Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Some eco laundry options!

We just love these new Laundry Stain Sticks that we've added to our line of handmade soaps.  They work wonders on all kinds of stains, and being an active household with many indoor and outdoor projects always on the go (i.e. paint spills, food stains, etc) we were pleased to see this stain stick coming to many good uses.  We tried the stain stick out on our daughter's favourite handmade doll today.  The much-loved doll (Martha) has seen better days - she had pen and marker stains on her cloth face and arms.  We simply pre-scrubbed the stains on her with the stain stick soap, then added her into the washing machine for a regular cycle of laundry.  She came out almost as good as new - nearly unrecognizable!

If you want to venture into making your own laundry soap you can read about how to make a handmade laundry liquid soap on our post here.  We do still use this handmade laundry soap, but lately have been trying out an eco laundry ball (you get 365 washes with one ball) given to us by a friend.  This ball uses mineral-derived ceramic beads and magnets inside the ball to help clean, oxygenate the water and eliminate germs.  We are quite impressed!

Our Laundry Stain Sticks were featured in the March 2014 issue of Creating Vintage Charm magazine (see the page preview here)!  They look so great next to the washboard, metal wash tub, and wooden clothes pegs.

Oh to grow! (seedlings, sprouts...)

There are days lately when February seems unending and spring still seems so far off.  It's been a cold long winter, with more snow that we've can remember in a very long time, and a conversation today with a seasoned local organic farmer confirmed for me that it looks like it's going to be a cold March and late arrival of spring.  A cure for the winter blues?  Putting your hands into warm, rich earthy-smelling soil on a chilly February that's what we have been doing. 

All winter long we grow trays of sprouts - mostly pea shoots, sunflower greens and buckwheat greens - which keeps us active in the soil every few days if we get our rhythm right.  The sprouts take about 10 days in a cool house in winter season to grow from seed to edible sprout size.  Every few days a new jar of seeds is soaked overnight, for planting the next day so that we have ongoing greens ready to harvest. 

In the coming weeks it will be time to start the seedlings for this year's garden - tomatoes, basil, eggplants, kales, and more!  Our arrivals of seed packages into the house has brought a steady sense of joy and anticipation.  Some wishes for this year's garden include trying new varieties of spicy lettuces, new (and old favourite) heirloom tomatoes, purple peas, loads of beans and more beans, and more Asian greens, and rainbow carrots...

Our favourite seed suppliers that offer heirloom and organic non-GMO seeds include Cottage Gardener; Hope Seeds; Hawthorne Seeds; High Mowing; Urban Harvest; and Greta's Organic Seeds.  And we've been buying our sprouting seeds (for eating and juicing sprouts) for many many years from Mumm's in Saskatchewan!

Check out our Planting Guide here for details on when to start your own seedlings at home.  If you don't get a chance to plant everything you need, or are looking for unique and heirloom seedlings, come on out to our Annual Seedling Sale on Saturday May 24 morning!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winter birds

We enjoyed our long weekend Family Day holiday by going on a wander through the woods with friends, looking for signs of spring.  Not too many signs of spring yet, but lots of active birds - nuthatches, bluejays, cardinals and loads of friendly chickadees like this one.  What fun to watch them land on the our hats, outstretched arms and open hands to eat sunflower seeds. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Local homegrown herbals! New! Our soaps & salves now available through Bailey's Local Foods!

We are happy to announce that some of our homegrown herbal products are now available for purchase through Bailey's Local Foods.  This will make the purchasing and pick-up more convenient for local folks who already place regular food orders through the Bailey's online system, and pick orders up at a convenient uptown Waterloo location!

Through the Bailey's site you'll now find our handmade natural soaps, including baby soaps, shampoo bars, assorted body bars, and shaving bars, and even laundry stain stick bars.  You'll find our salves including mama belly balm, calendula healing salve, back ache balm, and all purpose healing salve.  You'll also find our lipbalms - peppermint with red clover, or lavender & local honey.  One of the things that makes our soaps & salves unique is that each uses locally grown herbs such as calendula, lavender, sage, red clover, arnica, and comfrey (grown naturally or sourced from a local organic farm), as well as only pure oils and essential oils for gentle, natural healing.  We work with our herbs from start to finish, including harvesting at their peak, by us, in small batches so we know exactly how they were grown, dried and prepared.

We are very excited about our Herbal First Aid Kits and can't say enough good things about them!  They come in a convenient travel tin that fits into backpacks or bags so it can easily be taken on hikes and kept on hand for when it's needed.   The first aid remedies included are useful for headaches, sunburn, bug bites, minor cuts & scrapes, splinters, heat rash, digestive upset and motion sickness, and much more.  A complete description of the remedies included in the Herbal First Aid Kits is listed here, and also comes with each kit.

A complete line-up of our herbals is also now available through our online Homestead Herbals Etsy store, and we can arrange local pick-up here at our location to save shipping costs.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines eggs

We enjoy celebrations, but like to keep them simple.  So, for Valentines our daughter thought about what we could do - something simple, handmade, thoughtful.  What could we do that was special, which we had an abundance of to share with friends who would enjoy it... well, why not eggs?  Yes, Valentines eggs!  So this year we decided to gift a few of our friends with the delicious extra eggs that our faithful hens (who we love) have continued to lay for us through this long cold winter! What a treat in mid-February. 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Favourite Sourdough Bread

We finally have a weekly ritual of making sourdough bread.  We've tried so many ways of baking bread over the years, from traditional yeast breads with lots of kneading, to artisan breads in "5 minutes a day" method, to unleavened breads, to biga and pre-ferment breads, to several-day-multiple-stage-elaborate sourdough breads.  Since we love to play around with ferments (kimchi, crock pickles, kombucha, beer making, wine making, yogurt making...) we really do enjoy the sourdough process the best.  However, we needed a version that was simple enough to follow with only a handful of steps, with a little kneading and shaping but lots of slow rising time that is flexible, functional yet with an artisan look and taste, and one that can be adapted with wholegrains and lots of seeds, and most importantly that can easily be incorporated into a family's life.  I think we've found it.  And best of all, if we don't have time to bake bread on a given week, we simply feed the starter as usual but use it to make sourdough pancakes (from our favourite recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book).

Our version of sourdough bread is based on a recipe for Country Sourdough Bread in a great book called Baking Bread with Children.  It's a Waldorf-inspired baking book that incorporates loads of ideas on how to engage children in the tactile process of working with dough - including stories, legends, songs, poem and rhymes about bread, lots of simple recipes (including yeast breads, quick breads, and a few sourdough breads), and also information on how to build a wood-fired pizza oven and use it with children.  Since we already have a well-used and much loved wood-fired cob oven we especially enjoyed seeing this section of the book among all the delicious recipes.

Speaking of fantastic kids books that talk about sourdough, here is another fun one-of-a-kind kids book that has made it into our collection - Suzy's Sourdough Circus.  It uses a circus analogy to explain how the wild yeast makes the bread rise, and their website is packed full of information such as recipes and where to source a sourdough starter from someone near you (called "the sourdough share")!

We're certainly not experts in the sourdough bread process but we have developed this recipe that is simple, straight-forward and works well for us.  Here's our wholegrain sourdough bread version.  All books mentioned above have good instructions for how to make your own sourdough starter to get going with this process.  Below are photos of several of our recent loaves!  We love adding sunflower and sesame seeds.

Sourdough Bread

5 cups hard bread flour or combination of wholegrain flours
1/2 cup wholewheat bread flour
1/2 cup rye flour (adding some rye gives bread the extra "chewy" texture)
2 cups filtered water (at room temperature)
1 cup sourdough starter (ideally reserved from previous batch of bread or pancakes)
1 Tbsp sea salt

Step 1 - Mixing the Sponge:  Mix the 1 cup sourdough starter with 2 cups water and 3 1/2 cups of the bread flour or wholegrain flours.  Let sit overnight in a cool place (let sit at least 8-12 hours).  It should be bubbly and tangy smelling when it's ready to use.

Step 2 - Feeding the Starter: Now add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of bread flour or wholegrain flour, plus 1/2 cup wholewheat bread flour and 1/2 cup rye flour.  Then stir well.  Take 1 cup of this dough and store it in a glass or ceramic jar in the fridge.   This is your sourdough starter for your next batch of bread!  It should be used every week in order to maintain it.

Step 3 - Mixing the Dough:  Add 1 Tbsp sea salt.  Stir in more flour if necessary to make a firm dough but be careful not to add too much at once as you don't want the dough to become too dry.  There should be just enough flour added to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the table.  Knead for 10 minutes to help dough become elastic and develop strong gluten fibres which help the bread to rise.

Step 4 - Rest Dough & Shape Loaves: Let dough rest for 15 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.  Then divide into 2 loaves and shape into rounds or oblong.  Stretch and fold the dough, roll it up tightly into a log and sealing the seams underneath.  Coat with flour to keep from sticking.

Step 5 - Rising: Cover with damp cloth and let loaves rise on oiled or floured baking sheet for 2-3 hours (depending on air temperature and humidity) until they have doubled in size. 

Step 6 - Preheating Oven & Baking: Preheat oven to 450F.  When loaves have risen to double in size (and oven is preheated) score the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.  This allows the bread to expand without bursting.  Bake for 5 minutes at 450F, then reduce heat to 400F and bake for another 30-35 minutes until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.*  Let cool, then slice.

*A great way to bake bread with delicious crispy crusts is to bake directly on a ceramic pizza stone, or by adding a roasting pan underneath where a cup of hot water can be added to bring steam into your oven.  We love using our outdoor wood-fired cob (clay) oven since the breads get a very dark crispy crust from baking on a stone hearth with the high heat we can use from the firing.

- add small amounts of other wholegrains such as millet, oats, barley, buckwheat...
- add raisins or cranberries, apple slices and cinnamon...
- add other seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame, pumpkin), or nuts (walnuts, pecans), or dried fruit...
- add leftover moist grains such as cooked rice, cooked oatmeal, cooked millet 

Seed Planting Guide

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 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 tomatoes. 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 beans, 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.

Saturday, February 08, 2014