Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fertile Ground CSA featured on CTV interview!

January is a great time to start thinking about signing up for your local CSA (community supported agriculture), as farmers start to plan their seed orders for the new growing season! Local "celebrity", organic farmer, and good friend, Angie Koch of Fertile Ground CSA was recently featured on CTV's Province Wide talking about how she started farming and how her CSA work. Watch her interview through this link:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Solstice garden!

Chilly day with brilliant sunlight reflecting off snow drifts, sliver of a moon in a crisp dark night sky...freshly chopped wood, baked apples stuffed with cranberries and almonds, a long leisurely winter walk through the woods, cozy dinner of local potato-leek soup with fresh sourdough bread and steamed kale uncovered in the garden, friends dropping by unannounced their arms filled with holiday treats, time to relax with other mama's sipping fantastic homemade eggnog as the children played...the solstice this year from start to finish was a glorious day, and now we look forward to longer days as we move into the new season ahead.

Some of our favourite garden catalogues just arrived in the mail (William Dam, Cottage Gardeners, Greta's Organic, West Coast Seeds...) and we anticipate spending many of our long winter nights infront of the fire, while paging through these seed lists and drawing up plans for next year's garden. Wishing everyone all the best for the solstice, holiday season, and new year ahead. Here are a few photos of our solstice garden and house. The crooked little white spruce will become our indoor festive tree this year, for only a few days as it needs to be put right back out into the cold to overwinter before it's planted in our yard next spring...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Immune building winter chai

Just in time for the holidays comes this lovely herbal chai recipe - spiced, fragrant and festive, yet rich in immune boosting herbs to keep away winter colds and flu. This recipe come from my sister - I don't know exactly where she first read it. Enjoy!

Immune Building Winter Chai
3 1/2 cups boiling water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 Tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
1 whole nutmeg, chopped or grated
1 Tbsp cardamom seed pods
5 tongues astragulus root
1 Tbsp dried burdock root
1 Tbsp dried dandelion root
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp star anise seeds
1/2 tsp whole allspice
1/2 tsp echinacea root

1) Simmer all ingredients in boiling water for 15 minutes.
2) Strain herbs, add warmed milk (rice, soy or dairy) to a ratio of half tea, half milk.
3) Add honey or sugar to taste.

Friday, December 04, 2009

New Workshop Series for 2010, coming soon

We are working on our 2010 Urban Homesteading workshop series, and hope to have it posted here and on our website shortly. We are excited about the prospects, and are pleased to have had a variety of new workshop presenters contact us with their ideas for this round of courses. Community-based popular education is such an important part of why we are operating our homestead here in the city. We are focussing on similar themes as the previous years - eco crafting, urban agriculture/organic gardening, natural health, sustainable living, and slow food - all of which fit under the title of urban homesteading skills. There will be an added emphasis on a 6-8 part series on urban farming this year, everything from seedling starting to permaculture, food preserving to seed saving...please stay posted for details here!

December chickens

The hens are settling into the colder weather. We've set up their winter heat lamp, which has served them well the past two winters. It's on a timer, so comes on from early evening until sunrise, generally the coldest part of the day. We also stacked strawbales around the coop and boarded up the mesh windows.

Although, sadly, all egg laying seems to have completely ended for this season, the hens still love to wander around the yard during the daytime, looking for any leftover greens in the garden (we still have kale, chard, brussel sprouts, mizuna), nibbling stray bugs, and keeping themselves occupied with their antics. They often head over to the sheltered side of the house to be out of the wind, or scratch around near our basement windows where warmer air must be escaping. They tend to stick together now that the yard is more barren and there are fewer hiding places from predators, and like to mingle as a group on our back porch (waiting for treats like sunflower seeds). They hover by the back door, often sitting for hours preening and fluffing their feathers, peeking in the big glass window to see if we are coming out. Like faithful pets they also wait for us outside our bedroom door first thing in the morning (our door opens onto the back yard, and is located in a sheltered nook of the new addition).

Important with winter chicken care is to make sure fresh water is always available to them, and to thaw any frozen drinking water which tends to freeze during the night. As well, the combs and waddles of chickens are susceptible to frostbite, so they need to stay indoors on the very cold days - we've heard of using vaseline on their combs to protect from the cold, and even seen some photos of innovative cozy chicken sweaters, hats and boots for the adventurous knitters out there! Maybe I'll ask our neighbourhood knitting group about that. It's nice to see that all the winter feathers have now completely come in, as during the molting season (all of October) we were a little worried on the cooler nights about whether they were able to stay warm enough.

Strawbale update - final renos for 2009 done

With our last push before winter, we finished up the final renovations on the strawbale additition including soffits and fascia, eaves troughs, building the fence across our driveway, and installing a woodstove! The last bit for December is to build a wooden deck along the back of the addition (the hens like to roost here, and it will help keep snow off the plaster walls - for next year it will provide the nicest view of the pond and garden and will be prime relaxing space with a bench or hammock!). For next roof, front porch, landscaping, more fruit trees on new driveway garden space...etc (lots of time over the winter to dream about all of this).

After some debate, the woodstove we chose to heat the strawbale space was a tiny Jotul. These stoves have been made in Norway since the 1890s and come with a great reputation. The one we have is the smallest model as we really only need to heat about 600 square feet with it - our living room and bedroom in the strawbale addition. The clincher was that it has a cookplate, so we can always have a kettle on for tea, or a pot of soup warming...Typing here with a little fire warming my back, I know this was the right decision. It was a little chilly with no external heat in this addition last winter - though extra socks, slippers, sweaters and quilts did go a long way to providing comfort. Now the room is really cozy and feels festive with faint smell of woodsmoke in the air.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reading: Farm City by Novella Carpenter

My partner and I both just finished Farm City:The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter. This book is a good read for anyone interested in the quirky adventures in inner city farming, as Novella writes passionately about farming her garden, orchard, bees, and livestock in a formerly vacant lot, living "off the land" in a rough part of downtown Oakland.

In particular, the book focusses heavily on her experiment in raising chickens, turkeys, rabbits and pigs at her urban farm. It's important to note that Novella is by no means a vegetarian - her livestock raising project is not just for gaining eggs or manure, but in fact for meat. What starts with a coop full of hens, ends up including a beehive, and many more turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and two full grown pigs. She explores what it means to humanely, respectfully kill animals that she has raised herself from day 1 (with more than enough graphic detail of the slaughtering process - these are lengthy sections of the book, which need to be skipped or skimmed over by the vegetarian or vegan reader!). The book is hilarious, inspiring, insightful, and a nice addition to 100-Mile Diet literature. At one point in the book she embarks on a month-long 100-Foot Diet where she only subsists on food from her garden or wild harvested in the city.

There are various other amazing urban farmers you meet along the way, including Novella's friend Willow whose non-profit farm called City Slicker Farm provides produce and backyard gardening skills for inner city families thereby increasing food self-sufficiency in West Oakland where store-bought healthy produce is expensive and hard to come by.

One of the final paragraphs of the book sums up the importance of seeing urban farming as a community venture that can't be done alone - a network of many small projects, together adding up to something large and significant. She writes:

"Although my holding was small - and temporary - I had come to realize that urban farming wasn't about one farm, just as a beehive isn't about an individual bee. I thought of Jennifer's beehive and garden. Of Willow's backyard farms that dot the city of Oakland. Urban farms have to be added together in order to make a farm. So when I say that I'm an urban "farmer", I'm depending on other urban farmers, too. It's only with them that our backyards and squatted gardens add up to something significant. And if one of ours goes down, another will spring up."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Woolen Farm Kitty

Our daughter loves cats, and can't get enough of spotting them streaking across the street or lounging on front porches during every outing in our neighbourhood. So, we thought, given that every self-respecting farm and garden (urban or rural) needs it's own farm cat, we would try out hand at making our own. Today's quick crafting creation was a woolen farm kitty made from 100% recycled wool, stuffed with sheep's wool from a nearby farm (thanks to Michelle and Erin who taught me how to card it) and embroidered with cotton on an organic cotton face.

More woolen farm kittys and barn owls to come...(available on our etsy store too, where the farm kittys come with a packet of organic catnip tea from our garden, so kids can enjoy a cup a warm welcoming tea with their new feline friend!).

New friends at Irvine Creek Organics CSA

Recently we had two young farmers from Irvine Creek Organics come to stay at our B&B. It was lovely to meet them, and we were pleased to hear about all the exciting goings on at the Irvine Creek farm which is located just outside of Fergus, near Belwood Lake. They have a busy CSA, as well as projects like reforesting the land, and even processing farm produce into value-added food items for the winter season.

Yesterday for dinner we cracked open the two gorgeous jars of pickles they brought us - gorgeous deep purple pickled beets with cinnamon and clove, and the best pickled yellow beans I've ever tasted, made with rosemary, lemon and vinegar. In this house we absolutely love pickles, and make an assortment of krauts, pickles and ferments ourselves to preserve our foods for the winter. So, we've tasted a lot of pickles, but these ones were amazing - perfect texture that still held crispness in the vegetables, beautiful combination of spices and herbs. We had to hold ourselves back from eating the entire jars as our evening meal, and managed to savour slowly so we can enjoy these preserves over several evening meals. Irvine Creek is now taking 2010 CSA members, and also selling their pickles at some shops locally (Fergus and Elora?).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sprouting Workshop

On Saturday we held our annual sprouting workshop - not seedling starting, but sprouting for winter greens. We had grown a large assortment of sprouted seeds to demonstrate how they can be grown in small spaces - hydroponic greens grown in a jar or sprouter by rinsing and draining, as well as soil grown sprouts like pea shoots and wheat grass.

Hydroponic sprouts included such as the familiar alfalfa and sandwich greens (canola, radish, red clover), microgreens like the brassica family (broccoli and cabbage), and the more unique "ancient eastern blend" (adzuki, mung, kamut, black lentil), and "crunchy bean mix" (garbonzo, green marrowfat pea, green lentil)...

The workshop also featured sprouted foods, such as sprouted "cheese" (more like a zesty cheese-flavoured dip, which is made from sprouted sunflower and sesame seeds), sprouted hummus, sprouted bread (dehydrated sprouted wheat berries blended with chives and miso), and sprouted desserts (mmm...sprouted almond pudding, and almond butter bliss balls). Basically, sprouts can be used in their green raw form in all manner of dishes (soups, salads, sandwiches, casseroles) as long as they are not heated over 105F which destroys their enzymes. Sprouts are considered wonder foods, rich in vitamins and minerals and they impart their living energy of the germinated seed to our bodies when we eat them. Sprouts have been renowed in cleansing diets, as well as for healing all manner of illnesses. They are pre-digested because of the soaking and sprouting process, so easy to digest when eaten.

Sprouting in winter also offers us gardeners the indoor gardening satisfaction, while snow flies outside and the ground is frozen. I love seeing my windowsill full of bright green living plants all winter long, and enjoying the fresh taste of locally grown greens in January!

Great resources
Ann Wigmore's sprouting book; Steve Meyerowitz (Sproutman) sprouting books
Mumm's for sprouting seeds and supplies (based in Saskatchewan)

Soap Workshops & Soap Curing Rack

The last two weekends we've had a full house with a series of soapmaking workshops. A big part of the goal of our urban homestead project is education - teaching homesteading practices and knowledge to other urbanites - in the hopes that these skills will not be lost, to inspire simple living and self-reliance, and to bring community members together in an informal learning environment. Soapmaking has, not surprisingly, turned out to be one of the more popular workshops, and we offer several courses each year that always fill up quickly. As it's nearing holiday season, many workshop participants were thinking of simple handmade gift ideas, with beautiful soaps made the traditional cold-process method will be perfect.

Cold-process (as opposed to hot process or french milled) soap involves making soap from scratch, using a combination of oils that are heated, and then mixed with a lye-water solution. Then additives like botanicals, pure essential oils, or clays are added, the soap is poured into wooden molds and cured for at least 4 weeks. The result is hard, stable, richly lathering bars that are long-lasting, mild, and nicely moisturizing to the skin. This is my preferred method of soapmaking as it is a traditional process that has been used by soapmakers for many generations. Advanced techniques can include marbling or layering the soap for additional effects.

It's a busy soapmaking time for Little City Farm too, as many of our holiday orders are coming in, as well as another craft fair this weekend. Here are a few photos of my latest soaps on the curing rack. Each variety uses at least one herb grown & harvested from our own garden. We are working on an online store linked to our website, hopefully up and running by early December. All soaps are also available on our etsy site:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Festive Season Craft Sale! November 28-29

Check out this great upcoming local craft sale - the annual Festive Season Sale at 43 Queen St S, Kitchener - hosted by BarterWorks (K-W's local bartering network), and The Working Centre (a local non-profit organization).

Time: Fri, Nov 28 from 5-8 pm and Sat, Nov 29 from 10-3 pm.
What you will find: unique locally handmade goods like hemp clothing, handmade dolls, kids clothing, natural soap, jewelry, food items, tea, cards, fair trade coffee, and more...

We'll be there with our Homestead Herbals products (soaps, teas, salves, tinctures) as well as children's items and handmade cards. I'm just getting into block printing, so hope to have some cards and fabric art ready for the sale too. There are just too many crafting projects that I want to be doing, and I tend to have a few different projects on the go at once (right now, knitting, sewing, block printing, soapmaking of course)...I'm looking forward to bringing in more crafty people from our community to lead a new round of workshops here at Little City Farm in 2010. The workshop schedule will be ready in a few weeks and posted here.

Fall farm day...

This week the weather has been almost balmy! It gave us a little more time to get things in order out in the yard before winter sets in. Last seeds harvested and saved, now nicely packed away with labels for next year's planting. Compost and leaves added to garden beds. Garlic has been planted. Coldframe is prepped and planted, greenhouse also planted with lettuce and kale seedlings (the hot peppers and fig tree are still doing nicely in there). While we were working outside, we also baked bread in the cob oven - the perfect fall task of tending a roaring fire while raking leaves...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Spinning, carding & natural fibres

A beautiful fall day..while Greg was out raking leaves, spreading compost, and preparing garden beds for planting garlic, I was inside learning about the wonders of natural fibres during the latest homesteading workshop here at Little City Farm.

Nicole from the KW Spinners & Weavers Guild is a natural teacher, and led our small group through the process of cleaning, carding, and spinning a variety of natural fibres (mohair, alpaca, angora, wool, llama, yak, cotton, silk, and even cornsilk!) in both the "short draw" (used for long fibres) and "long draw" (generally used for short fibres). We also learned the "anatomy" of a spinning wheel, and had opportunity to practice on both the single and double-treadled wheels. I think several participants will be hooked for sure, as this spinning seems to be addictive once you get the hang of it. I did get the chance to run outside to harvest some fresh milkweed pods from our yard, which I managed to card into two small "rolags" (ie. rolls) and Nicole spun into a lustrous silky thread - wow! Apparently parachutes were made of milkweed fluff during the WWII, but probably due to impracticality of harvesting them, not to mention the cheap cost of cotton, milkweed has been forgotten as a fibre material. Of course, now we are seeing bamboo in everything, and hemp is becoming more available in all manner of fibres and textiles. The next steps after spinning would be dying the fibres and then all manner of knitting projects (many in the room were already avid knitters, though these lovely skeins would tempting to just leave around the house as decoration after all the hard work of spinning them!).

Wellington Fibres, on a farm near Elora, was recommended as a great local source for fibres, fibre processing, spinning wheels, workshops and advice. They raise 30 angora goats, and run their operation as "green" as possible, using solar panels and other sustainable technologies to operate their business.

The Power of Community - Film at Princess Cinema

The "transition town" movement is growing - Guelph and Peterborough are two designated transition towns in Ontario, and a new group has recently formed in K-W to work toward this goal as well. Transition towns look at aspects of life that a community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change). The transition town communities also recognise two crucial points:
  • that we used immense amounts of creativity, ingenuity and adaptability on the way up the energy upslope, and that there's no reason for us not to do the same on the downslope
  • if we collectively plan and act early enough there's every likelihood that we can create a way of living that's significantly more connected, more vibrant and more in touch with our environment than the oil-addicted treadmill that we find ourselves on today.
This coming week, Transition KW is presenting a film screening at the Princess Cinema. We believe this is going to be a very exciting and inspiring evening, so please pass this on to anyone you think would be interested.

Plan C: The Power of Community
Lecture, Film, Q&A - with author, film makers and directors Pat Murphy and Faith Morgan
Thursday November 12th
Princess Twin Cinema, 46 King Street North, Waterloo
Doors Open at 6:45 Talk at 7:15, Film at 7:45 followed by Q&A session.
Admission $2 (Barterworks and OUR Community Dollar will be accepted)

Pat Murphy is executive director of the Institute for Community Solutions in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a nonprofit organization devoted to small community living. Author of Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change, he lectures widely across North America on energy, Peak Oil, geopolitics and lifestyle solutions. Focusing on community resilience and long-term sustainability, his main interest is on the techniques and strategies for a steady reduction in the per capita use of fossil fuels.

Faith Morgan is the director and co-writer of "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil".

They will be in Hamilton to address city council and to present the 2009 Spirit of Red Hill Creek Lecture, and they have graciously agreed to speak in several other local communities as part of their Southern Ontario visit.

Co-sponsored by:

For more information call Stephen at 519.888.6917 or email:

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Workshop - making Waldorf-inspired dolls

We had a lovely busy workshop here on Saturday - how better could a rainy cold Saturday be spent than sitting around a large dining room table with a fantastic group of crafty women, drinking cozy cups of tea, sharing tips on life and parenting...and being productive yet relaxed at the same time. So many skillful hands working at once, it felt like an old-fashioned quilting bee!

The session was on making Waldorf-inspired dolls. A huge range of Waldorf dolls are readily available online, but they are generally quite expensive (understandably so, as they are handmade using good quality natural materials, and are beatifully crafted). We decided, why not learn to make our own, and brought in Amaryah from Sew Oiseau to teach us!

Typically Waldorf dolls are lightweight, have an imaginative shape and are made with only natural materials. They are great to cuddle with and are the perfect size and shape for babies and young children to hold on to. Their heads are filled with pure sheep’s wool, which is known to absorb scents easily the dolls will absorb comforting scents of home, of its parents, things that are familiar for baby. Wool is inherently anti-bacterial, so theyare safe to chew on with no fluff to inhale. These dolls are popular in natural/eco-minded parenting circles as they are not only non-toxic, made with natural materials like wool, but the neutral faces are intended to inspire creativity and imagination in the child who plays with them. The dolls we made were a very basic design, not nearly as elaborate as some (see Bamboletta, for example), but were easily finished in about 2-3 hours, so a satisfying project to complete in short order.

Waldorf education is a whole well-established philosophy, and is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. The Waldorf schools focus on bringing to life the following attributes in children:
  • Creative thinking permeated with imagination, flexibility, and focus
  • Emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-esteem
  • Physical vitality, stamina, and perseverance
  • Spiritual depth borne out of an abiding appreciation and responsibility for nature, for work, and for their fellow human beings
More info available at