Little Gardens for Little Friends

By Kim Locke

Spring has sprung in Canada, with wonderful sunny days and the drive to go outside and putter about in your garden. Even though some parts of the country are still waiting for the ground to dry out, now would be a good time to plan what you will be putting in your garden this year.

Have you thought to include plants for your pets (bunny, chinchilla, degu, guinea pig, etc.) as well? This is something that I do every year, mainly because the cost of feeding them will go down by half as it’s a continuous source of forage. You will also be in control of what goes into growing their forage, so that’s also a good reason to do it as well.

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Your pet’s teeth need to be worn down as they are constantly growing. One way to do this is to provide a mixture of different types of plants, flowers, grasses, and hays. This will force your pet to have to chew in many ways to eat the different types of forage, instead of the normal up/down motion for chewing pelleted foods.

The plants that are easy to grow that are very popular all three species of animals are as follows:

dandelion, dandelions, edible dandelions, dandelions for rabbit food, degu food, chinchilla food, guinea pig food

Dandelions – These are not actually plants that you need to purchase seeds to grow. They’re usually weeds that we remove from our lawns and gardens. Bunnies, chinchillas, and degus all enjoy the flowers, stems, and leaves of the plant. If you have a plethora of them, they can be dried and used as forage in the winter as well.

Clover – These are also plants that you do not need to purchase seeds to grow. They usually spring up around this time of year on your lawn. Bunnies, chinchillas, and degus can eat the flowers of the clover plant. White clover is very sticky and sweet, so I would use them as treats, sparingly.

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Sunflowers – This is the easiest plant I would say that you can grow for your pet’s nutritional needs. The flower petals are a favorite of degus, chinchillas, and bunnies, and can even be dried for winter forage. The seeds can only be saved and consumed by degus (they are high in fat for degus, so I use them as training treats) and chinchillas (one or two is ok, not more than that). Bunnies cannot process seeds, of any kind at all.

Strawberries – This might be something that you have planted in your garden in the past, or something that you have growing wild in your backyard. Due to the high sugar content, it is not recommended to give to degus (who cannot metabolize sugar) or chinchillas (who cannot metabolize large amounts of sugar.) Bunnies can eat both the berries and the leaves of the strawberry plant itself.

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Parsley – This is an herb that many people have growing in their gardens for flavoring foods and to add a piece de resistance onto their salads. Bunnies will eat one bunch of parsley a day, while one spring will be enough for a degu or chinchilla.

Rosemary – This is another herb that many people plant in their gardens for flavoring summer dishes and salads. Degus can have one sprig of rosemary whereas it will make chinchillas very sick if ingested. This is due to the high fat and calcium content. Bunnies can have rosemary, but only a few springs here and there as treats.

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Rose Petals – These delicate delicacies can grace the salad of any bunny, degu, or chinchilla, but only if they are dried first. If they are not dried, they will slow down in the digestive tract of your degu or chinchilla and make them sick.

Sticks – Most sticks are toxic to degus, bunnies, and chinchillas but they are very important to assist your animal to grind their teeth down to prevent malocclusion. It’s best to stick to sticks from trees that do not have stone fruits, such as apple or willow. They will enjoy chewing off the sweet tasting bark and the young branches underneath.
It’s also best to dry out the sticks first if you are pruning them from a wild tree and then baking them at a low temperature to kill any bugs inside the stick. If you are harvesting from willow trees, you can also dry them out, but be sure to limit the amount as willow bark acts like aspen.

Chinchilla

 

*Please note that you should not use any pesticides on these plants, even IF it says it will not harm your pets and is organic!

If you are still puzzled by what types of plants to use in your garden for your furry friends, please consult the following resources:

Degus and Chinchillas – Degu Internationals SAB Diet Plant Identification Forums – http://forum.degus-international-community.org/viewforum.php?f=31

Bunnies – https://www.saveafluff.co.uk/rabbit-info/safe-foods-for-rabbits

If still in doubt, LEAVE IT OUT! 😊

 

Guinea Pig

 

Around the Table, Around the World

By Siv Volden, Anita Rubino, John Martin, Pamela Capriotti Martin

One of the greatest benefits of Facebook to our family has been connecting with family members, particularly overseas. Daughter Maille connected easily with her cousin Siv in Vinstra, Norway and her cousin, Anita in Naples, Italy about their family traditions in their homes and countries. When I read their accounts, I immediately recognized some of the traditions from my childhood through Siv (we are related through my grandmother, Hildred) and some from Anita (Johns mother Giulia and Anitas father, Guglielmo are sister and brother). John has added his memories of how his Italian mother and Irish father brought their family celebrations together during the Christmas holidays.

Anita:

One of the two main Christmas traditions in our family and in Naples can be found in the nativity or ‘presepi’. At midnight the 24th of December we sing a song and in procession take the little Jesus Christ to the main scene of the nativity. Usually it is the youngest member of the family who has this honor of carrying the Christ child.24956869_10213029430922792_1783634754_o.jpg

On Christmas Eve we eat fish. We begin with a salad with shrimp followed by spaghetti with sea fruits, bass cooked in the oven, fried shrimp and there is a special salad which is named insalata di rinforzo (backup or reinforcement salad) ironically because the dinner doesn’t need any backup! The salad is cauliflower with olives, pickled peppers and many other things.Image-1 (1).jpg

The rule for the end of the meal is fresh fruit and eating almonds and other nuts.

The other tradition every year are lighting fires in every home, out on the balcony or on the terrace of the building: at midnight of 31st of December. It’s a gesture of invitation to the Virgin Mary, who can warm newborn Jesus next to the warm flames. Afterwards, according to tradition, families would use the ashes as charms to protect the house from damage.

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Siv:

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Advent is very important in the Norwegian tradition. It starts Dec1. Most children get a Christmas calendar with one little gift a day until Dec. 24. Norwegian television has calendars with Christmas stories and lots of people are having Christmas parties with neighbors and family.

Building up to the Christmas holiday we will make homebrewed beer, bake lefse, clean the house and make seven different cookies. Years ago, Norway was a very poor country which is why so many families emigrated to the United States, including Pamela’s great-grandparents Mathea and Thron Thronson. (Siv and Pamela are related through Mathea). So long ago the custom was to bake the seven kinds of cookies to show neighbors that we were wealthy enough to bake so many cookies.24209224_1483484111698650_1112224394_o.jpg

In Norway, Christmas Eve is when Santa Claus arrives with gifts. The holiday starts Dec 24 at 5 pm. Dec 25 and Dec 26 are also holy days. Santa Claus has a Norwegian relative: fjøsnissen, who live in the barn and are taking care of animals and people at the farm IF people treat them nice. So we’re making porridge and putting it in the barn on Christmas Eve so fjøsnissen will keep on helping us at the farm.

Typical Christmas dinner is: pork ribs, lamb ribs, lutefisk and lefse.24321780_1483482095032185_956396611_o.jpg

John’s Christmas traditions include Italian traditions like the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve and Irish traditions on Christmas Day.

John:

We always had pasta with different fish including smelt, shrimp, and some sort of white fish. On Christmas Day there would be a roast, usually beef with roasted potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert a Christmas pudding with stirred custard.

Pamela:

My family had Christmas Eve with my mom’s parents and Christmas Day with my dad’s family where we usually had turkey with all the trimmings including pies for dessert. My Norwegian grandmother always thought Christmas Eve was more important than Christmas Day and was always the first to open her gifts. The house smelled of cookies and lutefisk but she always made a pork crown roast with lingonberries for dinner.

The melding of John and Pam’s heritage began with honoring our Italian and Norwegian roots on Christmas Eve. While I did not grow up with any Italian Christmas traditions despite my last name, John did. On occasion we would prepare several fish dishes and pasta, but mostly we would order a crown pork roast stuffed with sausage, my grandmother Hildred’s Norwegian tradition. There would be cranberry compote (too hard to find lingonberries) mashed potatoes, and root vegetables. For dessert? That’s always been pretty open to whatever the girls wanted to make or wanted to eat but there would be lefse and sandbakkels. This year we are making pasta. Christmas Day we now are fully committed to prime rib, roasted English potatoes, brussels sprouts and for dessert – well John gets his mince pies, Christmas pudding and a puddle of custard. For the rest of us – an apple pie with the same perfect custard robe.

Happy Christmas to all.IMG_0694.JPG

Cut it Down

By MK Martin

Life. For humans, it’s full of lessons. In every life, a little rain must fall. The sun’ll come out, tomorrow. To grow, you must be cut down to size. You would think, with lessons like these, all humans would resonate with the plant life around us. Our folk words are their commandments. The truest, most barbaric and most necessary, is that of the cutting.

If you want bunchy blackcurrants, the wafting, floral scent of sun warmed raspberries in summer and fall, blackberry stained fingers and faces and shirts, gruesome with nutrition, you’ve got to cut those plants down to the quick. This counts too, for roses, if you like to line your shelves with ruby kissed shotglasses of vitamin C and sugar.

So, you’ve put in a few raspberry canes, and they shocked you with fruit on your first try. If they are summer bearing, your only job is to mow them down to the quick. Doing so will allow light and air to move through the plant, stimulating its growth. To minimize your raspberries taking over the world, as they ought, bury some wood planks under the dirt, in the space you’d like them to occupy.

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Blackberry bushes require a little more attention to achieve robust growth, but the steps are easy to remember after the first year: prune once, to encourage growth, and then again in fall. In spring, once the snow has melted at least once and exposed slumbering dandelions to sun, cut your canes to 24 inches. If smaller than that, just cut the first inch or so of each cane. Remove any diseased or dead canes. After fruiting, blackberry canes are spent. Cut any canes down to the ground that have fruited, and it will encourage the plant to send up more canes next year.

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We inherited a dog rose with our house, and it produces tart little blushing globes easily, ever year. I pruned it for the first time last year, being previously unaware that gardening requires a little savagery. With this rose bush, you can cut the whole thing down in spring, after enjoying its thorny stalks and a few left behind hips, in winter. There’s an old saying, ‘prune your roses when the forsythia bloom’. Forsythia is a flowering shrub, that flowers before pretty much anything else. You can loosely translate the adage to whatever first true signs of spring come your way. This could be when the robins return, when the redbuds bud, when the snowdrops slowly uncurl. Either way, do it before it gets too warm.

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To decapitate your fruit-bearing friends, you’ll want to invest in a strong pair of gardening gloves. I’ve tried a number of branded gardening gloves over the years, but the best I’ve found for most tasks is a small, streamlined work glove. They can be found at hardware stores in a variety of styles and are far more durable than traditional gloves.

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Once you’ve got your gloves on, you can wield your shears. Choose a pair of hand held ‘secateurs’, which will have an extremely sharp, curved edge and matching top shear. Make sure you can close the ones you choose easily.
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“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”

– The Little Prince, Antoine de St.-Exupery

Changing Seasons in Tasmania – Summer’s End Rose Hip Ketchup

By Kel Flowers

I think most of us have some kind of treasured memory strongly associated with a favourite season. A particular Christmas perhaps with memories of frost-nipped fingers, the scent of peppermint and hot chocolate; a Summer spent by the river filled with the scent of sun-warmed mud and the hum of bees in the hedgerows.
My memory is of a beloved Autumnal day spent walking on the village Green. The wind was high and cold with a fine but soaking rain falling sideways; the smell of Autumn that is so hard to describe but unmistakable when encountered. Elm and Oak leaves on the turn, hedges filled with the last of the late summer berries—hawthorn, rose hip, elderberry, blackberry.

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I crave those glorious Autumnal days every year, and look forward to them more than any other. So imagine my joy when this year Autumn seems to be coming early! While my Northern Hemisphere brothers and sisters are still searching for signs of Spring, here in Tasmania we’ve already had our first frost along with a healthy slew of wet windy days and frankly quite chilly nights.
Summer will no doubt rear its head again soon for one last hurrah and have us all melting and moaning about the heat, and it can do its thing ripening the last of the berries and haws.

This year I wanted to try something a bit different. I’m not really a huge fan of sweet things—jams and jellies usually sit forgotten in the fridge. Not that they are bad! My mother makes some pretty spectacular jams and whatnots from her numerous fruit trees and berry bushes, but to be honest I’m a Vegemite girl (go on, make a face and gagging motions). Grow up in Australia and it’s kind of a given.

But then rose hips started ripening and beckoning to me. If not jelly, then what? A quick Google offered up rose hip ketchup. It’s basically a traditional tomato sauce with rose hip puree instead of tomatoes, and if like me, you suck at growing tomatoes, feel free to pillage a bag of hips from some rose bushes and make this instead.

Aside from being absolutely packed with Vitamin C, this sauce tastes pretty good too!

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups rose hips
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

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First collect your hips! Really this is a no-brainer, any kind of rose bush will do. You can go for the big fat cultivar hips or the small wild rose hips, and I’ve made batches from both. Either way just make sure they are spray and chemical free bushes. I steal my rose hips from my Mother’s garden so I know they are truly organic.

Gather your hips when they are a nice cheery red and a little soft. After the first frost is usually a good time.

Cut off the stems and the remnants of the flower.

Simmer your hips in water for 20 mins or so or until you can squish one between your fingers.

 

If you have big fat cultivar rose hips, you can always de-seed them before cooking by cutting them in half and scooping out the innards. Remove the seeds and ALL of the fluff. That fluff is irritating to your stomach (and can be to your skin too). If you have wild rose hips, however, skip de-seeding them this way and cook them first.

Next you need to push the soft hips through a fine mesh sieve. I won’t lie, this bit can be tedious. Put on some music and scare your neighbours with your singing. Depending on the size of your sieve, push a handful at a time through the mesh with the back of a spoon. Do this over a clean bowl. Once you are mostly just pushing on seeds, scoop out the seed/fluff and dump it into another bowl. Keep going until you’ve run out of hips.

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Now put aside your bowl of lovely thick rose hip puree, and grab the bowl of squished innards. Dump the innards back into the pot, add water so it all swims freely, and cook again for 5 mins or so. Repeat the squishing/sieving. If it looks like there’s still more to be had from the goop, go again. Three times should do it if you have the patience (or a food mill if you have one. Use it.)

You should now have a gloriously smooth and rich rose hip puree. Have a taste so you know what you’re dealing with. Sort of tangy fruity sharp.

Put your puree in a heavy-bottom saucepan along with the rest of the ingredients and some water, and simmer until the onions are nice and soft. Whiz into a smooth sauce with a stick blender, and simmer down to a thickness that agrees with you. It will thicken up a little when cooled, so allow for that.

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Taste your creation. Keep in mind that it will mellow out after a few days in the fridge. The spices will round out and the vinegar tang will mellow considerably. The quantities of spices are really just a guideline, if you think it needs more whatever, add more whatever! I like things pretty punchy, so I tend to up the garlic and spice in just about everything.

Eat it with anything you’d usually put ketchup on. And maybe with some things you’d not normally put ketchup on, who am I to say?

If you plan on bottling your ketchup (and you should, after all that effort) follow your usual rules for sterilising your bottles and lids and whatnot.
If you don’t know how to do that, well what are you waiting for. A whole world of canning and preserving fun awaits you! There are countless resources online and in print.

Get learning and happy hubble-bubbling.