Friday, September 30, 2011

This Moment

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

Winter firewood

Getting ready for winter.  Collecting, chopping and stacking firewood has been top of the list for a while now.  Our strawbale living quarters are very well insulated, so we only tend to keep a small fire going most days in the winter months.  Still, each year we wonder if we'll have enough wood ready.  We were hoping to build a woodshed/bike shed this season, but time seems to have slipped away.  For now the large back porch will do.  Oh, the hours of enjoyment, with our little eager helper working side-by-side with her papa...

Right now, at the homestead

This end of week/weekend at our little homestead...
- canning the last bushel of tomatoes into sauce, ready for winter feasts and wood-fired pizza dinners
- bottling the lacto-fermented crock pickles, our favourite recipe from Wild Fermentation, that are now ready, and storing the jars in the cold cellar
- making another large batch of our favourite hemp & maple granola (recipe below)
- planning an apple picking adventure to nearby Avalon Orchards for the last fall harvestings 
- stacking firewood in growing piles for winter warmth
- observing the many bees busily foraging in the fall flowers
- preparing garden beds for the coming of first frost, possibly tomorrow night?
- planting greens in our greenhouse for fresh winter harvests, using methods from Winter Harvest Handbook
- reading: Radical Homemakers; Urban Farm Magazine; Playful Learning
- attending our first local homeschooling workshop this weekend, a daylong "living room" discussion with David Albert
-and baking vast quantities of pumpkin pies for next week's CSA pick-up!

Hemp & Maple Granola
12 cups whole oats 
3/4 cup sunflower oil
1 cup pure dark maple syrup
1/2 cup hulled hemp seeds
1/3 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
(other nuts and/or seeds as desired)

Stir all ingredients well to combine.  Spead evenly on two lightly greased baking sheets and bake at 350F for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  Bake until golden brown and slightly crispy.  Granola will firm up once it cools.  Stir in 1 cup raisins after granola has cooled.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The potential of an acorn...

What is it about acorns that I find so fascinating?  They are beautiful - intricately designed, sturdy yet delicate, each with their own markings, a compact food source, and, most importantly holding the potential to grow into an enormous oak tree given just the right conditions.  That's almost magical.  So at this time of year we collect acorns on our walks, and have a bowl of them on our table celebrating the harvest, the turn of the season, and the hopes we have for all the potential in a new growing season the next year.  This seems to be what thanksgiving should be about.  Happy harvest season everyone!

Do-it-Yourself Herbal Winter Medicines

We're preparing for the coming winter months - preserving the last foods, picking our nearly ripe tomatoes in anticipation of first frost this weekend, and processing our medicinal herbs into immune boosting winter health tonics.

On Saturday I led the annual "herbal winter remedies" workshop here at Little City Farm. During the workshop we talked about the basics of making your own tinctures, tonics, bitters, syrups and lozenges - and then made an immune tonic tincture, bottled a rosehip tincture, sipped herbal immune-boosting cups of chai (see recipe below), and created a sage-horehound cough syrup.  In the days leading up to the workshop, I was surprised and pleased to notice my 3-year old preparing her own "tinctures" of herbal leaves and roots picked from the garden "steeping" with water in wee glass bottles in her little play kitchen.  I love when I can pass on valuable life skills simply by example.

Making Herbal Winter Medicines:

It's important to start with top quality herbs, fresh if possible (so now is the last of the season to do so), or dried will also do.  Tincturing is a great way to preserve the medicinal qualities of herbs for a very long time, making powerful potent medicine, and often extracting constituents of the plant that water will not.  Tinctures are extracts made with food grade alcohol, usually 80-100 proof alcohol like vodka or brandy, where the herbs are steeped for 4-6 weeks.   Tincturing works well for extracting medicinal qualities of herbal roots and berries, such as the deep immune system/winter health herbs like elderberry, echinacea, goldenseal and astragalus.  Once strained and bottled, tinctures will last several years if kept in a cool, dry, dark location.

Herbal syrups, on the other hand, start with a very strong tea (i.e. herbal extracts made with water such as strong infusions or decoctions), then are cooked slowly for a long time with honey to thicken into a syrup consistency.  The honey acts as a preservative, but a little alcohol can also be added to help prolong the shelf life.  Cough medicines are often made in a syrup form, such as our favourite sage-horehound syrup for healing sore throats.

There is so much more to say, but for now, here are a few recipes:

Elderberry Tincture (following method also good for tincturing other herbs)
(highly beneficial for colds, cough, flu, bronchitis, sinus infection, virus, etc)
1) Chop herbs finely, or crush in blender.  Use fresh berries where possible.  High quality dried berries will work well too.
2) Place berries into clean, dry jar.  Pour in enough alcohol (vodka or brandy) to cover the berries, and continue pouring until liquid covers by 2-3 inches.  The berries need to be completely submerged.  Cover with tight-fitting lid.
3) Place jar in warm location (e.g. sunny window) and let herbs and liquid soak (macerate) for 4-6 weeks.  The longer the better.  Shake jar every day to make sure herbs are blending with alcohol.
4) Strain out berries, using a muslin cloth or jelly bag, or a large stainless steel strainer.  Reserve liquid, which is now a potent tincture.
5) Bottle and label.  Store out of reach from children, in a cool, dark location where the tincture will keep almost indefinitely.
6) Useage guidelines: one measure is to give 1 drop tincture for every 2 lbs body weight. 

Immune Boosting Herbal Chai
(serve hot as a strong tea, with warm milk/rice milk and honey)
Ingredients - mix to your own taste - dried nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cinnamon bark, star anise, black peppercorn, ginger root, echinacea root, astragalus root (only a pinch) dried rosehips, marshmallow root, chamomile, fennel seeds, plus spearmint and lemongrass (for flavour).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What is your fibreshed?

In general, it feels there is a growing awarness of the importance of supporting local farmers and sustainably grown foods.  100-Mile diet, locavore, slow food, bioregional eating, local food challenges, food buying clubs, CSA's (community supported agriculture), community gardens, school gardens, and farmstart and mentorship programs for young would-be farmers, are just some of the options and ideas that have become increasingly available in recent years.  And this is a good thing.  There is the great quote we see on bumper stickers around here: "farmers feed cities", a reminder not to forget the dependance we in our urban areas have on farmers (and farmland) around us.  I remember Michael Ableman, a keynote speaker at an the Canadian Organic Conference in Guelph a few years ago, getting a standing ovation when he noted that farmers should get the same respect (and earnings) as the most prestigious doctors and lawyers.  So, the local food movement has slowly brought a little more of this acknowledgement and support to the farmers.

The Fibreshed Project takes this one step further.  This project is a one year challenge to wear clothes sourced (and dyed) from fibres grown close to home (within 150 miles) - as a way of raising awareness about the incredibly unsustainable  clothing industry (the ecological and social impacts of the clothes we buy/wear); as well as aiming to support local farmers who produce fibres that are largely undervalued (e.g. thousands of pounds of wool discarded each year because of lack of market).  If the farming, milling, production, manufacturing of many of our clothes could be done closer to home, this would be a significant ecological and social contribution.  Read this beautiful blog, and be inspired to start building networks with your local fibre-producing farmers.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hooray for kale, kale and more kale!

We have kale in absolute abundance in our garden - when added together in all the places we've planted it, we have nearly 3 of our raised beds filled with kale.  That's a lot of kale.  But, we love kale (and our chickens can't get enough of it either), and it keeps well in the ground, long into the cold months that are ahead.  It's a pleasure to go out in January, when the garden is deeply buried under snow, and dig out a patch of kale to harvest for supper - still fresh and crisp as if it had been kept in a refrigerator.  Yes, kale is likely the plant we grow the most of here (a close race with tomatoes).  Crinkly dinosaur kale, red Russian kale, green curled kale, we love them all - and such a versatile plant to cook with - made into potato-kale soup, thinly sliced with tofu in miso soup, or added into chili; blended in fruit smoothies; stir-fried with tamari, or steamed with a little hemp oil; served on toast with eggs, added chopped into pasta; made into a warm kale salad with balsamic dressing and toasted nuts; tossed with tahini-garlic sauce; kale stands up well in most dishes.  Here's a quick simple recipe we made up for dinner this evening, using all our current garden harvests - carrots, eggplant,  red peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, kale (of course)!

Fall Harvest Kale Stew
1 large bunch kale, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into half moons
5-6 large tomatoes, chopped (we used orange and red ones)
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper and 3 small eggplants, roasted with olive oil and sliced
3 potatoes, diced
1 large zucchini, cut into half moons
8 cups water
2 vegetarian soup cubes, or homemade soup stock
dash of tamari
dash of sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1-2 red cayennes, sliced finely
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, sliced finely
large handful of fresh garden herbs (basil, chives, parsley, etc)

This is a versatile recipe - it's a guideline, but add what you have that needs to be used up in your garden.  Let everything cook slowly, simmering for about an hour in a large pot.   So simple!  Serve this thick stew over whole grains like brown rice or quinoa, or with hearty slices of homemade bread.

This Moment

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Apple Tasting

We've been trying different kinds of apples from the local farmers market, as well as from our own trees and wild foraged ones.  We've made applesauce, apple jelly, applebutter, apple pies, and of course kept lots of apples for fresh eating.  I love apple harvest season - there is such variety and abundance, colour, flavour, texture, history.  We'll be hosting the annual apple tasting event here in October, for those who live locally and want to come learn the stories of heirloom apples from our region.  Or look for apple festivals in your own area.


Fresh figs!  We've been eating fresh figs from our Hardy Chicago Fig tree for the past week or two.  The cool weather of the recent days has meant many more have ripened all at once.  It's done well in this climate, and the figs are delicious.   Soon it will be time to pack it up for the winter - we bundle it with straw and store it in the greenhouse for the cold season.

Rainy September Day

A rainy day, spent with my 3 year old - baking bread, harvesting tomatoes, sewing a few small projects, making  a cozy pillow fort in the living room, and walking budled up in raingear to look for signs of autumn.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Basic Seed Saving

The garden is filled with beautiful seeds at this time of season.  We've been saving beans, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, orach, peas, coriander, and various flowers and herbs in order to plant our favourites again next year.

This weekend's timely workshop at Little City Farm was on basic seed saving.   We were pleased to have the director of Seeds of Diversity here again this year to lead this workshop.  Seeds of Diversity is a "national charitable organization comprised of gardeners and farmers who preserve the biodiversity and heritage of Canada's food plants."  To get involved, gardeners can grow and save seeds of endangered varieties of plants for the national Seed Library, or grow a rare variety and help document it.

The workshop covered the basic components of seeds (we opened up beans that had been soaked, revealing the seed coat, the inner body of "food" for the seed, and the miniscule bean-like seed inside ready to sprout).  We talked about self-pollination and cross-pollination.  Good examples of simple garden plants that are self-pollinating (i.e. flowers rightly closed so insect and wind-blown pollen can't get inside to cross pollinate): tomatoes, bush beans, lettuce and peas are great vegetables to start with as a beginning seed saver.  For cross-pollinationg plants (e.g. squash, eggplant), with flowers that are wider open, the plants either need to be isolated (by distance or row covers) or by having plants that flower at different times in order to save seeds properly.  I was surprised to hear that tomatoes are self-pollinating and have about a 95% chance of getting the same variety as the saved seed (that means, very little chance of cross-pollination).  I had always thought that tomatoes needs a large distance between varieties grown in the garden, but their tiny closed flowers make it nearly impossible for insects or wind to transfer the pollen. 

A few more tips from Seeds of Diversity for seed saving success:
- grow heirloom plants (not hybrids)
- collect seeds from plants that are mature and free from disease
- keep seeds dry, and have them fully dried before storing
- label your seeds with name and year harvested
- store in cool dark place for longterm storage

Seed photos from our garden from top to bottom: lettuce, and lettuce again, echinacea, fennel, teasel, red orach (wild mountain spinach), and hops.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Turning of the seasons

Has fall snuck up on us this week?  The near-frost the past few nights, and cool daytimes have turned the leaves to shades of red and yellow, and brought them down in droves.  I love this season of wool sweaters, extra quilts on the bed, and evenings by the woodstove sipping cups of warm tea.  Yes, there are still tomatoes to preserve, wood to chop, garlic to plant, seeds to save, and herbal tonics to prepare, but these autumn tasks in preparation for winter have a meditative quality to them that is quite different from the hurried pace of late summer.  When it comes to this point in the season, we simply need to put a few of our left-over projects on hold for next year, and this feels good. 

Today we collected leaves, as many shapes and sizes we could find around the yard, in order to explore the beautiful diversity of plant shapes - and there was quite a variety when we spread out jagged maple, soft oblong mullein, feathery yarrow, saw-toothed dandelion, large oak-like fig, round scalloped hollyhock, curly kale, heart-shaped morning glory, and so many others. 

This Moment

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CSA Farm September bounty!

No, these gorgeous vegetables were not grown at Little City Farm.  They come from the 5 organic acres and the hardworking farmers over at Fertile Ground CSA (just west of Waterloo).  Maybe Maya and I can pretend to take the tiniest smidgen of credit for some of the eggplants, because on several of the weeks we volunteered at the farm we did diligently spread compost around each plant at blooming time to boost production.  We certainly take pride in "our" farmers.  I could not stop taking photos at our neighbourhood market day as the September harvest colours are so vibrant.