Book Gifts for Plant Lovers

By Catherine Winter

The holidays are approaching quickly, and it’s more than likely that you have a few green-thumbed loved ones to buy for this year. Whether they’re into permaculture gardening techniques, foraging/wildcrafting, herbal medicine, or just the basics on how to keep a single tomato or basil plant alive, we’ve got you covered. Below is a list of favourite books, recommended by our contributors, friends, neighbours, family members, and community gardeners/farmers. Happy growing!

Backyard Farming, Permaculture, & Homesteading

As more people take to growing their own produce, backyards (and even front yards) are being transformed into lush food forests. Novices and seasoned gardeners alike love to learn new growing methods, and these gorgeous books are packed with knowledge that can help feed families for generations to come.

ParadiseLot

Paradise Lot, by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates (Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City)

BackyardHomestead

The Backyard Homestead, by Carleen Madigan

Permaculture by Bill Mollison

Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch

Grow Your Own Fruits

Grow Your Own Fruits and Vegetables, by Ian Cooke

Chickens.png

All About Raising Chickens and Ducks

Few things are as glorious as fresh eggs, especially when you gather them from your own coop. If the people you’re buying for are thinking about raising chickens and/or ducks, these books can help.

Chicken Whisperers

The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, by Andy Schneider and Brigid McCrea

Fresh Eggs Daily

Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally, by Lisa Steele

Raising Ducks

Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks: Breeds, Care, and Health, by David Holderread

Herbal Medicine

Herbalism and Natural Healing

Herbal medicine has always been a mainstay of natural health and wellbeing, and as more people turn back towards more holistic healing methods, resources such as the books below are becoming mainstays in many homes. These are some of our favourite herbalism books: hopefully they’ll become yours as well.

Gladstar Medicinal Herbs

Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide: 33 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use

Earthwise Herbal

The Earthwise Herbal, volumes 1 (Old World Medicinal Plants) and 2 (New World Plants), by Matthew Wood

Plant Healer's Path

The Plant Healer’s Path: A Grassroots Guide For the Folk Herbal Tribe, by Jesse Wolf and Kiva Rose Hardin

Herbal-Medicine-maker

The Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual, by James Green

Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, by Jeff and Melanie Carpenter

Yoga of Herbs

The Yoga of Herbs by Dr David Frawley and Dr Vasant Lad (Ayurvedic)

Mushrooms

For Foragers and Lovers of Wild Edibles

When it comes to foraging and wildcrafting, it’s really best to get books for the recipient’s bioregion. Few things are as devastating as finding spectacular wild edible and medicinal plants in a beautiful book, and then discovering that they live on the opposite side of the country from where you are.

Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada by Lone Pine Publishing

Northeast-Foraging

Northeast Foraging, by Leda Meredith

Midwest-Foraging

Midwest Foraging by Lisa Rose

Deerholme

The Deerholme Foraging Book: Wild Foods and Recipes from the Pacific Northwest, by Bill Jones

Canning

Preserving the Harvest

Once a person has gone through all the work of growing their own food, it’s time to preserve all that glorious abundance for the colder months. Canning, pickling, fermenting, dehydrating, and freezing are just a few methods that can be used to put food by, and these techniques are both important to learn, and a lot of fun! Besides, who doesn’t love to open a can of summer-ripe peaches or tomatoes in February?

Ball Canning Book

The All New Ball Book Of Canning And Preserving: Over 350 of the Best Canned, Jammed, Pickled, and Preserved Recipes

Food in Jars

Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, by Marisa McClellan

Canning New Generation

Canning for a New Generation: Updated and Expanded Edition: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry, by Liana Krissoff

 

 

sorrel soup, sorrel spring soup, sorrel, French sorrel, garden sorrel, sauerampfer suppe, sauerampfer, herb soup

FTW Kitchen: Sorrel Soup

By Catherine Winter

Here in zone 4, very few greens sprout up until mid May at the very earliest. While friends in England start posting photos of snowdrops and daffodils in February, I have to wait until the snow clears (a few months after that…) to see the first greens unfurl. Fortunately, right after dandelions make their appearance, sorrel springs up in great, abundant heaps, just asking to be devoured.

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I grow a variety of herbs and perennial greens in my potager garden, just outside my kitchen door, and it’s always a delight to bite into the first, lemony sorrel leaves when they show up after the long, cold Quebec winter. Springtime came earlier than usual this year (which was a delightful surprise), so I have chives and thyme coming up as well. Since the evenings out here are still quite chilly, I decide to gather a bunch of sorrel and put some soup together for dinner.

I grew up with sauerampfer soup, but my family’s recipe was very heavy on cream and egg yolks, and I found it to be way too heavy. I’ve adapted my own recipe to incorporate whatever’s in season (and in the fridge), and omitted the cream and eggs: I use fat-free plain yoghurt instead.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, sorrel soup ingredients, making sorrel soup

Ingredients:

Olive oil or butter or Earth Balance (for frying)
1 small to medium onion, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
1 small bunch green onions or chives, finely chopped
2 medium potatoes, grated or finely chopped
A couple of big handfuls of sorrel leaves, shredded
4 cups of your favourite stock (I use chicken stock, but leek or onion stock works really well in this
1/3 cup plain yoghurt or sour cream (dairy or vegan)
Lemon juice (fresh, not concentrated!)
Salt and black pepper

Heat your butter or oil in a large stock pot on medium-high heat, and add the onions and thyme, stirring often until the onions soften and start to turn golden.

Add the stock, green onions, and potatoes, and stir well. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Let that bubble away merrily until the potatoes have softened.

Toss in those sorrel leaves, which will turn a sort of murky olive green as soon as it hits the heat: don’t be alarmed, it’ll still taste fabulous.

Use an immersion blender to puree approximately half of the soup, or scoop out half of it and put it through a standard blender or food processor, adding it back to the pot when you’re done. If you find the soup too thick, feel free to add some more stock to thin it out. Stir in the yoghurt or sour cream, and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice. Add salt to taste, and feel free to add more lemon if you like as well.

sorrel soup, sorrel soup recipe, immersion blender, pureeing soup

The sour cream or yoghurt are optional and are just used to make the soup creamy, but you can also use pureed cannellini beans if you’d like to add protein and a silky texture. Some people prefer not to mix the sour cream into the dish, but instead add a dollop of it into the bowl just prior to serving, along with chopped raw sorrel, parsley, or dill.

I made this soup with what I had on hand, but it can be adapted so many ways. Fresh sweet green peas make a great addition as soon as they’re available, and swapping out half of the sorrel for spinach adds more iron and greenness to the pot. I’ve added leftover roasted zucchini, used cauliflower instead of potato… but the one common denominator is always the gorgeous lemony bite from the sorrel.

Do you grow this plant in your garden? How do you like to prepare it? Let us know!

 

Photos by the author, and lead image is by Neal Foley via Flickr Creative Commons.

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.

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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.

raised beds, raised garden beds, vegetable beds, raised vegetable beds

Permaculture Principles: Observe Your Land Before You Plant Anything

By Catherine Winter

One of the first lessons in sustainable permaculture is to observe your land for at least a year before planting anything in the ground. You can plant anything you like in pots and containers as you can move those around easily, but plunking seeds, bushes, or trees into your land requires a whole lot of research and awareness first. Many of us get reallyreally excited as soon as we have a plot of land to play with—we go nuts with planning and ordering seeds and planting all kinds of stuff, and end up sabotaging our vegetable gardening attempts with our impatience.

I’m just as guilty of this as many others have been before me, and although it’s been a pain in the arse to sort out and I’ve kicked myself for my stupidity, I’ve also learned from my mistakes. Hopefully you can learn from them too.

raised beds, raised garden beds, garden beds

Royal Screw-Ups

Case in point: when I moved into this house in 2013, I was delighted to see a beautiful little flat patch of earth on the NE side. I promptly squeed myself and plopped two raised beds onto it, filling those beds with herbs, lettuces, and brassicas. Well, fast forward a month and those beds were completely shaded once the trees’ foliage filled out completely. The beds were also under constant onslaught from the fuzzy poplar catkins that fell from above, so I was weeding and cleaning the soil every day just to keep up.

This is exactly why it is of vital importance to observe your property during all four seasons before committing to any permanent structure or long-term investment like nut trees or berry bushes.

I have raspberries, blueberries, serviceberries, and blackberries in a nice acidic patch of soil in one corner of my property, and I’m happy that I really observed and took note of the changes in that area before planting anything. See, it’s on a rather steep slope of the mountainside that my home is perched upon, and winter’s meltwater takes a very specific path through that very berry patch and into the stream below. If I hadn’t taken note of the water’s course in late winter/early spring, I might have planted some bushes right in that pathway: the plants would have died and I would have gotten screamy.

cabbage, green cabbage, savoy cabbage, brassica, brassicas

As frustrating as it is to be patient, it’s even more frustrating to regret hasty actions… especially since seeds and plants can be a costly investment. I can’t tell you how many plants I’ve lost thanks to sudden May heat waves, crazy July frosts, and local wildlife discovering what a lovely buffet I’ve provided for them.

Take Photos, Make Notes

Seriously, take pictures of your property every couple of weeks throughout the year so you can see how changes take place over time, and get out there so you can experience things firsthand. Make notes about everything from little microclimates you may discover to dips and hills: you can use these to full advantage when planning your garden, such as keeping water-loving plants in the dips, and those that need better drainage in the raised areas.

rabbit, wild rabbit, rabbit in the garden, rabbit eating plants, bunny, garden bunny

Keep an eye on the animals and insects that visit your property, and determine whether they need to be attended to. These are just a few aspects that should be monitored:

  • Are there a lot of bees and other pollinators? Or will you need to entice some to your land with indigenous flowers?
  • Do squirrels, rabbits, deer, or other herbivores stop by often? Take note of which species visit so you can sort out an action plan for dealing with them humanely so they don’t eat all of your plants.
  • Does a lot of snow fall on your property? Where does the meltwater go?
  • Does your region have a history of inclement weather such as droughts or summer hailstorms?
  • Which areas get the most sun throughout the year? Which get the most shade?

Once you have a really clear idea of all of these facets, you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions about the types of plants that will work best for the space you have to work with. Remember how we talked about working with your land rather than against it? It really is in your best interest to determine what would work best, and then go that route rather than dreaming up what you’d like and then trying to force Mother Nature to comply with your wishes.

…don’t even try, because she always wins.

If you have any questions about which plants would work best for your zone and the space you have available, please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments section: chances are someone on our team will have answers for you.

 

Photos by Local Food Initiative and Nathan Anderson via Flickr Creative Commons and UnSplash.

lettuce, organic lettuce, organic vegetables, vegetables for zone 4, straw bale gardening, strawbale gardening

Work With Your Land, Not Against It

By Catherine Winter

Those of us who have always dreamt of abundant food gardens have likely had pretty grandiose ideas about what we’d like to cultivate. When I moved to this house, I looked at the land around my home and imagined it brimming with all manner of fruit trees and berry bushes, and lush gardens practically spilling over with cucumbers, tomatoes, and pumpkins. Damn, was I wrong.

You see, this house is right on the mountainside, which means that there are only a couple of inches of (poor) soil before I hit solid rock, and the tall trees around the property stop sunlight from reaching all but a few choice areas. I put some raised beds in those spots, but the tender plants I tried to grow ended up being obliterated by inclement weather. Needless to say, after four growing seasons, I have a pretty solid idea about what will and will not grow on this property, in my frustrating, cold, downright infuriating 4b agricultural growing zone.

dead lettuce, wilted lettuce, dead garden, wilted garden, failed lettuce, failed garden

Rather than being discouraged by the fact that I will never be able to grow a decent tomato or melon here, I’ve learned the invaluable lesson that working with the land I have is far easier on both my wallet and my heart than fighting with it. I could have spared myself a lot of heartache if I had followed the number one rule of permaculture and observed my land for a full year before planting anything, but sometimes eagerness and enthusiasm drown out common sense. Live and learn, right?

Raised beds are a great option in our area, but the wet summers and long, cold, snowy winters wreak havoc on wooden beds, requiring them to be rebuilt every other year. I have a gorgeous, large hugelkultur bed for my medicinal herbs, but that took a few  years to build up with classic lasagna gardening techniques, and I need something quicker and easier for this year’s garden. The solution? Straw bales.

straw bale, straw bale garden, strawbale garden, strawbale gardening, straw bale planter

Straw Bale Gardening

These are great because you can just plop some bales in an area that get a fair amount of sunlight over the course of the day, and get gardening. You don’t need to put any effort into building raised beds (although it’s not a bad idea to brace the bale sides in some way, since they can fall apart over the season as they decompose and get squidgy), and the very process of their decomposition creates nutrients for whatever you grow inside them. The decomp process also creates heat, so you can plant seeds earlier than you could in a standard earth bed.

The key is to ensure that you source your bales from an organic farm, otherwise you’ll just end up contaminating your land, your food, and your own body with the pesticides and other poisons that have been sucked up into the straw. Once they’ve been placed in position, they just need to be soaked daily for a couple of weeks prior to planting to condition them. Some people just use water, but the consensus seems to be to add a fair bit of fertiliser when soaking so there are tons of nutrients available to your growing plants. This is especially important for heavy feeders like squashes, brassicas, and melons.

root vegetables, roots, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, celeriac, rutabagas, zone 4b, zone 4

Grow for Your Zone!

As mentioned earlier, I’ve learned what will and won’t grow well on my property, in this frigid little zone with a crazy-short growing season, so I’m focusing on plants that I know will thrive. Leafy greens such as lettuces, spinach, and chard grow well, and as long as I keep cloth or mesh over them so the cabbage moth caterpillars don’t obliterate them, brassicas such as broccoli, kale, tatsoi, and collards can thrive here too. We’ll often get colder snaps right into June (even had hail last July!) so I need to make sure I only grow hardy plants that won’t fall apart with inclement weather.

I’ve learned my lesson about attempting to grow tomatoes or eggplants, so I’m aiming to try to grow some pumpkins, zucchini, onions, and root vegetables like carrots, turnips, rutabagas, and beets instead. Sturdy, stubborn plants that won’t shriek and wilt at the first sign of imminent danger. Interestingly, peas and beans also thrive here, so I’m going to cover my gazebo in climbing varieties and let them go nuts.

I’ll be planting hardy sunflowers, amaranth, and popcorn around the garden’s periphery, as well as the usual pollinators and repellents such as borage, calendula, and milkweed. I’ve been scattering native wildflower seeds all around my property for a few years now, so there’s a startling amount of asters, ox-eye daisies, bachelor’s buttons, echinacea, lupines, and vetches around, and I’m happy to say that I have never seen so many bees in one place as I have seen in my garden over the last two summers. It’ll be interesting to document this year’s garden to see what thrives and what falls apart, so hopefully I can share gems of information with the rest of you so you can learn from my successes as well as my failures.

xo

straw bale garden, strawbale garden, straw bale gardening, squash, plant, straw bale squash