Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Herbs planted, flowers, and more to grow!

Someone had requested a list of herbs that I've started from seed indoors in mid-February, so here it is. So far, I've planted flats of rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, mint, lemon balm, basil, chamomile, bergamot, oregano, hyssop which will all be growing under lights until they are strong enough to head out to our unheated greenhouse in early April. I think I may have overdone the herbs this year, and hope by the time we transplant all of them into larger containers, that we still have enough space for our hordes of tomatoes and other vegetables...ahh, the bane of the urban farmer, never enough growing space to get all the starts going.

I also have some rosehips saved from two massive wild rose bushes that came up as volunteer plants in our yard, and I hope to germinate a few of these as well. I was so pleased to see wild rose finding ideal soil conditions here and just choosing to root and grow, as rosehips are such a rich source of vitamin C when made into a tea during the winter months. What a fortunate resource to have right here on site! It amazes me how seeds know their time and place to germinate - the same happened with a small patch of red trillium, as well as bloodroot, which just came up unexpectedly and unannounced, in a woodland area of our yard. Beautiful, and auspicious!

Back to herbs for this year - parsley, dill, coriander, fennel, and calendula don't need the long germination period, and will be started from seed later in March, as well more varieties of basil (lemon, thai, purple), and some flowers that can be transplanted (e.g. marigolds, lupines). Most of the flowers I grow (for cut flowers) are just direct seeded (e.g. sunflowers, cosmos, zinnias, snapdragons). I already have loads of echinacea, black-eyed susan/rudbeckia, hollyhocks, red & white yarrow, New England asters, some sweet william, baby's breath, and shasta daisies (and of course goldenrod, and our sweet old-fashioned lilac bush, plus enough forsythia around the neighbourhood to glean bouquets from in the spring!) in our yard, which continue to come up abundantly each year and are beautiful as cut flowers. I love flowers, but have not focussed on them too much in the past because many of these tend not to be perennial or native. However, flower bouquets are so lovely in the house and for our B&B rooms, and who is to say annual sunflowers can't be mixed with perennial wild lupines anyway?

I'll be planting successive rounds of more genovese basil so that I have a constant crop for fresh pesto throughout the growing season. One new herb I'm planning to try growing fenugreek this year, though it will surely just be an annual in our cold climate.

I placed my annual herb order from Richters Herbs last week. This year it included a flat of alpine strawberries that fruit all season long, Russian sage, white sage, stevia (to use an herbal sugar replacement), lemongrass, and some other medicinal herbs which I don't have seeds for starting myself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Heirloom seeds companies

It's nearly the end of February, but not too late to still mail away for some new seeds! As there are not often heirloom (or even organic) seeds available at the local stores or garden centres, we thought we'd post a list of our favourite small-scale seed suppliers who offer wonderful and hard-to-find varieties of heritage seeds. Consider supporting these small suppliers, who work hard to keep these old varieties alive and viable year after year - and of course, don't forget to let a few of these plants go to seed to save some of these varieties yourself once you have them in your garden.

Many of these old varieties come with fascinating stories, often expressed in their unique names - e.g. Mennonite Orange tomatoes, Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, Baie Verte Acadian Beans, Tante Alice cucumbers, Mammoth Melting Sugar peas, Black Spanish radish, Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin, Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon, etc. Non-profit organizations like Seeds of Diversity Canada, and Seed Savers Exchange (USA) have legions of members who help share the work of keeping these varieties alive - consider joining one of these groups to access their vast member catalogue seed exchange network and help with the important work of saving seeds.

Eternal Seeds (Quebec)
Greta's Organic Seeds (Ontario)
Hope Seeds (New Brunswick)

Salt Spring Seeds (BC)

Seeds of Change (eastern USA)
Seed Savers Exchange (USA)
Seeds of Diversity (Canada)
Terra Edibles (Ontario)
The Cottage Gardener (Ontario)
Urban Harvest (Toronto)
West Coast Seeds (BC)

Workshops - Grow Your Own Food!

Another workshop, this past weekend, saw our tiny house packed to the gills with eager urban gardeners! How exciting to meet so many city folks who want to grow their own food, save seeds, and build greater sustainability, health, and food security into their lives. We managed to squeeze everyone in - there were nearly 30 of us packed into our dining room (we moved out all the furniture, and lined up every chair we could find - and the room was filled with gardeners sitting elbow to elbow! Nice and cozy on a cold February day, when we are all dreaming about our gardens.)

As part of this workshop we also thought we'd share seeds, as it happened to be Seedy Saturday across Canada. While we don't yet have enough of our own saved seeds to pass on to everyone who came, we purchased interesting heirloom seed varieties from our local Ontario Seed Company, and left one package on each seat. This way, workshop participants would take home one pack or trade with a neighbour and thus get a chance to chat and get to know each other. Seeds included all manner of vegetables, herbs and flowers - that are easy to grow from direct seed - lettuces, sunflowers, carrots, radishes, beets, beans, peas...

Workshop highlights:
Four stages of garden planning
1) dreaming (what are your hopes for your garden, every great project begins with vast dreams)
2) reality (bringing dreams down to reality, based on potential limitations - space, sunlight, soil conditions, water, time constraints, costs, etc)
3) remembering/observing/recording (microclimates, zones, light levels, rainfall, mapping out garden layout to enable crop rotation in subsequent years)
4) learning (learning each season, building on this knowledge to improve from one growing season to the next, incorporating new concepts like biointensive planting, permaculture - observing nature, polyculture, organic methods, biodynamic calendars, etc)

When planning garden layout consider:
- first and last frost dates for your zone
- deciding on whether to use containers, rows, raised beds, or permaculture style "keyhole" beds (which take the least amount of path per square foot of useable garden plot)
- spacing of plants, starting dates, days to harvest, crop cycling/succession planting, multi-story gardening/interplanting (e.g. corn, beans & squash)
- companion planting (to improve crops and deter insects), attracting beneficial insects
- building the soil (microorganisms and fungi)

We are excited about another permaculture technique called polyculture, and are hoping to plant a few of our beds in this manner this year. Polyculture gardening helps to extend the season and maintain healthy soil, by keeping soil completely covered and interplanted with mixed companionable varieties of vegetables, herbs, and greens that are broadcast over the bed. Any gaps that are left when seedlings first come up are filled with beans, peas or garlic. This is obviously a very simple summary of polyculture - more details in Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture.

Workshops - Vermicomposting!

We've hosted a few more workshops since the last time I had time to sit down to write.

As a side note, I want to mention that the merits of blogging are a constant debate around here: on one hand, blogs, websites, and internet in general can be such useful tools for sharing information, as well as allowing opportunity for creative writing and valuable documentation; on the other hand, this means more time spent infront of a screen, usually by myself, when there are so many hands-on projects that need to be done on our busy homestead...and yes, there are definitely days when I'm ready to get rid of the computer all together, and during these stretches my blog posts get irratic. I'm sure this is a common discussion among all you urban (and rural) homesteaders out there.

However, I am always encouraged by the many people I've met through this blog, and other events at our homestead, who share their knowledge and are able to glean valuable bits from our experience. Thank you to all of you who read this, provide comments, and send us emails! One of the reasons we are urban homesteaders, rather than setting up a rural farm life, is because in the city we can connect more easily with community around us - so for now, I continue the blogging, planning workshops, hosting events, and doing community work...and try to balance it with entire days spent outdoors in the garden, with the computer turned off.

Farming worms - vermicomposting!
Last weekend, our friend Jeff, from Transition KW, came to lead an informative workshop on vermicomposting. He has been farming his worms for several years, and is quite enchanted with them (red wigglers or European nightcrawlers). And, yes, worms are wonderful! Easy to maintain, devouring compost quickly and quietly, and producing beautiful worm castings, which can be used directly in the garden or on houseplants, or made into a nutrient-rich compost tea. Jeff advocates for a 3-bin worm system (using large sturdy plastic bins), with holes drilled in the lid and filled with one inch strips of shredded newspaper and cardboard, soil and about 10-15 crushed eggshells. Add enough de-chlorinated water to lightly moisten the mixture and blend all well. Add 1/2 pound of worms under the bedding, add some handfuls of fruit or vegetable scraps in one corner, and voila - you have a worm composting system ready to go! The top bin can have a cover made of screened mesh or thin cheesecloth to keep out fruit flies. Avoid citrus, oily foods, dairy and meat in the worm feedings - the eggshells help to balance the ph of the bin. This system is perfect for someone in an apartment without an outdoor compost system, or those who wish to keep an active compost pile going all winter long.

By the way, vermicomposting is the perfect project to get kids involved in. Our young daughter loves checking on the worms each day, feeding them scraps of carrot peelings and squash rinds, and generally views them as curious household pets that need to be cared for.

A useful resource book to follow up with more detail:
Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set up and Maintain a Worm Composting System - by Mary Appelhof

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bloomin' Earth Festival, April 24

For Earth Week this year there is a week long series of eco-friendly events taking place in downtown Kitchener! Come see us at the Bloomin' Earth Festival, Sat, April 24 from 10 am-4 pm, at the Kitchener Market. Bloomin' Earth will feature upto 70 vendors selling handmade goods, an eco fashion show, sustainability workshops, and more! We'll be there with info about Little City Farm, plus our handmade soaps, healing salves, and herbal blends.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Start your seedlings - planting guide

It's mid February, and that means time to start planting seeds that need a long germination (like many herbs), reorganizing the greenhouse, cleaning trays, buying more starter soil, and also planning out the garden.

I have had requests again, to re-post the seedling starting guide which we posted here before. I have compiled this information from several books - including The Organic Growers Complete Guide to Vegetables and Fruits, by Rodale; The Harrowsmith Northern Gardener, by Jennifer Bennett, and Eliot Coleman's books. There is also lots of useful information (and gorgeous botanical photography!) on the You Grow Girl website, plus their simple but handy planting guide here:

Here is the planting guide we use, based on our frost-free date being May 24 (for our Zone 5 here in southern Ontario).

A quick note on starting herb seedlings. Most perennial herbs, for example, culinary herbs like lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, hyssop, marjoram, winter savory, and most other medicinal herbs, take a long time to germinate. These tiny seeds need patience - often taking 6-8 weeks just to germinate and then many more weeks before they are ready to plant out. These should be started now, mid February. Of course, once you have these herbs in your garden the perennial ones will not need to be started again - and many herbs can also be propogated by cuttings or division in the spring or summer (like oregano). Since herbs can be time consuming and sometimes difficult to start from seed, there are good herb suppliers like Richters Herbs in Goodwood, Ontario, where you can mail order seedlings in early spring. Richters has a huge assortment of herbs - annual and perennials, plus interesting heirloom vegetables, greens, flowers and also even some berries/fruit - we purchased our Chicago Hardy Fig tree from Richters last year and hope to have figs to harvest from it this year!

Annual herbs, like basil varieties, chives and cilantro, don't take nearly as long to get started. Basil is started around the same time as tomatoes, and although dill and cilantro can be transplanted, they grow quickly and can simply be planted directly in the warm garden soil several times over the growing season.

PLANTING GUIDE (based on frost-free date of May 24):
FEBRUARY (the greens listed here can continue to be planted throughout the growing season of course)

Start lettuce, chard, other greens in greenhouse or in flats indoors (to be planted out to greenhouse). Start selected medicinal and culinary herbs by middle of February. Some take 6-8 weeks to germinate!

10 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. March 15)
Start seeds of celery, eggplant, leeks, onion, pepper and flowers like impatiens, lobelia, verbena and perennials indoors.

8 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. March 29)
Start seeds of early head lettuce and flowers like begonia, coleus, nicotiana, petunia and salvia indoors.

7 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. April 5)
Start seeds of tomatoes, hot peppers, and early basil indoors.

6 WEEKS TO LAST FROST(aprox. April 12)
Start seeds of early left lettuce, early cabbages including cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kale, and small seeded annuals indoors. DIRECT SEED broad beans, carrots, peas, spinach, leaf lettuce, turnips, dill, parsley, and hardy flowers such as alyssum, candytuft, pansies, poppies, snapdragons, stocks, sunflowers and sweet peas. Plant onion sets or transplant onion seedlings outdoors.

4 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. April 26)
Start melon seeds indoors. If desired, start seeds of late basil, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, large-seeded annuals, and flowering vines indoors in peat pots. DIRECT SEED radishes, beets, cabbages, chard, head lettuce, and flowers such as godetia, hollyhock, and mallow. Plant potato eyes and transplant seedlings of early cabbages, except cauliflower.

2 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. May 10)
DIRECT SEED corn, tender bulbs such as glads, and annual vines such as morning glory. Transplant early lettuce seedlings.

WEEK OF LAST FROST (aprox. May 17-24)
Around the last frost date you can finally direct seed beans, cauliflower, cucumber, squashes, heat-loving flowers such as zinnias, marigold, and lavatera. Transplant your tomaotes. If you've got them, transplant cauliflower, squash and cucumber seedlings.

1-2 WEEKS AFTER FROST (aprox. May 31-June 7)
Wait for a couple of weeks after the last frost before direct seedling lima benas, soybeans, melons and herbs such as basil, summer savory and sweet marjoram. Transplant celery, melon, peppers, eggplant seedlings when the night temperatures stay well above 10 degrees C. Plant sweet potato slips. Start second crop of kale seedlings, and reseed spinach and peas for second crop.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Workshop - Herbal Baby Care

On the weekend we held another workshop here. I had received an email from an expectant mama in Stratford who wondered if I could put together a special workshop on natural baby care for her and some friends. I love getting requests like this, as it gave me the motivation to put together a comprehensive 2 hour workshop on making herbal baby care products, as well as natural remedies for the post-partum mama. These are products I focus on with Homestead Herbals anyway, and during my herbal studies I have always been most interested in mom & baby care, so it's an area of passion and care for me. I always love to pass this knowledge on, especially in a down-to-earth setting in our cozy kitchen (where we held this workshop), as it feels like an age-old way for women to share useful healing knowledge with each other.

During the workshop we made a diaper salve, discussed remedies for herbal baths, teas for children, baby dusting powders, infant massage - as well as post-partum teas, mama healing bath salts & herbs, and herbs to use to increase or decrease milk production for nursing.

Here are a few quick recipes:

Baby Diaper Salve
3 cups olive oil, in which 6 oz calendula petals have been infused
(solar infusion 4-6 weeks, or in crock pot on lowest setting for 12 hours)
3 oz shaved pure beeswax (or more)
3 oz cocoa butter (or more)
4 tsp vit E oil
1/4 tsp each pure essential oils lavender and chamomile (at time of bottling)

Simple more milk tip (for nursing mama):
Soak 1 tsp organic fenugreek seeds in 1 cup pure filtered water overnight
In the morning, eat the sprouted seeds and drink the water
Results in a few hours!

Thanks to the wonderful group of women who participated! I felt privileged to meet them, and made new friendships with lovely mamas in Stratford, a mama who lives on a farm near Hamilton and operates Underground Organics (growing veggies, herbs and gorgeous cut-flowers), a mama who is opening a natural Waldorf-inspired online children's toy shop called The Aurora Forest, and several women who work at the local Extraordinary Baby Shoppe. It's nice to see these women meeting each other and making connections with their business ventures, sharing their experiences as mothers, and taking home useful knowledge for natural healthful care of their families.

The Aurora Forest

Extraordinary Baby Shoppe

Underground Organics

Friday, February 05, 2010

Seedy Saturday at KPL, Feb 20

Coming up...a great garden-related community event that takes place in late winter every year across Canada - the annual Seedy Saturday! Here in downtown Kitchener the public library will be hosting a local Seedy Saturday with seed exchange, seeds for sale, community info booths, gardening workshops, and Master Gardeners on hand to answer questions. This is a free event worth dropping by, and getting inspired about the new garden season ahead!

Seedy Saturday
Sat, Feb 20 from 9:30-2:30 pm
at KPL, Main Library lower floor
85 Queen St N, Kitchener

Free event - bring along seeds to swap.

Workshops include:
9:45 - How to grow great garlic
9:45 - Healthy lawn care
11:00 - Propagating wild plants
11:00 - Growing asparagus
12:15 - Adopt a seed: Seed library project
(Seeds of Diversity Canada)
12:15 - Growing vegetables
1:30 - Maintenance of seedlings
1:30 - Bloom with ease: low water landscaping

More info:

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Custom organic Valentines baking...mmm


From the Little City Farm kitchen...create a romantic decadent Valentines, with a truly scrumptious cake - made with local & organic ingredients you can feel good about indulging in. Baked goods come packaged in sturdy box, tied with ribbon, ready for gift giving or taking home for yourself.

Organic Triple Chocolate Mocha Cake

$40 each (15 generous servings)

Rich double layer dark mocha cake, with dark mocha buttercream icing and rich chocolate ganache, topped with raspberries and/or nuts, and optional custom message.

Ingredients: Organic cream, organic dairy, organic eggs, organic flour, dark dutch cocoa, fair trade chocolate, fair trade coffee.

Organic Triple Chocolate Cupcakes

$2.50 each (minimum order 4)

Moist dark chocolate cupcakes, with chocolate buttercream icing and rich chocolate ganache topping. Optional decorations - raspberries, nuts, or iced heart.

Ingredients: Organic cream, organic dairy, organic eggs, organic flour, dark dutch cocoa, fair trade chocolate.

Vegan versions of these Cakes & Cupcakes also available

Order details:

To order contact Karin at:
Please place your order by Wed, Feb 10.
Pick up at Little City Farm. For delivery please inquire.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Peace Cafe - building peace at the community level one cafe at a time

Recently Greg attended a conference (Global Citizen & Fair Trade conference, organized at the university), and happened to meet someone from Hamilton who is involved with a really interesting initiative called the Peace Cafe.

Peace Caf├ęs are safe community spaces dedicated to developing a Culture of Peace at the community level through dialogue, conversation, workshops, and a library of peace resources along with wholesome food and drink options. Currently there are 3 primary locations - Hamilton (Ontario), San Francisco (CA), and Walkerton (Ontario). Numerous other movements to develop peace cafes in other communities (Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg, Victoria, Nelson) are underway.

Peace Cafe follows the six key principles of non-violence, based on Manifesto 2000 for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence ( For more details, resources, and a documentary on getting a peace cafe started in your own community go to:

Organic Conference & new seeds!

We attended the annual organic conference in Guelph this past weekend! It's been an annual end of January tradition and highlight for us for the past 10 years, and each time we look forward to reacquainting with so many friends and familiar faces in the Ontario organic growers community. We also love touring all the booths selling seeds, as this is THE source for purchasing heirloom and organic seeds if you want to meet the growers in person. As usual, we came away with no less than a dozen new packs of heirloom tomatoes, our pockets filled with brochures about intriguing organic projects and organizations we want to follow up on, and our heads swirling with new ideas for garden ventures and community initiatives!

Dispite this being an organic farming conference with the emphasis on rural farm production, we were surprised by the number of conversations we had with urban farmers. We seem to be a growing sector of the organic farming movement in Ontario! From small-scale homesteaders like ourselves, urban SPIN-farming market gardeners, rooftop gardeners, city wildharvesters, urban-based seed saving businesses (like Urban Harvest in Toronto -, urban hen keepers networks, beekeepers, community gardeners and food educators, city folks are trying to find a meaningful place for themselves in the sustainable food movement - creative, innovative, exciting! There are so many directions to take urban agriculture/urban sustainability, and we are always inspired by the varied projects we see out there.

Of note, we met a couple who have a new project called "All Sorts Acre" ("real food, real life, real small" - nice slogan, that says it all!), who have one acre just outside of Guelph and are beginning to see themselves as a resource for others in their neighbourhood and city! There was also Sustain Ontario ("the alliance for healthy food & farming"), who are a cross-sectoral provincial alliance in Ontario working for a sustainable food system that is ecological, equitable and financially viable (quote from their brochure). They are organizing a large conference in Kitchener in early March, called "Bringing Food Home", to connect Ontario farms and food networks (farmers, growers, consumers, producers, etc). More details at:

Then there was FarmStart, and FarmLink - a booth we have stopped by in other years. The idea of FarmLink is a "match-making" system to link potential farmers with those who have available land, through on online database ( FarmStart is also teaching a 4-session course across the province related to "exploring your new farm dream", looking at opportunities and realities of starting a farm business. Our friend Angie from Fertile Ground CSA will be teaching the course here locally (

We dropped by Mycosource, a gourmet mushroom cultivation supplier, from whom we had purchasedour shiitake logs last year. He gave some helpful advice on how to promote bountiful fruiting of the logs, which seemed to have slowed down last season (they are supposed to fruit for several seasons). He suggested they had possibly gotten too wet - they need soaking to get started initially, but should be stored in a partially covered area to prevent too much rain from continuously soaking them. We are very keen on harvesting more mushrooms this season... (

As for seeds, we always stop at Greta's Organic Gardens first ( Her booth, in the farthest back corner of the exhibition hall, has the widest selection of heirloom tomato varieties and we have our favourites that we go back for every few years (when we haven't been able to save our own - a limitation of our city property). Tomatoes we'll be starting soon from Greta's seeds include: Yukon Red, Green Zebra, Green Tomatillo, Stupice, Gold Nugget Cherry, Yellow Pear, Manitoba Red, Sub-Arctic Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, Old Flame Bi-Colour, and Gardener's Delight Red Cherry...all of these will be available as seedlings at our annual Seedling Sale in May!