Suzanne’s Blog: Exotic Shiso Grows in the Far North!

In addition to their use as a versatile ingredient, the shiso plant’s large leaves can be used to scoop up food, or as a wrap for fish, meat and sushi. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Sometimes it absolutely amazes me what we can grow in the far North of Canada.

Artichokes, asparagus, eggplants, golden berries and even occasionally ginger and tumeric ….

I now add a new exotic flavour that can be grown in the North – shiso leaves!

Until this year I had never even heard of shiso.  I am now a huge fan, thanks to Carol Ann Gingras of Whitehorse, who introduced me to this herb and sent me some of her Yukon-grown plants.

One thing that I missed early on during my of eating local were spices from the Far East – cinnamon, cumin, cloves, nutmeg …

Birch syrup and ground juniper berries helped to fill that void, but now I have a new favourite – shiso – to add some Asian spice to a Yukon local diet.

Shiso leaves taste exotic!  To me, it is the taste of cumin combined with a hint of cardomon. For others it has been described as a combination of spearmint, basil, anise and cinnamon.

Shiso (pronounced she-so), Perilla frutescens,  is an Asian herb – used commonly in Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and China – and a member of the mint family. It was introduced to North America in the late 1800’s but only introduced to me in 2018!  Although it flourishes in the southeaster USA, I would never have guessed how well it thrives during a Yukon summer.

Its large leaves can be used to scoop up food or as a wrap for fish, meat and sushi. The fresh leaves, sliced in thin strips to bring out the flavour, can be added to soups, stir-fry, rice, scrambled eggs, salads, even fruit – almost anything, really.  The leaves can be air-dried or frozen to use during the winter.   Dried, the leaves can also be used as a flavourful tea.  The leaves are high in calcium and iron.

Apparently shiso buds and sprouts are also delicious and the seeds can be toasted and crushed and sprinkled on fish.

If you plant shiso in pots, let the plants go to seed and bring them inside before the first frost, then the plants will self-seed for spring.

Here’s hoping my shiso plants will self-seed so they can become a regular part of my on-going Dawson local diet!

A Sub-Arctic Artichoke

An artichoke grown in Dawson City. Photo by Louise Piché

Louise Piché, one of Dawson’s great home gardeners, continues to defy expectations about what can be grown at 64 degrees north. Recently, she managed to grow an artichoke — perhaps the first ever raised in the Klondike.

If you’re inspired and want to try following in Louise’s footsteps, the cultivar is the Green Globe Artichoke, and the seeds came from Best Cool Seeds, the online store for the Denali Seed Company, a Michigan-based firm that specializes in cold-weather  gardening.

And check out the other seeds that have been proven to grow well in the North!

Suzanne’s Blog: “Knee High by the 4th of July”

Home-grown barley already waist high by July 7th. Photo by Tess Crocker.

“Knee high by the fourth of July” is a farmer’s refrain south of the 49th Parallel – predicting a healthy crop of grain.

So waist high by the 7th of July is looking pretty good up here at 64 degrees north!

Inspired by Miche Genest’s post “Back Yard Grain Growing in the Yukon – the Logical Next Step”and Kokopellie Farm’s success in growing grain in Dawson,  I decided to give back yard grain growing a try.

My experience last Fall taught me that hulling grain is no easy feat.  In fact sometimes, as is the case for oats and buckwheat, it is virtually impossible for a home gardener.  Therefore I was thrilled that Salt Spring Seeds carries hulless varieties of grain.   After consulting owner Dan Jason, I decided to try Faust Barley (hulless) and Streaker Hulless Oats.

And look how well they are doing!

Hulless Faust Barley. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Gardening has never come easily to me.   I struggle to grow brassicas while the local farmers produce them in abundance.

This year I decided to try my luck growing edibles that are not so easily found at our local Farmers Market.  My raised beds are hosting oats, barley, amaranth, Tom Thumb popping corn and onions.   The onions are not looking so good but, so far, the rest seem to be growing well.

Streaker Hulless Oats. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

With the idiosyncrasies of our short growing season, grains have often been difficult to grow in the North.  Perhaps as a result of climate change, perhaps due to hardier cultivars, it seems that in the past few years growing grain is becoming more feasible.

So it is a good time test out the possibilities of back yard grain growing in the Yukon!

Fingers crossed that local barley and local breakfast oats will be on the menu in our house next year.

Asparagus Does Grow in the North!

I always thought of asparagus as an exotic vegetable.

But guess what, it will grow in the North!

Several Dawson gardeners have been successful growing asparagus and generous in sharing some of the harvest with me this year — yum!

For all your asparagus cravings dine on firewood shoots in May and garden asparagus in June and July!

Tips if you want to try growing your own asparagus:

  • Buy roots, not seeds
  • Plant the roots in spring in 1⁄2 dirt and 1⁄2 sand
  • The harvest will be in the second year
  • Harvest by cutting from June till mid July, and then stop cutting

To check out varieties that have grown well in the North, check out Louise Piché’s Seed Guide.

 

Suzanne’s Blog: It’s Seed Catalogue Time!


I definitely did not have a green thumb prior to starting this project.  Never ask me to take care of your house plant.  I’m not sure my thumb is yet brilliant green, but it is several shades closer than it used to be.

So this year I am excited to pull out the seed catalogues and decide what to order for the upcoming growing season.  In the North, tomato seeds are started indoors the end of February and most everything else gets started indoors in March and April.

As you get ready to dog-ear pages in your seed catalogues, check out the seeds that have proven themselves to grow well for other Northerners on the First We Eat Seeds page.  And if you have some favourites that grow well in your part of the North, let us know (there’s a contribution form on the page) and we will share it .

Here are my seed ordering tips for 2018:

Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach.  Spinach is notoriously difficult to grow in Dawson.  Sure we have a short season.  But our short summers are really hot!  And regular spinach just bolts up here.   Both New Zealand Spinach and Fothergill’s Perpetual Spinach grow well in Dawson and do not bolt.   I tried them both last year, but preferred the texture of Fothergills.

My favourite tomato last year was Black Prince.

And while you’re at it, consider growing some GMO-free sugar beets.  They grew well in several locations in Dawson last year.  They are a delicious white beet to eat and the pot liquor you cook them in can be boiled down to make a sweet syrup!

Salt Spring Seeds, based on Vancouver Island, only carries organic, non-GMO seeds and is your one-stop shop for Fothergills Perpetual Spinach, Black Prince tomatoes, and non-GMO sugar beet seeds!

 

Louise Piché Planted a Patch of Purple Peppers (and a White Pumpkin)

The Purple Star Hybrid peppers growing on the vine. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

We have posted previously about some of the unique things Louise Piché has been able to grow in Rock Creek, Yukon, just outside of Dawson City. including ginger and tumeric, asparagus, and ground cherries.

This year, Louise experimented with growing purple peppers, and reports they grew really well.  These plants — a sweet pepper variety — are purple on the outside but white on the inside and very tasty.

The seed variety she used was the Purple Star Hybrid from William Dam Seeds (65 days to maturity).

Purple on the outside, these peppers are white and sweet on the inside. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

But there were more interesting things growing in Louise Piché’s greenhouse this year. A white pumpkin! Despite its long days to maturity in a short growing season, the pumpkin is doing quite well in a Dawson greenhouse.

The plant is of the New Moon variety from Veseys Seeds. It takes 100 days to grow to a final size of  25 to 35 lbs.

To see the specific varieties of fruit and vegetables that one of Dawson’s  great home gardeners has had success with, download Louise Piché’s Seed Guide.

Have you had success re-growing a plant not typical in the north? Share it with us. 

The New Moon white pumpkin growing in a Dawson greenhouse. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Sister Island Growing Tradition Continues … With Some Twists

Lou of Sister Island is growing some crops not typically seen in the North, including “black” indigo rose tomatoes. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Sister Island is a private 42-acre island just downriver from Dawson City, and has a longstanding agricultural tradition. Given to the Sisters of St. Ann in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the nuns used the Island to grow vegetables famous for their quality, and raised cows, chickens and pigs to feed a hospital and orphanage in Dawson. Suzanne visited there recently to meet the current owners, Lou Tyacke and Gary Masters, who are now farming there.

Suzanne was thrilled to discover that Lou was growing fennel as it is hard to come by in Dawson this year.

Lou and Suzanne with some Sister Island fennel. Photo by Jennifer Hall.

Lou is also successfully growing some other unique produce, not usually found in the North. This includes Jerusalem artichokes (a type of sunflower), which is grown for its edible root/tuber), and is growing very well in the Sister island greenhouse. She is also raising a variety of colourful carrots, as well as “black” tomatoes, which are actually vine tomatoes of the indigo rose variety.

jeruselum-artichokes
colourful-carrots

Jerusalem artichokes growing in the Sister Island greenhouse (left) and some colourful carrots.  Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

For Suzanne, the timing of the visit to Sister Island was especially fortuitous, as she arrived the day before she started her 100-per-cent-local eating.  She was treated to one of Lou’s amazing cupcakes — a floral art form in itself  — and a cup of tea. … which turned out to be her last cup of orange pekoe tea (and cupcake) for a year.

If it’s going to be your last cupcakes for a year, might as well make it colourful. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Mama, Don’t Let Your Quinoa Grow Up to Be Turnips

Sebastian Jones with a prolific field of quinoa last fall. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Earlier, we posted how Suzanne was looking forward to having some quinoa in her diet, thanks to conservationist and local grower Sebastian Jones. Quinoa is not normally a northern crop, but Sebastian has been experimenting with growing it in previous years. He’s had good success with the plants, although he has just never gotten far enough during the short season to be able to harvest the quinoa seeds before the fall frost.

This year, he planted early, and Suzanne was excited about the prospect of quinoa in her local diet, as there will be no rice, and minimal grains. Unfortunately, the quinoa has grown up … and turned out to be turnips instead.  The culprit was a seed mislabeling issue, as quinoa seeds look similar in size and shape to those from turnips. Even after the plants had germinated, the power of positive thinking had convinced Sebastian for a while that he had a field of lovely baby quinoa seedlings — until the harsh reality, turnip root and all, could be denied no longer. “I don’t even like turnips,” Sebastian complained.

“Turnips!Why did it have to be turnips?” Sebastian holds up one of the quinoa-turned-turnips. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

That may or may not be the end of the story. Suzanne has four struggling actual quinoa plants of her own in the ground, and her fingers are crossed in hopes that they take off. There are also some potential alternatives. She will be looking at the wild plant lambsquarter, also sometimes known as pigweed (which is a cousin to quinoa) to see if she can harvest and cook the seed this autumn in a similar manner.

Has anyone had any success processing  lambs quarter seeds, or have some other tips for Suzanne? Let us know!

Yum! Fresh Northern Asparagus

Louise Piché’s fresh northern asparagus. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Louise Piché, one of Dawson’s great home gardeners, has success growing asparagus in the north and she generously shared some of her first asparagus harvest with Suzanne. It was the freshest asparagus Suzanne has ever tasted  – delicious!

Asparagus growing in Louise Piché’s garden. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Louise’s secret?  Check out Louise Piché’s Seed Guide. In the case of asparagus, buy roots, not seeds. Plant the roots in spring in 1⁄2 dirt and 1⁄2 sand. The harvest will be in the second year. Harvest by cutting from June till mid July, and then stop cutting.

 

Celery Flavor All Year Round

One way to have celery year round from the garden is to grow celeriac root. Weird looking but quite flavorful, celeriac root is edible raw or cooked, and tastes similar to the stalks of common celery. 

It grows well in the North, keeps well in cold storage all winter, and apparently can have a shelf life of approximately six to eight months if stored properly. You can serve it roasted, stewed, blanched, or mashed, or added to your favorite stews or casseroles.  Peel it and chop it and use it in place of fresh celery in cooking.  Excellent combined with potatoes when cooking mashed potatoes! 

Celeriac Root - Wikimedia Commons
Celeriac Root – Wikimedia Commons

 

Seedy Saturdays and Birch Syrup workshops in Dawson

Next weekend, Dawsonites will have a chance to participate in two amazing workshops!
Seedy Saturdays will be held on Saturday March 25th at the Recreation Centre, and it will include presentations by Karen Digby and Grant Dowdell about northern gardening and by Scott Henderson about mushroom cultivation.
The following day on Sunday the 26th, there will be a Birch Syrup workshop in which participants will meet at the Rec Centre and then go hunting for Birch sap.

There are limited spaces on both, so make sure you sign up soon!

Peanuts and Ground Cherries Growing in the North!

Ground cherries in their husk - wikimedia commons
Ground cherries in their husk – ph. Wikimedia commons

If there is something exotic you wish to grow in the North, ask Louise Piché of Rock Creek, Dawson City, Yukon.  Louise is a well known gardener in Dawson and a frequent ribbon winner at Dawson’s annual Discovery Days Horticultural Fair.  She loves experimenting with new and colorful varieties.  She has successfully grown peanuts and ground cherries (aka golden berries) as well as asparagus, giant pumpkins and buckwheat.

Louise has generously shared her ‘tried and true’ cultivars that grow well in Rock Creek, which you can view on our seed page.   This year she is experimenting with ginger, turmeric, artichokes and pink potatoes.

We will keep you posted!

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