Monday, September 27, 2010

End of September harvest

It's nearing the end of September, last night we anticipated the possibility of first frost, and what are we harvesting?  Pumpkins, squash, zucchini, last cherry tomatoes, kale, chard, jalapenos, eggplant, cayenne peppers, arugula, mint, tomatillos, calendula...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Crafting - toddler dancing skirts and organic quilts

I've been doing some sewing for the Central Neighbourhood Artwalk & Studio Tour that we are going to be part of at the end of October.  Just to make sure the sewing machine isn't collecting too much dust, I made a few new toddler sized skirts this weekend...a quick and simple pattern that takes about 1/2 yard fabric.

I'm working on play quilts and baby blankets, made of beautiful organic cotton from Near Sea Naturals, and some other gorgeous soft cottons I got from the amazing Greenwood Quiltery in Guelph!  For anyone going to this quilt shop in Guelph, take note - it is located across the street from the tastiest bakery in town, With the Grain. This bakery is always one of our first stops whenever we visit Guelph.

Child's eye view of life

A child's eye view of the world is a wonderful thing!  Today our two-year old noticed the tiniest of snails making it's way across our picnic table.  I would never have stopped to notice it myself, but because of her keen eye for wee things, we spent a good long while watching the slow moving snail find a path.  It reminded me of a unique guided "micro-hike" I once took part in on the Bruce Trail - we used magnifying glasses to observe the nature trail from a micro point of view, and spent an hour "hiking" a distance of about 20 yards, seeing insects, ferns, leaves, and other miniature life on the ground - a completely different way to view the trail compared to most hiking trips where you go as far as you can, mostly looking up ahead to the trail or maybe scanning into the tree tops.  It's good to remember to observe carefully what is right before us.  There is much that the smallest elements of life can teach us...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Fall Workshop - Felted Slippers, Oct 17!

We're happy to announce a new workshop we've just arranged, coming up at Little City Farm on Sunday October 17 from 1-3 pm.  Amaryah, from Sew Oiseau here in town, is going to lead us through the steps in making felted slippers - make a pair of cozy leather-bottomed slippers for your little one, using natural, reclaimed leather and felted wool.  All materials will be provided.  Fee: $35.

Pictured here, to give you an idea of what is possible, are children's slippers with a wee star applique (the photo is from this photostream on flickr).  Contact Karin via our website to register for the workshop.

Greening of Detroit

We had guests staying at our B&B this past weekend who were taking a short respite from their active community work.  As we asked them a little more about their work, it turned out they are heavily involved in community gardening and urban agriculture in Detroit, part of an amazing story of a city that is slowly regenerating itself through vast numbers of volunteers and community members tackling the job of greening vacant lots, turning them into food producing gardens.  There are over 1200 community gardens in Detroit, food being grown for homes, soup kitchens, and for sale at local farmers markets.  There are educational workshops, free soil samples (testing for lead, heavy metals, and other soil conditions), help on building raised beds, seed and seedling distribution, and many other resources available to get new urban farmers off to a positive start!  This is probably the largest urban agriculture program in any one city in North America.  We were honoured to host our guests, hear more about these initiatives, and watch a beautiful photo slideshow of the gardens and farmers markets that have been established.  For more details on this major urban agriculture movement see Greening of Detroit.

Ode to goldenrod

Lately our goldenrod has been covered with bees, busily working their way through the haze of yellow flowers.  Goldenrod often gets a bad reputation, for its association with allergies like hayfever.  In fact, goldenrod is often the scapegoat for the allergen that is usually the real problem - ragweed.  They grow in similar places and bloom at the same time, so are often grouped together as problem plants.  Ragweed's pollen is light and can easily travel by wind through the air, whereas goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky and does not tend to fly as dust through the air.

There are many values to having goldenrod in the garden, and in some countries it is actually considered good fortune to have it growing nearby!  Goldenrod is...
- a natural remedy for toothaches, digestive upset, wounds, kidney disorders, bleeding gums, and much more
- a great dye agent for naturally dying fabric or fibres
- a forage plant for birds and bees late into the fall
- excellent for attracting pollinators, bees, wasps and butterflies

Some books and references will even claim that goldenrod is the most important food for bees, as it provides food (pollen and nectar) late into the fall when few other flowering plants are still available, so bees can bulk up for the winter months.  One author writes that his bees don't even produce any honey until the goldenrod season begins!  The honey is said to be a light to amber colour, with a spicy taste. 

Tomatillo salsa

We're working on more tomatillo salsa.  We harvested about 20 lbs of tomatillos from our garden, and have about that much more still not quite ripe on the plants.  Hopefully we can get those in before the frosts come (the weather seems unpredictable this time of year, with cooler nights already).  The garden still has tomatillos, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers and eggplants for picking.  We came up with a great tomatillo salsa recipe, an adaptation of what we happen to have in the garden that is ripe (hot peppers, onions, herbs like cilantro or parsley, garlic) as well as following two or three different books for advice on how much vinegar, salt, sugar and lemon juice/lime to add.  I think this is my new favourite salsa!

Neighbourhood peach tree

Word has gotten around that we like to rescue forgotten fruit around town, picking and harvesting wonderful fruit from the trees of willing neighbours, as well as trees, bushes (or the ground) on boulevards, in city parks, along hiking trails, etc...and there is a lot of fruit to be found in our city!  We've had luck finding pears, apples, cherries, grapes, saskatoon (service berries), raspberries, mulberries, and even plums - but so far did not come across anyone with a peach tree.  Today, a friend dropped by with a basket full of plump miniature peaches - perfectly sized for a child's hand.  They were tiny, oval-shaped, sweet, very fuzzy (much more than market full-sized peaches), and oh so tasty!  She sourced them from a tree growing right nearby, which a neighbour had shared with her and told her the tree was aproximately 100 years old!  Don't know if the age of the tree is correct, but it is certainly old and would then likely stand where one of the original farms in this area was.  I would love to know more about the story of this tree - who planted and cared for it, was it part of an orchard, how far does it date back?  What a great historical landmark for this neighbourhood.  Delicious - thanks for thinking of us Michelle!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cob Baking workshop - build your own earth oven

We hosted a workshop on cob and baking in wood-fired ovens today.  For those who are new to cob, it's a traditional building material made of clay-sand-straw mixture - very similar to adobe - and makes gorgeous ovens, walls, even homes!  Talking about cob and baking together creates a nice parallel story - both cob and breadbaking have so much in common.  They are both highly variable processes that are hands-on, flexible based on many varying factors (temperature, humidity, ingredient composition), and above all, something to be played and experimented with.  Each person will have their own variations, own techniques, own style - all leading to beautiful results.  With doing a little work ahead of time, we managed to bake two varieties of wholegrain sourdough bread by the end of our 2 hours - one that had aged for 10 days already (a nice sour tangy flavour) and one that was actually a biga (an Italian starter culture that only takes a 3 day ferment).  Highlights of the workshop - getting hands into the cob to mix it up (especially the kids got into this!), and of course, sampling hot bread from the oven!

A couple cob tips, based on our experience (and we are still learning every time we use the oven, even now 3 years later!):
1) Make a long hot fire for bread baking - at least 2 hours of hot fire yields about 1 hour of hot bread baking temperatures
2) Soak your oven door in water before using it for bread baking (so it doesn't catch on fire from the heat of the oven, and so it adds steam to the bread baking process)
3) Start baking bread at hotter temperatures than you normally would in your indoor oven (about 550-600F is a good starting point, as the oven will cool down during the baking process)
4) Use good organic hard bread flour if possible, especially if you are doing free-form loaves that need to hold their shape
5) The more liquid your dough, the bigger the crumb of the bread - but to hold shape of the loaf more, and allow more rise in the oven, add more flour (but don't add too much flour so bread becomes too dry - this is again something to be learned more by "feel" and practice, than by reading books!)
6) There are various ways to get a sourdough culture started:
a) catching wild yeast, just by letting flour & water sit out at room temperature
b) adding a wee bit of domesticated yeast for a boost (called "cultured sourdough")
c) add a grape, a plum or pineapple juice to your flour & water mixture (again to attract yeast)
d) some live culture plain yogurt plus a little apple cider vinegar
7) Sourdough starter can keep almost indefinitely (generations!) if maintained by feeding weekly with more flour and water
8) Health benefits of sourdough bread include more easily digestable gluten in bread, and the live culture lacto bacilli which are great for our digestive systems

Great cob links:
build your own $20 cob oven

Fall garden seeds

I think plants going to seed are some of the most beautiful garden art.  Here are some of ours in mid September...from top to bottom, echinacea, teasel, wild carrot, onion, fennel, bergamot, cilantro, parsley.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Celebrating the potential of urban bicycles!

In most cities, bicycle transportation is a simple, affordable alternative to decreasing our dependence on fossil fuelled transportation.  For the urban homesteader, a bicycle tends to become a key component, a necessary tool, an extension of self...If you google "bicycle transportation" you will find impressive photos of people around the globe transportating just about everything on bike - from huge sacks of grain, massive produce baskets brimming with food, to small livestock, furniture, and even entire families - the bicycle as we know it used in North America still has a lot more potential!  Looking up bicycle trailers and carts brings up equally exciting results - with people rigging up fantastic carriers, trailers, extensions, wagons, sidecars, front compartments, and more!  Here are just a few beautiful and creative examples - be inspired:

Here is a photo of bicycle adaptation in Peru, using a front compartment as a fruit vending cart.   
Here is a most outstanding photo of a man carting huge bags filled with recycling in Shanghai.

Then, for you urban cyclists out there, Velo Couture is an online forum for sharing favourite urban cycling photos (bicycles, trailers, baskets, panniers, etc) with you as a well-dressed rider - celebrating cycling with your own style. 

New Soaps! Shampoo bars and "gentleman farmer"...

I seem to always need some new soaps to work on - there are just so many ideas and variations out there to try, including marbling, french-milling, layering, infusing teas with botanicals, infusing oils for medicinal value...

1. Peppermint Poppyseed - The first soap pictured here is one of our favourites, peppermint poppyseed - back in stock!

2. Gentleman Farmer - I worked on a new soap for the "gentleman farmer" in my life - this is a men's bar, with earthy woodsy scent of pure lemongrass, cedar and bay essential oils.  It has bentonite clay (so can be used for shaving, as clay gives slip to the soap), fullers earth and ground oats.  Very nice.

3. Shampoo Bars - Here at our place we've been testing out shampoo soap bars for the last few months - and finally I have one we all use and absolutely LOVE!  Thanks to the friends and family members who have also been testing shampoo bar recipes for us!  This one lathers really well, leaves hair very soft and also doesn't require the usual apple cider vinegar rinse that many other shampoo bars seem to (for washing off soap residue).  Say goodbye to plastic shampoo bottles!

Check out my etsy store for more photos and details!

For the local people, we will have more soapmaking workshops (beginning classes in traditional cold-process soapmaking method) coming up here at Little City Farm in early 2011, so if you are interested in learning to make your own soap, please check our website for workshop details.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seed Saving Workshop

We are grateful to have so many knowledgeable gardeners and homesteaders in our midst.  Today's workshop, Seed Saving, led by Bob Wildfong of Seeds of Diversity, was back for the third time by popular demand.  Bob is a wealth of information on this subject, and we had nearly 30 eager people who came out, on a perfect fall day when the garden seeds were bursting in the late warm sun, who learned about saving seeds for next year's planting.  It seems like growing food is one of the most vital and basic skills we can have, and saving seeds goes hand-in-hand with growing.  We are so fortunate to keep meeting so many new people, including a whole group of organic farm interns from Ignatius Farm  (Guelph) today.  The interns are finishing up their season with the CRAFT program, Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fall jams & jellies - apricot, wild apple, spiced pear butter, mulberry, grape

I think I've finally figured out how to make canning and preserving manageable - today's accomplishments, seeing the colourful jars lined up neatly on the cooling racks with each and every lid sealed, felt like a relaxing day in the kitchen.  The secret is doing this all in stages - one day harvesting the fruit, washing and prepping it; second day cooking up the salsa, jam or sauce; third day heating up the canner, getting all the jars ready, and finishing the preserving process.  It feels like a huge weight off me to see the basil, tomatillos, beets, plums, apples, pears that I feared were going to waste before I could get to them, now preserved for the winter.  What a bounty!  It's nearly the fall equinox, harvest moon time, and I am thankful.

New book: City Farmer, by Lorraine Johnson

Attention city farmers!  An exciting new book on the topic of urban farming in Canada - just published this summer - is now available for purchase.  This book, City Farmer, was written by Lorraine Johnson of Toronto.  It is an inspiring, hopeful testament to the value (social, economic, environmental) of growing food in our cities, and the unique ways that people across our country are doing so!   We had done a brief interview with Lorriane, but were not sure that any of our story would be included - we are very pleased to see a small mention regarding Little City Farm in this book.  Thank you Lorraine. 

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Article in Natural Life Magazine, Sept -Oct issue

I'm pleased to have another article publised in this current Sept-Oct issue of Natural Life Magazine.  The article focusses on herbs for pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum, including how to involve your children in home herbal medicine making.  I will be writing for Natural Life again for their spring 2011 issue, discussing how to start a backyard herbal medicinal tea garden and (re)empowering ourselves with herbal healing knowledge.  Check out the magazine here, and consider subscribing to this wonderful Canadian-based magazine about homeschooling, green living, sustainability, and natural parenting.