Tuesday, April 22, 2014

honey, eggs & earth day

Happy earth day (every day!)

Our daughter told me she felt we spent today in the most earth-loving way possible - spending most of our day with earth-loving friends who inspire us: who also love growing food, caring for animals, keeping bees, getting their hands into the soil, raising their kids to be conscientious and kind, living simply and exemplifying creative, sustainable permaculture principles in so many ways (in approaches to parenting, unschooling, gardening, household routines).

Whenever we are at this friends' house we are served simple nourishing wholesome food that they have grown or wild-harvested, our daughter spends as many hours as she can holding all manner of their birds and animals from bunnies to quail, snuggling with cats and dogs, and we never leave empty handed.  Today we were gifted with a dozen tiny quail eggs wrapped in tissue to keep them safe in our bike trailer; a piece of sweet precious honeycomb from the first honey harvest of their top bar hive; and freshly cut willow for spring decor and to root for ourselves.  An inspiring family that I am so glad to have as members of our community.

For those who want more information on natural beekeeping, check out Gaia Bees site and Gaia Bees videos.  The section on alternative bee nests is quite beautiful (see the straw hive and sun hive).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Seedling Sale May 24 - One Month Away!

Our 12th Annual Seedling Sale is fast approaching - one month away on Saturday May 24!  (please note, it is NOT the Saturday of the long weekend this year).  Even though spring has been very slow in coming this year, it's time to think about gardens.  Our grow racks and green house are filling up with trays and trays of young seedlings, and a daily watering routine is a big part of the morning chores.  Soon comes transplanting! 

Come on our to our Seedling Sale just to experience a fun annual community event for urban gardeners and kick off your garden season - or find heirloom organic varieties of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, kales, broccoli, other vegetables, herbs, flowers and more.  This year there will also be lettuce seedling mixes available, everbearing strawberry plants (yaa!), many varieties of sunflowers ready to plant (consider planting a cut flower section in your garden for making fresh bouquets all summer long - we plan to this year!); and so much more.

With farmer friend Angie from Fertile Ground CSA joining us as she does each year, with her interns and a huge selection of beautiful organic seedlings!  Plus, back by popular demand, music to keep the sale lively from local musicians the Ever Lovin' Jug BandDetails on our website here.

Spring in the garden

There are signs of spring everywhere!  Today: garlic shoots poking up from the soil, kale ready to harvest in the grow tunnel, new seedlings sprouting in the cold frame, bare feet running through the yard, splashing in the back pond, supper on the patio outside, and a night time campfire.  Lovely!

For those who wish to learn more about spring edibles, especially wild spring greens that are going to be ready to harvest shortly - consider taking our Wild Spring Edibles Workshop on Sat, May 10.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sourdough Workshop

We had one of our regular Saturday homesteading workshops here today.  This was the third workshop of a four-part "cultured kitchen" series which included four classes about creating live cultured foods at home - sauerkraut/kimchi, yogurt making, and sourdough bread (and apple cider vinegar is coming in the fall).

During today's workshop we walked through the steps of making and maintaining a sourdough starter, proofing the starter before bread baking (at least 8-12 hours), making the dough, and shaping loaves.  We were working with real sourdough (not preferments or recipes that use commercial yeast) - so ingredients are basic and wholesome - organic hard bread flour, cool filtered water, sea salt, and wild yeast!  The process really is quite simple, it's just a matter of making it part of a regular rhythm of your own weekly kitchen activities. 

Participants made their own sourdough starters to take home (which now need to be fed for the next 10 days, and maintained after).  We also sampled two sourdough breads I had made the night before, so that participants could see the full range of bread making from start (starter) to finish (eating) but still fit this all - a normally 2 day experience - into a 2 hour class.  We tried sesame caraway rye (made with a 100% organic rye starter); and wholegrain country sourdough loaf with millet & sunflower seeds.  Here are photos of the bread baking after today's workshop. 

Green & blue eggs

We absolutely do not need more eggs around here!  But who can resist blue and green eggs?  We traded a friend our handmade soap for a dozen of the lovely eggs that her Araucana hens are laying.  Perfect for Easter weekend coming up...

DIY Beeswax Wraps

We love these beeswax wraps!  They have so many great uses, and can replace any situation where you might have used plastic wrap before.  No more plastic wrap on food, no more plastic wrap to throw away.  For example, we wrap lunch sandwiches, halves of apples, blocks of cheese stored in the fridge, and to cover mixing bowls when proofing bread.  The beeswax wraps are slightly water proof and breathable.

Cleaning: These beeswax wraps can be used almost indefinitely, and if they do need cleaning just rinse gently with cool water and a biodegradable dishsoap or wipe with cool cloth, then let air dry (do not wash with hot water as this may melt the beeswax coating).

Note of caution: Making your own beeswax wraps at home is quite simple.  The key is to keep an eye on your oven temperature and not leave the cloths in the oven too long.  This is important since the hot wax in your oven could become a fire hazard. Work carefully, and in less than half an hour you will have your own set of beeswax wraps!  These beeswax wraps make great gifts as well. 

You will need:
  • A large piece of natural unbleached un-dyed fabric (e.g. cotton, linen, hemp)
  • Pure beeswax
  • Old baking trays
  • Parchment paper
  • Old grater or knife to cut beeswax 
  • Old paintbrush (reserved for beeswax from now on)
a) Cut piece of natural fabric to the size you want - it needs to fit on a baking tray.  Consider sizes that will be small or large enough to wrap the foods you have in mind (e.g. sandwiches, fruit, to cover a mixing bowl, etc)
b) Decide if you want to serge or sew the edges of the fabric to prevent fraying.  The beeswax will also prevent fraying so it just depends on how "finished" you want your wrap to look.
c) Line baking tray with parchment paper and lay cloth flat on this tray.
d) Preheat oven to 170F (NO hotter as this can become dangerous!).
e) Shred or grate beeswax.  You will need to have a thin layer across your entire cloth.  This amounts to several tablespoons of grated was for a medium sized cloth.
f) Sprinkle beeswax across the cloth evenly.  
g) Put baking tray into the oven at 170F for 10 minutes - NO LONGER than that!  Keep an eye on the melting wax.  If the was has melted sooner than 10 minutes remove baking tray earlier.
h) While wax is still hot spread it across the cloth with the old paintbrush.  Try to get a skim coat across the entire cloth.  
i) Let cool.  Beeswax will dry and harden slightly.  Then the beeswax wrap is ready to use!
j) You can add button and string loop closures, or other cloth or string fasteners onto the edges if you want to have a way to secure the cloths.  We just fold them around our food and secure with a rubber band.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Black Walnut Syrup!

On our small urban farm we've been busy collecting black walnut sap.  After about 2 weeks of collecting sap (from 10 spiles), and 20 hours of boiling it down, from a collection of about 120 litres of sap down to 4 litres of delicious, ultra sweet black walnut syrup - and our first pancake breakfast with fresh homemade syrup - we think that's not too bad, and definitely worth the effort! 

When a friend asked how to know when the sap is syrup (so as not to keep boiling too long and get taffy or maple sugar!) we found that it becomes fairly obvious - the bubbles become brown and foaming, and it's important to watch that the pot doesn't boil over.  We tried to capture a photo of this in the 3rd photo down below.  For the first 15-18 hours of boiling there was still a lot of water evaporating so if possible this is a good stage to do outdoors (or with good ventilation or kitchen range hood fan going).  For the last hour or so it goes much more quickly.  With lots of stirring needed at this point so the near-syrup doesn't burn on the bottom of the pot, and a candy thermometre handy to read the temperature, the sap has become syrup when it reaches 219F.  At that point, pour into hot sterilized (clean) mason jars, scrape out the pot and lick the spoons!  Then start a batch of pancakes.  Yumm!  We keep a good stockpile of syrup in our fridge and store the rest for longer storage in mason jars in the freezer.  This keeps well for many months. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Seedlings are starting!

The past weeks we have been working on garden plans, seed orders, cleaning the greenhouse and organizing garden trays and supplies.  Seeds have been planted and it finally feels like spring is underway!   This week we planted some of our favourite herbs & flowers with seeds saved from our own garden last fall - calendula, marigolds, zinnias, snapdragons, bachelor's buttons, lavender, sage, summer savory, malva, tulsi basil...(my helper was so ready to start her sunflowers but it's not quite time yet, but she had lots of opportunity to decorate our seed packages instead).  These seedlings will be available at our May 24 Annual Seedling Sale! 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Practical Herbalist Series * Starts in June!

Cost: $200 ($140/workshops plus $60/materials)  - Pre-registration required

An exciting unique 4-part series, that includes 12 hours of instruction and hands-on learning, plus some "home" assignments between sessions.  Workshops will be held on 4 Saturday mornings, from June to September.  This series is led by Karin Kliewer (Master Herbalist) at Little City Farm in Kitchener.

  • confidence and knowledge of growing and using basic medicinal herbs at home
  • a well-stocked pantry of simple effective herbal home remedies you have made
  • hands-on experience making 10+ herbal products (e.g. oils, salves, poultices, liniments, decoctions, tinctures, cough syrups, etc)
  • familiarity with 20+ medicinal herbs (see list of “focus herbs” for each session below)
  • guidelines for herbal dosages, basic herbal first aid for home use
  • general understanding of plant identification and ethical wild harvesting
  • hands-on experience harvesting, storing, drying and using medicinal herbs including leaves, blossoms, roots, berries, seeds and bark
  • basic understanding of herbal gardening, herbal propagation, planting and seed saving
  • simple outline for starting your own medicinal herb garden at home
  • knowledge of where to source quality herbs and herbal product-making supplies
  • a collection of herbal recipes, hand-outs and other useful resources
  • a network of other community members interested in natural herbal healing
Please see below for more details on topics we will cover in each session

This Practical Herbalist Series is limited to 10 participants.  One goal of this series is to create a continuous small-group shared learning environment, so priority will be given to participants who can commit to taking all 4 sessions. For questions, or registration please contact Karin at: info@littlecityfarm.ca / or 519-575-9174.

Session 1: Spring Leaves - Sat, June 14 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: how to properly identify and harvest herbs; ethical wild harvesting; basic herb gardening (planting and propagating herbs); 10 medicinal herb teas to grow at home; drying & storing herbs; general guidelines for using herbal leaves, flowers, roots, berries, seeds and bark; setting up your herbal home medicinal making space; and making herbal infusions.  Our focus herbs will be red raspberry leaf, lemon balm, peppermint and nettle.

Session 2: Summer Blossoms - Sat, July 12 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: guidelines for using herbal remedies externally; making herbal medicinal oils, salves, poultices and liniments; basic herbal first aid.  Our focus herbs will be calendula, lavender, red clover, marsh mallow, comfrey and plantain.

Session 3: Fall Harvest - Sat, Aug 9 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: herbs for radiant hair and skin care; herbal baths for children; making herbal shampoos, face creams, scrubs, and facial cleansers. Our focus herbs will be rosemary, chamomile, yarrow, witch hazel and rose.
Session 4: Winter Roots - Sat, Sept 13 from 9-12 noon
In this session you will learn: herb seed saving; guidelines for using herbal remedies internally; general herbal dosage information for children and adults; herbal winter remedies for colds and flu; making herbal decoctions, tinctures, cough syrups and lozenges.  Our focus herbs will be sage, elderberry, rosehip, slippery elm, fennel and echinacea.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sauerkraut & Kimchi Workshop

We are back into full swing of our workshop schedule with classes taking place most Saturdays until June.  Today's session was on lactic acid fermentation, specifically making sauerkraut and kimchi.  This workshop would be good to offer in late summer just in time to preserve/ferment all the bounty coming out of backyard gardens, local farms and CSA's.  However, in late winter we are also glad to revive our cabbage and root vegetable flavours by fermenting them, while biding our time for the fresh garden veggies that are still a few months to come.  We used organic local produce, including carrots from our favourite CSA (Fertile Ground) that we have stored since the fall buried in a large container of damp sand.  They are still perfectly crisp and juicy!

What is lactic acid fermentation?  Live cultured, probiotic, unpasteurized vegetable and fruit ferments that are health promoting foods packed with beneficial bacteria and enzymes.  The lactic acid creates the sour flavour and preserves the food, preventing spoilage. 

A few key tips:
~ shred -- salt -- submerge
~ use only good quality sea salt, filtered chlorine-free water, whey (from live cultured yogurt)
~ use top quality organic produce
~ keep fermented veggies submerged under brine 
~ salt water brine is made of 2-4 Tbsp sea salt per 1 litre water
~ season and salt to your taste - add spices, herbs, garlic, ginger, green onion, cayenne, chili, etc
~ keep ferments around 18C (65 F) during fermentation
~ check ferments often to taste for flavour and watch for mold, etc
~ when ferments are ready (at desired flavour) store in cold cellar or refrigerator
~ use ceramic crock or glass mason/gallon jars for fermentation
~ eat and enjoy your ferments often!