Sunday, December 30, 2012

Season's Change

When I started my new job just over a year ago, I thought that I would still have plenty of time to keep up with blogging. After all, I  was only working three days a week, which left four whole days to do my own things at home. But somehow that didn't seem to work out; there never seemed to be enough time to both do interesting things, and write about them. So sadly it was the writing that fell by the wayside most often.

It was a productive year just the same. I finally made cheese at home, pressure canned for the first time, worked with bees and created an edible forest.

There was also a few building projects on the home front- the beginning of a roof top garden, and a new enclosed addition on the back deck-. which will (hopefully) be the subject of a whole separate post.

I learned a lot along the way too. Finally getting to see a beehive up close and personal was amazing, and learning to make mead from uncapped honey was an added bonus.

Having access to a greenhouse allowed me to try growing different things like sweet potatoes and figs, and researching things like indigenous edibles for the food forest was one of the best parts of my job.

 Of course the things I learned the most from were my mistakes! My tomatoes both at home and at work suffered from things I should have known better of, so those were lesson learned the hard way in the result of poor yields.

 I lost two jars of dried veggies to moth worms- one of cherry tomatoes and one of green onions- because I failed to dry them completely.
And being stung in the lip for a second time will remind me to pay more attention to my surroundings when pollinators are involved.

The thing I didn't seem to be able to figure out was to balance my time. Writing wasn't the only thing that got neglected over the year. Photography all but fell by the wayside, both the taking of and doing anything with those pictures I did take. I attended far fewer picks with Not Far From the Tree and I'm ashamed to confess that what I did pick sometime rotted before I had a chance to preserve it. I've also gotten lax on my goals to eat primarily local and seasonal simply because I didn't have the time to preserve as much at home this year. Rather than beat myself up about it, I accept that sometimes it's not possible to do everything in an ideal manner and try to do better next time. It's all we can do.

In the new year I will be returning to work at FoodShare under a new contract of just one day per week. My main role will be food preservation and maintaining the greenhouse, two things I feel I can accomplish in that small amount of time. And I hoped the lessons learned this year will allow me to do more in the coming year, both in my own life, and in the knowledge I share with others.

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful holiday season and I wish you many blessing in the new year! Thanks for hanging in.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Never the Bridesmaid...

You'd think with having 12 younger siblings, I'd be inundated with weddings and babies. You'd think the opportunity to be a bridesmaid must be a regular occurrence. Now babies, we have plenty of- I have 9 nephews and 5 nieces, and another due in April. Of weddings, there's been a few. Including my own, almost forgotten now, (although I did have one sister as a bridesmaid and two as flower girls!) And yet, I have never had the pleasure of standing up with a single sibling! How is this possible you ask?

Here's how:
(Siblings in chronological order)

Brother # 1 - Very small, last minute wedding, at the same time and church where their daughter was being christened. I was unable to attend. No bridesmaids anyhow.

Sister #1 - First wedding: Small private civic ceremony - only our parents attended. Second Wedding (for both bride and groom): Small but lovely affair with mostly family, children from first marriage as the only attendants.

Brothers #2 and 3 - not married, no plans

Brother #4 - Big church wedding, however bride is from a large family herself so had all her sisters as attendants.

Brother # 5 - Been engaged for over 10 years. 2 kids. No plans for a wedding anytime soon.

Sister #2 - not married, no plans.

Sister # 3 - In a serious relationship but no wedding plans yet.

Sister #4 - Got engaged last year. Planning a destination wedding, and a big family reception on their return. 


Brothers # 6 and 7 - no plans at present.

So I have my hopes raised yet again. There won't be a wedding  for at least a year but I'm hopeful they might have a real full blown affair, with flowers and groomsmen and bridesmaids! Both parties have children from other relationships, just the right size to be flower girls and ring bearers!

Come on family, someone make me a bridesmaid before I'm too long in the tooth to be called a maid! I promise I won't even complain if you stick me in pink taffeta!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ryan's Tree

During the summer we had a new co-worker join the Urban Ag team at FoodsShare. Ryan joined us in July to work with Mike in the compost yard. Because we both worked primarily outdoors, I saw quite a bit of Ryan, although a lot of the time he had his earphones on; I'm sure music made working with smelly compost in the heat a bit more tolerable. When we did talk we spoke mostly of growing things- watering schedules, transplanting techniques and his love of bonsai. He helped me out a lot with the food forest, making sure eveything was well watered on the days I wasn't in. He told me about a Siberian birch tree that he had been growing in a container for a number of years which was in need of a permanent home. We decided it would be a nice addition to the forest garden so he brought it to work but for the longest time we didn't have a chance to actually plant it. Finally, on a beautiful Oct afternoon we found the the time and the perfect spot for it- a sunny location beside the dry stream bed where it would have lots of room to grow deep roots.

Five days later on Oct 14, Ryan passed away suddenly.  The day we planted the tree was the last time I saw him. It seems fitting that the tree he grew from a tiny sprout will live on as his legacy, it's roots thriving in the healthy soil he help create and it's branches shading the spot where he worked.

Ryan Dolmage 1975 -2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Preserving Food is a Full Time Job

Where does the time go? Back in Oct I took a week off work, my second of two paid vacation weeks this year. And do you know what glorious activities I did on my week's holiday?

I canned.

And dried.

And froze.

And made salsa
And tomato sauce

And made cider

And canned some more.

A week wasn't enough to do it all and I still couldn't find the time to post this. I finally finished the last of the canning yesterday (except for beets and maybe  some more red onion jam) If, in previous posts (back when I didn't have regular employment outside of my house) I ever sounded a tad smug about  my preserving activities, I take it all back. And to those of you who have kids AND jobs- I don't know how you find time to preserve anything at all!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Creating a Food Forest, the Hard Way

 It was during my trip to England last summer that I became enamoured with hedgerows- great thickets loaded with plums, blackberries (brambles), currants and gooseberries, all just waiting to be picked by anyone brave enough to attempt the thorns. I admit I came home with a serious case of hedgerow envy and I was intrigued and excited when I read FarmGal's post on “Food Producing Mixed Hedgerow”.  This seemed like something that could be applied in either a rural or an urban setting so I made it my mission to develop one at FoodShare as part of our demo gardens.
Last  month FoodShare co-hosted an worldwide Urban Agricultural Summit and as you can imagine this had the whole place scrambling to put on our best face. For me that meant getting the greenhouse in order as well as making the grounds and gardens look well maintained overall. Since an attractive garden means different things to different people, there were some interesting moments and conflicting directives from various sources; the battle to save the naturalized garden from the determined weed pullers was only part of the fun! In the midst of all this confusion I seized my chance and convinced the powers that be that establishing a food forest in an under utilized spot behind the greenhouse was just the sort of project that would impress the visiting dignitaries. I even managed to get a small budget to purchase a few trees and shrubs for it!

The area in question was overgrown with kale from last fall gone to seed, a few stray sunflowers and a lot of weeds. But it also had some sumacs along the fence to the compost yard, a nice sloping purchase and a rainbarrel already in place. I did some research and went on the hunt for suitable indigenous edibles. As it turned out I had to go a lot further than anticipated to find most of the plants but a field trip to the Niagara region is hardly something to complain about!

My first purchase for the forest was two pawpaws. I've been fascinated by pawpaws ever since I was a child because they seem so tropical, and in a sense they are. The only remaining stands of them growing in the wild here in Canada are in the southern most tip of Ontario, near Windsor. We purchased ours from Grimo's Nut Nursery, in Niagara on the Lake, also on the most southern border of Canada. These are grafted from two different species to ensure pollination and  can hopefully survive our winters here in Toronto. I also hope they will some day bear fruit!

Other species I chose for our forest were ones I'd heard about from FarmGal- black chokeberries (Aronia Melanocarpa) which I got two of,  and highbush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum) which I hope to add later. Unfortunately on the day we went to get them, the nursery had just sprayed for viburnum beetles with some thing highly toxic so we opted  not to bring them back with us. Instead I was able to locate a Nannyberry tree (Viburnum lentago) elsewhere; it should grow quite tall so I placed it in the canopy row between the pawpaws. Like the pawpaws, all of these species need two plants for pollination so I will be adding  new members to the forest, hopefully before winter.

We were alsoable to purchased  an elderberry, and a saskatoon, which along with the sumacs and chokeberries make up the middle layer. On a cottage trip up north I found some wild raspberries, and  thimbleberries  for the undergrowth layer, and wild strawberries for ground cover.  I also added a thornless blackberry and a wild grape vine to grow along the fence and we planted some haskaps along the front next to the sidewalk. The forest was starting to fill in nicely and then for no apparent reason, we got hit with some random acts of violence. Someone destroyed all of the sumacs one night, then ripped out some the thimbleberries another. The final straw was a brazen daylight theft of an entire black chokecherry bush- while I was working inside the greenhouse! Thankfully I was able to appeal to nearby neighbours to keep watch for us and there have been no further damages recently.

With the help of some volunteers, I created a dry stream bed to separate the forest from the vegetable gardens- the existing dogwoods on the other side of the stream add to the forest feel and there's a birch tree and a winterberry to be added to those for added colour. We also put down some wood chip mulch as ground cover to simulate the forest floor for now. Everything is doing well and the area looks very pleasing. And hopefully, next year there will be all kinds of fruit and berries to be picked!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bee Keeping Part One - Meet the Bees!

One of the perks of my position with FoodShare is our partnership with the Toronto Beekeepers Co-op; in addition to the delicious honey that we share, the co-op permits a Foodshare employee to become a member and this year I got to be it! Because of my crazy schedule I have only been to meetings up till now but on Monday I donned my lovely new beekeeper suit and was part of the team which harvested the first of this season's honey from the hives on the roof of the Royal York Hotel!
Hard to believe that this building in the heart of downtown Toronto is home to honey bees but there are 5 hives installed as part of the rooftop gardens.
The rooftop gardens supply much of the pollen for the bees but they can fly up to 3 kilometers for other sources of food.
The bees are milling around the bottom of the hive because we have temporarily separated the top boxes ( called supers) from the lower ones to make harvesting easier.

We use a maze which allows the bees to enter the lower supers from above but they can't find their way back up
Each super contains a number of frames in which the bees build honeycombs of wax and fill with them with honey. The frames are removable.

We use small amounts of smoke to subdue the bees temporarily.
We remove the frames to see the state of honey production.
The bees will cling to the frames to try to protect the honey - we flick them off with a soft brush.
Finished honey is capped with a coating of wax. We only remove a frame if  50% or more of the honey is capped. Uncapped honey isn't ready- it lacks the correct sugar density and will ferment quickly.

Here I am in my beesuit- I look like an oompa- loompa!

Next up - extracting the delicious honey from the combs!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Playing Catch-up

So the month of June vanished in a blur as usual. Those of you who've known me for while now know that I work for Pride Toronto every year, as the technical director of all the live music stages. This year we had 8 stages in total and featured such artists as Bif Naked and Corey Hart (who I got to drive around in my golf cart- the 15 year old in me is still giddy!). The amount of phone calls emails and paperwork generated by festival of this size is astronomical so understandably many things in my life get put on hold for the month of June.  Things like blogging, gardening, eating properly, and during the festival even sleep becomes a luxury.  The festival itself went very well, no major disasters, and a good time was had by all. It's taken me a full week to recover however and I'm still prone to random naps.

 I did manage to keep up somewhat with the gardens when I had a spare moment or two- all the tomatoes and peppers on the roof are flourishing with a few tomatoes almost ready for picking! The garden in the ground however is practically a a wasteland. Between the lack of sun from the overgrown trees, no rain and much neglect on my part it's been suffering. I got my hands on a branch trimmer with an extension pole and the Russian cleared out a good portion of the overhanging branches but some were even too high to reach with the ladder. The little bit of watering I was able to do only seemed to help the weeds so by the time I got to this week I was tempted to bury the entire thing and start fresh next year.

All was not lost tho- three of the summer squash are starting to perk up now that they have some sun and regular watering. The peas, lettuces and beets are a loss I think and only two sad looking leeks remain. I harvested all the garlic and got a few decent sized bulbs. The beans are struggling- I planted a tri-colour mix of yellow, green, and purple and they all sprouted but area pretty scraggly lot that are just beginning to flower. I seeded another row today in a spot that gets more sun so hopefully I'll have a late crop this year. All of the tomatoes I seeded are on the roof but I ended up with a few volunteers in the ground that got to be a fair size before I noticed- one is currently loaded with fruit and looks to be a tumbling cherry- I may have a better idea of variety once the fruit ripens!

Speaking of fruit, I've done a bit better at picking than gardening. We had a bumper crop of cherries in Toronto this year compared to last and I managed to come home with bing, rainier and yellow cherries. Most got eaten fresh but Colette and I did up a few jars of our favourite drunken cherries. I got a decent haul of strawberries which also mostly got eaten; I attempted to dry a batch of the tiny wild ones in the oven but my brother mistakenly washed the tray thinking they were burnt leftover..sigh...I'm behind on preserving this year as well with only a couple jars of rhubarb in addition to the cherries. I have about 6 cups of red currants in the fridge waiting to be done but I think I may end up freezing them for now since the heat has been just too much to contemplate canning lately.

The highlight of the fruit season so far however is that my raspberry cane, a volunteer that sprouted from a seed 6 years ago, finally produced berries this year and to my absolute delight they are black raspberries! To me there is no finer thing on earth than a black raspberry- they bring back memories of berry picking in the woods of the Laurentian mountains when I was a kid, and you rarely see them around here. I'd post a picture but I ate every last berry right off the cane. Maybe next year.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer Solstice

 Sun setting at 9 pm

Roof Tomatoes against the night sky

A small solstice flame

Happy Midsummers's Eve 
 Blessings to all!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Treasure Hunting

Springtime in Toronto and more than just flowers are popping up: the warmer weather means yard sale season is in full swing and for a frugal shopper like myself, every weekend is like a treasure hunt! Now I am not a hardcore yard sale stalker by any means- I don't scope out ads ahead of time and you definitely won't find me arriving on anyone's doorstep  in the early morning before they've begun to set up. In fact I find the best time to arrive is when things are all but gone and people are anxious to be rid of what's left. At that point, most sellers would rather give things away rather than cart it back in to the house and I often find lovely things that have been over looked by all the early risers. Getting them for free or next to it is an added  bonus.

Yesterday was a particularly good day for free stuff- the lovely things pictured above are only a few of the items that were left on the curb for the taking. The tea cups are a bit of luxury item but I couldn't resist them since I have a lovely gold leaf tea service (a yard sale find from last year). I'm partial to decanters as well and they are a bit more useful; they make lovely vessels for keeping homemade vinegar in.

Also from the free pile I found these lovely hedge clippers and three large baking trays, all of which will clean up nicely.

I almost didn't take this glass pitcher (because I have a few already) but I decided the pattern was too cool not to. Then I stopped at my favourite vintage store to drop off some clothes and there were two glasses with the exact same pattern! Kismet! I used some of my store credit to get them, and the book- it's the only one in the series I didn't have. The vintage shop sells my stuff on consignment and I usually end up find things in the store I like in lieu of cash. The cast iron frying pan is a replacement for the one that cracked and I like the wooden handle. The coffee perculator doesn't require electricity and can also double as a kettle.

But I think the best recent find of all was this practically new wool blanket that I picked up for a mere $5.

All these things made today the perfect day to enjoy some freshly baked scones with tea and homemade rhubarb preserves, while watching the Queen's Diamond Jubilee festivities. 

 I think I may be turning into my grandmother.