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!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Won't Be Long Now!

We've been on a weather rollercoaster this winter! January saw highs of  15 C  one week and overnight lows of minus 21 c the next. Three days ago we were hit with that big snow storm which dumped a good 40 cm in my neighbourhood and it's almost all gone now thanks to pouring rain overnight and high of 6 today. It makes it a little challenging to know what to wear when you go but at least it's not boring outside!

The same can not be said for inside. With both of us underemployed, there's a been a whole lot of lazy days and nights and while it's a good kind of boredom, lots catching up on reading and movie watching, too much of anything wears after a while. Which is why I thought it would be fun to take on the $10 grocery challenge to add a little interest to January. I have to say that while it made good sense for the wallets, by the end it did not help with my mood at all. I love to cook and try new things and that means lots of variety. Unlike the Russian who could happily eat chicken soup for every meal, I get very cranky when faced with the same food on repeat. By the last week of the month we still had a fair bit of food in the house but it was a lot of the same stuff and under the guidelines of the challenge I couldn't just nip out and buy that one or two items to switch up the menu.We did managed to keep to the budget (except for the previously mentioned spontaneous dinner party) but I was ever so glad to see the back end of January!

The arrival of February  immediately brightened my mood and not just because I could buy groceries! The Toronto Beekeeper's Co-op held a one day workshop on Urban Beekeeping on Feb 2 and it was a great success, full of all kinds of bee enthusiasts and a lovely marketplace selling sweet smelling and tasting goodies. I picked up these beautiful eggs from one of the vendors and I swear the colour alone made me happy!

Now that we've made it to almost mid February it's time to start thinking of gardening again! I haven't started any seedlings yet but already the days are long enough to want to try and as usual, a few things have started without me. My brown fig broke dormancy earlier than I  would have liked but it seems to be thriving even when it's clearly not time yet.


All the indoor plants I cut back in the fall are sending out new leaves and the crazy onions I overwintered in a pot are providing me with much appreciated fresh salad greens!
So it's time look at  seeds, lay out plans and dream of hot summer days in the garden.

Can't come soon enough!