Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mint, spinach, asparagus & rhubarb

Signs of spring...fresh mint tea, young spinach greens, steamed asparagus picked from the garden, and tangy rhubarb. Oh, do I ever love rhubarb! Rhubarb crisp, apple-rhubarb pie, rhubarb muffins, strawberry-rhubarb jam, rhubarb sauce over vanilla icecream, and rhubarb drinks. Here is a recipe I've been asked for by several people, a perfect light fruity drink for a warm spring day: rhubarb cordial (other fruit or berries can be substituted to make a wide variety of old-fashioned fruit cordials).

Rhubarb Cordial

1 1/2 cups rhubarb, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger, optional
1 cup white sugar or honey
1 1/2 cups water
Mineral water/sparkling water
ice, optional
Fresh mint sprigs

1) Place rhubarb, ginger, sugar and water in saucepan. Boil, then turn down to simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the mixture forms a bright pink syrup. This is your fruit syrup.

2) Turn off heat and allow syrup to cool. Strain into a large mason jar. This syrup stores for about 2 weeks in the fridge, but you will surely use it sooner!

3) To serve a fruit cordial, measure 1/4 cup rhubarb-ginger syrup into a glass. Add Mineral water/sparkling water to fill the glass 2/3 full. Stir to mix well, then add ice. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.

Greenhouse back in action

We posted a request for a power washer a few weeks ago on this blog, and were incredibly grateful to one of our local readers for loaning us one - in exchange for some chickenkeeping advice, and fresh eggs from our hens! What a deal! The greenhouse panels, as well as the interior of the chicken coop, have been given a thorough spring cleaning, and are hospitable again. We can actually get maximum solar gain in the greenhouse again, just in time for seedling season.

It seems like all my seedling photos recently have been basil, but we are certainly growing a lot of basil, amidst everything else! I transplanted 50 basil today and they are having their first night out in the greenhouse, hopefully not in too much shock. It is actually quite warm in there, and the heat of the sunny mid-day (over 35C if the door does not get opened) will probably be worse for the basil at first then the cold evenings. We have two solar-powered fans that run when the sun is out, and help to ventilate the greenhouse a little. Greg likes the synergy of this arrangement - they are small RV fans, hooked directly to the solar panel on our southern exposure barn roof - when the greenhouse is hottest and needs air movement, they will surely be running. Very efficient and convenient.

Here's also a photo of our Chicago Hardy Fig, which is indeed proving to be hardy as it's over-wintered the first year in the greenhouse having been buried in a mound of straw. We've unearthed it, and it's sprouting many new shoots and leaves. We were told we would have our first harvest of figs this second year, and we are eagerly awaiting to see if this will really be the case! Our hazelnut tree, and the pear tree that was damaged last year (by a falling branch), are making amazing comebacks - both in full leaf already. We noticed one of our apple trees is not doing well, no leaves or buds at all, and it may have gotten a blight last year (I remember the leaves withering and falling off, just after apple season but too early for regular fall season). We were planning to plant a few more fruit trees this year anyway, but may have to look at replacing this one too. Sadly, this apple was actually already bearing nice fruit for a few years - it's about seven years old. There's so much more to learn about fruit trees.

Then there is the wild fruit harvest, which we are anticipating again this year. What a joy to discover forgotten gems of berry bushes, abandoned fruit trees, and wild greens all across the city (many in our own neighbourhood). Nettles are ready for harvest, as are dandelion greens of course. Wild leeks have almost come and gone, and soon it's time for other wonderful wild foods like mulberries...

Soaps for LOFT Market

We had a very special custom order for more than 100 guest soaps this week! It was for LOFT Market - which stands for "local organics fairly traded". LOFT Market, (not to be confused with LOFT, which is a producer co-operative of local farmers who supply LOFT Market), offers a large-scale local organic food box program here in the area, with 10 depot/pick up locations (Cambridge, Guelph, New Hamburg, Waterloo and Kitchener). We were so pleased to be asked to contribute soaps for their last winter box! They were interested in our soaps because we are a small local business that uses local organic ingredients - like herbs from our gardens, local oats & honey, local goatmilk, and even local beer & egg for our shampoo bar. We provided bars made with medicinal herbs, including chamomile, rosemary, lavender, calendula, and sage. We wish LOFT Market, and their farmers, well for the new 2010 season ahead!

Check out LOFT Market - to become a member or find out more go to:

Garden Weekend - wood-fired baking, cold frame & seedlings

A few updates on the garden - we are working at establishing more permaculture style keyhole beds, and also reorganizing our herb gardens. We've set up a second cold frame infront of the greenhouse, which will be used to harden off the seedling in preparation for the May 22 sale. This cold frame is simply a large rectangular box made of recycled wood, covered with glass windows.

The cold frame raised bed that contains our spring greens is bursting! We've been eating salad, dandelion greens, spinach, arugula, chives, etc for the whole month - and now with the warm days, many of the lettuces are starting to go to seed! I pulled out much of the spinach yesterday, as we are vowing this year to eat the greens when they are at their peak, rather than waiting until they go to seed and get bitter (which often seems to happen). We made two huge pizzas and loaded them with spinach and fresh oregano from the garden...baked in the wood-fired oven, yummm! See before and after photos here :)

The first round of basil is ready for harvest, and I've transplanted much of it into larger containers. We need the space on our indoor grow racks for new seedlings. Kale and broccoli have been moved to the greenhouse, and it's time to get the squash and zucchini started. These can also be planted directly outdoors later. We've started carrots and peas, plus sunflowers and some other flowers, out in the garden already. Of course, our little helper is doing a great job of watering and tending the plant babies.

Lavender-Infused Chocolate Cupcakes - Mother's Day Treats

To those of you who are local, we are offering *special baking* once again, for the upcoming Mother's Day next Sunday. This time it's delicious spring inspired lavender-infused chocolate vegan cupcakes with lavender buttercream icing (made by steeping lavender as tea, which is added to the icing for a sweet subtle flavour). Here's a photo to give you an idea...check our website for ordering details.

Bloomin' Earth Festival

We've had a busy weekend - took part in the local Bloomin' Earth festival at Kitchener Market, along with 70 other craft vendors! What an array of creative talents, so many local, and with a focus on earth-friendly goods! It was great to see so many familiar faces who stopped by our booth. We were sharing tent space with the talented Amaryah of Sew Oiseau, and next to us was Eve from Eve's Little Earthlings!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Come Visit! Local Festivals & Events - find seedlings, handmade goods, local food and more

Happy Earth Week, and the start of garden season, to all you local Foodies, Transition Towners, Gardeners, Permaculturists, and Urban Homesteaders! 

There are several WONDERFUL LOCAL FESTIVALS & EVENTS COMING this next month celebrating local food, local crafting & arts, and creating vibrant communities!  Please read the list below and follow the links for more details. 

COME SAY HELLO!  Little City Farm will be vending our seedlings, soaps & botanicals, and baked goods at these various events - so please drop by and say hello!  We'd love to see you, and if we haven't met in person, please come introduce yourself!

Bloomin' Earth Festival
Sat, April 24 from 9 am -4 pm
at Kitchener Market in downtown Kitchener
More than 60 vendors confirmed for this amazing handmade craft/art sale!   Plus junkyard symphony, recycled fashion show and more!

Stitch' n ' Kitsch Craft Show & Sale
Sat, May 1 from 10 am-5 pm
at First United Church, corner of King & William St, uptown Waterloo
Handmade pottery, soap, jewellery, bags, knitwear, dolls, children's items, accessories, paper goods, art, and so much more!

 Waterloo Farmers and Crafters Market
Every Thursday from 4-8 pm, May through October
at the Uptown Waterloo new public square
An exciting new market where you will find local organic produce, and handmade artisan/crafters goods, and so much more!  Little City Farm will be there with our handmade soaps & botanicals!

Little City Farm 8th Annual Seedling Sale!!
Sat, May 22 from 9 am -12 noon
at Little City Farm location, 508 Duke St W, Kitchener
Organic heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs.  Specializing in heirloom tomatoes - more than 20 kinds available.  Also baked goods, gardener's soaps/salves, handmade garden aprons, and more exciting finds!  3 vendors, more than 1000 seedlings!  Come early for best selection and plan to stay for a while to meet local foodies & urban gardeners!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Urban homesteading day...

Enjoyed the warm weather with some solid hours outdoors today, preparing the garden beds, baking in the wood-fired cob oven, moving the chicken coop, and touring around the yard on a fabulous retro red tricycle with hens in tow.

Garden tasks included establishing new beds - we've taken apart our old raised beds and have widened them with new cedar frames, and woodchip mulch as narrow paths between.  Next we want to set up some permaculture-style keyhole beds on the sides and back of the garden, as well as redesign the herb area.  I have mint beds on the outskirts of the main garden, also in raised beds, with 8-9 varieties of mint for tea blends.  These mints, and other herbs, are starting to come up, as well as the rhubarb and first shoots of asparagus!  We had to move a large section of strawberries in order to widen our new beds, so these are now in pots waiting for their new home near our pond.  We'd like a carpet of edibles (strawberries and aromatic herbs like thyme or lavender) near the pond sitting area, under one of our apple trees.

Baking in the cob oven - it makes good sense to do this on a gardening day, as tending a fire for a few hours is easy enough while puttering in the garden beds alongside.  The end result, 6 loaves of crusty wholegrain sesame-sunflower rye bread, 2 plum-rhubarb pies (using up freezer fruit remains), and a huge batch of maple granola - all baked within an hour in the oven, which is still warm now, hours later.

Moving the chicken coop - this is an annual tast we do, as one method of keeping the pen and run tidy and free from mites or disease.  We give it a good cleaning regularily (and may power wash it this week,a s someone generously loaned us her power washer after reading our request earlier in this blog - thank you!!), however, actually moving the entire coop to a new corner of the run is a good idea on an annual basis.

And, happiness is...a new red tricycle - which we found used on kijiji, and, in fact turned out to be from someone who lives only a few blocks away.  Perfect!

Spring craft shows - including upcoming Bloomin' Earth Festival & Stitch'n'Kitsch spring sale!

It's spring festival season!  Yesterday I took part as a vendor at the annual La Leche League garage sale event.  This is a huge garage sale, with a wonderful selection of clothes, toys, housewares, maternity gear, and more - and best of all, it suits every budget as payment is simply a donation of any size toward the organization's work.  Here are some photos of the Homestead Herbals table (including new handmade colouring books with felt covers), as well as the Sew Oiseau display (my friend who sells wool applique clothing and Waldorf-style dolls).

Next weekend we'll both be vending at the Bloomin' Earth Festival at our Kitchener Market (Sat, April 24) - a culmination of a weeklong of fantastic events being held in the downtown to celebrate Earth Week!   The following week (Sat, May 1) Homestead Herbals will be at the exciting annual Stitch & Kitsch spring sale, in uptownWaterloo (church on King & William St corner).  Come visit and say hello!

Workshops: Organic Gardening - plus Compost Tea recipe

Last weekend saw unbelieveably warm weather, and we were able to hold our Organic Gardening workshop outdoors on the garden patio.  Much more inspiring than discussing this topic indoors.  The aim of this workshop was to familiarize beginning gardeners with basic organic principles and techniques - including building and maintaining soil health, compost, tilling vs no-till approach, brief overview of permaculture approaches, as well as companion planting, bio-intensive gardening in small spaces, and organic pest controls.  This was a lot to cover in two hours, given that we also wanted to have enough time to answer the many questions of the participants.  Really, this organic gardening basics could be a whole series in itself - something to consider for next season.

The most important point to bring across was how vital soil health is to a successful garden - getting to know your garden's soil qualities (sandy, clay, poor drainage, too dry, acidic, alkaline, etc) and creating a healthy balance with maximum beneficial microorganisms by using: compost and, better yet, compost tea, as well as aged manures, worm castings (from vermicomposting bins), mulches (straw, shredded newspaper, woodchips), and other simple additions like fish emulsions, eggshells (calcium) and so on. 

Compost Tea Recipe
The best way to quickly improve your soil health is to apply compost tea on a regular basis.  Using a fish aquarium bubbler helps to create a compost tea filled with oxygen (aerobic), as the beneficial microorganisms need oxygen to survive.

What you will need:
5 gallon plastic pail
1 shovelful aged compost (about 3 large handfuls)
Small fish aquarium bubbler

1. Fill pail with water and let this sit for 24 hours to evaporate chlorine (from city water).
2. Add compost into a mesh bag and tie bag loosely closed.  The mesh bag should be fine enough to hold the compost inside, while still letting water flow through.  Put bag in the pail of water and let steep like a "tea" for 12-24 hours, while running the aquarium bubbler.
3. Strain compost tea into a watering can and use on garden immediately  This tea does not keep for more than a few days as microorganisms die and you are left with anerobic water.  A similarily beneficial "tea" can be made using worm castings from a vermicomposting bin.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

First spring edibles

Today's lunch was an outdoor picnic that included our first luscious garden greens - young spinach and lettuce varieties from the coldframe, greens from the greenhouse (almost bolting by now, as the greenhouse has been over 30C on the sunny days), chives, garlic greens, young kale leaves, dandelion, green onions, parsley and edible violets...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

First signs of spring

We have been loving the rains these past few days - so needed for the farmers and gardeners in our region. The rains have brought all kinds of new green to life in our yard...elderberry bushes and currant bushes have young green leaves, fruit tree buds are starting to form, pink rhubarb tips are poking out of the soil, chives, garlic, parsley and onions are sprouting, herbs are reviving - and wild woodland flowers like bloodroot are already almost done their flowering time...such a beautiful hopeful time of year!

Spring seedlings take over the house

We're preparing for our 8th annual seedling sale - heirloom tomatoes, peppers, kale, eggplant, flowers and many herbs have been planted and are now filling tray upon tray all through our house.  The two grow racks are stacked high, and we're ready to do the first transplanting (basil, savory, thyme, marjoram, sage - all ready to go out of their little cell packs into fresh soil).  We're getting a bit nervous about how to find space for all these lovely growing plant babies, and still give them enough light and warmth.  April is still quite cold to set them out into our greenhouse, which is unheated (nice and warm during the day, even too hot on the sunny days when it can come near 25-30 in there if the door or vents aren't opened up; but cold at night when the temperatures still dip below zero).  The latest plan is to move the hardier ones out to the greenhouse once they are a little bigger and cover them with floating row cover at night.  On warm days later in May, we move them outdoors to start the hardening off process, and back in at night - but this is still at least a month away!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Natural Life Magazine - featured article about Little City Farm in May-June issue!

We are excited that the May-June issue of Natural Life Magazine is coming out shortly! We have an article being published in this upcoming issue, talking about our life here at Little City Farm and how to get your own urban homestead established - "Living the Good Life in the City: Creating your Sustainable Urban Homestead".

You can read it online, or better yet, pick up your copy of the magazine (at Wordsworth Books, or order online). This is a wonderful Canadian magazine focussing on natural parenting, sustainable living, organic gardening, homelearning/unschooling, and green building:

Spot the chicken

We have two hens, Buttons and Gypsy, who have taken to laying eggs in a bucket of sawdust which we keep near our cob oven! Each day we find one of the hens sitting quietly in the bucket - quite a cozy soft spot actually, under a sheltered roof hidden by a woodpile, out of sight from potential predators. Those smart hens :)

Help! Do you have a power washer for our greenhouse??

Does anyone out there have a power washer they would like to loan us? We can offer a variety of things as a barter, including gardening help, seedlings, organic baked goods, handmade soaps, a night at our bed & breakfast, etc.

The reason we are putting this request out there, is that our greenhouse is in desperate need of a washing. As mentioned in an earlier post, the greenhouse sits directly below a huge black walnut tree - a beautiful tree in it's own right, but since the juglone in the roots does not allow much vegetation to grow under this tree we decided to put the greenhouse here rather than a garden. Seemed like a good idea, especially since this also allows the greenhouse to be south-facing. For about 8 years now we've had the greenhouse there, and slowly over time the window panels have been getting progressively stained by the dripping from the walnut leaves. Hmmm, should have thought of this, knowing that walnut leaves and hulls are used as a brown dye! Well, we didn't have much choice in location given the layout of this urban property. So now we are stuck with a greenhouse that either needs a power washer to clean up the panels and restore proper light levels to grow our seedlings, OR purchasing new panels. We'd like to avoid purchasing, if anyone knows of a power washer, please email us! littlecityfarm(@)

Rainbarrel distribution in our region

Waterloo Region is distributing rainbarrels again, Sat, April 24 (thank you Glenn for sending this reminder!). $30 each, until supplies last (they always seem to go very fast and you need to stop by early to get one! The distribution starts at 7:30 am.

See their website for more details at:!OpenDocument

Thursday, April 01, 2010

It's the season for urban maple tapping!

It's maple syrup season around this part of Ontario (has been for a few weeks, and in fact is almost over by now). A nearby town, Elmira, held it's annual maple syrup festival last weekend, and the thousands of visitors that flooded the town to take part in tours of sugar shacks and a free pancake breakfast definitely signifiy how much maple syrup is part of our national psyche - a Canadian trademark, the flowing sap announcing spring and allowing us to celebrate a short, sweet, almost sacred harvest from our iconic maple trees.

And, across the country urban foragers are also tapping into this wonderful syrup bounty - with urban maple tapping (as well as other trees, such as birch or black walnut) becoming increasingly common in urban neighbourhoods. Exciting - though not a job to take lightly! Tapping trees takes patience and diligence, not to mention the nearly 24 hour vigil of boiling down the sap on a fire into beautiful amber-golden syrup. This makes for a great community effort as there is plenty of time for socializing as you boil down the sap or check your neighbourhood taps each day. As it takes aproximately 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup, each precious teaspoonful should be carefully reverently savoured.

Urban maple tapping projects are going on in many cities across North America. Brooklyn boasts it's own "made in Brooklyn maple syrup". In Winnipeg not only sugar maples are tapped, but also Manitoba maples, birch trees and black walnuts for a delectable combination syrup. Not Farm From the Tree, a non-profit organization in Toronto, sells "I'd tap that - syrup in the city" t-shirts and coordinates groups of volunteers to help with tapping across the city. They largely tap Norway maples, which, although producing a lower ratio of sap to syrup, are more hardy in the city than sugar maples.

More links for urban maple tapping projects - read these exciting stories:

I’d Tap That t-shirts (proceeds go to Not Far From the Tree)