Thursday, February 28, 2013

Winter sprout kitchen

It still feels like winter with all the extra snowfall lately.  Although we are starting our seedlings, it's still a long way from getting regular fresh greens from the garden.  By growing sprouts in our indoor "kitchen garden" we have a great way to eat fresh local nutrition-packed greens during the cold winter months. 

How to sprout?  It's easy!  We prefer the old fashioned methods of either using soil in trays (for pea shoots, wheatgrass, buckwheat or sunflower greens); or glass mason jars with mesh screens (for the small sprouts like microgreens, and small legumes).  Other sprouting methods can be using special sprout bags, sprouting tray systems, or hydroponic systems.  We like to keep things simple, efficient and cheap which is why we use containers we have around the house.

Remember, sprout seeds need to be pre-soaked in cool water so they germinate.  Smaller seeds require less soaking time.  If you stay on a regular soaking/sprouting schedule you will have a continuous supply of delicious greens.  Our favourite place to buy organic sprout seeds is Mumm's, a Canadian company offering certified organic non-GMO seeds and sprouting supplies.  Here's how we sprout:

Tray Sprouting Method
(for cutting greens such as peas, wheatgrass, buckwheat, sunflower and lettuce mixes):

1. Soak sprout seeds in cool water for 24 hours.
2. Fill a garden seedling tray half way full with moist organic potting soil.
3. Spread one layer of the soaked, drained sprout seeds evenly across the soil.
4. Cover sprout seeds with another layer of moist soil, just to cover.
5. Place clear plastic tray lid on top and set tray on top of refrigerator (where it's warm), or on a kitchen counter, or a grow rack if you have one.
6. Water with mister every day, keeping soil moist. Sprouts will start to grow in 3-4 days, and be ready to harvest within about 7-10 days.  Some greens can be cut and grow again (e.g. pea shoots) and others are a one-time harvest only.
7. Eat fresh in salads, sandwiches, or juice the sprouts.

Mason Jar Sprouting Method
(for microgreens such as broccoli, mustard, alfalfa, also lentils, mung, adzuki, chickpea, radish, etc)

You will need:
- wide mouth large glass mason jar
- piece of fine mesh screening or cheesecloth
- rubber elastic band
- sprout seeds

1. Soak sprout seeds in water (2-24 hours, depending on size of seed - usually they tiny seeds like broccoli only need 2 hours, but larger seeds and beans need upto 24 hours soaking time).
2. Drain seeds well.  Add about 1 Tbsp seeds to 1 large mason jar.  Close tightly with mesh screen.
3. Tip jar upside down into a small bowl at an angle so the water drains completely.  
4. Continue to rinse and drain your sprouts twice a day, using cool clean water.
5. After about 4-7 days your sprouts will be ready to eat.  Taste them throughout the sprouting period to see when they are ready.  Store sprouts (completely drained) in refrigerator for several days once they are fully sprouted.

Eat on your favourite wholegrain seed crackers (see our recipe here), in salads, sprinkled on soups or stir-fry, sandwiches, etc.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Seed Planting Guide

Each year around this time we pull out our big box of seeds and the garden binder that holds our planting guide and notes from last year.  We map out the new garden plan, get soil and trays ready, and start our first seeds!   Here is the planting guide we use, based on our zone 5-6 in southern Ontario.
PLANTING GUIDE (based on frost-free date of May 24):
FEBRUARY (the greens listed here can continue to be planted throughout the growing season of course)

Start lettuce, chard, other greens in greenhouse or in flats indoors (to be planted out to greenhouse). Start selected medicinal and culinary herbs by middle of February. Some take 6-8 weeks to germinate!

10 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. March 15)
Start seeds of celery, eggplant, leeks, onion, pepper and flowers like impatiens, lobelia, verbena and perennials indoors.

8 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. March 29)
Start seeds of early head lettuce and flowers like begonia, coleus, nicotiana, petunia and salvia indoors.

7 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. April 5)
Start seeds of tomatoes, hot peppers, and early basil indoors.

6 WEEKS TO LAST FROST(aprox. April 12)
Start seeds of early left lettuce, early cabbages including cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kale, and small seeded annuals indoors. DIRECT SEED broad beans, carrots, peas, spinach, leaf lettuce, turnips, dill, parsley, and hardy flowers such as alyssum, candytuft, pansies, poppies, snapdragons, stocks, sunflowers and sweet peas. Plant onion sets or transplant onion seedlings outdoors.

4 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. April 26)
Start melon seeds indoors. If desired, start seeds of late basil, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, large-seeded annuals, and flowering vines indoors in peat pots. DIRECT SEED radishes, beets, cabbages, chard, head lettuce, and flowers such as godetia, hollyhock, and mallow. Plant potato eyes and transplant seedlings of early cabbages, except cauliflower.

2 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. May 10)
DIRECT SEED corn, tender bulbs such as glads, and annual vines such as morning glory. Transplant early lettuce seedlings.

WEEK OF LAST FROST (aprox. May 17-24)
Around the last frost date you can finally direct seed beans, cauliflower, cucumber, squashes, heat-loving flowers such as zinnias, marigold, and lavatera. Transplant your tomaotes. If you've got them, transplant cauliflower, squash and cucumber seedlings.

1-2 WEEKS AFTER FROST (aprox. May 31-June 7)
Wait for a couple of weeks after the last frost before direct seedling lima benas, soybeans, melons and herbs such as basil, summer savory and sweet marjoram. Transplant celery, melon, peppers, eggplant seedlings when the night temperatures stay well above 10 degrees C. Plant sweet potato slips. Start second crop of kale seedlings, and reseed spinach and peas for second crop.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Seed Starting Workshop Confirmed, Feb 23!

We're excited to announce that our seed starting workshop is confirmed for Sat, Feb 23.  Local organic farmer Angie Koch from Fertile Ground CSA will be here again to lead this excellent workshop.  Learn to grow your own healthy hardy seedlings for your garden.  Registration is online here.
SAT, FEB 23 from 1-3 pm - SEED STARTING
Cost: $25 (pre-registration required)

with Angie Koch, from Fertile Ground CSA. Limited to 12 participants.
It’s time to start garden seedlings! Join well-known local organic farmer, Angie Koch, to learn the basics of starting vegetables from seed including: which to start as seedlings inside and which to direct seed outdoors; when to start various vegetables; soil mixes and seedling supplies; troubleshooting problems and diseases. This workshop is geared toward beginners, or those who have dabbled in seed starting but need some tips to make their growing more successful!

This workshop will be held at Little City Farm, 508 Duke St W, Kitchener.  Please register online or email

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beautiful snow crystals

This weekend we had the biggest snowfall that this region has seen in a long time!  It slowed the city way down, closed schools and universities, and brought neighbours out to help each other clear the sidewalks.  We had a family yoga class on the morning after the big snowfall, so we headed out with our gear and daughter on a toboggan to make the trek to uptown.  Another family arrived at the yoga class on snowshoes!  Since the class was small and we were all not in a rush to head home after, we all went to Seven Shores, the great vegetarian fair trade cafe downstairs to have wonderful smoothies and relax.  Upon arriving home it was time to shovel, and then of course build a snow cave with our little snowbear (who had never experienced this much snow before in her life!)  What a great way to spend a snowy day. 

The exploration of snow crystals during our snowstorm prompted us to read the beautiful true story about Snowflake Bentley, and then start our own little science experiment growing sugar crystals in a glass jar on our kitchen counter.  How to do that:

Grow your own (sugar) crystals

You will need:
1 cup water, boiled
3 cups sugar
long string (yarn, twine or hemp, not nylon)
pencil or stick to hold the top
weight for the bottom (e.g. a piece of wooden popsicle stick)
glass mason jar

Add sugar to the just boiled water, stirring over medium heat until sugar is all dissolved and water is saturated.  Then let cool 10 minutes.  Pour into glass mason jars, drop string into sugar solution with weight tied on bottom and pencil on top to hold string up from the bottom of the glass.  Do not let string touch sides or bottom of the jar.  Let this steep for upto a week and watch the crystals grow!  This is also known as "rock candy".

Sunday, February 03, 2013

In the winter garden

There's still loads of snow outside, but on the sunny days our little grow tunnel sure heats up.  The lettuce and winter greens are growing well, and we've enjoyed a few small salads.  Come March the warmer weather and longer sunlight will give these greens an extra push and we'll hopefully have a full salad bed shortly.  For now, it's a fun place to play and nibble...

Sustainability Workshops at Little City Farm 2013 winter-spring

Each year Little City Farm hosts a series of workshops related to urban homesteading skills, sustainable city living, permaculture, organic gardening and more.  We've posted our list of workshops for the winter-spring 2013 season here, and registration is now open. 

This year we're also excited to be offering several free mini-workshops during our annual Seedling Sale on Sat, May 18th, including a hands-on children's gardening session, and a talk about the importance of bees/attracting pollinators to our urban gardens by Seeds of Diversity.