Sunday, September 14, 2014

A little garden math

The joys of homeschooling!  We were spending a day harvesting cayennes and hot peppers in the garden, then relaxing by the pond in the back - when a little spontaneous garden math happened.  I love the possibilities of life learning, seizing the moment to explore deep questions when they arise, to learn by hands-on doing together in the daily activities of life.  For more inspiration about life learning, check out Life Learning magazine a great Canadian-published e-magazine by the same folks who produce Natural Life magazine.

September sorting and saving

Our kitchen seems to be filled with piles of all kinds this month - that need sorting, saving, drying, processing, preserving.  There are seeds from the garden to be packaged, herbs on the racks to be dried and labelled, last tomatoes to be canned, peaches to be preserved, plums to be dehydrated, garlic to be bunched...September is busy, though the weather is starting to wane, and there is definitely a shift in mood, energy, and pace.  We are preparing for the hibernating months ahead, and this feels good.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Garden favourites

I think this year I have enjoyed the garden most of any year I've spent time growing food and tending the soil.  Maybe it's because our daughter is now 6, a little more independent, and also has become a very eager learner with her own little garden plot where she can work alongside (she loves her "Painted Pony" beans, rainbow chard, purple carrots, brightly coloured zinnias, and her calendula and lavender - I am so happy to have a budding herbalist in the family!).  I have just a little bit more time this year to tend to the weeds, keep up with harvesting the beans, chard, tomatoes and zucchin, and even just linger.  This lingering is lovely and new to me.  This year, with time for more garden reflection, we've started a family garden journal with notes on what each of us loved to grow, cook and eat; what we absolutely need to grow again; what we tried and failed (and want to try again).  Here is a list of some of some of our garden favourites that we hope to include in next season's garden - not that this one is over yet.

A few Garden Favourites from 2014
Lemon Cucumbers - sweet, prolific, easy to grow, delicious
English Telegraph Cucumbers - huge, delicious, satisfying
Jaune Flamme Tomatoes - lovely colour, sweet, bountiful yield
Taxi Tomato (one of the new hybrid tomatoes we have this year but well worth it) - delicious, brilliant colour
Black Cherry Tomatoes - my personal favourite
Red Zebra - first time we grew it this year, it's beautiful in salads along with Green Zebra
Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes - tiny and takes effort to pick, but so sweet and bountiful
Blue Podded Peas - gorgeous colour, so unique
Mammoth Melting Sugar Peas - such a huge yield this year!  so sweet, great to eat off the vine
Dino/Lacinato Kale - love it, can't get enough - great for salads, juicing, kale chips, steamed, soups, etc
Rainbow Chard - always a staple here
Lemon Zucchini - yummy small golden zucchini, prolific production, easy to grow
Braising Mustard Greens - we love the mix from High Mowing - delicious spicy flavour
Calendula - high resin variety - we never grow enough!  I love this annual herb/flower
Zinnias - we like the tiny variety and the giants of California blend - brilliant colours, great for cut flowers
Sunflowers - lemon sorbet, or small red varieties for bouquets
Fennel - both bulb variety and the fronds - a new favourite for cooking, and saving seeds for teas/eating
Cilantro - we can always plant more - such a delicious herb
Blue Potatoes & Fingerling Potatoes - great heirloom varieties, beautiful, tender, delicious
Shallots - we had great luck this year, super for roasting
Garlic - more garlic, and try lots of heirloom varieties!  We grew 100 bulbs this year but it won't be nearly enough to get us through the winter
Long Red Cayenne - we have our own saved version adapted to our property by now, a staple every year
Dragon's Tongue Beans - huge yield, huge beans, brightly speckled pattern that's beautiful
Strike Beans - a first for us this year, but had a huge yield and very easy to grow, delicious
French Filet Beans - always a favourite
Nasturtiums, marigolds (tall yellow), more flowers!
Tulsi Basil - sacred basil is a must for every gardener who loves herbs

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Calendula harvest

This seems to be an abundant flower year.  I have never had such a bountiful crop of calendula blossoms, that we keep harvesting over and over, and they just keep on blooming.  And what a good thing to have so much, since I never seem to have enough calendula for all the winter months where we use it in salves, soaps and tea.  If I was to pick a list of top ten valuable medicinal herbs to grow in a home garden, calendula would be at the top of the list (right next to lavender, peppermint, red clover, plantain, comfrey - oh, it's so hard to choose!)  Did I mention, the bees love calendula too? 

To harvest and dry calendula - pick flowers fresh on a sunny day when they are fully opened, after the morning dew has evaporated but before flowers are wilted by the heat of mid-day.  To harvest continuously keep picking fresh flower heads before they start to form seed heads, and your plants will continue to blossom.  I like to let some calendula go to seed early on in the season so that I ensure a good supply of seeds to self-seed in the garden when they fall, and also to harvest and keep for next year's planting.  Dry calendula on open screens or in wicker baskets, with good air circulation but out of direct light.  They should be fully dried before storing, and can be stored in clean dry glass mason jars with tight-fitting lids, kept in a dark dry cupboard. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The amazing bees!

I've been watching bees the past weeks, fascinated, captivated, astounded - by their diligent work, their beauty, their diversity.  My almost-6 year old and I spend hours in the garden honing our patience and observation skills, sitting quietly amongst the oregano patch, or the squash plants, waiting for the bees to come.  Mid day to late afternoon, when the sun is warmest, we find them to be the busiest in our garden.  We've seen squash bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, honeybees, bumble bees, sweat bees, and others I'm still not sure of.  Here are some photos, which are now also turned into photo cards that can be found here!  Remember to allow flowering plants, berries, trees and veggies (and wild plants such as goldenrod) a place in your yard to provide forage for the pollinators!   Then take some time to pause and observe...what is pollinating in your yard?

For my upcoming birthday I've asked my partner for a "date" building a top bar hive together, so we can embark on our own beekeeping/bee sanctuary project here.  Here is another site that has great info on natural beekeeping methods.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Don't miss out on our annual seedling sale!  Coming Saturday May 24, from 9 am -12 noon!
At Little City Farm, 508 Duke St W, Kitchener.  More details here.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

First dandelions

The first dandelion blossom picked and enjoyed on our table.  A true sign that spring is now here!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Felted Soap Workshop

What an action-packed weekend around here!  We hosted two workshops today, one in the morning on Wet Felting with wool, and one in the afternoon on Permaculture Design.

The Wet Felting Workshop was specifically focusing making felted soap - the idea is to have soap and wool "washcloth" all in one, and a bar is easy to felt in about half an hour.  It was nice to include kids in this workshop since working with warm water and wool is just about the most relaxing, kid-friendly activity I can think of!  Our daughter loved helping me lead the workshop by demonstrating her wool carding skills, and showing examples of the felted soap and wool felted acorns we had made beforehand as examples.  Everyone left with at least two bars of lovely felted soap.  Felting can be done with almost any fibre including animal (sheep, goat, rabbit, llama, alpaca), silk, plant fibres (milkweed), although some fibres really work much better for specific projects.  For example, we used merino wool in our wet felting because it was a medium grade of wool that felted fairly quickly. 

Materials needed to make felted soap:
- bars of natural soap
- large bowl of hot water (keep it hot during felting process, continuously dipping wool in)
- bowl of cold water (to shock wool at end of felting process)
- wool roving (enough to cover soap with at least 3 layers)
- something to agitate the wool (sushi mat, bubble wrap)
- cloth and elastic to wrap soap and wool while felting
- old towels to keep work area dry

Permaculture Seed Balls!

This may well be my favourite activity to do with kids in the spring.  We are aching to get our hands into the soil, so playing with clay and compost muck to shape seed balls is the perfect thing.  And this takes lots of hands to get it done, since the "recipe" makes a huge batch!  We made over 140 seed balls.  Our recipe was not exact - approx. equal parts clay and compost, and enough water to make a good sticky mix that holds a ball shape.  The wetter the mix, the longer it will take to firm up and dry fully.  Plus enough seed packages to get a large number of seeds distributed into each ball.  The idea is to fill the mix with seeds that are held in safe keeping until they have the right conditions to germinate - the clay protects the seeds, the compost is there to feed the seeds once the seed balls are tossed onto the ground and rained/watered to break them open.  We seeded our mix with a bird/bee/butterfly pollinator mix of perennial and annual seeds saved from our garden (bee balm/wild bergamot, poppies, new england asters, black eyed susan, purple coneflower, butterfly weed, borage, eastern columbine, forget-me-not, coreopsis, lemon mint, lupines, and more).

First spring greens salad

Even though spring has been so slow in coming it's astounding what is already growing all around us.  This is what our first spring greens salad looked like yesterday - dandelion, spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, tatsoi, endive, mizuna, chives, nodding onion, oregano, thyme, parsley, and some violets added in.  A mix of sweet fresh young leaves from the cold frame, with the deep bitter wild dandelion that our bodies crave after our long cold winter, what a taste of spring!  No salad dressing needed!