Saturday, 30 March 2013


We took a week's holiday to the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.  Balmy temperatures, moist sea air and signs of Spring greeted us at every turn.  It was bliss to be home in our native landscape and as a result, this girl is homesick to her very core.

Other than seeing family and friends, one of the major highlights of the trip was a 2 hour hike through the damp, lush, mushroom filled rainforest to reach the rocky shoreline at Smuggler's Cove.  

The beavers have been busy damming the creek which has flooded the surrounding forest.   This wetland area attracts many diverse species, but this fellow was my favourite. 

The lush, verdant green was a welcome change from the white of winter that we've been living in for 6 months.

We finally made it to the shoreline and the view was spectacular in every direction!   As the wind was non existent, the sea was calm, reflecting the sun back to our smiling faces. The rocks had warmed up providing a toasty spot to rest and take in the view.  Bliss.

We also visited a few other familiar haunts....

Sargeant Bay

Davis Bay

 as well as Porpoise Bay and Snickett Park.  We were treated to great weather the entire time we were on the coast ~ it certainly made sightseeing that much more enjoyable.  Being a rainforest, the West Coast is prone to a lot of rain but we saw none of it!

While we were away, back home in Alberta, 2 more snowstorms barrelled through dumping several MORE feet of snow than you see below.  Our son, Mitchell and his wife were house-sitting for us and they had to clear the roof as the trusses were groaning under the weight!  I'm grateful to them but am REALLY glad that I was basking in the sun on the beach while it was happening, LOL.

Now...  back to reality.  The snow is still here, yes, but it's melting fast as our temperatures are rising steadily.  The daylight hours are long and the greenhouse is calling my name.  Today, I'm seeding!  Stay tuned for details...

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Shoulder Season Growing For The Eager Northerner

 Even though my garden looks like this:

Inside the greenhouse, temps are really heating up!

In preparation to seed, I'm irrigating my beds IN the greenhouse with a good snow mulch.  I've done it twice now and the usually snow melts within a day, saturating the soil gently with nutrient rich soft water.

Outside overnight temps are still WELL below zero - in fact, so are daytime temps for that matter.  Regardless of that fact, I'm pretty inspired by Kevin's talk on Sunday and Eliot Coleman's writings, so I'm prepping to seed cold weather crops in the greenhouse that can take the night time dip in temp  (spinach, radish, brassicas, hardy lettuce, etc...).    I've got nothing to lose by trying - I can always start over if need be for the cost of some seed.  No big deal, right? 

As you can see there's some serious snow remaining.   The picture above is the back of the house and deck (notice the snow on the roof) taken from the path near the greenhouse.

 Below, is the opposite direction (coop and garden) taken from the fork in the path that you see above.

It's going to be quite some time before the garden season begins out of doors, don't you think?


Monday, 18 March 2013

Seedy Sunday

I spent the day HERE and came home with this:

It was a fantastic event but unfortunately (fortunately?) it became so crowded, that I couldn't get to a lot of the seed tables.  Having never been to Seedy Sunday before, I have no idea if the crowds were normal or bigger than usual.  In any regard, it's wonderful to see so many people interested in growing, all gathering together on a cold, snowy day!   

 I did buy some seeds from a reputable producer (before the crowds got crazy) AND purchased a book that will prove useful for us as we attempt to naturalize some areas on our property.  I read this book a few months back (sourced through the library) and found it really pertinent as it's written by local naturalist who is one of the founders of the Edmonton Naturalization Group.

As well, I was elated to speak with the owners of  Dirt Craft Natural Building.  I'm really keen on taking some workshops through them this year.  I purchased a few books from their stall to slake my thirst until I can get my hands dirty with cob :)

Also ~ I thoroughly enjoyed a presentation by Kevin Kossowan.  This guy has got major season extension going on!  He and his business partner own/run Lactuca ~ an urban micro greens farm in Edmonton.  Way cool stuff ~ totally not what the average person would expect is possible in our climate.  I've followed his blog for a few years and have learned SO much from him.  Do check it out.

To round out a perfect weekend, we gathered as usual to share a family meal with our son, Mitchell, his wife, Kelsey and our wee Granddaughter, Penny.  This time, Penny joined in on the eating with her own supper - an avocado!  She's such a clever little lass...  so keen to be just like everyone else - she was THRILLED to be upright at the table!   I was recently given a high chair from a generous freecycler and I have it all cleaned up and ready for her for when she can sit a little stronger. 

How was your weekend?

Monday, 11 March 2013

the Lost Skill of Airing

Perhaps a dramatic title, but this skill is one that is rarely used anymore and it REALLY works well.  In this age of mechanized housework, many old time natural methods have been lost in favour of pushing a button.  Laundry has transformed from being an all day laborious affair to one that takes mere minutes thanks to our efficient modern day machines.  I'd not want to do without a washer (and I'm very grateful for mine), BUT do we have to use it as much as we do?  Generally speaking, most of us are particularly bad for tossing clothes into the washer that aren't really dirty or smelly - they just aren't FRESH as in "just washed".

Airing is a wonderful solution that I'm using more and more.  Just yesterday, we draped the kids' down duvets over the deck railings for an afternoon of sunshine.  The breeze moved the air through the duvets and the sunlight disinfected them, freshening them beautifully. They weren't soiled or dirty because we use duvet covers, but the down certainly benefitted from an afternoon outside in the fresh air.  Both quilts smelled freshly laundered once we brought them in.

I've tried the same technique with clothing that isn't soiled.  A garment that isn't dirty or sweaty can easily be freshened if it's hung outside for a few hours in the fresh air and sunshine.  I use a drying rack that I keep by the front door - I can easily take it out to the front verandah and hang something on it in mere seconds.  The railings on our front verandah work well for larger items and will have to do until the snow has melted enough to reveal the hole for the rotary clothesline!

Curtains airing

Drapes can be shaken to release dust and hung outside to be freshened, mats and rugs can be hung over a railing, coats can be spot cleaned and hung outside, stuffed animals can be swatted to release dust then pinned to a rack in the sun, toss cushions can also be swatted to release dust then laid out on a drying rack...

toss cushions from the living room

Lest you think I've lost my mind (and don't do laundry anymore), I'm particularity picky about our linens being clean and any garment that is dirty IS promptly washed.  The effectiveness of airing is astounding though - harness that sun and fresh air to aid you in your home keeping.  This technique saves water, electricity and soap but effectively freshens many things that don't really need a wash...

Give it a try - your Grandma would be very pleased (she knew best!)  :)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Rendering Leaf Lard

Leaf lard is good for you!  If from a properly raised animal (not from conventionally raised, medicated, confined pigs), it's an excellent source of nutrition and HEALTHY fat.

Along with some beef, we took delivery of 1/2 of a pastured organically raised hog last week.  Not wanting to let that lard go to waste, we chopped it all up and slowly simmered it down over 2 days.  I like using my stainless steel pressure cooker pots for this task because they are heavy and the double bottomed feature prevents scorching.

What resulted was 23 pints PLUS three 1.75 kg tubs of lard!  Just below, is the warm rendered lard (which whitened as it solidified).

Here's what the lard looked like after it cooled...  nice and white!

We do make quite a lot of pies when we have fruit in season and we also make a lot of quiches to use up the bounty of eggs and garden greens in early summer.   I'll be using the leaf lard strictly for pastry as it's highly prized for making the most delicate, flaky pastry you've ever eaten.  My husband is rubbing his hands together in glee awaiting the first pie (which will be his favourite:  Lemon Supreme).

Have you ever rendered lard?  I encourage you to give it a go if you can get your hands on some pig fat from a properly raised pastured animal (another reason to support local farmers).  It's not hard to do and it's much healthier than buying lard from the grocery store.  Give it a try!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Joel Salatin is coming to Alberta in 2 weeks!

Thrilled to share that Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms is coming to Alberta for a 3 day conference!  What an amazing opportunity to learn from an intelligent, knowledgeable "beyond organic" farmer.

Check out Verge Permaculture for details and tickets!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Green Gorgeousness

While I haven't yet started the bulk of my seeds indoors, I have started a few herbs.  This sage is coming along nicely and smells SO good when I gently rub the leaves.  I sorely miss having fresh herbs for cooking and am really eager to companion plant a load of them in my garden.  Can you see the bite marks in the spider plant leaves at the bottom of the photo?  BAD kitty....

This Christmas Cactus has quite a story to it - it's a slip from a parent plant that is over 100 years old.   I was recently at a friend's house for a visit (after a very long time of absence) and was truly astonished at the sheer size of the massive plant (perhaps 4 feet around?) sitting majestically on a lovely stand in front of her living room window.  It was the picture of health and vitality!  Looking at the base of the plant, I could tell it was OLD, but never did I expect her to say over 100 years old!  She inherited the plant from an aged family member who passed away and is now the proud 4th generation in her family to care for it.  My friend takes slips from it regularly and pots them up to give away.  I was the lucky recipient of this one, and I'm really excited to have it.  Apparently the parent plant blooms faithfully every Christmas and Easter just like clockwork.

I hope that mine does, too :)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Local Food in Edmonton

I'm incredibly passionate about sourcing and eating local food.  I believe that the current conventional food system is far from sustainable and that the quality of conventionally produced food has plummeted to new lows.  I am vehemently against genetically modified foods and I refuse to support the system that embraces them.  Mainstream, conventional food production is a very broken, corrupt system....  Rather than complain about that, I'm simply withdrawing my money from that system and I'm resolutely marching forward to do something about it by taking action close to home.

Last night I attended the monthly Edmonton Permaculture Group meeting and thoroughly enjoyed hearing from a few local food producers.  The theme of the evening was "How we can access local food and why we need to".   We are fortunate to have an ever expanding resource list of where to buy local food from here in the Edmonton area.  Slow Food Edmonton and Organic Alberta are great resources to get you started!

Of all the choices out there, let's not forget that the simplest solution is often overlooked. It's economical, incredibly convenient and dead easy to have fresh, nutritious, local, organic food ON YOUR DOORSTEP simply by planting a garden.  With just a small time investment and the sun's generous donation of energy, you can easily supplement your local weekly food purchases with your own high quality organic food.

If you've never gardened before and have nobody in your life who can show you how, here are a few opportunities for you to get started by learning through some experienced local permaculturists:

Claudia @ Wild Green Garden Consulting

Anita @ On Borrowed Ground

And let's not forget the local folks at Shovel and Fork who have a "superfantastic" lineup of courses INCLUDING basic gardening as well as many other lost art skills from beekeeping to butchering...  do check them out!

If you are new to the Edmonton local food movement, I encourage you to click on those links above to get in touch with some wonderful local people doing some truly amazing things.  Alternatively, stop by the Old Strathcona Farmer's Market on Saturdays and shop local!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Laying it all out

Just back from my second weekend of my Permaculture Design Course, I'm once again reeling from the barrage of innovative and profoundly intelligent design theory.  On our first weekend, the homework was to begin identifying the elements we wished to include in our property design and list those elements' needs and yields.  In response to that, I have three 11x17" sheets of paper listing elements, needs and yields taped to my kitchen cupboards.    I am continually adding to this list and the level of detail seems daunting...

A little bit of careful assessment sees some patterns emerge, however...  elements that yield certain things (such as heat, or nitrogen fixation as an example) benefit other elements that require those very things... and so the obvious connections form the "corner and edge pieces" of the intricate puzzle that we are beginning to put together.  The desire is to arrange those elements in such a way as to create mutually beneficial, harmonious relationships that give and take naturally with minimal (if any) intervention from me. It's all about PLACEMENT to allow those elements to naturally work FOR US, not the other way around.

 As an example, our cold climate chickens need clean bedding very regularly in the winter, so placing a shed for carbon storage (straw, wood shavings, shredded paper, etc) next to the coop makes sense.  Why haul such things day after day?  Why have a free standing shed, when if one is simply placed on the north side of the coop, we can net some wind break from it, keeping our chickens warmer in winter?  Taking that further, harvesting rain water from that shed (as well as the coop), provides water for the chickens so that I don't need to haul it.  One step further than that, we can plant a climbing vine to grow up the shed and the coop that will bear fruit and shade these structures in the hot summer months.  The fertilizer (manure) and water is close at hand...  this little stacking game can get so very detailed and complex from a design perspective, but all that careful placement really pays off by dramatically reducing the labour and energy inputs required to produce a high yield.    My instructor keeps repeating the mantra "100 hours of thinking and observing for 1 hour of planning".  I thought he was exaggerating at first, but now I GET IT.  Maybe you can't see how many eraser marks are on my design page... trust me, I've nearly worn through the paper in some spots!

I've decided to jettison the design work for a week and just read, observe and take notes. I'm too hung up on placing elements just now when I need to be focussing on learning more about needs and yields and natural connections.  The placement will sort itself out later when I have a better handle on the connections that beg to be made.

Here's what's on the side table to be read alongside my course material:

Have a great week!