

My husband and I have been doing Dry January and Dry February.  Going out for dinner was a challenge without a glass of wine. Two well known city eateries either had no non-alcoholic beer or the ones on offer were out of stock. They’re widely available in stores so non-alcohol choices seems to be a trend restaurants haven’t caught onto.

Maren Gielens

I looked up the two cold coffees mentioned in your column. One has 17% of your daily fat value, the other 23% fat and 36g sugar which equals NINE teaspoons of sugar. This is only one beverage!  And they cost about $6.00 each; even one coffee a day would add up. As for the mocktails, I wonder about the sugar content in them. One or two cups of coffee made at home with milk added, a glass of wine occasionally and a martini (dry) on Saturday are my beverages of choice.

Linda Moore

I went cold turkey on coffee last year.  Just woke up and decided I didn’t want another cup. Can’t say I’ve missed it and the savings sure add up!!

H. ‘Hank’  Sanderson

I chop up rhubarb stalks into one inch lengths and freeze until solid, then put them into a sieve over a bowl and defrost for 24 hours then SQUEEZE the rhubarb to get out the last of the juice. The juice is a glorious rosé pink but it is very tart. At this stage it is good for cleaning windows and other things – it has oxalic acid in it. I can’t vouch for its cleaning qualities although I use crystal oxalic acid for cleaning raw wood and oxalic acid cleans up boat hulls very well! Rhubarb juice in my house has sugar added to taste. Add water or sparkling water about 4:1 and add ice. Tart and refreshing like lemonade!  Gin or vodka are also a nice addition and make for a pretty drink but we tend to like the basic non-alcoholic version on a hot day. This delicious refreshment is almost effortless and costs mere pennies if you have rhubarb in your garden. The only caveat: oxalic acid can contribute to kidney stones so enjoy a refreshing glass or 2 of rhubarb juice but don’t go overboard – just to play it safe.

Irene Wooton

Imagine my surprise when I read you have discovered shrubs, my favorite homemade drink. Shrubs have been around since, at least, Roman times, as anthropologists have found recipes. Essentially, the recipe  is fruit and sugar with vinegar added to keep it fresh. 

Every summer I make up several quarts of various types from farmers market “ugly fruit” and keep in my fridge to enjoy year round. I even have a wonderful recipe that Martha Washington served to visitors made from citrus fruit. 

They are perfect for parties as friends who don’t imbibe can enjoy them, but I always have a little gin out for those who want to cocktail up their drink.

I go against the trend as I discovered the joy of cocktails a few years back and now enjoy creating new ones, so alcohol is still part of my life. But coffee is another story. While I once drank coffee all day long, hot or cold, I now have one cup in the morning and that is it. 

Deni Loubert

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