Thursday, January 27, 2011

Annual seed starting planting calendar - here's a handy guide for the home gardener!

About a week ago we held a meeting with the other growers/farmers who are going to be selling seedlings at our annual Seedling Sale in May.  This year is our 9th year that we've been holding this spring sale, and we are planning to have an even larger selection than last year!  We are really excited about the event and all the amazing city farmers and gardeners that come out to it each time!  We hope to have a mini outdoor cafe set up this year as encourage more socializing and lingering...

So, this week I started to get a little anxious because I hadn't written out our planting schedule yet for this year.  I usually print off a calendar that is specifically for our planting notes, as once the season gets going there is a lot to keep track of (planting dates, germination rate, watering schedule, transplanting dates, seed sources, etc).  I looked back in this blog where I had written a post with the planting calendar, and it was dated February 11 - so I'm still a few weeks ahead of last year's schedule!   (by the way, the photo below is from last spring - as we have defintiely not started our tomatoes or basil yet!)

Back by request, here is a general planting guide to help you know when to start seedlings that need to be started indoors.  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.

New crafting - kids hemp-linen messenger bag

Since it's winter...and the garden is still under snow...I'm spending a little time sewing each day.  There is so much inspiration from a 2.5 year old, especially when she is enthusiastic about each and every item that comes off the sewing table!   These messenger bags will show in in my etsy store soon.  They are made of a beautiful sturdy yet soft hemp-linen fabric, are reversable (with a full contrasting liner), have two back pockets and a wooden button closure that little fingers can open themselves.  The perfect bag for spring foraging, packing snacks for a walk, taking books to the library, etc.  It's a basic design that I created from looking at a variety of messenger style bags, made simple enough for a child to enjoy using every day!

Great soap making workshop

Since 2007 we've been hosting workshops year-round at Little City Farm - urban homesteading, gardening, permaculture, eco-crafting, natural health, and more.  Soap making is always on the list at least two or three times, as there is so much interest from people to relearn the art and science of making natural soap, a skill which was once common practice on many a farmstead!  On Saturday we had another soap making class.  I always love teaching about the soap process and like to break the lesson into "5 crucial moments":
1) measuring/weighing, and SAP (learning about saponification values); 2) preparing your space, and lye safety; 3) trace, additives and other techniques; 4) saponification process, insulation period; and 5) cutting, curing and longterm storage of soap.  Then of course we do a hands-on component, where each participant makes their own batch of soap to take home!  And I always learn more with each class, including suggestions like using "soap calc" an online tool for developing your own recipes (so you don't need to do the complicated lye and SAP calculations yourself!).  I will be leading another soap making class at the KW Art Gallery in March, as well as another class here in October or November.  Check our workshops list for upcoming events...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Winter evening activities - co-operative board games

Among our recent favourite activites for winter evenings is playing games in front of the cozy fire.  It's amazing what a 2.5 year old attention span can hold - we can play our own simplified versions of "go fish", dominoes, chess, crokinole, charades, pictionary, and puzzles of course - but we also like board games.  We have a few great games from Family Pastimes, a small company based in Ontario that creates games which foster co-operation rather than competition.  We like "Harvest Time" (work together to plant and harvest a garden before winter comes) and "Berries, bugs and bullfrogs" (gather berries before the slugs eat them), and there are plenty more on their list for older ages.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New soap - for hard working hands

We have a new soap fresh off the curing rack, perfect for any hard working hands you might know - made especially for my sister who works at Natural Cycle, a worker co-op bicycle shop in Winnipeg.  The soap is made with organic coffee grounds to help scrub tough ground-in dirt and grease, and antibacterial essential oils of grapefruit and tea tree.  Great for bike mechanics, farmers, gardeners, chefs, cooks, and any other hard working hands...

Homesteading tasks - easy homemade pasta!

Today's projects included our weekly yogurt making, cleaning the greenhouse in preparation for spring seedlings, sorting our bin of seeds saved from last year to see what we need to purchase, a long walk outside, and making our own fresh pasta!  We have made pasta before, but aren't in the habit of doing this very often. However, after making it today I'm reinspired to do this more often - it's so quick, can use versatile ingredients, and easily involves kids!  We cooked our fresh pasta right away (it only took about 4 minutes to cook "al dente"), but the pasta could also be hung to dry and used at a later time.

Here is our recipe, adapted from several sources - you can easily change it by adding fresh or dried herbs, various flours (spelt, whole wheat, rice, semolina), sundried tomatoes, spinach, and more. We used a hand-crank pasta maker to roll the dough and slice it into fettucine noodles, but you could roll with a rolling pin and cut strips or shapes (ravioli, etc) with a knife.

We used local organic flour (whole spelt, and wheat) from Oak Manor, eggs from our backyard hens, and seasoned with basil dried from our garden this past summer. 

Easy pasta dough
1 3/4 cups flour
2 eggs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
Additives, such as herbs, spices, dried spinach, dried tomatoes, olives, etc

Mix all ingredients, adding a little water if necessary to make a smooth dough.  Knead, and form into a ball.  Cut into four pieces, and shape into four balls.  Use lots of extra flour to keep dough from sticking.  Meanwhile, heat water to a rolling boil in a large pot and add 1 tsp salt.

Roll dough through pasta machine to flatten, or roll out with rolling pin.  Slice into noodles by pasta machine or knife.  Separate noodles by hanging over chair, or wooden rack, or simply lay on well-floured table surface.  When water is boiling, add noodles one by one into the pot.  Cook aprox. 4 minutes until done.  Drain well, season as desired!  Makes 4 large servings.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Workshops - Wool Diaper Covers and Longies for kids

First workshop of 2011 was a grand success - the house filled with eight lovely mamas learning to use the serger, swapping parenting advice, and sewing wool longies and diaper covers from recycled felted wool sweaters.  So simple!  And wool is so wonderfully absorbant, warm and cozy and naturally antibacterial - a great material to work with.  Thanks to Amaryah from Sew Oiseau for walking us through this one, once again!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New salves from Homestead Herbals!

New packaging (travel tins) for our 1 oz salves, very exciting!  Calendula, gardener's salve (great for dry winter skin too), and a *new* "hard working hands" salve coming soon.

Calcium rich tea for kids!

Tea parties have become a daily event at our house - and we have special tea cups, tea pots and spoons that little hands can use, served picnic style on a quilt right on the floor, or at a low wooden table for two.  A nice ritual.  We have made up several special "kids" blends using herbs we dried from our gardens, including a sleepy tea (with lavender, chamomile, lemon balm) and a calcium-rich tea that we sweeten with a little honey, store in a glass mason jar, and serve as a cold drink later in the day.  Any tea can be made into a "juice", and berry or fruit teas are especially nice.  The calcium tea has become a favourite around here.  This is what it includes: chamomile, rosehips, rose petals, red raspberry leaf, oatstraw, lemon balm, lemongrass.

Article in Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine

I recently had an article published in the winter issue of Pathways to Family Wellness magazine.  The article talks about herbs for pregnancy and post-partum use, how to involve older siblings in preparing for the arrival of a new child by including them in special herbal preparations (growing, harvesting, drying, preparing salves and teas), and also includes some useful recipes...Check it out here:

Guelph Organic Conference, coming up Jan 27-30

An annual winter highlight is coming up for us at the end of the month - the Guelph Organic Conference.  Jan 27-30, 2011 the Guelph Organic Conference (formerly known as the Canadian Organic Conference) is in it's 30th year.  Check out the conference on the U of Guelph campus - a great place to buy heritage seeds from small Canadian seed suppliers; get inspired about organics (food, farming, urban agriculture, animal care, poultry, etc); and catch up with friends (people seem to come out of winter hibernation to go to this conference).  See you there...we'll be browsing the seed racks, lingering at the book tables, and eating hemp icecream :)

Farming for Foodies workshop in Kitchener

A friend mentioned this workshop, which may be of interest to some of the local readers...
Farming for Foodies, a 3 part series.  Starts Feb 5, at Fiddleheads health food store, facilitated by organic farmer from the Neustadt area.  More details at:

Dying and felting woolen toys

I think felting wool could become an addictive craft.  Wool is such a wonderful fibre to work with, and felting it is incredibly relaxing, simple (very young kids can participate easily), and makes beautiful soft toys.  Yesterday our little one and I made felted woolen balls, of all shapes and sizes.

First we cleaned the wool, tried our hand at carding...a little...and then dyed the wool.  For dying here is what you need:

To dye with berries, use 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups water, to "set" the fabric.  To dye with plant materials, use 2 cups vinegar to 8 cups water to "set" the fabric.  Boil your fabric or wool which you plan to dye for about 1 hour in the water to set.  This will help the dye colour to hold fast.

For dying, we used black currants from the freezer for our berry dye - it made a greyish-blue colour; and turmeric for our plant dye - it made a dusky sunflower yellow colour.  Both colours were quite satisfying.  We heated the wool in the dye bath and let it steep for about an hour again.

Rinse the fabric/wool in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear.

To felt, prepare a large bowl with hot soapy water (use several Tbsp dish detergent as soap).  Then take small pieces of wool, wet them and roll in palms of hands working them into tight balls.  Keep adding small thin layers of wool ontop of the ball, constantly wetting and adding more hot water as needed. Shape into balls of all sizes, or acorns (see below), bracelets, dolls, blocks, other shapes...

This is a labour intensive process, but very relaxing and social - and wet.  Wear old clothes and have a towel or two on hand to soak up any drips and spills!  A great winter activity to do with kids!

Making your own yogurt

We're not milk drinkers, but we do love to eat live culture yogurt with homemade applesauce and granola for breakfast - mmmm - a great alternative to our usual winter oatmeal.  We try to make our own yogurt as often as possible, and it's much more economical, as well as satisfying, to do so.
Here is our easy no-fail yogurt method:

You will need:
1 gallon (4 litres) milk (use raw, or not ultra high pasteurized milk)
1/4 cup live culture yogurt from your last batch (or from the store)
Dairy/candy thermometre
Clean sterilized mason jars, rings and lids

Large stainless steel pot
Wooden spoon
Several towels or old blanket

Heat the milk to just under 100F (do not go over 100F, as this kills the living cultures).  Heat over low to medium heat to avoid scalding, and stir occasionally.  Have your jars ready - washed, dried, and sterilized by pouring boiling water in them.  Set them into a heat proof baking pan (I use a large glass cake pan).

When milk has warmed sufficiently, take off heat and gently stir in the yogurt culture.  Pour into your clean jars, cap with lids but do not tighten lids too much.  Pour boiled water into the pan around the jars, and wrap in old towels.  Set in a warm, draft-free place like a kitchen counter.  Add more hot water throughout the day to keep the temperature as even as possible.  Other people set the jars on a heating pad, or near a wood stove or oven.  The milk will still form yogurt if you don't keep heat even, but it will be a nicer thicker yogurt if it's warmed longer...pour off the whey which may have separated, and use this in smoothies, or baking, etc.

Unwrap the next day, after aprox. 24 hours.  Add honey or fruit if you like for sweetener.  Refrigerate and make sure to reserve a little of this yogurt for your next batch!  Enjoy!

January homesteading projects

What have we been upto this month?  Well, not much time has been spent on the computer since we got our 2011 workshop series posted!  Phew!  The workshops are filling up and this season is starting to look like it will full steam ahead once again.  However, winter is also our slower time to reflect on what we accomplished in the past year, learn from our mistakes, dream about new projects, read a few books, map out the garden, go through our seed catalogues and saved seed packages, sit by the fire, do a little mending, tending to the hens (they need fresh water constantly, lots of snacks, and we let them sneak into the back door of the house to warm up every once in a while on the coldest days!).  Oh, and the good news is all the hens have gotten through the fall-winter molting, have grown beautiful new plumage and are back to laying eggs - surprisingly, even in this cold weather!

Of course, with our active 2 1/2 year old, there are also lots of winter activities like evening board games, tobogganning, building in the snow, bundled up walks in the park.  She's also at the age of constantly wanting to help with new projects, like this week: our regular weekly batch of yogurt (which is incredibly easy using our new source of raw milk!), another attempt at making cheese (this time a successful mozzarella and cream cheese!), and carding, dying and felting wool (we have a new assortment of wool balls rolling around the wooden floors of this house).

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Workshops for 2011 Now Posted - urban homesteading, sustainability, city farming, and new workshops for kids!!

Happy new year to all you urban homesteaders, organic gardeners, city farmers and eco advocates!

We had the unexpected gift of a quiet internet-free holiday, as our computer crashed just before Christmas.  Now we are back online, and getting organizing for the new year ahead!

We've just posted the new Little City Farm workshop series for 2011.  Here is a list of the topics, and please check this link for workshop descriptions and registration info.

New this year:
- online registration and payment (on our website here )
- 4 exciting workshops for kids!  (ages 3-6 years) to spark wonder in gardening and the natural world!

Workshops 2011:
Cost: $35/person (all supplies provided)
Sat, January 15, 1-3 pm. With Amaryah deGroot, of Sew Oiseau.
Cost: $50/person (all supplies provided)
Sat, January 22, 1-4 pm.  With Karin Kliewer, of Little City Farm.

Cost: $25/person (all supplies provided)
Sat, February 5, 1-3 pm.  With Karin Kliewer, of Little City Farm.
Cost: $25/person
Sat, February 12, 1-3 pm.  With Steve Ohi and Lisa Reh.

Cost: $30/person (all supplies provided)
Sat, February 19, 1-3 pm.   With Bianca Azzoparde.

Cost: $10/person
Sat, March 5, 1-3 pm.  With Greg Roberts, of Little City Farm.

Cost: $15/person
Sat, March 19, 1-3 pm.  With Angie Koch, of Fertile Ground CSA.

Cost: $30/person
Sat, April 16, 1-3 pm.  With Sarah Hemingway, of Sarah's Kitchen Gardens.
Cost: $25/person
Sat, May 7, 1-3 pm. With Tracie Seedhouse, of Earth Child Designs.

Cost: $35/person
Sun, May 8, 1-3 pm. With Jesse Robertson of Recycle Cycles.
Cost: $25/person
Sat, May 14, 1-3 pm. With Jackie McMillan and Bill Clarke.  


Don’t miss it!!!  Annual Little City Farm SEEDLING SALE!
Sat, May 21 from 9 am-noon
Cost: $20/person
Sat, June 11, 1-3 pm. With Greg Roberts & Karin Kliewer of Little City Farm.
Cost: $30/person
Sat, June 18, 1-3 pm. With Jenn Lynes.
Cost: $30/person (all supplied provided). Limited to 7 participants.
Sat, July 9, 1-3 pm. With Karin Kliewer of Little City Farm.
Cost: $25/person (adults); $10 for kids 4 and over (kids under 4 free)
Sat, July 16, 1-3 pm. (date to be confirmed) With Sarah Hemingway of Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens.

Cost: $20/person
Sat, Aug 20, 1-3 pm. With Karin Kliewer of Little City Farm.

Cost: $25/person (all supplies provided)
Sat, Sept 10, 1-3 pm. With Alfred Rempel.
Cost: Pay by donation (suggested $5-$10/person)
Sat, Sept 17, 1-3 pm. With Bob Wildfong, Executive Director, Seeds of Diversity Canada.
Cost: $25/person
Sat, Oct 1, 1-3 pm. With Karin Kliewer of Little City Farm.

Cost: Pay by donation (suggested $5-$10/person)
Sat, Oct 15, 1-3 pm. With Bob Wildfong, Executive Director of Seeds of Diversity Canada



Cost: $25/workshop (each workshop limited to 6 children)
Price includes one child accompanied by one adult, and organic vegetarian picnic lunch following the workshop! Please inform us of any food allergies at time of registration

Fri, July 8, 11-1 pm. With Karin Kliewer, of Little City Farm.
Fri, July 15, 11-1 pm. With Greg Robers & Karin Kliewer, of Little City Farm. 

FOR KIDS: MICRO GARDEN ADVENTURE (bugs, slugs, worms, roots, seeds, & more)
Fri, Aug 5, 11-1 pm. With Greg Roberts & Karin Kliewer, of Little City Farm. 
Fri, Aug 12, 11-1 pm. With Karin Kliewer, of Little City Farm.