Food Prep January 2021

A two tier cart full of various items, including onions on the very bottom above the wheels
Nothing like a nice, full cart for a food prep day!

In a previous life, aka a life before Cecilia (daughter person), my mother-in-law and I would plan a single food prep day every 3 months or so. I was usually a very full day, we would meet up at 9am, do our grocery shop, and by 11am we were back at her house and chopping, processing, cooking, and processing. Our days would end around 11pm with the canning pot still processing the last of our bounty, and I would head home. It was a very long, yet a very rewarding day where our freezers and pantries were filled with easy to eat meals.

Lime being zested in a grater over a pot
The sauce for our Chili Lime meatballs being made

Now, with Cecilia, these days aren’t so much the same. We now spend a minimum of two days, sleeping over with grandma and grandpa, and we don’t get much more done than we did when we did just one full day. Something about there being a kid around. But now, we have wider variety and yummier products of our big days. Previously all we would get done is some canned apple sauce and canned salsa, then a variety of freezer crockpot meals. It was pretty mono-toned. Now our prep days are full of variety and various preservation techniques. We’re not just freezing all our meals. With two days to produce, we can spend the first day taking care of the things that need longer to cook (like a giant vat of spaghetti sauce) and the second day assembling and preserving our goodies. We also have more time to pump out the harder things like making miles of rolled out lasagna noodles for our frozen casseroles or ensuring that the subtle flavours in our mango chutney are well developed. While dedicating two whole days to making food can be a hard pill to swallow, it is always – always – worth it.

Variety

noun: The spice of life

For our prep day this January, we didn’t put a lot of work into the pre-planning like we normally do because between school and work and kid, it just didn’t happen. So when we headed over to the in-law’s for Thursday evening (we stayed there so we could get an early start on day one/have someone to look after the kid while I worked and Jim went to his appointment) MIL and I sat down and planned out our menu and shopping list. Usually, as we plan this out I’m also mentally taking note of the progression everything needs to take to make the most of our time. This time, we were making:

Vacuum packed packages of meatballs
We vacuum seal all the food we will be throwing in the freezer to increase it’s shelf life there!
BurgersVegetable Pasta Sauce
Ginger Chili MeatballsCrockpot Spicy Sausage Pasta Sauce
Szechuan BeefPerogies
Crockpot Fajita Chicken

In assembling this list there is a lot of information I can give you about timing:

  • Burgers and meatballs need to be done on day one so we can freeze them overnight before packing them in vacuum bags; this is how we ensure they keep their shape
  • The pasta sauce will be made on day one, and canned on day two. Because the longer it is cooked, the better the flavour, getting this assembled will be our priority
  • We will be using the veg pasta sauce to assemble the spicy sausage pasta sauce, so we will wait to do that until day two
  • It’ll be best if the filling for the perogies is cold when we stuff the ‘gies, so we’ll do the filling on day 1 and the assembly on day two.
Fresh perogies on a table
Our perogy working has a little to be desired

Most of the recipes we used were found years ago on various websites and cookbooks then modified them to our tastes/needs. While I would love to share these all with you, for now, I’m sharing the spaghetti sauce recipe as that is entirely our own and is possibly our favourite thing to make. You can find it at the bottom of this blog post.

So over the two days we got an impressive amount of work done! This was the first time I made perogies (properly) from scratch and in the future we will have a whole day dedicated to perogies with at least 4 people working on them, because that dough is tricky.

Because I overworked the dough, we had a lot more filling that we could fill for the perogies, so we ended up making mashed potato balls which we have frozen and use as sides for steak dinners.

So let’s do the break down!

How much we ended up making

25Mashed Potato Balls4Crockpot Spicy Sausage Pasta Sauce
144 oz Burger Patties126oz Burger Patties
4Crockpot Chicken Fajita20Perogies
101Meatballs4Szechuan Beef
91L jars pasta sauce

What we spent on each serving

So with this information in mind we spent just south of $210 at the grocery store, and we used 12 lbs of ground beef and 3 lbs of stew beef that we already had from our purchase of a cow over the summer (so approximately $70 of beef) and other random ingredients that we already had like garlic, spices, and packaging, all of which we won’t count. So we spent $280 total on all that food. We like to calculate everything on a “per-serving” rate, so we had 144 servings of food (WHAT!?).

Each serving cost us a mere $1.94! Obviously, to be really accurate, we would calculate the cost of each individual thing we made and the cost of it’s packaging, then do the serving math, and maybe add in labour, but we’re not a restaurant, this is easier, and frankly, more rewarding.

Table topped with all our prepped food from our prep day
The bountiful “harvest” The fruits of our labour The yum in my tummy

Bea’s Big Batch Pasta Sauce Recipe

Don’t be alarmed, that white thing is the cup I used to scoop out the yummy sauce into our jars

5Onions (we use yellow, but white and red are also great options)
4Heads of garlic (more if you’re inclined)
1Head of Celery
6Carrots
2Leeks
1cup Canola Oil/Olive Oil
35Roma Tomatoes
4Sweet peppers (I like green and yellow to add some colour variant in there)
4Jalapenos
40Mushrooms
1bunch Parsley
1oz Basil
26oz canned Tomato Paste
112oz canned Diced Tomatoes
56oz canned Crushed Tomatoes
2tbsp Dried Oregano
1tbsp Red Pepper Flakes
5Bay Leaves
1/4cup Salt (or to taste)
2/3cup Sugar (or to taste)
1cup Lemon Juice

Believe it or not, this recipe is pretty simple to make, as long as you have a big ass pot (and you’re going to need a big ass pot). When we make pasta sauce like this, our food processor is our best friend; most things that end up in the pot, go through the processer first. Hot tip; if you can get a food processor that also slices and grates, do that! It’s the easiest way to get all this food in one pot.

Food processor with processed carrots in it
Food processor everything!
  1. peel and cut your onions into 1/8ths. This makes it so your peices of onion are small enough for the processor. Peel all your garlic while you’re at it. In small batches, add garlic and onion to the food processor and mill it down until the onions are at the size you prefer for your pasta sauce. Some people like to be able to pick out parts of their pasta sauce, some like to have it so small that the kids don’t know they’re eating that food they “don’t like”. Add the minced up garlic and onion to your pot with the canola oil; fry until the onion is transparent and hopefully, aromatic.
  2. Again with the celery and carrot, process it down to the size you like for your pasta sauce. We like little bits of both, so we cut celery sticks in 1/2 and carrots in 1/4 and put them through the processer’s slicer attachment. Add these to the pot once the onions and garlic are ready.
  3. Slice your leeks up. Leeks are easiest by hand. Add to the pot. Let the carrots, celery, and leeks cook in with your onions for 20-40 minutes. Just softening them up!
  4. Open up all those cans of tomatoe things and dump them into the pot. Use a little water in each to “rinse” the cans (about 1/2 each can worth of water), and dump that “rinsing” water directly into the pot.
  5. Chop up your tomatoes (hell, throw these in the food processor too if you want smaller tomato bits, but we like these a bit bigger, cutting them into 1/12 or so); then into the pot!
  6. De-seed your peppers and jalapenos, chop them a little then throw them in the processor too! Then into the pot (see how easy the food processor makes this whole cooking thing?). Here on out, everything else can be added to the pot in whichever order.
  7. The mushrooms go through the slicer attachment of the food processor; into the pot.
  8. Put your fresh herbs through the processor with a little bit of oil and salt, and, your guessed it, add it to the pot.
  9. Here’s where you add all your remaining ingredients; the oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, sugar, salt, and lemon juice.
  10. Let your sauce cook ON LOW for 9-12 hours (the longer the better).
  11. If you’re canning, get your pasta sauce hot, and process in hot jars with hot lids and rings. If water bathing, they are processed for 30 minutes (though this is what I deem safe for my kitchen, I strongly recommend that you look up the canning rules you’re comfortable with and roll from there.)

I’m a Farmer!

With the onset of a new year, a new school term, and a new blog, I also got a new job, because I just don’t have enough on my plate. And you know what, I don’t mind this extra work. It helps me stay organized and on top of things; I don’t know why or how that works, but I’m not here to question things.

As a part of my diploma requirements, I have to get in 455 hours of work experience in a horticulture related setting. Do the math on that and they expect approximately 3 months of full time work, and the intention from the program is that you do this 12 weeks of full time, usually labour intensive work in the summer term, when they don’t offer many classes. I don’t feel that they consider the diverse backgrounds of their students with this intention.

Thankfully, as a planner (pun intended) I was planning out each term of my diploma to ensure that I got all the credits I needed, so I saw this work experience requirement early on. There is no way that between owning a business (not in the horticulture sector) which operates primarily in the summer, taking at least two courses in the summer term, and being a mom to a child who at 1.5 is already a handful, that working a full time job was going to be conducive to a healthy life. So in doing the math, I needed to start a job no later than January and I had to do at least 50 hours/month in order to meet the requirements of my class. So I started looking for a very part-time gig.

I was lost. Where to apply? It was December and what kind of landscaper is hiring part-time for January? The job search left me questioning constantly if I was going to make it work.

She did not paint just how far in the starting process her farm was in. Note the few holly plants heavy with berries and the rest being bare plants.

I some how ended up applying for a job that (in it’s posting) seemed a little boring, and short term, and definitely past the scope of what my education had taught me thus-far. But when the farm owner contacted me for an interview, I considered that I hadn’t been the interviewee in an interview in a very very long time (2015 I think was the last time I was properly interviewed for a gig) so I took it. Little did I know, this interview would lead to the very kind of job that I dreamt about when I first started thinking about a career in horticulture; farm consulting.

2 roosters, 2 hens, strutting around
I’m also spending time with these cocks.

Okay, I’m not a farm consultant, per se, my official title is something along the lines of Farm Operations Manager or something to that effect. But what I am doing is consulting. In my interview I got to visit the property where the owner is trying to establish a new farm, mostly as a hobby, but also to obtain farm status for tax reasons. This woman has bright ideas for the farm, but needs a hand to help here with the physical work and also the research and data collection and all that other administrative stuff. She also has a lot of flexibility on how the farm operates. For over a month now, she and I have been collaborating on establishing her farm.

In my interview I was completely upfront with the owner about my education, but also about my willingness to learn and how my background as a wedding coordinator could lend to me being an excellent operations manager. Evidently, she agreed.

Holly berries on an evergreen Ilex tree
She does have a few well established holly trees onsite, including this beauty; but they are far too large to be farming.

This farm brings so much excitement to me. While I get through the grueling work of all the research and computer stuff, I am very much looking forward to rewarding work of getting my hands dirty and my muscles moving.

So I’m a farmer now. I am growing holly, I will be growing Christmas trees, and a few other food crops that I can’t tell you about quite yet, but damn, they excite me.

Sources, Citing, and Plagiarism

Blog post assignment #1 for Introduction to Professional Communication

As you may or may-not know, with the way that the pandemic effected my industry, I decided to turn my career on it’s head and go back to school for something completely different than the weddings I was doing before – horticulture studies. As a requirement for the degree that I’ll be getting, I had to enroll in an English course from a list of a few different options, and the one I choose was Introduction to Professional Communication.

Sometimes work and school meld together so well. For example, this assignment and this blog, or my take home from a wedding and this botany text. (Botany text is Sterns Introductory Plant Biology, 15th edition)

Through this class we’re required to produce 5 blog posts as assignments with specific objectives for each post; how fortuitous that I happen to have a blog and am always up for adding new content! Most of these blog posts will be reflective on what I’ve learned in the preceding week(s) so maybe you, the reader, will be able to find some value in the information I share.

This week, I’ll be sharing about my experience on the topic of finding and evaluating sources, citing sources in APA style, and plagiarism. Frankly, these last two weeks make me wish I had enrolled in this class so much sooner. While some of the information was more of a refresher from past college and high school classes, I have learned so much, in particular about what constitutes plagiarism in a general sense but also in a completely real sense as it applies to my class work. As I was reading about the different ways in which I can plagiarize, it started to frighten me to a point. Had I plagiarized in assignments in my last term, unintentionally? All those papers I wrote, were they up to snuff of the APA guidelines? And while all those fears got to me a bit, the biggest thing I tried to consider was “how can I do better?”.

Plagiarism

The pratice of using another person’s words or ideas as one’s own, in essence, stealing another person’s brain copyright. This may be done intentionally or unintentionally.
1.5 year old standing looking at a note book, appearing to erase a section
Hint: having Cecilia (daughter person) do my classwork for me DEFINATELY falls into plagiarism; who knew?

Plagiarism isn’t a tricky subject in and of itself, but there are certainly nuances that I hadn’t considered. One of which is the fact that if you have someone edit your work where they change your words or grammar (no red pen on those drafts, please!) that can be considered academic plagiarism (Ashman, 2018). Instead, the best practice is to ask for feedback in more of a general sense. The person providing you this feedback can point to specific parts of your writing to let you know that there’s something wrong, but they cannot alter your work.

Of course, this communications course isn’t the only class in which I am enrolled and if we want to talk about fortuitous again, it just so happened that in those other classes I had a variety of assignments due in the coming weeks (or that same week, whatever) where the information I was learning in communications was directly applied to these assignments. For one of these assignments, I was required to attend a tradeshow (virtually, of course. Thanks COVID) and at that show, we had to watch a talk and write a summary paper on it. Well, because of the information I had just learned in communications, I was able to properly site the speaker at all the instances where I was required to site him. Had I not the APA citation learning prior to that paper, I likely would have just cited that speaker once for the totality of the paper, which would have constituted plagiarism.

Ultimately, I’m not sure which of the topics was most helpful in my learning primarily because it is vital to understand plagiarism to understand how and when to place citations. That being said, if I were required to choose one subject area (which is the objective of this assignment, so I probably am…) I would have to choose documenting sources was the most helpful of those taught. I am comfortable finding reliable and authoritative sources on the subjects which I am required to look into, but until recently, I was not comfortable in properly sharing credit with those sources.

1 year old, sitting in car seat in car with an old keyboard on her lap
And now that I know it’s not okay to submit Cecilia’s writing as my own, I’m going to need that extra flow to push out as much content as I want to!

Now, with confidence, I can cite my work, which for some reason makes me move through my assignments (and even writing for Basil Bee) with much more ease. As I collect the research that I need for whatever it is I am writing, I’m far more clear on the relevant aspects to what I need for proper citation but also to recognize when I am paraphrasing what I’ve retained versus when I should probably just stick quotes around the original author’s words. As a more confident writer, I am a more productive writer.

References

Ashman, Melissa (2018) Introduction to Professional Communications
Section 8.4, Giving and Receiving Feedback

image of two open-faced cheese burgers on a blue plate. The cheese burgers are topped with cheddar, crispy jalapenos, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.

The Sustainability Teeter Totter

I ‘m going to bring your to my home for a moment on a typical Saturday night from this winter. We are sitting around the table eating dinner. Tonight I’ve made a delicious deluxe cheese burger, and on the side we’re eating roasted veggies smothered in delicious butter. When you look at the bounty on our plates, take a moment to really look at it and think; what part of the meal, the burger or the veggies, is the least sustainable part of the meal?

image of two open-faced cheese burgers on a blue plate. The cheese burgers are topped with cheddar, crispy jalapenos, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.
Yummy, juicy loaded cheese burgers. Imagine the veggies, will ya?

Without knowing much about how all that food got to my plate, you’re likely going to answer something along the lines of “the burger” because of the vegetarian = sustainability rhetoric that people tend to tout. And in a lot of cases, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. Meat products generally have much higher footprints than vegetables. But look closely at the hypothetical meal. This is being served up in January, and the roasted veggies are all in the nightshade and squash families. There’s peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. None of these fruit grow naturally here in January. I got them all from the grocery store. While the tomato boasted a title of locally grown, the rest of the yummies all came from different countries. How were those tomatoes grown in the dead of winter?

“None of these fruit grow naturally here in January.”

Notice that I refer to the goods on my plate as both fruits and vegetables in different instances? They’re all technically fruit as they all are vehicles for seed growth and distribution, and they are all vegetables as they are all edible crops.

And this is where we start to get into what I like to call the sustainability teeter totter. When two different actions both have different footprints involved and you, the end user, need to evaluate which footprint is the one that you should care more about reducing.

footprint

the measurement of the resource(s) that are used in order for the individual or organization to be able to consume/produce the end product.

When we are trying to live more consciously and trying to minimize the harm our actions and consumption take on the planet, we tend to listen to the general statements made about actions we should take. So you might hear that the carbon footprint of meat is astronomical when compared to that of vegetables, or that you should be putting your plastics into recycling to divert it to from the landfills, or that you should take the bus instead of driving. While these are all generally good “tips” they don’t encompass the full picture and often leave people with larger footprints than they intend.

But the issue is when you do start looking more at the different kinds of footprints, aside from the science informing choices, there’s a lot of personal opinions that come into play when making the “more sustainable” option. This is because what is more sustainable and why can be interpretive. Is your water footprint more impactful than your carbon footprint because you value our fresh water more? Well then maybe you only want to purchase hydroponically grown veggies, even if that means they’re trucked in from the states.

So one person may say “in my house I have ceramic dishware because I can wash the plates between each use and there is no waste” but another may say “I use only paper plates in my house as they can be composted and it helps me to keep my water footprint low.” I know at a glance, you may think the second person foolish. Sure, they don’t waste water washing dishes, but what about the water used to make that paper plate? They may argue back “what about the water used to make the ceramic plates?” Different people are going to value different sustainability methods. And hello teeter totter.

Many large boxes, stacked in the back of a car, with the back seats folded down.
This is a whole cow, shoved, somehow, into the back of my little Pontiac Vibe.

Going back to my plate of delicious food. Knowing what you know of the vegetables, you may still say that my burger is still the less sustainable option on my plate. In my personal opinion, it isn’t. The beef in that burger comes from a local farm where I purchased the whole cow. I like to point out that this farm also grows food and uses the composted manure from their cattle to help fertilize their crop, which is so much better for the soil and the plants than synthetic fertilizers. While I may not have gotten the hide, I did get the bones, the various cuts of meat, meat that didn’t make the cut (pun intended) was turned into ground beef. I also skipped out on the organs, but the butcher (who is attached to the farm) did keep them and hopefully was able to sell them in his market. Now, we do not eat enough beef to make a full cow worth it, so I split it among 4 other families. So what you can see here is I did not buy mass produced meat (which is definitely not a sustainable option), little of my cow went to waste, the meat I received came in minimal, paper packaging, and didn’t travel far to get from the farm to the butcher, nor did it travel far to get from the butcher to my home. Additionally because I wanted yummy fresh, local meat but couldn’t take on a whole cow, I was able to have 4 other families make a more sustainable meat option (we all live in the metro area and usually shop at places like Great Canadian Superstore, so this beef option wouldn’t usually be our first go-to). Ultimately, the meat from the burger had far less impact on the environment than if I had gone to, say, a chain restaurant. Another good note here is that that bun was homemade and the pickles were all from cucumbers I grew fresh in my garden. The overall plastic footprint of the burger is minimal, the carbon footprint is below average (as it is still meat from a cow, but the cow was not transported), and the water footprint is also smaller.

Basket with many different sized cucumbers in it
Lookie these homegrown monstrosities!
Clear glass jar filled with cucumbers, dill, garlic, and vinegar.
One of the first jars of homemade pickles I ever made!
6 golden buns sitting on parchment paper
Is there anything better than a home baked bun?

But those veggies? The tomatoes were grown locally, but likely in a greenhouse; how much power was required to keep that greenhouse running; how many contaminates are added to the soil? How much water is used? And the international veggies all took a very long car ride to get to my house. Without doing proper calculations (because I’m not a scientist, I am you regular Joe-shmo consumer who is basing my judgement on the parts of this equation that I understand) I am going to make the calculated guess that my veggies have an equal-to or higher carbon footprint to that of the burger on my plate.

So that makes another valuable point to the teeter totter here. How much information do I know about the choices I am making? If my information is limited, all I know is I have a cheese burger and roasted veggies on my plate, I am going to agree that yes, the vegetables are the more sustainable part of my meal. But the more information I’m given, the clearer the image becomes of the sustainability in each option.

Two vacuum sealed bags containing palak paneer.
I recently made up a bunch of Palak paneer and it was SOOOO yummy, I had to make sure I had more for the freezer. I pack them in these bags so I don’t need to worry about freezer burn.

So when you’re trying to live in a more sustainable fashion and trying to make changes to everyday actions, try to look into what the impact of each action is before coming to the conclusion of which is more sustainable. And try to remember that sustainability can also be a point of view. Is vacuum sealing my freezer food in bags better for the environment, or should I be storing all my food in reusable plastic containers? It doesn’t matter which you view to be more sustainable, and you shouldn’t pass judgement on others for what they’ve deemed to be more important. Personally, I vacuum seal because it means that my food is less likely to get freezer burnt and is therefore less likely to go to waste.

The (not at all elusive) Himalayan Blackberry

When we were assigned to write about a plant in botany, one which was resilient in some way, it was recommended we write about a plant we like. So with little hesitation I chose my favorite plant, the blackberry. The fruit I remembered picking off the side of the road in my childhood. The delicious yum that lead me to create a “picking belt” for so I would have all my picking tools in one, easily accessible place. (side note, this belt is fabulous, I will give more details in a later article). I have so much knowledge about this plant, weird facts, yummy memories, and it was an alluring factor when we bought our home. “You mean I can walk 20′ from my back door in my pjs and pick berries for breakfast?” Yeah, blackberries are the shit.

Close in on blackberries growing in among brambles. you can see green, red, and then the ripe black fruit
The many colours of the “black” “berry” (fun fact, while blackberries aren’t actually berries, bananas are!)

Anyway, in choosing the blackberry for this assignment I got so much knowledge out of it, I figured I could share it with you. I’ve added notes here and there so that it is more easily understood, but the general tone remains academic.

5 petal white/pink flowers growing in blackberry thicket, with some morning glory evident.
Here you can see the key ID to determine that this plant belongs in the rose family with the apple and the almond (Yup, those are related to roses too!). The petals (or the corolla, which is the name for the petals as a whole) are in multiples of 5, they are radially symmetrical, and contain many many stamen (the pollen producing part of the flower).

Belonging to the Rosaceae family, the Rubus armeniacus, commonly known as the Himalayan blackberry, is a perennial, often invasive, woody shrub with biennial brambles covered in prickles and alternately arranged compound, oftentimes evergreen, leaves. (CABI, 20201) R. armenicaus produces flowers in the spring which aid in the identification of its family, as the pink-white corollas consist of five petals, a superior ovary, and hundreds of stamen. The flowers are arranged in clusters of five to twenty at the end of terminal panicles. (B. Klinkenberg (editor) 20202). When the fruit appears in midsummer, they are mis-named as berries, as the fruit are truly aggregate drupelets and are red to black in colour. (M. Hoshovsky, 20173)

the Himalayan blackberry, is a perennial, often invasive, woody shrub with biennial brambles

In layman’s terms this means that while the blackberry is a persistant plant (like a tree or a shrub), the brambles the crown grows only live for to years. There’s more on that below

While the common name is a misnomer, with both “Himalayan” and “berry” being false (having not originated in the Himalayas), the scientific name, Rubus armeniacus is aptly applied, as the plant is thought to have originated from Eurasia. This being said, the plant can now be found all over the world in temperate regions with mild winters.

view across the midsection of a blackberry thicket, displaying leaves and thorns and the odd fruit
Here you can see some arching brambles. These have been growing for who knows how many years so this thicket sits around 5′ high in the dead of winter when not actively growing

This being said, the plant can now be found all over the world in temperate regions with mild winters.

so basically, vancouver coastal region is the perfect setting for the black berry, if you hadn’t figured that out yet.

R. armeniacus have a fair number of elements that work together to create a resilient plant, most notably of all, its ability to spread. The aggregate fruit of the blackberry heavily lends to its reproduction, as the sweet fruit filled with many seeds are a favourite to birds and other wildlife, which is evident when the masses of blackberry thickets can be commonly found beneath birds’ perches. The seeds also carry well in water and have generally a high germination rate1. Another way for the thicket to spread is through it’s brambles, which bend after reaching a height of approximately 40cms, and once a node reaches the ground, it will easily root and create new crowns for the shrub3. There has been reporting of a single propagated cane forming a five metre in diameter thicket within a two year growing period1.

There has been reporting of a single propagated cane forming a five metre in diameter thicket within a two year growing period1.

So what this means is unless you’re ready to be on top of controling this type of blackberry, do not think about planting it!

Another notable characteristic which lends to the R. armeniacus’ resiliency are the arching biennial brambles themselves. The cane, covered in thorn-like prickles which persist through its death, makes the quick spreading plant more troublesome to remove, oftentimes, mechanical devices need to be brought in to do much damage to the surface plant. The fact that the brambles are biennial are an important factor to the plant’s growth, as dead brambles lend to adequate structure for the new brambles to clamber over; without them, the shrub wouldn’t be able to exceed half a metre in height without support from other plant life. 

The plant’s ability to reproduce and spread would be nothing without its unspecific needs. The roots of the R. armeniacus are known to prefer no specific soil structure and will thrive in acidic or basic soils, happily. They have also shown resiliency for temperature, as they survive in climates as cold as -17*C and as warm as 37*C1. While it may prefer wetter climates, in climates with less than 760mm of rainfall, you can find the brambles of this blackberry along waterways, and it has demonstrated that it is also comfortable with seasons of drought, using water rapidly when it’s available and using it sparingly and effectively acquiring it when there is little water available. Ultimately, ensuring the R. armeniacus is provided with full to low sunlight, it will easily thrive. It will not, however, survive under dense canopies1.

Photo showing the different stages of flowing and fruit growth of the Blackberry plant
I love this photo because it shows you many stages of the growing fruit; buds of new flowers, fully opened flowers, green berries emerging from a swaddle of stamen, and larger green berries taking on their shape

Ultimately, ensuring the R. armeniacus is provided with full to low sunlight, it will easily thrive.

This tells you that even if you’re a serial plant killer, you can sucessfully grow an invasive blackberry!

The Himalayan blackberry is a highly resilient plant which will kill other plants by either crowding their roots or by robbing them of adequate light, it uses its own death to help it climb and spread to new heights, and it will grow nearly anywhere in temperate regions. While the Rubus armeniacus may be classified as invasive, it’s difficult to not admire its ability to survive and thrive.

References

1 CABI Invasive Species Compendium (2020) “Rubus armeniacus (Himalayan blackberry)”
https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/116780
2 Klinkenberg, Brian (editor) (2020) “E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia” [eflora.bc.ca] Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
3 Marc Hoshovsky, “Rubus armeniacus” Global Invasive Species Team, The Nature Conservancy, Bugwood Wiki
https://wiki.bugwood.org/Rubus_armeniacus

Taking Emotional Labour Into My Own Hands

Once I started school again in the fall I broke down a few times in tears because I was utterly overwhelmed. I debated dropping classes, paying even more for child care, or maybe going on strike from housework and child care, just so my husband could understand what I deal with regularly. I was tackling all the emotional labour that gets put onto one partner or another, and let’s face it, that partner is usually the female one (in a male/female relationship anyhow; and also likely in a female/female relationship).

Toddler, clad only in her diaper, with a pencil and notebook in hand, looking to be erasing notes on the page.
Did you know that it’s still considered plagiarism when it’s your own kid writing your papers for you? Lesson learned. Maybe not the way to lighten my workload. Let’s try something else.

Emotional labour was not a new concept in our house. Years ago, when Jim (husband man) and I first got together, I shared with him my struggles and I gradually learned that it was called emotional labour. I stumbled upon a comic strip or something and it allowed me to give a name to what I was facing.

Emotional Labour

Noun. The unseen work that goes on to keep others content and happy
Mom and daughter sitting on a couch together, taken as a selfie
Like I love being a mom, but I wish the job description would have been a little more robust

The most popular people to be exploited by emotional labour? Moms. There are seemingly endless tasks to complete to make a household function and usually, it’s that mom figure who does it all. It’s important for me to note here that I say mom figure intentionally. I know it’s not always women and it’s not always a mother who are greasing the household cogs, but the person in charge of this usually is a mom figure. It’s also important to note that emotional labour doesn’t include things like managing house work, but in the way I’m going to talk about it here, it will for simplicity’s sake.

To give you an idea of what emotional labour might look like: it might be me reminding my husband that tomorrow is garbage day so remember to set an alarm. He’s a grown ass man, he can remember that on his own. It might be turning off the oven that was left on for god-knows how long. It might look like a lot of things, but let’s refer to it as the mental workload.

When I broke down crying the first time this past September it was because I was in class (online learning in the COVID era… yay.) and Jim knew that because I was actively listening to a lecture, I couldn’t go upstairs to fetch Cecilia from her crib when she woke up so he’d have to. No big deal, he had the baby monitor and I had reminded him before I went into my lecture. When she woke up, I listened to her scream for 30 minutes, I sent Jim texts to ask him to get her (his office is next door to her bedroom, it’s not like he was down the street or anything). Eventually, I unpluged my laptop, abandoned my notes, and carried the computer with me up from the bottom level to the top of our split level home to get Cecilia from the crib and bring her downstairs with me.

I knew that part of going back to school now was that I was going to have to do a little juggling, manage some multitasking, and I was ready, but I was ready with the understanding that I had support (and I do, just to be clear, it just didn’t feel like I did). My lecture ended and I cried. I cried as I carried our daughter up the stairs, opened the door to Jim’s office and asked what the hell happened.

He had forgotten. He put on his noise cancelling headphones and didn’t hear her cries, or see my messages.

The second time I cried was after a 10am-5:30pm school day where I ate some Doritos and tea for lunch, while I cared for and entertained an energetic 16 month old, then was expected to make dinner, but the kitchen was a disaster so I couldn’t really cook. I think I ended up ordering pizza because I was so overwhelmed.

Education while you have kids is not for the faint of heart.

Image of the book "fair play" by eve rodsky
Look for this book! It might offer some help!

This is when I went to my local Facebook mom’s group and pleaded for help. I knew I wasn’t the only one facing the emotional labour that seems so much more cumbersome during a pandemic. I wasn’t. Among the many suggestions, most of which were already tried, someone pointed me in the direction of the Fair Play book and cards from Eve Lodsky. Looking through the cards I realized what a helpful idea it was but these particular cards didn’t quite work with my family, our schedules, etc. Which is why I came up with my own.

The basic concept of Fair Play is a system to divvy up the work it takes to run and manage a household and remove some of that anxiety around who’s doing what. I find my interpretation of the deck also allows for tasks we do regularly but that are unseen to be seen and acknowledged by our partner.

Partner. Important word, folks. My husband and I are partners. We are equals. There is no hierarchy, no one person who is in charge, we are a team and in order for our lives to function, we need to work on that team. Jokes are made about “happy wife, happy life” and “who wears the pants in your marriage?” but this is all utter bullshit and I invite you not to but into it.

Partner

noun. A person with which you share your life equally

I went into my craft supply-filled office and pulled out a bunch of que cards, you know those little guys you make flash cards with? Yeah, those. I had a pack with 4 colours in it, and I started making our deck. I assigned a colour for foods, one for cleaning, one for baby related things, and the last “suit” was for odd items that didn’t fit into any particular category.

On each card I wrote out the job at hand, usually the days of the week they apply to, and specifics of that job.

Foods and Yums

  • Lunch, 1 card for each day of the week
  • Dinner, 1 card for each day of the week
  • Hosting meals and snacks, when we actually get to host. The card holder keeps this card until they do the task, then they pass it onto the other person
  • Meal planning and grocery shopping, one card

Cleaning up

  • Dishes/kitchen tidy, one card each for M-F, one card for Saturday and Sunday combined
  • Sweeping, one card for Mon/Tues, one card for Wed/Thurs (implying we’re both responsible each other day of the week if it needs to be done)
  • Hosting clean up, when we actually get to host.
  • Recycling (monitoring the indoor and sorting it to the outdoor bins)
  • Garbage (has to put out the garbage, green, and recycling bins on allotted day)
  • Laundry (and you have to do a minimum of one full load, folding the household laundry and baby laundry)
  • Diaper pail – the person who empties the diaper pail for the week
  • Living room/den clean-up for the week
  • Reading nook clean-up for the week

Baby stuff

  • Organizing childcare for the upcoming week
  • Keeping the diaper bag stocked for the week
  • Child minder, one card each M-F, responsible for the kid(s) after 5pm. They can ask for help or support, of course, but they’re the ones who have to put energy into it

Others

  • Packing – excursion; if we go out for a day trip, this person is responsible for packing all the things needed by the group as a whole, themselves, and the kid(s). They also are responsible for getting everyone out of the house on time
  • Packing – overnight; same as day trip, but for overnight.
  • Fridge clean out, once a month
  • Estate and will planning – basically supposed to look at our end of life document for our trustees. It a long work in process, but this way we chip off at it a little every week.

I also wrote out some rule cards, and really, the rules are simple:

  • Cardholder is responsible for getting their card complete, however, if they need help, they can ask for it (and if the other person cannot help, that’s okay too)
  • Person not holding the card should not make the job harder. Call them out if they are
  • If cardholder does not complete their duty, their punishment is knowing they let down their partner/family
  • Card holder had complete autonomy over their jobs. It is their responsibility and theirs alone. They will not be reminded or prompted to do their job. They will do it to their own level of perfection. If their work does not live up to the others’ expectations, a conversation should be had and an agreement of completion should be stated in writing on the card

When I brought these to my husband, he didn’t question it. I told him if we want to be able to thrive, not just survive, as a couple, I needed this. I needed him to see the work I did and take on some of his own without me having to ask to fill the damn dishwasher. We implemented it immediately.

There was a little bit of a learning curve. We had to remember which cards we had every day, and remember to re-deal the deck every Sunday for the next week. We have to let things slide if someone doesn’t or isn’t able to complete their work, and learn to feel accountable to the other for getting our tasks done.

One year old in yellow top and tulle skirt, with cake on and in her hands and on her face, and a large sheet cake is in front of her. Child has an expression of "wow" on her face.
Shit, who was supposed to be watching Cecilia?
photo cred to the wonderful Mariel Nelms

We also discovered a lot of holes in the system. It’s by no means perfect. We just added 4 new cards with the new year, and we’ll probably add more as time goes on. But since we started using these homemade DIY cards, my mental health has increased significantly. I am able to sit down and focus without feeling like I have to go running anytime Cecilia screams because it’s not my night to worry. It also serves as an important reminder of the work the other person does. My husband gets the garbage card every single week, because he’s usually up that early, but it serves as a reminder that he has a job and does it. Every time, without fail, I have the meal planning and grocery shopping card, mostly because it’s work I enjoy, but Jim remembers that “hey, Breanne’s got this task to take care of that’s essential to our household’s function, I will not take that for granted.”

Family of three sitting in couch/chair in front of a decorated christmas tree. The parents are wearing matching blue pjs with llamas on them and the toddler in their laps is wearing a dark holiday dino onsie.
I loved taking a matching jammy photo on Christmas, but the no-man’s land in chores that surrounded it had to go.

We missed it sorely on the weeks where we didn’t divvy up the cards, and over the Christmas break where I was recovering from surgery, then a surgery complication, then spending days at the in-laws, we didn’t use them and it was a weird, lawless time where I’m not sure anything actually happened. I don’t recall eating. Anyway, the point here is when we aren’t using them, we aren’t functioning as a household, at least not in a sustainable way.

The most important lesson I can deliver from my journey with learning about, acknowledging, understanding, and tackling emotional labour is you HAVE to talk about it. You’re not discussing it to make anyone feel guilty, it’s a term you need to use to communicate what your needs are. It’s a normal experience for at least 50% of the population and if we don’t talk about it, we can’t make changes to make it better. Emotional labour is like mental health; it’s not just going to go away and get better if you don’t talk about it; it’s going to fester and attack you when you’re in a weak spot. If you’re not sure if you’re experiencing emotional labour, you may not be, but your partner might be dealing with it. Regardless of if you feel it or not, talk about this mental load with your partner, ask them if there’s anything you can do better, or ask them for help. If you don’t ask for help, you probably won’t get help. Maybe purchase the deck yourself, or if the cards don’t quite fit with your lifestyle, make your own.

Meme of Michael Scott of NBC's The Office sitting in front of a white board that says: 
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. - Wayne Gretzky" -Michael Scott
I leave you with this very important quote that lives on with the Michael Scott Paper Company
(Credit to NBC, I believe! Though it is a popular meme these days)

Breaking my heart, shaking my confidence daily

When we choose our daughter’s name, eons before even discussing the idea of getting pregnant, my husband, Jim, and I did not take into consideration that Simon and Garfunkel may have been speaking from first-hand experience when they harmonized about their troubles with Cecilia. Is it really just all in the name; if I changed my daughter’s name next week, would she stop shaking my confidence? Could we change her entire personality? Probably not; probably wouldn’t want to.

Cecilia was given her name because of that beautiful song; I love being correlating music to people. And while the message delivered by S&G isn’t quite… wholesome, it is beautiful none-the-less. (side note: I had a doctor in a hospital ask me if I knew what that song was about when we named her; I said yes, we named our daughter after a “hussy”, otherwise known as a woman who wasn’t afraid to explore her options; he may have been a little disgusted by us) We knew her name before she came, we knew her name before we knew that we would be applying female pro-nouns to our parasite (aka fetus). Very little could have changed our minds about what we would call our daughter.

Mother (me) holding a newly delivered baby to chest, father's hand on the head of baby. Baby's hand on mother's lips. Blue curtain over mother's torso.

Before we knew we were calling our fetus our daughter, we were keeping the sex a secret until we all found out together. So I was off to our midwife to pick up the envelope with either male or female genitalia written on a little note, and while I still had weeks to find out, I was listening to the radio, and right before I went inside to get that envelope, the song “Cecilia” by Brett Kissel came on, and that’s how I knew my parasite was Cecilia. She, from the very beginning, like from the moment I could feel her little flutter inside of me, she has not stopped moving. We didn’t get to actually hear her heartbeat until after the 6 month point because she wouldn’t sit still. She always has had something to do or somewhere to go. We got to see her heartbeat on ultrasounds, but the doppler could not pick up more than Cecilia splashing around in the amniotic fluid. When we were induced (I have one hell of a birth story, maybe I’ll tell you about it later, but it will definitely include a content warning) Cecilia got so excited she did a flip without any of us knowing, and tried to come out breech, and when she was finally pulled from my body, there was no cry, just the doctor struggling to hold onto her wriggling body. The first time, probably, that she was still was when she was laid on my chest, looked at me, and put her hand to my mouth. Then she started wiggling again, and hasn’t stopped.

Baby, about 7 months old, kneeling on top of an empty huggies diaper box, arms supporting her against a wall.
Kid couldn’t even walk, but damn she could climb

My daughter is a ball of energy and chaos, and if I’m referring to an unnamed force of nature, it’s usually her. Cecilia, while being full of energy, is starting to develop into a proper little human now that she’s a year and a half, and it’s so interesting to see her personality peeking out. When she first met a dog (her first animal really because cats have no interest in being around) she was 7 months old, nearly walking, and infatuated. This dog belonged to her aunt and uncle and immediately we started trying to devise safe ways for her to interact with more dogs. She has since shown a love and interest in all animals, being careful to be gentle with them and observe them more so then touch them. She now makes all sorts of animal sounds and is thrilled when she sees a dog walking by; I’ve been trying to convince Jim that Cecilia needs an animal friend, but he’s firmly on the “you get a cat or you get another kid, you can’t have both” train. We’ll get there.

Cecilia, about 15 months old, standing/crouching inside a giant silver spaghetti sauce pot

Along with her admiration of animals, Cecilia is proving to be a helpful soul; she loves to participate in cleaning, stealing my broom when she can and always trying to empty the dishwasher. Unless we’re unloading (with her help, of course) the dishwasher cannot be open, unless we want the dirty dishes delivered to us. She also helps with unpacking groceries and bags, pushing around wheelbarrows, picking fresh fruits (and even delivering them to the basket) and helping when she can with kitchen duties (she is excellent at working the motar and pestle). She is also extremely thoughtful and kind. She likes to share her yummiest snacks and drinks with us and her stuffed animals, and carries her favourite animal of the day around with her, making sure they get all the attention that she does. In the time when we can interact with friends, she treats her younger best friend (aka my best friend’s kid) as a curiosity who’s feet she can tickle. She’s developing into exactly the kind of human I know I can be proud of.

17 month old, dressed in a colourful pink and purple poncho, "cowboy" boots, and her father's oversized brimmed hat attempting to move a regular sized black wheelbarrow full of leaves

And as for her energy, well, I guess I have no one to blame but myself for that. I have mentioned that I can’t sit still; yes? She keeps me on my toes and there’s no question that daily I’m asking if I’m doing right by her and am I providing what I can to keep her happy and content; it’s hard to be confident when you have to worry about raising such a lively and thoughtful little one.

Reflection: Planning my 2020 garden

I got started on my 2020 garden plans a bit before the pandemic hit; I had no idea that it would be the thing that would help me cope with, well, a frickin pandemic. When we purchased our house in September 2018, we got pregnant right away and while I wanted to grow a few small things like rhubarb and maybe strawberries, I didn’t have a lot of energy available to put into a 2019 garden. I bought some strawberry roots, a rhubarb crown, then some romaine and why not buy that jalapeno plant too? 2019, the year where I was emotionally and physically unable to do so much, was the year I decided I needed to grow more.

If you can ignore the construction mess, you can get a good idea of how full my garden was in only June of 2020.

My husband’s parents had a few raised beds at this point and I thought that maybe putting a raised bed in our yard would be a good idea as I had a corner that was poorly landscaped and I was looking to get rid of it. So we started plans for our 8’x10′ raised bed and I started looking into more gardening techniques, primarily through Facebook groups. We had planned for my in-laws to help us with building this raised plot over a weekend as we had to put a bit of structure to it and there was no way that we could get everything built over 2 days that Jim (husband man) had off AND ensure Cecilia (daughter person) was well cared for. This happened 1 week before our province went into lock-down.

A colour coded map of a square foot garden. Photo taken of a notebook. My first iteration of my 2020 garden
My 2019 garden plan. You can see here that the pathway is clear, the plants are in colour coded squares, and they are spaced out by the black dots.

If you know me already you know that I’m a planner. It’s not just my job, it’s my life. I plan out most things I will be doing, and I plan it meticulously. In part that’s why I started Basil Bee, to share this with people, my techniques, my process, my craziness.

Anyway, I’m not going to delve too much into the building of the plot, mostly because it was nearly a year ago but also it’s a bit dry to reflect on. What I will dive into is my plans for the completed plot and how they evolved and why. My plan started off as this drawing.

Well, mostly. First I made a list of what I might want to grow (the things to make my famous salsa mostly) and looked into different kinds of gardens and settled on a square foot garden, as that’s what made the most sense to me. The biggest mistake I made in my first year of actual gardening is not considering what I wanted to grow in the future. I’ll dive into crop rotation in a future post, but my garden didn’t allow for much flexibility if I wanted to ensure I kept a healthy crop rotation, which I now realize is pretty important.

“and most importantly, I realized no matter how much space I have set aside for my new-found green thumb, I will never have enough space.”

A screen shot of an excel sheet which displays the final layout of the 2020 garden plot in colours.
The clear bits and the yellow are the pathways I ended up with

When I sketched up my 8×10 plot, carefully outlining every square foot, I added in only two paths which I now know wasn’t wise. The layout I ended up with was so far different than this, I’ve sketched it up in excel for your enjoyment. Because this was my first real year gardening I learned so much about what I can and shouldn’t do in my garden, figured out what works well and what doesn’t, and most importantly, I realized no matter how much space I have set aside for my new-found green thumb, I will never have enough space.

Lessons learned

So just by looking at the two layouts, it’s pretty obvious what my first mistake was; the paths. When you’re installing a new garden or even just planning out a garden bed, it’s important to know that if you need to get in there with the goods, you must be able to get in there without trampling over your other goods. For 2021, my garden plan is evolving significantly and in part that’s due to the paths. I want to be able to reach all my yums simply.

Top view of the newly built and filled raised garden bed. Dark soil with a little bit of green life growing.
This is what it looked like before I really got started. You can see a pepper plant or two and my crazy chives in the far back corner

Another mistake I made was my intended use for the “trellis” backing I had against the 10′ side (to the left, which is also north on these drawings). My thought process for it originally was to train the blackberries I have growing wildly behind the plot in and among the trellis so that I can harvest the blackberries as I harvest my other goodies. Nope, does not work well, do not try it. I ended up with black berries trying to creep up into my garden. It was probably early June when I went out behind my garden and pulled up and cut and dug up all the blackberries I could muster.

Peas climbing a post and net (unseen) next to planted cilantro in garden bed
Peas and cilantro, this is probably taken near the end of April. I ended up harvesting well over 12 lbs of peas, not including the seeds I saved.

My pea placement was also problematic. See, along the east side (or top) of the garden I have two 8′ uprights with a beam across them, which I strung a net I made for my peas to climb up. This itself was a great idea, but the fact that I placed the peas, a climbing, tall plant on the south side of my plot affected how much sun some of the adjacent squares got, and ultimately made it so my dill and sweet pepper crops weren’t anything, like at all. So this next year, the peas will grow on the north side of the plot

Finally, my worst failure of all was timing. I should have started a lot of my seeds earlier. While my Habaneros look like they were doing great, the first flowers only bloomed just a few weeks before the first frost. I got nothing from those like 8 habaneros I had planted. My tomatoes I had a similar problem. But lesson learned, for sure.

Things done well!

2x2 trellis built 1' off the ground, parallels with the dirt, new cucumber leaves poking through.
The 2×2 cucumber support I built. I will be using it again this coming season!

Cucumber support! From scraps of wood I had laying around, I made a little “support” for my cucumbers to grow up through so that they could be lifted off the ground. It was about a foot high, and man, was it useful. When harvesting my cukes (which admittedly, I planted far too many of!) I was able to get in under the foliage and pick off the dangling babies. Next year I will be using this again, in conjunction with some sort of tall climbing apparatus. A happy accident was I placed my cukes adjacent to my trellis, originally intended for those blackberries, so they had something else to climb, and because I cleared out so many brambles I managed to get in behind the plot and harvest on either side.

I also was a rock star with pruning my jalapenos (which helped me get significantly bushier plants!) and propagating my cuttings. So I used the jalapeno cuttings, some basil cuttings (oh man, did I over-do the basil!), and tomato cuttings. I did not have enough containers or space to properly contain all my propagations!

While there is so much more I learned from my 2020 garden, I think a reflection may not be the right place to share everything, so look out for “lessons learned” in future posts about my 2021 garden!

Reflection: 2020 Garden Harvest

banner - 2020 harvest report

2020 was my first real year of garden production aside from the few strawberries and heads of romaine I grew in 2019. When I started out in 2020, my goal was to record and track my garden imputes and outputs to use for a possible portfolio project to get into a bachelor’s program. That was a joke. Me doing 4 additional years of school, not the garden tracker. As the year developed, my attitude toward the project evolved from a professional standing to a general garden journal to keep track of what I planted, where I planted, how much I planted, what I harvested, and what did and didn’t work for me. It definitely falls into one of my more prized possessions at this point.

A shot of the first page of my harvest data in my garden journal

The harvest data that I collected in this format was all transcribed into a Google sheets document with formulas and all sorts of important information so that I could take all the items harvested, apply a dollar amount to it, and using that data to determine the success or failure of my year. I will get more into my record keeping and how I do it in another post.

10 dirty, just pulled radishes sitting in a sink
My first radish harvest!!

The first thing I planted in my brand new garden plot in 2020 was radishes and I transplanted my chives into the bed. One of the first things I learned when planting was that I did not need to plant 2+ seeds per hole for my radishes as my germination rate was excellent. I also learned that the spacing I had understood (which was each square foot could take 2 rows of 6) was something I didn’t really have to care for. I now plant my radishes in 3 rows of 5 in 1 square foot. Anyway, when looking at my harvest records, radishes were my first 2021 harvest, pulling 10 out of the ground on April 23rd (to note here, I planted 29 seeds and only got 10 radishes out. That means I had to kill 2/3 of my seedlings because every. one. of. my. seeds. took. Looking back, this makes me pretty irate.

Germination Rate

The percentage of planted seeds that develop into seedlings
A radish which has gone to seed, pulled from the ground and cut open to reveal that it is hollow with what appear to be roots inside of the cavity
Did you know if you let a radish go to seed, this is what the inside of it ends up looking like? I had no idea, I still don’t know why, and I am still weirded out by it.

So the radishes were planted for Jim (husband man) as he likes them to snack. This season they will also be planted for Cecilia (daughter person) as she’s just as weird as Jim and loved snacking on them this past year. I did a number of radish planting throughout the 2020 season, and ultimately I ended up harvesting 64 radishes in total; not bad for a $2.30 pack of seeds. Also not bad? I let three radishes go to seed and I ended up with more radish seeds for this year than I can count. I will be planting more in 2021 as Jim and Cecilia can go through 20/week if I let them. My goal is 1 square foot a week.

I want to point out here that when purchasing radishes from the store, they sell them in bunches of around 10 roots, for a cost of around $1.48/bunch (in season). With this in mind, I grew almost $`10 worth of radishes in 2020, which means after 25% of my crop was harvested (or approximately 16 radishes) the rest were all profit! Putting my harvest into numbers like these really helped me to feel accomplished and satisfied with my growing.

A number of emerged basil cotyledons before their first true leaves emerge, in a pot
My little basil seedlings that I ended up killing

Looking at all the produced harvested from my garden in 2020 and my hand dandy spreadsheets, my most successful crop of all was basil, grossing approximately $140 worth of produce in the one year, which is nuts. I bought a total of three basil plants (I can’t seem to get a good start going from seed) and ended the year with more than 12 basil plants. The plants cost me around $3.60 for all three, which means I “made a profit” of $136.40 on my frickin’ basil. THAT IS NUTSO BANANAS! Like I can’t comprehend nuts. You’ll note in the image below that I count basil per pack; this is the amount in one small package that I would normally purchase at Superstore, and I did this measurement by using a pack I had from the last time I had purchased a herb there, and putting as much basil in there as they do. I probably put more in, because it was easier with the sheer amount I was harvesting, but it worked as a general measurement as weight was not a good indicator for how much basil I was usually harvesting.

Another crop that did particularly well was peas! In 2020 I planted 6 (yes, only 6) pea plants and my yield was about 12lbs of peas. And this didn’t include the peas I sent to seed or the ones my loving husband and daughter stole off of my plant when I wasn’t looking or measuring. So from each plant I got a full two pounds of produce. Nuts.

one year old picking cherry tomatoes off a plant in a pot
The offending tomato theif in action.

My plants that didn’t do very well were my tomatoes (I planted too late, I didn’t give them proper care, and so many other things went wrong here, including a short and cute tomato thief) and I only ended up yielding cherry tomatoes, and only like 4 lbs. from the 6 plans I had. I can do better.

Looking at squashes, I yielded 37 lbs. from my cucumbers and 56 lbs. from my pumpkins, though I did only get three pumpkins total.

1.5 year old sitting with a large pumpkin in front of a white door. Child has her hand on the pumpkin stem
Cecilia weighed only 3 lbs more than this big guy.

The last crop that did particularly well was my mints, though I did do a fairly big harvest part way through the year and decimated the plant. This year I will not be doing that and hopefully harvesting far more so that I can dry it out for tea. Jim’s favorite outcome from this year’s garden was probably the tea (thank you, dehydrator)!

What I got out of this year (aside from my excellent yield which totaled $642.11 when converted into grocery store prices) was reassurance that I can grow things, I do not have killing hands, and with a little bit of patience, anyone can grow. I will be applying everything that I learned and retained to my garden this year, and I am low-key hoping that my bountiful garden full of edible annuals, beautifully arranged as landscaping, will piss off the nosey neighbor that neigh-sayed my weird front yard pumpkin patch this past year. Because I’m just that kind of person, I guess.

Necessity

A photo of a single page of a note book, graphed out in squares with a colour code for planting
This is where my 2020 garden started, but definitely not where it ended up!

I feel like there may be a lot of new blogs that are released in and around this time of year. Somewhere between new years resolutions and the new number on the calendar inciting change. I think I’m closer to the second. Basil Bee is something I’ve been working on for a few months now, but my original intention was no where near a blog. It was an edible landscaping company. While that dream still exists in some format, it lives on as more a consulting gig than a full blown company. Like landscape design. No, not “like” landscape design, as a landscape designer. I’m learning to be more careful with my words.

Let’s hear it for the parasite that has over-hauled my life, Cecilia
This wonderful photo of Cecilia and I was captured my Mariel Nelms Photography. Click on the photo to see more of her phenomenal work!

This blog, while started at an opportune time of year full of new goals and plans for others, is a necessity of mine, or at least it feels that way. I’ve been half-assed blogging for a few years now with my “full time” gig. I say that term in quotes because between having a baby in 2019, having a few emergency surgeries along with her, then the 2020 pandemic overhauling my industry (did I mention that I’m a wedding coordinator by day?) I’ve lost a lot of what previously existed as a full time job, and honestly, I’ve lost the passion to write about it. While weddings are my thing, it’s where I want to be and what I want to be doing most of the time, it’s not safe right now and safety is numero uno. Anyway, I was half assing the blog because while I enjoy weddings immensely, I have so many more things to write about than just the latest trends and the best ways to save money, and they didn’t all fit into the format and tone I set there. (If you want to learn more about my bee empire, aka my wedding planning business, checkout thistlebea.com)

Basket filled with mostly green yums with some red tomato and purple basil. Included in the basket are cucumbers, basil, sweet peppers, spicy peppers, cilantro, cherry tomatoes
One small harvest from my 2020 garden, just because
you’re seeing “pickling” cukes, basil, more basil, cherry tomatoes, mini what were supposed to be beefsteak tomatoes, and so many yummy spicy peppers.

Enter Basil Bee. This is a lifestyle blog. My lifestyle. I write whatever makes me happy here and some of the content will be valuable to you for more than entertainment, and some will be more valuable for me than for anyone else. And that makes me happy. I can share about the things I make and create, the things I wish I had time for, and the random stuff I’m learning through school and being a mom. This satisfies that necessity I feel to tell a story, to share my thoughts, to maybe try to make a difference. I feel like I have so much to say and while I don’t know who might want to read it, I know at least it’s not stuck inside me any more. Hey, maybe it’s just therapeutic.

So over the next however long I’m here doing this, you will get a good feel for me, for how I do things, and maybe even learn a thing or too.

Welcome to Basil Bee.

intention

noun: to make a plan or do with meaning
watch for this word though the year, it’s a buzz word for me.