Tag Archives: urban farming

Enter Winter… So, Naturally, I’m Hitting the Seed Catalogues.

So. Here we are at the beginning of January, just past the fullness of Long Nights Moon, and the local temperature has dropped – as it tends to do once January hits – by about 20 degrees celcius. I’m in a shiny new apartment with a shiny new spouse (the spouse part, not the relationship part) who is learning how to sew leather garments on her old machine… and without a balcony on-which to grow next Summer’s (distant) garden.
Oh, I have plans.
There is a built-in planter that runs the length of my apartment and which, typically, gets left horribly neglected over the course of the summer (impatiens go in… and they get pretty-much no water from there-on-in)… that I’m thinking I might be able to take over if I opt for the Pretty Stuff in that space. There’s also a (slim) chance that I’ll get a big chunk of garden space waaaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell outside of town on the land of one of my wife’s (hee!!!) co-workers who would like to have home-grown food but doesn’t really know how to do the growing. That chance is slim, but it’s there… and I’m hopeful about it. 🙂
In spite of my 2013-garden uncertainty, however, and perhaps a little foolishly at that, I’ve gone ahead and ordered seeds from a couple of Canadian seed companies (one in Ontario, and one in Alberta, by the looks of things).
From Hawthorn Farm, I’ve got:
Black Cherry baby tomatoes
Black Plum sauce tomatoes
Polish Linguista sauce tomatoes
Blondkopfchen yellow baby tomatoes
Lacinato Kale (aka dinosaur kale?)
Red Russian Kale (the kind with the purple stems)
Rainbow Chard
Giant Red Mustard Greens
Nutter Butter (miniature butternut type squash)
Black Futsu (Japanese two-serving winter squash)
Winter Luxury Pie (heirloom pie pumpkin – pretty fruit with very smooth flesh)
Trionfo Violetto pole beans (purple podded snap beans)
True Cranberry pole beans (dark red butter beans with mottled shells)

From Heritage Harvest Seeds I’ve ordered:
Marina di Chioggia (heirloom turban-type squash with super-smooth, pasta-friendly flesh)
Musquee de Provence (heirloom pumpkin – chocolate brown shell with thick, smooth, luxurious flesh)
Canada Crookneck (heirloom butternut-esque squash with sweet flesh and a super-big curve)
Early Green Cluster pickling cucumbers
Painted Lady runner beans
Scarlet runner beans
Hopi Red Dye Amaranth (for greens and grains)
So… Yeah.
I’ve got garden plans. Lots of heirloom veggies, lots of long-keeping squash and hardy, easy-to-grow greens (than happen to be kind of pretty). Lots of pole beans with fancy flowers and colourful pods for virtical appeal.
Now I just need to secure a place to grow it. O.O
Wish me luck! 😀
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

What to Can? (And how to use what you’ve got…)

I’ve been doing home canning for a couple of years now. Literally. This is definitely my second, possibly my third, year doing canning. Before that, I basically did frozen soups and that was all.

But – what with all this seasonal eating and home-gardening and foraging – I’m finding that I need to start developing a better Canning Plan than “looks like a good idea at the moment”.

You know how that goes.
It’s like the old addage “Vegetarians don’t eat tofu. Vegetarians buy tofu… which then goes rotten in the fridge”.
It can be the same with canning. You start out making rhubarb barbicue sauce, because it looks like a good idea at the time, and end up with forteen thousand jars of jewel-toned jam and jelly sitting in your cupboard while you wonder how much toast you can really eat in one winter…

This is the trick with home canning.

Because I – and probably most of you who are reading this – grew up with (a) freezers[1], and (b) non-seasonal grocery stores, I don’t actually know how to use sugar/vinegar preserves in regular cooking. They get spread on toast or, maybe, layered into a cake (jam, jelly, fruit butter, fruit curd), or they get added to sandwiches/burgers or served as an accent to a Cheese Plate, or used as a garnish (sweet/sour cucumber pickles, for example).

We don’t necessarily have any idea what to do with, say, a bottle of pickled sour cherries other than serve it with baked brie, right?

So… The first question you have to ask yourself is: What do you like to eat?

If you’re a salsa fiend, but aren’t all that into pasta, you’re better off doing a variety of savoury tomato salsas (and variety is key there – I’m a fan of peach-tomato salsa, but green tomato salsa might be on your must-make list) than doing a zillion two-cup jars of tomato sauce… that you will never use.

Similarly, how are you going to use them?

My two main methods of cooking are (a) slow cooker[2], and (b) stove-top. If I were a barbicue/microwave kind of gal, I might be looking at things a little differently. If I were a raw foodie, I’d… okay, I’d probably be writing about how to use all that stuff you dehidrated last summer, to be perfectly honest, but you get the drift.

I eat meat. I eat meat – and veggies like winter squash, beets, celeriac, and rutabagas – that work really well when cooked low-and-slow. So I can use a lot of my preserves as “glazes” – Take about half a cup of jam/jelly/chutney/sauce and whisk it into about two cups of water. Add onion, garlic, and maybe some grainy mustard or dried sage or balsamic vinegar or something… and you have the “broth” that your pork shoulder (or butternut squash, or boneless, skinless chicken breast, or whatever) is going to roast/braise/slow-cook in.

You can step that up a bit, however, by combining preserves:

Add a tablespoon of tomato sauce – or even ketchup – to your “broth”
Throw in a couple of ice-cube-sized blocks of frozen spinach (or corn, or carrots… you get the idea)
Add a heaping spoonfull of pickles. No, really. I don’t mean add a bunch of kosher dills. I mean: Pickled turnip (that pink stuff they put on shwarma) or spicy pickled radishes. I mean sweet-and-sour montmorency cherries, sweet-pickled pearl onions, or mashed up pickled red peppers.

You can do the same thing on the stove-top:
Start with:
1 crumbled slice of black pudding (OR chorizo, if eating blood sausage squicks you out – about 1C, either way)
6-12 reconstituted dried mushrooms
4 cubes of frozen spinach (or other greens)
1/2 C spicy tomato salsa OR (for example) balsamic tomato sauce
1 tbsp red pepper jelly OR 1 sweet-pickled red pepper, mashed up
1/4 a yellow cooking onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp marmite (OR tamari OR just plain table salt)
2 tbsp butter OR olive oil
Basil and oregano to taste. 🙂

Combine the whole mess in a frying pan and sautee it, stirring gently but constantly, over medium-low heat, until it’s basically a bubbly, dark red-brown mess.
Add cooked rotini (or whatever pasta you like), heat through, and serve. Possibly with added parmejan on top.

Alternatively, you can add pickled turnip/radish/cucumber/whatever to cabbage salads or remoulades (those French salads made from apples and celeriac) for added sharpness and a handy extra dose of vegetable variety in Winter.

You can also try spreading the cavity of a winter squash (think Delecata or Celebration – something in the “meals for two” category) with a sweet-and-spicy chutney (or jelly, for that matter), and then fill it with a mixture of preserved fruits and veggies – like dried apples, currants or raisins; cranberry sauce; thinly sliced pickled daikon, or sour kraut.


So it’s very doable. But it helps if you have enough Sour Stuff on hand, and a rough idea of what you’re most likely to be eating, anyway. 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] I’d much rather eat frozen snap beans than pressure-canned snap beans, for example. (Also, I have a freezer and the ability to blanch stuff… but I don’t have a pressure canner).

[2] Or roasting pan, but if I use the slow-cooker, I find the critter is more tender when it’s done.

Rhubarb: The Continuing Saga!

Hey all!

So my young lady and I went to visit her family this weekend and, while there, we were gifted with a (1) some flower seedlings and quite a few sets of bunching onions (now planted in pots on the balcony – here’s hoping) PLUS (2) a veritable armload of rhubarb from their huge rhubarb patch.
I’m tickled a pretty specific shade of pink, as you can surely imagine.

So today, since there’s no way we’re going to eat all of it fresh (and, also, our fridge is pretty full as-is), has been a canning day! 😀

Rhubarb Jam from OwlHaven
(link goes to her rhubarb jam recipe)

So far, I’ve made a rhubarb simple syrup (see recipe, below) with the intention of using it – mixed with white wine or soda water or even ginger ale – in lieu of lemonade as a refreshing patio drink. (I hear it works really well with a little mint thrown in – how handy that I have some growing on the balcony[1]!)

Currently, I’ve got a strawberry-rhubarb jam on the make. It’s a mix of Purple Cow (Greely[2]) strawberries, product-of-Ontario strawberries from the grocery store, the remains of the rhubarb from the syrup-making process, and another stalk of fresh rhubarb from my Ghost’s parents’ place.
I’ll soon be adding about 3 cups of sugar plus about a tablespoon of pectin[3] and we’ll see how we do from there. 🙂
I’m hoping I’ll get three cups out of it, though in theory this recipe (adapted from Canadian Living) makes as many as seven. We shall see. 🙂

[EDITED TO ADD: Jam Recipe makes three 250mL jars + four 125mL jars for a total of 5 Cups of jam /EDIT]

Later today, I’ll be making something like a rhubarb cafloutis (a bit like this one here, maybe?), although it’ll probably just be vanilla custard with some flour and rhubarb thrown in before baking. We shall see. 🙂

Anyway. Rhubarb Simple Syrup. Theoretically you mix a tablespoon of the stuff with a glass (250mls? 500mls? I’m going to have to experiment) of soda water or white wine, and you end up with a nice, summery mocktale that you can use instead of lemonade if you’re all into eating local food or, like one of my aunties, if you’re alergic to citrus fruits.


Rhubarb Simple Syrup

Combine in a large sauce pan:
3-4 thick stalks of fresh rhubarb, cut into 3″ strips (about 1cm wide)
7 C water

Simmer for about 15 minutes, until you essentially have rhubarb tea.

Drain “tea” into another large pot, using a seive (reserve rhubarb pulp for jam or baking, if desired)

Boil rhubarb tea until you have about three cups of concentrated liquid

Add 3 cups of granulated sugar to the liquid and bring to a gentle boil

Boil for 10-15 minutes, until syrup feels thick when you stir it

Pour into steam-sterilized jars (or, if you have them, resealable steam-sterilized bottles) and cap

Process in another steam/boiling-water bath for 5 minutes then allow to cool on a wire rack. You should hear them go “plink” as they seal.

Makes a little over three cups, total.


I’m strongly considering trying Mrs Wheelbarrow’s rhubarb chutney and rhubarb pickles or some of the many rhubarb-centric chutneys and jams linked to by Tigress in a Jam.

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] It would also go well with some lemon verbena – which, I gather, has a lemon-zest-like flavour. I think, given that, I will have to try growing lemon verbena on the balcony next summer. For now, though, I’ll work with what I’ve got. 😉

[2] They used to have an ice cream shop in the Glebe, but it closed years ago. IIRC, they actually served a lot of Kawartha Dairy (Peterborough area) ice cream. Mmmmmmmm… Moose Tracks and Bear Claws… 😀

[3] Rhubarb contains a lot of pectin just on its own, however I don’t want to take any chances. (It would be different if I were going for a jelly, and could just call it “strawberry-rhubarb syrup” or “strawberry-rhubarb glaze” if it didn’t gel properly, but this is going to have chunks of fruit in it, and needs to actually be spreadable when it’s done).

State of the Garden – Mid-June 2012

We went away to a cottage last weekend and, when we came back, this is what I found:

We have one bloom on the dianthus

The cucumber plant is almonst long enough to start climbing

The beans in with the tomatoes have started to climb their strings, although the beans everywhere else aren’t quite as big (the ones in the window boxes may or may not do any climbing at all, I’m not sure… they’re mostly there to act as nitrogen fixers though, so any flowers or fruits that we get will be a bonus for those ones)

The dill is looking extremely happy – tall and feathery and even starting to flower – and the basil is starting to flower as well. Our lavender plant is still pretty compact and, while I think it’s growing a little, it isn’t growing a lot

The tomato plant is growing and it has lots of flowers, as well as a few more fruits getting going

The garlic chives are actually visible to the naked eye, although they’re also still very fine and will be a while before I can start harvesting them for salads and such

The morning glories are… huddled together and not doing much. Although I recall they didn’t really get going until August the first time I grew them, so they may yet be okay…

The rainbow chard is leafing nicely and, in a week or two, will be ready for its first harvest

The lambs quarters that I transplanted to a pot are… not dead yet! 😀 We’ll see if they actually start growing and getting bigger but, so far so good, so yay!

The nasturiums are leafing nicely in both the window box and the cucumber bin, but they are still quite small (I put some in a salad last night with dandelions, pea sprouts, crunchy sprouts, basil, and tomatoes – very tasty)


Around the Neighbourhood:
The sour cherries and service berries are getting ripe but are still mostly green (give it two weeks, seriously), some of the wild strawberries (at the cottage we borrowed) are already ripe and tasty in a sweet-yet-tart kind of way.
Dandelion (and related) greens, plus lamb’s quarters (wild amaranth/spinach) and plantane are available all over the place (we’ve been eating a LOT of dandelions of late).
Pears and apples are in the fruit-growing stage of their development. Not sure where the mulberries are at (I’ll have to walk by our local tree and have a look). Grapes are flowering at present. That’s about all I’ve got for now. 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden. 🙂

Victoria Day/Local Beltain and Some Thoughts on Container Gardening

Summer has well and truely arrived.
Victoria Day Weekend typically corresponds to the beginning of Summer in Ottawa, and this year has been no exception. The temperatures have soared over the past week, and this weekend has so far included both (a) a barbicue, and (b) lots of sex. Also, I’m sitting on my balcony in nothing but a sarrong, typing away on my laptop, surrounded by The Garden. Summer is definitely here. 😀

Which brings me to: The Garden.
The (probably) last of which we put in in yesterday:

At one end of the balcony, we have my tomato plant (now joined by a Cinnamon Basil plant and a few scarlet runner beans (seeds) wich – hopefully – will germinate and get growing without incident in the next ten days or so. There is also a pot of Chocolate Mint and two window boxes – one contains “maiden pink” dianthus (the plan being to (a) have pretty, pink flowers, and (b) be able to make a clove-and-nutmeg flavoured iced tea out of the flower petals) plus kentucky wonder beans (seeds), and the other contains dill (plant) and nasturtiums (seeds).

At the other end of the balcony, we have a third window box this one contains a lavender plant and a lot of morning glories (seeds); plus two rubbermade bins and a smaller container. The smaller container has been seeded with garlic chives, while the two bins contain – respectively – cucumber + nasturiums + scarlet runner beans; AND rainbow swiss chard (which, with any luck, will actually sprout — so far there’s only been one, and it was very much in micro-green form. I’ve added the entire rest of the package in the hopes of getting some leafy greens on the balcony this summer.

I look around my neighbourhood – which is mostly apartment building and the kind of flat-roofed working class houses that have been here for the past hundred years (there’s not much around here that dates to earlier than that, because the whole area was pretty much wiped out by a massive fire in 1900).
I look at these buildings – at their empty, pebble-strewn rooves, and wonder how much food we could be growing in the full sun, almost-zero-shade expanses above our heads.

It makes me want to extend fire escapes skyward, anchor ladders to the rooves, set up a carefully weighted gang-plank (gain-plank?) from my balcony to the (lower) roof next door and smuggle over punctured wading pools, vermiculite, soil, and seedlings, and grow sun-loving plants in a place where they can thrive.

My balcony garden eats a good eight litres of water ever day or two. Which is a lot of water. Filling the bottom three two inches of rubbermade bin with vermiculite – or even gravel – and setting an unven length of PVC pipe into it, so that I could pour those two litres of water into the pipe, and let the plants suck the water up with their roots as-needed.
If I add more bins (likely, eventually) and can get ahold of a good load of gravel (or styrofoam chips?) I will probably try this. You still need drainage holes, but they go part-way up the side, rather than on the bottom. I think it’s worth a shot, and may help to lower the water requirements for my garden. 🙂

Tonight, we’ll be dining in the garden this evening — Sir Perry pear cider pared with stir-fried beef and asparagus, over couscous with peppers and tomatoes (almost all of which was donated by a friend who had an overly abundant barbicue on Friday – SCORE!) — So I should probably get the dinner started.

As such, that’s my prattle for today.

Meliad the Birch Maiden. 🙂

Garden Update (slowly but surely)

In the balcony-garden, so far…

Rainbow chard — seeds (as yet unsprouted, but that should theoretically happen in the next 2-3 days)

Boston lettuce — root ball (from a bunch that I got in a dome from the grocery store. I figured: why not? Might as well see what happens)

Tiny Tim cherry tomatoes — plant (picked up up from the Herb and Spice yesterday)

Still to go in:
Cucumber (plant)
Basil (plant)
Romano beans (seeds)
Scarlet runner beans (seeds)
garlic chives (seeds)

Morning Glories (seeds)
Nasturtiums (seeds)
Peppermint (plant)
Dill (plant)
Various Other flowers (plants, most likely)

This weekend, we’re hitting up Canadian Tire for (1) my fishing license, and (2) a few window boxes, bags of soil, and – chances are good – flowers.
We’ll also be hitting up the Byward Market for the peppermint and Dill (and, potentially, a few other herbs… we’ll see…)

Gardening Ho! 😀
But things are moving along. 🙂

Plans for the Coming Month (Fishing and Gardening)

So. May starts tomorrow.
I keeping with my previous post about Spring and Beltane and things generally waking up, I thought I’d toss this up here:

To Plant (come the Long Weekend and the passing of “all danger of frost”):
Rainbow Chard (from seed – on the blacony)
Cherry Tomatoes (from sprouted plant – on the blacony)
Scarlet Runner beans (from seed – on the balcony)
Cucumbers (from sprouted plant – on the blacony)
Thelma Saunders acorn squash (maybe – from seed – on the balcony)

Morning Glories (from seed – in a window box)
Peppermint (from sprouted plant – in a window box)
Garlic Chives (from sprouted plant – in a window box)
Nasturtiums (from seed – in a window box)
Other Flowers (Ghost’s choice – from seeds or sprouted plants – in a window box)

Butternut squash (maybe – from seed – in a publically available plot)
Pie pumpkins (maybe – from seed – in a publically available plot)

To Acquire:
Fishing License (available from Candian Tire, I believe)
Filleting knife – a long, thin, sharp knife with a very pointy tip (we’ve probably got something appropriate already on hand)
Thelma Saunders acorn squash seeds (possibly from the Herb and Spice?)
Tomato, Garlic Chive, Peppermint, and Cucumber plants (probably from Home Despot – I mean Depot – particluarly if we’re also getting window boxes and soil, although possibly the Byward Market)
Window Boxes and soil (see above)
Some kind of “worm tea” or other fertilizer that may help our container garden grow

To Learn:

How to kill a fish:

How to clean and gut a fish I’ve just killed:

Flowchart of Creating Change

Also, there’s this:

Good ideas, yes? 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden

Inspiration Everywhere – DIY Food (from the ground up)

Today I’m making bread. It’s currently at the “chef” stage and is about to have oil, salt, egg(s), cream (or milk), and a little bit of flour thrown in all at once in order to get on its way to being a “sponge” (and then, eventually, a dough).

In the other room, my beloved is talking to one of her other partners[1] about the concept of “do no harm” – in the Jain sense, the Buddhist sense, the Pagan sense, and how that concept relates to one’s dietary choices.

I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle (again), because I love it so, and because – in a year or two (working on a different book right now, thanks) – I want to write a book similar to this one about local food in my (micro) bio-region.
Not surprisingly, I find this book inspiring on a number of levels.

As I may have said here before (although, surprisingly, I can seem to find I post where I stated it in so many words), I dream of having a “little house in the country… in the city”.
I’d happily take up residence on the Experimental Farm (most likely on the Dows Lake side of the Arboretum — although there’d be some judicious tree-felling involved if I were actually to do that) if it meant I could farm (in a small scale way) 2-3 acres of land while still being able to walk to the down-town homes of my friends and extended phamily.

As it stands, I’m making due with the stuff I can grow on my balcony, harvest from local trees, and/or pick up from the (rather appallingly small) Foodland Ontario section of the grocery store. But I have big dreams, my dears and, though it’s surely taking a LOT of tiny steps to get there, I’m on my way to achieving them. 🙂

Meliad the Birch Maiden.

[1] Open relationships for the win! 🙂

Autumn Equinox Chutney (garden-grown green tomatoes with local wild apples)

So. Autumn is definitely in the air.

About 2-3 weeks earlier than I expected, at that.
(Yes, I know the Equinox is a scant week away — hopefully I’ll be spending it at Windborn and then hanging out drinking apple martinis or something with my girls — but two degrees Celsius is still a low-assed temperature for mid-September around here).

Consequently, I spent this morning dragging in the last of the produce from my balcony garden. I’ve turned most of it into green tomato chutney (or something along those lines), and will be turning most of the rest of it into sweet-and-sour pickled radishes over the course of the weekend.

The tomato chutney also used a couple of wild apples from a tree that grows a few blocks away. (I swear. If I had a ladder to haul around, I’d probably get myself into a LOT of trouble — there’s an apple tree just up and around the corner from me, which nobody’s harvesting, and I’m just sighing over it, I tell you).

I utterly love knowing where I can find a few sweet apple trees (as opposed to crab apple trees, although those have their fabulous uses, too). Since I don’t have much in the way of garden space (oh, how I long for multiple fruit trees and a big garden space to grow them in!) it’s that much more important to me to know where the fruits in my neighbourhood grow and when their season of ripeness falls. 🙂

The recipe for this Mabon-appropriate chutney(-esque) is as follows:

Green Tomato Chutney with Wild Apples

1 1/2 cups of green tomatoes, diced
3-5 gloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup onion, peeled and diced
1/2 cup tart wild apples, cored and diced
1 red banana pepper, cored, seeded, and diced

1/2 C apple cider vinegar
1/2 C white wine vinegar (mine was infused with garlic, om nom)

1/4 C fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp prepared dijon-style mustard (or 2 tsp whole yellow mustard seeds)
1-2 tsp salt
2 tsp whole black pepper corns
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dried coriander (OR 1/4 C fresh coriander leaves)
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
5 small fresh nasturtium leaves, shredded

Throw everything in a pot and boil the hell out of it until the tomatoes are softened and most of the liquid has boiled away and/or been absorbed.

Spoon into steam-sterilized jars, cap with steam-sterilized lids, and process in a boiling water bath for about 5 minutes.
Allow to cool (you should hear the “plunk” of the lids sealing themselves to the jars as this happens), then re-tighten the rings and store in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks, until you decide to open it.

(This should be pretty zingy when you pop the lid off. There’s a LOT of spicy in here — at least for me. Not sure whether the nasturtium leaves will keep their Spicy going once they’re cooked, mind you, but the garlic, black pepper, and mustard should do the trick either way).