Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Urban Fruit Harvest

As urban homesteaders, with limited growing space on our own property, we can also include wildcrafting, and finding other edible resources or growing spaces that are available around the city to produce what we need. For example, we know of urban farmers who "rent" growing space from neighbours and friends, and produce enough food to feed themselves, run a small CSA, plus fill a market stall each week. They exchange fresh produce for the land to grow on. The possibilities of this are endless, as the city has vast amounts of unused growing space in it's rooftops, parks, private properties, residential front & backyards, school yards, vacant lots, church green space, etc.

Over the past few years we have also been sourcing out wild and forgotten fruit trees and berry bushes around the city. We've found treasures of wild raspberries, mulberries, saskatoon berries, grapes, plus endless pear, cherry and apple varieties with ripe fruit falling to the ground. We've been able to harvest only a small fraction at each location, and supply ourselves with jams, sauces, juice, chutney, wine (mmm, sour cherry wine) and fruit for eating.

Upon reading about Portland, Oregon's "Fruit Tree Project", and Victoria, BC's similar venture organized by "Life Cycles" - we decided we needed to do something likewise. The Fruit Tree Project is an amazing concept where local fruit trees (private and public) which are available for picking are registered on a city map. Volunteer harvesters get to collect 1/3 of what they pick; 1/3 is donated to the homeowner, and the remaining 1/3 goes to the local food bank. The group also hosts harvest parties, and canning/preserving workshops. An astounding concept, building community spirit, tapping into surplus underutilized food resources, providing healthy food to those who may not have access to it, and all for free! I would like to see a fruit tree map in every city. Very inspiring to say the least.

As Kitchener-Waterloo does not yet have a fruit tree map, we took it upon ourselves to put the word out another way and organize the first annual fruit tree project locally. We placed an ad in our local newspaper, saying "we'll pick your fruit - 1/3 goes to homeowner, 1/3 donated, and 1/3 to the volunteer harvesters". So far we've had one great response - a household which boasts cherry, apple and pear trees. We'll be heading over this week Thursday with our ladder and picking baskets, and look forward to what we will find.

Anyone local reading this who wants to join in the fruit harvesting, just send us an email!

Here's the link for the Portland "Fruit Tree Project":

Here's the link for the Life Cycles "Fruit Tree Project":

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

First Egg!

Great News! Our largest hen Sadie, laid her first egg on Monday!

We have been waiting and watching the girls, just wondering who is going to be the first to lay. Any information we've read states that the hens are ready for laying when they are between 17-20 weeks old, and when their combs are developed. Our three biggest hens, the Plymouth Barred Rocks, who are named Sadie, Neko and Lucy, were exactly 20 weeks old on Monday. Our three other hens, the Black Sex-Link (which is a cross between Rhode Island Red & Plymouth Barred Rock), named Pickles, Buttons, and Gypsy, are a week younger. It was no surprise to find out that Sadie laid the first egg, as she has been the most dominant of the brood from the start.

The first egg was not a "wind egg" (hollow inside) as we had anticipated, but in fact a solid, small sized brown speckled shell egg. The following day Sadie laid her second egg - however, both times not in the nest box. She actually laid her egg out in the open, near the gate of the chicken pen. This seems surprising as hens are said to like to lay their eggs in private. We've placed a white golf ball into the nest box, as this is meant to encourage egg laying in the nest, but we may have an independent hen on our hands! She was crowing loudly with a new sort of voice, almost like she was making an important announcement to the world, (or out of shock, surprise, or relief!) and there it was! We felt like proud parents :)

Two excellent resources we recommend for new urban/backyard chicken keepers are:

Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Space - by Barbara Kilarski. (this book provides instruction on building a coop, chicken history, and good breeds for backyards including lots of colour photographs!)

Backyard Poultry Naturally: A Complete Guide to Raising Chickens & Ducks Naturally - by Alanna Moore. (this book has an excellent section chicken behaviour, nutritional requirements, herbal remedies including homeopathics, and poultry & permaculture)

Tomato Harvest

It's been almost a month since I last wrote! We've been so busy with harvest that there has been little time for the computer.

Tomato harvest is on! We've been collecting tomatoes by the 11 quart basket since early August, for making salsa, sauce, preserved whole tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, slow-roasted tomatoes, tomato chutney, and of course just eating lots of toasted tomato sandwiches!

Each year when we attend the annual Canadian Organic Growers conference, held at the University of Guelph in January, we find it difficult to select only a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes. The vendors have an astounding array of unusual and familiar types, boasting great flavour, intense colour, early season ripening, late season ripening, champion size, and so on. Each tomato comes with it's own unique story of how the seeds were saved and preserved for generations, so that we have access to these varieties that are unavailable in the grocery store. For example, the "Mortgage Lifter" tomato was said to have helped an ailing farm bail out from under it's debt, the "Polish Pink" was smuggled overseas on the back of a postage stamp, and the "Cherokee Purple" was first grown by the first nations Cherokee people.

In any case, we finally decided on 16 varieties this year - including several we saved from our own garden seed of the previous year's harvest. We have some standard favourites that we grow each year - Yukon Red (early ripening and cold hardy); Mennonite Orange (low acid, beautiful brilliant orange); Yellow Pear (small sweet yellow tomato that is pear shaped); Sweet Baby Girl (tiny red early cherry); and Orange Cherry (which we call the Plan B Orange Cherry, as we first saved seeds from cherry tomatoes picked at this organic farm near Hamilton). This year we also grew Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Early Girl, Stupice, Patio (hybrid variety, which grows well in a pot and is an excellent producer of heavy red tomatoes), Polish Pink, Money Maker, and more...

If you can, save your own garden seeds. If your plot is too small, and you fear the varieties becoming cross-pollinated, then purchase seeds from small seed companies that support heirloom varieties. Also, consider joining Seeds of Diversity, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heritage varieties of all sorts of produce. Members trade seeds, and volunteer to grow small batches of heirloom items in their gardens and send seeds back to be stored and passed on by Seeds of Diversity for the next season.