Monday, February 23, 2009

Natural dyes

I'm doing some experimenting with natural dyes, both for adding natural colours (and some healing properties such as from calendula) to the soaps I make, as well as for dying fibres and fabric. I found some great resources which feature simple plants we have in our own yard. I'll be adding the harvest of dye plants (roots, leaves, bark, flowers) to this season's garden list.


Did you know that a great source for natural dyes can be found right in your own back yard! Roots, nuts and flowers are just a few common natural ways to get many colors. Yellow, orange, blue, red, green, brown and grey are available. Go ahead, experiment!

Gathering plant material for dyeing: Blossoms should be in full bloom, berries ripe and nuts mature. Remember, never gather more than 2/3 of a stand of anything in the wild when gathering plant stuff for dying.

To make the dye solution: Chop plant material into small pieces and place in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight.

Getting the fabric ready for the dye bath: You will have to soak the fabric in a color fixative before the dye process. This will make the color set in the fabric.

Color Fixatives:

Salt Fixative (for berry dyes) 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water

Plant Fixatives (for plant dyes) 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar

Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.

Dye Bath: Place wet fabric in dye bath. Simmer together until desired color is obtained. The color of the fabric will be lighter when its dry. Also note that all dyed fabric should be laundered in cold water and separately.

Muslin, silk, cotton and wool work best for natural dyes and the lighter the fabric in color, the better. White or pastel colors work the best.

NOTE: It's best to use an old large pot as your dye vessel. Wear rubber gloves to handle the fabric that has been dyed, the dye can stain your hands. It's also important to note, some plant dyes may be toxic, check with the Poison Control Center if unsure.

Oranges & Yellows:
will give a good orange to reddish orange color.

Sassafras (leaves)
Onion skin
Lichen (gold)

Barberry (mahonia sp.) yellow orange (with alum) very strong & permanent. Any part of the plant will work.

Giant Coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea) Yields bright permanent orange with alum.
Oak bark will give a tan or oak color.

Walnut (hulls) (deep brown)(wear gloves)
Tea Bags (light brown)
Juniper Berries
Coffee Grinds
Yellow dock (produces shades of brown on wool)

Roses and Lavender, with a little mint and some lemon juice to activate the alkaloids can make both a brilliant pink dye and a very tasty pink lemonade.


Sumac (fruit) (light red)

Dandelion (root)

Beets (deep red)

Rose (hips)



Hibiscus Flowers (dried)

Red cabbage
Mulberries (royal purple)
Elderberries (lavender)
Grapes (purple)


Black-Eyed Susans

Grass (yellow green)

Plantain Roots

Daylilies (old blooms)

Red Clover (whole blossom, leaves and stem); alum mordant; Gold.
Yellow cone flower (whole flower head); chrome mordant; Brass to Greeney-Brass
Onion (skins)
Marigold (blossoms)

Willow (leaves)

Queen Anne's Lace


Celery (leaves)

Golden Rod (flowers)

Sumac (bark)

Weld (bright yellow)

Dandelion flower

Edible Toronto - Little City Farm feature coming in April issue

We're pleased to announce that a small article about Little City Farm will be coming out in the next Edible Toronto magazine (April 09). This is a beautiful magazine that is dedicated to connecting local consumers with local food producers, food growers and food artisans. It's a fairly new quarterly print magazine, with gorgeous farm/food photography, and is available FREE at many locations around southern Ontario, as well as at local summer festivals such as Feast of Fields. Go to:

Last May, almost a year ago from when this issue will be coming out, we had Lauren Carter and her partner stay with us in our B&B. She is a widely published and accomplished writer who has a regular featured article in the Edible Toronto. In order to do her research, Lauren gets to travel around to all kinds of inspiring locations meeting up with the food artisans, farmers or producers she is writing about. Thanks again Lauren for visiting us, and being an inspired writer able to document a little of your experience with us and the projects we are involved in. Check out the Edible Toronto site under "past issues" for other articles by Lauren. She also has her own website at:

Herb Seedlings Started Today & Winter Sprouting

We planted herb seeds for this season a few weeks ago, and are on round two today. Basil (four varieties), sage, thyme, lavender, marjoram, fennel, coriander, parsley (both curled, and Italian), rosemary, marigold, anise hyssop, and NEW this year Stevia! Many herbs take a few weeks to even germinate, let alone the amount of time these slow-growing plants take to become actual sturdy seedlings. If all goes well, we should have more than 500 herbal seedlings ready by May - many of these will go into our gardens, but most will be for sale during our May long weekend seedling sale.

Greg planted greens (lettuces, Asian greens, kale, chard, spinach) in our greenhouse last week, and the coldframe greens are already several inches high. With the low light levels of winter and the cold, these greens don't grow much - we would have to heat with wood or electric sources, both of which aren't available right now. However, by March-April we'll be back to eating fresh greens and daily salads. For now, I'm doing a regular weekly hydroponic sprout garden, rotating through cress, arugula, spicy lentil mix, salad booster mix (alfalfa, radish, red clover), as well as some greens in soil (sunflower, chives, wheatgrass, cilantro sprouts) so we get tasty fresh greens packed with nutrition this way during the cold months.

Our chickens also love getting a few handfuls of these sprouts too, if we care to share them. They have been spoiled by us with greens, as we've lately been getting kale at the grocery store for them! (after our winter kale garden supply was depleted). Of course, we still feed them shredded carrot, compost veggie scraps, stale bread, sunflower seeds, and their usual layer crumbles and scratch grain, but they do love any fresh greens the most! A few days ago, when we had a bit of a warm spell, the hens were all out about the yard, pecking excitedly at anything slightly resembling a green shoot (even wilted leftover greens from last year's garden). They are longing for spring weather, though don't seem too phased by the snow - they trek around with snow upto their ankles and venture around their small yard when it's sunny.

Herbal Shares at Little City Farm

We're excited to offer the local herbal shares again this year. This is a similar model to the vegetable CSA (community supported agriculture) which is becoming more common in most North American cities, as people are striving to eat more locally and support small farms nearby.

The herbal share offers locally grown herbs made into herbal preparations (teas, tinctures, salves, bug-spray, cough syrup, soap), with several choices for members to customize their share to the needs of their household. The package provides a simple remedy kit for use during the winter months, and each product has clear instructions as to proper use. We grow most of the herbs at Little City Farm, and we are dedicated to organic practices including maintaining fertile soil, using organic seed, and organic pest management practices. We are also members of Canadian Organic Growers and Seeds of Diversity, and teach herbal workshops throughout the season. We believe in passing on this herbal knowledge to our community so it's not lost - one of our models is "let food by your medicine, and medicine be your food", and so try to teach ways to incorporate herbs and wild edibles into our every day meals and living.

Here are more details about the 2009 Herbal Shares - we are currently taking registrations:

Local Herbal Medicine Share 2009

We all know the value in supporting local food.

Now, consider supporting local natural herbals!

Participate in the Little City Farm herb project this season by purchasing a home herbal medicine share. Shares are purchased in the spring, which allows us to know how many herbs to grow & harvest throughout the season. The completed herbal kit is delivered to you in the fall. All herbs are grown with natural and organic methods, and harvested at the peak of their season by hand. Herbal preparations are made carefully, by hand, in small batches. Each local herbal medicine share includes seven natural preparations that will enhance the well-being of you and your family. Instructions included will answer questions about how to use each product.

What’s included in your local herbal share:

· 1 package Loose-Leaf Herbal Tea (aprox. 40 grams – makes about 10 pots of tea) – Please select one of the following:

___Winter Flu Fighter (including hops, mullein, fennel, sage & coltsfoot for coughs, colds and sore throats)

___After Dinner Tea (including peppermint & fennel for aiding the digestive system)

___Less Stress Tea (including lemon balm & chamomile for calming nervous system, aiding sleep)

___Womens’ Tea (including nettle & raspberry leaf, rich in iron & calcium, & for aiding PMS)

· 2 oz. bottle of Herbal Tincture – Please select one of the following:

___Rosehip Tincture (for colds, flu & aiding arthritic conditions)

___Lemon Balm Tincture (for aiding sleep, nervousness & anxiety)

___Red Raspberry Leaf Tincture (for toning women’s reproductive & hormonal system)

___Echinacea Tincture (for colds, flu & boosting the immune system)

· 4 oz. jar All-Purpose Healing Salve (including calendula & comfrey for healing cuts, wounds, scrapes, burns)
· 4 oz. bottle of Natural Bug Off Spray (with citronella, lemon & rosemary for warding off pesky mosquitoes)
· 1 oz. bottle of Migraine Wonder Oil (including lavender & rosemary for alleviating migraines & headaches)
· 2 oz. bottle of Sage Cough Syrup (for soothing coughs & sore throats)

· 1 large bar Calendula Soap (renowned for soothing dry skin, gentle soap that’s safe for children)

Payment & Delivery:
· Order your share by April 30, 2009 by contacting Karin at:
· Cost is $75/share, paid by cash or cheque at time of ordering. 100% Barter for BW Members
· Receive your local home herbal medicine kit by end of September 2009
· For delivery/shipping please add $10. Free shipping if picked up at Little City Farm, Kitchener.

To Order & How to Pay:
Send this order form to: 508 Duke Street W, Kitchener, ON N2H 3Y8 / email:
Please make cheques payable to Karin Kliewer.

Karin Kliewer of Homestead Herbals is a certified Master Herbalist. She believes in the "community herbalist" model, using locally-grown medicinal plants from her own gardens to share herbal knowledge with her local community.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Workshop Series for 2009 - Urban Homesteading!

Urban Homesteading Workshop Series 2009

Little City Farm is a small-scale urban homestead and eco bed & breakfast in Kitchener, Ontario. We are dedicated to promoting urban agriculture, basic homesteading skills, and hands-on sustainable living in the city.

All workshops listed for 2009 will be held at Little City Farm, 508 Duke St. W, Kitchener.

Each workshop costs $20/person (family rate available). REGISTER AT: / OR call 519-575-9174

Fermented Foods – February 21, 1-3 pm – with Jackie McMillan (pre-registration required)

Let your taste buds tingle! Discussion will cover background on fermenting foods, how and why to ferment foods, health benefits, and a spectacular taste testing of various lactic acid ferments. Workshop participants will prepare colourful multi-vegetable sauerkraut as part of this interactive session. Jackie recently completed an intensive week-long workshop on Fermentation, Food Culturing & Medicine Making at the Algonquin Tea Company.

Starting Seedlings at Home – March 21, 1-3 pm – with Angie Koch from Fertile Ground CSA – Note cost: $5/person

It’s time to get the garden started! Enjoy a few hours with your hands in the dirt, learning about how and when to start various seeds, germination success, transplanting, soil mixes, organic techniques, where to purchase seeds, and more. Participants will take home sample seedlings for their own garden. Sponsored by Farmers Growing Farmers, a program of Everdale Organic Farm and Environmental Learning Centre. Angie Koch is a local organic farmer with Fertile Ground CSA and is also a vendor at the Kitchener Market.

Beyond Band-Aids: A Homeopathic Approach to First Aid – April 18, 1-3 pm - with Rachel VandenBerg

Looking to stock your first aid kit with natural remedies that work? Look no further! In this workshop you will learn the basics of homeopathic prescribing including how to select and dose appropriate homeopathic remedies. Focus is on the most common remedies in a summer first aid kit. Rachel VandenBerg is a licensed naturopathic doctor with an additional specialty in classical homeopathy. She practices at Healing Path Centre for Natural Medicine in uptown Waterloo.

7th Annual Organic Seedling Sale – Free Event! – May 23, 9 am-12 noon

Join us at Little City Farm as we host our 7th Annual Organic Seedling Sale! Find organic and heirloom varieties of vegetables & herbs ready for planting. Specializing in heirloom tomato varieties. This is a free event. Seedlings cost $2-$3/each.

Natural Twig & Willow Construction – June 20, 1-3 pm - with Alfred Rempel and Robbert Kramer

Learn to build simple beautiful structures using natural materials that can be sourced in your own backyard! During this hands-on workshop we will be building a low wattle fence/arbour using locally grown willow, dogwood, grapevine and Manitoba maple. Also info on coppicing, living fences, and other forms of natural construction.

Plant Sensory Awareness – June 27, 1-3 pm – with Heather Cain

During this workshop, we will use a number of techniques to awaken our senses, connect to our intuition and deepen our ability to perceive the world around us. Then we will explore the garden, tuning into the intelligence and spirit of the plants that grow there. Plants and all nature beings have wisdom and healing to share, if we are willing to learn how to listen. Bring an open mind and dress for the weather!

Making Herbal Salves & Tinctures – July 11, 10 am- 12 noon – with Karin Kliewer (pre-registration required)

Learn to make simple herbal home remedies! Salves & tinctures allow us to extract and preserve the many beneficial properties of herbs. During this workshop we will harvest organic calendula to make a simple skin salve, and discuss various ways to make tinctured extractions. Workshop will also cover general tips on growing, drying and storing herbs. All materials provided. Participants take home samples. Karin Kliewer operates Homestead Herbals creating natural soaps & organic herbal products. Herbs used are grown organically at Little City Farm.

All about Fruit Trees – July 18, 1-3 pm - With Anna-Maria Schulteis

Fresh fruit picked in season from your own backyard! From planting to tending, pruning to harvest, in this workshop you will learn which fruit trees grow best in our climate and organic methods for maintaining healthy trees. Also information on how to get involved as volunteers with the local Fruit Tree Project, harvesting fruit from abandoned trees in our city.

Herbs for Women’s Health – August 8, 10 am-12 noon – With Karin Kliewer (pre-registration required)
In this workshop we will be discussing a variety of useful herbs for women's health that can be grown/wildcrafted locally - including red raspberry leaf, red clover, nettle, yarrow and more. We will be making & tasting several herbal infusions, and covering tips on wildcrafting, growing, harvesting, drying and storing herbs. Karin Kliewer operates Homestead Herbals creating natural soaps & organic herbal products. Herbs used are grown organically at Little City Farm.

Seed Saving Basics – September 19, 1-3 pm – with Bob Wildfong from Seeds of Diversity

Saving seeds & knowing how to grow our own food may be some of the most important skills we can have, as food prices rise and crop diversity declines. Attend this workshop to learn proper techniques for collecting seeds from your own garden this season, from beans to tomatoes, herbs to flowers. Proceeds from this workshop go to Seeds of Diversity, Canada’s Heritage Seed Program. More info at:

Making Natural Waldorf-Inspired Dolls – October 24, 1-3 pm – with Amaryah deGroot (pre-registration required)

Learn to make simple dolls from natural materials such as wool, cotton and silk. In the tradition of Waldorf education, these cuddly dolls inspire children’s creativity and fantasy. Their neutral features help to develop a child’s imagination to see the doll laugh, cry, sleep, etc. Participants will work on their own doll throughout the workshop. All materials provided. Amaryah makes reconstructed clothing and toys from reclaimed wool sweaters with her business Sew Oiseau.

Spinning Wool & Other Natural Fibres – November 7, 1-3 pm – with Nicole Ethier
Workshop details to be confirmed – contact

Intro to Soap Making – November 14, 1-3 pm – with Karin Kliewer (pre-registration required)

Make beautiful, natural handmade soaps just in time to give as gifts this Christmas. Join local herbalist & soap maker, Karin Kliewer, to learn the simple art of traditional cold-process soap making. This is a busy hands-on workshop where participants will be asked to bring a variety of supplies to create their own soap. Organic herbs and basic essential oils will be supplied. List of supplies will be emailed upon registration.

Living Foods: Sprouting for Winter – November 21, 1-3 pm – with Karin Kliewer (pre-registration required)

It only takes a few minutes per day to reap the great rewards to sprouted “living” foods. Sprouted foods add tremendous health & vitality to your meals, and provide an inexpensive source of fresh local greens during the winter months. Learn simple ways to incorporate sprouted seeds, grains, beans and nuts into your diet. We will sample and share recipes for microgreens, sunflower sprouts, and wheatgrass, as well as sprouted “cheese”, sprouted milk, sprouted breads, and even sprouted dessert! Participants each take home a sprouting starter kit.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Jan 18 - Moved into Strawbale! And Open House Celebration!

We've come a long way this past year since the strawbale project began, and now w've finally moved in! Many finishing touches are not done yet (bookshelving, plants in south window, wood trim, woodstove)... but the space is completely liveable and beautiful. We had a lovely open house celebration with many friends and volunteers who helped out on the project throughout the season. It was wonderful to have you all here - the new space feels properly "warmed" now.

More fun to be had in the spring, with exterior plastering, porches to be built, new front landscaping projects, and a living roof to design/plant.