Friday, June 28, 2013

Sustainable Bees - Queen of the Sun documentary

Last Friday we had the opportunity to watch Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Telling Us, an amazing documentary that speaks to the importance of bees in our ecosystem and to our food system.  It discusses the devastating effects of industrialized agriculture and large-scale beekeeping (where bees are driven around the country by semi-trailers to pollinate monoculture industrial farms), and interviews many small-scale beekeepers around the world who are using various sustainable approaches to beekeeping - including setting up inspiring examples of bee sanctuaries.  One biodynamic bee sanctuary highlighted is Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary.  We are utterly dependent on healthy bees - do watch this documentary! Watch the trailer here.

This short video is a great overview of how to start a bee sanctuary.  It features a bee sanctuary garden in Davis, California, and shows what a top bar hive looks like.

First CSA pick-up

We had our first CSA food pick-up here on Tuesday!  CSA (community supported agriculture) is a great way to support organic farmers - members buy shares in advance of the season and make a commitment to pick up an allotment of produce each week.  They get to live along with the life of the farm, eating what's fresh, abundant and in season.  Learn more about CSA farms here. We are so pleased to be hosting our friend Angie's city member pick-up.  Her farm Fertile Ground CSA is a popular local organic farm, and her produce is outstanding!  The pick-up day becomes a social gathering for the neighbourhood, and also a chance for us to offer our wholegrain baked goods to members.  Our daughter decided to set up a drink stand too, testing out her customer service skills and sharing icy homemade maple-lemonade on our hot and sweltering first pick-up day.  What fun!

Mulberries and urban fruit foraging

Our mulberry tree is finally producing - we have both a male and female tree in our yard, both planted not by us but by birds dropping seeds.  It's one of the nice surprises we got when we started tending our overgrown part of the yard (former driveway) that was behind our strawbale house addition after the building project was done. The male doesn't produce fruit, but the female tree is loaded with berries this year.  This tree is already high enough that the top branches need to be harvested by ladder, but luckily the low branches droop down and many higher berries fall to the ground when ripe.  There is certainly more than enough for us to gather.

It reminds us of the many forgotten fruit trees, berries and other wild edibles all around our city, left over from old orchards or planted in parks, boulevards or yards.  Just in walking distance right in our own neighbourhood, the service berries lining the boulevard of the next street over are in full swing with delicious berries just low enough to reach when you walk by on the sidewalk; there are several large mulberries in a park nearby; wild grapes and raspberries are growing all along the old railway line; and an old apple orchard with 4 well-producing trees is behind an older factory.  This is not even considering all the fruit trees that may be forgotten in yards where homeowners no longer tend them.  Our cities are full of food, and we could be much more organized in planting, tending and harvesting it.  In many cities there are urban harvesting groups that are banding together to collect these delicious resources - Not Far From the Tree in Toronto is a wonderful example.

This Moment

{This moment} - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy.


What a busy time the end of June is!  Lots of garden projects, endless weeding, first herb harvests, and the start of berry season.  June is strawberry season around here; then come currants, mulberries, cherries, raspberries, blueberries all through the later summer months!  We had the first ripe strawberries from our own garden and then knew it was time for the annual early morning berry picking trip to one of our favourite local organic farms where you can pick your own: Organic Oasis.

Then on Saturday we held a sugar-free jam making (no refined sugar) workshop here at Little City Farm and made up a batch of delicious strawberry-honey jam (made with honey and apple cider as sweetener) that looks and tastes as close to fresh berries as you can get with a jam.  Regular sugar jams contain a ratio of 7 cups sugar to 5 cups fruit, and in the end all you taste is the sugar that has overpowered the true fruit and berry flavours.  You really can make perfect jams without refined sugar, using honey, agave, maple syrup, pure fruit juices, stevia or even xylitol.  The texture and colour is slightly different, but using a low sugar pectin like Pumona's the consistency and flavour is just right.  What a treat for winter that will be.  Now it's time for fresh eating, strawberry smoothies, making berry fruit leather, a strawberry pie or two, and of course putting them up in the freezer for the cold months.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

In our garden right now...

Happy chickens

Happy chickens getting lots of attention around here.  A few simple (and cheap) healthy hen diet additions we've made this year: we've planted a huge comfrey patch around the sides of their coop so they can munch these nutritious greens all day as they like; and we bake our all our used eggshells to dry them out, then crush them and add to the hen feed so they get extra calcium in their diet. 

Cob Oven Workshop

We are back into the swing of workshops now that the garden has been planted.  Little City Farm hosts several workshops each month, Saturday afternoons, on the topics of sustainability, homesteading skills, permaculture, natural building, organic gardening and more...

This weekend's workshop was on the topic of building with cob, and more specifically building a cob oven.  We have a wonderful little cob oven in our backyard that is absolutely delightful for an aspiring or professional baker - especially if you like fires and working outdoors.  We usually bake twice a week here, once to make bread and once for pizzas.  The cob oven can also be used for baking all kinds of other things (cookies, pies, etc), plus roasting vegetables, drying herbs, making yogurt, and so on. 

Cob is a mixture of sand, clay and straw (aprox 9 parts sand : 1 part clay and a little straw chopped into the mix for insulation value on one of the layers of the cob oven).  Cob building is a very intuitive process and has been done in all parts of the world (i.e. earth building) in various forms - adobe, mud huts, cob cottages, and so on.  It's an ancient building technique that anyone can easily learn.  We like to recommend making cob bricks or balls before you start a project, in order to test your cob mix.  There are only a few technical details to consider - the ratio of oven base to oven height; and the ratio of oven door height to height of dome.  There are great books that walk you through the process step-by-step: books like Build your own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer; The Cob Builder's Handbook by Becky Bee (a pdf version is here), The Hand-Sculpted House by Ianto Evans, and The Cobber's Companion by Michael Smith.

And for further inspiration, here's a slideshow we found online of handbuilt cob houses, cottages, garden walls, sheds, sauna, and several bake ovens...

Here are a few pictures from our cob oven workshop (with some participants getting muddier than others!), and baking pita in the oven: