I have just returned from my local Farmer’s Market (which also just happens to be the best Farmer’s Market, ever) where I was lucky enough to score a piece of Maria Solakovski’s amazing organic Spiced Fruitcake. I’ve been buying Maria’s cake for the last few holiday seasons and while I have tried other fruitcakes I can say with all certainty that Maria’s is by far the best I have seen. Here’s how Maria describes them:
“All organic vegan incredibly spiced fruit cakes are unlike anything you have tasted. Densely packed with dried fruit…apricots, figs, prunes, sultanas, hot hot crystal ginger, brazil nuts and tons of handmade lightly syruped citrus peel — lots of lemon and some orange likenesses. All of this soaked, for some time, in plenty of dark jamaican rum and the lemon juice from those skins.
I mix this jewel like fruitiness with a wee bit of stoneground spelt flour, some flax seed and a hint of vanilla infused evaporated cane juice and kicking spices like black pepper.
Aren’t they pretty? I bought a few extras last year to give as gifts but I think we ended up cracking them open when people came by for visits instead.
In addition to baking delicious fruitcake, Maria is also a chef (using the name “Guerilla Gourmet“) following in the tradition of the slow food movement who hosts small brunches and dinners serving only organic food available locally and seasonally. I was warmly treated to one of Maria’s dinners last spring and can’t say enough about the experience. Eating one of Maria’s meals is not like eating out in a restaurant. It’s an educational and interactive social event in which diners are invited into Maria’s home and spend an evening together at a large table learning about the food they are consumming and interacting a group of strangers they might not otherwise meet out in the world. Each course is a mystery until it is served, but you can be guaranteed that you’ll come away inspired and having learned something new.
I was just thinking… seems like THE HOLIDAY SEASON is here, or something. I am very good at shutting out that which I would rather not see but with the powers that be pummeling us over the head with it earlier and earlier every year, it’s kinda hard to miss. Really, I don’t hate the holidays, what I hate is the assumption of obligation and the fact that while so many people start out with good intentions MANY seem to be in a passive-aggressive snit by mid-December. I think we should all just agree to collectively stay in bed in our pajamas watching 80′s era teen movies and call it a day. How’s that for Peace on Earth!
I don’t like giving or getting a bunch of useless crap that carries all kinds of layers of guilt and I sure don’t condone adding to that burden by HANDCRAFTING something that will only find it’s way to the thrift store pile once the guilt wears off — that’s a drag for everyone involved. However, I also really like making and receiving homemade gifts. It keeps me off the cold, winter streets and away from the madness of the mall, and becomes it’s own form of Holiday-related art therapy. I enjoy thinking about the giftee and hatching a plan to make something suitable to them, their personality, and taste.
I compiled this list of Affordable and Homemade Holiday Gifts for plant lovers a few years back. Some of the projects are kits or items I have made and some are ideas that give the gift of time rather than material goods. For example, I have been making these Herbal Bath Teas for a long time and often make a few extras as a gift to myself. A Garden Help I.O.U is one of the best gifts I can think of for a gardener since many of us could use an extra hand with some of the difficult chores.
Sure you can buy inexpensive Forced Bulb Kits just about anywhere these days but I guarantee you that what you can put together for the same price will be of a much higher quality. Most of the kits I see come with ugly plastic pots and lousy soil — don’t let the fancy box fool you. Many of them have been sitting on the shelf so long that the bulbs are dessicated, diseased or dead by the time they reach the recipient. You can put together a much nicer kit using a thrifted ceramic container, quality bulbs purchased at a local nursery (where you can hand-select the bulbs yourself), and a bag of reasonably good soil. Don’t forget to let your recipients know they can save most bulbs and plant them out in their garden next year. Amaryllis bulbs can be kept for several seasons too.
Of course I can’t write about gifts for gardeners and burgeoning gardeners without mentioning the 2007 You Grow Girl Calendar or the You Grow Girl book. The book itself also has instructions for a number of projects I have made and given as gifts including: a groovy gardening apron, chalkboard pots (don’t forget to include a stick of chalk), herbal teas (including easy-sew, reusable tea bags), gardener’s hand salve, gardener’s journal, and more.
I’ve recently become interested in photographing the decaying garden. It started in the spring when I spent an hour photographing a garden while it was still brown but on the verge of exploding into green. I’m starting to appreciate both the garden and nature’s seasons on the whole. I’ve always had such a block towards winter because of the cold, but photography is bringing me around simply because I need to be out there in it in order to take pictures of it.
And so now that the garden season is over I am turning my attention to the way things look as the plants prepare for dormancy. I love the bare structures; tomato cages, and homemade trellises that are left behind; the look of the plants as they break down to architectural skeletons and stringy vines bearing floppy leaves. I am discovering that I had spent so much time focussing on the garden through the summer months that I had lost sight of the fact that it stays alive in it’s own way through the remaining months of the year. I am starting to see it and appreciate it in new ways.
Here are a few examples:
Today was a dry and mild reprieve from the awful cold, wet and sometimes windy late fall weather we’ve been enduring here in Southern Ontario — a good day to do some garden work. I have found frozen water in the trays underneath the containers on the roof a couple of times recently increasing my concern about getting everything cleaned up in time. You can pretty much forego cleaning up in-ground gardens (I know because I have) and expect minor plant loss, however container gardens in these parts can’t be ignored. The heaving caused by freezing and thawing conditions will crack and destroy terra cotta and some plastic containers. I’ve got A LOT of containers out there and would like to keep the collection I’ve cobbled together for as long as possible.
Here’s what I do to clean-up the container garden:
- Bring houseplants and plants that are still producing fruit indoors – I did this back in September well before the first frost.
- Harvest remaining produce – I found a couple of missed tomatoes, sweet potatoes, hot peppers, and a few small red onions.
- Remove all plant matter from terracotta and small containers – Cut them into manageable pieces and compost. If you don’t have a composter put them into garden waste bags for city composting.
- Remove stakes from containers and pile together.
- Dump soil from pots that will be stored away – I dump all of my soil into the large, plastic garbage cans that are used for growing tomatoes. They stay outside for the winter.
- Hardy perennials can be safely overwintered in large planter boxes – I sometimes add a blanket of mulch or dried branches, but they do just fine regardless. You can prune them back if breakage is an issue, but the plants in my boxes are so tough I leave the stems for added interest. The birds like to perch on the branches on mild winter days searching for seeds to munch on. They also collect dried grass bits for their nests come spring.
- Soak and scrub all terracotta pots and containers that are too fragile for outdoor storage – I wash mine in hot soapy water to which I add a couple of splashes of oxygenated bleach (aka hydrogen peroxide).
- Over-turn, stack, and store your pots somewhere sheltered such as a garage, basement, or shed. I don’t have any of those so I stack mine on shelves in our hallway and tuck the treasured containers away in the back of kitchen cupboards.
Related: Preparing Your Garden for Winter
Despite the cold — and the fact that we experienced a brief and light snowfall this afternoon — outdoor gardening is still happening here in Toronto. I am yet to put any of my gardens to bed. The side garden is fine really. Doing a last clean-up is pretty much my choice. I choose to be lazy until such time when and if I am struck with the spirit of Martha.
Hardneck garlic before planting. I bought these cloves at the Organic Farmer’s Market… specifically from The Dufferin Grove Market and the Plan B Farm. They were still selling cloves today if you’re looking in Toronto.
The rooftop container garden is another thing entirely. I have really got to get on that action. Dead annuals need to be composted, soil collected, pots scrubbed clean and brought indoors, and everything put away — it’s a crucifixion! Things are starting to freeze up there. I should be out there right now, not inside in the warmth, heating my body by the warm monitor glow. I’ll get on that tomorrow.
Planting Thyme in the cold, wet dirt. Sure is fun!
Thankfully I have been slowly working on the community garden since the first signs of fall back in September. I planted hardneck garlic last week, and Egyptian clumping onions at least a month prior. I pulled up or cut back most of the dead calendula and borage, pulled up a zucchini plant, harvested everything that wasn’t going to see another day, and laid straw down. Rather than overwintering potted perennial herbs as I often do, I elected to plant the marjoram and various thyme varieties in a section of the new community plot. All of the still-green tomatoes were picked and are sat on top of the warm fridge ripening. I’ve got a single precious ‘Black Pear’ tomato left that I am saving until the absolute perfect moment to enjoy on a fried egg sandwich with pesto.
As things get colder I am finding myself longing for the days of summer when I was out in the garden sweating in a t-shirt. Sweat and heat exhaustion sound good right now. I was at the community garden on Saturday wearing several layers to protect against both the cold and the rain. When I got home my hands were frozen and went through that terrible dethawing process that is a mix of both itchiness and pain. I love gardening and even those those wet days can be some of the best for things like planting perennials even I can’t sell it. Digging in cold wet dirt just sucks!