Sunday, July 22, 2012

Shiitake mushroom logs

We're on our second attempt at growing our own shiitake mushrooms on logs.  We got aged oak logs from a nearby farm, drilled about 40 holes per log and filled them with the shiitake mushroom plugs we had bought from the "Fun Guy" near Stouffville.  There are a few important elements about growing edible mushrooms on logs - the logs must be about 2 years old (not too freshly cut, but not aged so long so they are dried out); the logs should preferably be hardwood; the logs need to have the bark intact (to protect the spores from possible contamination caused by too much water seeping into the log); the logs need to be moistened after filling with the spore plugs (not misted too lightly, and also not soaked too long - a little tricky to figure out exactly); and they need to be stored in full shade set upright propped against a fence.  After all that, it should be fairly easy to grown mushrooms - well, we'll see.  On our last batch we had one pretty successful crop of mushrooms but then the logs seemed to dry up, and we later learned the logs may have been too old.  We were told we should get several crops of mushrooms from this set.  Another foray into producing our own food on 1/3 acre here in the city...

Friday, July 20, 2012

This Moment

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

Fruit preserving season

Peaches, plums, cherries, southern Ontario the stone fruit season is on.  Although it's hard (almost impossible) to find locally grown certified organic fruit of these kinds, we can get lovely no-sprayed varieties from farms that use sustainable methods of growing and soil care.  Many folks we know order fruit through Petters or Bailey's Local Foods, both which source their fruit from the Palatine Farm in Niagara.  Their peaches were absolutely delicious this year, and although we canned several batches for the winter we also ate our fill of fresh peaches.  We also dried the fruit, made fruit leather for the first time (yum!) and pitted cherries to freeze them whole for winter pies.  I'm enjoying a new cookbook - The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making which includes down-to-earth affordable simple recipes that empower you to be more self-reliant at home rather than depending on expensive store-bought products (e.g. make your own "from scratch" chai blend, breads, pasta, cheeses, yogurt, crock pickles, salsa, condiments, etc).  Many of these recipes I already have in various other books, but here they are all in one place!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Neighbourhood Art Walk & Soap Making Classes this fall

We are excited to be taking part in the Central Art Walk later this fall.  It seems so far away to think of festivals in the fall, but the planning and organizing starts months ahead.  Look for it October 20-21 if you live in the area and want to experience a unique walking tour of numerous local artists and crafters living right in our neighbourhood!  Here at Little City Farm we'll have handmade soaps, artisan wood-fired bread, and another friend offering her gorgeous pottery.  More details to come later in the fall on this blog and our website.

Soap Making Classes - Here are a few of the latest soap photos using calendula, lavender and rosemary from our garden.  I love using herbs I've grown myself, and try to incorporate at least some herbs or herbal oils we've made into each batch for colour, fragrance, texture, and of course medicinal healing value.  The soaps are made from scratch using the traditional cold-process method and all natural ingredients, pure essential oils and organic herbs.  Although I long to make more soap right now, there's just not the time for it during the busy summer months (let alone offering workshops).  However, we'll be offering several soap classes again starting in September and the dates and registration will be posted on our website in a few weeks time. 

This Moment

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

Plantain first-aid salve

We had a run-in with some wasps yesterday.  There was one nest being created on our back porch, which we thought we had taken care of (knocked down in the middle of the night to disperse the wasps).  A second nest had been made, unnoticed by us, under an old wooden board that acts as one of our garden paths through the kale bed.  When harvesting some kale yesterday I heard a little shriek behind me, and saw my daughter dancing around saying there were wasps on her.  I brushed one from her arm and swatted another from her hair, and we ran from the garden to see what damage had been done.  Four stings, one on the arm, and several on her ankles and feet (one wasp got caught inside her sandal)!  She was brave, saying she felt more sorry for the wasps than for her stings.  We slathered on crushed fresh plantain leaves as a poultice (see below) - not pretty but very effective - after administering the homeopathic remedy "apis".  Since this was the first time our 4-year old had been stung by wasps I decided to have her rest quietly while we read books, so I could watch closely to see if there would be any serious swelling or other reactions.  There was not, and amazingly the plantain took the sting, redness and pain away within less than 15 minutes.  Now plantain is called a "magic" healing herb by her, highly prized right beside comfrey, peppermint, lemon balm, nettle and lavender - and we have a large batch of plantain harvested to make a salve for our herbal first-aid supplies.

Plantain is an easy herb to find - it's growing wild in nearly every yard, park or sidewalk crack.  If you wild harvest make sure to harvest in a non-sprayed area, away from where dogs have been walked (i.e. harvest uncontaminated plantain).  Use broad leaved plantain if at all possible.  Here is the recipe for Plantain Salve - add it to your list of "must-haves" among your herbal remedies.  This salve is a great help for bug bites, bee and wasp stings, mosquito bites, stinging nettle rash, poison ivy, and other skin irritations:

Plantain Salve

You will need:
fresh plantain leaves, slightly wilted and not damp/wet (enough to fill a 1 litre mason jar)
olive oil (enough to cover plantain leaves in 1 litre mason jar)
pure beeswax (aprox. 1 oz per 1 pint/2 cups oil in your recipe)
vitamin E oil (aprox. 1 tsp)
a few drops pure essential oil (e.g. lavender, peppermint)

1. Do not wash the plantain leaves as water on the plant may cause mold to develop during the steeping time.  Roughly chop plantain leaves and pack into 1 litre mason jar.
2. Pour olive oil over plantain leaves and fill jar with oil upto about 1/2 inch over the leaves, to completely cover them.
3. Let steep in a sunny warm window for 6 weeks, shaking jar every few days.  When oil is fully infused it should be a rich dark green colour.  Other methods for infusing include lightly warming plantain and oil in a double boiler or crock pot for a few hours; or blending plantain and oil in food processor and straining this fresh oil into your salve.
4. Strain oil through fine meshed sieve.  Reserve the oil, and add aprox. 1 oz pure beeswax per 2 cups (1 pint) oil.  Heat over low in a stainless steel saucepan, stirring to combine and melt the beeswax.
5.  Test for consistency by dipping a teaspoon into the oil/beeswax mixture and setting this spoon into the freezer for a minute.  Add more oil if consistency is too thick, or more beeswax if consistency is too thin.
6.  Add vitamin E oil, and pure essential oils (optional).  Pour into clean dark glass jars, label and store in cool dark location.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Garlic harvest

Garlic harvest is a family affair.  More than 150 bulbs from our garden this year, dug up and waiting to be braided and hung up to dry. 

Fresh blueberries

This weekend we had our first taste of local organic blueberries!  It's an annual pilgrimage to make our way to Walkers Blueberry Farm near New Hamburg, to pick enough for the winter and eat our delicious fill.  As you can see, on hot day it's wise to go early and then get some rest  under the shady bushes...

Friday, July 06, 2012


Wild berries are ripening and abundant everywhere here in the city!  We've been feasting on black raspberries, currants, service berries, and mulberries, and try to keep a few harvest containers in our bike trailer at all times just in case we come across a patch of edible berries along our travels.  It feels so rewarding to wild harvest the berries that are often overlooked and forgotten.  The wild grapes are coming in volume too...and early  tomorrow morning we are going for the annual blueberry picking at a favourite nearby organic blueberry farm.  We love berry season in this house - our hands, faces, knees and shirts become stained with the delicious dark sweet juice, smells of rich jam-making fill the house, many berries go into the freezer for enjoyment over the cold months, and of course handfuls upon handfuls go straight into our mouths still warm from the sun! 

Here's a simple recipe that we created for using both blueberry (or any berries) and rhubarb.  We use the Pumona's pectin (a low sugar pectin) so you can reduce the amount of sweetener and still get a perfect result.   The jam tastes like pure blueberries even though it requires minimal amounts - the rhubarb blends well with the berries and helps to stretch the volume of jam you get.  You can use fresh or frozen berries and rhubarb.

Wild Berry-Rhubarb Jam

4 cups chopped rhubarb (make sure you have some pink stalks so you get a richer colour of jam)
1/2 cup water
2-3 cups blueberries or other berries (mulberries, blackberries, service berries)
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 cups sugar
2 tsp calcium water (this comes in powder form with the Pumona's pectin)
4 1/2 tsp Pumona's pectin

1. Bring rhubarb and water to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened. 
2. Add berries and sugar, and heat to dissolve sugar. 
3. Blend with a submersible blender until jam has desired consistency.
4. Add calcium water and pectin as directed on Pumona's instructions.
5. Bring jam to a hard boil for at least 1 minute.
6. Ladle hot jam into hot, clean and sterilized mason jars. 
7. Follow regular jam processing instructions (add hot lids and rings, process 5 minutes once canner returns to a rolling boil).

Makes 7 1/2-8 cups jam.

Garlic scape pesto

Our first batch of pesto for this season - and many more to come yet.  This was with the garlic scapes (which had been harvested some time ago but were waiting patiently in the fridge until I had time to make pesto).  We ate our fill of steamed and sauteed garlic scapes, and then decided to try pesto with them - wow, pungent, spicy and oh so delicious!  We added a few garlic cloves but there would be no need to do that if you like a milder flavour.  This is our basic pesto recipe that we usually use for basil pesto, as well as arugula, oregano and kale pestos...yummm.

Garlic Scape Pesto
Large handful of garlic scapes (about 4 cups compressed)
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup nutritional yeast or parmesan
1/4 cup water
1 tsp sea salt

Blend all ingredients in food processor.  Add more oil or water until you achieve desired consistency.
Store in glass jars in the freezer. Use for pastas, potatoes, on pizza, etc.

Monday, July 02, 2012

This Moment

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