Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Update

Every day we think about the blog, but life always presents priorities and it's hard to find time for things. We semi-conciously took a break, so we could actually focus on life–the garden, swimming, paying bills, etc. And since I now make my living with my camera, I tend to leave it at home when we do these things.

The other part of blogging less is, in a way, the fulfilment of the blog. This way of eating has now become normal. It's not a novelty anymore. And I think that's the best excuse of all.

But while I was getting some work done at home, Mel Instagrammed a photo of some potatoes she just dug out of the garden and was about to cook. Mouth watering, I packed up the camera and drove right over.

My dad's annual corn patch is starting to ripen, so it's not hard to eat a half-dozen cobs when they're picked young, and boiled a few minutes later. Especially when they're rolled in plenty of Stirling butter.

Two of the trees we bought for the farm are bearing fruit this year. They were the most mature two we purchased. The other three trees were supposed to help pollinate these, (you need a different variety of apple tree or crabapple to pollinate), but they have been nipped off by rabbits or something a few times already, so I went back to the woods, clipped a few branches of blossoms off an old, wild tree, and did some dusting all over the tree.... and now they bear fruit.

From two little packets of barley seed, I ended up with a lunch bag full when I threshed last year's crop. This year I planted it all, and through the amazing powers of reproduction, I'll have a giant grain sack full. I can't get over seeing, not one seed head, but sometimes three or four stalks coming out of where one seed was planted... The barley doesn't seem as healthy this year, but I'll let it dry some more and see how it looks when it's threshed.

Sweet peas were a late addition to our garden last year, and as soon as we tasted them, they were an instant addition to our annual plans... and a high priority. You can find them as fast as you can eat them, and the more you pick, the more the plants produce... if you don't grow them yet, do it!

We have the worst luck with radishes. I think everyone has trouble with something that's "the easiest thing to grow" and for us, I think it's radishes. We've heard about how easy and pest free they are, but for us, if they're not spindly roots, they've already been someone's lunch. If you have any radish hints, we'd love to hear them.

Alongside the chicken on the grill went lots of kale. Our barbecue kale chips are always a hit. And if you're just working out in the garden, some fresh kale is probably the healthiest thing you can munch on.

The peppers are coming along well but any fruit are pretty small, and they take forever to turn red. So we just weed and wait...

We've grown more eggplant than we ever have, and we don't eat much of it... so come late august we're going to need lots of eggplant recipe suggestions.

And then the biggest tease of all. One of our favourite tomatoes, the Green Zebra, slowly grows. Every day I give it a little squeeze to test for ripeness, but they're still going to be firm for a couple more weeks. The tomatoes are the main thing we're waiting for. Our heirlooms are the summer flavour we miss the most the rest of the year. There are "heirlooms" and organic tomatoes sold in the supermarket, but the heirloom tomato you grow yourself and ripen on the vine is a flavour no one will ever recreate. And it's the flavour that got us out in the garden in the first place.

Sugar baby watermelons are starting to appear... they're a wonderful heirloom. And they still grow them for the supermarket. They're so sweet there's no reason to improve them–unless you recoil in fear at the sight of seeds. For me, seeds just mean a little back-yard target practice.

This is our first year for tomatillos. I've had one at Linda's farm, and it was amazing, so we're excited about salsa verde, fresh from the garden.

The pickling cucumbers are doing well, but they grow so fast that if you miss them for a couple days, they're giant, woody, and no good for pickling. We're going to have to do a bit better in this department.

The best investment was our strawberry patch. We finally had a full crop this year, after a year of plant maturation. We had a big boom of them in early June, and still have a few here and there. We're hoping there's another crop of them later in the summer. I guess we'll see.

And here's the first garlic bulb pulled out of the garden... it looks pretty good to me! They'll all be pulled in the next week or so, and then off to the drying racks to get ready for storage.

I'm always stealing my mom's straw for our tomatoes. It's the absolute best for keeping weeds down and the plants healthy. It's like the fallen leaves in a forest, only you get to control what is allowed to pop through. When rain falls, it's actually not that gentle. It compacts the bare soil, making it more likely to run off. Then it splashes mud filled with bacteria, fungus, and other tiny bugs onto leaves and fruit. Straw diffuses this rain, protecting the soil from compaction, then lets it slowly go into the ground where it's protected doesn't evaporate quickly in a drought. It's such a logical addition to any garden.

And the giant round bales are a great place to put a slide for the kids. They'll have something fun to do out in the garden while we're pulling weeds. My only worry now will be their protesting when I start to break them apart...

And lastly to go with our malting barley, the hops. I transplanted and divided many of the plants, but haven't had time to build the trellis system I have in my mind. Hop plants grow to be as tall as you let them–easily over twenty feet–so it's a big project building a support that tall. We're going to cut some cedars out of the woods to act as posts to support the wires and string these guys are going to climb up.

I've learned to not get disappointed if I don't get to something one year. That's the amazing thing about a diverse garden. There's always something doing well, which outweighs the issues you run into. And every year, everything gets a little easier.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Digging through some old files, I found some images of last year's carrot harvest. The carrots that did best in the casting session were the weirdest ones.

I thought I should share.

Which one is your favourite?








Friday, April 26, 2013

First Day in the Garden

Spring has taken its sweet time this year leading many to wonder if it's actually going to show up. There have been the odd warm days, but nothing has stuck so far. One day just last week it snowed off and on all day. It was like nature was mocking us. But things are slowly changing, and tuesday we were actually able to get into the garden for the first time, and it felt great.

We've overhauled the garden plans this year and are aiming to make five permanent beds to rotate. Jesse's dad climbed on the tractor and gave the garden a good, deep till, and as soon as the kids saw the fluffy soil, their shoes came off.

They spent a lot of time squishing, throwing, running and burying their feet in the soil.

Meanwhile, Jesse planted his much anticipated patch of malting barley, and has big plans for it this year.

Last year, he planted two regular sized packets of seed, and thought only one stalk of barley would grow from each, but to his surprise most had at least three stalks coming up, and at the top of each, a head with over two-dozen new seeds. That's what I call exponential growth. He ended up with a brown paper lunch bag full when he was done threshing it on our porch. All from two packets.

Well, he's put it all back in the ground, and based on last year's harvest, he's going to have more barley than he knows what to do with. And we'll probably need a combine soon.

Our garlic is up and thriving, which is a good sign as we continue to eat our garlic from last summer. We're trying to use it up quickly before we have fresh garlic scapes and shortly after that, the 2013 crop.

Our heirloom apple trees are budding and look promising this year. Last year we had some incredibly warm temperatures in the spring... well, actually, all winter long. Many plants started to bud mid-winter, and then those buds were killed off by the inevitable frosts to come. Apples and cherries in our area were a complete loss. This is one of the reasons we have been okay with a slow and steady spring, while other complain about the cool temperatures and cheer for freakishly warm patio days in February.

We dug around to find the first asparagus shoot coming up. This year we will actually be able to eat from our little crop after letting the crown, or roots, mature for a few seasons to be able to stand up to being cut back multiple times each spring.

We transplanted a struggling rhubarb plant into the garden last year, and it looks like this is the year it's going to thrive.

Strawberries are greening up nicely.

This year we are excited because we are actually making beds in the garden so that we can have a proper crop rotation, instead of just winging it and remembering (or forgetting) what we planted where last year.

And the first thing to go into the soil (after the barley) was our 300 onion sets.

We're looking forward to building a more permanent garden at the farm that should handle all of our needs. Not too much, just enough. It's only our third year with a big garden, but we feel like we're finally getting the hang of it. We're by no means pros, and definitely still on that steep incline of the learning curve, but there's a lot less fear and worry when it comes to planning things out.

Here's to a great growing 2013.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Our Sweet Potato Plantation

The one thing we've really focused on this year is better planning of the garden. And so far it's wonderful. We're going to plant a bit less, but manage it better. We've been pacing out our starts and so far the tasty sweet potato is in the lead, since it was one of the early starts back in February.

We've sprouted sweet potatoes before, but we love them so much that I went a little crazy this year.  Jesse had picked up some sweet potatoes at the Dundas Farmers Market, and we ate all but one. It stayed in the bag and drifted to the back of the pantry. Months later I found a mysterious paper bag, pulled it out and discovered that lonely forgotten sweet potato covered with tiny sprouts. As I was about to throw it in the compost I changed my mind and put it in a cup of water instead. That was mid-February, and the potato has been producing leafy shoots at a steady rate.

When the sprouts grow to a few inches long, we pinch them off and put them in a glass of water to root. After a couple weeks they begin to grown roots, so we plant them in our homemade newspaper pots.  

To date we have over twenty four sweet potato plants ready for the garden, and the slowly shriveling sweet potato is still going strong as it uses up its own starch to constantly feed the shoots.

We'll have to be patient and wait another month until we can put them in the ground at the end of May, but come August, it'll all be worth it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

What exactly would growing up be without "mom's chocolate chip cookies"? There are a lot of treats in life, but warm cookies, right from the oven are near the top for me. So, when we were pregnant with our first, I went on the hunt for the worlds best chocolate chip cookie recipe. The recipe that would be "ours". This turned out to be a dangerous task with horrible, crunchy, soggy, and over-fluffy failures. But they were small obstacles in a challenge I wasn't prepared to back down from.

I don't know how many recipes we tried, but there were a lot of them and even more variables: Butter content, oven temperature, preheated baking stones, cooking time.

As you may have guessed, Jesse didn't once complain about all the baking. Several recipes, and a few pounds later, we discovered what made the best results. We tweaked and combined recipes to come up with the ultimate cookie.

It has been a long time coming, but we are ready to share our tried, tested and true "Ultimate" chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's impossible to disappoint.

We try to hold back on the sugar, so I use slightly less than 1 cup of loosely packed brown sugar, and we also make these with only organic light spelt flour. No, this doesn't make them taste like a brick of health food!

A few things we do is to cook them on a preheated baking stone, use a little batter scoop to make them into balls, and we don't flatten them, which keeps the middle a little undercooked and gooey.

Sometimes we do a double batch of batter, scoop out cookie balls onto a tray, freeze and then store in a freezer bag to bake later. It's great to throw a few in the oven, while it's still on from cooking dinner. It also helps with self control so that we don't feel like we have to cook the whole batch at once.

However, with the increasing number of mouths that seem to find their way to our house when we make these cookies, we tend to bake the whole batch.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Beeswax Candles

The humble honey bee is the creature that continually amazes us. What they give is so far out of proportion with what we give them. In our past Field Trips we've visited maple syrup producers and stare in awe at the amount of fuel needed to boil down 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup. Then we think about the quiet, combustion-free environment of the bee-yard (excluding the smoker of course), for a similar amount of sugar.

Our good friend, David Neumann's father is a beekeeper. We visited him a couple years back, and learned all about bees. (Make sure you visit the post with its video.) Since then, he's sent some wax our way, but it's waiting at David's house until we can have a much belated get-together. In the meantime Melanie and a friend, Jaycee, sourced some from Zavitz Honey Hill Apiary, a local, Norfolk County beekeeper who's honey we've been buying for a year now.

Orville, the beekeeper, sent some wax over to us with his wife Janice. She helped us with our first ever attempt at processing wax from raw honeycomb right through to candles. We used our Mehu-Liisa juicer/steamer base to serve as the bottom half a double-boiler with an old stock pot on top. This kept the wax from overheating as it melted and separated from any honey and water.

We sieved the melted wax through some burlap into some water in an old pan below to help it cool quickly. The wax is almost like an oil so it doesn't mix with the water, and will harden and float. It was a long task the first time, but we know future batches will go much quicker. And some solar oven designs on YouTube make melting the wax a simple thing in the summer.

To make our candles, we secured our wick to the bottom of our jars with some melted wax and held them centred with a clothespin as we slowly filled the jars with wax. The candles burn well, and smell amazing.

The thing that we love about burning beeswax candles is that they burn clean, so clean, in fact, they said to purify the air. This is a welcome change from regular paraffin wax candles, which are an oil production byproduct, and don't make sense to burn indoors, regardless of how nice they smell. This makes naturally scented, slow-burning, fossil fuel-free beeswax a welcome addition to our home.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pure Green Magazine Vol. 5

While most of the county is either under a foot of snow, or in line to pick up Mumford & Sons tickets for a random, small-town concert at the local fairgrounds this summer, we're thumbing through the latest issue of Pure Green Magazine, to which you may have figured out that we're regular contributors.

Although, our article doesn't fit this issue's theme of "Wanderlust" too well, hopefully it'll inspire you to take off and find a Seedy Saturday or Sunday, or pick up supplies for some early garden planning.

We've had the pleasure of being a part of Pure Green Magazine from way back before it's print days, and are in awe at the quality in each issue. There are so many great contributors, we feel more and more lucky to be a part of it. So pick up a copy and check it out.