Green Wizardries, This Week in the Garden by Maxine Rogers
I am writing this on 16 January 2022. Spring seems to have struck with a great deal of force. The ice and snow melted away, warm balmy winds caress the islands and I have the first winter aconite blooms in my garden. The blooms are small and not yet open but their brave yellow is out in the world. The winter aconite flower is the very first to bloom here. Mine were given to me by Jimmy Tait of blessed memory.
Jimmy was a veteran of WWII and even after that had an adventurous life. Jimmy was the unofficial Queen of Denman and ruled the island like a benevolent dictator. She gifted flowering plants far and wide and it is a rare garden on Denman that does not owe her a debt of gratitude.
The first spikes of garlic are up in the vegetable garden. The peach tree branches are thronged with swelling buds. With good luck and a following wind, we might be self-sufficient in peaches this year.
We have heaps of carrots, beets, leeks and celeriac still in the garden. This is my first time ever growing celeriac and we harvested our first one and ate it grated with a carrot as a salad with some home-made mayonnaise and dried tomatoes from last summer’s garden.
I want to stop and say a couple of words here about olive oil, for you cannot make a good mayonnaise without good olive oil. There is a lot of adulterated or counterfeit olive oil on the market. We bought a Greek olive oil at a popular store in Courtenay and for a while, I was able to make good mayonnaise from it. Then, suddenly, nothing I could do would turn the oil into mayonnaise. I had never had this trouble before.
I decide to check my oil and poured some of it into a small bowl and put it in the fridge for 24 hours. It was still liquid after all that time in the fridge. A real olive oil would have become thick like yogourt and a little opaque.
We called the store in question and were told to bring all the oil back and they would refund our money no problem. We took several cans of the oil back to them and they eagerly returned our money even though we did not have a receipt. They knew damned well it was counterfeit olive oil and just wanted us to go away.
They still carry the same brand of Greek fake-olive oil. The problem with this is if the oil is counterfeit, how do we know it is wholesome at all? So I would advise all my readers to get up now and put some of their olive oil in the fridge and check it again tomorrow.
Why would the Greeks choose to tarnish their good name by selling bad oil? I had this explained by a friend who had visited Greece and spoken to the farmers there. Greek farmers are not allowed by the EU to sell or even press their own olives but have to buy in sub-standard (rancid) olives from abroad and or cut the resulting oil with vegetables oils. The EU gives all the olive oil quotas to Spain and Italy because they are more important members of the EU.
I have had successes in last year’s garden but it is even more important to talk about the failures. I did not think we were going to get such an Arctic winter here and I left many Brussel’s sprouts plants standing in the garden. We had always been able to do that when we had a garden in Victoria. We used to have only four or five plants but they were all so tall and mighty that we left them in the field and harvested them all winter long. Turns out, you can’t do that here.
When the ice and snow melted, we went out into the garden and found the Brussels’s sprouts were much rotted. I was so disappointed as we love fresh Brussel’s sprouts. I have pulled most of the plants up and am feeding them to the hens who are not so fussy and feeding the best remaining sprouts to the rabbits who are.
This year, I hope to grow many more Brussel’s sprouts but this time, I will harvest them at the peak of readiness and blanch and freeze them. We did that with our huge cauliflower harvest last year and still have many bags of cauliflower to use in salads, soups and other recipes. Blanched cauliflower makes a wonderful salad with a lemon juice, olive oil, salt and chopped garlic dressing. Green beans likewise.
I know that if everyone is really well prepared for an extreme winter that we will have a mild one. I think this is a little, simple, natural magic that we would be well advised to pursue as a community.
When I was out in the garden, I noticed a huge host of those small, grey slugs fornicating in the heavy mulch. I also found a too high number of cutworms. I think we had all better start slug hunting early and often this year.
We have a single, ancient Muscovey duck who is too old to lay eggs anymore. She has been a good duck and given us many, many eggs and reared dozens of ducklings for us so we keep her as a pet. We caught her and clipped the flight feathers on one of her wings so she cannot fly away.
I carried her into the garden and orchard complex so she can hunt slugs and cut worms to her heart’s content. We catch her in the evening and put her back in the secure hen house so she can sleep safe from mink attack. I maintain that having a couple of hens or ducks in the garden is the most efficient way to deal with slugs and she turns those slugs into high-quality manure to fertilize the garden.
Just one more thing, my husband said to explain that we do have thin cables strung across the gardens to dissuade the eagles from hunting our garden poultry.