Sunday, September 20, 2009

Local fresh raw honey arrives!

Last year around this time we hosted a beekeeping workshop led by a beekeeper from the University of Guelph beekeeping lab. Of the 20 or so participants, several went on to do a more intensive full weekend workshop in the spring, and there are now 5-6 new beekeepers in the community. Two of them brought us a jar of their first honey harvest (we felt honoured) - it looks gorgeous - and they said the extraction went off without a hitch. This lovely jar of wild raw honey is almost too beautiful to eat, but we're looking forward to savouring it. The label adds a unique touch, with an artist friend designing it for them (featuring their cat "the discerning dandy" wearing a dandy kind of hat and lounging near some bees)...

Local pear & pumpkin pie production

Full blown baking day today! 8 hours later...there were 14 pies (pumpkin and dutch pear) for our freezer, and 8 loaves of wholegrain sourdough for the neighbourhood bread delivery...whew!

Needless to say, our 100-mile dessert today was fresh pie!

Sustainable tour - with students from STEP University of Waterloo

Today we were part of an all day tour organized in part by STEP, The Sustainable Technology Eduation Project (STEP) at the University of Waterloo. STEP is a working group of the University of Waterloo Sustainability Project, and aims to research, promote, educate, and demonstrate the feasibility of renewable energy technologies (both on campus and in the community).

The tour group visited a number of sites in our region, looking at sustainable initiatives around energy, techonology (e.g. greywater filtration systems, solar hot water), and sustainable building (e.g. strawbale, geothermal). We were very happy to meet them and talk about our experiences as a small, owner-built, homescale model of what we hope urban sustainability can look like. In particular, the strawbale construction, cob oven, coldframes, passive solar greenhouse, and greywater system were of interest to the group. Next year we are hoping to look into solar hot water heating (to heat our radiant floor hot water), as well as install a living roof on the new addition. When talking to these kinds of groups there are always more ideas and projects to dream about...

More on STEP:

Seed Saving Workshop

The executive director from Seeds of Diversity (Canada's heritage seed saving non-profit organization) was here yesterday to lead his seed saving workshop. It was a well attended session, with 25-30 people here, and the weather was perfect! We had anticipated a crowd, and in addition to chairs and a long bench had also set out strawbales to sit on. The bales always help to make it feel more like a farm here! He had lots of seed saving techniques to show (in particular his collection of sieves of various sizes in which to winnow the small seeds), talked about pollination, how and when to gather or dry the seeds, and about the organization's exciting member-based nationwide seed savers exchange.

There were lots of seeds to take home, including Jacob's Cattle Beans, Mennonite Orange tomatoes (a local heirloom), Persistance swiss chard, and a red tipped winter hardy lettuce variety. The donations raised at the workshop went toward the "adoption" of a heritage variety of brown (purplish) tomato - by raising $250 Seeds of Diversity can preserve a heritage variety in perpetuity in their seed bank. We also spent some time walking through our garden with Bob pointing out various kinds of seeds (in our garden currently lettuce, beans, chard, various flowers, basil and many other herbs are being let go to seed for collection purposes). He also pointed out native species of bees, good pollinators and welcome in the garden, which can be identified by their green heads.

We were very happy to see such interest in seed saving, a vital skill to have for building urban food security (and as we know from the rise in GMO and terminator variety seeds, access and ability to save your own garden seeds is not something to be taken for granted).

Seeds of Diversity -

Pear Sauce and other harvest adventures

This is my favourite time of year - the days are warm and mellow, the garden harvest is at it's peak, fall fruits that I love (pears, plums, apples, local grapes) have come into season, evenings are perfect for bonfires and cozy woolen sweaters, and we've pulled out our warm quilt for sleeping again. This weekend saw all of the above - lots of garden harvest, some canning and preserving, some baking, a toasty fire, cozy clothes, and a few long fall walks...

We canned up the bushel of pears, and will be making pear pie (dutch pear pie) tomorrow with a handful of pears left over. Below is the pear sauce recipe - very easy (it can even be done over two days, making the sauce one day and canning it the next) - and no sugar is added. We eat it with homemade yogurt and granola for breakfast, or as a dessert.

It was also time to pack the crock pickles (mentioned on this blog a few months ago when we started the crock) into jars - the flavours are just perfect and that is the point to put the pickles plus brine into jars in the fridge for longer storage. I have a friend who also just keeps these jars of fermented goodness in a dark cool storage area (non-refrigerated). I may have to try that as our fridge is pretty full these days. Fermenting foods is so simple, and so rewarding (and so healthful)! Like the sourdough starter that I've been experimenting with, it seems difficult to go wrong with it. Today's sourdough starter turned into 7 loaves and a large pan of sourdough cinnamon buns, and a pizza crust - this sourdough recipe is very versatile. Between fermented foods, sprouting indoors, winter kale, and our coldframe/greenhouse salad greens, I plan to get us through the winter months with fresh vitamin-mineral-enzyme rich locally produced food. The foods we've canned or put in the freezer will be a bonus too!

Easy Pear or Apple Sauce

Bushel of pears or apples
7-12 large mason jars, rings and lids

1) Wash, cut and core pears (or apples), but do not need to peel.
2) Slowly simmer pears with a little water in large pot until they are extremely soft (several hours). Remember to stir occasionally.
3) Puree pears into thick sauce and heat sauce, continuing to stir often so it does not burn.
4) Meanwhile prepare canner by heating water and sterilizing jars.
5) When canner of water is boiling, fill hot jars with hot pear sauce to within 1/2 inch from top (i.e. 1/2 inch "headspace"). Wipe rims to remove any stickiness.
6) Heat canning lids according to instructions on package (usually 5 minutes in boiling water to soften the seals). Fasten onto the hot jars tightening slightly ("finger tight").
7) Set jars in hot canner, and when water returns to boiling, boil for 20 minutes (20 minutes for 500 ml jars).
8) Take jars out, let sit for 24 hours to cool. Check to see that all lids have sealed (concave if sealed). Label and store for future use!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Documenting strawbale - Almost Final Plaster

We're nearing the end of the strawbale plastering - we are now on the final lime plaster, with two more walls to finish. Then come several coats of whitewash. We are also now into fall weather, which means that time is running short for this house project - if the weather drops to below freezing the lime will fail and we'll be at this again in the spring. Since the weather has been around 4-6 C at night lately (and feeling very chilly) there is a pretty big rush to get this done over the next week or two, although the coats need adequate drying time so can only go on so quickly. We've heard of many a strawbale house project that got into cold weather and had to either wrap the house until spring, or use tarps and heaters to finish the walls. I guess it's not unusual for this type of project to take longer than expected, especially when so much is being done by hand and is a learning experience for us. Some photos here show how the walls need to be scratched so that additional coats adhere; walls need to be continuously misted so they don't dry too quickly; the white lime colour which can be tinted to other shades (e.g. using pigment used for cement stucco). The lime we are using has been soaking in pails for over a year - we've heard of builders soaking lime for many years (the longer the better). It's also incredibly drying on the skin! Hard to believe we are this far on the house project - some days have seemed like we'd never get it done. It's been almost a year and a half since we started. Thanks again to all the hands that have helped out! There have been a few key invaluable people we can call on to help out for a few hours when we've gotten overwhelmed by this house task (there are days) - you know who you are.

Happy homestead - what's going on this week

This time of year is filled with days where we are trying to enjoy the last warm moments outside. We've been taking time for walks to the park, and eating picnic meals outside as much as possible. Luckily there is plenty to do outdoors to complete the harvest and prepare for winter gardening as well as next spring. In the garden we've been harvesting potatoes, tomatoes, basil, zucchini, kale; we've dug up the garlic and are getting ready to plant our next year's garlic; drying herbs and preparing our herb shares (making tinctures, salves, medicinal oils, and tea blends for our herb share members); and of course saving seeds for next year. We've also started flats of new greens for the fall cold frames and to be planted in the greenhouse - photo above shows them sprouting nicely.

It's also canning season, so the last few days we've been working on a bushel of pears that is being turned into pear sauce and pear-custard pies...we make loads of pear and apple sauce, and love to use this on everything from breakfast to main course to dessert in the winter months. I've also been doing a fair amount of bread baking the last few days, as a friend and I will be baking weekly for a local CSA pick up that takes place in our neighbourhood. We've been experimenting with an organic wholegrain sourdough recipe that uses a "biga" made several days in advance, using locally milled organic flour from Grassroots Organics and Oak Manor. There is nothing more satisfying that fresh bread from the oven, made with wholesome simple good quality ingredients. What I love about bread, and especially sourdough, is that is never quite comes out the same twice - so much depends on the environment it's baked in - the house temperature, the exact amounts of flour, wild yeasts, the mood I'm in, the other foods cooking around the dough at the same time (I like to think this sourdough took on subtle notes of pear as it was rising beautifully next to my pots of pearsauce on the stovetop). I hope to experiment more with our outdoor wood-fired oven as well, once I get this recipe worked out. After the CSA is over, we may continue to bake for our neighbourhood or the local barter community. Here are a few photos of our busy homestead this week...

100-Mile Desserts: Mixed Berry Pie

I recently did some catering for a friend who was having all her grad students over for a start of term barbecue. The menu was local and seasonal, and featured locally made tamales, fresh corn on the cob, sangria with local fruit, and I added in dolmades made with wild grape leaves, a colourful heirloom tomato, basil & mozzarella salad, a roasted red pepper feta dip, and homemade aioli with seasonal vegetable platter.

For dessert the host had requested fruit tarts, which included rhubarb-raspberry, blueberry and cherry, and were served with whipped cream, edible flowers and mint sprigs. I made this fruit pie for our household with the leftover fruit mixture - this was our 100-mile dessert for the weekend!

Local herbal gift basket for Margaret Atwood

The Kitchener Public Library is hosting Margaret Atwood on Sept 26, as part of the Word on the Street festival that weekend. Margaret Atwood is going to be reading from her new book The Year of the Flood. Although I've read many of her novels, I haven't read this one yet, but can't wait to get my hands on a copy - the book is about an apocalyptic time when few humans remain and includes an interesting cast of characters including a fictitious "green" cult religious group called God's Gardener's (with saints such as Terry Fox, saint of locomotion without fossil fuels, saint Farley Mowat of the Wolves, saint Al Gore, saint Desmond Tutu, etc) that is facing a post-pandemic world.

The KPL was putting together a gift basket of locally made items, and asked for an assortment of soaps and herbal products from Homestead Herbals! I feel honoured to have Margaret Atwood receiving my handmade products and hope she'll enjoy them. I included a gardener's hand salve (appropriate given the group in her book), some teas, and a bug spray as she has a cottage on Pelee Island where she often does her writing (and this time of year she could use some natural bug spray if she's spending time outdoors!). The gift basket also included local honey from my beekeeper friend, and a handmade hemp washcloth to go with the soaps.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Little City Farm featured in the Hamilton Spectator

We just heard that our story was featured in the Hamilton Spectator today! We received a nice email from someone who had read it, whose family is also homesteading in similar ways to how we are - we hope to meet them sometime soon. Here is the story again (this time the title has changed and it's called "Little house in the downtown - Kitchener couple turns their property into a farm and says no to a television and car")...

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Preparing for Winter Harvest

New book on our shelf that is very useful these days...Eliot Coleman's The Winter Harvest Handbook (deep organic techniques for the 21st century)...

We're working on the fall-winter garden plan so that we'll be able to have greens for harvest (with luck) until the spring. Yesterday I planted four flats of greens (red and green lettuce varieties, mizuna, kale) and more to come in the next week - I'd still like to plant mache which is a traditional European hardy winter green. I decided to plant in flats rather than directly into the ground as it will be easier to water and monitor the seedlings this way (not to mention keeping away the pesky squirrels in our yard who dig up all new seeds that get sown). Once the seedlings are ready for transplant they are going into our cold frame (a garden raised bed covered with plastic over PVC pipe tubing), as well as the greenhouse where we have growing beds directly in the ground. Eliot Coleman uses both a floating row cover right on his rows of seedlings, as well as moveable plastic hoop houses that he can simply pull over his garden rows when cooler weather arrives. It's a simple, but ingenious method.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Pear Upside Down Cake with Raw Whipped Cream

We been ordering late summer pears from Niagara through our buying club, and they have been sitting in bowls on the table looking gorgeous as they slowly ripened this past week. The plan was to make them into pear sauce for winter months, although we've also been enjoying fresh pears each day and the pile is dwindling. From my recent posts here it looks like I'm doing a lot of baking and not much else! We've had a number of guests in our B&B this past week and so I've had the chance to serve a variety of fresh baking to them, while also getting to photograph and blog about it :) I made a fresh pear upside down cake for our 100-mile dessert this week. The cake is usually a gingerbread variety, but I made it with local honey and maple syrup instead and it took on a darker almost pumpkin pie flavour. A friend dropped off a full 500 ml of fresh raw cream! This prompted me to bake this cake, so I could serve it with large dollops of this amazing fresh raw cream ontop (made into whipping cream, sweetened with local honey). Wow! Decadent! This recipe is a keeper - and it looks beautiful with slices of pears pressed into the dough once the cake is inverted. Here's the recipe (based on a similar one posted here about a year ago). This recipe is adapted from Simply in Season.



1/4 cup honey and/or maple syrup

1 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. water

2-3 ripe pears, cored and sliced

Cake Batter:

1/3 cup butter

1 egg

1 1/2 cups local flour (spelt)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup honey

1/2 cup milk or buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Prepare syrup by melting first four ingredients together in small saucepan. Stir until well combined. Pour into 8x12 glass baking dish.

3. Arrange sliced pears evenly on top of the syrup.

4. In medium sized mixing bowl, beat butter, sweetener and egg.

5. Mix all dry ingredients together in small bowl.

6. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with milk.

7. Spoon cake batter over pears in baking dish.

8. Bake about 30 to 35 minutes or until knife inserted in cake comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and turn onto a platter.

9. Serve warm or cold with homemade yogurt or whipped cream (with raw milk if you can get it!).

Makes eight servings.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Zucchini Muffins

Here is a 100-Mile recipe for simple, sugar-free, delectable zucchini muffins using local ingredients. It's zucchini season and if you grow them in your garden you are probably looking for new ways to use them up. They can also be shredded and put in the freezer for winter baking. Zucchini adds amazing moist texture to any baking - cakes, muffins, breads...(and of course these are easily embellished with other non-local ingredients like nuts, raisins, dates, chocolate chips, or cocoa - once the 100-mile diet challenge is over).

Zucchini Muffins
2 cups light spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1 cup maple syrup or honey (or half and half)
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
1/2 cup applesauce*

* I actually didn't have enough applesauce, so I used 1/3 cup yogurt and 1 egg instead and they came out nicely. A touch of cocoa would be lovely, as zucchini and chocolate go nicely together. If you are using spices, then cinnamon, cloves and ginger is a nice compliment to these muffins.

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Line two muffin pans.
2) Mix dry ingredients in one bowl. In another bowl combine syrup/honey, milk and oil. Pour wet into dry and stir well to combine. Then add in zucchin and applesauce and mix in gently.
3) Divide batter into 17-18 muffin cups (makes about 1.5 dozen medium sized muffins, or 1 dozen large muffins).
4) Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned and firm on top.

Seed Saving Workshop coming Sat, Sept 19

We wanted to make a quick announcement about an exciting upcoming workshop. We are so pleased to again be hosting Bob Wildfong, President of Seed of Diversity (Canada's heirloom seed saving organization). He will be presenting an afternoon session on seed saving techniques - from flowers, to vegetables, with hands-on seed saving activities and also heirloom seeds to hand out. The work of Seeds of Diversity is so incredibly important, and they rely in good part on volunteers across the country who help to save seeds for the seed bank and member seed exchange. For more info about Seeds of Diversity or how to become a member go to:

The workshop will be here at Little City Farm, Sat, Sept 19 at 1 pm.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New favourite cookbook

I just got a new cookbook - it was mentioned on the Soule Mama blog, and has cover artwork by one of my favourite artists Nikki McClure. Nikki does simple yet complex papercut artwork with exacto knife, along the themes of family, activism, ecology, homesteading, gardens, nature, food sustainability, etc. We've had her calendars on our kitchen walls for years. How could I not get a cookbook that uses her art?

This cookbook is called "Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods (Recipes for Babies, Young Children and Their Parents)", by Cynthia Lair. It focusses on cooking with whole foods, the importance of gathering for meals, simple wholesome recipes that use fresh, local seasonal foods. Although this book is not necessarily covering new ideas, the recipes look nourishing, interesting and beautiful, yet straight-forward enough that they don't need too much time to prepare (great for families with young children). There are also sections specifically on foods for babies, raising healthy young eaters, food allergies, and how to involve your children in the kitchen. I'm looking forward to using this book more as our daughter grows.

Happy hens

The weather was so gorgeous today that I had to let our hens free-range around the yard and garden. By now we've done much of our garden harvest, so I'm not too worried about watching that they don't eat seedlings or tomatoes (they love to take one peck out of a ripe tomato and move on to the next!). I noticed they love comfrey leaves, nettle, lambs quarters, and even Jerusalem artichoke leaves, and since we have lots of these growing in our "wild" sections of the yard there really was no need for the hens to venture into the garden too much. Not to mention snails, slugs and worms after all the rain we've had lately. The hens were in late summer bliss today! With cooler days ahead they need to make the most of these warm days. They were lazily taking dust baths in their favourite spot near our back patio, and at the end of the day all preening and gathering on our back steps. I walked them back to the coop (enticing them with a handful of snacks - peach peelings), and the trotted along behind me in a line. They are such funny creatures, always busying about, and we spent much of the afternoon just watching their antics. We love these hens!

The fig tree!

No figs...yet

This is our Chicago Hardy Fig which we purchased as a small seedling from Richters Herbs back in early spring. Now it's grown to about 4 feet tall and if we can overwinter it in our greenhouse, they say it will bear figs next season! For size comparison see earlier post photos, and here our daughter stands beside the little tree.

More strawbale plastering