Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Kitchen and Garden for Hard Times

Unfortunately, not all episodes of this series are available for viewing on the youtube. But the final episode is up in three parts and it's a fascinating one.

There is an absolutely ingenious method of saving fuel and space while cooking food, that starts around the 3:48 mark. I'm dying to try it out. I love the idea of tying food to the lid of a steam pot! And if you look carefully you'll notice that Ruth takes her tea saucer to use as a cover for the bowl of gravy that gets heated up in the bottom of the pot. Clever!

At 8:20 there's foraging for elderflowers and using them in pancakes.

Be warned that the second part contains a very graphic skinning of a rabbit. But the 'waste nothing' message at the 6 minute mark is valuable and relevant today. Although if I were Ruth I'd reserve the bean water she pours out for a soup stock, to water plants or at the very least put into the compost. Tsk tsk Ruth for pouring it down the drain!

I think the discussion of black markets 8 minutes in, is important and useful too.

Part 3 three is all about community and celebrations and sharing what you have, however little, with others.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

1lb 4oz of Goodness

Oh boy, I can't even begin to tell you how good it felt to gather these items together last Saturday, to draw my thumb across the blade of my bill hook to check for sharpness and then decide it could use a couple of passes from the stone. I opened and closed the secateurs and looked for signs of rust and wear. It all got packed up into my bike basket.

It felt so good to retrace the familiar streets and paths to the garden, noticing all the changes since I last passed in December. A new house is being built here, renovations are finished on that one there, up ahead is a stump where a tree used to be....

And wow, did it ever feel good to walk onto my plots and take it all in. I had visited a couple of times in the winter and paid a brief visit the other week when I was dog sitting, but this time I was here to observe, plan and work.

The work involved cleaning up and prepping some beds that I didn't get around to last fall. The observations I'll post about next time. But today I wanted to share with you my first harvest of the season.

Last spring I planted Japanese gobo, which is the cultivated version of the wild burdock that grows all around. It produces a larger root than the wild version, and when planted in a nicely prepared garden bed, is much easier to dig up than from the compacted, clayey soils it normally grows in, in this area.

Burdock is a biennial, which means that the first year's growth is all about gathering and storing energy in the root, and the second year is all about taking that stored energy to produce a flowering stalk that goes to seed and then the whole plant dies. The key to harvesting the root is to get it at its nutritional peak, before it spends the energy in flowering. The ideal time to harvest many roots, especially those containing inulin, like burdock does, is in the fall after that season's leafy growth has died back. If you miss the fall harvest, like I did, you can still harvest in the early spring before the new growth really starts going.

With the recent unusual heat wave, I suspected my gobo might be already growing and sure enough, there were new leaves uncurling and spreading open to the sun. So I grabbed my pitchfork and lifted all but two of the plants out of the soil (the two left I will let go to seed for saving.) One root was a good 3 inches across and maybe 7 or 8 long, the others a respectable 1 inch thick and of a goodly length. All were certainly larger than anything I've managed to wrestle out of the ground in the wild, and they had that delicious earthy, rooty smell that I love.

After finishing my chores for the day, I got back on my bike and took my bounty home to be well scrubbed and chopped and destined for the dehydrator.

I like to weigh all my garden harvests and it felt so darn good to take the kitchen scale off the shelf and weigh my very first garden harvest of the year.

1lb 4oz. 1lb and 4oz raised up from a wee seed, nurtured for nearly a year, carefully processed and stored and ready to provide nourishment and healing.

This small harvest is just a taste of all that is yet to come, and that feels really, really good.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Question for You

Does anyone else out there, who is experiencing above normal temperatures for longer than usual at this time of year, feel like it's not ok to say anything negative or critical about the weather?

We've had summer temperatures here in Ottawa for the last week and everyone is just loving it, can't get enough of it. People are out in flip flops, sundresses and board shorts. The patios are packed, parks are full, children scream down the streets on bicycles. Everyone is in love with the weather we're having.

And I am enjoying it too. My bike is also out. The sun oven is back in action. I'm doing yoga outside. Last Sunday I got a tan lines sitting outside reading in the sun in my two piece.

But. But I can't help worrying a little too. I worry about the maple syrup producers this year, the fruit growers, the migrating animals. I worry about drought and fire. I worry about heatwaves and smog alerts.

No, I'm not huddled in a corner, filled with debilitating anxiety or anything. I'm just a little uneasy about the unseasonably warm weather and the consequences of it.

However, around most people, I'm afraid to express those concerns lest I burst their early spring happiness bubbles. The few times I have, I get interesting responses. One person became quite defensive. Another pointed out that "weather is not climate" and another responded that this is just a fluke, followed by 'it happens'. Meaning I guess, that we'll return to normal soon and also that it's normal for the abnormal to happen. I held my tongue and didn't bother mentioning that we're smashing decades long records by degrees in the double digits and that those previous records only lasted for a day or two. What is happening right now is unprecedented and prolonged.

Apparently it's an issue for CBC radio too. The announcers on the Ottawa morning show were getting hate mail from listeners for being concerned about the weather instead of celebrating it, and were asked to be more positive when talking about the temperatures.

So now when the weather comes up, and of course everyone is talking about how wonderfully, glorious it is, I smile and nod and say "yes isn't it something?"

Then, I was at an event last Sunday and having a casual, small-talky conversation with a fellow and asked him if he had enjoyed his weekend and the weather. He replied that, while it was nice to be outside, he was actually concerned about the weird weather. Oh, bless him. I could have given him a big ole bear hug.

So what I'm wondering is if any of you have had a similar experience, that it's practically taboo to share your concerns and feelings about the weather. Do you sense that there is an expectation to celebrate the summer-like temperatures? And, if you do have concerns that you have shared, what kind of responses are you getting? For the worried in a world of those who seem unconcerned, how are you doing? Are you ok? Do you need a sympathetic ear? I've got two!

Sharon Astyk has a nice post up today about how she feels, that really resonated with me. She says, " is nice, but not NORMAL at my house, it is hard to love with a whole heart this world, whether this warming is momentary or meaningful. The long term predictions for my place echo in my head - like Georgia, only drier, by the end of the century. If we aren't having a Georgia spring, we are certainly having a Virginia one, and isn't without consequence."

Updated to add this informative article. Also this. I would love to know if Oprah and Obama were criticised for not being completely positive about the weather.

“We’ve had a good day,” Obama said. “It’s warm every place. It gets you a little nervous about what’s happening to global temperatures. But when it’s 75 degrees in Chicago in the beginning of March it gets you thinking … ”

“Something’s wrong,” Oprah interjected.

“Yeah,” Obama said. “On other hand we really have enjoyed the nice weather.”

Image source

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spruce Pitch Oil

It might be premature to post about this project, since it's my first time trying it and I'm only part way through and don't have any final results to report on yet. However I'm really excited and have a good feeling that it's going to turn out awesome. So but just caveat lector, k?

And, I couldn't resist sharing these pics with you. I warn you though, the first one is admittedly funky looking. It reminds me of old, dirty grease that some sweaty line cook named Bubba just scraped out of the deep fryer, dontcha think?

Ah, but don't be fooled. Because if you could close your eyes and stick your nose into the jar and take in a deep, robust lungful, you would immediately be transported into a vast evergreen forest, surrounded by aromas of spicy, citrus-y coniferousness (yes I just made that word up). This bit of matter is the gooey, oozy, sticky secretions of the Picea genus. It's spruce pitch! And I'm so excited to be working with it.

Spruce pitch or resin is the sticky fluid that you can often see dripping down the bark of many conifers like pines and spruces. (I used spruce pitch for this, but hope to work with pine as well.) Look for it especially around branches that have been cut off or broken and other areas of damage, because this is the tree's mechanism for sealing up and healing open wounds. Now having said that, it is really important to keep this in mind when harvesting the resin. If you take too much or expose the wound the tree is trying to protect, you slow the healing process and increase the tree's risk for infection and disease. We don't want to do that!

What I have learned from experienced herbalists is that it is ok to harvest the overflow resin. So if the tree produces excess resin, you can take some of this as long as you make sure you aren't removing it directly from the open wound.

When I harvested my resin I actually spread and pressed some extra resin back into the wound, hoping that I might be helpful to the tree. I don't know if that is a valid assumption or not, but at least I don't think I did any harm. Perhaps someone who knows better can correct me.

Anyway, expect that your fingers, and anything they come in contact with, will get very, very stick in this process. Try doing this while walking your boss's dog, with leash and poo bags in one hand and resin jar in the other. It's fun! But don't worry, a little bit of vegetable oil on your hands with some soap and water, cleans them up good.

My plan is to infuse the resin in oil so I can make a salve from it (a combo of almond and olive oil in this case). I filled the jar with two parts oil to one part resin.
To extract the medicinal constituents like resin acids and terpenes like alpha and beta-pinene and limonene, moderate heat seems to work well. A bain marie on the stove would work fine no doubt, but it being the first day of spring yesterday, I brought the sun oven out for the first time this season and used that.
So here's how the infusion looked after a few hours in the sun oven. The oil is no longer clear. It has turned a deep orange/amber colour. Some bits of bark and needles have floated to the top and quite a bit of sediment has settled on the bottom. The oil smells divine already. I'm infusing it again today and will see how it looks later. The next step will be to strain the oil so it's ready to be used as is or turned into salve. I can't wait!
So what can you use it for? Well since this is my first attempt, I can't speak from experience, but there is a long history and even longer list of ailments that spruce resin has been known to treat including insect bites, removing splinters, skin infections, cold sores, eczema, sprains and strains, as a chest rub for respiratory infections...

Like I said, the list is long and I don't have experience using it to treat anything yet, but I'm looking forward to getting to know and working with this plant medicine.

I found this fascinating article on how the Gwich'in people traditionally used spruce resin and other parts of the spruce tree for food, tools and medicine.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

This and That

I am house and dog sitting for my boss and his family, who are away for the March break. It's quite nice living above ground. The ceilings are tall, the house is bright and there are so many windows! I could get used to this. A few other perks of the gig include a cute doggie, a fireplace, dishwasher, bathtub and use of a vehicle. My carbon footprint is higher than normal, but I'm enjoying this little bit of luxury while it lasts.

I took the day off work yesterday and caught up on my FarmStart homework and botany coursework. I settled myself in front of the fire, with a cup of my new favourite tea blend, while it rained outside.

On my first day at the house, I made sure to bring a little of the outdoors in, and gathered these pussy willows on one of my walks with the dog.

That the catkins are already budding seems crazy early to me. But we're experiencing record temperature highs right now. And that's crazy too. They're forecasting high teens and low 20s over the next few days, when normal highs are usually around 7°C. Global weirding indeed.

This is my new favourite tea blend. Dried hyssop and lavender from the garden with ginger. I picked up a huge bag of ginger from the sale rack at the grocery store for a couple of bucks and spent an evening processing it for the dehydrator. I love the warming spiciness of ginger, mixed with the soothing aroma of lavender and yummy taste of hyssop.

I pick up my laptop from the shop tomorrow, so hopefully I'll be back to more regular posting. (Thanks ADG for so generously lending me yours!)

Saturday's FarmStart session is a field trip to a nearby farm, and I plan to report back on that with pictures.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Revealing the Hidden Harvest

These people are my friends. I heart them. They radiate awesomeness. And so does their new project.

"Ensuring Ottawa's fruit and nuts are valued, picked, and shared.

Hidden Harvest Ottawa is a social enterprise launching this spring, supporting Ottawa's urban orchard through planting trees and organizing harvest events.

We will be seeking lead volunteers to organize community harvest events (training provided), as well has volunteer harvesters and tree owners who would like the bounty from their edible trees to be put to good use.

Sign up to be the first to hear when we are accepting applications for volunteers and harvest locations.

Together we will make good use of healthy, local food. We will be addressing climate change with our forks, and building community by sharing our urban abundance!

If you live in Ottawa, you should check it out!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Meadow in the Sky

Posting is thin of late because my laptop has been in the shop for a week getting some repair work done. Hopefully I'll have it back soon!

I thought I would feel much more set adrift without a constant and steady internet connection at home in the evening, and though there have been times when I wanted to do a search for something online and I am getting behind in my botany course and favourite podcasts on herbalism and permaculture, I haven't missed my computer as much as I imagined I would.

I've been doing a little cursory reading on agroforesty, the art of coppicing, the polewood economy and the potential for developing these practices in a modern, permaculture context. One article I read talked about the use of pollarded, or high coppiced trees for livestock fodder. It was a common technique once used to provide high protein food to animals, especially through the winter. It was sometimes referred to as 'cultivating the meadow in the sky'.

I read that line and just about died and went to heaven. I mean how lovely is that? Cultivating the meadow in the sky. It's poetry. And from what little I know, it sounds like an incredibly elegant and regenerative approach to woodlot management.

Anyway, I just wanted to leave that wonderful visual here for you all to imagine, while I wait for my laptop to be fixed.

Oh and speaking of wonderful visuals, I've also been drooling over master woodsman Ben Law's home. Have a look!