Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gathering wood

We are always on the look-out for wood - firewood for the winter months, and firewood for the outdoor bread oven.  The nice thing about the bread oven is that it really only needs the smallest pieces to make a good baking fire, so the larger logs stay stacked up for heating our house.  Now, during tree trimming season, it seems to be the best time to collect firewood.  We have done some trimming in our own yard, mostly Manitoba maples which need to come down before they get too large.  Since we've moved to this property we had let them grow to create a quick privacy screen from neighbouring properties, and are now cutting them back to create more gardens, a new pond for the greywater recycling expansion here, and plant in the fruit trees and others we do want here longterm.  We also are fortunate to have friends around the city offer us wood - for example, yesterday, a neighbour Trevor (owner of Once Upon a Tree, where he makes gorgeous artisan bowls from reclaimed wood) brought by a traile load of wood from a tree just taken down in their yard.  Stacking the wood is incredibly meditative for me; Greg finds his zen in the physicality of chopping the larger logs; and Maya created her own game of making a "campfire" with the smallest twigs. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Herbal Hemp Shampoo - recipe

While we are sharing recipes, here is a simple one for herbal shampoo.  We make herbal shampoo soaps and absolutely love them (no packaging, portable, long lasting, great cleaning qualities)...but some people do prefer a liquid version of shampoo.  This is an easy recipe to make at home, and can be adjusted to suit your needs using different combinations of herbal teas and essential oils for the base.  We suggest rosemary or sage for dark hair, chamomile or calendula for lighter hair, patchouli essential oil for dry scalp.  We used hemp castille soap in this recipe for the added benefits of hemp oil for hair care - hemp oil is high in protein, vitamin E, and omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, helping to combat dry skin and stimulating hair growth.

Herbal Hemp Shampoo
10 oz herbal infusion (strong herbal tea that is steeped 8-12 hours)
1 oz liquid castille soap (we used a hemp castille soap for added benefits of hemp oil)
1 tsp sweet almond oil or light olive oil
20-35 drops pure essential oil

1) Infuse herbs for the tea base - let steep at least 8-12 hours in covered container (e.g. tea pot or glass mason jar).
2) Mix all ingredients well and store in glass jar or old reused shampoo bottle.
3) To use, shake bottle well to combine contents.  This is a thinner shampoo than most people are used to (add more castille soap to thicken it).  Squeeze several teaspoons onto wet hair and lather, rinse.  Avoid getting in eyes and this is for external use only of course.
4) Rinse with apple cider vinegar as conditioner if you like.
5) Use within 3 months.

Herbal sunscreen - make-it-yourself recipe!

I've had quite a few requests for an all natural herbal sunscreen.  We've been experimenting with a recipe here, testing it out and tweaking it to use ingredients that are easily available.  I'm really happy with the results - a nice thick creamy spreadable sunscreen that absorbs well and doesn't feel sticky.  It has natural sunblock (sesame oil), soothes the skin (cocoa butter), has natural antiseptic qualities, smells lovely, and is easy to prepare.  We hope to have this available in our etsy shop at some point this summer, but for now here is our recipe so those of you who like to experiment with all things herbal can make it at home yourself!  Our recipe is based on one from an old issue of Mother Earth News magazine, modified it to suit our needs.  Here's the recipe:

Herbal Sunscreen - safe for kids (use externally only, and reapply every few hours)
70 grams organic sesame oil
45 grams organic cocoa butter
15 grams pure beeswax
110 grams (4 oz) strong green tea
2 Tbsp zinc oxide
1 tsp vitamin C powder (or other natural preservative)
10-20 drops pure lavender essential oil

1) Melt sesame oil, cocoa butter and beeswax in double boiler or in a small saucepan on the stove over low heat.
2) Remove and add green tea, zinc oxide, vitamin C powder and lavender oil.  Mix well with a stick blender until creamy.
3) Store in glass jars or other small containers with tight fitting lids (or reuse an old sunscreen tube).  Keep in cool location to keep in thick spreadable condition (or firm sunscreen back up if necessary by placing in the fridge for half an hour).

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.

Peas and more peas...encouraging kids in the garden!

We are loving the fresh peas around here these days..the ones in Maya's garden have come up first (because she watered them faithfully every single day!).  There is so much information out there about the benefits of connecting kids with gardens - tactile learning, confidence building, creativity, health, encouraging stewardship of the land, etc...Here are some simple tips on how to make kids feel successful and connected to their gardens and a nice article on this topic from the City Farmer website:

- give kids their very own space to garden in
- let kids help choose (buy/save) the seeds themselves
- encourage them to grow lettuce, carrots, peas, radishes that come up quickly
- spend time exploring the garden (learn about soil life, insects, plants, etc)
- add artful elements (let them make signs, fences, other decorations)
- allow kids to harvest, nibble, and cook with the foods from the garden!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Herb harvesting season

It seems like the herb gardens (both my culitvated herbs and the wild ones we wildcraft) have recently exploded!  This is one of my favourite times of the year - the season of gathering herbs that will be made into medicines (tinctures, salves, syrups, teas) for the winter months.  Right now the lavender, arnica, red clover, lemon balm, catnip, motherwort, yarrow, mints, sage, thyme, comfrey, chamomile, feverfew, plantain, (not to mention all the culinary herbs like oregano, basil, savory, dill) are in their prime -- so we've been heading out with our collecting baskets each morning taking an hour or so to gather, bunch and hang dry these wonderful healing herbs. 

I had a few questions about the recent red clover harvest blog post, so here are a few more general harvesting/drying tips: herbs need to be dried quickly, out of sunlight, and with proper air circulation; flowers should be picked when fully opened and fully dried from morning dew, then and stored in brown paper bags that are punched with air holes (paper bags will catch the herb blossoms that tend to fall off); other herbs can be tied into small bunches and hung dry in a cool place with good air circulation, out of direct sunlight (we use our greenhouse during the off season, as it dries herbs quickly - but we hang a tarp to block out sunlight from our drying area); finally, always label your herbs well before you hang them up to dry (herbs can look quite different when fully dried and you don't want to mix up your bunches!)...happy herb harvesting.

Summer solstice!

In celebration of summer's beginning...

today we had the first CSA pick-up with Fertile Ground CSA, just around the corner from our place.  It's a fabulous CSA (community supported agriculture) and such a great opportunity for folks in this neighbourhood to meet each other and share a common interest in supporting a local farm through purchasing beautiful top quality organic produce!  Tuesday afternoons always become a major social gathering over at the CSA pick up.  We are there each week with a baked goods table - we will feature various breads (wood-fired and otherwise) made with wholegrains and local organic flour.  Today's offerings were focaccia, broa (Portuguese cornbread), rustic apple-rhubarb tarts, spelt chocolate chip cookies, rhubarb pies, and multigrain flax sourdough breads. All sold out by 6:15 pm - long day, but so exciting!  Maya (my trusty helper) fell asleep 5 minutes after we walked home - she loves CSA days because of all the neighbourhood kids she gets to see - but was exhausted!

Father's day...

We've been off the computer for a few days as we took a mini "family holiday" here at the homestead.  Greg's been digging a second backyard pond for our greywater recycling system, so we've seen a lot more of him during the daytimes - which means helping with the pond, taking picnic lunch breaks together, enjoying these long days late into the evening...but for father's day we decided to head to Elora for a hike at the conservation area and our first swim of the season at the quarry, then a wood-fired pizza dinner and bonfire at home.  Lovely day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Red clover harvest

First harvests of red clover blossoms for our Women's Tea this week.  Red clover is an excellent herb for women of all ages and helps alleviate hot flashes, menopausal symptoms, and PMS as it contains a chemical called isoflavones which acts similarily to the female hormone estrogen.  Harvesting red clover is a great project to do with kids - this herb grows low to the ground so is easily reached by little arms and hands, is simple to harvest (and not irritating to skin like stinging nettle), smells beautiful, and is safe to nibble on.  General harvesting tips: Pick blossoms when they are fully opened, in mid morning after dew has dried but before the heat of the day causes flowers to wilt.  Harvest only 1/3 of a clover patch (or any herbal patch you are harvesting) so to keep a strong healthy plant for next season and leave a substantial amount of blossoms for bees, etc.

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.

Strawberries, rhubarb and homeschooling

Today was a home day - we spent a busy day volunteering at Fertile Ground CSA yesterday so we needed some quiet downtime. We made a simple strawberry rhubarb crisp (recipe below) with berries freshly picked from our little strawberry patch, and ate it while reading books in the backyard tent.  We also turned some excess rhubarb into a small batch (7 jars) of ginger-rhubarb jam from Small Batch Preserving - mmm!  The jam making turned into an impromptu lesson in basic mathematics as Maya started counting jam jars and moving them around to add them up in different combinations.  Yup, they still added up to 7 jars no matter which way you arrange them!  Life learning at it's finest!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
1 cup strawberries, sliced
2 cups rhubarb, sliced
1 Tbsp flour or cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar or honey, optional

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cups whole oats
5 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp oil
1 tsp cinnamon and/or nutmeg
nuts, optional

1) Mix first four ingredients in bottom of unoiled 9 x 13 glass baking dish.
2) Mix topping ingredients in large bowl to form crumb mixture, then layer on top of fruit in dish.
3) Bake at 375F for 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and filling is bubbling.
4) Serve warm or cold, with yogurt, icecream or just on it's own.

Loving our hens

We spend at least an hour with the hens each day...tending, feeding, playing, holding, cleaning, topping up their water, bringing them dandelion and other wild greens, collecting eggs, and helping to integrate the new hens with the olders ones (everyone has pretty much accepted each other now)....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Whole-grain breads starting at CSA next week!

I can't believe it's CSA season again - next Tuesday marks the first CSA pick-up for 2011 for the Fertile Ground CSA which has it's drop off in our neighbourhood.  We'll be back again this year with our little baking stand, selling freshly baked organic whole-grain breads and other assorted surprise goodies (bagels, pies, cookies, jams, soaps) each week from 3:45-6 pm.  This is one of our social highlights of the week - see you there!

These days, leading up to Summer Solstice

What's filling our days...

- digging a second pond for the extension of our greywater recycling system
- planting more French beans, yellow zucchini, oakleaf lettuce, red chard, basil, purple kale (and trying baby watermelon, one more time!)
- watering (with pressure using the pump connect to our rainbarrels), weeding, tending, mulching...
- scheming about a simple irrigation system using greywater
- harvesting first tea herbs: nettle, comfrey, lavender, chamomile, yarrow, red clover, mints, lemon balm
- making delicious cups of herbal iced tea (our favourite is chocolate mint/ginger mint/peppermint combination)
- pruning trees to make way for the expanding blueberries, mulberries and plum tree
- picking juicy ripe strawberries to savour with our breakfast yogurt
- playing with the new chicks - Sephira, Dusty, Moth and Ruby (who are not so little anymore)
- baking fresh crusty bagels, granola and wholegrain breads in the cob wood-fired oven
- researching the green living roof that we hope to install this summer (a July project?)
- enjoying volunteering a half day at Fertile Ground organic farm each week with our daughter
- making soaps and salves to keep our herbal shop stocked up
- experimenting with new recipes for homemade natural sunscreen, herbal shampoo, laundry soap, and laundry "stain stick" bars (recipes and photos coming)
- reading favourite books while snuggled together in the hammock
- washing laundry on the back porch while Maya works on art projects beside me
- napping in the tent that's set up in the backyard as a play space under our old apple tree
- taking evening walks as the sun lingers on, as a family through the neighbourhood
- watching for mama robin's nest for eggs, monarchs visiting our milkweed plants, bees busy in the herb gardens
- savouring simple hearty fare for our picnics outside every day (homemade bread, cheese, pickles, kimchi, steamed veggies, stir-fry or roasted vegetables over the campfire, and salads: just-picked garden greens salads, kamut pasta salads, quinoa salads, potato salads...)
- loving bare feet, summer skirts, sun hats, warm breezes, and this glorious June weather...happy almost summer solstice...

Little City Farm workshop noted in Urban Farm magazine!

We discovered the Urban Farm magazine a while back and love reading it!  It's filled with useful articles, resources and tips for urban farmers and those interested in sustainability in the city.  Recently we noticed that one of our upcoming workshops - Backyard Herbal Teas coming up on Aug 20 - was featured in the magazine's calendar listing - what an honour!  Check it out!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mid June garden - flowers everywhere

In our mid-June garden for eating...purple lambsquarters, wild red orach, garlic scapes, spinach, radishes, pea shoots, lettuce, baby tatsoi, red and green kale, loads of herbs...

I am loving the flowers, in and around the garden everywhere - and this is just the beginning!  Right now there are towering yellow kale flowers, white feathery cilantro flowers, happy white daisies, delicate pink wild rose blossoms, darker pink wild lupins, deep purple sage flowers, bright yellow pond irises, golden arnica flowers, red and white clover flowers, and much more coming...