Friday, March 27, 2009

More Tottering

It was lovely warm in the greenhouse again today. I just had to plant something even though we haven't solved the air leakage problems yet.

I put in two rows each of spinach, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, and beets. Then I put radishes in between the rows as they will mature and be pulled before they are crowding the others. These are short rows the depth of the planting bed so only about 4 or 5 plants per row. We use a full head of lettuce for one salad usually so they won't be too much for us. Also when we are growing our own we pull only the outer leaves and let the inner ones grow larger.

I'm quite disappointed with how the seedlings are growing under the lights right now, I think they have stalled out. Hopefully these outdoor plantings will do better.

I'd post photos but the camera has dissappeared and even the teenager hasn't a clue as to where it has gotten off to.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Alfalfa Sprouts

My family loves alfalfa sprouts! They are even better when you grow your own instead of buying them at the store. So yesterday I went looking for seeds. None at either of the grocery stores, finally got some at the health food store. They. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding! about the price. OMG! It was $12.38 for 1 cup of alfalfa seed, that just can't be right.

My first reaction was to look online to see about growing our own. I mean really. Someone out there must be doing it because that is just a crazy price. After looking for hours I'm thinking that no one out there grows alfalfa in their home garden for sprouting seeds. I did find lots of info for commercial growers just nothing for small sized growers. I might just have to try this out. Pollination seems to be the only tricky part.

My friend's dh used to grow alfalfa for seed commercially and she thinks it might be doable. Never hurts to try! I'm thinking grow transplants and do a bed just to see.

Today I took the seeds back to the store and had them double check the price ... sure enough they did make an error. She charged me for alfalfa leaf not seed. Uh huh. So it was $5.86 instead, still a lot, just this side of crazy :D

I'm still thinking to try growing my own though.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Urban Foraging

Our family LOVES pickled mushrooms. Really loves them. I remember one year our then 4yo dd asking for pickled mushrooms for Christmas and doing a gleeful dance around the living room when she got her very own jar in her stocking. You used to be able to buy them at the store but not any more. I found this recipe in a traditional Ukrainian cookbook and made it every year for one of our 12 dishes for Christmas Eve supper. (click on the photo for the recipe, I used the 6x version today)

JUST NOTICED: THE 6X VERSION NEEDS 3 CUPS OF WATER IN THE BRINE, this isn't listed in the penciled-in listing, please add.

When we were in the grocery store yesterday my dd saw three bags of fresh mushrooms on the discount shelves. PLEASE MUM!!!!

(This is where the urban foraging comes in :D taking advantage of finds like these. No one here has shown up with mushrooms at the farmers' market so I felt comfortable purchasing these for home processing from the store, I NEVER buy my strawberries from the store no matter how cheap they are as people do grow them locally.)

I've made batches of these mushrooms to store in the fridge before but today I got bold. There is really no reason that pickled mushrooms shouldn't be able to be canned, I figure. They have vinegar ... they are hot ... why not?? (I've used my pickle recipe to pickle carrots and green beans with great success, this should work too.)

So first we washed them, strained them, boiled them for 15 minutes in salt water (using pickling salt) Here they are in my 12 quart pot just as they went in.

And after cooking for a while, they shrink down to about half the size! The water can be saved as mushroom broth for soups.

Once they were cooked I packed them into jars with minced onion and garlic, covered them with the brine and left out the vegetable oil called for in the original recipe. It would effect the acidity of the recipe and I wouldn't trust it. Also it made the mushrooms a bit 'greasy' in the fridge method. I understand the reason it was in the original recipe to act as a seal between the mushrooms and the air, unneeded in these soon to be canned ones.

Then added hot lids and processed them for 20 minutes. They all sealed and now we'll open one a month to see how they work out.

They just look SOOOOO yummy! A note, I did try this recipe with canned mushrooms and with fresh one year to compare the two. The pickled fresh mushrooms were way, way, way better!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tottering in my Greenhouse

It finally warmed up in the greenhouse enough to defrost the ground!!! I wanted to dig in the cement block a couple inches to form the edges of the raised beds. As I was digging I noticed two things. One - the blocks we set the greenhouse on were in the way of digging the edges right against the windows, we'd have to set the bed in a couple inches. Two - and this was the deal breaker, there were roots then a massive root exactly where I was digging. HUH. This meant that the blocks would have to be above ground and supported by the walls of the greenhouse and the gravel back filled along the path. Back in went the dirt into the dug trenches.

Also the size of the greenhouse and the length of the blocks meant I had to learn the new skill of cutting blocks. Hubby said it was easy you just score them with the grinder.... Whoa! Luddite wife here! Next idea ... Chisel and sledgehammer??? Ah, No. He settled on showing me how to use a chisel and a hammer, regular wife do-able hammer. And it worked just fine.

I used the broken bits of block to level the edges, it's not an exact science and I did get some weird breaks. The blocks slot together nicely as this picture shows.

Once the sides were in I put a thick layer of newspapers down to stop the grass and filled with potting soil. The nice man at the store recommended a container mix as best.

Cutting the weed barrier off that I originally had under the gravel back and pulled back then back filling the gravel left a nice neat edge to the bed. The plan is to make another bed along he rear of the greenhouse at a later date too.

As seen from the front:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Change of Plans

The tomatoes kept drying out on the table downstairs so I brought them up, covered them with a plastic bag fastened down with duct tape, and put them on top of the refrigerator. I've heard that it is warmer up there and it's a good place to start seedlings but we have an all-fridge, no freezer, and it isn't warm up there. Maybe it will work maybe not.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cabbage Mandolin

Have you ever had to slice a whole cabbage or maybe more? Doing it with a knife usually doesn't produce the results you want, shredding takes impossibly long, and they are both tiring, very tiring. Thinking back to Grandma-on-the-farm and all she did for making sauerkraut and for borscht lead me to the cabbage mandolin. A handy device made specially for those days when you have lots of cabbage to cut. The Grandma-who-knows-everything has one for us to borrow as it is one of those 'not every one needs to own their own, just one per community family' type tools.

I was making a batch of borscht today and needed to shred a cabbage. Last time it was a long involved process with a knife that resulted in chunks not shreds. This time I learned from my elders and used the mandolin. It sets over your sink with something beneath to catch the cabbage.

At first it wasn't cutting at all, a quick phone call to the Grandma-who-knows-everything, she told me how to adjust the blades.

On the side of the mandolin are two nuts that you need to loosen then you flip it over and adjust the blades by louvering them. They have little pivots you turn them on to adjust the angle of the blades which affects the height of the blade above the surface of the deck. Once you've got it the height you want tighten the nuts again and start pushing the cabbage back and forth. (click on the photos to better see what I'm talking about)

This mandolin is missing the wooden box that slots into the side and holds the cabbage, I just used my hand and when I got down to little bits I wore a hot pad mitt on my hand to protect it. In no time at all the entire cabbage was shredded and ready for the pot.

A few more steps and we had borscht for lunch.

I packed up a quart for dh's lunch in a canning jar.

I sprinkled raisins on mine, as per Maureen Cameron's recipe when she had the cafe in back of her health food store. I like the little touch of sweetness they give.

The children aren't as fussy they just ate, and ate, and ate it, then came back for more after the dishes were done.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Road Trip!

The Urban Trowel got to go on a field trip. Now usually I'd just think of it as a drive out to a friend's but ... when you are buying organic Red Fife Wheat from them AND ... your friend is Joanne Gailius, yes, THAT Joanne Gailius, it becomes a blog worthy field trip.

I had mentioned to Joanne at a physio appointment that we were almost out of wheat from our grain CSA share, she thought there might be a bag left from their crop, she'd check. Sure enough there was ONE bag left! Yippee me!

We also chatted about my attempt to bake bread with a mix of red fife/ oats/ spelt/ and Khorosan wheat and her love of tomato varieties. So I took her a loaf of my experiment and my snap lock box of seeds. Seems her family humors her growing addiction to growing a lot of different varieties and I just happened to have 8 or so that she didn't have. I got a tour of her cold room where she keeps her other growing collection of dried bean varieties. Thanks for the garbanzo beans Joanne! I'm looking forward to growing them out to the point of having enough to eat for the year and enough to save for seeding.

We also talked about how eating locally is growing in our lives. She had heard someone mention they were going to go out of their way to eat one local meal a week. WOW! one a week, which was hard to wrap her brain around as they currently eat so very much grown right at home. BUT it wasn't always that way and she thought back to how it was a growing process for them, a leaning that kept increasing. I can attest to seeing lots of grains, dried and canned fruits and veg, and some livestock on their farm. Walking the talk.

For our family, living in downtown, we rely on buying from local farmers, our much smaller home garden, and bartering with those who have excess. For us too it is a leaning more and more to this lifestyle, baby steps leading down the road to local self-reliance. I remember a couple weeks ago suddenly realizing, as I was making bread, that I've become one of those 'nuts' that grind their own flour! HUH. Maybe it's not so nutty after all. At least it doesn't seem nutty, it feels empowering, and it simply tastes better, not to mention being better for you.

I liked one idea on page 60 in the book 'Food security for the faint of heart' by Robin Wheeler. She says "We don't suddenly turn from casual veggie gardeners to full sustenance farmers in one year. Choosing specific goals and just watching how the rest comes along each year is an easy method for increasing your food independence level." She goes on to list 8 goals she set for herself and how she is progressing towards attaining those goals. It seems it is taking more than one season to accomplish some of the goals. Each step is leading towards success! It takes time and perseverance. Yet, identifying your personal goals really helps to focus your ideas and to identify the steps you need to take. If your goal is like Robin's to supply your own salads for 8 months of the year you can identify when to start your seedlings, consider the need for cold frames or hoop houses, or the need for shading for the hotter months. You most likely WON'T have complete success the first year but your degree of success and failure will point out what to change the for the coming season. If your goal is to supply all your own berries then you likely have some shopping or bartering to do to get the plants in place and some learning to do concerning preserving.

I'm wondering if I'm brave enough to set some public goals????

ps the book mentioned is available at our local library.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Seeding Tomatoes

I couldn't resist. It is a little early for seeding tomatoes, should be around the 24th but I am planting some in the green house and others in plastic covered towers so I did want an early start. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Out to the greenhouse I went to get another plug tray to fill.

These tomatoes will need careful tagging so as not to get the varieties mixed up. think ... think ... think ... Milk jug plastic would be great but I'm worried about the names rubbing off the smooth surface. So step one is to cut out a strip of the side plastic and step two is to rough it up with sandpaper so the ink doesn't rub off. Then cut it into strips with points. And ta-da! plant markers.

I got out the seeds I saved from tomatoes last year, the seeds I got on freecycle, and the ones I picked up yesterday from McMurrays at Seedy Saturday.

In all I'm potting-out 12 varieties, 6 plants each. All in neat rows in their tray.

Once done they're off to the grow table behind the hot water boiler we heat with. Our old cat lives on top of the boiler, the warmest place in the house LOL! The seeds should be nice and warm there.

The varieties planted:

From McMurrays - White Beefsteak, Lemon-Lean, Rhodes Heirloom, Aladdin's Lamp

From Freecycle - Gospodar, Persimmon, Stupice

From our garden - Sub-Arctic Maxi, Brandywine, Black Krim, Sicilian Saucer, Glamour

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Seedy Saturday

Today was Seedy Saturday! Our first I believe. There were two presenters Brenda Lukasiewich on the basics of seed saving and Dan McMurray of Grunt and Grungy's Garden on tomato seed saving. He and his wife maintain 700 varieties of tomatoes on their small acreage. Their blog links to albums showing how they germinate, grow, save and store their seeds.

Afterwards you could peruse the offerings at the exchange and seed sale. McMurray's were giving away packets of tomato seeds. Jon offered various flower seeds from his gorgeous garden for donations to the Relay for Life. Malcolm was manning a table of seeds from Salt Spring Seeds. The college had a table offering seeds too and display of their various gardening courses and programs. The Food Action Coalition was signing up folks and offering brochures listing local sources for local foods. The Grain CSA folks(see a video here)were showing off their grains and offering memberships. There were other folks offering seeds and Jennie from Straight From Earth had a table of locally made organic bakery items for sale.

I ended spending way too much BUT did get some interesting varieties of beans, Aztec Red and Beurre De Roquencourt, as well as tomatoes, Aladdin's Lamp, Rhodes Heirloom, Lemon-Lean, and White Beefstake. I also got a couple packets of flower seeds, and now that I've got them home I've noticed that they are unlabeled. Mystery seeds :o) I'm sure one was Calendula and the other??? Maybe the-grandma-who-knows-everything will be able to help me out, heck forget the maybe, she'll know.

I went to take photos and found the memory card was missing, no memory. I'm sure the college will have photos up soon.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Seedlings coming along...

The little seeds I planted are now little seedlings of swiss chard, spinach, and lettuce. I was thinking of saving the seeds from these for the seed-to-seed challenge but that depends on a few factors. 1- can I grow them without killing them 2- will they live long enough to go to seed 3- are they open pollinated varieties 4- how hard are they to isolate and save the seeds from...

So let's do a little internet and book searching to answer some of those questions....

Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach seems to be an open pollinated variety, Yeah! And so far they are still alive, Yeah! Now for the true test, how much work will it take to isolate and save these seeds..... Oh Crap! Spinach plants are either male or female, and you won't know until they bloom. AND they have to be heavily isolated in spun ploy cages. OY! So minimum of 2 male and 4 female plants per cage. It is also a low germinator with 65% being the germination standard. This might not be the best new veg to start saving seeds with, on the other hand won't kill me to try!

Another seedling growing in the tray are Paris Cos (Romaine) Lettuce... which I did find on one site as a heritage variety grown since the 1800's. Now according to the book lettuce isn't terrible for cross pollinating, only 12-25 feet required between varieties, cage or wrap individual seed heads to absolutely ensure seed purity when 2 or more varieties are flowering at the same time. Seeds ripen irregularly and should be gathered daily. So this one seems more do-able. With my lettuce allergies I can only eat romaine lettuce so cross pollinating isn't an issue.

Lastly in the tray we are growing Swiss Chard - Red.... hmmm..... Well I finally found a maybe answer, West Coast Seeds mentions rhubarb swiss chard as an open pollinated variety. Close enough to give it a try, I may end up with mutant swiss chard the next year LOL! Now for the book test... how hard is it to save... Not Bloody Likely! It seems to be a biennial and needs to be pulled up, stored and replanted to prduce seeds the second year, WTSHTF kiss this veggies bye-bye! On second thought if they do take two years to make seeds the cross pollinating with the neighbours will be moot simply because who else is crazy enough to go to all that work to have flowering beets or chards?? If you did beets one year and swiss chard the next you wouldn't have to worry about them pollinating each other in your garden either. So this is a long shot maybe.

I think I can, I think I can....

After all the ancestors did back in good ole Ukraine so I really shouldn't wimp out. ;o)