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

carrots, root vegetables, roots, rehydrate, rehydrate roots, rehydrate root vegetables

Rehydrate Your Roots!

By Catherine Winter

If you’ve ever bought a large bunch of root vegetables like carrots or beets (or grown them yourself and kept them in the fridge), you’ve undoubtedly seen how they can shrivel up and shrink a bit over time. Most people toss them into the compost heap at that point, but you don’t have to! They’re not bad: they’re just dehydrated. You can revive them very easily by immersing them in water in the fridge for a few days.

root vegetables, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, onions, potatoes, lemons

Look for signs of rot or discolouration, and toss any that have black or moldy spots on them. Place the roots in a container and cover completely with water. Keep that in the fridge for 3-5 days, checking on the vegetable’s texture and density daily. Their skins are very porous, and by soaking them like this, you give them the opportunity to plump back up again. Remember that fruits and veggies are really just water and fibre, so if they dry out while in storage, they just need a good, long drink and they’ll be just fine.

Related post: Rainbow Carrot Salad Recipe from the Farm the World Kitchen

Once they’ve rehydrated, you can cook with them or eat them raw, as per your usual preparation. You can also use this technique for citrus fruits, celery, green beans, onions, and potatoes, though you have to peel your potatoes before placing them in water.

Mindfulness: “When You’re Eating, Eat”

By Catherine Winter

You know someone is worth keeping in your life when they hold a mirror up to your hypocrisy so you can learn from it. Recently, a friend (whom I shall refer to as “Sensei” henceforth) said to me: “If you want to encourage others to consider food as sacred and be mindful of what they’re eating, you should probably start by doing so yourself.” This was in reference to me cramming a sandwich into my mouth one-handed while typing feverishly on my laptop, paying absolutely no attention to what I was eating because, well, I was working. I had more important things to do, right?

As long as I didn’t get mustard onto my keys, I really didn’t care what lunch consisted of. In that moment, I could have been eating rat sphincters doused in Tabasco sauce and it wouldn’t have registered as weird: I was eating to end hunger, not to nourish myself. How many of us do this on a regular basis? Staring at our phones while shovelling some type of food product in our faces, or mindlessly moving hand to mouth as we gawp at the latest Netflix release?

eating while on the phone, smartphone, smartphone and food, phone and eating

Mindful, not Mind-Full

I asked Sensei what it is I should be doing to be more mindful while dining, and he just shook his head. “When you’re eating, eat.” That’s it. That when food is being eaten, that is literally the only thing that’s happening in my world; the only thing I’m honouring with my attention. No phone or iPad within reach, no TV or radio on in the background. Preferably not even speaking to others for a few minutes: just. eating.

He suggested that each bite be approached with reverence, with full appreciation of where the food came from, and the effort that went into preparing it. As I eat, attention should be paid to subtle flavours, textures, how each bite makes me feel, what subtle differences exist depending on which morsels came together in that particular forkful. Make each dish as appetizing for all the senses as possible, and then honour it by giving it my full, undivided attention. Chew thoroughly instead of gulping, and imagine the nutrients then flowing through my body, nourishing every cell.

That’s a beautiful way to approach nourishment, isn’t it?

chopping onion, food preparation, onion, chopping onions

Mindfulness Begins During Preparation

I’m taking steps to ensure that mindfulness doesn’t just begin when I sit down to eat a meal, but when I begin to prepare it. Since I often gather bits from my garden to incorporate into dishes, I try to step barefoot out into the yard so I can connect properly with the earth beneath my feet.
When I harvest vegetables or snip herbs for seasoning, I take a moment to give thanks to the plant: I attune myself to its energy, and appreciate its growth, and how its form will help to nourish my own body.

As I prepare the ingredients—chopping, grating, slicing, sautéeing—I don’t have music on, nor any shows blaring in the background. I feel the vibration in my knife as it thunks through a carrot or onion, or the “shusshhh” sound that happens when I slice through a head of lettuce. I can tell that my onions are caramelising properly based on the deep, gold-brown scent they release, and I know when to turn the heat down beneath my soup pot when I hear the liquid dance into a rolling boil.

I wipe down the table, set it with beautiful dish ware, maybe some flowers or herbs in a vase. Whether I’m eating alone or with others, I try to set the stage as for a special event, albeit a small, gentle one. The food is plated or ladled with care, and garnished in appreciation. After all, these beautiful ingredients deserve to be showcased.

goddess bowl, green goddess, hummus, vegetable bowl

Some people have a “no phones at the table” rule, others discuss the food with other diners so everyone has a chance to express what they’re tasting, what they appreciate about the meal, etc. Do you try to cultivate mindfulness with regard to the food you eat? What techniques do you use?

Let us know!

 

 

When Goals Meet Opposition…

By Catherine Winter

Friends and family members from the previous generation (or two) tend to be very attached to their idea of a pristine green lawn. That’s what’s considered “nice” and aesthetically pleasing: a patch of dandelion-free, lush greenery that would fit in perfectly in Stepford.

Anyone who’s read Food Not Lawns, or delved into the history of agriculture in North America and Europe, is aware that lawns have been cultivated for the sake of vanity. People cultivated swathes of empty property to prove their affluence: they had enough money that they didn’t need to lower themselves by growing their own food. They could pay other people to toil for them, and buy their food from them.

This is a very difficult mindset to shake.

Holding-herbs

“Weeds”

One of my family members is a rather wonderful person who is very, very fond of the aforementioned pristine lawns. When I decided to let my land go wild one year instead of diligently hacking the lawns and side areas down with a mower and weed whacker, I was reprimanded quite firmly for letting all those “weeds” grow. I picked five examples of what they were gazing upon with disdain, and asked them to identify said plants.

“They’re weeds”.

Okay, that’s how you’ve been taught to view them, but what species are they? Tell me their names.

“Weeds”.

…okay then.
Those “weeds” were lamb’s quarters, shepherd’s purse, yarrow, St. John’s wort, and evening primrose: five wonderful edible and medicinal plants that are valued the world over. In addition to those were many species of indigenous flowers all around the periphery, from asters and violets to red clover, which is invaluable for replenishing depleted soil with much-needed nitrogen.

Related post: 7 Healing Herbs for Your Garden

I burbled about all of these and talked about how beneficial they all were, but my enthusiasm was merely met with a blank stare, so I brought the cuttings indoors and hung them to dry for later. We just had to agree to disagree on the value of these plants, and cultivate our respective lawns in the ways that we felt were best for us as individuals. Even if we did have contempt for each other’s leanings, we kept that to ourselves, ye know?

This gets a bit tricker when the person who has contempt for your wish to transform your lawn into a lush food garden has equal say in its cultivation, or lack thereof. What happens if you’re living with aging parents who refuse to even consider it? Or if your partner is terrified of what the neighbours will think when yours is the only lawn covered in kale and zucchini instead of grass like everyone else’s? (Or even if your neighbours themselves want to put the kibosh on your gardening dreams?)

Books

Resources to Support Your Stance

A lot of people have difficulty accepting family members’ arguments as being valid, especially if there’s a parent/child dynamic going on. Many parents of adult children still view their offspring as “kids”, and as such don’t take them seriously. Honestly, I know some people with PhDs whose parents insist upon fact-checking whatever they say because well, they’re their kids, right? What do they know?

A similar dynamic can occur if you’re renting a home from someone of the previous generation: they might also see you in a similar light, and you’ll be hard-pressed to convince them of your reasoning to transform what they currently value as a pristine lawn space to a “messy” garden.

You can often encourage more openminded thinking on their part by presenting them with materials that support your goals, especially if they’ve been written or supported by people whom your parent/spouse/landlord respects. Citing examples by scientists like David Suzuki in support of converting lawns into gardens may help to open their minds a little, and if they’re open to reading about the subject, books like Gaia’s Garden and Food Not Lawns may also do a world of good.

Tomato-seedling

Compromise

If they still flat-out refuse to allow the lawn to be transformed, it might help to create a compromise of some sort. Find out what their reasons are for refusing, and then work together to find a solution that can bridge the gap.

For example, they’re afraid things will look unkempt if the lawn is ripped out in favour of edibles, ask if growing a few vegetables and herbs in pretty planters and hanging baskets would be an acceptable option. Do they find the idea of growing food at home to be “demeaning”? Call up statistics on the nutrient density of organic, homegrown food, and the many science-proven health benefits to growing your own. You can even sweeten the pot by showing them how much money they can save by growing even a few simple vegetables: just about everyone appreciates that aspect of homegrown food. If any of your neighbours already use their lawns for food gardens, chat with them, see how they overcame their own obstacles, and use them as examples of what’s possible. (Note: this is also a great opportunity to start a community seed-sharing network.)

Related post: Start a Community Seed Bank

Just about any situation can be negotiated in a way that can make all parties feel heard, respected, and empowered… and even if you just end up able to grow a single tomato plant in a container, it’s a small victory, and sets a precedent: you’ll be able to grow more next season.

Have you faced difficulty in establishing your own garden? How did you solve the issue? Please let us know!

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!

 

 

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.

sorrel, garden sorrel, French sorrel, lemon sorrel, perennial vegetable, perennial sorrel

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.

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.

Low-Maintenance Food Plants for Novice (or Reluctant) Gardeners

By Catherine Winter

Are you interested in growing your own food plants, but you’re intimidated by the prospect of doing so? Or is it something you’re reluctant to do but feel that you should be doing for health, wellbeing, and planet-saving? Well, don’t worry: there are some delicious, easy-to-grow plants you can try out that won’t break your spirit, and might just encourage you to keep at it.

lettuce, leaf lettuce, cut-and-come-again lettuce, salad greens, organic lettuce, heirloom lettuce

Cut-and-Come Again Lettuce

Lettuces are pretty easy to grow anyway, but the kind that will re-grow after it’s been snipped is ideal for newbie gardeners. Most lettuces’ leaves will happily spring back after you’ve snipped them for salad, so you won’t have to fuss over re-sowing over the course of the growing season: just trim off a few leaves now and then (sparsely, so you don’t take more than 30 percent of the plant at a time), and your salad bar will re-stock itself in no time.

Iceberg, arugula, mizuna, tender mustard greens, and most loose-leaf varieties are ideal for this method, and since lettuce grows really well in the shade, you can grow it on a small balcony or patio, or even indoors.

cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, currant tomatoes, yellow cherry tomatoes, orange cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Tomatoes are considered the gateway to gardening, as just about every gardener out there started with a tomato plant, even if it was just a teensy potted one on a balcony. Cherry (or grape, or currant) varieties ripen much earlier than full-size ones, so you have earlier gratification for your gardening efforts.

If you have the space, get yourself a few different plants to see which ones you like best. Maybe an orange or black cherry, grape, or currant, etc. Each one has a unique flavour, and since they’re so easy to grow, you can expand your palate while revelling in the joy of being a new gardener. (And honestly, who doesn’t love tomatoes?)

potted herbs, culinary herbs, basil, thyme, parsley, cilantro, savory, cooking herbs, pot herbs, potted herbs, kitchen herbs

Herbs

Culinary herbs are wonderful for small spaces, as you can grow them on a sunny windowsill or patio and just trim off bits here and there when you’d like to cook with them. Hardy aromatics like thyme, sage, and savory thrive on neglect, and will survive if you forget to water them as regularly as you should. Leafy herbs like parsley and basil are a bit more high maintenance, and both chives and oregano are stubborn survivors, and perennials to boot: they’ll come back year after year.

If you’re more interested in medicinal plants, calendula is really hardy, as is chamomile. Lavender thrives in sunny spots, yarrow can do quite well with neglect, and if you really are terrified of killing your plants, get a pot of mint. That stuff is damn near indestructible.

You can do this! If you need any help or advice about which plants would do best for your space and your skill level, don’t hesitate to contact us for help: just leave a note in the comments section below, or drop us an email at farmtheworldorg AT gmail.com

Photos by Dan Gold, Dwight Sipler, and Patty Mitchell via Unsplash and Foter 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.

soil, garden soil, garden earth, acidic soil, compost

Seeds n’ Soils

By Catherine Winter

Just about every person who’s tried to grow vegetables or herbs has had to deal with “failure to thrive”, whether it’s from seed failure or seedling death. It’s disappointing (even devastating if someone’s dependent upon gardening endeavours for their food), and there are a number of different reasons why it happens. One of the most common reasons is that the plants haven’t been cultivated in the right soil, so it’s important to determine what type of earth your plants need so you can give them the most optimal conditions from day one.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that you’ll find different plants in different areas. On my land, there’s a ton of coltsfoot and mullein growing in the sandy soils around the creek, but I’m not going to find those plants tucked in amongst stands of birch in the loamy forest soil. They’re growing in the areas that are best for their development, and will fizzle out and die if forced to swap spaces.

peppers, capsicum, hot peppers, chili peppers, jalapenos, piri piri, banana peppers

Acidic Soil

Radishes, peppers, and potatoes all thrive in acidic soil. You can add sphagnum peat moss into an all-purpose organic seed-starting mix, and the sphagnum will increase the soil’s acidity and increase the chances that your plants will germinate successfully.

Sphagnum is a good option for container gardening, but if you’ll be planting a large garden’s worth of food, you can get sulphur at your local garden centre and work that into the soil you’ll be planting into.

Here’s a tip: If part of your land is naturally acidic, take full advantage of that area and plant a bunch of perennial berry bushes. They’ll grow really well there, and you won’t have to put any extra effort into making the soil a happy place for them to be.

Cabbage

Alkaline Soil

Brassicas, peas, beans, and most leafy greens (like chard, lettuce, and spinach) prefer alkaline soils, but can do just fine in pH neutral soil as well. If the earth in your garden is on the acidic side and you’re really keen to have a ton of broccoli and beans, you can add some pulverized limestone to increase alkalinity.

If you’re uncertain as to just how acidic or alkaline your soil is, you can test it with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and plain white vinegar: take two samples of soil, and add a bit of baking soda to one sample, and a bit of vinegar to the other. If the sample with baking soda in it fizzes, then your soil is acidic. If the vinegary one fizzes, it’s alkaline. If nothing happens at all, it’s neutral.

You can, of course, also use pH testing strips, but this is an easy way to test your soil using items you likely already have at home.

carrots, root vegetables, roots, orange carrots

Sandy Soil

Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, and beets tend to do best in sandy soils, as do aromatic culinary herbs like thyme, summer and winter savoury, oregano, and sage. Just like amending your soil with sphagnum, you can work sand into your soil prior to planting your seeds.

*Note: root vegetables can also be stored in sand in a cool, dry place over the winter. If you have a root cellar or cool, dark basement, try this method after you harvest them.

squash, squash seeds, heirloom squash, cucurbits, organic squash, Baker Creek

Rich Soil

Squashes, pumpkins, zucchini, melons, broccoli, and cucumbers are heavy feeders that suck up a lot of nutrients from the soil, so it’s important that whatever they’re planted into is very nutrient-dense and rich. Work aged compost into your seed-starting mixture, and work a good fertilizer into the soil they’ll be planted into about 3 weeks before transplanting them. Once they’re in the soil, it’s good to re-fertilize every few weeks (compost tea is ideal for this), but along the “drip line” (around the edges of your plant) so you don’t burn or damage the plant itself.

 

Many seed companies (especially organic and heirloom dispensaries like Baker Creek) have in-depth information on the backs of their seed packets: they’ll tell you exactly what type of soil is best for your plant, as well as their sun and water requirements. If your seed packets don’t give you this information, a quick Google search should work wonders. We’re in the process of compiling a rather large database of information that will let you know exactly what each species needs, but it’ll take us a little while to get all of that sorted out.

Have you had to amend your soil to suit different plants’ needs? Which techniques did you use? Please let us know in the comments section below!