Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Urban permaculture

I've been doing more reading on urban permaculture, and getting wholly inspired by what is possible in cities and urban areas.  Urban permaculture design and initiatives are the next step beyond what is already taking place in the vastly expanding urban agriculture movement - permaculture addresses not just food production, but also sustainability, community, interconnection, activism, communication, education, natural building, equality, diversity, peace-building, and much more.  It ties is well with the Transition Town movement and all it's goals.  A wonderful quote by Bill Mollison, co-founder of the permaculture sums this up by saying "we are only truly secure when we can look out our kitchen window and see our food growing and our friends working nearby".

Here are some great urban permaculture links to find out more:
Urban Permaculture Guild
Urban Permaculture Trio (video) - forest gardening, edible landscaping, urban permaculture
2011 Urban Permaculture Design Course - Vancouver
How to make permaculture seed balls
Make permaculture seed balls - Masanobu Fukouka

Healthy greens yield healthy eggs

So many fresh eggs...we've been feeding the hens fresh greens from the cold frame and green house (arugula going to seed, dandelion that's gotten away on us and is too bitter, outer lettuce leaves) which helps to produce bright yellow healthy yolks in their eggs.  In a few weeks it will be fresh nettles, then all the dandelion we can harvest (even the neighbours bring us bags of their dandelion "weeds"), then comfrey, then in summer the left over wilted greens and compost bits at the end of Saturday market day from our friends at Fertile Ground CSA...our hens are well supplied.  (A rainy day made for foggy photographs here).

Spring wild edibles - violet jelly

A simple kitchen project yesterday was to make violet jelly.  My little one and I spent about half an hour picking the freshest wild violets to get the 2 cups worth for this recipe.  They are blooming everywhere right now.  First a tea is steeped, then lemon juice is added (creating the most gorgeous vibrant purple colour), and finally jelly is made following regular jelly instructions (adding sweetener and pectin) resulting in a bright pink jelly - a lovely unique jelly we'll give away as gifts or enjoy in the winter months.  As this was a small recipe (only about 6 cups of jelly), we followed the ideas in Small Batch Preserving, and canned the jelly using a regular large stock pot rather than canning pot, and the whole procedure took less than one hour.

2 cups violet petals freshly picked
3 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups sugar (or follow low-sugar recipes using Pumona's pectin)
1 pkg (57 g) pectin

1) Steep violets covered with boiling water for upto 24 hours. 
2) Strain and add lemon juice. 
3) Prepare canner, jars and lids as required by regular canning procedure.
4) In large saucepan (stainless steel) heat violet infusion, add pectin stirring until dissolved.
5) Over high heat bring to a rolling boil. Add sugar, stir constantly and boil for 1 minute at rolling boil.
6) Skim off any foam, pour into sterilized hot jars, and process in canner for 10 minutes.
Makes 6 cups (6 x 250 ml).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fur and Feathers Fancier Fair, Sat May 1

A friend tipped us off to this unique event happening in nearby Mount Forest next Sunday (May 1, from 7 am until noon).  It's the annual Fur and Feathers Fancier Fair, held in the spring and fall each year.  This is the place for all you backyard homesteaders and farmers to find heritage and exotic birds (chickens, ducks, geese, etc) and animals (sheep, goats, etc).  It's a swap, buy or sell event.  We hope to make it there, just for a great country drive and chance to see a huge variety of interesting beasts!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The cob oven

And a few moments of leisure, including "fishing" in the pond, snuggling in the hammock, and baking pizza in the outdoor cob oven (even though our cob oven is designed to be primarily a bread oven, we do make loads of pizza).  The cob oven is based on typical adobe-like construction, made by hand of local natural materials: clay, sand and straw.  It is a simple, affordable project that can be done in a number of weekends.  The dome, with the height of door being aprox. 63% of the height of the dome, allows for proper air flow as there is no chimney.  Kiko Denzer's book Build your own earth oven; or Becky Bee's The cob builder's handbook, are great resources for anyone interested in getting into cob.  I am inspired by the Mud Girls Natural Building Collective (based in BC), whose website shows beautiful examples of walls, ovens, outhouses, and even entire homes made of cob.  At Little City Farm we will be holding a cob workshop ( in June, so check it out if you are local and have interest.

No till gardening (or farming)

A beautiful long weekend meant spending every spare minute outdoors - everything is coming alive!  The perennials like rhubarb, sorrel, red orach (mountain spinach), purple lambsquarters, chives, currants, elderberry, and chokecherry, and herbs like lemonbalm, oregano, mints, sage, lavender, thyme, chamomile are all leafing out and flowering...

We spent our weekend planting radishes, spinach, lettuce, peas, calendula, sweet peas; seeding cucumbers, zucchini, squash and melons in the greenhouse flats; transplanting basil; securing the chicken run with new fencing and a proper gate; creating a new "kids" garden; cleaning up brush piles to store as kindling; and setting up a second grow tunnel.

We are continuing the no-till gardening method as we prepare the beds for planting.  No till gardening is based on the ideas of Masanobu Fukuoka in One Straw Revolution, Ruth Stout's no dig gardening system, permaculture principles, (and various others).  No till gardening (or farming) does not mean "no work", as compost, mulch, top dressings, and cover crops are used to build soil health and quality, but there are many benefits.  No till gardening promotes natural aeration and drainage of the soil, saves water, reduces soil erosion, minimizes the need for weeding, saves time, energy and money, encourages soil life (worms, bacteria, fungi, etc), and helps soil retain carbon.

2011 Waterloo Region Food Summit, Sat April 30

In 2009 a Waterloo Region Food Summit was held here in our city.  Summit participants heard about and discussed the reality of hunger and poverty in Waterloo Region, the farmers' struggles to make a living growing food, and of the unhealthy diets of most of our population as a result of our out-of-balance food system.  From this summit, 6 priorities for the building of a strong, viable regional food system were declared: 1) food sovereignity; 2) food policy; 3) urban agriculture; 4) local food infrastructure; 5) farm viability; 6) access to healthy food.  Come out to participate in the upcoming Food Summit to follow up on these priorities for our region - more info and registration details here.

Jane's Walk, Sat May 7

The annual Jane's Walk is coming up on Saturday, May 7 from 10 am-12 noon.  This walk is a legacy to Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), a legendary urban activist, writer and thinker who "championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building...Jacobs saw cities as ecosystems that had their own logic and dynamism which would change over time according to how they were used...She promoted higher density in cities, short blocks, local economies and mixed uses. Jacobs helped derail the car-centred approach to urban planning in both New York and Toronto, invigorating neighbourhood activism by helping stop the expansion of expressways and roads. She lived in Greenwich Village for decades, then moved to Toronto in 1968 where she continued her work and writing on urbanism, economies and social issues until her death in April 2006.  A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighbourhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work and play with words like these: “No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at … suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You’ve got to get out and walk.”
-Downtown is for People, 1957." (excerpt from

We are pleased that local residents have organized a Jane's Walk right here in our own Mount Hope neighbourhood, and that Little City Farm will be an official stop along the way his year.  If you come out on the tour you'll hear about the hopes and dreams we have for our urban farm in the midst of this particular neighbourhood, see the strawbale house addition, andtaste fresh baking from the outdoor cob wood-fired oven!  Read more details about the walk here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

This Moment

{ This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy.  Inspired by the continued beauty and creativity of Soulemama's blog, where she encourages readers to post their own moments.

A visiting cousin inspired new spring fairy capes...

Visiting relatives inspired me to sew quick spring fairy capes for the cousins to romp around in - and dance, run and romp they did!  The cape is a simple free-spirited (i.e. no pattern) design, although I found great inspiration from looking at the gorgeous earth celebrating kids clothing at (a crafting mama from the sunny prairies of Manitoba.

Spring farm quiche

Here's a quick and easy recipe we love to make, using up several eggs and loads of garden greens and herbs.

Spring farm quiche

1 1/2 cups spelt flour (or wheat, etc)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup chilled butter
3-4 Tbsp cold water

Blend into soft dough using food processor.  Form into ball, and roll out using extra flour on table.  Makes one large crust.  Press into pie pan.

5 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 lb greens (arugula, spinach, mizuna, mache, mustard), lightly sauteed
herbs for sprinkling (chives, parsley, cilantro)
1 cup shredded cheese
red pepper slices, optional

Blend filling ingredients mixing well.  Pour into prepared crust.  Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes or until top and crust are golden.  Serve warm or cold, with fresh green salad.

Baby chicks growing

The chicks are nearly three weeks old, and have developed considerable wing feathers by now.  They love to flap around their little indoor pen or our living room trying out their flying abilities, and can now balance on a wooden perch (or anything else they can hop up on - a couch arm rest, an outstretched hand, their water dish, etc).  We love these wee gals who have now been named: Saphira, Dusty, Ruby and Moth (names picked by our 3 year old).  For anyone considering urban hen keeping, these books are useful resources:
Keep Chickens, by Barbara Kilarski; and Backyard Poultry Naturally, by Alanna Moore.

Around the farm

Around the farm this weekend - first rhubarb nearly ready, waiting and hoping for asparagus, baby chicks growing, salad greens picked, seedlings transplanted, peas planted, trees budding, grapes pruned, compost turned, chicken run repaired, eggs collected and decorated..happy earth day, happy easter, happy spring to all.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How to build a root cellar

We've been cleaning out the root cellar lately, using the last carrots, the sprouting potatoes, and jars of preserves.  It's getting too warm in the space, as we have it vented directly outside - i.e. this works perfectly in winter months to keep the room naturally cold, but as the air warms outdoors it's not so usable for longterm storage of root crops.  Last fall we installed this root cellar and cold room into out basement.  Unfortunately this house did not have an existing space set aside for winter food storage - we moved our washing machine upstairs (making it easier to reuse the greywater through a pond filtration system), and set aside about a third of the former laundry room as the root cellar, and another third as pantry shelving for preserves, canning supplies, jars, wine making equipment, etc.  The root cellar space was a very simple construction - insulated from the inside, then vented outdoors as mentioned, and closed with a solid, well insulated tightly sealing door.  So far so good.  Spring is the season to start thinking about new building projects for the coming months, so this may be one for your list.  Here is a great book we suggest as a resource -  Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Winter Fruits and Vegetables, by Mike Bubel.

Mid-April greenhouse update

It's mid April!  The weather is complete erratic this month - snow, hail, rain showers, cold grey days, patches of warm sun, and then heading upto 18C later this week.  The greenhouse and coldframe, however, are moving right along at a happy pace - gorgeous leafy greens; flowering chive plants, full parsley, kale, spinach and chard plants; the Chicago Hardy Fig (also known as "Bensonhurst Purple") sprouting leaves and tiny fig buds; red currants showing early berry buds; and seedlings seedlings seedlings to be transplanted.

Favourite homesteading/sustainability magazines

We do a whole lot of reading around here...we visit the library at least once a week and bring home stacks of wonderful children's books, keep our B&B stocked with books to inspire our guests, and have a hefty collection of gardening, permaculture, green building, country living, crafting and homesteading manuals on our own bookshelves.  Here are a few of the favourite magazines we've found that provide useful homesteading/sustainability/natural parenting info.  If any readers know of other similar magazines, please add a comment below.

In particular, I'm excited about Urban Farm Magazine which I've only just found and started subscribing to.  The recent May/June 2011 issue includes articles on rooftop gardens, permaculture, suburban homesteading, sustainable local economies, lasgana gardening, DIY dehydrator plans, garden bug identification, and understanding misleading food labels.

Urban Farm: Sustainable City Living
Alternatives: Environmental Ideas and Action
Organic Gardening
Permaculture Activist
Mother Earth News
Harrowsmith (the vintage 1970s and 1980s copies)
Natural Life
Yes! Magazine: Journal of Positive Futures
Utne Reader
New Internationalist 
Back Home Magazine
Small Farm
Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home
Living Crafts

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring "firsts" at the homestead

Hooray for warm weather!  These past few days have felt like spring is finally here to stay.  A few "firsts" this week, due to the balmy spring weather...rubber boots, bare feet (dipped into the cold cold pond), wild leeks, crocuses, fresh sorrel and chives from the garden, delicious greens from the outdoor cold frame, transplanting first round of seedlings for our May sale, an outdoor picnic, an outdoor supper on the patio, an outdoor tea party, reading in the hammock, a ladybug, dragonflies, first thunderstorm (and strangely also a first brief hail storm), and a pair of ducks frequenting our yard...

Thursday, April 07, 2011

New chicks arrive

Four new little chicks joined our household this week! At one day old they are not a large addition, their little house (a clear rubbermade bin with mesh cover, warmed by a heat lamp) taking up only a small corner of our bedroom on a table right next to where our dog has her bed, near the woodstove. In about 8 weeks, when they are ready for the great outdoors, we'll move them out to join the rest of the hens...but for now, they make irresistable indoor companions. We chose the varieties - Columbian Rock x Red, and New Hampshire x Barred, for their winter hardiness and "gentle and quiet dispositions", from our local Frey's Hatchery.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Saturday's activities - cheese making part two

We held our second cheese making workshop here at Little City Farm - back by popular demand - making cream cheese, mozzarella, and ricotta (ricotta was made out of the left over whey - which didn't work quite so well, but participants got the idea of how the ricotta process would go using whole milk)!  We were so pleased to have our facilitator Bianca here again, as she has loads of cheese making knowledge from her own kitchen experimenting, and makes the process feel so relaxed and manageable.  Really, cheese making is in fact that easy after you have tried the recipes once and been walked through the process.  Participants were excited about continuing their cheese making at home, and supplies can be found through the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. or the more local Ontario based Glen Garry Cheese Making Supply Co.   I, for one, want to start making goat chevre, which seems incredibly simple as there are only 3 steps (as opposed to the 20 steps it takes to make mozzarella) - 1) heat the goats milk, 2) add culture, citric acid/lemon juice and cheese salt (available through New England Cheesemaking Supply) and let this stand 12 hours, 3) then strain curds through colander again letting it stand for 12 hours.  Voila!  Fresh goat chevre, with options to add herbs, spices, nuts, sundried tomatoes, etc.  Mmmm.