Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Becoming an Urban Homesteader #8 - This week's Happenings ....

A few pictures of my little urban homestead this week.

trellis for spaghetti squash - made from reclaimed wood
Swiss chard

Herb garden
Peas in my perennial beds - getting ready to climb

Celery Experiment - has now been planted.


Monday, May 28, 2012

A Walk in the Woods to Nourish the Soul

There's nothing like a walk in the woods to nourish one's soul.  The quietness of the woods, away from the noise of traffic.

This week's hike I saw my first Lady's Slipper flower!  It's from the orchid family - such a delicate flower.  I also came across the wild columbine in orange, False Solomon's seal, May Apple and several types of ferns. 

May Apple

May Apple blossom

Lady's Slipper

Wild Columbine

False Solomon's Seal

Someone's been busy !

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Making Best Use of Small Spaces

There is a small space between our house and our retired neighbour's that doesn't get used for anything, accept for some storage.  It's sheltered and gets a fair amount of sun.   The weeds grow well in this spot - dandelions, violets and golden rod.

About a year after we moved in our current home I approached our neighbour and asked if this space was being used for anything and would they mind if I cleaned it up a bit and plant some vegetables.   Since they are not as mobile as they'd like to be and  rarely go to that side of their house they had no objection.   So, I cleaned it up and planted tomato plants that I had grown from seed and some hollyhocks.   When the tomatoes are ripe, I pick them and leave them on my neighbour's front porch for them to enjoy.  This year planted beef steak, cherry and early girl.

My extra tomato plants that I've grown from seed have somewhere to grow, and my neighbour get fresh tomatoes to enjoy.    They're happy !


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Raised Vegetable Beds

The weekend just passed is a long weekend in Canada - "Victoria Day" weekend - celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday.    It is also typically the biggest gardening weekend in these parts, and usually (not always) we are done with frost.  

Hubby built me another raised vegetable bed in our back yard this weekend (all from reclaimed free wood).  This will be the 3rd box, since I started my simple vegetable garden.   In the boxes I have growing, beans, peas, rhubarb, swiss chard, spinach, kale, radish,lettuce, tomatoes, spagetti squash, garlic and various herbs - such as oregano, lemon thyme, tarragon, parsley, cilantro, basil and dill.   Each year I try to rotate the vegetables so that the soil isn't robbed of it's nutrients. 

Some things I learned about raised vegetable beds:

1.  Easy and cheap to build when you use scrap wood.
2.  Easy to maintain.
3.  Not as much bending over as the beds are higher than regular beds
4.  Little weeds grow and if they do - it's easy to reach
5.  Dry out faster - so may require more watering.  
6.  Can start cool weather vegetables earlier as the ground in the raised beds warm up faster than the ground.

This year splurged on a soaker hose so I'm not carrying so many buckets of water back and forth from the water barrels.  And will also be mulching this year so the beds don't dry out too fast.  Now, if it would only rain !  and fill up the rain barrels again.

Columbine - reseeded itself in the corner of one of the raised beds

Monday, May 21, 2012

Field Trip - Alpaca Farm

Our Knitters Guild recently went on a "field trip" to an Alpaca Farm.  We had a fun morning at the farm.  The tour started with a "talk", where we learned all about alpacas, where they come from, what they eat, about their coats - shearing the fleece and how the fleece is used in making wool and wool blends.  Alpaca fleece is very soft and hypoallergenic because it doesn't contain lanolin like sheep wool does.

The farm also had it's own mill on the premises, where we saw the various stages of how the fleece becomes a skein of yarn -- From washing, drying, carding, and spinning.    I understand now why a skein of natural yarn can be so expensive, considering all the stages it must go through before you can start knitting and crocheting.  

fleece drying after being washed

Alpaca fleece 
some dyed fleece

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bread made with Beans

Have you ever heard of baking bread with beans?  I hadn't until I came across the book "Spilling the Beans" by Julie Van Rosendaal & Sue Duncan.     This bread is so easy to make and requires no kneading and very little attention.  Despite adding a cup of cooked beans, it has the texture of white bread.  In this recipe I substituted one cup of white flour for spelt flour.  

The recipe also called for white beans.  I used the Lina Cisco beans I had on hand which gave the bread a darker colour once baked.  
Yum - delicious !

The book also says it works well as a pizza crust too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spring Foraging - Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard is one of the most invasive wild plants in Ontario.  It's a non-native plant which was brought over from European settlers many years ago.  It has no natural enemies and is prolific.    Each plant can produce hundreds of seeds and lie dormant in the ground for several years before sprouting.   It was brought to North America for it's medicinal and edible properties.

When hiking in the woods in the spring you'll see this plant almost everywhere you go.  It has a white flower in the spring.  Because of it's anti-viral and anti-fungal properties it alters the soil properties in the forests, making it hard for other native plants to grow such as spring wildflowers and tree seedlings.

A couple of years ago I volunteered at the Credit Valley Conservation Area - International Biodiversity Day. at a "Garlic Mustard Pull".   As a group, for several hours we pulled garlic mustard and collected over forty large leaf bags in just a few hours.  We learned alot that day about invasive species.    If you have garlic mustard in your garden - don't compost it !  The seeds can last several years in the ground.  

Garlic mustard can be used in any recipe that calls for mustard greens.  Young plants have a mild mustard flavour with hints of garlic.   They can be cooked or eaten raw.  Older plants become more bitter and stronger flavour.    Once the plant is in flower it will be more bitter.  Don't use any plants that have been treated with weed killer.    Spring is the best time to pick.

Garlic mustard can be used in salads, mixed with more milder greens.  You can steam, simmer or sautee.  They can be used in soups, stews and sauces.    You can find many recipes using garlic mustard in books and on the internet.    On our volunteer day at the conservation area some garlic mustard was pureed and made in to a pesto and served on French bread at lunch time.    When the plant goes to seed you can make your own mustard or wild mustard seed mayonnaise.  

For more info on Garlic Mustard check out this website - Garlic Mustard Festival


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring Foraging - Wild Leeks

Wild leeks (Allium tricoccum), also known as ramps, grow in clumps in rich, moist, neutral soil in hardwood forests.   They appear in early spring and die off in early summer.     They are closely related to scallions and are members of the onion family.    They grow in clusters from one single bulb.  They are slow to reproduce and some clumps can take many years to form.     They have a very distinct onion smell.  If they don't smell like onions they are not wild leeks.

When foraging for leeks, because they are slow to reproduce  it's important not to take the whole clump at once.   Pick sparingly from each clump.  Because of over picking wild leeks are becoming rare and in some parts it's not permitted to pick.

Both leaves and bulbs are edible and can be used the sames way as you use regular onions, leeks and scallions.  They can be used in soups, stews, sandwiches and salads.   They can be preserved, ie frozen, dried or pickled.

To dry, clean and cut into half inch lengths.  You can use a dehydrator or place on a cookie sheet in a 170 F oven for a few hours or until they are dry.   You can store in plastic bags or clean dry jars.  Dried leeks are best used in stews and soups. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spring Hiking and Foraging

The best part of spring hiking .... no bugs !.... and it's not too hot, no humidity, beautiful wildflowers, birds chirping, and the wildlife.   The quietness of the woods is so peaceful and you're surrounded by beauty everywhere.   Often my best thinking is done in the woods - away from my everyday world and it's many distractions.

Every time I go hiking I feel like I've been on a mini holiday - even though I am close to home.   Being in the woods is very different from my everyday world.    On this past Sunday picnic hike we saw many wildflowers ie. blue cohash, wild ginger, wild leeks, garlic mustard and trilliums to name a few, and a large garter snake sunning itself. 

We came across a clear cut area done by the hydro crew putting in new lines.  Many trees were taken down and lots of wild leek clumps were left in the sun to bake.  Knowing they wouldn't survive out in the open field I didn't feel too guilty for digging up a few more.

Bruce Trail - Canada Goose Side Trail

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lacy Baby Blanket - Crochet

Here's a view of my other project which I've been holding off posting until the new little one arrived.  

This baby blanket was crocheted using a washable worsted weight acrylic.    It is crocheted as one whole piece.  There are no seams, even though it looks like it has squares.   The pattern was given to me by one of my knitters' guild members.  It's called Spiderweb - a "Leisure Art's Pattern".

 It is easy to crochet and works up fairly quickly.   Using a size G (4.5 mm) hook and approx 370 grams of yarn, the finished size is approx 35 x 47 inches. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Homemade Baked Beans

In my endeavour to incorporate more beans in our diet,  I came across an excellent cookbook on cooking and baking with beans by Julie Van Rosendaal entitled "Spilling the Beans".    The book has lots of recipes using various types of beans for main courses, snacks, appetizers and even in baking.

The Baked Bean recipe in the book  I substituted the Lina Cisco beans I had on hand and made up a delicious pot of vegetarian baked beans.  Even hubby, who is not a baked bean fan liked them. 

I also cooked up a very large pot of Lina Cisco beans from my CSA farm share and froze them in one cup portions for later use.

unwashed / unsorted Lina Cisco beans
Homemade baked beans

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