Let the Gardening Begin!

Well, folks….

After months of staring at the arctic tundra that has been our garden spaces, the great thaw has finally arrived! Lawns everywhere are finally seeing the light of day here in the true north and I, for one, couldn’t be more ecstatic. This was only my second winter here in Winnipeg  and I’ll tell ya, staring at hypothermia in the face for five months sure does give one a genuine appreciation for warmer days.

And do you know what warmer days means?


Last spring, I had a bit of a time trying to figure out exactly how to go about the business of gardening in this much more northern climate. When should I start seeds? When can I put the seedlings outside? How well will the plants do with a shorter growing season? As with any good scientific question, experimentation is the key to the answers. That, and some really good advice from some great friends who have been doing this for a while!

This year, I am a little more educated and a lot more prepared. Even with snow still on the ground, my fingers began to itch for the feel of soil around the end of February. So, I thought I’d start with some herbs. I had some pots of curly leafed parsley and chives basking in the warmth of the heat lamp on my potting bench in our basement over the winter. I didn’t have high hopes that they would survive but they’re  resilient little buggers, so I brought them up and placed them in our kitchen window sill. I have since added marjoram and spring onions that I rooted from fresh herbs that Darren bought for some recipes. I’m in the process of rooting some fresh thyme.

Two more weeks brought the Ides of March and it was time to plant some seeds. As the snow levels outside began to recede, I spread out my tools of the trade on the dining room table. Over the course of the winter, I had been saving all of our egg cartons for this purpose. I simply removed the lid and recycled it. I used some popsicle sticks left over from last summer’s delights as markers and labeled them with a permanent marker.


To store my collection of seeds, I use old medicine bottles with the labels removed and then just create labels for them on the computer which I fold and place inside. If you’ve purchased new seeds, you can just cut off the top of the seed envelope to fit the size of the bottle and place that inside. The lids make great tools for holding and counting your seeds as well.

As you can see, fancy tools and gadgets are not required for this task. I’m a big fan of up-cycling and things that we have hanging around that I can use for a multitude of purposes. I fill each section of the egg carton with quality soil. (Now remember, quality soil doesn’t mean you have drop a ton of cash for it. At this time of year, one can often find bags of perfectly decent soil at the dollar store.)  Using a rounded tablespoon measuring spoon, I add the same amount of soil to each section and I tamp it down with the back of the spoon. You can also use the bottom of a shot glass which has the same diameter as the egg cup.


I designate each side of the carton (six sections) for each variety of seed.  I then again use a popsicle stick to make holes in each egg cup into which I place the seeds. The number of seeds I place in each hole depends on the size of the seed. I make three holes in each section in a triangle formation, then place one seed in each hole for larger seeds, two for medium-sized seeds and three for small seeds. The reason I plant so many is to accommodate for seedlings that don’t survive past the germination stage (which is common) and the fact that not all seeds will germinate. Sowing many seeds will ensure that you have enough healthy plants to transfer to your outdoor space.

Once I have all the seeds in place, I use the popsicle stick to cover them with the surrounding soil and then once again use the bottom of a shot glass to tamp it all down. Seeds like to be snug, allowing for water to get directly to them without it having to go through any air pockets first. Air pockets also allow for any existing bacteria to attack the fragile new root systems of your seedlings. So tamp, tamp, tamp!


Once all is in place, I set them all up in a row and smile! The first seeds of the season are tucked gently in their wee little beds.


Now to create a nice greenhouse effect to get those seeds to germinate. I cut a piece of plastic wrap around four inches larger on all sides than the egg carton. Then place the marker sticks on opposite sides of the carton. These will hold the plastic up above the seeds to allow for the air inside to heat up and warm the soil and the seeds.



Spray each seed section generously with water then bring up the two long sides of plastic together to form a seal. Run your thumb and forefinger along the seal to make sure the two sides stick to each other. Fold down the seal about an inch to the top of the marker sticks then fold the shorter sides under.


Place in a sunny window where the seed cartons will get at least a few hours of direct sunlight each day and in a week or so (depending on the germination time of your seeds) your trays should look similar to these!


Be sure to message me here and let me know how this worked for you and if you have any questions, I’m all ears!

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. – Audrey Hepburn


Stuck Inside

During the frosty, winter months here in Winnipeg, people develop a renewed acquaintance with the inside of their homedscf1036s. Simply because going outside isn’t always a safe option. While there is no outdoor gardening bliss to be had at this time of year, I’ve begun to pay more attention to the inside of our home, really SEE it. Every nook and cranny. Old water marks on the ceiling that I didn’t notice before. Tape still on the walls in the library from Darren’s old posters. Dust bunnies the size of tumbleweeds in dark corners of the basement. A million indoor project ideas crowd onto my mental to-do list like a New York subway at rush hour.

But what to do first?

My first choice is an attempt to continue gardening indoors with dreams of having big, gorgeous pots of rust, red and yellow chrysanthemums framing our exterior doorways next autumn.

When I first moved up here, autumn was right around the corner and with it being my favorite season, Darren surprised me with a little 3″ pot of a fall-coloured chrysanthemum and a cute, little ceramic pumpkin. I was absolutely tickled!

The chrysanthemum, first cultivated in China as a flowering herb, was described in writings as early as the 15th Century B.C. The ancient Chinese word for chrysanthemum is “Chu.” The city of Chu-Hsien (which means Chrysanthemum City) was named in honor of this alluring flower. The chrysanthemum was first introduced to the west in 1753 when Karl Linnaeus, reknowned Swedish botanist, combined the Greek words chrysos, meaning gold with anthemon, meaning flower. As an herb, it was believed to have the power of life. Before the advent of modern medicine, the boiled roots were used as a headache remedy; young sprouts and petals were eaten in salads; and leaves were brewed for a festive drink. You can read more about the history of the mum here: http://www.mums.org/history-of-the-chrysanthemum/

After the floweril_340x270-1051401898_k4sos on my gift had wilted, I was determined not to let this pretty little plant die. In So Cal, I had always thought that mums were annuals and that they had to be replaced with new plants every year. But not always being a big fan of ‘rules’ when it comes to certain things, I decided to try something different up here in the true north. I clipped the three main arms of my little plant off, stuck them in a small vase with fresh water and then found a nice, warm, well-lit spot for them to wait out the winter in. I was attempting to get these little pieces to root.

Sure enough they did! So, I planted them in a 5″ pot with some nice, basic potting soil and with a little TLC, they made it through the winter.  As the weather began to warm up, my little pieces of mum began to flourish and grow and by the end of spring they had gotten so big that I had to transplant the whole thing into a larger pot! The summer saw my mum sprouts grow into a rather large bush, about 1 1/2 ft. wide and 2 ft. tall. I was amazedimg_0670_edited that this big ol’ thing of beauty grew from three little clippings.

So, at the beginning of winter this year, I clipped quite a few sprigs from this new, larger mum plant and set them to root in fresh water, just as I did that first time.

The new pieces have since rooted and have taken up residence in some clean, new potting soil tucked in a pot in a warm corner of our living room. As for the original, large plant… it is relaxing on holiday with a miniature rose-bush and some african violets under a fluorescent lamp on the potting bench in our basement just waiting for the first signs of spring.

I’ll be waiting right along with them. These plants are going to be just stunning come summertime and then autumn when these beautiful blooms will be in their full glory.

Watch this space for more indoor fun to be had!

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus









Harvest and Seed Collection at the Olenick House

Back in my hometown, I used to love to garden. I had a vegetable and herb garden, fruit trees, rose bushes and other beautiful perennials. The climate conditions in Southern California are perfect for growing these types of plants.

Gardening was a part of the balance in my life between those moments of challenge and those of peace. At the end of a long work day, I would go out into my little Eden and take any annoyances of the day out on the weeds. On the weekends, I would sit with my cup of tea and a magazine and watch the birds feast on fallen fruit and the feeders. I had been doing this for so long, I no longer thought about the science of it. I would just do it and enjoy every second.

Yet as I prepared to move to a new place, a much different kind of place, I feared that I would lose my balance. My source of both release and pleasure. These were, of course, irrational fears. Just a part of the natural anxiety that one feels when planning to remove one’s self from one’s comfort zone.

My husband’s property had plenty of open space on which to build a garden, space that I saw during my many visits. The space was just full of three-foot weeds and mountains of dirt that the ants had turned into their own little universes. It looked like a lot of work just to clean the slate. Not to mention that I didn’t understand the first thing about how well things would actually grow in a city known as “Winterpeg”.

After arriving in my new home, I spent the dark, cold, winter months reading gardening books and magazines that were specific to Southern Manitoba. I learned so much. Such as, even though Southern California has a larger number of sunny and warm days in which to grow fruits and vegetables, Southern Manitoba actually has a larger number of sunny and warm hours per day, not to mention all the rainfall, allowing the plants longer and more consistent periods of nutrients accumulation and growth.

I also learned about gardening in Winnipeg in a historical context.

Before European settlers came to know this area, the open prairies of Southern Manitoba were not known for its large tree population. Vast expanses of natural, flat-land flora, such as indigenous grasses and wild flowers covered the landscape.  In 1870 however, a very pivotal year in Manitoba history for many reasons, the surge toward urban gardening and horticulture became a passionate social movement. Between 1870 and 1930, the rapid development in this new area of metropolitan growth contributed to what would become a strong middle-class society not only in Manitoba but all across western Canada. It became a means by which to inject the extension of science into every day life, enhance the beauty of rural and urban landscapes and perhaps even encourage moral and political participation. Coming from a capitalist upbringing and seeing how social needs often fall by the wayside with that philosophy, I can appreciate the efforts of the Manitoban government of this early era to form strong social programs with possible monetary benefits rather than the reverse. I am proud that upon the arrival of Spring this year, my husband and I made efforts to continue and participate in this integral part of Winnipeg history.


Mother Nature was gentle with me during my first growing season here and Darren gave me some insight as to when the best time to plant seeds was. In case of minimal success, I wanted to try just a few basic vegetables from seed. So I chose heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and cantaloupe. After months of optimistic and often hesitant care, we ended up with quite healthy plants and a successful harvest!



Bucket after bucket of tomatoes, I’ve hauled into the house. I realized later that I planted the seedlings too close together not expecting the plants to get so big! The mass of plants looked like a giant octopus!



During collection, I searched through different sites to find various ways to preserve these jewels of summer in order to enjoy them on a soon-to-arrive frozen day. I learned ways to not only can them, but dry them and freeze them for different recipes. I also wanted to preserve the seeds for next spring’s garden. Why buy new seeds when mother nature offers them free of charge?

I started with some of the smaller tomatoes. I just cut them in half with a sharp knife and using a small spoon, I scooped out the seeds, juices, pulp and all into a small bowl. I poured the mix into a strainer and with the back of that same spoon, I pushed the soft pulp through the strainer with the help of a little cold, running water. Once left with just the seeds in the strainer, I spread them out in the bottom of a coffee filter and let them dry over night. You might end up with some dried tomato pulp or paper bits from the filter still on the seeds after drying but not to worry. The seeds will still germinate just fine next spring. 



Skinning the tomatoes for freezing is very simple. My grandma and great-grandma would use this same process when making Spanish rice, salsa, or any number of other tomato dishes. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cut a small “x” in the base of each tomato and once the water is boiling, carefully lower the tomatoes into the water. I use a slotted spoon to lower them in one at a time. Splashes of boiling water on your skin is not fun. After just a few minutes, give or take depending on the size of the tomato, the skin will begin to peel off on its own. Once you begin to see that, remove the tomatoes with that same slotted spoon and place them in a bowl of cold water, #1 to stop the cooking process and #2 so you don’t burn yourself removing the skin which comes off pretty easily at this point. Once skinned and cooled, they are ready to go into a freezer bag for future use in a yummy recipe where cooked tomatoes are required. 



I followed the same de-seeding  process with the cucumbers and harvested a pretty decent amount of seeds for next year. Unexpectedly, some of the cucumbers turned a bright yellow color while growing. No worries! They taste just as good and Darren and I will be using the cucumbers in a delicious salad soon.



Same with the cantaloupe, lots of seeds. Only getting small-sized cantaloupes this time around, I used the ‘meat’ of these fruits to make a refreshing sorbet using a recipe I will share in a later post.



I’m pretty proud of my seed collection after my first season of gardening here in the great white north. With any luck, it will just keep growing with every new plant that Darren and I add to our little piece of heaven right here at the Olenick House.


A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit. – D. Elton Trueblood