Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I was going to title this post Looking Back, because that what we tend to do as the end draws to a close. We remind ourselves of all of the good things that happened through the year. It's also a good time to acknowledge our mistakes and hopefully learn something from them. It's always good to look back on all of our successes and failures and promise to do better next year.  And it's comforting to have this invisible restart, another opportunity to make better choices, or maybe just have better luck!

Typically I do use the last post of the year to catalog the moments, good and bad, that made this year notable but since there was a serious lack of posting this year, I feel like I'll end up explaining way too much, or worse, I won't find anything to write about at all. That certainly seemed to be the case for a lot of this year. I still did all of the things I normally write about; gardening and canning, foraging and beekeeping. But I did come to a bit of a realization in the past year - if I'm being honest, it's a bit of a stretch to call myself a farmer. When I started this blog a few years ago, I was totally caught up in urban agriculture and I had visions of raising food for us to live on year round. I dreamt of chickens in the backyard and hives on the roof, and of mini hoop houses and makeshift greenhouses to extend the growing season. I bought a pressure canner to preserve things that couldn't be pickled or fermented. I ordered cheesemaking kits and sourced raw milk. I've certainly enjoyed learning all of these new skills!

In reality however, it's much harder to maintain a lot of these practices all the time in an urban environment and some of them are still just a dream. I love my new raised beds but there's only so much that will grow in the shade that encrouches more each year. The rooftop gets plenty of sun but I'm limited by the size of the containers -too heavy puts a strain on an aging roof- and lack of water- we don't have an outside tap to hook a hose to so all the water has to be carried up by hand. As for livestock, Toronto is a long way from approving backyard chickens but even if they did, there's not really a safe place to keep them at this apartment. Current bylaws won't allow me to keep beehives either.

Truthfully what I excel at most these days is what I like to call urban foraging.  Just like the traditional version of foraging, I make a point of gleaning fruit and other plants from the urban forests. Working with Not Far From the Tree has made me much braver about asking strangers if I can pick from their trees or  gardens if they appear to have an overabundance, and there are enough wooded areas within the city limits to do some judicious wild picks on occasion. But to me urban foraging also includes things like taking home the leftovers from events I'm involved with (garbage bags full of leftover freshly shucked corn!) or volunteering for organizations that share the results or 'pay' in kind. Heck, it even includes picking through the discard bins at local greengrocers on occasion- if it's food that would otherwise got to waste, it's still a type of foraging!

So while I may not always be posting regularly, I'm still here and still searching for ways to to live as close to the farm lifestyle as I can get in the big city. And I hope to find more things to write about in the coming year. After all, it's a fresh start tomorrow!

Happy New Year! May 2014 bring you luck, joy and prosperity in all that you do!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Drawing to a Close

It still feels like full summer here. The temperatures for the past two weeks have felt more like July than July did this year. Thankfully there's also been a decent amount of rain along with the heat, and for humidity lover's like myself it's been a last minute gift when I'd all but given up on having a real summer. The days are hot and sticky, evenings are balmy and the sun still seems to linger in the sky. If I ignore the ever increasing number of fallen leaves on the deck I can almost convince myself it's June rather than the waning days of summer.

It's the early mornings which bring reality crashing home that summer's days are numbered. I've been having some odd sleep patterns lately which often finds me awake in the early hours and I can vouch that the sun is nowhere to be seen at 5 am these days. In fact the lazy thing is barely up by 7 am, and each day we have about 3 minutes less daylight. That doesn't seem like much but when you add it up, that's 20 minutes less daylight a week and almost an hour and a half in a month!

Growing things sense the disappearing sunlight better than we do. This time of year the plants are scrambling to complete their mission of recreating their genes; from the maple keys that are turning brown and preparing to launch, to the tomatoes churning out fruit like there's no tomorrow because there really isn't, everything is taking it's cue from the waning daylight.

In my gardens some things are still in full swing and some have given up the ghost entirely. The tomatoes had a miserable year- I seeded late, I planted late and at one point the raccoons dumped almost all of the seedlings when they were still in small pots. For the containers on the roof I started them with less soil in the buckets with the idea of adding more as the season progressed so they would have fresh nutrients- that didn't work out as planned so they still have a lot less soil than they should have and it shows. Coupled with the not so hot weather and inconsistent watering and I have a bunch of sickly looking plants with a smattering of late ripening fruit, most with cracks. Also thanks to the raccoon dumping I have quite a few mislabeled and it's kind of a surprise until the fruit actually ripens!

The peppers on the roof didn't fare much better and the raccoons ate most of the jalapenos before I could pick them. The shepherd peppers in the ground are much happier but have a ways to go to ripen.

On the other hand, the beans were fabulous this year. I've been picking steady stream of green, yellow and purple beans for the whole summer and they are still producing. The edemame did well too. Up on the roof, I had a bumper crop of zucchini but not a single patty pan and only one lone butternut squash before the powdery mildew got them all. Thankfully it hasn't hit the cukes and melons because the biggest delight of the summer is these little jewels of canteloup which, fingers crossed, the raccoons haven't discovered yet. I used the metal frame from an old couch as a trellis and I'm hoping it's confusing them.

Like every year I had great plans to extend the harvest and plant some late season crops so back at the beginning of August I planted some turnip, beet and rutabaga seeds- some in the ground and some in the now empty zucchini bin on the roof. I had high hopes and pretty good germination, but for some reason I lost almost all the seedlings and the few remaining are sad and spindly. A week later I seeded some on the roof and they came up and promptly died as well. I think next year I will make sure to start them in seedling trays and transplant when they are a decent size.

I haven't even done much canning yet this year - a few batches of whole fruit earlier this summer and last week Colette and I did our years worth of dill pickles but that's about it! The rows of empty jars stare longingly at me but I refuse to listen right now. While the good weather holds, I'll be following the call of the beach- there's just 3 weeks of summer left and I plan to enjoy every second of it!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Looking Ahead

You'd think winter would be the furthest thing from my mind in the middle of July. Here in Toronto we just survived our first heat wave of the summer and it was a doozy- temperatures in the mid 30's with humidex values making it feel more like 45 C.  Thankfully I managed to escape the worst of it by running away to Sarnia and living at the beach for most of the week. I have the Russian to thank for keeping the bins on the roof watered while I was away. All looks well up here!

Amazingly the garden in ground needed NO watering- the new raised beds worked even better than I envisioned! The combo of  the  rotting wood I added to the bottom layer, and the buried seeper hose hooked to the rain barrel provided enough moisture that everything stayed lush and green even through 6 days of record temperatures. Turns out those huglekultures really do work!

So why on earth am I thinking ahead to cold and snow? Well for the first time ever my gardens are producing more than we can eat fresh. Yesterday I picked a mess of beans and there are more to come. The zucchini, which are loving life on the roof, are providing a fruit a day. We've been eating onions for weeks, the garlic are almost ready to be dug and the edamame should be ready anytime.Which means  I'm running out of room in the fridge and I need to be preserving some of this goodness so we can enjoy it when the gardens are long buried under snow and ice.

The garlic is easy- as the greens die down, I've been digging up the bulbs and leaving them to cure in the sun porch. I've even braided a few!

Normally I would just freeze any excess beans and edamame  Freezing is my preferred method of storing many vegetables - if you freeze them as soon as they're picked and do it correctly, it keeps the texture and flavour better than canning. However an inadvertant thaw/refreeze would turn them to mush and we've been experiencing rolling blackouts ever since the big storm that hit Toronto at the beginning of the month.. So I'm thinking I will pressure can the string beans and I need to look into how that can work with edamame- likely I will have to shell them first.

In the past I have a had difficultly growing zucchini, which was frustrating, given its reputation for overabundance. This year I am pleased to have a glut and for now at least we've been eating them as quickly as they appear but I suspect that may pale soon. Since it's never been an issue previously, I'm not exactly sure how to preserve them other than relish which I'm not a fan of, or use them in baked goods. Suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Where Does the Time Go?

I realized on the last day of May, that the month had gotten by me without having done a single post! No welcome to May Day, (which was lovely and warm this year) no updates from the garden (slow to start because of the late spring), not even a mention of my trip to Ottawa and lunch with FarmGal (more on that in a bit)!

When my contract at FoodShare finished at the end of April I was expecting to have so much time on my hands to do things that I'd been lagging at, particularly gardening, canning and writing.The freedom of a wide open schedule! My first order of business was a field trip for another passion of mine - genealogy. A recent investigation had led me to discover that one of my ancestors was actually born in the Red River Settlement in 1814 so I decided to make a trip to the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa. I spent 5 days pouring over records from the Selkirk Papers and that's a whole blog post and then some, but that belongs to another day and blog.

FarmGal and tulips!
I had messaged FarmGal of my visit and she braved the downtown traffic to meet me for picnic lunch which included some of her lovely preserves and a  fabulous home cured ham. The weather was unseasonably warm but worked in our favour as most of the fabled tulips were in full bloom. We had a lovely visit and even managed to squeeze in some photo ops!

On my return home things took an unexpected turn however. The building that houses our apartment is an old turn of the century row building, with our unit being the 2nd floor flat above a former retail space. Over the years most of the infrastructure like wiring and plumbing was redone but a lot of the original structure remains. Our bedroom ceiling had seen a number of leaks from the ancient skylight; though the roof had been repaired, the lath and plaster ceiling had been patched but not replaced. A large crack directly above the head of our bed had been growing ominously for a few months previously but was gauged safe by the landlord. While I was away there were several heavy storms and the Russian pointed out to me that the crack had widened considerably and that section of the ceiling was now hanging a good 6 inches lower than the rest. Of course late on a Saturday night there was little we could do, so I fired off an email to the landlord and the Russian and I set about moving the bed so we wouldn't be sleeping directly under it. We even discussed moving into the livingroom to sleep but I was trip weary and really just wanted to sleep in my own  room and bed. NO such luck however; whether our timing was perfect or the moving of the bedframe hastened it's demise, the ceiling came crashing down just as we finished getting everything thing out from under that area. We were lucky to not be directly under it but we were both startled, covered in plaster dust and soberly aware that the amount of debris that fell could have easily killed us had we been sleeping- 100 year old plaster is thick and heavy as bricks! The remainder of the month was a mess in every sense- all of our furniture and clothing had to be removed while the ceiling was replaced, the entire room had to be cleaned and repainted and the ceiling fan/light was replaced. Even now we are still sleeping the livingroom as there a few last touches that need to dealt with. I tend to function well with chaos in my working world but not so much in my home- frustration and weeping were common place for a few weeks as I struggled to find anything in that much disorder. Gardening was my main solace, as at least out side I could control my surrounds to a point, although I still couldn't control the cold snaps that kept many of my seedlings still in pots.

So here it is June, which is always my busiest month of the year and not surprisingly, I'm way behind in everything!  There's a mess of cooked rhubarb in the fridge waiting to be canned, ditto a bowl of tiny onions that have been brining for over a week.

The tomato and pepper seedlings need to be planted in their containers and join the squash on the roof. The raised beds are at least planted for the most part although I still have  leek seedlings and rutabaga seeds to go in. I hope I can at least manage to take care of all of that before the madness of working with Pride takes over my life.

Happy June!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Raising the Beds

Like most people, every year I feel the need to improve my gardens; to grow more and have better results that I did the previous year.  Last year I extended the backyard garden right to the edge of the yard and  finally ran out of room to expand any further in any direction. But as the space expanded so did all the surrounding trees so I still had issues with not enough sun, and being so close to the alley and not fenced in, I've had a lot of problems with dogs and the occasional human wreaking havoc in my veggies. Building a ladder  up to the flat roof gave me better options for my sun loving favourites so a good portion of the veggie production now happens up high. There's still critters to contend with up there, raccoons and squirrels for the most part but there's less plant damage and lots more sun.

April 17 2:20pm
I wasn't prepared to totally abandon the earthbound garden tho, so when an opportunity for a lot of free lumber came along, I jumped at the chance to build some raised beds. The wood is from a old building that is being renovated near by and it was destined for landfill, so I feel doubly happy at being able to create something useful and repurpose some lovely old boards that have survived close to 100 years!

The Russian helped me build two overlapping boxes and we have enough left for a cold frame. To fill them I'm using a combination of hugelkulture and lasagne bed techniques. The bottom layer is composed of sticks and chunks of rotting wood, followed by a layer of partially composted materials. Then a layer of mixed soil and coir, and a top layer of mulch, likely straw.

For now I'm only filling the larger bed in this manner- the smaller box currently contains the garlic I planted last fall so I don't want to bury them completely. That bed will get filled in slowly over the summer with compost.

 The soaking hose is laid out on top of the bottom layer and will be hooked to the rain barrel as usual. If it works as planned, the water will seep out right at the plant roots where they need it and the rotting wood will retain the excess, making it available as it decomposes. None of the water will be lost to evaporation and this should help the plants stay evenly watered, no matter what the weather.

 The larger bed will be for beans of all kinds- it gets better sun than the small bed so I may even include a tomato or two. I've also earmarked a corner for an asparagus crown. The smaller bed has garlic already up as mentioned and last week I planted 4 rows of onion sets in between the garlic rows. Before the trees begin to fill in with leaves , this bed gets a decent amount of sun but it will be mostly shade during the summer months so I'm not sure how the onions will fare. I plan to tuck some root veggies (turnips, beets, carrots) in between the rows of both beds and see what works. Gardening is always one big experiment!

Having raised beds won't change the lack of available sunlight but I'm hoping they'll allow me to take advantage of the early spring and fall growing when I do have more light. By using plastic sheeting to warm the soil earlier in spring and potentially, hoop houses to extend growing in the fall, I may be able to make this garden a bit more productive than I have previously. To aid in this plan I have taking photos and noting where the sun is at different times of day which I can use to plan better for next year!

April 22 8:45 am Full Sun

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Garlic Sprouts in the Snow

See those little spiky things sticking out of the snow? Those are my poor little garlics shivering in the ground. Lured out by warmer weather and tons of rain we've been having, I sure hope they can withstand cold and ice. It's absolutely miserable out today, temperatures hovering around zero, freezing rain and snow. It's enough to make me want to crawl back into bed and never get out.

Thankfully there are a few bright spots keeping me from succumbing to permanent hibernation. One is this lovely package of heirloom beans that arrived in the mail earlier this week. A gift from KB over at My New Old House, there are a dozen different varieties, including some rare ones! Nothing I like better on a lousy day than a little seed research...

Speaking of seeds, gazing on these other little beauties also makes things a little less dismal. I held myself to eleven varieties of tomatoes this year and gambled on a single pot of 2 seeds for each. Considering the poor germination I've had in the last few years it was a pretty big gamble but so far it seems to be paying off.  At the moment I've got at least one healthy seedling per pot; only the Jaune Flammes have yet to emerge and may have to be reseeded. Nothing from the peppers yet but I sowed extra of those and they always take a little longer. I started everything much later than usual but considering the spring we're having I think I'm right on target to have things ready to go when the gardens and weather are ready.

The garden themselves are in the middle of an overhaul. As you can see from the top photo I've finally decided to build raised beds out back. An opportunity came up for us to obtain some free wood from a reno project a few houses away. It's old and weathered but still solid lengths of true 2 x 10's,  which would cost a fortune to buy so I am happy to save it from landfill and save my wallet. When it stops raining we'll hopefully be able to finish 3 boxes so I can fill the beds for planting. I have plans to do a modified hugelkulture, creating a bottom layer of chunks of wood, sticks, twigs and other plant matter before filling it with compost and top dressing with a coir and organic soil mix. More on that as it happens!

I promised Farmgal I would post the directions for making homemade mayo in a mason jar. It's been all over the internet recently but if you haven't seen it, it is quite possibly the easiest thing you can make in a jar! The Russian puts mayo on everything so it's been a real time and money saver at our place. This version requires a hand blender but I might try to see if it's possible to replicate using my eggbeaters, if they'll fit in a jar. Here's the link to Northwest Edible's post where this video is from, with recipe and full directions.

Looks like we have a few more days of nasty weather to look forward to so I'm grateful to be warm and dry with things to do inside, even if I'm eager to be outside. There's a pot of turkey stock simmering on the stove, a stack of library books to be read and garden designs to be finalized. April, do your worst!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


If I see that ground hog, he's dead!
Spring arrived at 7:02 this morning but you wouldn't know by the weather. Seems like we have a few more days of snow and cold to get through before we'll see anything resembling spring-like temperatures and the long term forecast is for a late cool spring season. Which means I don't feel quite so disorganized about not having a single vegetable seed started yet!

But everything outdoors is more than ready for it. I took a little spring advance in the form of some plum and dogwood branches and  it didn't take long for them to burst out in blossoms.
  Throw in a few hot house iris and you can pretend that spring is in the air instead of just more snow...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Boxes of Goodness!

Last month FarmGal wrote about having some of her farm raised lamb for sale and I lamented that I wished I lived closer so I could purchase some. She immediately emailed me about the possibility of shipping it and after a lot of back and forth we finally figured out a way to get it here to Toronto. So last week a box of frozen meat (lamb, pork and beef), along with some special treats made it's way here, only to find me holed up in hotel, working night and day at a Folk Music conference! I finally managed to retrieve my box on Tuesday and was overjoyed with all the bounty!

In addition to the meat I purchased, FarmGal included some curing salt, 3 bars of her homemade sheep's milk soap, a garden sign and a ball of the prettiest wool ever!

As if that wasn't glorious enough, that same day FoodShare decided to gift all of our employees with a large box of organic produce, so along with all the delicious meats I also arrived home with a box full of lettuce, red peppers, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, swiss chard, bananas, apples, oranges, lemons and 2 avocados! And to top it off, the friend who transported the box of meat all the way from near Ottawa (and kept it in her freezer for a week!) also brought me another dozen of the beautiful eggs from her sister's farm. It was like Christmas, only better!

Since we are still without an oven, last night we had dinner with friends who cooked up a feast of  roasted leg of lamb, sautéed chard, mashed turnip and steamed potatoes in browned butter. The lamb was the best I've ever eaten! It was a fabulous meal, made better by sharing with good friends, and the knowledge that the food we were eating was grown with pride and care. I brought the leg bone home and it is currently simmering in the stock pot to make a rich lamb broth- I don't want to waste a bit of the goodness that Farmgal lovingly put into that lamb!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Homesteading skills list

Canadian Doomer posted the original list on her site and others have added to it. Farm Gal did her link here
The ones in bold are the tasks and skills I have done/can do myself, with notes in red.

Safely use an ax and hand saws. (years of camping)
Split firewood and kindling.
Stack and age firewood.
Grow a vegetable plant.
Plan, plant and grow a vegetable garden. (every year!)
Sharpen any edge tool – knife, axe, hoe, chisel etc. (took a basic woodworking course which included sharpening techniques)
Basic firearm safety and gun proof your children and grandchildren. (no guns, never)
Raise a chicken.

Shovel snow without putting out your back.
Read the weather.
Spin wool, cotton or flax into thread or yarn on a spinning wheel or with a drop spindle.
Use a garden shovel, spade or hoe without hurting your back.
Light a fire indoors or outdoors. ( again with the camping/backpacking)
Go to a country auction and not get skinned.
Butcher small livestock like rabbits or chickens.
Hang clothes on a clothesline.
Basic tractor maintenance.
Know the difference between trees and the unique properties of various types of wood.
Cook 10 basic meals from scratch.
Pasteurize milk.
Divine/witch for water with a forked branch or a bent metal hanger. (not very successful but I've tried)
Distinguish healthy plants and animals from unhealthy plants or animals.
Basic sewing skills.
Set an ear tag or tattoo for animal identification.
Determine an animal’s age by its teeth.
Cut and glaze glass.
Drive a standard transmission vehicle.
Thaw out frozen pipes without busting them.
Know how and when to use hybrid seeds.

Sew your own clothes with simple patterns.
Hand thresh and winnow wheat or oats and other small grains.
Train a working cattle or sheep dog.
Read the moon and stars.
Make soft or hard cheeses.
Live beneath your financial means.
Fillet and clean a fish.
Use a wash tub, hand-wringer and washboard. (My grandmother used a wringer for years and I own a washboard)

A beeswax apple candle, the last piece of my tallow soap and a beautiful sheep milk soap sent to me from FarmGal!
Make soap from wood ashes and animal fat. (store bought lye with home rendered beef tallow)
Lay basic brick or build a stone wall.
Basic home canning and food preservation. (That's a given!)
Save open pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds.
De-horn livestock.
Use an awl and basic leather repair.
Make long-term plans for the future – plan an orchard, a livestock breeding program, or plan for stored energy sources.
Jury rig anything with duct tape, baling twine and whatever is on hand. (That's in my job description)

Be comfortable with emergency/home birth. (I've attended 47 births and even caught one impatient little thing!)
Read an almanac.
Euthanize large livestock.

Use flat cloth diapers and wool soakers. (my mom didn't believe in disposables)

Cook on a cook stove. (lived in a cabin without electricity, running water or a stove for 5 months - I can cook on anything!))
Entertain yourself and live without electronic media.
Shear a sheep.
Manage human urine and feces without plumbing. (no outhouses in the backwoods)
Swap, barter and network with like-minded people. (all the time!)

Generate electricity for home use.
dipped beeswax candles

Make a candle. From beeswax and other waxes
Dig and properly use a shallow well.
Refinish furniture. (pretty much everything in this house is a found item that we've refinished or modified)
Found wardrobe, refinished.

Drive a draft animal.
Realistically deal with life, death and failure.
Use non-electric lighting.
Butcher a pig or goat.
Restrain large livestock.

Slaughter livestock.
Use a treadle sewing machine.
Give an injection.
Use a handsaw, hammer & nails, screw driver, wire cutters, and measuring tape. (I own lots of tools, both power and hand and can use every one of them properly)
Know when to ask for help.
Know how and when to prune grapes and fruit trees.
Hatch out chicken, duck or other poultry eggs. (Quail, hundreds of them. I also once kept duck eggs in my bra for two days til they could get to an incubator)
Use a scythe.
Skin a furbearer and stretch the skin.
Tell the time of day by the sun.
Milk a goat, sheep or cow.

Use a smoke house.
Stomach tube a newborn animal.

Build basic homestead buildings (sheds, etc.) (I still need to post photos of our new addition!)
Break ground and plough.
Use a wood stove and bank a fire. (Cabin, winter, only heat source, nuff said)
Make butter.
Knit. ( lots of hats and scarves, more detailed projects are a challenge to finish)
Make and use a hot bed or cold frame.
Deliver a foal, calf, lamb or goat. (I haven't but I'm sure I could!)
Know how to tell when winter is over.
Plant a tree.
Brood day-old chicks.
Dye yarn or cloth from plants.
Haggle like a horse trader.
Bake bread.
Use a pressure tank garden sprayer.
Halter break a horse or cow.
Graft baby animals onto a foster-mother.

Weave cloth.
Grow everyday kitchen herbs.
Make sausage.
Set and bait traps for unwanted vermin and predators.
Grind wheat into flour.
Make paper.

Make ink.
Know when it is more economical to buy something ready-made or when to make it yourself.
Castrate livestock.
Choose a location for a vegetable garden or orchard.

Catch and care for wild yeast for bread making.
Weave a basket.
Use electric netting or fencing.
Make fire starters from corn cobs or pinecones.
Use a pressure cooker.

Use a pressure canner to preserve meat and vegetables.
Correctly attach 3 point hitch implements to a tractor.
Trim the hooves of goats or sheep.
Sew your own underwear.
Make your own wine and beer. (Honey wine, aka mead)

Darn knitted or crocheted items.
Know basic plumbing and how to sweat copper pipes and joints.

Keep bees. (don't have my own bees and I'm still learning)
Honey harvest 2012
Change a spark plug.
Cook on an open fire.
Make vinegar. (I have 3 types at the moment- red wine, apple cider and honey wine.)
Purify water.
Graft trees.
Make and use a bow and arrow.
Preserve meat by curing. ( Still learning but I've done some bacon)
Erect a fence.
Hang a gate.
Make and use herbal tinctures, infusions and other herbal remedies. (drinking one now!)
Replace electrolytes in a battery.
Charge a battery.
Change a car tire.
Repair a tire.
Do an oil change in any vehicle.
Build an effective compost pile.
Correctly set spark plug spacings.
Change all light bulbs – household and vehicle.
Prime a well pump.
Fix water troughs around the paddocks.
Suture both animals and humans. (can draw blood and give injections too)
Catch a fish without expensive fishing gear. 

Gather edible wild greens and prepare them.
Catch and keep a swarm of bees.
Render fat. ( all kinds in my fridge- chicken, duck, pork lard, beef tallow)
Use non-typical fats (lard, tallow, schmaltz, bear fat, etc) in cooking. ( see above)
Back up a vehicle accurately.
Drive with a trailer attached to a vehicle.
Make whitewash.
Weatherstrip a home.
Set a snare or other simple animal trap.
Set up a gravity fed water system.

And my own additions:
Tap trees and make syrup (maple, birch)
Clean beeswax (a lot harder than you'd think!)

I'm surprised at a few of the skills I hadn't thought of in years but I guess it's one advantage to being a bit older. Some of these things (wells with hand pumps, wringers, wood stoves,) were still around when I was a child and I think this means I could survive for a while, although sources of meat would be a problem.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Winter Garden

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Like the weather, the greenhouse has seen some ups and downs this winter. It was the first year I've tried to maintain a number of different projects inside and some of the plans worked better than others. Which is to be expected I guess- it was all experimental to see what would work and what wouldn't, but of course I can't help but feel disappointed at the ones that failed, especially when failure meant the loss of some of the plants.

Radishes got a bit frost nipped
The biggest issue is not being able to maintain consistant temperatures. This greenhouse was designed to be passive- it doesn't have a source of heat other than the sun. It also lacks fans for air movement, and supplimental lighting. Previous attempts to maintain it through the winter with space heaters worked poorly- it proved inefficient and there were issues with mold.  After speaking with a couple of greenhouse experts we came to the conclusion it would work most efficiently as a large cold frame, with a small heated area enclosed in plastic for the handful of tropical plants. The aim was to maintain a fairly consistant cool temperaure but prevent a hard freeze. This works well on a few levels; because the plants are not exposed to much light or heat they aren't encouraged to grow and therefore don't require frequent watering. And without heat and moisture there's less opportunity for mold to take hold.

So back in the fall I brought a number of plants like the hibiscus and olive tree inside the greenhouse and allowed them to acclimatize to the cooler temps and low light naturally. The pergola was covered in clear plastic and small space heater was set to kick in only if the temperature dropped below 5 C. I enstalled a themometer that also indicates a minimum/maximum temp. Other hardier plants like collards and leeks we left in large bins  in the unheated areas and I started some cold crops (rapini, carrots and radishes) in cold frames It all worked wonderfully all through November, December and into January. The hothouse plants were lulled into dormancy and the cool crops were growing slowly but steadily. Sadly I failed to take any photos of  it all when things were at the ideal. 

Then mid January, we had a week of hard freeze with overnight lows in the minus teens, and whether the small heater couldn't keep up or there was some sort of power failure, the temperature at some point hit minus 10 even inside the supposedly heated area. By the time I discovered it, the damage was done and many of the tender tropicals were a wilted mess. Thankfully I have no photos of that either because it was heartbreaking. I trimmed all the dead and damaged leaves and I'm hopeful that most of them will recover eventually but I'm sure I lost a few.
Bay laurels survived but not the spider plant

Surprisingly, the plants in the unheated areas weren't quite as badly damaged and most of them bounced back. I suspect that is because they were in larger planter boxes rather than pots.

I'm still harvesting leeks, and collards, the 2 remaining  sugar beets are looking great, a few radishes have grown big enough to harvest and the carrots are coming along.

I missed the peak on the rapini however- should have harvested it all a few weeks ago!

Now as the days get longer and the sun moves closer I'm faced with another challenge- on bright sunny days the temperature can shoot up to 30 degrees plus! Since it chills off again at night the fluctuation can be quite drastic which is far worse for plants than just cold. It also means the plants require more frequent watering which can lead to mold. When I'm at work I can open the roof vents and turn on the fan but since I 'm only in one day per week currently, I'm not always able to be there to check on things. I'm about ready to seed some early spring greens in the next week or so and I sure hope they can handle the fluctuating temps!

In the meantime I am happy just to have fresh homegrown produce even when it still looks like this outside.
Food forest in winter- not much to see!  

Of course it would be even better if the greenhouse was set up with year round temperature controls and grow lights- then I'd be able to produce things like this lovely pomegranate! This one was grown by my coworker Liz in the CAMH greenhouse! Happy Valentine's Day!
Valentine's pomegranate!