Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Seedlings germinating

About a week ago we started our first seedlings for our annual May Spring Seedling Sale!  And, by now several have germinated and are giving us the sense of spring on the way... red and green kale, plus lettuce for our greenhouse (we'll be featuring more discussion on this during our 4 Season Gardening Workshop on March 5) then the chamomile was the first of the herbs, next thyme, marjoram, sweet peas, marigolds (just beginning), anise hyssop, borage, hollyhock, a few lavender and rosemary, tulsi, or parsley yet, these always seem to take much longer.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New shampoo soaps curing...

Love these shampoo bars - and we are trying hard to keep up with demand for them!  New double batches of lemongrass-calendula, and rosemary-sage are both curing.  They are beautiful, and the living room (where my curing rack currently is) smells delicious.  Soon, the curing rack needs to make way for seedlings, which share the same shelves in spring season.

Cheesemaking Workshop!

This weekend we held the long-awaited first ever cheesemaking workshop here at Little City Farm.  This fantastic workshop was worth waiting for - it has by far been the most popular, and the registration filled up within only a few days of announcing it.  Inspired by 100-mile diet, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and New England Cheese Making Company's Ricki Carrol the "cheese queen", not to mention scores of artisan cheesemakers around the globe and homesteaders who have gone before us...we all made cheese.  And, it was surprisingly easy! 

Our enthusiastic facilitator walked us through the many many steps of making mozzarella, which though the list is long, really are not difficult.  The hardest part is being patient while the milk heats to the proper temperature, adding the correct amounts of rennet (we used a vegetable rennet), sea salt, and citric acid, and then stretching it and shaping into cheese balls.  Delicious!  We used raw milk from cows milked the day before (!), so it was incredibly fresh.  The milk also seemed to have a higher fat content than some other raw milk the facilitator had used before, and we guessed it was due to the cow's heavier winter diet of hay (as opposed to grazing).  Well, this helped the mozzarella practically form itself!  Since there are so many steps to making mozzarella I suggest going to the New England Cheese Company website for directions, or using a book like Home Cheesemaking.  Remember, never throw out the whey - it is a complete protein, excellent source of vitamin B12, minerals such as magnesium, zinc, calcium, phosphorus.  Use it in smoothies, baking, soaking grains/beands, as a healthy lemonade, even on your compost if necessary.

We also made cream cheese by straining organic live-cultured yogurt through a cheesecloth which then sits and drains for 8 hours - again, very easy.  And with the left-over whey from the mozzarella I made ricotta - again, easy.

Here's how to make Simple Ricotta, instructions courtesy of the workshop facilitator.  You will need:
4 litres of whole milk (not ultra-high pasteurized!) or whey drained from the other cheesemaking process
1 1/2 tsp citric acid (lemon juice could probably do in a pinch)
1 tsp sea salt (or "cheese salt" if you have it)
large stainless steel pot
cooking thermometre
colander lined with cheese cloth
long wooden spoon, stick, knitting needle, etc
large bowl

1. Pour milk/whey into pot, then stir in citric acid and salt til dissolved.
2. Heat the whey/milk to 195F stirring constantly so it doesn't burn.
3. Turn off the heat, and let stand for 5 min.
4. Ladle the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth.
5. Pull up the sides of the cloth to make a bag, tie onto middle of the wooden spoon, hang spoon over a bowl and let drain at least 30 min (or overnight, depending on how slowly it's draining) until desired consistency.
Serve on bagels, with crackers, mixed with fresh fruit, etc etc...mmmm

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Salves & Lipbalms Workshop

On Saturday I facilitated a workshop on making medicinal salves and lipbalms.  This is probably one of my favourite workshops to lead, as I love these particular herbs.  We've grown them in our garden, harvested them, dried them, and they make such effective and wonderful healing oils yet are simple to work with.  We talked about 10 important and fairly easy to grow (or wild harvest) medicinal herbs that are to be used for salves or balms.   If you are going to start a medicinal herb garden using plants that grow well in our region, these are the best ones I would recommend for using in salves.  (I have a few others I'd add for a medicinal tea garden, although there is quite a bit of overlap here): calendula, arnica, comfrey, yarrow, mullein, plantain, lavender, marshmallow, st. johns wort, nettle.  

These particular herbs offer specific skin-related healing properties like healing cuts/scrapes (lavender), healing bruises (comfrey), soothing insect bites (plantain), healing burns and scars (st. johns wort), easing sore muscles (arnica), healing rashes and eczema (calendula), stopping bleeding (yarrow), soothing dry skin (marshmallow), and of course each of these herbs offers so much more!  During the workshop I demonstrated making a medicinal herbal oil (either by solar infusion, or a faster double-boiler method); then straining the medicinal oil and using this to make a salve by adding pure beeswax, cocoa butter and pure essential oils; and finally how to make simple effective lipbalms with coconut oil, sweet almond oil, and pure essential oils.  Thanks to everyone who attended!  It's inspiring to get to share this herbal knowledge with an attentive audience!

Seedlings started...medicinal herbs...

This week we are starting various herb seedlings!  Most of the medicinal herbs take a long time to germinate.   For example, lavender, thyme, sage, hyssop, arnica, and a few others. Maybe we'll start some flowers too, even though it's early for those. It would just be so nice to have marigolds blooming in the greenhouse by April!

So, hooray, it's finally time to get our hands into some nice warm earth again. Our 2 1/2 year old couldn't wait - she already planted some Jacob's Cattle beans (that we saved from last season) in small containers with her Papa last week, and has faithfully been watering them. She also tends to all the indoor house plants, checking and watering daily as needed. We have a great south-facing window in our strawbale addition, with extra wide ledge because of the width of the bale wall.  It's perfect for herbs and plants over-wintering.  This year our little one is going to have her own plot in the garden - so she's been practicing!  She has already declared she's going to be growing "everything" in it! Well, I think for this year we'll encourage her to try cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce - things that can be eaten fresh right off the vines!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Biodynamic & permaculture approaches to backyard chicken care

We love our hens...they tap on the back door each morning letting us know they are awake and ready for attention.  We've been trying to give special care during the past weeks, as the weather has been especially cold around here.  We've piled up mounds of clean straw in sunny spots in the yard where they like to hang out on warm days, and yes, we admit we even let them sneak in the house to warm up for a few minutes on occasion.  We try to bring them special food treats each day, like sprouts or carrot peelings, oats soaked in warm water, and extra grains and seeds, but it's certainly not the naturally healthful diet they get when foraging in the yard for bugs, greens and grass in the warmer months.  A friend mentioned she sprouted oats for her hens in winter, which seemed like a simple yet effective thing to do.  I am currently researching biodynamic chicken care, and in general biodynamic principles that can be applied to the small farm/urban farm and garden.  I found some useful articles about chickens here, and the site Backyard Biodynamics looks promising (but the part I really wanted to learn about was just in point form as it's the outline for a sustainable gardening course they are leading - in Australia!), as well as the Small Farm Permaculture & Sustainable Living website.  This page, Pasture Restoration of Heirloom Chickens looks really great, on the Permaculture Institute (New Mexico) site.  They offer ideas such as introducing perennial woody plantings, poultry forage and groundcovers like chicory, various brassicas (radishes, mustards), comfrey, alfalfa, vetches and clovers in the pastures where the hens roam.  The plant list for the permaculture approach to chicken pasturing also includes Nanking cherry, sand cherry, siberian pea shrub, day lilies, apples, plums, raspberries, mulberries, sea buckthorn, apricot, and comfrey.  On a small scale property at least some of these plants could be included in the layout, offering forage food for free roaming hens...ah, planning for the new season ahead.

Speaking of permaculture plants like these, a friend just loaned me her catalogue from Windmill Point Farm, an organic permaculture farm in Quebec (near Montreal) that also operates Green Barn Nursery that we've mentioned on this blog before.  They offer a staggering list of berries, fruits, nut trees and other permaculture varieties that grow hardy in our zone - incredible - and I wanted to order one of everything!  Check out this website if you are thinking of adding a forest garden or any permaculture plants to your yard.

Inspiring heirloom seeds..25 easy to grow heirlooms

Recently I received a copy of "Heirloom Farm and Garden" magazine, and was re-inspired about the value of heirloom plants and seed saving.  What exactly is "heirloom"?  It seems to be a loose definition, meaning seeds that are open-pollinated, grow true to the parent plant when saved and replanted, and have a 50+ year span of being passed on from one generation to the next.  Usually these heirlooms all come with interesting stories or personal histories too!  Heirlooms also tend to have been saved because of superior or unique flavour, colour, shape, texture, tolerance for harsh growing conditions, etc.  Not to mention that seed saving is now becoming a human rights issue, in countries such as India where increasing pressures from corporate seed companies who are making seed saving illegal means that seed savers sometimes even risk their lives to save seeds for their own gardens and farms.  See Vandana Shiva's non-profit Navdanya for more information on the topic of seed sovereignity and the idea that "seed saving is sacred".

Heirloom Farm and Garden listed 10 easy to grow heirlooms and gave wonderful details about their stories - you will need to get their magazine to read more.  I have added 15 more of the favourite ones we like to grow here each year.  People often think of tomatoes when we speak of heirloom plants, and usually we know heirloom tomatoes by their fascinating names, and their indeterminate natures (i.e. they need staking or lots of space to sprawl).  However, this list gives you a whole range of vegetables so that you can fill your entire garden with a great variety of beautiful and interesting heirloom vegetables, from carrots to lettuce to squash to onions to melons...I am especially excited to grow the gorgeous "Moon and Stars Watermelon" this summer!

I was suprised how many of these seeds can be found (for local readers) at our Ontario Seed Company in uptown Waterloo on King St, but others need to be purchased from select small seed companies that provide heirloom varieties.  Of course, if possible, make sure to save them yourself for next season so you don't need to keep buying seeds, and help keep these heirlooms thriving for the next generation.  You may also want to join a seed saving organization like the Canadian Seeds of Diversity, where you get an extensive catalogue of all the varieties being saved across the country (often by backyard gardeners with small plots of land) that are available for you to plant and help maintain.  And yes, as a reader pointed out, there are the wonderful "Seedy Saturdays" all across Canada coming up in March and April, where gardeners can share/find seeds in this free seed swap!

Here's the list of 25 easy to grow heirlooms:
Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans
Chioggia Beets
Lemon Cucumbers
Listada de Gandia Eggplant
Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage
Moon and Stars Watermelon
French Breakfast Radish
Paris White Cos Lettuce
Improved Long Green Cucumber
Hubbard Squash
Pattypan Squash
Bull Nose Pepper
White Globe Onion
Deer Tongue Lettuce
Forellenschulss Lettuce
Scarlet Nantes Carrot
Golden Bantam Corn
Early Scarlet Horn Carrot
Homesteader (Lincoln) Peas
Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach
Tomatoes - Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Striped German, Eva Purple Ball, Yellow Pear

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Online garden & urban farming resources

Here is a handy online garden planner suggested by one of our readers! They offer a free trial, and then it does cost about $25 to subscribe - but it looks like it's very useful and worth it if you want a handy online planting guide, reminder emails about when to plant each vegetable and herb, garden planning tools, crop rotation lists, planning ahead for next year, etc.  For those who like to do their garden planning in an organized manner on the computer, this looks like a great tool for you.  Go to: Grow Veg

While we're talking about online garden resources (garden planners, gardening forums, permaculture information, urban agriculture articles, organic standards information...) here are a few more.

Garden Web 
You Grow Girl 
Permaculture Activist 
Urban Farm Online 
Canadian Organic Growers 
City Farmer's Urban Agriculture Notes
Path to Freedom