Saturday, October 30, 2010

Preparing winter tonics - all natural sage & horehound cough syrup

Plenty of herbs have been harvested all summer long, and now is the time to start preparing tonics and home remedies to have in place for the coming winter months.  We've already been steeping echinacea and astragalus roots in food grade alcohol as tinctures, both wonderful herbs used for building the immune system.  Annually we also make sage cough syrup, a tasty blend of herbs and water steeped into a strong tea to which we add honey and simmer it down into a syrup.  Food grade alcohol such as brandy or vodka can be added to help preserve the syrup, but it will also keep well in a cool temperature room or the fridge.  Syrups last for a few weeks unrefrigerated, and can last a few months if kept in the fridge.  Fruit juice or maple syrup can be used in place of the honey, but it will result in a thinner syrup - still wonderfully medicinal.  Our cough syrup this season included a new herb from our garden, horehound - our horehound plant was large enough to take a good cutting, and believe me, this herb is strong!  It is earthy, almost tasting like soil or dark deep roots such as goldenseal.  You don't need to add much or it will overpower the sage, but medicinally horehound packs incredible strength for symptoms of coughs, colds, and flu.  It is often made into a cough candy as well.

Here is the recipe for making your own all natural herbal sage and horehound cough syrup:

1. Use 2 ounces of dried herbs or 3 ounces of fresh herbs (e.g. sage, horehound) per 4 cups (1 quart) water.  Simmer over low heat until the liquid boils down by half.  This will give you a very strong medicinal tea (decoction).

2. Strain the herbs and put the tea back into a pot.  Add 1 cup honey (or other sweetener) to every 2 cups liquid (1 cup honey: 1 pint liquid).  Some recipes call for a ratio of 1:1 but this is quite sweet.

3. Warm the honey and liquid tea together, simmering until you achieve desired consistency as a syrup.  This usually takes 20-30 minutes.  You may choose to just heat enough to blend the honey into the tea, so as not to cook the living enzymes out of the honey.

4. To flavour add fruit concentrate, a couple drop of essential oil (such as peppermint), or small amount of brandy or vodka to help preserve the syrup.  Bottle, label, date and store in cool dark place, or refrigerator.

Adult dosage:
For chronic problems and tonic therapy take 1/4 to 1/2 tsp two times/day.
For acute problems take 1/8 to 1/4 tsp every 2 hours until symptoms subside. 

Children's dosage (this varies by age so read up in an herbal book for more details):
When adult dosage is 1 tsp generally a 1-2 year old takes 7-8 drops; 2-4 year old takes 10-12 drops; 4-6 year old takes 15 drops, etc.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Last warm October stretch for the hens

Our chickens are preparing for colder weather, eating up as many of the last greens and bugs they can.  We have allowed them to have full run of our entire yard for the past month, so they can wander about all day until nightfall, eating to their heart's content.  Soon enough the snow will be here...Gypsy has molted again (she's done so each fall since we got her), whereas the others haven't started to lose their feathers yet this season.  Pickles has become broody over the past few weeks, basically just leaving the nest box to drink and eat a little, but sitting on her nest trying to hatch an egg day in and day out.  She even sleeps in the nest box each night.  Even after we collect her eggs, she still continues to sit in the nest box.  Finally we felt we needed to intervene, and did a bit more research into what to do about a broody hen.  Short of just giving her some fertilized eggs to really hatch, there are a few ways to try to solve a broody hen.  Generally, the idea is to break her habit by making the nest box uncomfortable (one source suggested putting icecubes under the hen), or taking away the nest box entirely.  Greg decided the more humane way was to close up the nest box for a few days and hope to encourage her to find another place to lay her eggs.  Since the other hens have already taken to laying their eggs in various grassy hidden places around the yard they didn't notice the absence of nest box and we hope to see Pickles starting to integrate with the other hens and come up with a few new hobbies!  Pictured above are Sadie and Buttons, who are the most social and love to hang around on our back porch, or back stoop, waiting for us to come out and see them.  They wander in if the door is open, pecking at any stray crumbs that may be found in the door sill.  They are lovely companions.

Thanks! Central Art Walk weekend

The third annual Central Art Walk and Studio Tour took place in our neighbourhood this past weekend.  We've been busy preparing for this event, and despite cold rainy weather we had about 120 visitors!  We decided to turn our dining room into a mini cafe for the Saturday, serving hot soup and freshly baked breads to hungry visitors who needed a little break from the tour.  There is no other place in our neighbourhood to buy fresh food, no bakeries, cafes, etc.  Just one mainstream grocery store, one donut shop, and several convenience corner stores (stocking junk foods and a few other processed foods).  So, this neighbourhood surely needs a community meeting place where people can drop by for healthy organic treats.  It was nice to offer this on a small-scale basis this weekend. 

Thanks to everyone who dropped by the sale!  We enjoyed meeting so many neighbours, and many others who are interested in urban farming or homesteading.  I wish we would have had time to tour through our yard with each of you, but the conversations we did have were really inspiring and we are glad to have this chance to again open up our home. 

All you local folks, please stay tuned for details about our upcoming Dec 11 "a little bird told me" craft sale, and then workshops for 2011 being posted on our site soon.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Felted slipper workshop

A favourite way to pass a Sunday afternoon - getting a group of crafting women together to work on a project.  Add some freshly picked mint tea from the garden, and warm breadjust out of the oven and how can you go wrong? Today's crafting session was learning to make felted slippers.  We each made a child-sized pair of slippers made of pre-felted wool (wool sweaters felted in the washing machine) with recycled leather bottoms.   Felted slippers could of course also be made with wet-felted wool, or even needle-felted, but this was a quick way to get an incredible soft, cozy durable pair of slippers.  The pattern could easily be sized up or down, and you could embellish with applique, add buttons, lengthen the ankle, etc to create a variety of styles.  I love that our two-year old can play alongside, sorting wool bits, counting pins in the pincushion, watching and helping.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Winemaking Workshop

We had an amazing afternoon - glorious warm sun, and an outdoor home winemaking workshop on our patio which included loads of sampling homemade wines and local cheeses (rhubarb wine, various homemade grape wines, and homemade hard apple cider)...

Our faciliatator walked us through all the stages of winemaking - starting with ultra fresh Ontario Concord grapes (picked yesterday and bought this morning at our local farmers market!), pressing into the sweetest most refreshing juice you've ever tasted, then straining and pressing the pulp, siphoning into carboys, racking, sterlizing bottles (using a bottle rack), testing for acidity, specific gravity, alcohol/sugar level, and corking.  Although there is a lot of equipment involved, I think most participants came away with the winemaking process being demystified -  how wrong can you go by letting fruit ferment, as people have been doing for centuries (ok, you can end up with fruit vinegars, or wine that is not palatable, but really this is an age old process that can be achieved in a few simple steps).   A great resource book:  The Joy of Home Winemaking by Terry Garrey.

Fruit Tree Workshop

Thanks to those who braved the rain two weekends ago, and attended our fruit tree workshop.  We started outdoors, but with the heavy cold rain decided to move inside for the second part of the session.  As this resulted in our group spontaneously sitting around our large dining room table, drinking tea to warm up, we had a much more relaxed conversational workshop atmosphere where participants could ask loads of questions about their own fruit trees (as well as berries and grapes, which everyone seemed very eager to learn more about, as we all seem to be trying to grow the whole gamut of what is possible in this climate).

Our facilitator had brought a wide selection of fruit trees - including apple, cherry, kiwi, lime, pomegranate, fig, pineapple guava - and talked about organic methods for helping fruit trees flourish, such as attracting pollinators, planting herbs below the fruit trees (e.g. chives, onions, lavender, garlic, thyme, dill, fennel), planting cover crops such as vetch and clover to help fix nitrogen, proper careful pruning, spraying basics (like horsetail tea, garlic, and seaweed, or neem oil sprays for certian diseases), and then emphasized that prevention is of course the best way to maintain a healthy tree.  The favourite fruits our facilitator likes to grow in this zone are pawpaw, asian pears (disease resistant, prolific fruiting, and long shelf life of fruit); berries (especially elderberries, current and blueberries); and sour cherries.  She also talked about pruning, grafting, and starting trees from cuttings and seed.

She also recommended a nursery near Montreal called Green Barn Nursery, whose focus is to sell "functional trees" with at least one food or environmental use, and who also offer workshops on urban farming and tree crops. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Central Art Walk & Studio Tour, coming Oct 23-24!

For those of you who are local, don't forget to check out the Central Neighbourhood Art Walk & Studio Tour, taking place next weekend Oct 23-24.  There are about 30 artists participating, with a wide range of arts/crafts for sale - pottery, wood work, sewing, chocolates, baked goods, soaps, stained glass, jewelery, painting.

Come visit us at Little City Farm, for freshly baked organic bread, yummy pies, delectable vegan sweets - plus our handmade soaps and herbal products, and a few more surprises.  We are hoping to turn our place into a mini tea house/cafe for the weekend, serving up delicious treats for people who stop in...

Building resilient communities

During our recent holiday I had a chance to stop in at a favourite cafe, the Mondragon, which happens to be a worker co-op.  They have a bookshop, green grocery, and coffee house (and downstairs in the same building is an awesome bicycle shop, Natural Cycle, also run as a worker co-op, and where my sister happens to work).  I always like to browse the book selections, and picked up the most recent issue of Yes! Magazine.  I have always liked the concept of Yes! Magazine, whose byline is "powerful ideas, positive solutions" and I believe it used to be called "the journal of positive futures".  It's a magazine with a critical voice, yet always offering hopeful stories and solutions.  This issue is about building resilient communities - exactly the kinds of things we are hoping to do as urban homesteaders, as transition town groups, as barter networks, as food co-ops, as bicycle co-ops, and so on.  I highly recommend getting a copy of this magazine!

Mid October gardening updates

We've taken a few week hiatus from this blog, to make a little trip to see family and friends out west.  It was a great time of catching up, taking long walks, last fall picnics, thanksgiving feasting, relaxation, and complete downtime without computers, blogs or emails.  I ready three satisfying fiction books in less than a week, something I (as a mother of a 2.5 year old with a busy homestead) have not done in several years.  Winter tends to be my reading time, and the reading I do seem to pick up then always leans toward non-fiction books about sustainability, or how-to books on gardening, herbalism, or permaculture...this holiday was a welcome change of pace.

Today we got back to business at the homestead, raking leaves for the compost, prepping garden beds for planting garlic and winter greens, storing herbs we had been drying in the greenhouse, and working on our front entrance path to the strawbale addition.  There's still lots to be done before winter.

Our hens have started to molt again, and as always, it seems they have chosen such a bad time of season to start - just when the nights are turning cold!  We still need to winterize their coop before it gets really frosty outside, including piling up strawbales for warmth around the outside walls, and hooking up their heat lamp again.  Although the holiday was nice, it's always good to get back to life at home, here on our little homestead!