Friday, August 26, 2011

Grape Harvest

This year's grapes have proven to be bountiful - both the tiny tangy wild grapes we have growing through a tangle of hops vines on the back porch, and the large sweet dark blue garden grapes that are clinging from the arbour at the back of our main garden.  The heavy pruning seemed to do the trick, offering both light and air circulation to our grape arbours.  I am trying to save most of the grapes for making jelly and juice, but it's next to impossible to walk past the vines without sampling a few of the tantelizing grapes, hoping that maybe this time they will be perfectly ripe.  And any grapes that fall to the ground do not go to waste, as the hens love these fresh sweet treats.

Saving Seeds

It's nearly September and we've started to collect seeds in the garden....and there is lots to be saved - dill, fennel, coriander, basil, echinacea, yarrow, rosehips and various other medicinal herbs, kale, spinach, lettuces, calendula, marigolds, cosmos, red orach, zucchini, cukes.  Unfortunately, we can't reliably save our tomato seeds, as tomatoes should be planted 20-25 feet from other varieties of tomato, and even this kind of isolation is not a 100% guaruntee that new plants will be exactly as the original plant.

For those living locally who wish to learn more about the details of proper seed saving, join us on Sept 17 for the exciting annual Seed Saving Workshop with Bob Wildfong, director of the wonderful Canadian non-profit organization Seeds of Diversity, here at Little City Farm!

This Moment

{This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Playful learning - sail boats and sand cakes

Although there is a lengthy ongoing list of projects and tasks to do on this little homestead, we always try to make room for play.  Today it was pirates, sand cakes (to celebrate the birthday of our garden worm friends), and sail boating in the pond.   We've also been caring for a caterpillar named Stripey, who came from the Fertile Ground Farm fennel patch - she (we decided it's a she) is going to turn into a Black Swallowtail Butterfly, and just last night she wove her chrysalis and started the metamorphosis - exciting!  Within a few weeks she should emerge as a butterfly.  Our new caterpillar pet encouraged learning about the needs of caterpillars and butterflies, including discovering this useful website called Butterfly School.

We just purchased the book Playful Learning, whose premise is that children are inherently interested in learning and we need only to provide enriching environments to encourage this joy of discovering the world.  This book is connected with a wonderful website chock full of activities to engage children of all ages in playful learning experiences. 

Garden bounty

It's nearing the end of August, and the cool winds blowing today reminded us that fall is just around the corner. We had our picnic lunch inside the tent, not seeking shade (as usual), but instead looking for a little extra warmth!  

However, the garden assures us it's not quite ready for summer to end.  Tomatoes are still raging, zucchini still sprouting new flowers, cucumbers vining, grapes sweetening, peppers still ripening, and our wee hopeful watermelons still  forming.  We cut a large amount of herbs for drying, including an enormous basket of basil for pesto, and then headed back into the tomato beds with our harvest baskets to see what was new.  Today's prize tomato - a huge Berkeley Tie-Dye, one of the new varieties we grew this year from Greta's Organic seeds - a multistriped oversized beefsteak tomato that is luscious and rich with varied flavours.  We may only get a few of these per vine, but their size makes up for it.

Backyard herbal teas, home-grown remedies, and the love of peppermint

On the weekend we held our annual "backyard herbal teas" workshop.  Thanks to everyone who came out to learn about growing, harvesting, drying, storing and using medicinal herbal plants for teas and other home-grown first-aid remedies for your family.  We finished with a short herb walk through our herb garden, pointing out 15 or so favourite herbs we are growing to be used in medicinal teas (infusions/decoctions): calendula, peppermint, sage, echinacea, horehound, hops, lavender, chamomile, anise hyssop, red raspberry leaf, rosehips, fennel, red clover, lemon balm, dandelion root, burdock root, nettle, and a few others.  There are so many I love!

We had covered several ways to propogate herbs, in hopes of having everyone start or expand their own herb gardens - herbs can be propogated by seed, by root divisions of the mother plant, cuttings from the mother plant (set in water or soil to form new roots), and layering the mother plant under soil (to grow new roots).  True peppermint (mentha x piperita) is one example of an herb that can't be grown from seed, and must be propogated by other means as mentioned.  Peppermint (as opposed to other mints like spearmint) is generally sterile, meaning it produces no seeds or if it does have seeds they are not true to the parent plant.  Peppermint has such a wide range of medicinal uses - there is evidence of it being used medicinally more than ten thousand years ago - that I decided to root a whole series of peppermint plants in order to expand my true peppermint patch next year.   Once established, peppermint then easily spreads by roots and shoots.   Peppermint is wonderful as a digestive tea, for the skin, for hair, added to other more bitter herbs for flavouring, and is a large nectar producer that attracts honey bees.  Every garden should have at least a small patch of peppermint.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Urban wild food - in the news

Our friend Jackie was in the newspaper this week - front page of the local section! - promoting wild food foraging.  Here is the full story and here is a video of Jackie talking about 6 common urban wild foods that make wonderful edibles.

This Moment

{This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy. 

A gardening life

I have been savouring my early mornings in the garden, getting up with the sun to let our hens out, and then spending the pre-breakfast hour outside. The mornings around our neighbourhood are quiet, calm, peaceful.  Our garden is a meditative place to start the day.  My little helper is usually with me, as she's up early with the birds and eager to get going.  But the morning air and light create a different mood from the rest of our busy daytime, and we quietly work side by side, tending to weeds, peeking at new vegetables, taking a little harvest into our baskets.  Today it was tomatoes.  I wouldn't miss these early mornings for anything.

Healthful hops

The beautiful bountiful hops on our arbour is nearly ready for harvest.  Each year I harvest large baskets full, drying the hops flowers (called strobiles) and using them for herbal tea blends.  Hops is extremely easy to grow, and is a perennial herb that comes back strong year after year.  Hops has a wide range of benefits.  For example, offering sedative and relaxing properties so it is a nice addition to teas for insomnia, stress and anxiety.  Hops has been known to help women who are going through menopause, hops has been proven to reduce various kinds of cancer, and hops can also be used as a hair rinse to alleviate dry scalp.  Of course, hops is also a prime ingredient in making beer - on our bookshelf we have some wonderful books on making homemade beers including The Homebrewer's Garden, but have yet to make a batch using our own homegrown hops. Maybe during this autumn season...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Right now, in our garden

Such a busy time - harvest, preserving, new planting...

From the garden right now - zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, basil, kale, chard, beans, new peas, new potatoes, first sweet lemon cucumbers (my favourite), herbs, nasturtiums, cherry tomatoes, ground cherries, tomatillos, first green peppers, hot peppers...

Today was also Market Day - Saturday!   At the downtown farmers market we picked up what we aren't growing at home - fresh local corn, peaches, and watermelon - yumm!  After visiting with a few friends and making one last quick tour through the cheese and baked goods aisles, we were gifted with the most gorgeous samples of handmade fair trade chocolate from our local artisan chocolatier, Anna Tolazzi (who happens to live in our neighbourhood!).  This morning, before we headed to the farmers market, we had re-read the wonderful book To Market To Market, by Nikki McClure, one of our best-loved authors.  Just as this book expresses, we are grateful for the harvest in our own garden, and all the dedicated growers and makers at our local farmers market.

First egg

First tiny egg from the new hens!  How they are growing...

This Moment

{This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

Honouring Great Gobo (burdock root)

Upon transplanting some herbs in the front yard I came across a huge burdock plant that had been hidden from view, growing to it's hearts content.  I needed to remove it order to continue my new planting - usually I have had to dig the big burdock roots in order to get them out entirely, but with the ground so dry from little rain this season the long deep root came out easily in one pull.  I immediately sliced it into small pieces for quick drying, as once the root hardens it becomes virtually impossible to cut.  I will store the dried root slices and use them as valuable medicine over the winter months.  Burdock, also known as Great Gobo, can actually be eaten if the roots are fresh and young (steamed, cooked in soups, or stir-fried), but the tougher late summer-fall roots are best dried and used in tinctures or decoctions (i.e. strong teas made of roots).  Burdock is extremely health promoting, considered to be one of the superior tonic herbs.  It is rich in iron and other vitamins and minerals, great for any skin conditions (eczema, etc), promotes healthy kidneys, and is used specifically for the liver.  The leaves and seeds can also be used.  Don't bypass this wonderful medicinal plant that is so often overlooked - we all likely have burdock growing in our own yards, or in woods or parks nearby.  Often the most common of plants are the best healers.

In the news - appetite growing for local food

Little City Farm had a nice mention in the local newspaper in an article about the increasing interest in buying and growing local food - here is the link: "Appetite growing for local food".

Saturday, August 06, 2011

This Moment

{This moment } - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy.  

Thank you for the watermelon

On our doorstep this morning, a huge head of lettuce, a gorgeous bag of dark green spinach, and the most beautiful round watermelon.  Where they came from, we don't know.  Thank you to the anonymous giver, whoever you are!  Our own watermelon are still flowering, though not yet showing signs of growing fruits.  This was certainly a sweet and unexpected breakfast treat.

Wild Apple Jelly Part 2

The story of our wild apple harvest continues...over the weekend we did in fact make apple jelly and apple sauce - lots of it!   A reader sent me the tip (thank you!) that our unnamed wild apple might in fact be an old Gravensteiner, a type of apple tree that is still commonly found in old orchards though is seldom grown in commercial production due to a short shelf life and variable harvesting period.  I love learning the histories of our food and how it originated, so I did a little more research into the Gravenstein apple.  It turns out the description and photos seem to match - a small apple with sweet tart flavour, lightly yellowish flesh, and red striped skin, that ripens from July-August.  It was used mainly as a cooking apple for sauces and apple cider.  This apple is native to Denmark, found and named in the mid 1600's, although it may well have been brought there from Italy at an earlier time.  In Canada it was brought to Nova Scotia in the early 19th century, and today is still widely grown across the country, mainly on old farmsteads, or in backyards just like the tree we found.  It is considered to be a prized apple, of which was once said "if the Gravenstein could be had throughout the year, no other apple would be needed".  In fact, Slow Food USA has declared it a heritage apple and added it to the Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of heritage foods that are in danger of extinction.  Wow!  This apple jelly will taste all the sweeter, knowing the story of this special apple.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Wild apple harvest - Apple Jelly Part 1

We have said many a time how we can't pass up foraging for wild foods when we come across them.  We were visiting a friend's house today and saw a huge old apple tree, just laden with apples and the ground around covered completely with small semi-ripened mottled apples.  We have our own large old wild apple tree that is ready for harvest later this summer, but we couldn't resist these apples.  Not blemish-free (as no real food should be), but we tasted a few bites, quite tart yet delicious and perfect for a not-to-sweet jelly or applesauce.  There was far too much for one household to use, so we gladly filled our bags with these little apples and started the process of apple jelly making - to be continued tomorrow.  Today we washed, chopped, and cooked the apples, mashed them, and strained the juice through a cheesecloth.  Tomorrow the jelly gets cooked with pectin (Pumona's low sugar variety) and sugar, then processed in clean jars and stacked on the shelf for winter enjoyment.

Around our little farm these days...

A nice family weekend around the farm...I love the feeling of everyone working away at their own task somewhere on the property, checking in with each other now and again for some help, or meeting up for a picnic lunch or cool drink in the shade.  Right now the garden feels a bit overwhelming, such dry soil and weeds galore, plus plenty to harvest and lots of planting to do for fall, herbs to dry and put away, garlic still needs to be hung up to cure...Then most of the weekend went to working on the new greywater system, which will be an expansion of our old wetland pond system and now will include a river and second larger pond for better filtration of our laundry and bath water.  Water has definitely been a theme around here the past many weeks - while the greywater system has been under construction we've been carrying out our bath water since the rain barrels were empty.   Finally this weekend we had rain, just a little rain, but enough to fill up our pond and rain barrels again for a few days of use.