Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Last of the June berries...wild harvesting around town

We spent the morning wildharvesting fruit with a few other neighbourhood families - mostly mulberries from a huge tree that we've found around the corner growing near a parking lot.  In other years we've climbed the tree and shaken the berries onto a tarp below, but this year the season has gone so quickly with all the rain that the berries were mostly on the ground.  However, with only about half an hour of gathering we filled numerous quart baskets - and not to mention the ones eaten directly by our little helpers!  At the end of the picking there were beautiful purple mulberry stained hands, faces, mouths, pants, toes...  We also noticed a nearby cherry tree loaded with the last cherries of this season, just past their prime and falling off the tree.  We checked with the home owner and picked several baskets full too.  There are so many abandoned or wild edibles around the city so it feels good to take in some of the local harvest to enjoy over the winter months.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Upcoming Workshops at Little City Farm summer-fall 2010...and call for workshops for 2011

We've had numerous questions about the status of our upcoming workshops - we do have them listed on our website but for those of you who would rather read updates here, I will quickly post a list of what's coming up for the rest of the summer & fall.  Some sessions are already full, but others have lots of space, so please consider joining us for a workshop - we'd love to meet you!  Pre-registration in advance is required.

New workshops for 2011 - want to get involved? 
Also, we are starting to plan workshops for 2011, so let us know if you have a topic you'd like to see, or have a workshop idea you'd like to offer at Little City Farm.  Topics we offer here generally fall under the categories of: 
* sustainable living; 
* urban homesteading/traditional skills; 
* eco-crafting; organic growing/permaculture; 
* natural healing;
* whole foods

We aim to have our workshops loosely modelled on the "popular education" approach to teaching, which can be defined as "adult education for social change".  The idea is that we, in a community, can teach each other based on our skills and experiences - and where workshop participants go away feeling empowered to make changes or take action in their own lives based on what they have learned.  Workshops are participatory, hands-on, and informally structured, yet we try to have a solid base of information that participants come away with - including handout materials or other samples, seeds, tools, etc - thereby we hope to further the ideas and practices of sustainability and homesteading in the city.

Workshop schedule fo 2010:
July 17 - Cook with the Sun (solar dehydrators) - full
Aug 14 - Canning & Preserving - full
Aug 21 - Backyard Herbal Teas - full
Sept 11 - Saving Seeds
Sept 18 - Simple Sourdough & Baking in Wood-Fired Cob Oven - full
Oct 9 - Fruit Trees
Oct 16 - Winemaking
Nov 6 - Rag Rugs
Nov 13 - Vegan Baking - full

- also, Traditional Soapmaking workshops by special request (minimum 4 people)
- also, Felted Slippers - date to be determined

Thursday, June 24, 2010

This year's best garden helper!

We've had some offers for volunteer help this summer at our little homestead, but the most eager helper by far is our two year-old!  She keeps busy all day long, harvesting peas, learning names of herbs (she loves the wood sorrel, parsley and mint patches), making wildflower bouquets, feeding the hens and collecting their eggs, digging in the garden, pulling weeds, planting seeds and watering any dry seedlings, marking new rows with twigs or little rock piles, looking for snails and earthworms and lining them up them from biggest to smallest, checking the dial on the compost thermometre, decorating handmade garden signs, searching for strawberries, collecting red clover blossoms in her harvesting basket, counting the number of crows sitting at the top of our tamarack tree, watching "mama robin" in the nest that was built under our new porch roof, floating leaf boats in our pond...when I sometimes have a few fleeting worries about how our plans for homeschooling will work out, I just need to sit back and watch a day unfold to see that there is more than enough life learning going on around here to match any text book!

Wild Foods - salad greens & day lilies

What a busy week - our B&B has been booked solid, weekly baking (sourdough breads & fresh fruit pies) has begun for the neighbourhood CSA (community supported agriculture), herb harvesting season is upon us, and with all the rain the garden has finally really taken off (weeds and all!). The days are so wonderfully long and we're spending most waking hours outdoors - we're trying to keep meals quick, healthy and simple, using as much garden produce as we can, the edible wild foods this week have included several salads - made with mostly wild greens, added to our other garden greens (lettuce, spinach, orach, mizuna, arugula, chard, and new basil).  The wild greens have included purslane, wood sorrel, miner's lettuce, shepherd's purse, lamb's quarters, and the tastiest, day lily blossoms.  With a light homemade dressing of lemon, hemp oil, maple syrup, sea salt and plenty of freshly chopped herbs like dill and basil, sprinkled with a few borage flowers or calendula petals, these salads are beautiful!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fresh peas, and garden butterflies

It's nearing the summer solstice and we've had our first harvest of snow peas!  The plants are so pretty with their delicate blossoms and twirling vines climbing the fence.  Lots of butterflies have been around the property this week, including monarchs and a swallowtail.  Beautiful - resting on the flowering oregano, milkweed, and other native plants in our front yard.

Creating great compost workshop & biodynamic compost activator plants!

This weekend's Saturday workshop was on Compost!  Our friend Anna-Maria, long-time organic grower and CSA farmer, was here to lead the session.  She really knows her information well and although we have been composting for more than a decade and have done plenty of reading ourselves, I still came away with many new and useful ideas from her talk!  She talked about why to compost (why not?? there are just so many benefits, including fertile soil, building tilth, plant nutrient boosting, reduction of wastes going to landfills, creating closed loop systems in our own backyards, etc etc)!  She also takes a biodynamic approach to her composting, both in terms of how she layers her pile (it's like cooking for her, layering and seasoning her piles), and also in the types of plants she adds as "compost activators".  Seven useful plants recommended by Rudolf Steiner, father of biodynamic agriculture, include comfrey, yarrow, nettle, chamomile, horsetail, dandelion, and valerian.  Anna-Maria also added burdock - ideally, these are all plants you have growing in your own yard so you don't need to be dependent on outside sources.  Luckily, over the years on this property, we have encouraged all of these plants to grow here!  Even a few leaves of each, chopped up and added every few months, can do wonders for adding the proper balance to the compost pile.  Fish emulsion or seaweed can also be added...

The ideal pile would be a 30:1 ratio of carbon:nitrogen, balanced by weight not volume (she suggested if you really wanted to be precise you could leave a scale beside your compost pile!).  She talked about useful cover crops to grow, in garden beds or paths, to chop up and add to the soil or the compost pile for extra nitrogen - such as fava beans, sweet peas, clover, vetch, buckwheat, rye.  There is also a debate about whether to turn a compost pile, how often or not at all (similar to no-till gardening approaches, no-turn compost approach believes that turning disturbs the microbial life too much).  If the pile is properly layered and managed, and heats up well, then turning is not necessary - although she was clear to state that each situation is a little different, and you need to get to know your own garden, compost and conditions well to make judgements about how to manage your pile.  Anna-Maria also told us about the wonderful elderberry - which is it's own little composter as it's roots seem to create perfect compost - you can dig gently around the roots in the fall and get beautiful compost to add to your garden (not to mention eating the berries, using the flowers for wines or tincture, and more).

Now I'm off to harvest some comfrey and nettle for our compost, buy an elderberry bush, and try to plant some buckwheat and fava beans as cover crops this season!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

These past days - herb harvesting, first strawberries!

The humid warm weather and long damp rainy days has led to our earliest strawberries ever!  We've been enjoying them all week already - though our strawberry patches are small, planted as a kind of perennial permaculture-style edible groundcover under our fruit trees, they are abundant this year.  The apples on our old erab apple tree are also quickly ripening, and I shared the first red cherry off our tree with our daughter this morning.  We've also been eating garlic scapes, sorrel, spinach, lettuce greens, wild grape leaves (mmm), and fresh bunching onions from the garden.  Peas are shooting up, wee baby carrots are slivering their way through the soil, and of course copious amounts of wonderful rhubarb has made it's way into crisps, crumbles and cordials.  The herb harvest has begun for this season - including raspberry leaves, nettle, red clover, dandelion root, parsley, chives, oregano, mints, lemon balm, yarrow, feverfew, sage...It's amazing that it's only early June, we've barely planted the seedlings into the ground, and already so much abundance is all around us. It's been a busy stretch as we've reworked our entire garden, adding new raised beds, new mulch for paths, keyhole beds, and redigging and organizing the herb sections!  Whew!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Natural plant dyes workshop - rhubarb leaves

Thanks again to our friend Erin who came by to lead her fabulous workshop on using natural plants as dyes!  Erin first led this workshop last year during our Spotlight Festival tour, and had rave reviews. It was great to have her back!  This time she brought samples of various dyes she's been trying out on wool (using raw, spun and knitted pieces), including a gorgeous red from Brazilwood, blue from purple cabbage, creamy yellow from dandelions (flowers, leaves and roots), green from black-eyed susan flowers, and light brown from black walnut hulls. 

Erin talked about the process of dyeing, including using mordants, fixatives, and modifiers; plants that can be used (many that are available by wildharvesting, or easy to grow in our own gardens), and the many many variables in the dyeing process - everything from length in the dye bath, to quality of water used (rain water vs. tap water), to containers used for dyeing (aluminum pots, copper pots), quality and quantity of plants used, texture of the fibre, mordants, etc.  She advised keeping records if you wish to come up with a similar dye a second time, or better yet, dyeing all materials for one project in one batch so the colour is mostly consistent.  Here are the basic steps - the list looks quite involved, but really this is a simple process that just has many small steps.  For our workshop we used 100% wool (starting with white colour), alum as our mordant, washing soda as our assist, and rhubarb leaves as our dye agent:

1) weigh the fibre in grams (e.g. wool, silk, linen, hemp, etc) - in our case it was 100% wool yarn
2) choose a mordant and measure out appropriate weight in grams (e.g. we used alum) - the weight of the wool divided by 12 = weight of alum
3) choose an assist and measure out in grams (e.g. we used washing soda/soda ash/sodium carbonate, which can be found in the laundry section of the grocery store) - the weight of the wool divided by 37 = weight of assist
4) record this recipe in a record book if you wish to get similar results next time
5) add mordant and assist to the pot of boiling water (we used a stainless steel pot, not copper as this acts as a mordant and will change the final colour)
6) add wool to the pot of boiling water
7) add dye agent to the pot of boiling water (we used rhubarb leaves, as many as we could fit into the pot - other dye agents could be measured out more accurately in grams - usually using 100-200% more weight than the fibre to get a strong enough intensity)
8) choose a modifier - optional - by adding a modifier you will again create variations in the dye colour (e.g. vinegar brings the shades into the red spectrum; washing soda brings the shades into the blue spectrum; iron darkens the shade)
9) vegetable fibres like linen, hemp or cotton have cellulose so need tannic acid to help break down fibres so colour will take (e.g. use black tea or oak leaves added to the dye bath)
10) choose a fixative like salt to help colour to last
11) let fibre steep in dye bath for desired length of time (overnight, or longer)
12) strain, cool, then rinse and hang dry or spin dry (in salad spinner, or laundry spin cycle for larger pieces)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Waterloo Chicken Coop Tour, Sat June 19th

Did you know that there are people raising chickens inside the City of Waterloo? It’s true!

This invitation comes from the Waterloo Hen Association:

Want to see how we do it? The Waterloo Hen Association is hosting a Chicken Coop Tour to raise awareness about the reality of backyard chickens. This is your chance to visit with actual urban chicken keepers and learn about coops, chicken varieties, and the joys of garden fresh eggs.  This is a free, self-guided, mapped tour through Waterloo neighbourhoods that will take you to several different styles of coop: from a simple “Chicken Tractor” to elaborate Multi-room designs. You can visit one coop, or you can visit them all.
The tour runs on Saturday, June 19th from 10am to 2pm. On the day of the tour, pick up your map at the Waterloo Public Square, at the corner of King St. and Willis Way. Details are available at

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Natural Plant Dyes - yellow onion skins & dahlia flowers create this gorgeous whirligig shrug

This weekend we have a workshop coming up on natural plant dyes!  More on this wonderful topic after Saturday, but related, here are some photos of a gorgeous hand-dyed "whirligig shrug" our friend Juanita recently created for our 2 year old.  Juanita is an amazing knitter who has been experimenting with all manner of natural dyes.  She dyed the yarn for this little shrug with yellow onion skins and dahlia flowers, left steeping in the dye bath to varying lengths of time to create darker and lighter shades of gold.  The shrug is SO sweet, and our little one loves wearing it - it's light enough for breezy summer days.

In case you want the pattern, it's from the magazine "Interweave Knits, Weekend 2009" and called "Whirligig Shrug" by Stefanie Japel. For Ravelry members, a direct link to the pattern is found here: and her completed project is found here:
Here's a photo of Juanita's hand dyeing results, posted on flickr:

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Rhythm of the Home

We are pleased that our homebased business Homestead Herbals is currently featured as a sponsor on the Rhythm of the Home site for their Summer Solstice edition. This is a beautiful online quarterly magazine that fuses Waldorf, Montessori, eco-living, natural parenting, and life learning/homeschooling ethics - and offers wonderful recipes, crafting projects, photographs, articles, interviews and other tips in their four sections: Warmth, Celebration, Play, Connection.

This issue includes everything from making a healing herbal remedy basket, knitting magical slippers, organic gardening advice, raw food recipes, pie making, lovely sewing projects (e.g. bird watching bag, sunshine skirt, and vintage patchwork picnic blanket), to soapmaking, making a felted journal, summer scavenger hunt, and more!

Check out the Rhythm of the Home (and their blog) at:

Urban Wild Foods Recipe 3: Wild Grape Leaf Dolmades

Here is my wild foods recipe from the past weekend. Grape leaves are now in season, and wild leaves are easy to forage in most parts of the city. Their tiny wild grapes also make a wonderful addition to jams/jelly later in the season, but for now, harvest some of the leaves for a tasty summer appetizer - stuffed grape leaves. Wild grape leaves are preferred over cultivated grape leaves for authentic flavour & texture! Dolmades pair nicely with tangy tzatziki yogurt sauce.

Tip: Wild grape leaves can also be lacto-fermented (see previous post) using a salt-water brine solution (1.5-2 Tbsp sea salt per 1 litre water) to be preserved and used later in the season for making stuffed grape leaves.

Dolmades: Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves
10 large wild harvested grape leaves
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cooked rice (or other grain)
1 green onion, chopped finely
1/4 cup red onion, minced
1 Tbsp fresh mint, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
1/8 cup pine nuts, minced

1) Place grape leaves in large heat-proof bowl, pour enough boiling water over to cover. Let them soak about 20 min. Drain.

2) In the meantime, heat oil in skillet. Add the onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the rice, mint, lemon, salt and pine nuts. Mix well.

3) To stuff the grape leaves, spread out one grape leaf in front of you, vein side up and stem end toward you. Place about 2 teaspoons of the rice mixture in the center, fold stem end over the filling, bring the sides of the leaf toward the center and roll tightly, forming a cylinder.

4) Dolmas can be eaten at this stage, or cooked as follows: Place the dolmas close together seam side down in a large skillet, in a single layer OR separate layers with extra grape leaves.

5) Drizzle a little extra lemon juice and olive oil over the dolmas, add boiling water to cover. Cover pan tightly, simmer 1 hour. Let dolmas cool in the liquid, then transfer to a serving platter. Serve cooled with tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Cucumber Dip

1 cups thick, plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 cup fresh chopped mint, & extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

1) In a small bowl, beat the yogurt until smooth.
2) Fold in the onion & garlic, salt and pepper.
3) Fold in the mint, then add the cucumber.
4) Garnish with fresh chopped mint, if desired. Chill well before serving.
5) Serve with crusty bread, raw vegetables or dolmas. Makes about 1 1/2 cups dip.

Lacto-Fermenting Workshop!

We had our friend Jackie back again at Little City Farm this weekend, to lead her popular workshop on lacto-fermenting foods. This is the perfect season to be offering this workshop as we can still plan our gardens accordingly to include foods that are perfect for preserving as pickles by lacto-bacillus fermentation process, such as beans, garlic, carrots, cucumbers. As well, we can begin harvesting foods that are already coming to season, such as grape leaves and asparagus - both of these items were shared in the tasting portion of the workshop and were fantastic! Lacto-fermentation, or "wild fermentation", is a wonderful simple way to capture the texture, flavour and exceptional nutritional value of foods, while preserving them without use of canning, drying, cooking, freezing (all of which degrade the nutritional quality of foods). Lacto-fermented foods also offer healing properties to a wide range of health issues, so should be a staple in our diets (as they were and still are in many diverse cultures around the globe - e.g. kimchi, sourdough, sauerkraut, crock pickles, injera, miso, yogurt, wines, etc).

To learn more, books that were recommended in this workshop included:
Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz
Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon (Weston Price Foundation)