Are you SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing. Rosenthal et al[i], define it as “a condition characterized by recurrent depressive episodes that occur annually”. Symptoms include “hypersomnia, overeating, and carbohydrate craving”. So basically, when it is cold and dark due to living in a Northern area in winter; one wants to get fat and hibernate. Make sense to me!


The researchers further note that this circannual SAD-ness “seemed to respond to changes in climate and latitude”. The first line treatment for SAD caused by exposure to cold and dark is, reasonably, to provide warmth and light. Hmm… tropical vacation??? Of course, they were thinking “light therapy”. When that fails to relieve disabling depression, treatment by professional therapies including medications is warranted.

Picture13While the psych establishment chooses to call this a disease, I suspect it only becomes a problem when we are forced to ignore the changing seasons and keep on trucking with our busy work-oriented lives. Due to my advanced age and current situation (pension income and a full freezer!) I am privileged to be able to simply give in to the dictates of nature. I sleep more, cook root veggies, soups and stews, sit where sunbeams come in through the window and dress warmly to go out on sunny days. On cloudy days, I read the seed catalogues and plan for next spring’s plantings.

Picture14Remembering last season’s bounty is also encouraging. Despite the struggles the garden had with limited moisture levels earlier in the growing season, the late summer rains, warm days and sunshine that peeked between the clouds created a bountiful harvest. It is as though the plants had been spending the earlier days of drought preparing for a tremendous growth spurt as soon as there was some moisture to do it with. We had no killing frost until late in the season allowing corn to ripen, root crops to mature into good sizes, and tomatoes to ripen by the tonne. Vine crops were especially productive. A late spring frost and the squash attack saved me from the workload of excessive cucumbers. All in all, it was a lovely season of growing and I found a great comfort zone in my little patch of earth.

Now I am quite enjoying this season of respite from the labour to rest and reflect.

[i] Norman E. Rosenthal, MD; David A. Sack, MD; J. Christian Gillin, MD; Alfred J. Lewy, MD, PhD; Frederick K. Goodwin, MD; Yolande Davenport, MSW; Peter S. Mueller, MD; David A. Newsome, MD; Thomas A. Wehr, M, A Description of the Syndrome and Preliminary Findings With Light Therapy

Gardening on an Budget

I have been looking through the seed catalogues that arrived way-to-early this winter. It all looks so lovely, but the cumulative cost of my wish list is becoming very scary! E.g. I’ve been dreaming about trying Sprinter peppers for a couple years now, but I just can’t justify the seed cost! Gardening is supposed to save money not cost money!

In an effort to rein in my spending, I’m reviewing these tips for frugal gardening from Permaculture Women.

10 tips

1.       Fertility – compost and repeat. Done.

2.       Start seedlings – see DIY peat pots

3.       Save seed. I have a pint each of beet, tomato, broad bean, and radish as well as some basil, and a few peas and beans that I have saved from last season’s crops. There is also a tote full of seed packages to check out from previous years before I order any new ones. I will do a few germination tests.

4.       Some friends and I are planning to get together a few times over the winter to talk gardening. We may be able to share some seed or pool orders to save some shipping costs.

5.       Sales? Guess I missed that one. I did get in on a free shipping deal from one of the seed companies tho’.

6.       Flowers to attract beneficial insects. Most of the annuals I plant serve some dual purpose. They’re pretty but also edible. Nasturtium for salads, pansies for jelly, calendula for petals that pretend to be saffron, and herbs for cooking and drying. And dandelions! Of course, I don’t have to plant them, but I also don’t kill them if they grow outside my garden beds.

7.       Mulch. I don’t know how that saves much money, but it good for the plants. I will try to do a better job of it.

8.       Sheet mulch new gardens? Not making any new gardens. Planting grass in some of the old ones! But if I was, I would certainly consider laying some cardboard down before the compost and soil went onto the beds.

9.       Start small. To late – the gardens are already too big!

10.       Reduce and reuse. Yep. Reducing the garden size and the number of plants. Reusing all the pots.

Well, it looks like I have most of these ideas covered. Now how to resist those seed catalogues???

Cucumber Experimental Success

manny cucumberThis Manny cucumber plant was started October 8th. Manny is a parthenocarpic variety so pollination was not a problem, but the growing conditions I presented it with might have been.

The bottom line here is that even with some additional lighting growing veg, especially fruiting veg over the winter solstice season is an exercise in futility. While there are a few smaller fruits developing there have also been a number of fruits that failed to thrive and eventually withered and dried up.

The plant got off to a great start in the Aerogarden. When it had a few roots and some true leaves I moved it into a Kratky system using a balanced growth fertilizer. That all went along well until the plant had exhausted the nutrient solution in the original container – a 2liter pop bottle which I should have known would not be adequate. I moved it into an oversized upcycled plastic coffee can filled with the same nutrient solution. The move was a bit of a shock for the plant and it took a couple weeks to resume its growth rate, but eventually did and began to bloom.

cucumber jokeThe first fruits to form got off to a great start and we anticipated a fresh cucumber salad was just around the corner. Then they just stopped growing. They didn’t die or even wilt, but just sat there, unchanged. After a couple weeks of that I decided to improve their nutrients and started feeding them a tomato fruiting fertilizer supplemented with a bit of magnesium sulphate and they started to grow, slowly. So now 13 weeks after planting we are finally going to have a cuke for supper!



edamame plantIt is a bit early to be planning for 2020’s summer garden but it helps to prevent cabin fever to look through the seed catalogues. That and some shopping in the frozen food section of my local co-op and I may have a new vegetable to add to my garden for the coming season. I’m looking at edamame which are just varieties of soybean picked at an immature green state.  Sounds like something from the Cajun South doesn’t it? But I guess it is really a Japanese idea, and often used as an appraiser. I found listings for seed at Prairie Garden Seeds, Johnny’s, West Coast, Halifax, and Early’s but I am sure many other seed sellers will have them as well.

We haven’t been able to grow soy in Zone 1b due to the longer growing season the mature crop requires and it has not been a traditional part of our diet. However, as a green bean annual, even our short growing season should suffice. I’d noticed them in several of the seed catalogues and online sites; so, when I saw these plump green pretties in the frozen food aisle I had to give them a try  It turns out they are quite tasty. In fact, much nicer than the broad beans I have been trying to grow!

edamame 1And they are good for us! A typical ½ cup serving will contain about 120 calories, before you butter them. They’ll have 3 to 5 grams of fat on their own, but most of it is polyunsaturated. That half cup will contain about 20% of the protein the average human needs daily, and since they are soybeans it is a complete protein. (Useful info for vegans and those wishing to save a few dollars on the meat budget.) There is also a good shot of fibre but not the kind that usually causes the bowel discomfort many people associate with eating pulse crops. There is also a bit of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.  The amount of sodium will depend greatly of the cooking and eating methods. The natural sodium content is negligible but… the traditional way to prepare the beans is to boil them in the shell in highly salted water and sprinkle some more salt on them before serving; then eat them by sort of sucking them out of the salted pods, which are then discarded. Yeah that might not be so good for my hypertension! I wanted to really taste the beans themselves so I just boiled the frozen shelled beans without adding any other seasoning and they were lovely.

Many of the seed sellers and some online gardening sites had some good growing advice. Like all beans, soy are not at all frost tolerant so I think I will try to start these beans a few weeks early in the greenhouse and transplant them to the sunny front yard garden in early June. Like the poet says,  “If winter comes … can spring be far behind?”


Allium Independence!

Bill Davison is a University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems Educator. I am not really sure what that means, but it sounds impressive! In a lecture on growing Perennial Vegetables he suggests it is possible for home gardeners to achieve “Allium Independence” for their families. Alliums are the family of plants that includes onions and garlic of all varieties. Davison defines allium independence as never having to buy onions again. I think I have done it.

walking onionMy onion independence begins in early spring when the Egyptian Walking Onions (Allium × proliferum) poke their green sprouts out from under the snow. (They really are almost that early.)  I don’t know if they originated in Egypt. I suspect not because Egypt has a relatively warm climate and these hardy perennials are highly adapted to surviving Saskatchewan winters! We enjoy some as early scallion type onions and then once some of the other onion types are ready, we leave the Egyptians to grow out through the summer. By fall they will have produced a tall stem topped with a cluster of bulbils that look like baby onions – which is just what they are. These babes can be planted in fall for next spring’s early green onions. By keeping a “mother plant” in the perennial bed I always have a supply for fall planting.

multiplier onionsThe next onions to enjoy are the Multipliers (Allium cepa), sometimes called potato onions. These are spring planted bulbs of a variety that divide into several green onions early in the summer.  They are not winter hardy here; but eventually each division forms a bulb and dries up to store well indoors over the winter. The next spring I plant them again. By planting about 50 each spring we have scads to use as scallions all summer, sell a few at the market, share some bulbs with gardening friends and grow one a week out in a flowerpot for fresh green onions all winter.  In warmer climes these can probably be left out over winter like a perennial – not here in Zone 1b!

allium 4

chivesOnion chives are another thing that graces my perennial bed. It is actually a perennial weed that self seeds all over the garden.  I tolerate it in between the asparagus plants because I love a handful chopped on a baked potato once in awhile. The flowers are pretty in a salad and keep a long time in the refrigerator. The bees love them. I also grow a variety of garlic chives which are much better behaved and stay where I put them or occasionally self seed just a little way from their mother plant.

onion setsI also plant cooking onions for winter storage. I find that sets are easier for me than starting onions from seed. I guess in that respect I am not completely independent of buying some onions since I do buy new sets each year. I usually grow both red and yellow, about 150 makes a good long row in my garden and lasts us through most of the winter.

garlicMy allium independence is rounded out with a hard necked, fall planted garlic variety that has proved very hardy and yields well. I plant about 10 cloves in early fall and that yields enough to last through the winter and plant again. They are dug in early fall and new ones planted just before freeze-up.  Yeah! Allium Independance!



A Victory of Food Production

victory gardenThis little picture from a war time Illinois government popped up on the internet the other day and got me thinking about what I grow in my summer garden that actually makes a difference in the food we have to buy. The Victory Garden promotion was a war time initiative that seems to have started in Britain. It looks to me that it had two objectives. Firstly, to encourage the population to grow their own food, which was probably more important in the UK than in America; and secondly, to perhaps engender support for the war by making people feel like they were “doing their part” in the effort.

In my own effort to make war on high grocery prices, I was comparing the Victory Garden recommendations with my own usual seeding plans. Summer greens and veggies predominate in the design of the victory garden and we enjoy them too. We also use a lot of cooked greens, both fresh from the garden or frozen in winter. Green and wax beans are another crop that we really enjoy in both summer and preserved for winter. However, I will only be planting pole beans henceforth for ease of picking.

I was surprised that root crops and starches did not show up more prominently in the war time design.  Carrots, beets, onions and rutabaga that store easily are staples of our winter diet and potatoes are our main starch choice.

And yes, tomatoes are another requirement in the kitchen for fresh eating as long as possible and preserved as an ingredient for sauces soups and stews. Illinois probably has a climate more attuned to this warm weather crop than Saskatchewan, but we still have lots of success with them. I’d love to grow some Lima beans or “butter beans”, as I am sure they are known in Illinois, but our season lacks the necessary heat units. I have managed a few Broad Beans which serve much the same purpose.

Both cabbage and the collards that are lesser known in Saskatchewan do well enough as annuals in our climate, but like all brassicas are becoming harder to grow successfully with the increase in rapa eating insects. I have managed the cabbage under screen cages and I will try the collards this winter as an indoor crop.

The Victory garden plan shows some replanting to get two crops in one season. There is very little we can do that with in Zone 1b. If we get even one planting of veg to maturity we’ve done well.

I’m sure the designer of the Victory Garden poster was a gardener. Who else would have included the little tip about seeding some radish with the other slower germinating seeds!

Vitamin Content in Imported Greens

vitamins in imported greensI wrote previously about the Deep Winter Greenhouse project that University of Minnesota is involved with. One of the interesting facts that they have uncovered is that the nutritional value of fresh greens decreases significantly as they are shipped oved long distances and extended times.  This would seem to speak well of efforts that support finding ways to grow greens locally; even when the climate precludes outdoor production of fresh vegetables. Add to this the financial and ecological cost of importing fresh produce and it would seem like a no-brainer… maybe.

One other thing about winter greenhouse grown produce that UNM has identified is that in some vegetables grown under the more stressful conditions of lower light and cooler temperatures there is an excessive accumulation of nitrogen in the plant tissues. This issue will be familiar to livestock producers in cold climates. They have to be very careful about cutting hay from frost damaged crops in order to avoid nitrate poisoning in their cattle.

It is not surprising that there are nitrates in plant tissues, or that injured or stressed plants try to accumulate extra nitrogen while they can. Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients plants use. The problem comes when we ingest the nitrates.

nitorgen moleculesNitrogen and oxygen form two kinds of molecules: nitrates which have three oxygen atoms and are essentially inert, and nitrites which have only two oxygen atoms and can, in sufficient amounts, be toxic to animals, including humans. Once consumed nitrates are converted into nitrites in our bodies. Some of them are used to build the proteins we need, but others, and especially excessive ones, are cleaned out by our livers. The problem of toxicity occurs when the accumulation of nitrites exceeds the liver’s ability to remove them, resulting in damage to the neurological system.

light 1So the bottom line is that when we are growing our salad greens in the winter we have to ensure that the light and temperature requirements for growth are optimal. Certainly, growing indoors in temperatures that are comfortable for us will negate any issue with temperature, but even low light greens will probably be happier with some supplemental lighting. Fortunately for us, full spectrum LED lights are now affordable both to purchase and operate! An ordinary desk lamp can be refitted with an inexpensive grow light and easily provide enough light to make 3 or 4 pots of salad greens grow happily to maturity.