pickled vegetables, pickle brine, pickled eggs, pickled beets, pickle brine, pickling brine

Let No Pickle Brine Go to Waste

By Catherine Winter

During the Great Depression and WWII, people lived as frugally as possible and let very little go to waste. Everyone struggled with the lack of resources, and so conscious efforts were made to use all they had to its greatest potential:

Buy it with thought
Cook it with care
Serve just enough
Save what will keep
Eat what will spoil
Homegrown is best

pickles, homemade pickles, home-canned pickles, pickle brine, garlic pickles, dill pickles

People were encouraged to grow vegetables in their own gardens, and to preserve as much as they can. One of the best ways to preserve vegetables like cucumbers, beets, and carrots is to pickle them… and you know what’s awesome? Once you’ve eaten the vegetables from the jar, you can re-use the brine! Our society has become startlingly wasteful, but it’s time to get back to a mindset where every morsel of food is appreciated, treated with reverence, and used to its fullest potential.

Let’s say you’ve made dill pickles, and you have most of the brine left over in the jar. You can make a fresh batch of “fridge pickles” by slicing cucumbers into rounds or wedges, and packing them into the jar. If there isn’t enough brine left over to cover them, add a bit of vinegar to top it up. Let them marinate for at least 24 hours before devouring. You can keep these in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but chances are they won’t last that long. You can also pickle carrots, asparagus, green beans, cauliflower, or any other veggie of choice.

Once this second batch of pickles has been eaten, use the leftover brine in dressings for potato or pasta salad, or even for regular green salads.

pickled eggs, pickled beets, pickled beet brine, making pickled eggs, pink pickled eggs

If you’ve made pickled beets, you can use that glorious pink leftover brine to make pickled eggs or onions. For the former, hard-boil some eggs, let them cool completely, peel them, and immerse them in the brine. If there isn’t enough to cover them, mix some vinegar with a tiny bit of water, some sugar, garlic, and onion powder, and top up the liquid with that. Let the eggs marinate for 2–3 days to really flavour and colour them before serving them. Just note that if you’d like to preserve pickled eggs, you need to make a fresh batch of brine, and process the eggs with a proper boiling water bath.

Yet another way to reuse these brines is to add them to soup. Pickled beet brine is pretty much ideal for adding some beautiful acidity to borscht or cabbage soup, while dill pickle brine is wonderful in potato or vegetable soups. Be creative!

canning, home canning, home preserving, depression era canning, full pantry, frugality

How To: Make Hanging Lettuce Planters

By Catherine Winter

There’s a marmot (groundhog) in my garden.

That is to say, there’s a marmot that lives on my land, but I often find him plopped in my potager garden, cramming sorrel and lettuce and various tender herbs into his face, since he knows he’s not in any danger from me. Unfortunately, this also means that rabbits and other small herbivores take a cue from him and follow suit, leading to my own food supply being rather gnawed upon and depleted.

The good news is that I’ve discovered a way around this, at least as far as lettuce is concerned: hanging planters.

Hanging-Lettuce-Planter

Whether you’re short on garden space or you like to keep your food within easy reach, hanging lettuce planters are great options for pretty much any growing zone. They’re easy to make, can be grown indoors or outside, and are as delicious as they are decorative.

What You’ll Need:

  • A hanging wire cage
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Lettuce seedlings

Line your wire cage with a bit of sphagnum moss, then draw some lettuce seedlings through the bars on all sides. Layer with more sphagnum moss, and repeat until the cage is full enough to be secure, so the seedlings won’t just fall out.

Planter

Water this thoroughly and hang in a spot where it gets moderate sunlight for the better part of the day, as lettuce doesn’t thrive in direct, continuous sunshine. Keep the basket fairly well watered, and just snip bits of lettuce off throughout the season as needed. You can either tuck several lettuce varieties into a single basket, or, if you have enough space, hang a few of these baskets around with different lettuce varieties in each, so you can mix your greens and have an assortment of different textures and flavours.

Happy growing!

 

 

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture

DIY: Passionflower Tincture for Anxiety and Stress Relief

By Angelina Williamson

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is useful in treating anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach (especially related to stress), and high blood pressure. This plant is considered generally safe for most people for short-term use (no more than a couple of months according to some sources), but if you take any sedatives or other medications, be sure to check with your doctor before taking this tincture to make sure there aren’t any contraindications.

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture, dried passionflower, passionflower

How to Make Passionflower Tincture:

Fill a pint jar about half full of dried passionflower and then cover it with 80 proof vodka.

The solvent range for optimal extraction of medicinal constituants is between 40-65 percent. Be sure not to use a proof higher than 100 or you may damage the plant’s efficacy.

Label your jar with the date you started this batch and put it somewhere where you won’t forget about it.

Shake it vigorously every day for two to four weeks.

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture

Shaking it every day is important because it helps break down the cell walls of the plant material.

Next, get a fresh clean jar fitted either with a strainer or (as I’ve done here) with a wide-mouthed funnel fitted with an unbleached coffee filter, and pour the liquid through it. Alternatively, you can use cheese cloth or muslin. Shake the plant material into the filter or cheese cloth and squeeze as much of the liquid out of it as you can.

tinctures, tincture bottles, herbal tincture, DIY tincture, passionflower tincture

Decant your tincture into a dark bottle and label it. Store in a cool dark cupboard to maintain the best quality.

Your tincture is ready to be used in whatever recipe you like! For precise dosing information consult a reliable herbalist for advice, either with a personal consultation or from a trusted book or online source.

Tincture-dropper

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Keyhole Gardens for Small Spaces

By Catherine Winter

One of the most common concerns we hear is a lack of gardening space. Many people who have access to an outdoor garden are city dwellers who only have a small front yard or tiny lot behind their homes to play in, so they feel that they are very limited in what they’re able to grow. A great way to maximize space (and increase growing yields) is with a keyhole garden: read on to learn more about what they are and how to set one up.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Keyhole gardens are so named because they have a notch in them much like their namesake. They’re ideal for small spaces because that lovely little notch allows you to walk into the centre of the garden so you can reach all the glorious plants you’ve packed the space with: you don’t have to crawl over anything, possibly damaging delicate greens while doing so.

Some people also sink an active compost pile into the centre of their keyhole beds: this is ideal for areas that are prone to droughts, as the compost (which should be kept damp!) releases both moisture and nutrients into the surrounding soil on a regular basis. This method of keyhole gardening is quite popular in parts of Subsaharan Africa and various regions in Texas for precisely this reason.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

If you have limited space, map out the closest thing you can get to a circle (mark it with chalk or non-toxic paint), decide where you’d like your notch to be placed, and then build up a wall. I’ve used old masonry blocks for mine, but you can use everything from stones and bricks to woven branches. Use what you have on hand. If you’re renting your home, you can reassure your landlord that these keyhole gardens can be disassembled quite easily, though they’ll probably be so impressed by what you’re able to grow in there that they just might keep them around if and when you move.

Once you’ve created the walled exterior, decide whether you’d like that active compost tube thinger in your garden. If you do, make a simple tube out of chicken wire and place that at the sharp V point inside the garden. Prop it into place with some bricks or stones.

Create a layer of loose pebbles at the bottom of this garden for drainage purposes, then create layers inside it as though creating hugelkultur or a “lasagna” garden: some rotting logs, topped by cardboard, yard clippings, old hay, and then compost-rich garden soil.

keyhole garden, keyhole garden bed, keyhole bed, permaculture, keyhole permaculture garden bed, notched garden bed, raised keyhole garden

Determine where the sun hits over the course of the day, and plant your vegetables accordingly, placing those that need the most light in the sunniest spots, and those that can thrive in partial shade in the areas that get less light. If you plant zucchini or cucumbers, place those along the edges so they can spill over the sides, and don’t be afraid to grow upwards! You can secure some poles or sticks around that composter and use it as a trellis to grow peas, beans, or even climbing tomatoes.

Be sure to intersperse herbs and pollinating flowers in amongst your plants! Take note of which will be the best companions for what you’d like to grow, and get planting!

Photos via Wikimedia Commons, as well as McKay SavageJulia Gregory and K. Latham via Flickr Creative Commons.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

DIY Trash Can Composter Tutorial

By Cat DiStasio

Composting food scraps from your kitchen is an easy way to reduce landfill waste and create nutrient-rich potting soil for your garden. You probably already knew that. Did you also know you can build your own composter for the cost of a movie ticket and less than 30 minutes of your time?

There are many, many different types of composters available for sale at hardware stores and garden markets (and online, of course), but they are often quite expensive. While there’s nothing wrong with buying one if that’s your jam, making your own is just so easy, cheap, and fast. It’s tough to come up with a reason not to build your own.

Using an inexpensive plastic trash can and supplies you may already have on hand, you can easily build your own composter. Some commercial tumbler-style composters sit horizontally, often on a large metal frame, and can be turned with a crank handle. This DIY version uses the same principles, but is designed to sit upright – which takes up less garden square footage and makes it easier to add scraps. You’ll be able to turn your round trash can on its side and roll it on the ground to mix the contents, replicating the handle-driven turning of a tumbler composter.

Here’s what you’ll need to begin. As you’ll see, it isn’t much.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

Supplies Needed:

  • 1 round 32-gallon plastic trash can with a tight-fitting lid
  • Drill and 1-inch spade bit
  • 3-4 bricks or cinder blocks
  • Organic refuse (uncooked kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, undyed paper)
  • 2 bungee cords (optional, but recommended)

A note on trash cans: You can repurpose an old or damaged trash can, if you have one around, but you’ll have to scrub it very clean first to remove all traces of inorganic materials. A new plastic trash can of this style (lid included) typically runs around $10, though. If you prefer, consider spending a little more for a wheeled trash can, which may be easier for some people to tip on its side for turning.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

1. Drill air holes.
In order to decompose properly, organic material needs some oxygen to help the process along. This is why commercial composters have ventilation, and why many compost bins are slatted or perforated. To create a similar effect on your DIY composter, use a 1-inch spade bit to drill holes all around the walls of the trash can.

DIY Composter 003

It’s best to create several vertical lines of holes, with 6 inches between each hole. Space the lines 6-8 inches apart so you do not compromise the structural integrity of the trash can. Drill several holes in the bottom of the trash can as well.

DIY Composter 007

2. Add food and yard waste scraps.
To use your new composter, set your composter atop the cinder blocks to allow for drainage. Place equal amounts of brown and green materials in the trash can and mix them together. Green materials include vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, grass clippings, and used coffee grounds. Examples of brown materials would be dead leaves, twigs, newspaper, sawdust, and cardboard. For best results, keep composting materials damp—like a wrung-out sponge—but not wet or dripping. Typically, the moisture in your green scraps will be plenty, but if you live in a very dry climate, you may need to spray it with a bit of water as well.

DIY Composter 008

Do not put cooked food, oil, meat, or pet waste in your composter, nor anything treated with pesticides.

You can add refuse to the bin whenever you like (because nobody really loves a full scrap bin in their kitchen!) but be sure the close the lid tightly after adding new materials, and use the bungee cords to keep it closed. This will protect against scavenging critters, like raccoons and rats, who can be deluded into thinking a composter is a breakfast buffet.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

3. Turn your compost regularly.
At least once a week and always after adding new scraps, turn your composter by laying it on its side on the ground and rolling it around several times. This will mix up the contents and make for a more efficient composting process.

diy composter, make your own composter, trash can composter, trash bin composter, diy compost bin

In most climates, it takes between two and four months to turn scraps into usable compost. Many people are concerned about how a compost bin might smell. The good news is that, done correctly, composting should smell more like fresh dirt than like a back alley dumpster. If an unpleasant aroma develops, there is a chance your ratio of brown to green materials is off, or the compost mixture is either too wet or too dry. Although it may take a little troubleshooting to find the sweet spot for your area, rest assured, it will be a worthwhile effort.

Be sure to check in with us regularly for more composting tips! We’ll be sharing an article soon about how to transform an old nightstand into a vermicomposter (worm composting system), and how to use compost tea to nourish your growing plants.

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.

raspberrycane.jpg
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.

blackberry.jpg
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.

rosecane.jpg

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.

gloves.jpg

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.
shears.jpg

“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”

– The Little Prince, Antoine de St.-Exupery

rain barrel, rainbarrel, DIY rain barrel, rainwater collection

DIY Rain Barrel Project

By MK Martin

A steady, driving rain has been pummelling our newly patched roof since yesterday. Unlike the despondent scowls usually illustrated on human faces when faced with a deluge, mine radiates and looks around for ways to get outside.

More than the chemicals released, creating that pleasing petrichor of recent, nature type memes; more than the softening of an icy Canadian earth, so worms and things can awaken and get to it; more than just moisture, spring rain is akin to the rising of the sun in the morning: something your bones can rely on, something that brings a big heaving sigh of relief to your cells, where you didn’t realize you were holding your breath.

Sure, the aftermath of too-wet soil, flooded basements, and continuously damp wardrobe can be listed as major downsides; peeling mud off of everything can be tedious. But there is a purification in the first, flooding rains. It drives away your troubles, but also the salt, sand and skunk attacks of late winter, which tend to hang around the house. It washes away your stagnant snow molds, refreshes your lawn, and invites new wildlife out to investigate the territory.

rain barrel, DIY rain barrel, rainwater collection

This time can be crucial in water conservation. Getting your rain barrel up now, in monsoon season, means “free” water for any possible early hot days, or sudden drought. If your garden is in a community lot, or you aren’t near an eaves trough, you can make your own rain barrel from a plain, plastic garbage can with a domed lid.

Items you will need:

  • 20-Gallon plastic garbage bin, with domed lid
  • Small hole saw bit for your drill (approach your local hardware store to ask about these, sometimes you can rent equipment) *this will give you a clean drainage hole, but feel free to improvise and let us know what you discover!
  • Valve spigot with bulkhead fitting
  • Teflon tape, to affix the spigot

Drill 5, large drainage holes in the centre of the lid, plus an overflow hole about two inches down on the main receptacle. Use waterproof duct tape to affix a piece of mosquito netting over the holes on the convex side: cut this into a square about one inch larger than the drilled holes so you have plenty of spare netting to secure. This cuts down on debris, but also mosquitoes!

rain barrel, rainwater, rainwater collection, DIY rain barrel

Drill another hole at the base of the can, for the spigot. Place the inside part the bulkhead on the inside, outside on the outside, and use a wrench to tightly thread it into place. Use teflon tape on the spigot grooves to make sure it’s water tight, and wrench into place.

Place the lid upside-down onto the barrel so that rainwater will collect inside it and drain downwards. Use waterproof duct tape to seal the lid, or drill small holes in the lid and can and secure the two together with electrical wire.

rain barrel, rainbarrel, DIY rain barrel, rainwater collection

 

Your rain barrel has to be at least one foot off the ground. You can build a stand from pallet wood, or purchased beams, or use milk crates secured together, or even paint an old chair in a garden theme, and fasten a barrel onto it with strong cord. It all depends on your time, and budget.

Images by Dan Bruell, Adam Rice, and J Bolles via Flickr Creative Commons. 

 

DIY Beneficial Insect Hotel

By Catherine Winter

Many people gripe and moan about the insects they have to contend with, but not all bugs are equal when it comes to benefitting (or harming) your plants. Vital pollinators like bees and butterflies deserve our respect and appreciation, while aphid-eating ladybugs and mosquito-devouring dragonflies are powerful allies for organic pest control. By creating an insect “hotel” and setting it up near your food garden, you can provide a wonderful shelter for your local insect allies so they can keep working hard amongst your food plants.

This is a great weekend project to dive into during this nebulous time between winter and springtime. Snow’s still on the ground and we won’t be able to get seeds into the ground for a little while yet, but those of us who are champing at the bit to do garden-ish things can focus our energy on creating one of these in prep for the growing season ahead.

insect hotel, bug hotel, insect habitat, bug habitat, pollinators, beneficial insects

What You’ll Need:

  • A large, open wooden box
  • Rolled-up tubes of paper
  • Hollow reeds or bamboo, cut to fit the depth of your box
  • Large wood chips or strips of bark
  • Dry straw or small sticks
  • Solid wooden blocks with “bee holes” drilled into them, if desired. (Remember that different bee species have specific preferences for both their eggs, and shelter. Leafcutter bees like 1/4″ wide and 2 1/2 -4″ deep holes, while mason bees like theirs to be 6″ deep, 5/16″ wide. Don’t drill all the way through the block: bees need warmth, not drafts.)
  • Eco-friendly, natural glue*

*Note: If you’d prefer not to use any kind of glue, you can just arrange everything loosely and then secure thin-gauge chicken wire over the front of the box. This will keep all the sundry bits in place, and the insects will have no problem getting through the wire mesh.

insect-house

Instructions:

Decide how you’re going to arrange your hotel ahead of time by drawing some thumbnail sketches. If you’ve created a drilled bee box, glue that into place first: it’s a lot easier to work around that behemoth than to try to mash it in to fit later.

Once that’s done, glue items into place around it, ensuring that they’re held together quite firmly, but that there’s enough room for air to circulate. Using different materials means that a variety of species will be able to find nooks that are best suited to their needs.

Cultivating a relationship with the beneficial insects in your area is a vital aspect of sustainable permaculture: the goal is to encourage your land to function in the most harmonious, holistic manner possible, and insects are imperative for a healthy, self-regulating ecosystem. For example, parasitic wasps annihilate tomato hornworms, cabbage moth larvae, whiteflies, and many caterpillar species.

insect-castle

You’ll draw the most beneficial species to your garden by planting indigenous wildflowers in and around your space, as well as along the periphery. Although exotic plants are beautiful, local insects are most adapted to native flowers. For example, Queen Anne’s lace is indigenous to your area, plant that for parasitic wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs.

Before you know it, you’ll have countless new visitors helping out with your vegetables and herbs, and those lucky critters will have a gorgeous villa to go home to after a hard day’s work.