Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wild Harvest - Dandelion Chocolate Chip Cookies

While we were out harvested violets we discovered that the dandelions were in bloom on the south-facing slope of a nearby hill.  My daughter and her friend spontaneously picked a good handful of blooms, as well as leaves (for feeding to our hens!).  With the blooms we made these yummy dandelion cookies.  They are so pretty, flecked with yellow petals throughout - a real spring treat.

Dandelions are so good for us - the fresh green bitter leaves for salads or stirfry, the flowers for wine/syrup/baking/salads, the roots for tinctures and decoctions.  Dandelion is rich in Vit C, iron, calcium, and a great tonic for the liver. It makes a wonderful first spring plant to help detox our sluggish bodies after a long winter.

Please note: dandelion is not usually at risk of over-harvesting, but in general use careful sparing harvesting techniques when doing any wild harvest.  Also, treat wild edibles as medicine, and use in small doses until you see how your body reacts.

Dandelion Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/3 cup butter or coconut oil
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups spelt flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup fresh dandelion flower petals
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Prepare dandelion flowers - pick off the yellow petals, discard the green stems.
3) Mix wet ingredients together stirring well.
4) Mix dry ingredients together, then add to wet and mix well.
5) Then shape dough into small balls, place on parchment lined baking sheet, and press down slightly.
6) Bake 10 min, cookies will still be slightly soft (they will firm up when cool).

Makes about 24 small cookies, or 12 large cookies.

Wild Harvest - Violet Syrup

Finally spring has fully arrived, and the first violets are in full bloom.  There were enough this week for our daughter and friend to harvest a nice basket full from our yard and a nearby field, and we made violet syrup together.  It took us about half an hour to pick the 4 cups violets we needed for this recipe.  Violet syrup is a beautiful pink colour and can be used to make delicious healthful drinks (see below).  Violets are high in Vitamin C, and are traditionally said to calm and uplift the spirits - thus also known by the common name "heartsease".  They are a gorgeous deep purple, with small heart-shaped leaves which are also edible.  To learn more about wild edibles of spring consider taking one of our Wild Edibles Workshops (April 30 and May 28) here at Little City Farm.

While we were out picking, the girls and I talked about three rules for ethical wild harvesting that are good to remember:

a) know your plants - properly identify the plant before harvesting and using (using a reputable plant ID book, or going with a knowledgeable person), know which parts to use, what time of season to harvest, and how to properly prepare the plant as some wild edibles should not be eaten raw

b) harvest respectfully, carefully and sparingly - only harvest about 1/4-1/3 of the plant collections you find so there are always enough left for other harvesters, as well as to go to seed and continue a strong plant for next season - it should basically not look like you have done any harvesting at all after you are done

c) choose plants from a safe and healthy location - avoid harvests near roadways, dog walking areas, and of course any areas where pesticides may have been sprayed

How to make Violet Syrup
You will need:
4 cups fresh violet flowers (not washed)
4 cups water that has just boiled
2-4 cups sugar (or honey)
8 Tbsp lemon juice

1) Place fresh violet flowers into a glass jar or measuring cup.  Cover with water that has just boiled, and place a lid or plate on top.  Steep this infusion for 24 hours (covered).

2) After 24 hours, strain the infusion.  Compost flowers, reserve the infused water.

3) Put infusion into a stainless steel pot, add sugar and lemon and bring to a boil.  Then turn down heat and simmer until sugar (or honey) is dissolved and syrup starts to thicken.  Stir constantly until syrup coats the back of the wooden spoon.  This can take from 15-30 min depending on how thick you want your syrup to be.

4) Bottle in glass jars, cap and store in the fridge.  Keeps 3 months in fridge.

5) To use:  add about 1/4 cup syrup to a glass, top with sparkling water and add fruit or ice cubes.  This is a delicious sweet and refreshing tonic to lighten your heart and put a spring in your step.

Monday, April 25, 2016

New at the homestead: Part 2 Puppy

As mentioned, spring brings new arrivals to the homestead.  The second addition here this past month has been a puppy that we found as a rescue through the local humane society.  We are not quite sure of his mix, but were told he is part Norwegian Elkhound/Lab Retriever/Border Collie.  He's a cutie!  Despite the work involved with a brand new pup (teething, teething, teething) we have all settled in well together.  The pup (named Lucky) has adjusted easily to the rhythms and routines of this house and has become a huge part of our everyday on the homestead.  He follows us around like a little shadow, gets into everything (but in the funniest ways), and is in general a very mellow little fellow.  He just loves company, so trots along wherever we are gardening or harvesting or working.  He loves to wrestle sticks (or socks), is gentle with the kids, and we are so very happy to have this little guy around.   We're still working on introductions with the chickens, as Lucky loves to break into their yard and follow them around (he means no harm, but the hens go into a tizzy).  We've had some really helpful training sessions and puppy socials with our friend Michelle who runs a local force-free dog training business called Canine Evolution.  She did a few house calls for initial training during the first week, which we thought was amazing.  Our daughter has been doing much of the training with Lucky, so it's become a large part of her homeschooling focus this spring (the theory is that really anytime we interact with him or play with him we are in fact "training" just by reinforcing different kinds of behaviour, good or bad).

New at the homestead: Part 1 Baby Chicks

Spring brings many new things - and this spring we've added new baby chicks to the homestead again.   There are 4 cute little peeps currently housed in a large plastic bin with heat lamp in our living room!  Soon to move out to the greenhouse, and the eventually (when they are old enough to be outdoors with the other hens) we'll introduce them to our older girls in the hen yard.  These peeps are now a week old, and growing quickly.  The feather tips are sprouting and they are trying out their "flying" by darting around their enclosure and flapping their little wings.  We are using a great book called Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy Healthy Chickens Naturally, (she also writes a great chicken blog) with loads of tips on getting the chicks off to a healthy start using herbs and other simple natural approaches to bedding, cleaning, an so on.  Our daughter and her friend made up a special chick herbal blend last week in preparation for the arrival of the peeps - using herbs like garlic, lavender, chamomile, chickweed, nettle in a dried mix to supplement the commercial chick food.  We've lined the bin with bran (which they can eat and does not cause complications for their digestive systems like straw bedding could at this age), and they sleep on a pile of old wool socks in the corner under the heat lamp. 

Here are a few photos of the little peeps when they had just arrived - named by our almost 8 year old: Cloud, Cranberry, Cherry and Freckles.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Wild greens! Spring nettle quiche

Wild spring nettles are up!  Our patch in the woodland part of the yard is blooming well, and we were able to make some of our favourite nettle foods this weekend - nettle tea, nettle greens smoothie, and nettle quiche.  Nettle pairs well with so many foods, tasting a bit like a bitter dandelion or spinach.  Delicious with eggs and cheese (try our nettle-kopita recipe), but wonderful with honey in a strongly brewed herbal infusion.  It also makes a great addition to a herbal shampoo as it softens and conditions hair.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) also known as stinging nettle, is rich in iron and minerals.  Traditionally it has been used as a skin purifier, to aid rheumatism, help with allergies (hay fever), stimulate the digestive organs, to help promote milk production in nursing mothers, and so much more.

Keep in mind when harvesting that nettle stalks and stems are covered with tiny hairs that are very prickly and will sting the bare skin, thus the name "stinging" nettle.  For some foragers this is not an issue (you can gt used to the stinging over time) but as a new forager be mindful to harvest wearing gloves, long pants and closed shoes (not a great idea of walk with shorts or sandals into a tall nettle patch unless you don't mind the stinging), or very very carefully and slowly.  Once nettles are steamed, infused, or cooked the sting is completely gone.

Here is our recipe for nettle quiche:

Nettle Quiche
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (dairy or non-dairy)
salt and pepper to taste
cheese of choice (e.g. feta, cheddar), about 1-2 cups
large handful washed fresh nettles, chopped
green onions and/or garlic greens
1 Tbsp butter, melted
one single-crust unbaked pie dough, arranged in pie pan

Whisk eggs and milk.
Add salt and pepper.
Put cheese, greens and other veggies into bottom of pie crust.
Pour egg-milk mixture on top of greens.
Pour butter onto the egg-mixture.
Bake at 400F for about 30 min.
Makes one large quiche.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Seeds, Soil, Sourdough Event - Sat, April 23 from 10 am-1 pm at Little City Farm

Celebrate spring, Earth Day, and International Permaculture Day by joining us at Little City Farm for our annual Seeds, Soil, Sourdough Event!  Sat April 23, 10-2 pm.

Celebrate spring/planting season, Earth Day, and International Permaculture Day by dropping by Little City Farm on April 23.

Free demos & mini tastings:
  • learn about building with cob & strawbale construction
  • hands-on pollinator-friendly seedball making
  • lacto-fermented kraut tasting and take-home recipes
  • wild greens smoothies tasting (with nettles & dandelion greens)
  • permaculture info & resources
To purchase in our pop-up "farm store":
  • organic non-GMO seeds for your garden plantings
  • organic potting soil to start your seedlings
  • organic sourdough bread, organic pies to take home
  • wood-fired savory crepes for lunch!
  • organic gardening resources, books and more
  • handmade soaps & herbal salves
Self-guided tours of the Little City Farm "urban homestead":
This property is a work in progress.  See home-scale permaculture-inspired 
projects such as
  • hugelkultur
  • chickens & bees
  • composting area
  • vermicomposting
  • cob wood-fired oven
  • strawbale house natural construction
  • greywater pond
  • passive solar greenhouse
  • edible landscaping
  • pollinator-attracting plantings
  • herb areas, kitchen garden
  • permaculture zones
Little City Farm is located at 508 Duke St West, Kitchener.
Please walk or cycle if possible!  Bicycle parking on our driveway. 

More more info contact Karin at: 519-575-9174  / or  /

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Kids Homestead Club held at Little City Farm

A few weeks ago we held our first Kids Homestead Club here during the March Break.  For four days we had a wonderful eager group of 12 kids here (aged 6-12) to take part in hands-on homesteading fun.  We focused on learning about birds and pollinators, while using natural elements like soil, wool, wood, seeds and grain to create homestead projects and art.  The kids made their own bread in the wood-fired cob oven while talking about the importance of eating locally grown organic food; shaped dozens and dozens of pollinator-friendly seedballs with clay and compost; crafted wool-felted acorns and set out wool for birds to use as nest material; and each built a bird nesting box for small birds such as nuthatches, wrens and chickadees while talking about why our bird habitats are increasingly endangered.  It seemed to be a good pairing, learning practical hand-skills (such as hammering nails and kneading dough) while at the same time generating discussion about important environmental issues.  We all had a great time, and look forward to more kids activities here as we help to inspire our younger ones in the community to bring more homesteading hand-powered eco skills to their families.  Thank you to all the parents who also helped out during this week - we could not have done this without you, and hope you enjoyed yourselves too!

Grow Your Own Microgreens!

Oooh, the delicious sweet spicy savory pungent and fresh tastes of microgreens at this time of year!  The trials in the new greenhouse have worked out really well - our greens are now the perfect microgreen cutting size, grown both in trays in our house (which can take 7-21 days depending on the seeds and growing conditions), and grown in soil in the greenhouse grow bed.  The seeds were off to a slower start in the greenhouse (than in our house) since the nights are still very cool in there, but with longer days of sunlight things have really picked up and now the greenhouse is out-competing the house greens.

Doing especially well - mizuna, arugula, chard, kale, and cold hardy lettuces.  Maya also planted carrots (a few have germinated) and I planted cilantro (also moving along slowly, since it's such a heat loving plant), and a few days ago Greg added beets (i.e. old sprouted beets to grow now for their tops).  It's a mish-mash grow bed, and fun to have different family members adding their own suggestions.

We all crave these fresh greens at this time of year - to renergize our bodies and detox from winter sluggishness, giving our livers a boost with the dark leafy greens (more talk about wild dark greens like dandelions and nettles soon).

What are microgreens - 
Microgreens are immature (baby) versions of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.  They are larger than sprouts, but are harvested when still much smaller than the full-grown vegetable.  Easy to grow microgreens include broccoli, chard, basil, kale, cilantro, radish, buckwheat.

How to grow your own microgreens:

You will need:
  • potting soil, lightly moistened
  • trays to grow in (garden plug trays, or upcycled food trays like plastic or styrofoam from grocery or take-out)
  • plastic wrap, damp newspaper, or plastic lid to fit your trays
  • seeds (non GMO, organic), soaked for several hours (follow package instructions)
  • water spray bottle
1) Add lightly moistened soil to tray, just enough to cover the bottom (about 1-2 inches of soil).
2) Sprinkle your choice of seeds evenly across the soil, pressing in lightly with hands (add enough seeds to fill the tray, but not more than one layer thick).
3) Cover with plastic wrap, damp newspaper or plastic lid - and leave covered until seeds germinate.  Then remove covers so mold doesn't develop on the soil.
4) Mist seeds at least 2 times a day.  Try not to let the soil dry out in between if possible, but do not over-water.  Soil and seeds should simply be lightly damp.
5) Growing period will take anywhere from 7-21 days, depending on seeds you are growing and your growing conditions (e.g. light levels, temperature of house, humidity, how often you water, etc).  During growing period the trays can be left on a kitchen counter - they do not need grow lights or direct sunlight.
6) To harvest - usually microgreens are harvested after the second set of true leaves has emerged.  Remember, microgreens are larger than sprouts, but smaller than the full grown vegetable.  Shoots, stems, leaves and even roots are all edible.  Harvest with sharp kitchen scissors.  Store in a sealed container in fridge for several days, but ideally harvest just before you want to eat!  Enjoy!

Happy hens in spring - sprouts & herbs

Our hens are absolutely crazy for any shoots of greens they can find at this time of year!  And we are happy to let them nibble around the garden as they like since our salad greens are protected under plastic in the grow tunnel, and new seedlings are not yet planted out.  We have also been supplementing the hens winter feed with sprouted greens, such as alfalfa and red clover sprouts, left over stalks of pea shoots after we harvest the tops for our smoothies, and their favourite - wheatgrass.  We pull out the whole mat of wheatgrass after it's been growing for about 10 days, and lay the mat in the hen yard.  Sometimes we sprinkle buckwheat groats among the wheatgrass blades, and the hens just love to graze and find these treats.

Herbs for hens have been another learning opportunity.  Since we already grow, harvest and use so many medicinal herbs for our own family, we thought we would find useful herbs to provide health benefits for the hens.  We have been tying bundles of herbs (lavender, sage, lemon balm) to hang around the coop as a way to help repel fleas and mites, as well as chopping up herbs like lemon balm, mint and parsley into their nest box - this boosts their health, gives them something to nibble at, and keeps them happily laying.  It also helps keep the eggs clean (we try to clean the nest box daily, taking out old straw/bran and adding new material, plus new chopped herbs).  Herbs can be fresh or dried. 

Other great herbs to add to hens food to boost their health include:
~ garden herbs like: chopped up garlic (bulbs and greens); oregano, yarrow.
~ wild herbs like: nettles,  comfrey leaf, dandelion leaves, and chickweed. 
~ sprouted greens like: alfalfa, buckwheat greens, sunflower shoots, pea shoots.
~ edible medicinal flower petals like: calendula, marigold and rose.

Most of these greens are readily available - easily to grow in your garden, or wild harvest locally.  To prepare a longer term herbal feed mix, harvest the herbs and dry them fully.  Then blend and crush them, store in a glass mason jar, and add a few Tbsp to your hens feed.  We sometimes mix in live cultured yogurt as well, when adding the herbs to the dry feed, as this is also beneficial for hens health and well-being.

A great source for Canadian organic non-GMO sprouting seeds is Mumms, based in Saskatchewan.

 Here the hens are happily eating their mat of sprouted wheatgrass.

This eggs was laid in a nest box lined with bran and lemon balm.  We also like to add mint leaves, rose petals, and marigold or calendula to the nest box.

Here are trays of pea shoots and buckwheat greens ready to feed to the hens as a treat.  We enjoy these sprouts too of course!

Spring on the homestead

There are signs of spring everywhere we look!  We've been out hunting for greens, buds and shoots - in the garden and around town.  We see:

~ wild edibles: like dandelion, nettles, and ramps starting to peek out tiny green tips from the undergrowth;
~ in the garden: shoots of garlic, green walking onions, sorrel, and herbs like mint, lemonbalm, motherwort;
~ on the trees: buds of service berries are gorgeously pink against the dark branches;
~ in the cold frame: our spring crop of micro kale, chard, spinach, mizuna, arugula and lettuce leaves.

What is greening up in your yard?  What are you harvesting?  What are you planting?