Tuesday, March 29, 2011

End of winter freezer clean-up

Although we preserve much of our food each year through canning, pickling, fermenting, cold storage/root cellar, and dehydrating/drying, we also still use a freezer for a few fruit and vegetable items.  This time of year we are trying to use up the pesto, beans, and berries that are still taking up space, to make way for newer produce only a few months away.  Today we received our bulk order of fresh maple syrup from a local farm (10 litres) which we decided to store in the freezer rather than canning, so in preparation for freezer space I pulled out the last elderberries, and red/black currants picked from our yard last year and made jelly!  It only made a small recipe, about 6 x 125 ml, but since I am a fan of the "small batch preserving" method this jam making session worked out perfectly in between making dinner and cleaning up the dishes.  I even used a regular soup pot for the canning process, with only a vegetable steamer basket to hold the jars in place - used less water and took much less time to heat up than a huge canning pot.  I used Pumona's low-sugar pectin for the first time, and LOVE it. Using this pectin reduces the amount of sugar by about half to that of a regular recipe (or they also give recipes if you want to use honey instead of sugar), and the jam/jelly gels beautifully.  I am going to stock up on Pumona's, as usually by canning season in August the shops here that carry it are all sold out. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Favourite whole-grain seed crackers

We do a lot of baking around here, always testing out new recipes for our B&B, custom baking for local requests (vegan gluten-free), and just generally dreaming about ways we could operate a wholefoods bakery someday.  Here is our favourite seed cracker - it can be made with nuts, or nut-free - gluten or wheat-free - with additions like herbs, sundried tomatoes, hemp seeds, etc.   This is a great activity to do with kids, as they will love using cookie cutters to cut the crackers into shapes!

Wholegrain Nutty Crackers
2 cups whole spelt flour
1 cup pumpkin seeds, ground into a fine flour
1/2 cup seeds - sesame, flax, poppy, hemp seeds
herbs - rosemary, basil, dill, caraway, etc (optional)
or sundried tomatoes chopped into tiny pieces (optional)
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in large bowl and mix well.  Knead dough into 3-4 balls, roll out with rolling pin on lightly floured table.  Cut into shapes or rectangles making sure dough is evenly rolled, quite thin.  Bake on unoiled cookie sheets in preheated oven, at 350 F for about 15 min.  Cool before serving or storing in glass jars.  Makes several dozen crackers, depending on size they are cut.


We had Angie from Fertile Ground CSA here last Saturday to lead her annual seed starting workshop.  She always offers loads of advice, and even though I've been starting seeds for more than a decade, I still learn new tips each time (like using cinnamon as a natural anti-fungal on soil; and using hypothermia blankets to insulate a seedling rack).  She's offering several other gardening workshops this month - so if you are local, check her website for details.

Our flower and herb seedlings are up, healthy and happy.  The kale is ready to be transplanted into the greenhouse and coldframes, and today we are seeding our tomatoes, basil and peppers...yay!  I'm always so anxious to start tomatoes and have to restrain myself from not starting them too early.   This year, in addition to our regular favourites, some new varieties we are trying include: Manitoba Red, Berkeley Tie-Dye, Principe Borghese, Jaune Flammee...all from Greta's Organics, The Cottage Gardener, or Urban Harvest.

Last snowfall for spring?

The yard is blanketed in snow again, after a surprisingly heavy snowfall this week. We were just starting to gear up for spring - hearing robins and woodpeckers, tapping maple trees, finding wild leek tips peeking out of the soil - but this gave us one more chance to appreciate winter.  We toured the yard sleuthing out the fresh bird and animal tracks in the snow; built one last snow fort; cut yellow dogwood to bring into the house (to sprout early leaves); and enjoyed warming up in the sunny greenhouse.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

These days, leading up to Spring Equinox

These days...seeding, waiting, hoping, dreaming, planning, tending...happy spring equinox to all of you (just a few days away).

We just picked up our portion of 10 bags of certified organic potting mix, ordered through a friend who was getting a whole skid (70 bags) delivered from Pefferlaw Peat Products (located near Pefferlaw, Ontario).  Exciting to stack up this large pile of (frozen) soil next to our greenhouse, knowing in a few weeks the weather will have warmed up and we'll be needing much of this soil to transplant our seedlings.

Below, feasting on greenhouse greens (arugula, mache), planting eggplant, hot peppers and basil...and chickens warming themselves in south-facing soil patches around the yard that have warmed up to the sun!  New chicks for this season will be ordered and picked up in just a few weeks.  We'll be getting our chicks from the nearby Frey's Hatchery (in St. Jacobs) again this year.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Herbal order for local midwives

Today I prepared another herbal order for Genesis Midwives...(and I am so fortunate to always have an eager helper with me, who is starting her early apprenticeship in medicinal herbalism!).  We make post-partum packages that are generously given to all the clients at Genesis Midwives.  These packages include samples of a pure calendula salve and a post-partum bath blend.  Our post-partum blend includes dried comfrey, plantain, yarrow, calendula, lavender, chamomile, uva ursi, shepherd's purse, and garlic - many of which are grown in our own gardens.  I also purchase wonderful herbs from a local organic farmer friend who has the extra space, plus can source difficult to find high quality organic medicinal herbs through Mountain Rose Herbs, and Monteagle Herbs.

Early March day in the greenhouse

After a few outdoor chores and a little playing in the newly melted puddles where we managed to float a tiny red sailboat on the back patio, my helper (who now had wet mittens, skirt and tights) and I headed into the greenhouse to warm up and dry off.  The greenhouse was over 20C, helped by the beautiful warm sunshine coming in through the south facing windows that are no longer covered in snow.  The greens we planted into the ground of the greenhouse last fall are now coming up nicely - mainly lettuces, spinach, arugula, mustard, and some chard and cilantro too.  We had our first taste of this season's baby lettuce - mmmm.  Any fresh green is so hopeful at this time of year.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Alternatives Journal - Just Food issue

Check out the latest Alternatives Journal entitled Just Food which looks at what current food revolutions mean, including topics like food sovereignity in Venezuela, urban agriculture in Brazil, the People's Food Policy Project, Ontario's "broken" food system, and writings from 12 notable foodies.  Alternatives Journal, Canada's national environmental magazine, is based here locally (in Waterloo).  Here's a sneak peak of one tiny article by Cathleen Kneen on the importance of women's roles in the food movement, including a photo of Maya and I holding our winter carrots up as our "symbols of revolution" - we were so honoured to be asked (but apologize for the sorry looking carrots!)

Early March day

An early March homesteading day...hung fresh laundry outside and it almost felt like a spring day - the sheets didn't freeze dry on the line today; the hens pattered around us hoping for a snack of seeds and carrot scrapings, and when we uncovered our grow tunnel they went into a frenzy by the smell wafting out of warming earth; parsley, kale, spinach and lettuce seedlings are sprouting in the cold frame; walked around the yard to look for more signs of spring (all the south facing points of the yard are free of snow, which means the entire front yard and walkway!); thought more about what I want to plant on the living roof this year; planted more sage, rosemary and thyme seeds as a mouse seems to have nipped off all the tops of the seedlings that were germinating!  We could use a farm cat, but one that is friendly toward birds...

No Impact Man film screening, from Cambridge City Green Strategy

Coming up locally next Wednesday, March 9 at 7 pm, is the film No Impact Man - brought to you by the Cambridge City Green Stategy group who has offered three films as part of a green discussion series.  They have already featured Blue Gold: World Water Wars, and The Story of Stuff as part of this series.  Colin Beaven, featured in this documentary film with his family, has also written a book by the same name, and started a non-profit organization No Impact Project, following his one-year of trying to live with "no impact" on the environment.  They irony is, he has had tremendous "impact" by telling his story.  Check out the film or book if you haven't yet. Before the film we'll be giving a short presentation about our projects at Little City Farm, and are looking forward to the discussion to follow the film.