Friday, 26 February 2016

RIP Nanny Shirley

Yesterday, we said goodbye to our dear Nanny. 

Forever in our hearts she will remain.

RIP dear Nanny XO

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Microclimates and Season Extention

Growing food in a northern climate is challenging.  We have only 3 months of (mostly) guaranteed frost free nights (in a good year, we get 4).  You might wonder how we could get ANY crops to the point of harvest with such short season, but there's one very important factor to consider: 


 Through those 3 (or 4) months of frost free growing, we are flooded with daylight (at summer solstice, we can receive close to 17 hours of daylight each day).   That's a LOT of growing time packed into each day of those 3 (or 4) months of frost free gardening. 

In a northern climate, making good use of microclimates is critical in getting a leg up on season extension.    I've shown you our greenhouse before (although I'm not sure you've seen it with siding on). This space functions more like a walk in cold frame (because it's not heated or insulated) but it buys me VERY important season extension in the form of a protected, warm microclimate.  This microclimate extends outside as you can see the snow has melted near the access door (this area is SW facing).  

In contrast, look at the picture below.  The front of the greenhouse faces East and as you can see, the area is snow covered.   Our main annual vegetable garden is beyond the fenced area and is also still under snow.

Inside the greenhouse, I have been irrigating the soil with snow harvested from outside.  Every few days, I fill up these cold frames with snow and it melts slowly into the soil below.  By the time I'm ready to seed in these cold frames, the soil will be moist and warm and ready to grow some early cold hardy greens.

Up at the house, you can see the spectacular effects of another valuable microclimate.  This little patch of earth is South facing and benefits from the protection of the house and reflective heat from the driveway.   The snow is nearly all gone here and I'm counting on seeding some cold hardy greens in this location weeks before I can seed in the main garden.

You've seen the same area before - this is what is looks like in peak production (lush and abundantly full of food for us and the pollinators).

Northern Hemisphere readers, I would encourage you to walk your property NOW to see if you can identify any microclimates on your property.  Small pockets of sheltered warmth are hidden gems that can net you an early harvest of cold hardy greens with very little effort.   Challenge yourself to find a microclimate close to your house and see if you can plant something a bit earlier than you might normally...

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A Thrifty Find

A while ago, I spotted this clay baker in our local thrift store. I snapped it up for a tiny fraction of the cost of a new one (which by the way is approximately $70 -$80 Canadian).   I've heard these Romertopf clay bakers are lovely for roasting and baking and I'm so happy to have it.
This particular one is very old (it's stamped West Germany!) but was unused in new condition, in the original box.  Can you imagine?

As evidenced by the sticker below - never has this clay baker seen the oven...

I've made a few loaves of sourdough in it and I really like the oven spring I get from it.  I'd like to find out from you if you've used one for baking/cooking and if so, how do you use it?  Any tips?

Monday, 22 February 2016

The New Worm Farm

We sold our large worm farm a few months ago because it's simply too large and heavy to move out of province (we repurposed a chest freezer that quit working and couldn't be fixed).   As real-estate is slow here at the moment, we might be staying for longer than we anticipated and after not having a worm farm for a few months, we really missed it.   A worm farm is such an effective way to dispose of kitchen waste and the resulting fertility is so valuable in the garden!

I found this used styrofoam cooler at the thrift store for $2.00 and decided it would work well for a temporary/small scale worm farm.   It's lightweight and the styrofoam will help keep this smaller farm warm in our cold garage.  

Hubby installed this leftover plumbing fitting to aid with drainage (but a hole would work on its own).   This fitting had a ball valve so having control over drainage will be nice but we only used it because we had it kicking around - I certainly wouldn't buy a fitting!   We then taped a piece of leftover window screen material over the fitting to keep debris out of it.  This will prevent the hole from getting blocked up which would affect drainage...

I placed some wood shavings in the bottom and dampened it all well. We had these shavings on hand from our hen house - they make wonderful nesting box material!

Next, I added red wiggler worms and their accompanying organic matter
 (which was bartered for a jar of our honey).    Next to it, I dumped our kitchen scrap bucket which contained coffee grounds, tea leaves, ripped up paper, shredded toilet rolls, and some veggie/fruit peelings.

All of this was watered in gently and covered up (with air gaps for circulation).  We may need to poke holes in the sides at the top - we will monitor the moisture/air flow over the coming days/weeks.

I'm excited to have worms again - they are such an easy way to turn kitchen waste into valuable fertilizer for the greenhouse and our potted plants.  I especially love having a worm farm in winter, because the compost pile sits in limbo for most of the winter...  It's also hard to access when there's a lot of snow on the ground.  Taking scraps to the garage is much easier in frigid weather!   

Seedlings LOVE worm liquid - it's a wonderfully gentle but effective way to feed those tiny plants and I'm eager to have some on hand by the time I start seeds in a few weeks.  

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Make it yourself

I think one of the things I like most about simple living is learning to conquer new skills.  I would never have dreamt of making homemade tortillas 8 years ago but now, it's an absolutely ordinary kitchen task.  In fact, none of us can stand the taste and texture of store bought wraps, so homemade it is or we don't eat them!  

We find that to be the case for so many things... the homemade version is usually far superior (as well as frugal).  As our diet has changed over the years, we really taste the preservatives and artificial ingredients in store bought foods.  Avoiding those nasty ingredients is much easier when you have a few standby recipes to rely on.

Wraps are so handy to have on hand for snacks and meals of all kinds and are worth learning to make.  Honestly (like so many other simple living activities), they are NOT hard to make.  Tortillas do dry out quickly, so they must be kept covered at all times (even just off the pan).  I solve this problem by putting them onto a lidded plate in the toaster oven to keep them warm and covered while I cook the rest of the batch.  Any leftovers are cooled under cover and immediately bagged or stored on that same lidded plate.  They never last longer than a day or two (they are quickly devoured) so I've never had the need to freeze them.

These particular lovelies were made to serve with homemade refried beans and appropriate fixings to make a soft taco meal.  They were absolutely fantastic and although meatless, were very hearty, filling and nutritious.

Leftovers from his batch were served last night with a chick pea curry.  They were wonderful for mopping up the delicious sauce left in our bowls!

Here's the recipe I used, although note that I substituted 1/2 cup good olive oil and 1/2 cup avocado oil for the 1 cup coconut oil.  My family isn't keen on a lot of coconut flavour (especially in a savoury recipe), so I adapted accordingly.   You should know that einkorn flour behaves a little bit differently than other wheat flours, so I'd advise that you use a recipe for regular wheat if you don't have einkorn flour.  Such recipes are very common on the web.

Also note that I don't have any fancy equipment - I just use a rolling pin to quickly roll the tortillas out and a cast iron pan to cook them (which takes seconds).  See?  It's easy! 

Now, go make some tortillas!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Settling Back In

After 3 weeks of bliss with family on the coast

hiking through rain forests

sipping tea while admiring the view

playing in the ocean

marina strolling





walking the sandy shores

and doing nothing at all....

it was time to drive home through the Rockies.