Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fall, winter and the holiday season

    Fall and the beginnings of winter are finally arriving here in Manitoba. This has been the longest we have had to wait for our first snow fall in both mine and my parents lifetime! The unseasonably warm weather has been amazing but it has lead to quite a shock about the reality of the holiday season being just around the corner. Fall chores  that should be done or abandoned are still on the to do list as a possibility but some days are just for bunkering down and making plans for the winter. I have already started focusing on reading and forming a rough idea of what the new year will look like.

    As for the blog topics threw the winter, I have more than a few posts I had started but never posted, I will be finishing and posting these, especially the one today on vermiculture, which seems like a fantastic winter topic, especially with all the vegetable scraps from holiday dinners being produced. It is a very brief over view and questions are encouraged, hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


When someone decides to change everything they know, and tries to hybridize city with country, where better to start than the ground up.
Vermiculture is the art of turning your leftover food scraps and flyers into luscious, rich, soil. Which in turn adds nutrients and health to your crops and thus to you. Who knew trash could be so lucrative!
Actually fall is like winning the lottery, all those incredible soil building leaves just laying there waiting for someone to realize their potential. I spent days raking up all that bounty, allowing my son and his friends a couple of runs through the piles before stashing them into garbage bags to add to the worm bin throughout the year.
You can easily build your own worm ranch by purchasing a plastic storage bin that is no more than 12-18” deep. Storage bins are great because they keep moisture in, more importantly the worms and valuable dirt. Any deeper and there is not enough air flow, allowing the pile to turn anaerobic, causing the normally odourless crop to become vile and suffocate the herd. In order to keep the air flowing and the worms breathing, you should drill several holes in the tops and sides of your bin, although if you have a shallow bin, like I do, you can get away with just placing the lid, not securing it.
                       This is my bin that works, on top of the one that didn't. I keep mine in the basement, far away from the litter box, apparently the worms despise cat smells and will be less productive.
I use shredded newspaper and flyer's (that do not have a shinny coating) for the nesting material. This should be moistened to the consistency of a wrung out sponge. When you add kitchen scraps be sure to add fresh newspaper or dried leaves, the skill in vermicomposting is to get the right balance between wet and dry.
In order to get the most luscious soil possible, Red Wrigglers are the worm of choice. You can use regular brown worms but they will be more difficult to work with. The benefits of using red wrigglers are that they are smaller than brown, and eat more food, producing more soil than their brown counter parts. The best place to get red wrigglers is from a breeder or a friend who already has a bin. 
                                             My happy little guy's almost ready to harvest

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Seasonal Eating

Changing diet in tune with the seasons

  You always hear contradictory information when trying to figure out just how to eat healthier. Are eggs good or bad? What about bread? The problem not only lies in that statistics can be extremely fluid and can be warped into supporting almost any opinion, but also with the one statement that is always true, extremes are never healthy. Any time the phrases never or always are used, I become sceptical, variety is after all, the spice of life and keeps us from getting bored, injured or sick. Another problem is trying to educate mass amounts of people, before you lose their attention. In todays world, the average person will not spend 3 hours a day preparing food, never mind researching it.

   After a lot of research I had concluded that the single action I could take to ensure a more nutritious diet, was to eat seasonally. Great, one step I could focus what, I have NO IDEA when things are in season! I laugh now at how detached for nature and how little I knew, but I always considered myself someone who was outdoorsy and interested in nutrition. That means that the average person probably knows even less than I did. To help with this problem, in an easy access, returnable format, I have added my Fall recipe's Pinterest board and will add the other seasons as they come. The benefit of eating seasonally is that you are eating the freshest, more likely local food, which has shown to be more nutritionally dense. Farmers markets are always an excellent source of local, in season food but even doing so in a common supermarket is a positive change.

  I am again going to bring Eliot Coleman into this discussion, I am quickly becoming aware of why his name is so tightly bound to sustainable, fresh food. I am now reading his book the Four Season Harvest, in which he describes his trip to France following the 44th parallel on which his farm resides, to a place that has been using intensive, sustainable procedures for generations. (His story has me considering adding a similar trip for my 49th parallel, as a bucket list item) In it he comments on how it is widely accepted that little changes is growing conditions, care, variety, etc. can effect the flavour and nutrition of things such as wine and cheese but has been debunked as truth when it comes to things like vegetables, eggs and meat.  The way he speaks about carefully grown produce, the way others do of their wine and cheese, and the comparison of commercial production that is grown for yield and uniformity, it is hard not to get caught up in his passion. He states that there is no wonder the majority of people know that eating more fruits and vegetables are good for them but they don't anyway, given the tasteless, chemical ridden varieties passing as food in todays supermarkets.
   This is where I hope to help, eating seasonally is the main step to better health, finding a local farmer who cares passionately about not using chemicals and increasing quality over quantity, would be the next. I hope to become that farmer soon, but creating something so beautiful and delicious takes time and practice, one day I will be that person.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mission Statement

   I am reading Eliot Coleman's book The New Organic Grower and at the end he asked the simple question, why? Why do you want to start growing your own vegetables or raise your own animals? He also explained that a teacher had told him long ago that if his background thinking was fuzzy, the whole plan would be too. That is when things clicked for me. I have decided I want to make a living doing what I love not what I have too, I have the potential for a small city garden and the raw 31 acres of rural land, to make this happen but the pull of the kids wanting to stay in school in the city, me working in the city on weekends and the time, resources and desire to live in the country, is just so contradictory. The internal struggle of how to make it all work, be satisfied and successful is so overwhelming and usually ends in me frustratingly putting everything off for another day. So this question of "why am I doing this?" has actually brought back much needed clarity.

  This much is clear, the kids want to stay in school with their friends and even if they change their mind, it will change back. I work in the city on weekends and love it, so that too will not change soon. So what is left? Not much. I believe it was also Eliot Coleman (but it could be someone else, I read a lot of these types of books) who said it is better to work a small area well, than a large area poorly. So even though I did purchase the rural acres, I will focus on all the clever plans to work my city lot to the best of its ability, any time left over can be used to develop the rural land into something useful (things like fencing, clearing bush and salvaging fields to restore to their former glory). This all is the how, which till now has been my biggest focus but Why?

   Why started a long time ago, I (like a lot of people these days) was extremely disconnected from nature. I took pride in the fact I didn't let mother nature  tell me when to do things or what to eat. Now I look back and think what a fool I was. Mother nature (like all good mothers) doesn't dictate but only strongly suggest, yes you can drive in a snow storm or eat "fresh" blueberries in January but the results are not worth the battle, why bother? Why risk a crash or the lost nutrition and taste of out of season produce. This disconnect led me to be not yet sick but not healthy, I was young, active and relatively healthy, so why did I feel so crappy all the time? I started looking at the way I eat, it was bad, I didn't eat regularly and when I did I would reach for something sugary and processed. No wonder! I still struggle with reverting to this pattern today, but being aware of it helps me stop earlier and led me to become interested in gardening. I found that unprocessed foods didn't appeal to me, my taste buds where use to years of high salt and sugar items. To get myself interested I started looking at herbs and the rest is history.

   I started looking into the health benefits of eating fresh whole foods and the never ending side effects of eating foods that would be healthy if they where not grown swimming in chemicals or raised on top of each other in confined spaces. I would get frustrated and overwhelmed wanting, no, needing to get healthy fresh food to heal and quench my body without adding more poisons. The conclusion every time was "I guess I will just have to do it myself to know for sure".  The road for me has been a long one, to go from being so disconnected for the earth and seasons, to successfully raising each plant in its ideal conditions to thrive, is a huge learning curve and very humbling. I have learned to look at the subtle signs of the changing of the seasons, to really enjoy the bounty and benefit of each one. The first greens in spring, the flush of berries in summer, corn and pumpkins of fall and the warming soups from potatoes and squashes through the winter.

   For health, as is for life, variety is key to balance and gives one the chance to appreciate and miss each experience. No blueberry tastes better than the one right off the bush in July, although the ones frozen that day will be second best later on in the winter. Following nature doesn't make us less evolved or weaker as a species, fighting our connection to the earth and ignoring our roots leads to sickness and an empty feeling. Embracing even a little bit of nature has proven to work wonders on moods and health.

   So this is my why, the piece of mind that when I am choosing foods that can increase my and my families health, I am not also feeding them something that is hurting them. I don't want to out live my kids, as is the trend right now, and have their life full of medicines and health problems that take away from the quality of life they do get. A large portion of health problems can be greatly reduced by proper care of oneself, even if it lowered the chance of sickness by 1%, that would be enough for me. (The percentage varies greatly depending on the aliment, I would Google or ask your doctor for specifics, you will be very surprised  if you haven't looked before). I would love to get to the point where I am not only supplying my families needs but that of those around me as well. I have found that I would be surprised just how many people would be willing to purchase food from me, they too have read the same things I have, although they have no desire to take things into their own hands, they would love to know the person growing their food and be able to ask questions about how things where grown when a new study comes out.

   My Mission statement is as follows:
To work my city lot to it's highest potential and use any excess time for long term improvement of the raw land for the future. Now to make planning a reality, that's the hard part.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A recap of the season

          This summer, like all before it has gone faster than you can say " Yay, schools out!". With the kids returning to class and the signs of fall clearly arrived, I have a minute to look back and reflect on how little I have shared and how much I have actually accomplished the last four months. My road to making a living doing what I love has not gone as smoothly as I had hoped but major ground work was laid and lessens learned.

           I had started this year with the plan to work on borrowed land about an hour away from where I live, the problem was the land had a gate and when I asked for a key, so I didn't have to haul everything by hand from the car to the cleared site, I never heard back. I didn't feel comfortable building housing for chickens and digging garden beds on land that I didn't have a key to access, even if I was legally given permission to be there. As luck would have it, another person had a previously cared for garden site, in the city, that they would not be using this year. It was huge and fertile but far from a water source and although I was told they would till it for me, all the rain we had this year made that difficult and ended up working it by hand. In the end, I spent hours pulling weeds and planting, only to get very little done and most of what did get planted was rather eaten by rabbits who got under the fence, crushed by deer jumping over the fence to find a place to sleep or mowed down by the frustrated land owner.
          There where a handful of plants to survive but the majority of benefit obtained from this whole experience was the hands on experience I got growing hard neck garlic that had previously been growing there. The owner had come out and shown me how and when to harvest the scapes I had read about and gave me  the homemade garlic pesto that she is famous for. Despite all the ups and downs of the whole garden experience, a new passion for garlic grew. I have always loved garlic and have wanted to grow my own for some time but always seem to miss the time to buy them. (Now I know it is because I am busy with birthdays and back to school and by the time things settle down, they are sold out!) I did manage to get one clove planted last year and used the knowledge given to me, with real time experience (which reinforces learning) to harvest and cure about 5 bulbs. Not the biggest hull but enough to share the joy of homemade beet Gnocchi in a garlic parmesan sauce for my son's birthday. So now not only do I love garlic cloves but green garlic and garlic scapes too! Who knew? This year I made sure I got my order in and maybe went over board order three bags each of Deep purple and German red from Sage Gardens, a friend of mine is also getting Kettle river giant and Georgia crystal from Burpee seeds and looking to trade for variety. I picked Deep purple and German red not only for their flavour and storage length but they mature at different times to extend harvest periods. I am sure there will be many excited posts to come, as you are exposed to just how deep my love for this plant goes.

The most profitable venture this year was with the meat chickens, I only had 15 birds but people came out of the woodwork to be able to purchase a bird they knew was well taken care of. I did participate in the final preparing of the birds but may have it done professionally next time to save time and have it government inspected but knowing that I could if needed is valuable and a necessary skill in my opinion. A lot of farmers I know are not doing the meat birds again but going for a duel purpose bird, for the very reasons I will be sticking with the meat birds. These meat birds where bred for by companies for commercial purposes, to put on as much meat, as quickly  and in as little space as possible because of this they are heavy, don't move around much (which concentrates their mess), can't move around easily to get food and water and they eat a lot (so you spend a lot on feed). Why then, do you ask, would I like them? My answer is because of their problems and the health problems that come with age (they with start dyeing of heart attacks and other problems because there bodies cannot support the mass), I have no problems parting with them, when the time comes. So I will be doing them again but I will be offering more real foods to keep costs down. My birds would eat food that was brought to them, although that was not the experience of other farmers.

The most exciting venture was the honey bees! I will be doing a separate post for them but wanted to mention them here. Due to the hive splitting soon after I got them, there is not enough honey that I feel comfortable taking it from them. I would rather lose them and the honey, then to wonder if they would have made it threw the winter if I hadn't taken any. Hopefully they will make it through the winter and have some honey left over to share in spring.

The last new bomb I want to drop is that I ended up purchasing 31 acres in southern Manitoba, so no more borrowed land! With it comes a lot of work, expense and planning but this is for the long run and I will benefit from whatever I put into it. So I think you can see why I have dropped the expanding my online presence a little, although it is important to me that I get better at it, in order to share my experiences and attract regular followers. Till next time, keep dreaming and working your way towards making it reality, I know I will be.

Thursday, April 28, 2016