Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Last Cake Class

...for now, anyway! This class we learned how to make roses (can you tell?!?). The "old rose" coloured ones are mine, the white ones are Mom's, and we both did leaves & the bottom border. The buttercream (except we used Crisco for this class) icing got kind of soft; I'd like to try with a royal icing. The roses were difficult, but I think with practice, they'll be fun to do. I just ordered some natural colouring, so we'll hopefully get to play with that soon.

We really had a great time in this four-week introductory piping class. We've signed up for a fondant animal sculpture workshop (assuming I'll still be able to make it... it's scheduled for June 12, so we'll see! At least the teacher is OK with me cancelling at the last minute). So if we make it to that workshop, I'll be sure to post about it. Otherwise, it'll be awhile before we take any more classes, but we might get an opportunity to practice what we've learned.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bird Feeder Visitor

Mom decided to put some birdseed out as we've got a lot of black-headed grosbeak activity around lately. While there's plenty of food for them in our neighbourhood, it's nice to have them come right by the window so we can get a good look at them.

Of course, not only birds are interested in bird seed:

And other members of the family like to take advantage of the wildlife viewing opportunities presented:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cake Decorating

Since we've got a new addition on the way, Mom was getting into "Grandma" mode and really wanted to get prepped for making some proper birthday cakes in the future. We signed up for an introductory cake decorating class, and have been having a lot of fun with it. This class is about introduction to piping techniques, and how to bake & ice the "perfect" cake. It's being held at At the Sea B&B in Mill Bay, as the instructor, Pat, much prefers to work out of her own kitchen when possible (although she does teach at the Michael's in Langford, too).

The first class was a demo by Pat, then the next class we had to bake & ice a cake, and prepare icing in a bunch of different colours & thicknesses before the class in preparation. I just about walked out on the project at that point; I had no idea it would be so much prep work!! But the end result (a combination of piping techniques by both Mom & I) was pretty darned good for a first try:

As Mom can't eat the cake (made with an instant cake mix for this class) or the icing (because of the food colouring), and I just didn't want to eat all that fat & sugar all by myself, we gave the cake to our cousins, as we figured they'd at the very least have more mouths to divide the results between (they are five in the family).

We do have a recipe for a pound cake that works really well with rice flour, and apparently pound cakes are good for cutting up into layers, so we'll give that a try. I've also found some "natural dye" suppliers, so we'll also give that a go, rather than the chemical dyes that we don't really want to use anyway. Of course, they won't be as intense, but what the heck!

The third class this week was more piping techniques, but this time on cupcakes. Fortunately, we had left over icing, and we were a little better prepared so it wasn't quite the mad dash that the prep work for the second class was. Here are our results:

Mom's cupcakes:

and my cupcakes:

and our two "clown" cupcakes:

Next week is the last class; we'll be learning the "Wilton Rose" which is a somewhat fancy piped rose, as well as sweet peas. The cake is baked, and while we've got the icing made, I think we might need to make some more or adjust what we have for consistency, and definitely add some colour to some of the batch (unless we want just white roses - which we might do). It's been really fun, and I'm looking forward to taking further classes in the future. Since next month is "D-Day", I think I'll have to hold off for at least a few months before I sign up for the next sessions, though!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vancouver Island Bees Threatened

Vancouver Island has had restrictions of the movement of bees and beekeeping equipment to the Island in place since 1990 to prevent the introduction of pests and diseases to our local honey bee population.

In 1997, an illegal importation of bees and/or equipment to Vancouver Island resulted in the introduction of varroa mite, which until that point had not been present on Vancouver Island. Since that introduction, the mite has spread rapidly and has caused significant damage to commercial and hobby beekeeping ventures on Vancouver Island.

In early May 2010, the BC Government Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, without appropriate consultation with Vancouver Island beekeepers and beekeeping associations, lifted the 20 year quarantine, opening Vancouver Island to introduction of diseases and pests which are present in the rest of BC and Canada, but as yet not present on Vancouver Island.

Please spread the word; I don't think that the general public, especially on Vancouver Island, is even aware of this issue, let alone the potential problems resulting in this lifted quarantine. Support the reinstatement of the quarantine, or at least extension of the original quarantine restrictions until appropriate consultation with key stakeholders has occurred.

My concerns regarding this move by the BC Government include:

  1. Vancouver Island's food security is threatened through significant potential loss of commercial pollinators via the introduction of foreign diseases to our local honey bee population, which, so far has a unique disease profile that has been mostly successfully managed since the introduction of the quarantine 20 years ago.
  2. This move potentially threatens other BC honey producers and commercial pollinators, as this year's (2009) winter die-off experienced on Vancouver Island (90% or more in most areas of southern Vancouver Island) has not been successfully explained: what if there's something that our population introduces to the Mainland as a result of the lifted quarantine?
  3. Beekeeping has become much harder, both commercially and as a hobby, all over the world; why would we add complexity to the issue by introducing further pests and diseases to manage that Vancouver Island apiculturists do not currently have to manage?
  4. I am deeply disturbed that a significant change to the status quo was implemented without communication or coordination with the key stakeholders involved. There was sufficient opportunity to introduce new bloodstock into the honey bee population under the original quarantine restrictions; why did the quarantine get lifted wholesale without any consultation with the appropriate groups involved?
Please visit for further information on this issue, including contacts for the Minister responsible, as well as the NDP Agriculture Critic, who has created an online comment/petition form at

And, just out of interest, May 29, 2010 has been declared "Day of the Honey Bee". Somewhat ironic, in my opinion.

Garden Update - For Dave

Dave's on the Mainland for the next week or so, so I thought I'd provide him with a visual edition to the daily summary I've been giving him over the phone in the evenings.

Rutabega flowers (no bees today - too cold)

Sunflowers are up!!

Peas in orchard progressing (still not up in Kitchen Garden)

Garbanzos progressing

Finally, lilac open!

Grrr, the dreaded black aphids, on the currants (not the golden ones though)

Fennel transplants

Celariac transplants

Natalino transplants

Nematode originally on Grace Ward,
moved to raspberry leaf for photo op - really long (4")!!

Narcissus blooms

More asparagus up amongst the coriander

Strawberry flowers (still no berries, but so many flowers)

Rosemary flowering!

Spanish lavender blooming

Golden iris blooming (deer missed it this year, obviously!)

Sweet rocket blooms (yeah, its a weed, but so purdy!)

Greenhouse as Nursery

We also get to use the greenhouse as a transition zone for started plants before they go out into the garden. I think we're probably safe from frost now, but just in case (you never know here), we're using our greenhouse for our Cucurbitaceae seedlings. Once again, under-heat and grow lights from our friend Bob made a spectacular result for our germination rate and success. Now we just need to let them grow a little bit more before they're transplanted to their final destinations.


Last year, we had grown Blue Hubbards and Marina di Chioggia from seed, and "freebie" compost squash which turned out to be Butternuts. The hubbards were somewhat of a disappointment; however, we adore the Chioggia, and the Butternuts were also lovely, so these are what we have started this year. Since we had two C. maxima varieties last year, I had to purchase new Chioggia seed, and as Butternuts are hybrids (although are a different species, C. moschata), I needed new seed this year. We grew squash in old tires filled with horse poop last year. This year, the oak wine half-barrels have been repurposed for our Cucurbitaceae. I'm just waiting for secondary leaves to get well established on the seedlings before I move them out.

Marina di Chioggia"Heirloom squash developed in Italy. Large, bumpy, dark green turban shape with sweet, orange, fairly dry flesh. Traditionally grilled at the dockside near Venice. Average 10 lbs." - Two Wings Farms
Early Butternut"Replaces Zenith. AAS winner. Medium-sized squash are uniform on productive, semi-bush plants. Each has a small seed cavity in dark orange sweet flesh with a tender, thin skin. Matures in 110 days. (hybrid seeds)" - West Coast Seeds
Summer Squash - Gold Rush Zucchini"This early, bright golden yellow zucchini with stunning dark green stems is produced freely on compact, easy-to-harvest plants. Its clear colour and good eating quality add interest to your summer meals. Matures in 55 days. (hybrid seeds)" - West Coast Seeds


We grew Cool Breeze last year for pickling and they turned out really well. As they're self fertile without male flowers, the production rate was better than I expected. But I can't save the seeds - they're hybrids. Thought I'd get another variety to try pickling, an open pollinated one, and we'll see how they do. I'll grow the two pickling varieties in the greenhouse (to isolate the one OP variety), but the fresh eating lemon cukes grow really well outside, so that's where they'll go. I might have gone somewhat overboard on the lemon cukes, but Mom & I loved them so much last year, I wanted to make sure we had enough to nibble on all summer long.

Lemon Cucumber"This heirloom was first introduced in 1894. Similar in size and appearance to a lemon, with fruits that average 2" by 3". Very easy to digest with a crisp, clear taste and an edible skin. Pick small and use them whole for snacking in the garden or as a table treat. A favourite of our local chefs. " - Full Circle Seeds
Cool Breeze"So early it caught us by surprise! Small 10-15cm (4-6), uniform, dark green cucumbers appear well before any others because they do not need pollination; and in our wet springs, bees are not out in the rain! There are no male flowers; the plants keep producing all summer on short vines. They have no ridges and and very fine spines that rub off easily. Use for pickles or salads and sandwiches. Tolerant to powdery mildew, scab, and Mosaic virus. Matures in 45 days. (hybrid seeds)" - West Coast Seeds
Suyo Long"Trellis these very distinctive CERTIFIED ORGANIC Chinese cucumbers for straight, dark green, 30 cm (12") long fruits. The prolific vines produce non-bitter, crisp cukes that are almost seedless and perfect for salads and pickles. The fruit has the traditional ridges with white spines that brush off easily. It can be picked at shorter lengths as well. Matures in 60-70 days. (open pollinated seeds)" - West Coast Seeds


Last year we grew "Early Dew" honeydew variety; I couldn't find seeds for them this year, and since they're a hybrid, I couldn't save the seeds last year anyway. So this year I figured we could try an open pollinated melon, and we'll see how it goes. That, and Mom's not a huge fan of honeydews anyway, but we all like watermelons. This one, too, will live in the greenhouse this summer.

Blacktail Mountain Watermelon"Blacktail Mountain is an extremely early, certified organic watermelon, with flowers appearing weeks before other varieties. This cold-tolerant melon is perfect for the cool springs here on the Coast, although it may perform better under a cloche or in a greenhouse. The vines are compact and bear several 23cm (9"), melons with very dark green skin and scarlet flesh that is sweet, crunchy and full of flavour. Matures in 75 days. (open pollinated seeds)" - Full Circle Seeds

Most of these cucurbits require some help with pollination: we take the male flowers off the vine and squish them into the female flowers. Seems to work, as we had pretty good pollination rate last year. And with a new little addition to the family on the way very soon, having lots of squash for the winter will be a boon, so fingers crossed I started enough plants to meet our needs!

We also started some basil, lupines and hollyhocks, which are sitting happily in our greenhouse nursery:

We have to figure out where the perennial flowers are going to get transplanted, but the basil will get interspersed amongst the greenhouse plants, and make our tomato cucumber salads this summer that much better!