Planting garlic

Garlic is the last plant that most gardeners sow.  It is planted around three weeks before the ground freezes.  This gives the cloves a chance to develop roots, but not tops (which cold weather destroys).

  1. Separate the head into cloves, being careful not to remove any of the peel.  This is accomplished by “cracking” the basal plate that holds the bulbs together at the roots.  Once this plate is separated, the cloves fall away.
  2. Sort the cloves by size.  Plant the largest, and set the rest aside for consumption.  Eat the smallest ones first, as they will not keep as long.
  3. Locate a spot in your garden that receives full sun, and in which the soil is well-drained.   Add mature compost to the soil.
  4. Sow cloves 2 inches down, 6-8 inches apart, and pointed side up/root side down.
  5. Cover the bed with a layer of mulch, if desired.  I cover mine with a light layer of leaves mixed with soil; by springtime the leaves have mostly disintegrated, adding nutrients back to the soil.


Grow your own popcorn

Colourful flint corn isn’t just eye candy; some varieties, such as glass gem corn, can be eaten as popcorn and cornmeal.

Unfortunately, each colourful kernel is white inside

It’s best to let the cobs dry on the stalk, but if that’s not possible (or if you’re like me, and you picked them a bit early because you couldn’t wait any longer to see what they would look like), you can continue drying them inside.  Peel the husks back, leaving them attached to the ends of the cobs so that you tie them together.  Hang the cobs in a dry place for a few weeks, or, place them on a screen, and rotate them daily.

As the kernels begin to dry, they will shrink.  This makes it easier to remove them from the cob.  Place a pan beneath the cob, then grab one end in each hand, and twist each hand in the opposite direction, gently wrenching the cob.  The pressure should cause some kernels to pop out.  Once there are gaps in the rows of kernels, it’s easier to use your thumb to push the rest out.  Place the kernels in a wire basket to continue drying, shaking them around once a day.

Blue glass gem kernels

To make popcorn on the stove, this method works well:  You can also, of course, use a conventional popcorn maker.  I just did a small test batch, since it was my first time trying the stovetop method, and got a few burned kernels.  Overall, the taste is superior to bought popcorn, though I may be a bit biased.


Many varieties of flint corn can also be ground into corn meal and corn flour.  To do so, run the kernels through a food processor, a blender, or a grinder specifically made for processing seeds and nuts.  Afterwards, sift the results.  You may be left with corn flour and corn meals of various textures.  The coarser grits below will be rerun through the grinder.

Cornmeal / corn flour

Who says polenta and cornbread have to be yellow?  🙂

Plant of the week: Buttercup squash

Buttercup squash is rather plain on the outside, but cut it open and you are greeted with rich, sunny flesh that is delicious as is or in a variety of dishes.  Buttercup squash is a good source of phytochemicals, potassium, fibre, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, B and C.

Ideal growing conditions

Like most squashes, it needs full sun, and a lot of space to sprawl.  Dig holes about a foot wide and a few feet apart.  Fill each hole with compost and dirt until it forms a mound.

Start your seedlings inside, and move them outside only after the threat of frost has passed and the soil has warmed.  Be careful not to disturb the roots, as that may kill the plants.  Sow 2-3 plants in each mound.

(To increase germination rates, you can try soaking the seeds in water for a few hours before planting them, or growing them in-between sheets of wet paper towels and placing these towels in baggies over a warm heat vent).

Water the plants regularly, and ensure that the vines do not grow into the lawn where they are susceptible to damage by squash borers.  You may choose to train the vines to grow up trellises or fences.

Harvesting, using, and preserving

Buttercup squash are ready when the skin is hard.  You may choose to cut away the vines near the fruit to help them ripen.

Harvest the squash before the frost.  Cut the stem about an inch away from the fruit.  The stub of the stem will help to prevent the fruit from drying out.  Let the fruit cure in the sunlight for up to a week, then move it to a cooler location to store.  It may keep for up to six months; check it frequently and use it before it begins to soften.

This squash may roasted, made into soups, added to casseroles, baked in breads, and more.  It can be used in many recipes as a substitute for pumpkin.  To bake it, I cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, then put both halves (cut side up) on a baking sheet and bake it at 350C until it’s soft.  To eat it as a side, scoop the flesh off the rind, mash it in a bowl, then add a bit of butter and nutmeg.



  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Melons
  • Peas


  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Avoid planting alongside other winter squash if you intend to save your seeds.  Pollinators may cross-pollinate the plants, resulting in strange hybrids growing from your seeds.

Fun facts

  • The first buttercup squash plant was discovered in 1925, as a chance cross between two other squash varieties.  It was selectively bred until 1931, when it was first released under the buttercup name

Bring Food Home Tours & Community Food Forest Planting Days

Upcoming Ottawa area events provided by Just Food

Come celebrate local businesses and food by taking one of the these tours packed with knowledge sharing, good food, and laughs on October 26, 2017.

Apple Cobbler Tour | 9:00 am – 4:30 pm | $10

Start at Against the Grain Farms with a discussion of artisanal grains and seed saving, visit Smyth Apple Orchard and the home of the MacIntosh apple, Upper Canada Creamery, a family-run, grass fed organic yogurt production facility and a new food-grade organic milling operation!

Click here to register:

Rebuilding the Local Value Chain | 9:00 am – 4:45 pm | $10

Learn about small-scale processing, incubator farms and kitchens, and the development of food hub value chains and regional sourcing of ingredients!

Click here to register:

Maple Syrup, Fine Cheese, and Beer-Swilling Pigs: The Artisanal Value Chain |9:00 am – 4:30 pm | $10

Learn about on-farm conservation projects, agri-tourism, craft production, and organic value chain development while visiting St. Albert Cheese Co-p, Sand Road Maple Farm, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company and Pickle Patch farms!

Click here to register:

Walk, sample and learn! Downtown walking tour | 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm – free!

Take a walking tour and taste-test within Ottawa’s longest running farmers market while discussing agri-tourism development, contentious farmer branding, promotions, policies for urban agriculture and selling food in public spaces.

Contact to register.

Good Food in Schools | 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm – free!

Visit local schools and see Farm to School principles in action while sharing practices happening throughout Ontario. Join us and learn how municipal and provincial stakeholders are coming together to increase Good Food in schools.

Contact to register.

Community Food Forest Planting


What to do with green tomatoes

When the forecast indicates that there’s a chance of frost, it’s time to cover your tomatoes, or pick them green and bring them inside.  But what to do with all of these green tomatoes?  Fried Green Tomatoes was a good movie (at the time, but who knows how well it’s aged), but as for the dish, it’s not something I personally enjoy in quantities befitting the mountain of green tomatoes I’ve picked.

Before you decide what to cook with your green tomatoes, you can remove and store the ones that have a chance of ripening:

  1. Wash and dry each tomato.
  2. Set aside the ones that are damaged or are quite undersized (for example, specimens that are cherry-tomato sized but meant to ripen to roma tomato size).  A hint: undersized tomatoes are often a darker green than their counterparts.  They likely won’t ripen.   Split or insect-damaged tomatoes will rot.
  3. Prepare a box for the undamaged, larger tomatoes.  Put a layer of newspaper on the bottom, then lay the tomatoes out on the paper, a couple of inches apart.  You may wrap them in the paper if you prefer.  It’s important to ensure that the tomatoes don’t touch each other.
  4. Repeat this to make a few layers of tomatoes, but not so many that they’re in danger of being crushed by the weight.
  5. Store the box is a cool, dry place.
  6. Check the tomatoes once or twice a week.  As the tomatoes begin to change colour and ripen, remove them from the box and put them on a sunny windowsill to ripen fully.  Remove and discard any tomatoes that begin to rot or wrinkle; wrinkly tomatoes will get rubbery and not ripen properly.   Over the course of the next few weeks or months, most of the tomatoes will ripen.  Though they are never as tasty as tomatoes fresh from the vine, they are still a nice fall/winter treat!

Now, what to do with all of those small or damaged green tomatoes?  How about salsa verde with green tomatoes instead of tomatillos, green tomato relish, or chili sauce?  I made this green tomato mincemeat today.  My dad always requests his mom’s green tomato chow recipe.  There’s also green tomato pie and green tomato cake!  Any other suggestions?

DIY vegetable stock

Vegetable stock is easy to make, and tastes so much better than store-bought varieties.  You can use vegetables you might otherwise not eat, such as carrot ends, squash peelings, and celery leaves.  Many stocks are made using onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, tomatoes, and garlic, as well as black pepper, bay leaves, and thyme.  Use other spices and herbs sparingly, as their flavours may be overpowering.  Avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, which make the liquid cloudy, and vegetables that have strong or bitter flavours (such as brassicas).  Experiment with different recipes, based on your preferences, and what you have available.

To make vegetable stock

  1. Chop vegetables small, and brown them slightly.
  2. Add cold water.
  3. Gradually heat the mixture up until it almost boils.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or so.
  5. Cool broth, then strain it through cheese cloth or a sieve.
  6. Use it immediately, or freeze it in small containers.


Plant of the week: Kale

Kale gets a bad rap.  It’s often pureed into smoothies or roasted into chips–the belief being that it’s too bitter and tough to eat raw.  Many varieties of kale, though, are delicious and tender when picked when the leaves are small.  Kale is easy to grow, especially if you let it go to seed–your garden will be filled with a forest of baby kale plants in no time!

Kale is a good source of phytochemicals, calcium, copper, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K.  Avoid kale if you are taking blood thinners like Warfarin–the vitamin K can interfere with its effectiveness.

Ideal growing conditions

Kale does best in well-drained soil that is not too rich, so do not mix too much compost in the soil, and use only aged compost.  Kale prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade.

Kale is a cool weather crop, like other brassica crops.  It can survive temperatures of -15C.  It can be grown in the spring and fall; it may bolt and get tough and bitter if the weather gets too hot.  The leaves are sweetest after they’ve been hit by frost.

Start seedlings indoors, 6 weeks before the final frost, or direct sow it outdoors as soon as the soil can be worked.  Set plants about a foot and a half apart.  They take up a lot of room!  You can also grow regular or dwarf varieties of kale in large pots.


  • Curly kale, as the name indicates, has curly leaves and is usually cooked, as it has a bitter or peppery flavour when fully grown.
  • Dinosaur/Lacianto kale has a slightly wrinkled texture.  It is more tender than curly kale, and retains its sweeter flavour when cooked.
  • Red Russian kale (pictured above) has flat leaves that resemble oak leaves.  Its leaves are tender and sweet, which make it suitable for eating raw.  Just make sure to remove the tough stems first

Harvesting, using, and preserving

You can start harvesting kale once it is about 8 inches tall.  Pick the outer leaves when young for use in salads, or wait until they get larger, then pick them for use in cooking.  Leave the centre of the plant untouched so that it can continue to grow.

Kale is usually harvested in the spring and fall, but it’s sweeter in the fall, especially after a light frost.

Use young greens fresh.  Steam, stir-fry, or add mature leaves to sauces and dishes that call for spinach or other cooking greens like chard.

To freeze kale, blanch it as you would spinach, then place in freezer bags.  After you thaw it, you can gently squeeze it to remove excess water (feed the juice to your houseplants!)

To make kale chips: Preheat oven to 400F.  Remove stems, tear kale into bite-sized pieces, arrange on a cookie sheet, then drizzle the pieces with olive oil and a dash of salt.  Bake 10 to 15 minutes.


  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Lettuce and other greens
  • Mint
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Rosemary
  • Sage


  • Parsley

Fun facts

  • One cup of chopped raw kale contains more than 100% of the recommended daily dose of vitamins A and K, and more calcium than a small carton of milk.
  • Although kale seems like a new fad, it’s been eaten for over 2000 years.  So much for a fad diet food!


Glass gem corn

Sometimes, you just have to grow something because it’s so beautiful that it takes your breath away.


Glass gem corn was developed by Carl Barnes:

Like many heirloom treasures, Glass Gem corn has a name, a place, and a story. Its origin traces back to Carl Barnes, a part-Cherokee farmer living in Oklahoma. Barnes had an uncanny knack for corn breeding. More specifically, he excelled at selecting and saving seed from those cobs that exhibited vivid, translucent colors. Exactly how long Barnes worked on Glass Gem—how many successive seasons he carefully chose, saved, and replanted these special seeds—is unknown. But after many years, his painstaking efforts created a wondrous corn cultivar that has now captivated thousands of people around the world. (source)

I wasn’t sure how well it would fare in Eastern Canada, but I am happy to say that it thrived.  The stalks grew 8-10 feet tall, and produced 2-3 cobs each.  I haven’t found a single buggy cob yet, which is not something I can say for other varieties I’ve grown.

Glass gem corn is flint corn, so it’s not suitable for eating on the cob (it’s very starchy), though I picked some of the cobs while they were fresh, blanched them, cut the kernels from the cob, and froze them for chilis and sauces.  The rest I left on the cobs until the husks began to dry, then brought them in for further drying.  I am now in the process of removing the kernels from the cobs, for popping and/or grinding into cornmeal.  Blue cornmeal, anyone?