saving seeds, holding seeds, preserving seeds

How to Save Your Seeds

By Catherine Winter

As desperately as we try to cling to summer, especially since it’s so fleeting here in Quebec’s zone 4, the signs of autumn’s arrival are all around us. Trees are losing their leaves, and the temperature has dropped down to near freezing at night, so we’ve had fires blazing in the woodstove almost every evening. Summer is indeed coming to a close, which is prompting me to get off my arse to collect seeds for next year’s garden.

If you’ve grown some varieties that you really love, be sure to save a bunch of their seeds, both to grow again next year, and to trade with your friends/family. One cannot have too much biodiversity in one’s own vegetable garden, and it’s always wonderful to discover new varieties that those close to you have grown and love.

tomato seeds, heirloom seeds, heirloom tomato seeds, saving tomato seeds

Tomato Seeds

To save seeds from both cherry and full-size tomatoes, scraped the seeds out and place them in a very fine sieve. Rub gently to remove as much pulp as you can, and alternate between that and running them under water to rinse the pulp away. After you’ve done that, put the seeds in a clean jar filled with about half a cup of room-temperature water, and seal with the lid. Place that in a cool, dark cupboard and shake gently a couple of times a day. In about a week, you should see bubbles forming, and most of the seeds will have sunk to the bottom: those are the viable ones. Any of the floaters will be infertile, so toss those into the compost bin.

Rinse the viable seeds in your sieve again, then place them on a piece of paper to let them dry. After a day or so, you can either remove them from the paper and store them in a paper or glassine envelope, or store that entire piece of paper in a larger kraft paper envelope: come springtime, just tear or cut the paper into pieces with the seeds left in place, and plant the seeded paper directly into your soil.

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Beans and Peas

If you’ve discovered some fabulous varieties of beans or peas and would like to grow them again next year, that’s awesome: they’re incredibly easy to save. Just let some pods mature fully and dry in the sun as much as possible. Once the skins have started to shrivel up a bit, pick them and put them in a basket or paper bag for a week or so to dry out a bit more.
Then pop the beans/peas out of the dried casings and store them in paper envelopes or glass jars until next planting season. If they’re climbing varieties, you can even grow them indoors over the winter on strings or mesh hung over a sunny window.

Related: Create a Community Seed Bank

pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, saving pumpkin seeds, saving seeds

Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

You know those slippery, gooey innards that squash and pumpkins have? Pick as many seeds as possible out of that mess, and then place them in a colander or other strainer. Rinse them as clean as possible, then spread them on a screen (like an old, clean window screen) to dry in a warm place for a week or so. Place in a paper bag and store in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant them again.

(Be sure to save extra if you’d like to roast them as snacks, because who doesn’t love those, really?)

melon seeds, saving melon seeds, how to save melon seeds, cucumber seeds, saving cucumber seeds

Melon and Cucumber Seeds

Use the same technique as for the pumpkin and squash seeds, but try to harvest them from a plant that you’ve allowed to mature for as long as possible out in the garden. Seriously, wait until the thing is close to rotting before you harvest them. Why? Because the seeds within actually get more fertile and viable the longer leave the fruits attached to their stems. If you elevate the fruits on rocks or bricks (or even suspended via some fetching old stockings), the air circulation will delay their decomposition. Once the skin hardens, you’ll know the seeds are at their best and are ready to harvest.

dill seeds, fennel seeds, saving dill seeds, saving fennel seeds, herb seeds, saving herb seeds

Herb Seeds

Since herbs—whether medicinal or culinary—tend to have tiny little seeds, the best way to collect them is the brown paper bag technique.

Let a couple of plants mature and go to seed, and once the seed heads are drying nicely in the sun, pop paper bags over them and tie them securely in place with some twine. Use scissors or a knife to sever the stem a handspan or so beneath the twine, then hang the bag upside-down in a dry place. As the plant dries within the bag, the seed casings will shrink, releasing the seeds into the bottom of the bag.

 

After a couple of weeks, shake the bag well to release as many seeds as possible, then cut the bag open and pour the seeds into envelopes.

Keep your seeds in a cool, dry place away from direct light and any form of moisture, and you’ll have a plethora of plants to play with next spring!

 

Photos via Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons

compost, compost tea, brewing compost tea, how to make compost tea

Compost Tea: How to Brew It and Use It in Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

“Compost tea” sounds rather disgusting, doesn’t it? When we think of compost, very few of us would associate a well-loved beverage with the squidgy brown soil that’s made from broken-down vegetable matter. You can rest assured that this nutrient-dense drink isn’t for human consumption. It’s a rich fertilizer that’s ideal for nourishing your plants, and we’re going to teach you how to make it and use it.

compost, compost tea, compost soil, compost tea ingredients

What You’ll Need

  • 1 five-gallon bucket
  • Chlorine-free water (rainwater or river water is ideal)
  • A couple of handfuls of high-quality organic compost (let’s say 2 cups)
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Large strainer or colander
  • A large stick for stirring

Directions:

  • Pour about 2 cups’ worth of good, rich compost into your bucket.
  • Add the water, and use that big old stick to stir everything around until the water looks murky.
  • Then, if desired, add in about a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses, stirring well as you dribble it in.

Some people get high tech and use a fish tank aerator for their compost tea, but I just use my stick to slosh everything around for about an hour until it’s properly frothy.
If you have children, this is a great way to keep them occupied for a while AND make plant food in the process. Just make sure they know not to drink any of it, because ew.

compost tea, compost, aerated compost tea, how to make compost tea

*Note: If you’d rather keep things a bit tidier, you can also cram the compost into the leg of an old pair of nylons, and use it like a giant teabag in the water bucket instead. This technique does work best with an aerator, because you don’t have to stand (or sit) there dipping that manky bag in and out of the water, so there’s another option for you.

You can let the mixture rest for a couple of hours (12 at the most), and just prod at it a little bit here and there to keep the oxygen active. When you’re ready to use it, pour some of the tea through a strainer or colander into a large watering can, and then add more water to dilute it.

You’ll want to dilute this with a 10:1 ratio of water:tea for mature plants, or 20:1 water:tea ratio for seedlings and potted plants.

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A Couple of Notes:

The reason why you need to use chlorine-free water here is because the chlorine that’s added to standard water systems will actually kill the very microbes you’re trying to cultivate in this extract. You WANT the good bacteria in here, and chlorine’s antibacterial properties will destroy all of that.

Also, when you fertilise your plants, trees, water, etc., try to water close to the base rather than on the leaves, unless you see evidence of insect infestation or any kind of infection or blight on the leaves themselves. In those cases, you can pour some of the compost tea into a spray bottle and spritz the leaves and stems, which can often help alleviate the issue.

Related Post: DIY Trash Can Composter Tutorial

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What Good Will it Do?

All KINDS of awesome, really. Feeding your plants with compost tea doesn’t just increase their nutrient density, but can improve their flavour as well.
Effects that can result from using compost tea include:

  • Greener, more flavourful leaves in leafy greens like chard, collards, kale, spinach, and lettuces
  • Larger blooms on flowers
  • Better-tasting vegetables
  • Higher yields
  • Enhanced root system growth, which allows the plants to better draw nutrients from the soil, as well as providing greater stability

Think of compost tea as a tasty probiotic drink for your plants. In the same way that humans thrive when they add beneficial microbes to their gut microbiome (kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchee, yoghurt, etc.), plants also need those happy microbes to help them reach their highest potential.

Compost tea helps to build a more nutrient-rich soil, which in turn feeds your plants, which then turn around and nourish you.
Added benefit: since you’re not pouring any harmful chemicals into the soil, you’re also helping to nourish the local ecosystem as a whole.
And that is fabulous.

IMPORTANT:

Compost tea must be used within 36 hours of being brewed, which is why it’s best to create it in small batches. Compost tea has to be utilised while it’s aerobic: while there are plenty of oxygen molecules booping around inside it. As soon as it goes anaerobic, it can begin to ferment, and that can cause a lot more harm to your plants than good.

mosquito repellent, insect repellent, insect repellant, bug spray, DIY bug spray, DIY bug repellent, DIY insect salve, DIY bug repellent lotion

DIY Insect Repellent

By Catherine Winter

Here in Quebec, we really only have two seasons: winter, and mosquito. Black Fly may be considered a transitional period, usually from mid May to late June, but as I live in the forest, mosquito season lasts from …oh, as soon as the snow melts, to once it begins to fall once again.
Since we try to avoid harmful chemicals like DEET, we generally whip up batches of our own insect repellents in the hope of being slightly less of a smorgasbord for the blood-sucking jerks.

DIY repellents such as these listed below can be quite effective alternatives to their more toxic counterparts, but you have to be diligent when applying them, as they tend not to last as long as store-bought offerings.

essential oil, essential oils, EO, doTerra, eucalyptus oil, lemon eucalyptus, herbal remedy, EO for insect repellent, best essential oils to keep bugs away

Essential oils (EO) are key to keeping biting insects away, and the EO that have proven most effective are:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Clove
  • Geranium
  • Peppermint

So far, tea tree oil seems to work really well against ticks, chiggers, and deer flies, while citronella, lemon, and eucalyptus are ideal for fending off mosquitos and black flies. Some studies claim that geranium combined with peppermint is also a great combination to keep mosquitoes away.
It’s advised that you don’t use full-strength EO directly on your skin, but rather mix them with with a carrier of some sort before applying them.
The exception to undiluted application is if you daub a few drops of oil to outer clothing, like socks, jackets wrists, hat brims, etc. Basically, in places where the oil isn’t going to come into direct contact with your skin.

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Salve

This salve is great for slathering between your toes and around your ankles if you’re in tick territory. I also rub it around my wrists before putting on gardening gloves, as well as around my hairline and behind my ears when I wear a sun hat.
It’s proven to be remarkably effective at keeping black flies away, and although mosquitoes may still land on me, they don’t bite or stick around long.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons beeswax or carnauba wax pellets

Heat the olive oil in a double burner, heavy (small) saucepan, microwave container… whatever you can heat it up in without burning it. Don’t let it boil: just warm it thoroughly.
Remove from heat, and add in the wax pellets, stirring constantly with a whisk to make sure they’re all melty.
Add 20 drops each of peppermint and lemon eucalyptus essential oils, then pour the mixture into a small jar or tin and allow to cool.
Apply before going outside.

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Spray

I like this spray for larger skin areas (like my back, calves, and shoulders) when I go hiking, or if I’m walking into town. The 2km walk from my house to the main road is flanked by forest on either side, so it’s a bit like running a mosquito gauntlet unless I smell unappetizing to them.

  • Water
  • Witch hazel
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Lemon, citronella, tea tree, rosemary, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint, or regular eucalyptus essential oil

Create a 20:80 mix of water:witch hazel in an 8oz or 10oz spray bottle. Then add a teaspoon of glycerin, and 30 drops of essential oil.
Spray yourself with this mixture before heading outside, and re-apply when the scent begins to fade.
Note: If you have a negative skin reaction, or if you really don’t like the smell, discontinue use.

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Lotion

You don’t want to get this stuff in your eyes, but it’s a heavy-duty option if you’re going to be working outside for a while and you really don’t want to get bitten. Not only does it smell quite strong, but you’ll taste disgusting to any insect that dares land on you.

  • 1/3 cup unscented liquid castile soap like Dr Bronner’s.
  • 30 drops essential oil of your choice. If you’ve chosen to use a scented Dr. Bronner’s soap (like mint or eucalyptus, etc.) choose the same or complementary EO scent.Before you go out into the woods, or do any gardening outside, apply this liberally to your any exposed skin. Once you’re finished outside, hop into the shower and wash it all off. Bonus point: you’ll be pre-soaped.This lotion is better for adults and teenagers, since we’re slightly less likely to get a mouthful of soap after licking drippy ice cream or whatnot off our skin.
    …slightly.

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A Final Note

The usual caveats stand: people (and animals) react different ways to different essential oils, so do a bit of research first to determine which are safe for you and your kids/pets/etc. Some children react badly to clove or lemon oil on their skin, tea tree can be harmful if licked off by cats and dogs, and if you’re allergic to conifers like pine or spruce trees, you might react to rosemary as well.

Do small skin patch tests before hosing yourself down with any of this stuff, and if you have any hesitations about using any of this, speak to an herbalist, aromatherapist, or naturopath first. Or, stick with commercial insect repellents that you already know and trust.

Be safe, be healthy, and enjoy your time outside!

beneficial insects, beneficial bugs, ladybugs, ladybirds, lacewings, braconid wasps

Beneficial Insects and How to Attract Them to Your Garden

By Catherine Winter

If you’ve already started seeds for this year’s garden, you likely have several different vegetable and herb seeds sprouting merrily. What a lot of people forget to do, however, is include a variety of flowers and herbs that will help attract beneficial insects as well.
There are a number of plant species that can draw specific insects to your space, so if you’ve had particular issues that you’d like to address without the use of harmful insecticides, read on!

Organic Pest Control

Braconid

Braconid Wasps

These creep me right the hell out so I’m going to write about them first to get them out of the way. Members of the Braconidae family, these parasitic wasps lay their eggs into the skin of caterpillars and beetle larvae. Once the eggs hatch, the wasp larvae feed on the host’s internal organs until they reach maturity, at which point they bugger off.
Ew ew ew, but hey, they’ll kill the cabbage moth larvae eating your organic kale.

Which plants do they like?
These wasps love small-flowered flowers and herbs that produce a fair amount of nectar. Yarrow, coriander, dill, fennel, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and sweet alyssum are sure to coax them to your garden.

Lacewings

Lacewings

You’ve probably seen these delicate beauties clinging to your porch or window screen if a porch light has drawn them close. Their larvae look like alligators and are sometimes referred to as “aphid lions” because of how voraciously they devour the wee beasties. They also eat caterpillars, thrips, and whiteflies.

Which plants do they like?
Yarrow, caraway, angelica, cosmos, fennel, coreopsis, mallows, dill, tansy, sunflowers, and dandelions.

Ladybug.png

Ladybugs (aka Ladybirds)

Adorable and colourful, these happy-looking little beetles annihilate aphids, spider mites, and various other teensy soft-bodied critters. If you haven’t seen many in your area, you can usually buy them at your local garden centre.

Which plants do they like?
Butterfly weed, coriander, yarrow, dill, tansy, cinquefoil, fennel, vetch, buckwheat, calendula.

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A Good Water Source

Remember that insects need water to wash down all those bad bugs they’ve been eating, so make sure they have a source of clean drinking water handy. If you have a pond or marshy area on your property, they should be okay, but for everyone else, it’s recommended that you make a couple of watering areas.

The easiest way is to pour a layer of pebbles, marbles, or decorative stones in the bottom of a ceramic planter pot, and keep enough water in it to **almost** cover the pebbles. This will give the insects safe places to land while they drink.
Remember, most of these happy bugs have wings, and if they don’t have an easy water source when they’re thirsty, they’ll fly elsewhere.

Please don’t use commercial pesticides!

If you need to use some kind of pesticide, please use methods that are low impact, natural, and/or biodegradable, rather than full of toxic chemicals. You can get repel slugs from the garden with copper strips, use neem for various mites, ants, and beetles, etc. There are many different options that won’t harm the beneficial bugs in your garden, nor seep into the soil to poison plant life.

wildflowers, medicinal flowers, medicinal plants, herbalism, herbal medicine, poppy, poppies

Change is Good.

By Catherine Winter

I love to grow vegetables. Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I pore through seed catalogues every winter, getting all giddy about the different varieties I’ll be able to plant once spring rolls around. Eventually. The snow doesn’t melt completely here until the end of April/early May, so by the time the last frost passes, I’m more than champing at the bit to get my seeds into the ground: I’m pretty much frothing.

The thing is, growing veg on my land is really, really difficult to do.

My home is perched on the side of a mountain, and the only flat, sunny spots on it are the septic field (upon which I can’t grow any food), and the paved driveway. There are a few flat-ish bits here and there which I have taken advantage of, but they have their challenges as well. The 40-foot trees all around my land cast a lot of shade around, the soil is clay and sand atop solid Canadian shield rock, and the unevenness of the ground itself means that raised beds are pretty much out of the question.

Then there’s the weather to contend with. A freak heat wave last May caused all my brassicas to bolt, and a hailstorm in July killed my tender greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Literally all that survived last year were potatoes, sorrel, and the peas I had climbing up the shaded north wall.
This will be my sixth summer living on this property, and I can honestly say that the yields I’ve had from my vegetable-growing efforts have been paltry at best.

echinacea, wildflowers, native wildflowers, butterflies, bees, pollinators

Changing Direction

Since I’ve had so little luck growing vegetables, I’m moving in another direction this season. Remember that article we posted last year about working with your land, rather than against it? Well, it may have taken me this long to really learn that lesson myself, but yes. Yes, I’ve finally learned what I needed to and will be taking advantage of what I do have available to me, instead of trying to force plants on an area they’re ill suited to.

Related: Work With Your Land, Not Against It

This is kind of huge for me, since I’m just a raging perfectionist and am normally the type to keep fighting onwards solely for the sake of not giving up. Maybe I’m mellowing in my middling years or something, but I’m recognising that there are many different ways to approach an issue, and compromise is a gentler and sweet technique that my younger self would have benefitted from immensely.

Two summers ago, I let most of my land go fallow just to see what would grow there. I put the mower and snappywhippy thing away, and just let everything go wild.
You know what happened?
Amazing things.

I discovered that several dozen medicinal herb and flower species grow wild on my property. St. John’s wort, heal-all, mullein, coltsfoot, evening primrose, jewelweed, yarrow, shepherd’s purse, comfrey, echinacea, wintergreen, bee balm… I could go on, but you get the idea.
Having dreamt of studying herbal medicine for years, I saw this bounty as a sign that it was officially time to pursue that interest, which I have been doing so (with the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine) whenever I have a spare moment. It also made me realise that I could add to this treasure trove instead of fighting to grow things that didn’t want to be there, much like forcing an artistically gifted child to pursue a career in accounting.
Bad fit, no-one’s happy.

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Herbs and Flowers

As such, nearly all of my attentions will be put towards growing medicinal herbs, and native pollinator flowers rather than veg. I still have my little culinary herb garden just outside the kitchen door, and I’ll still grow climbing peas up the side of the house because they grow so very well there, but that’s pretty much it.

Since so many medicinal plants already grow here, the ones I’ll be planting and tending are:

  • Black Cohosh
  • Chamomile
  • Marshmallow
  • Horehound
  • Elecampane
  • Calendula
  • Lemon Balm
  • Cleavers
  • Motherwort
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Cayenne
  • Mint (in a pot, else it takes over everywhere)

Related: 7 Healing Herbs to Grow in Your Garden

As for flowers, some of the native species I’ve scattered have medicinal properties as well, whilst others are just great for attracting beneficial pollinators. I have asters and lupines growing pretty much everywhere, but this year I’ll be scattering the following:

  • Bachelor Buttons
  • Coreopsis
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Cosmos
  • Scarlet Flax
  • Field Poppies
  • Milkweed
  • Columbines

I’ll be tossing around a few non-native species as well, just because I love them so. Hollyhocks and foxgloves will look gorgeous around the perimeter, and I rather like nasturtiums and pansies in window boxes and planters.

Herbal-Medicine

The Bottom Line:

Why am I blathering about all of this?

Quite frankly, to reassure those of you who are struggling with your growing endeavours that even seasoned gardening veterans get frustrated and need to shift direction now and then.
I’ve been growing vegetables and herbs in my own garden spaces for 30 years now, with varying degrees of success. I’ve had yields so bountiful that I foisted massive baskets of produce on friends, neighbours, even the postal workers, because I had more than I knew what to do with… and I have had epic failures that would have left me starving to death if there weren’t a grocery store nearby.

The point is, we work with what we have, and flow with the current as best we can.
We do what we’re capable of, especially when those capabilities shift over time. I mean, we’re all in a constant state of growth and flux, and our priorities can change from one day to the next. Family responsibilities may cut down on gardening time, health challenges can limit mobility, and hell: we just might change our minds about what’s important to us over the next few months while we reevaluate what we want to do with our lives.
And that’s absolutely okay. All of it.
You’re good.

Considering how much I love flowers, I have a sneaking suspicion that this year’s garden may be the most smile-inspiring I’ve had yet.
I won’t be growing many vegetables, but I can support local farmers by buying their produce, and be far less stressed out about my own efforts.

Instead, I can focus all my attention on growing plants I adore: those I can transform into healing salves, teas, and tinctures, and that will make me very happy indeed.

Flower.png

Pickles!

By Catherine Winter

Since autumn is settling into the southern hemisphere, and friends in Australia and NZ are harvesting merrily, we thought it might be a good idea to focus on them today and offer a little post on preservation techniques.
Namely pickling.

If you don’t love pickles, don’t bother reading this one. Seriously, it’s all about beloved pickled vegetables, from gherkins and bread-and-butter pickle slices to spicy pickled beets, cauliflower, and sauerkraut. There’s a bit of history here and a few splendid recipes to try, and an overall pickle-licious paradise. If you love ’em as much as we do, feast your eyes on the smorgasbord of pickle-dom ahead.

Pickle

The History of Pickling

I had assumed that pickles came about sometime during the Medieval era, when Brother Osbert the Drunken accidentally dropped a cucumber into a vat of vinegar and decided to eat it anyway when he fished it out a couple of days later, but I was wrong. Apparently pickles of various forms have existed for thousands of years, and although the earliest recorded picklings happened in India around 2030 BCE, I’m assuming that much like longbows, arrows, and wheels, they must have sprung up in various parts of the world around the same time.

Pickling is a cheap, effective, and delicious way to preserve the harvest, as all you need (in addition to jars and lids) are vinegar, salt, and sugar. Herbs and spices too, depending on what it is you feel like making.

Fermented and pickled foods are great for your health, as they replenish your gut with good bacteria and help keep the acidity in your stomach balanced. Just be careful not to eat too many pickles if you have issues with acid reflux or ulcers.

Jars Pantry

Recipes

Now, because these are pickled (and as such, are acidic), you only need to use a water bath to process the jars once they’ve been filled. Some people only use boiling vinegar poured over the vegetables and then let the jars auto-seal, but I’m going to suggest erring on the side of caution and processing your jars according to your elevation above sea level.

In fact, if you plan on doing any canning in order to preserve food longterm, I’d recommend reading up on safe canning procedures so you don’t end up with botulism, or with several jars of spoilt food. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is an excellent resource, as is Putting Food By, but there are countless canning DIY books that you can find on Amazon at your local bookstore. I’ll recommend getting yourself an actual printed book, rather than relying on web resources: in case of power failure, you can still read a book for information, right?

fridge pickles, quick pickles, refrigerator pickles, easy pickled cucumbers

Fridge Pickles

This is probably the quickest and easiest recipe you can possibly use, and is great for beginners because you don’t have to can your jars in a water bath: you’ll just be keeping the jar in the fridge for a few days, and likely devouring its contents before they have a chance to go manky.

Bread-and-Butter Pickles (Cucumbers)

5 1/2 cups thinly sliced (about ¼-inch) cucumbers
1 1/2 tablespoons salt (kosher is best)
1 cup thinly sliced sweet onion (like Vidalia)
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons pickling herb mix

Toss the cucumbers and salt in a large bowl, then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours, then rinse in a strainer and drain it well. Toss those back into the bowl and add the onion, mixing everything very thoroughly. Pack these veggies into a few glass jars of your choosing.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, and pickling mix, bring up to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer, stirring constantly until all the sugar has dissolved. Pour this mixture into each jar, covering the veggies completely. Allow the jars to cool a bit, and refrigerate. Wait about 48 hours until eating them so the flavours have been allowed to develop. These will keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

carrots, pickled carrots, pickled carrot recipe, canning recipes

Dill Pickled Carrots

When using dill for pickling, take note of the fact that fresh dill sprigs will make the pickling liquid cloudy and murky over time. Crushing the dried seeds slightly and using those will add dill flavour as well, but they won’t cloud the liquid. When you pickle carrots, it’s important to peel them as well as halving or quartering them so that the liquid can seep into the flesh properly. The following recipe is from Serious Eats.

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds carrots: peeled, quartered, and trim to fit into your jars
  • 1 cup plain white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon pickling salt
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic

Prepare one pint and a half jar, or two 12oz jelly jars. Place lid(s) in a small pot of water and bring to the barest bubble to soften sealing compound.
Combine vinegar, water and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Place spices and garlic cloves into the bottom of the jar or jars.
Pack carrots sticks upright in jar(s).
Pour the boiling brine over the carrots, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
Tap jar(s) gently to remove any air bubbles.
Wipe the rims clean and apply the lids and rings.
Process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath, then remove the jar(s) from the canner and allow to cool.
Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Refrigerator pickles should be placed in the fridge as soon as the jars are cool.

Salsa

Salsa

This one is adapted from the Ball Blue canning book. As with all recipes, adjust to suit your own personal tastes!

  • 5 cups chopped cored peeled tomatoes (about 12 medium)
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped seeded green bell peppers (about 2 large)
  • 2 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped, seeded hot peppers, such as hot banana, Hungarian wax, serrano or jalapeño
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro (optional: leave out if you hate it)
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, optional

Prepare your boiling water canner, and heat 6 Ball (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars in simmering water until you’re ready to use them. Wash the lids and bands in warm, soapy water, and set aside on a clean towel.

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring frequently for 8-10 minutes. Remove the jars from the simmering water, drain, then ladle the hot salsa into the warm jars, leaving 1/2 an inch of headspace. Use a spoon handle or similar tool to remove any air bubbles, then wipe the rims, place the lids on your jars, and apply the bands fairly tightly.

Process the jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, then remove the jars and allow to cool at room temperature. You’ll hear satisfying “pops” as the lids seal, but check them after 24 hours to make sure they’ve been drawn downwards: this will prove that the seal is secure.

pickled beets, beets, preserved beets

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Beets

  • 4 pounds of red or golden beets
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed (or use all granulated sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon pickling salt
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water

Sterilize your jars, lids, and bands, and keep them in simmering water in your water bath canner until you’re ready to use them.

Boil the beets in a large pot for about 20 minutes, then drain, rinse under cold water, trim, peel, and chop them into 1″ pieces. Place the cinnamon pieces, cloves, and chili flakes in a muslin or linen spice bag and tie up tightly.

In a large saucepan, combine the sugars, salt, vinegar, and water. Add the spice bag. Bring all of this to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often. In between stirrings, pack your beets into the hot, sterilized jars.

Remove the spice bag from the vinegar mixture, and compost the contents. Use a canning funnel to pour the hot liquid into each jar, leaving 1/2 an inch of headspace. Use a spoon handle to remove any air bubbles, then wipe the lip of the jar with a clean, tamp towel, and use a funnel to pour the hot liquid into each jar, over the beets. Make sure that the liquid still allows for 1/2 an inch of headspace. Place the lids on, tighten with the bands, and process the jars in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 24 hours, then test to make sure they’re sealed.

These are just a few simple recipes: there are thousands of amazing combinations you can try, from pickled eggs to corn relish. If there’s a recipe you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments section below! Or, join us in our Facebook group—Farm the World: The Community.

Happy Pickling!

Regrow These Vegetables in Your Kitchen

By Catherine Winter

Chances are you’ve noticed that food is getting more expensive, especially during the winter months. Here in rural Quebec, a head of broccoli or cauliflower can run $7 in January or February, and don’t even get me started on how much lettuce or avocados can cost. I was spoiled while living in Toronto, having access to all manner of cheap vegetables year-round, but when you’re eking out an existence in a cabin in the woods, and there’s only one grocery store within 30km to fall back on, a bit of frugal ingenuity is in order.

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, but it’s also incentive to do some research about which vegetables can be re-grown on a countertop. It’s really quite startling to see just how much can be grown from leftover scraps: all you need is water, and a sunny spot to place the plants, and within a week or two you’ll have a fresh batch of edibles to enjoy.

Kohlrabi.png

Root Vegetable Greens

Do you like fresh greens? If you do, you’ll be happy to know that it’s incredibly easy to re-grow all manner of root vegetable greens from scraps.
When you’re trimming turnips, rutabagas, radishes, or even kohlrabi for roasting (or however other way you’ll be using them), make sure you leave about half an inch of flesh beneath the upper knob where the greens used to be.

You’ll then place these in a shallow container, add a little bit of water, and place in a sunny spot. Within a week, you’ll see noticeable green growth! Just make sure to refresh the water often so it doesn’t get slimy and manky.

Cabbage

Cabbage, Lettuce, and Fennel

You can use the same technique as that used above, but you’ll be placing a good couple of inches’ worth of rootstock into a glass or small cup of water. Pour an inch or so of water into the container (again, change it out daily), and make sure to put it in a spot where it’ll get direct sunlight.

Green Onions

Spring Onions (Scallions) and Leeks

Their roots are really cute, aren’t they? Like mini Cthulu tendrils.
When you use these onions, chop off the green parts but leave at least an inch of white bulb above the frilly roots. Place these in a clear drinking glass and add water (change it often, yes) and watch it grow.

These—and leeks—can re-grow several times over, as long as you’re diligent about keeping the water refreshed. Also, the reason why you’ll put them in a clear glass is so light can get right to the roots.

In addition to helping your grocery budget, re-growing these vegetables can go a fair way towards satiating your need to garden while there’s still snow on the ground outside. Most of us champ at the bit to get out there and GROW STUFF and find it difficult to wait for the big thaw to happen, so this can keep us occupied in the interim.
Growing cucumbers and sweet potatoes in your bathroom also helps.
…I’ll write about that next week.


Catherine

mouse, field mouse, house mouse, mouse in the house, mouse eating, mouse eating seeds

Mice Will Play: Lessons in Seed Storing

By Catherine Winter

There are a few basic truths about living in a rural area: dining options tend to be limited (no going out for Ethiopian or Thai food at 3 a.m.); serenity will be disturbed by camping aficionados on summer holiday; and you will have mice in the house at some point.

They’re not as much of a nuisance in summertime, since there’s plenty to eat outside, but they will certainly find their way indoors once the weather turns cold. Since I no longer have a cat (RIP Callie and Aylwyn), my mousey housemates have gotten a bit bolder, and have been venturing into places they wouldn’t have dared to go before. Case in point, I discovered yesterday that the little monsters have somehow gotten into what I thought was a secure cupboard, and helped themselves to some of my vegetable and herb seeds.

My heirloom, organic, sacred-to-me seeds. Not cool, mice. Not cool at all.

Glass-Seed-Tubes

Storage Solutions

I’m of the opinion that every setback is an opportunity for learning and growth, and the lesson I learned this past weekend (Happy New Year!) is that my current method of storing seeds just doesn’t cut it. The mice chewed through plastic containers that were holding my paper seed envelopes, so I’m going to have to take more extreme measures and transfer my remaining seeds—and others I’ll purchase in future—into glass storage containers.

For small batches of seeds, I think that clearly labeled test tubes are the way to go, and then I can store those in wooden boxes. Hey, if it works in the Svalbard seed vault, it’ll probably be just fine for my homesteading needs, right?

Related: New Year, New Opportunity to Start a Community Seed Bank

Seed-Storage-box

When I do my big seed order at the end of this month or the beginning of February, I’ll likely order a couple of boxes of glass test tubes so I can store the seeds properly. Until then, I picked up some glass spice jars from the grocery store: they can hold what’s left of my seed stash and will hopefully keep the furry little jerks from raiding my seed stash from now on.

Permaculture really is about working with the land and environment in order to cultivate a symbiosis, but it also takes into consideration the other life forms with whom we share living spaces. I plant alliums like chives, leeks, and garlic around my garden beds to dissuade deer and rabbits, for example, and protective cloth goes over the brassicas to keep the cabbage moths at bay.

Although I’ve tried to seal most cracks and such in my home, and use mint oil to fend off the mice, it’s inevitable that a few will get overzealous and make their way into my cupboards. Humane traps are great, but removing temptation entirely by storing things in glass and metal is probably the best action I could take.

Field-Mouse

How about you? How do you keep your seeds and stored foodstuffs from being gnawed upon? Share your tips with us in the comments section!

Rustic Yule Dinner

By Catherine Winter

There have been many years in which I have cooked for an army during the holidays, whether it was a mountain of latkes, brisket and sufganiyot for Hanukkah, or turkey with stuffing and all the side dishes in the world for Christmas luncheon, but the past few years have been softer, quieter. Relatives do the majority of the cooking for massive Christmas get-togethers, while I just put together a Yule (solstice) dinner for two to four people.

latkes

This time of year is quiet and sacred for me, and is usually a time of reflection by the fireside while snow falls softly over the forest nearby. Ancestors are honoured, and so the foods I make for Yule dinner honour them, in my own way. Crispy potato pancakes for both my Slavic and Sephardic ancestry, topped with gravlax or roe for the Swedish and Dane bloodline. Pan-fried Brussels sprouts, pickled beets, and roasted chestnuts usually make an appearance, and since I’ve been living in Quebec for the past five years, my own version of tourtière is served as the main dish. The genii loci seem to nod their approval, at least, even if I skip the cloves and cinnamon in favour of summer savory and thyme.

sprouts

Not normally a dessert person, I tend to serve the roasted chestnuts an hour or two after the main meal has been eaten, accompanied by local cheese and whatever fruit I can get my hands on, out here in the wild. This year I’ll also bake a small lemon and poppyseed drizzle cake, both because I crave lemons in wintertime, and because MK was kind enough to give me a Meyer lemon and so help me I am going to use it for something special.

Unlike the formal dinners of my youth, this is a very human, gentle meal that’s eaten where all are most comfortable. Sometimes this has been at the dining table, other times it’s been like a picnic, sprawled by the fireside in a nest of blankets. When it’s -30C outside, hearthside is a rather glorious place to eat, believe me. There will be candles, a plate set aside to honour those not present, and appreciation for the fact that the light will soon return.

meat pie

Catherine’s Not-Quite-Tourtière

 

Pie Crust

I use Anna Olson’s gluten-free pie crust recipe and just omit the sugar:

2 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled cream cheese
1 cup chilled unsalted butter
2 egg whites

pie shell

Preheat your oven to 375F.

In a large bowl, combine the rice flour, tapioca starch, and salt. Cut the cream cheese and butter into half-inch pieces, and use a pair of knives or forks to cut them into the dry ingredients until a crumbly texture starts to form. In another bowl, beat the eggwhites until they’re frothy, then add to the dough, mixing well until a softer, more homogenous dough forms. Split this into two balls, flatten them into discs, wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and freeze for 40 minutes or so.

Once chilled, take one disc out of the freezer, and roll out between a couple of sheets of parchment or waxed paper until it’s about 12 inches in diameter. Flip this onto a greased 10- or 11-inch pie plate, and remove any paper from it.
Fill it with pie crust weights or dry beans, and bake for 8-10 minutes to firm it up. Remove from the oven, pour out the beans or weights, and set aside to cool for another 10 minutes or so.

Root veg

Filling

This is a perfect opportunity to use some of the root vegetables that have been in storage since the last harvest.

2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium turnip, peeled and diced
1/2 rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1 pound mixed organic ground meat (I use a combination of beef, chicken, and pork)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried summer savoury
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons flour (I use gluten-free)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat, then add half the onions. Stir frequently until they start to go translucent, then add all the root vegetables and chopped garlic. Sprinkle half the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and herbs over them, toss them well, and sautee the lot until the vegetables begin to brown and soften. Remove from heat.

In another pan, repeat the process with the remaining onion, and when it softens, add the ground meat mix and the remaining herbs and spices. Stir well, and continue to cook the meat until it’s almost cooked through. Drain the juices into a smaller saucepan, then combine the meat and vegetables in a large bowl. Add the peas and corn, and mix well.

Take the saucepan with the juices in it, add in the butter, and melt that on medium-low heat until the butter melts. Stir the flour in bit by bit, stirring it gently until it browns and cooks through, then whisk in the chicken stock. Keep whisking this thoroughly until it thickens into a wonderful gravy, making sure to get rid of all lumpy bits, then pour it over the meat and veg mixture in the large bowl, and stir it all together well.

slice

Transfer this mixture into the pre-baked pie crust bottom, and use a spatula to spread it around evenly. Then remove the other pie pastry from the freezer and repeat the rolling-out process. Once flattened nicely, cover the meaty mixture with it, pressing firmly around the edges to create a good seal. If this pastry is large enough, you can even fold it over the edges.
Then, use a knife to cut a few holes in the pastry top to allow steam to escape.

Brush the top of the pie with a bit of beaten egg or melted butter, pop it into the oven, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry is a lovely golden colour. Remove, and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before serving.

Glögg.

By Catherine Winter

As I write this, it’s -23C outside. The sun set shortly after 4pm, and I’ve been huddled beneath blankets half the day, wearing fingerless gloves as I typed. It’s very obvious that the solstice is just a few days away, and these few days and nights leading up to Yule are cold, and dark, and long. It’s on evenings such as this one that I appreciate a warm drink to wrap my hands around and sip, as it feels cold enough outside that the stars themselves may crack and shatter.

Glögg is a gorgeous mulled wine that’s easy to put together, wonderful to drink (and share with others), and since it’s packed with anti-oxidants that can help you fight off winter colds and flus, it’s also good for you!

Cinnamon

Ingredients and Supplies:

A small linen or muslin bag for your spices
2 x 750 ml bottles of decent red wine
2 cups of brandy
A small organic orange (like a clementine), sliced thinly horizontally
1/2 cup brown sugar, or 1/3 cup honey, or 1/3 cup maple syrup
2-3 cinnamon sticks, broken into large pieces
8 cloves (whole)

Optional Garnishes:

Whole blanched almonds
Sweetened dried cherries or currants

MulledWine
Directions:

Place the cinnamon sticks and cloves in your spice bag and tie tightly.

In a large soup pot on medium heat, combine the wine and brandy, then stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Toss in the spice bag and orange slices, then turn the heat down low and heat it for 30-40 min so the spices really have a chance to steep. Don’t let it boil or it’ll taste burnt.

Once warmed, place a scant few almonds and cherries (or currants) in mugs and then ladle the hot liquid over them. If you like, place one of the orange slices in there as well. Make spoons available so people can scoop out and eat the boozy nuts and berries as they sip this glorious, warming drink.

Skål!