Saturday, October 1, 2011

Any Time's a Good Time for Turkey

You may be one of those folks who believes eating turkey shall be limited to a few American holiday seasons.  If you are, I'm afraid we may be in some disagreement on that point.

I love turkey dinner. Turkey with fixings like cranberry sauce, pickles and dressing. Turkey with pesto and pasta. Turkey with toasted ciabatta, spinach and garlic mayo. Turkey-juice soaked risotto. Turkey tetrazzini.

If you share my enthusiasm, NOW is the time to stock up. It's at Safeway for 99 cents/lb, Superstore for 96, Walmart for 97... and those are just the prices I scoped out in the flyers this morning. Last night I cooked up an 8-kilo bird and, bless him, he provided us with 10 cups of meat (most of which will be refrozen in small 2 cup bags) and another 10 cups of broth. Total cost: $20.

I'm currently working out a value for that lovely turkey soup-smell wafting through the house...

PS: On the subject of turkeys (and turkey sex), pick up Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal Vegetable Miracle. An easy read that expounds, with hilarious detail, her attempt to raise turkeys for food (and of course her attempts to multiply the flock's numbers). Who'd have thunk you could breed maternal instinct out of an entire species?

PPS: And on the the subject of fall deals, just a reminder that now's the time to pick up pumpkin. For $4 I picked out the largest pumpkin I could carry. Thankfully, it just barely fit in my oven and is currently roasting in its own skin. Check out this post for the process I use to cook and store it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rhubarb Chokecherry Jam

I've had my chokecherry bush in our backyard for the past five years- a gift from the former owners of the home. Before today, I had never gathered the berries (mostly due to lack of interest! They taste terrible fresh of hand, and I'd never tried jam or syrup from them). This evening, I made one of the most intriguing tasting, on the tart-side jams.

Using the no-sugar needed pectin (another first since my gestational diabetes has made me more conscious of refined sugar), I boiled up a pot of chokecherry and rhubarb jam using splenda as a sweetener. Man alive! Delicious- I licked the remains off the spoon, the funnel, the counter. Kicking myself for all the wasted years of chokecherry.

So what happens to your chokecherries??

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Backyard Shiitake Mushrooms

Last fall I had the opportunity to write an article for Spezzatino Magazine (coming out Fall 2011, the piece was published in Fungi Spring 2011) on growing mushrooms in underground, abandoned spaces. White Button mushrooms were the first species to be cultivated, initially in dark, dank caves around Paris, France. Soon mushrooms were being grown all over the world in forgotten spaces: spent mines, old culverts, gutted   quarries. 

In fact, it was only last year that the last underground mushroom farm in North America failed to compete (cheap air conditioning, less technical disease management and better work environment give the above ground farms an edge). The farm was set up in a the spent entrails of an old mine in Pennsylvania for more than half a century: the tunnels sit empty again.

As I searched for other underground farms in the world, I found a farm in Australia call Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms. Dr. Arrold cultivates a wide variety of mushrooms- none of them White Button (which is one of two kinds I usually could find at Superstore until a couple years ago!). Shiitake, Swiss Brown, Enoki, Wood Ear are mostly cultivated in a re-purposed railway tunnel. 

The article was a project that ended with me continually musing to Mat about all the abandoned underground spaces in Edmonton just waiting to be reclaimed by fungi! Imagine a mushroom farm directly underneath the City Centre farmer's market? Or directly underneath Calgary's downtown there is a four-lane wide abandoned LRT tunnel; there'd never be a problem with finding a market for mushrooms with a short shelf life!

The project also made me curious: why not grow my own? So in April I ordered - what turned out to be too many- Shiitake mushroom plugs. 600 of the plugs, packed with spawn and topped with a wax seal, arrived in bubble wrap in May. If my first problem with this experiment was too many plugs, my second problem was finding logs to drill holes then 'plant' the spawn in (literally pop the plug into the drilled holed). The wood had to be freshly cut hardwood which had sat for a month or two.  It took me a month to find the proper logs (I'm clearly not in the right circles!): mountain ash from a house down the road. I'm not even sure mountain ash will work... but its what I had. 

So Mat drilled the holes and the girls and I inserted the plugs every 3 inches up and down the logs. The two sections then got tucked away behind a couple cedars where rain will still soak the logs, but where the sun has few direct lines on the moisture, shade loving spawn. I'm told that by next summer, if all goes well, I can expect the logs to flower (mushroom!) and they will do that every three months in the warm season, for four to five years!

Drilling holes 3" part in rows around the mountain ash log.

See the one plug (in front) not pushed in? Lily would come behind me and poke the plugs down, wax flush with the bark.

Soaked the log really well. For the mushrooms to grow, the log cannot dry completely.

150 potential sites for flowering mushrooms? Tucked behind our cedars. I added a sun screen, stapled on the fence to the left of the logs, to limit evening, direct sun.

It will be difficult to wait and possibly learn that I did it wrong! But perhaps you'd like to try your hand at it? I have about 450 more plugs that I can't imagine finding room in my yard, heart or stomach for. If you want some, please email. You can bring me some baking or dried fish or something as a trade(:=


Friday, July 15, 2011

Update on Square Foot Gardens 2011

Japanese Perennial Onion flowering.
An apology to those regular readers! I've been so slow on the uploading of photos and new posts but I've got a valid excuse. Turns out my body- unexpectedly- began making a human being about thirteen weeks ago. This will be the third baby to join our house and now that I'm feeling less tired, it doesn't sound as exhausting as it did to me four weeks ago! 

As for the square foot gardens, they are doing well despite the lack of sun: besides we're thankful for the rain (and a working sump pump!).  I took these photos on June 29th- the date of my 2010 update. My biggest challenge continues to be nutrients as I don't have a great compost system yet (though Mat just built me a huge double-bin compost that should be a big help next season). This year I've added significant amounts of sheep and cow manure, as well as used a flax/hemp based fertilizer from the farmer's market. Based on a great Mother Earth News article, I will soon begin experiments with liquid fertilizers using the common household material: diluted urine. I'm hoping the girl's enjoy peeing in a bucket!

Pictures were taken July 29th:
Spinach bolting and peas a-flowerin'. The greens in front of the box are hardy, oriental poppies.

The back row are my potatoes (see below for a close-up), and the onions are a perennial Japanese onion. My girlfriend smelled them and marvelled, "They smell just like baked potato with all the fixings!" I love how this picture shows the succession planting of the carrots in the front two rows. We are just now beginning to harvest from the far left box.


The lettuce in the front, centre boxes has been harvested two times already. I'm really happy with this butter lettuce I bought from Richters. The arugula (on the right) has bolted, but the flowers are just as delicious as the now-very-strong leaves. The peas  make up the back row, with swiss chard taking over the middle. 

More lettuce. I can't keep up! Unfortunately, this prego lady doesn't have any craving for salad. Just oranges?!

The left row (north) is lettuce and arugula. THe front row are tomatoes interspersed with self-seeding marigolds. The tomatoes have grown well. I did an experiment this year and planted them successively to see if the early planted ones are stunted. They all seem to have grown at similar growth rate, with the one planted early May (second planted) being marginally further along.

Also featured is my sweet ride to work everyday. I love our scooter- $4 fill every three weeks!

Yarrow bordered by squash. These squash aren't doing great, but they may be a little crowded!



Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Feels like a Bumper Crop Year

Good news! My honeyberries performed better than expected this year and I definitely achieved my goal of "more than eight berries". For accuracy, there was not more than 80- but for three year old bushes, I think it's a sign of things to come. The bush that is located in the sun had sweet berries- similar flavour to huckleberries from my childhood- on Sunday, July2. The other bushes will be ready to pick by this weekend. And by then-- hurray- the saskatoons and raspberries should be just about ready. 
We've got a bumper crop of Strawberries this year too. Bowls of them are coming from the large strawberry plants. The alpines are only just beginning to flower for harvest, I'm going to guess in August... anybody have an idea of a realistic harvest date on those?

From the square foot gardens, lettuce and peas are producing like crazy. I've never had great luck with lettuce, but this year I'm giving it away. I've four boxes planted with a butter lettuce, equalling a total of 16 heads of lettuce of a variety that grows back from cut stalk!

I don't have enough peas to freeze, but I planted only enough to eat fresh. With about five boxes planted, I'm harvesting about a cup a day for the past few days. I expect I have another couple weeks of this, since I've planted a few in shadier places, so those plants are only now flowering. 

Hope you're having some bumper crops too! 

Snap peas that didn't grow as tall as I expected, but are fruiting better than expected.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Alpine Strawberries Take Off: A View of an Old Lasagna Garden

About three years ago, this section on the south side of our house, north side of the fence, was grass. We stripped the grass because it was mostly weeds and lasagna gardened it with newspaper, compost and grass clippings. Unfortunately, we didn't have a 'planting' plan beyond that. It's been a slow process of trying to decide what I wanted in the section, this year, it's finally filling in. 
These day lilies were transplants from a friend that I planted last August. I suspect they will give the strawberries a run for their money. In the foreground, are the alpine strawberries that I planted from seed last year. This carpet of strawberries started with about four seedlings last July! (See more on alpine strawberries in this post.)

The strawberries take over the paving stones and concrete sidewalk!

Some mint that I planted from seed in a pot last year... well it kinda got away! It is now quite nicely filling a metre long section of the garden. The great thing about 'wild' mint is that it is an easy, lovely smelling plant to pull out- useful too, though I must admit that my mojito and mint tea consumption is not keeping up!

There's a 10 foot section of black raspberries, red raspberries and interspersed rhubarb at the end of this section. These two varieties of raspberries are not supposed to be planted together since a disease that the red raspberry carries, but is not harmed by, can do major damage to the black raspberries. Unfortunately, I am running out of space, and don't have anything in the yard that would be that much farther from the other red raspberry patches in the yard... So I take a risk. So far, they've been safe. These black raspberries have canes more like a blackberry in that they are looooong! But they don't sucker and so are quite a contained plant when I tie the canes to the wires fashioned by Mat. The black raspberry variety has a really different flavour and is nice compliment to a mouthful of red.

The red raspberries have been somewhat contained by, what I can only imagine, is a hatred for  potatoes. A few years ago I planted potatoes in this section, just to see how they grew in part shade. Every since, the raspberries have not seemed interested in sprouting in the past potato muck. It was only later that I read in "Carrots Love Tomatoes" that these two plants are NOT companion plants... I know nothing more about it. If you do, please comment!

The beginnings of a high bush cranberry hedge. In five years, I may be annoyed that I planted a hedge (along where the day lilies are planted now) in this narrow section of the garden. It may give our pruning shears a run for their money. But, right now, I want the fruit, the view of the beautiful colour and shape of these leaves from my dining room, and a little privacy from our south side neighbour's deck into our kitchen. I really love these leaves... and how great they look against the delicate strawberry runners.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Covering the Pergola- Transplanting Hops

I love vertical gardens. I like vines, rambling rose bushes, and pillars of flowers. Unfortunately in Alberta there aren't many vines you can depend on to cover a yaght-sized pergola. We have some incredible climbing roses (which I'll feature in a couple weeks when they really get their bloom on!) on two of the pergola's posts, but I can't depend on these to provide shade. The last three years I've experimented with kiwi (too shady) and clematis (aesthetically too like Medusa's hair). Neither successfully grew to cover the top for mid-day shade in the heat of summer.

This year I have, against Mat's better judgement, transplanted hops. Its probably the one plant that Mat remembers from his mom's beautiful, lush, colour filled garden. Even in the zone 2, windy Crowsnest Pass, hops grew to cover a trellis at the entry of their home.  Mat doesn't remember its resiliency or shade or beauty, he remembers it clawing at him as he attempted to enter his home after school. He remembers it scraping up his arms and face as he fought it off the trellis every fall. 

Not the best picture- but the only one I can access from my laptop!
So the plant has some pretty spiny fruit and has the added annoyance of needing to be cut down every fall. It's a damn good climber and pergola cover. Rumours swirl that, in the heat of summer, you can sit back and literally watch it grow, growing two feet in a single day in optimal conditions. Plus, it's the beginnings of really good beer. I also had the additional incentive that my friend had dozens of new seedlings growing as weeds in her back yard. 

The information I read about planting hops was fussy; I ended up being not. I used a spade and hacked at the seedlings, then dropped each one with some knots of roots into a bucket. I then proceeded to forget them in the sun for most of the day. That evening, I hastily dug holes about the yard and planted the roots with some compost and water. Two weeks later, there are signs of life at 4 of the 6 planting sites: two along the pergola, three against the fence, and one in the alley. In fact, one root's already grown two feet of new life. Looking on it in delight, I again reassured Mat that I will "help to" take it down. And in the end, if his memory is right, I'm committed to ripping the darlings out (easier said than done?!)

PS. I will also add, that I love Virginia Creeper. It too would grow like a child on steroids with the added benefit of not needing to be cut down in the fall- and hence having much less 'vertical ground' to cover to reach the top netting every season. I may try this next year if my hops fails to work. My main hesitation is the baffling leaf hoppers: little, literally 'hopping' white insects that lay their eggs on the bottom of the leaf which turn the whole plant prematurely red. My main beef with them is not the early onset of autumn, it is their mob-like quality at your faintest move. You flourish an arm and they all get hopping at once. It's unnerving! On my other creeper, I have found no organic solution. If you have an antidote- please let me know as this plant would be an ideal friend to our pergola... and may save me some big marital tension in the fall. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Reclaiming the Alley from the Weeds: A Lazy Lasagna Garden

In our community there are fairly low expectations as to the state of the alleys. There are attempts by folks to monitor the garbage and weeds, some even call bylaw on major offenders. I must admit that sometimes I'm a major offender. Weeds out there are out of sight and out of mind. Our eco-station garbage has been known to stay 'hidden' "out-back" over months of procrastinating a jaunt to the eco-station. 

I decided the only way to start caring was to do some intentional planting. In the past, I've had poppies and borage growing wild.  And while it's pretty in July when everything flowers, I can't say it generated more enthusiasm for me to weed or de-clutter. 

So last weekend I cleared a small, quack-grass haunted patch by the garbage hutch and did a lasagna garden (for more details on this method check out this post). Be warned, its a lazy one where I decided not to bother with layering each item more than once! 

THE SPACE:
The square that may finally get me weeding in the alley.
 THE PLANTS:
For vertical interest, I'm banking on wild Hops. I transplanted these roots last year and thankfully the vine rises again.

The "Stick" of a bare root hazelnut tree (which I wrote about receiving here). Two weeks after this picture was taken, it is leafing out.

A Calgary Creeping Juniper, I am hoping that this great ground cover will soon choke out (some of) the weeds,  that it will spill out over the box and onto the grass towards the road.  At only a foot high, it can spread 6- 8 feet and has a great blue-green foliage.
 THE PROCESS:
I planted the perennials first then laid out thick sections of The Edmonton Journal. This will act to keep the weeds down for at least a couple summers. By then, hopefully, the other plants have established themselves enough to fight the weeds back.

I then soaked the paper thoroughly with water.
I then covered the paper with a couple different composts (sheep and cow), and over that laid a thick layer of grass clippings (not pictured!). Along the border of the bed I transplanted marigolds that self seeded in my square foot gardens. Around the base of the tree, I transplanted golden flax started in April in my garden boxes.


It doesn't look like much now- but I'll be sure to post a picture at the end of season; I promise not to weed it simply for the sake of the picture! I'm committed to a little alleyway aesthetic, just forgive me my eco-station procrastination!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Green House Tour on 165 Ave

As a greenhouse nut living in Edmonton, I've discovered a route that beats all others: 165 Ave, east of 97 Street. Drive past Alberta Hospital and suddenly its greenhouse/nursery/market garden land. Every quarter kilometre another greenhouse pops up. Little ones, bigs ones. Some of them sell bedding plants, other's just bare root trees and shrubs (found $20 Explorer Series Rose bushes at Arrowhead Nurseries!), others, like Kuhlmann's have huge inventories of garden gnomes and water features. 
One of two hanging baskets.

It's a route on which a great deal of money can be spent on a leisurely Sunday afternoon.

Nearly at the end of the road, past the North West of Edmonton and into the North East, is my favourite spot: Visser's Greenhouse. You may know them as the potato farmers who partnered with Greater Edmonton Alliance to for the "Great Potato Giveaway". They are potato farmers, but also greenhouse operators. And what a greenhouse! Hanging baskets provide a overhead carpet of colour and scents. Each plant stand has a variety of choices, offering ideas for companion plantings in pots and boxes. There's a small coy pond and two areas (one outside with sand, the other inside with slides) for kids to play. Every single plant looks happy and healthy-- can't say that for the meagre offers I saw last weekend at Canadian Tire and Rona. 

This year, I planned to splurge on two of my hanging baskets by our dining table and on the window box Mat just built for the garage. We can see all three of these from the deck where we perch most of summer. 

In year's past I've filled these baskets/box with plants I grew from seed. So my petunias flowered in August, and my squash didn't bother to grow past a foot. Every summer I've been cheap and by August rather disappointed I hadn't cheaped out elsewhere. 

So, buoyed by this hot May long weekend and the magic that is Visser's, my cheap back was broken and I spent an average of $40 per basket/box. I filled them with a sun loving variety of begonia with startling colour then filled them out with purple and green sweet potato vine. I filled the box out with bacopia (sp?) and ivy. 

I am delighted with the result. Now, I HAD BETTER WATER!


When I married Mat, I've got to admit that "handy" wasn't on my list of qualities for a life partner.  Now, 12 years wiser, I realize that that was a critical oversight. Thankfully, Mat's handy AND knows how to operate power tools. Even better, he can turn a boring flower box into a bit of art. 
 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Finally Here- The Season for BBQ Hamburgers

Sorry to the vegetarian readers out there; some graphic raw meat pictures in today's post! 

Tonight was BBQ Burger Night- our third this week.  Now that it's spring (it is spring, right?), we're giddy with relief that the sun is out. We've spent the last eight days outside, digging compost and battling mosquitoes. BBQ seems like the only appropriate interruption.

So perhaps it seems pretty basic, a post about homemade hamburgers, but its on my mind (and I think more people buy hamburgers than make 'em). Homemade burgers are cheap, have way better flavour and way less creepy filler, than the frozen kind. A pound of beef or elk or bison will make me 9 medium sized burgers or 6 really large ones.  Even with organic, free-range beef that's just under 35 cents per patty! The one down side is cleanup: in my kitchen raw hamburger touches the bowl, the transfer tray from kitchen to BBQ, and thoroughly coats my hands. 


I'm sure there are hundreds of variations of homemade burgers. In ours, I usually add to the thawed meat a jumble of the following ingredients: 

oatmeal
cracker crumbs
shredded carrot
egg
worcestershire sauce
mustard (prepared and powder)
garlic (crushed and powder)
onions
oregano (fresh or dried)
arugula
spinach

Etc. Etc. What goes in yours?


Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Honeyberry Blooms

Berryblue 

Hurray- this week my honeyberries bloomed!  Two summers ago I planted six honeyberries. Since you need at least two varieties to cross pollinate, I was extra careful and bought three varieties. Last summer, I harvested a record of seven berries off one bush. This summer, my goal is to harvest... well, more. There are many more blooms on all the bushes this time around. 

I've experimented a little with the placement of each. Reading that they grow in both part shade and sun, I've planted the six in a variety of sunny to shady spots. There hasn't been much variation in the amount of growth on each bush, perhaps I'll see the difference in the fruit output.

The fruit, if you've never seen it, is a blue, elongated berry shape. The plants come from Siberia and their blossoms withstand -8 to -10 C frosts. The woman I bought my plants from had bushes which bloomed straight through a snow storm and went on to produce a rich harvest. 

The flavour of my seven berries was pretty mild; each was seedless and plump. According to the researchers at the U of S Fruit Program, however, flavour can range from "terrible to terrific" so there is still ongoing experimentation in the flavour department. 

Shannon Dyrland, who's Shallow Creek Nurseries closed last year, recommends the varieties Cinderella, Berryblue and Bluebell. Many of the greenhouses now carry at least a couple varieties of honeyberry.

Keep in mind too, if you plan to landscape with these, that they aren't fussy about soil Ph, which can't be said for their cousins the blueberry and huckleberry (both need acidic soil). 

So, if you have a honeyberry bush, please let me know where you've planted it and if the fruit output has changed significantly when planted in the sun versus the shade! 

I'll keep you posted on my ambitious goal of "Eat More Than Eight Honeyberries in 2011".

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Stick in the Mail

I got a stick in the mail today- shipped from Winnipeg in a long, six-foot box lined with brown paper.

T & T Seeds tells me that this stick is a Hazelnut- a Flibert Hazelnut (hybrid of American wild hazelnuts with their better fruiting cousins in Europe)- and I can only trust them that this is true.

At the base of this stick is a bulbous growth wrapped in twine mesh. Inside the mesh is a root ball hugged by cedar shavings to help with the shock of the trip in the back of a Canada Post truck. Obedient as I am, I followed the directions and now have the root ball soaking in a mop bucket, accompanied by a High Bush Cranberry that at least is leafing out and looks somewhat like the bush it will be.

In the bazooka sized cardboard box, I also pulled out two, four-inch lingonberry plants, a Ben Nevis Currant, some onion sets and seed potatoes. In baggies were five other plants: three are a I've-fogotten-the-name-of-perennial which I purchased with no research (the flowers nearly burst out of the catalogue!). Two of the baggies are clematis plants, one purple and one red, but you'd never know it. Seriously, all that is in each labelled sandwich bag is a mass of tangled, thick roots. They also look dead, though on very close inspection I found a hint of a bud.

My girlfriend ordered from T & T Seeds last year and had warned me of the sorry state of affairs that I'd receive in the mail. All her sticks and roots magically sprouted life and grew with vigour. In her experience, I find my hope that hazelnuts will grow from what appears to be a dead twig weighed down by its weird tumour.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sustainability of Small Farms: Q & A with John Schneider





My main intent in these interviews is to understand the business of family farming-- and to understand how Alberta's farms can be sustainable, both financially and environmentally, for the sake of the province's food security.  


INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SCHNEIDER of GOLD FOREST GRAINS

Gold Forest Grains is a certified organic grain farm located just 30 minutes north of Edmonton. You can buy Gold Forest Grain's flour, pancake mix, flax seed and other products at Strathcona Farmer's Market, City Market and Alberta Avenue Farmer's Market. To buy bulk, contact John through his blog


1) How long have you been farming? 

 My son Garreth, or daughter Gretta will be the 5th generation of Canadian Farmers in our family should they choose to continue farming. I suspect that will depend on whether or not I am successful at making our current farm profitable. I have been farming since I was old enough to sit between my Dad's legs on the old Allis Chalmers tractor to be able to steer while we were plowing. I was about 10 I guess. I have had periods of my life where I was away from the farm working in the high rise towers of Edmonton. GFG has been operating for 7 years. Before that, it was my Dad's farm where we grew grain on about 2000 acres. Dad sold the farm during my stint away from farming and during a time when I didn't think I would return to farming. 

2) Next to Farmer, do you have another profession(s)?

I am a safety consultant in the construction industry. Currently, I am trying to stay afloat financially by consulting for small companies of all different kinds to get their safety programs up and running. Before Christmas I was laid off from a permanent part-time position at a local construction company as they struggle to get busier. Perhaps I will return to that company as they get busy this summer. Perhaps I will continue to consult to other cos.

3) You have written about taking odd jobs to keep financially viable,  this is something I know has been happening for years- farmers mining, farmers trucking. What are the benefits and problems with needing off-farm income? Is it a blessing or a curse?

To me, working off-farm is a definite curse. It takes away from my attention to the farm. Especially at this stage where we have just relocated the entire farm operation. I have built our house and an out-building but there is still so much to do along with the business of getting seed in the ground and maintaining the equipment etc. etc. I wish desperately, to be able to make my living strictly from the proceeds of my farm.

4)  The 'family farm'  is often talked about with notes of nostalgia-- What, by your definition, is the family farm?

My definition of a family farm is I suppose the same as everybody else's. Your question has me thinking about different ways to define the term "family farm". I know several family farms that are operated with foreign workers and live-in farm hands while the owner does whatever else interests him. I guess I define "family farm" as a relatively small farm operation where the members of the immediate family perform the farming activities. 

5)  What are the implications to Albertans and to the Alberta economy if the family farm was to disappear??

That is such a great question Carissa. I am not entirely sure what the implications are to the economy if we lost family farming. The large corporate farms are oftentimes foreign owned. They are usually subsidized heavily. We all know the story of corporate taxation on our continent. The rich get richer. If there were nothing left but corporate farms, my wages would be lower for performing farm activities...I would be making minimum wage I suspect (although there is an arguement that I don't even make that now! LOL) Even more foreign workers would come in to Alberta willing to work hard for less money. There are many scenarios that I am not smart enough to foresee. It would be a tragedy though to lose the way of life that has been a fabric of our society for so many thousands of years. I doubt that will ever happen. I am optimistic that the family farm will return as more and more people such as yourself make the conscious decision to purchase direct from the farmer instead of the supermarket.

6) One reason I feel concerned about the loss of numbers of farms, shrinking diversity of farms, and increasing scale, is that I wonder if we (Albertans) put our food security at risk. Is this concern valid? Thoughts?

Well, all I know about this is that I know of no incidents of people getting sick or dying from eating properly produced local farm products be it high risk products like milk or otherwise. The same cannot be said for corporations like Maple Leaf Foods now can it? 

What about the extreme short sightedness of corporate farming to blindly blunder into the world of GMO? Ever increasing usage of chemical inputs? Food security is really one of the least of my concerns compared to the world scale threat to our ecology and health. 

Why is there such an increase in milk sensitivity? Gluten intolerance? Peanut allergies? The simple fact is that human beings cannot de-evolve that quickly. We have been eating grains for at least 10's of thousands of years. We have not suddenly become allergic to wheat...that is ludicrous in my opinion. Is gluten sensitivity a mis-diagnosis of chemical sensitivity? A recent study in the UK found common farming-practice pesticide residues in bread on the grocery shelves...except for the Organic Samples! Even eating so called Whole Wheat flour from the store is not really "entire wheat". Much of the roughage that we need for proper health has been removed. Another article could be drafted discussing the human health benefits of eating "entire grain" products. The bad press of high-glycemic bread would not exist if the studies were done using bread that contained the entire grain in its flour. 

7) What do farms like yours need in order to be financially sustainable (or what are the systemic factors that challenge your financial success?)?

We are on our way to becoming financially sustainable. We are taking our produce and making it into a processed product that the consumer can use in their homes. We are doing this processing right here on the farm. By growing grains and turning them into freshly-milled flour we take the profits that would have been lost by trucking, milling, trucking again and finally retailing. The only problem with all of this is that the grocery stores have the advantage of everybody knowing they are there! I happily continue to struggle to get people to know we are out there. From our living room at night, I can see the lights of Edmonton sparkling and I think about all those people that use flour and would like to purchase directly from the farmer.

I think though that the key to all family farms becoming sustainable is both an infrastructure for consumers to buy the food and an education that meat, milk and produce from local farms is the responsible choice. An education that food shouldn't be cheap. It should be fairly priced, from environmentally sustainable practices and fresh. I would love to see a large chain of grocery stores that carry nothing but produce from local farms. Perhaps farmers markets will evolve into this model, but I still see so many challenges there. Consumers need to have the choice to buy bacon from one farm or another instead of just whatever farmer is represented at that particular market. Producers also need to get active with marketing and packaging to make their products professional in appearance. 

8) Besides purchasing food at farmer's market or CSAs (direct from the farmer), what can consumers do to advocate for more sustainable financing for small scale agriculture in Alberta?

There is nothing more that consumers need to do other than consume our products. That act alone will make small-scale, family farms viable. Once they are viable, they won't need financing. Once they don't need financing, the banks will be tripping over themselves to finance us! 

9) How do you determine pricing for your flour (the main considerations)? 

 For us, pricing is based on comparing current grocery store prices. We check prices on a regular basis to make sure that we are right around the current, acceptable pricing for organic flour. We do not charge a premium for being local...that's just silly to us. If anything, we would like to be in a position to be able to lower our prices. For now though, we are using established pricing from successful companies who have done all the figuring for us! Currently, with the cost of production of the grain and the cost to mill, package and transport to market, and the cost of the market itself...it is not a very big profit margin. We continue to lose money on our farm which is why I have to get a job elsewhere. I haven't been marketing grain direct to the consumer long enough to be able to do a cost analysis so I will have to get back to you on that. For us, we have many determinations for pricing to consider...land costs, fuel, taxes, labour, equipment repairs, equipment purchases, packaging, electricity, etc. etc. Once we can produce flour on a full-time basis including the actual production of the grain, we will be in a position to really crunch the numbers. If we can sell a whole bunch more flour, we will start to make a profit...that's all I am focused on right now. 

10) What could government or consumers do to help you be competitive?

Buy more flour products from our farm! 




That Bloomin' Garden and Art Show TODAY



10:00-10:45am
11:00-11:45am
12:00-12:45pm
1:00-1:45pm
2:00-2:45pm

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Plantings for the Square Foot Gardens

Last weekend (April 22) I covered the oldest of the gardens (planted 2008) with 1.5 inches of sheep and cattle manure. By the end of last season it was clear the soil needed nutrients: at the end of their third year they were producing carrots and beets half the size of the new gardens. This year I plan to experiment with a couple types of home-brewed, liquid fertilizers: stay tuned. 
No chance I'll be planting this garden in the next couple weeks!

Lovage, mustard and flax line the back of this garden. I use these square foot gardens like a greenhouse or cold frame- I plant the cold-tolerant seeds early and will move most seedlings to other spots in the garden. 

If you can see my scrawling on the sticks, I've planted 3 square feet of hyssop with 16 seeds each for a total possible 48 plants... I want to do a mass group planting in the front boulevard of our house and I guess I really love hyssop! There are four squares of swiss chard planted in the centre of this bed: Swiss Chard regenerates after cutting, so I won't worry about succession plantings (for those who don't know what that is, it's doing a number of plantings spaced a week or two apart to stretch out the harvest). Four is probably too much swiss chard- but if it goes crazy in the middle of summer, I'll pull the two north squares and plant spinach there (which will benefit from the shade of the fully grown swiss chard up front!).

Here's a map of the two boxes as I've planted them now. I include the date I plant it and often the variety. About half of these boxes will become empty at the end of May as I use the seedlings to plant my yard's gardens (hyssop, cornflower, sunflowers, lovage, mustard and flax will be moved) and my deck pots (nasturtiums, lettuce, red teff grass will be transplanted). 

A closer look. 


It's terribly ugly, I know, but I'm experimenting with creating a micro climate that will extend my season, without the need to build further cold frames and greenhouses. What the tent lacks in attraction, it makes up for in utility-- after a week about half of the seedlings have germinated with the arugula about two weeks from being harvestable. As for the garden on the right side, I've covered it with frost- cloth sold for tomatoes. It also has been effective in keeping the soil warm enough for many of the seeds in this box to germinate. The trick now is keeping the seedlings alive despite the dipping night temperatures. Last year I covered many of the seedlings with the bottoms of pop bottles- which created mini-greenhouses (technically these are often called 'cloches' but pop bottles/ milk jugs are cheaper!). This year I'm trying out old windows. Placed over the top of the boxes, these windows have worked similarly to the cloches. I will need to watch, however, that the seedlings underneath don't burn as our daytime temperatures inch up.

Oh, how nice it is to finally be outside- working and sweaty!

As an aside: happy voting, Canada!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Next Week: Soap Making and Body Butter

The makings of Body Butter
There's only a few more days left to sign up for a night of soap making with Hannah Barrington. Hannah led a similar workshop last year (you can read about it here).

I've been really pleased with the soap from our last workshop. After six months of letting it cure, the soap was mild, firm and really sudsy.  Hannah also made me a batch with essential oils that has made for nice showers.

Both the soap and body butter recipes are simple to memorize and execute. See below for the details!




Wednesday, May 4, 2011 from 7- 9 pm

If you've always wanted to move away from mass produced, chemical filled body products but don't know where to start, join Hannah Barrington as she mixes up a batch of gentle Olive Oil Soap and skin-honouring Body Butter. 

In this evening workshop, you'll make 10 bars of soap, exfoliating body rub, and learn how to make body butter (you'll take home a sample).

Fee is $25. RSVP to Carissa at carissahalton@hotmail.com and pay early to hold your spot. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sap Gum- Yum?

Here I am trying sap gum for the first time since I was seven years old. If you've ever craved the flavour "Christmas Tree", this is it. It's the smell of strong pine captured on my taste buds--- and it's a bit weird. But fun! And free! And sugar free! 
Hiking while on holidays in the Columbia Valley, BC last week, we came upon some crazy sap structures that spread like skirting on half-century old pines. Mat dared me to eat it. While usually I resist this sort of thing, the sunshine and fresh air perhaps made me bold.

I gathered about a tablespoon of hard sap from the pine trees and tossed them in my mouth like tic tacs.

I chewed for about two minutes before it completely softened like store-bought gum. 
I then proceeded to play with my gum. The flavour was strong even after fifteen minutes of hard chewing and stretching. It resisted my attempts to blow bubbles though.