Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homemade Crackers

Well, here it is.

I've finally made crackers that I like and that seem pretty easy and fuss-free.

I decided that this was something I needed to do after my friends Melanie and Jesse over at  Crackersblog, told me when I queried, that in fact they hadn't made crackers yet.  From the sound of their blog, they've been darn busy gardening and preserving.

I've tried a good few cracker recipes over the ensuing months.

The first was yeasted and the bloody things were delish in the spots where I rolled them thin enough, but even my beagle Darwin with his jaws capable of bone crushing force had a tough time with the thicker ones.  But, darn it...we ate them.

A few more kinds I made were un-yeasted and they were okay, but just didn't completely do it for me.

After fiddling around with a pretty simple recipe, I came up with the one that follows.

It was a good use for the "Sweet Corn Flour" that I found in a very interesting East Indian grocery store. The flour, from Manitoba, had me baffled. I bought it because I thought I'd like it because I absolutely adore cornmeal everything, but I've never actually found any recipes that call specifically for it. No mind. I put it in my breads and now crackers, and it is a welcome addition.

Homemade Crackers

3 3/4 cups flour (mine was 2 cups whole wheat, 1 3/4 cup sweet corn)
3/4 tsp sea salt
6 Tbsp olive oil
12 Tbsp water
crushed dried rosemary to taste (I think you could also add other seasonings-like caraway seeds, sesame seeds, or wherever your cravings take you.)

Preheat oven to 400 F
Mix together the flours, sea salt, rosemary and water. I just used clean hands, and got right into it. Add water and mix again to form a nice dough. Mine wasn't too sticky, but held together well.

Sprinkle flour on a Silpat or parchment paper. Divide the dough into thirds or half to work with.
Roll out thin...aim for 1/8" thickness.

Transfer to ungreased baking sheet, then cut into squares, but don't slice right through.
If desired sprinkle a bit more salt on the top. 

Bake for 10-15 minutes..just until they are starting to brown.
Pull out the the oven and cool on a rack. Break apart and enjoy!

(ps- they taste super-good with some of the chick peas (made into hummus) I bought at the same East Indian grocery store. That 10 lb bag has served me well!)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

(A Little More About) My Southern Ontario Winter Hoophouse.

Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest days for me here on my small Niagara farm.
And why? Well, the weekends are right around the corner, and those are the busiest times for restaurants, the ones I sell vegetables to anyway.
I'm happy to say that this continues to be the case year round.

This time of year the picking is time consuming...one leaf at a time. Small leaves, medium leaves or big leaves.  Those really are the choices.

I have about thirty different varieties of greens planted in the hoop houses. I have many varieties of mustards, from the typical to the less common, and also collards, chards and some tasty chinese greens.
These crops will make it through the winter-the radishes and carrots should too.

I have 3 hoop houses in total. The two larger ones are about 84' long, and hold a whole lot of food.

When I plant them I have to prioritize. So sadly, this means pulling out summer crops that are still producing, like heirloom tomatoes, and getting the winter ones seeded.

I aim for having crops in by late September, with the goal being that the crops will mature by the first week of November or so, when the days become shorter, and growth slows.

This fall has been a good balmy one, and I lucked out. I did get things seeded a little later, but the growth has been very good. In fact last week I seeded more bok choy, and it was up yesterday. It will grow very slowly.

When it gets very cold, the growth pretty much halts. That's when the great cover up begins.
I'll fashion little hoops out of plastic coated wire, and lay my agricultural fabric completely over all my crops. My goal with the hoops is to keep the fabric from touching the crops directly. It will get damp from being in the humid hoophouse and freeze on the leaves, thus ruining some of them.

One of my hoophouses has a double layer of poly, with a blower, which fills the cavity between the two layers with air. Clearly, things do quite well in this hoophouse. The other hoophouse is a single poly, but it actually does very well too. There isn't a huge difference.

When the hard freezes come, the greens underneath the fabric will in fact freeze. But when I wait till the hoophouse heats up, usually mid-morning, the greens are fresh and as unfrozen as can be. And all that much sweeter for having been nicely frosted. Amazing, but true.

When I pick, I pick one leaf at a time, instead of cutting out the whole plant, because the leaves continue to produce. I just don't run out of produce, until the time when the days are longer and the signal is sent to the plants to send up their seed stalks...spring is here! The flowers of the winter crops as well as their tender seed pods are very tasty too, but then the time comes. Time to yank out the winter plants, or till them under and get the tomatoes planted and the greenhouse tables set up for the transplants.

Then back to the season of pests and watering and weeding.

Ah-yes. That's yet another appeal of winter growing, less garden work.

Sound like fun? It actually really is, and quite amazing. Good food, fresh food all winter long!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Southern Ontario Winter Hoophouse

There's a mix of summer and fall in our meals right now. 
A few Sweet Solano tomatoes are still gracing our salads, picked as they ripened, but saved from the hard frost before fully ripe.
It's so wonderful to be munching, sauteing and roasting sweet and hot peppers that are storing well in the cooler.

Some are still surviving in the hoop house. The brilliant shock of red just makes it seem that much warmer in there.
But on the cool but sunny days, it's hot under that layer of poly. The doors are open to allow ventilation.
Because these are cool or down-right cold weather crops I'm growing in here. 
Here's a peek in hoop house #1...

And Hoop house #2....

It really is a lot of food.

I did 2 big picks yesterday and hmmm. Did I really?  The arugula is certainly diminished, but not much else.

This of course is good. Very good indeed. 

These crops were all seeded a bit later than most years. I think I was into the first week of October, but it's all worked out really well. A mild fall has seen to it that the seed germinated really quickly, and the plants have grown well.

I panicked a bit when I realized my Agribon fabric was pretty holey and mouse chewed.

This fabric is essential to keep the crops safe when the temperatures dip really low. So I placed a quick order yesterday to the good folks at Johnny's and it was mailed out yesterday too. (Such a great company to deal with.) I use the 19 weight, which has good light transmission and protects my crops very well under my poly. 

I've always found it important to prop up the fabric, so it isn't touching the plants. I've just lost too many leaves to frost burn from wet fabric freezing on the tender leaves.

I counted today. I have more than 30 different crops growing this winter. There are lots of mustards...


various pac choi, tatsoi, and bok choi.

And lettuces .

Much more too!

And of course, a chair. 

Because there is nothing better on a frosty cold and sunny Southern Ontario day than sitting in the hoop house, face to the sun, feeling the warmth go through you, and smelling the richness of the earth as it grows good food. 

Insta-vacation!  It's all so good.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christmas Open House December 4!

If you need something a little different for a Christmas gift, would like to buy some December fresh vegetables, and also have a peek inside my fields of green in the hoop houses, mark your calendar.

I'm having a little event on December the 4th from 10-2 pm and hope folks can make it out.

We did a lot of canning this year, so there will be preserves to buy, dressed up a bit for gift giving, and a good selection of gift baskets,  some with preserves, calendars and some with fabulous and unique heirloom seeds and just a bit more. If you have a gardener on your list, I will have copies of  Steven Biggs and Donna Balzac's "No Guff Gardening" available for purchase. It is a great book and would make an exceptional gift for either the beginning gardener or the seasoned gardener. It's just a good read and good fun.

There will be hand knit slippers and mitts, baking, a bit of art and a cup of warm cider to take the chill off. Maybe a bit more too....I'm working on it!

And don't forget. If you need fresh vegetables, I'm picking greens daily throughout the winter. After the frosts they are ultra sweet and fresh tasting, and a bit more appealing than what you may find in stores at this time of year (in my humble opinion).

The next blog post I write will be about what is happening in the hoop houses now and specific things I'm growing, but if you want to see and chat in person, come on out.

I look forward to seeing you. And don't forget Joey, my pig-on-a-diet loves any spare apples you may have hanging around!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Attack on the Canadian Wheat Board:7 Reasons Non-Farmers Should Care...and Act

Please take the time to read this information I received today from the National Farmer's Union. This is a terrifically important issue that affects all Canadians, not just farmers.  And thank-you.

The Attack on the Canadian Wheat Board: Seven Reasons Non-Farmers Should Care ... and Act
Saving the Canadian Wheat Board matters to you. Losing the CWB will affect the food you serve to your family, your community’s economy, and Canada’s democracy.
On October 18th, Prime Minister Harper introduced legislation, Bill C-18, to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. The majority of farmers oppose the Prime Minister’s plan—farmers have repeatedly voted for a strong, effective CWB. Farmers are organizing and protesting. But to save our democratically controlled marketing agency, farm families need your help, and the help of the organizations with which you work.
The loss of the CWB will hurt every Canadian family. Here are seven reasons why non-farmer Canadian citizens should act to help protect the Wheat Board:
1. Privatization and loss of economic control Few sectors of the Canadian economy are 100% owned and controlled by Canadians. But one is: our multi-billion-dollar western wheat and barley marketing system. If the Harper government destroys the CWB, it will turn over to transnational corporations (most of them foreign) a critical sector of our economy that is now owned and controlled by Canadian citizens. What C-18 takes away from farmers and other Canadians, it gives to grain giants such as Cargill.
2. Genetically modified food In 2000, Monsanto moved to introduce genetically modified (GM) wheat. Farm organizations, environmental groups, and citizens’ organizations banded together to stop Monsanto and keep GM wheat out of Canadian fields and foods. United, we succeeded. The CWB was a crucial ally. Many people and organizations believe that had it not been for the work of the CWB, Canadians would now be eating food made from GM wheat. Lose the CWB and we may lose the fight to stop GM wheat.
3. Food Sovereignty As an alternative to a globalized, long-distance, corporate-controlled food system, many Canadians are advocating Food Sovereignty, wherein farmers and all citizens collectively shape the food system we want for our families. The CWB is a good example of Food Sovereignty in action: a democratic agency controlled by food producers and citizens. By attacking the CWB, this government is pushing back hard against Food Sovereignty, serving notice that our future food system will be more far-flung, more corporate controlled. A government hostile to the CWB is hostile to Food Sovereignty.
4. National sovereignty Today, Canada has its own grain production, processing, handling, and transportation systems. Our Canadian Grain Commission sets and enforces quality standards—equal to the highest in the world. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates new seed varieties, keeping harmful ones out and ensuring farmers have access to seeds that grow well in our climate. Most of our grain flows “east-west”, hauled by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways and loaded onto ships at Canadian ports by Canadian workers. If we destroy the CWB, other parts of our Canadian grain system will be destroyed in turn. As the government empowers US-based grain transnationals, those corporations will chafe against Canadian regulations and push for the destruction of our Grain Commission, seed regulations, and the rest of our quality and regulatory systems. Destroying the CWB accelerates the Americanization of our grain and food systems.
Worse, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Chapter 11 gives US-based grain companies a veto over future attempts to rebuild our CWB. If we destroy it, we can’t get it back.
This information brought to you by the National Farmers Union5. Your economy The CWB is the cornerstone of our Canadian wheat and barley marketing, handling, and transport systems. Those systems create jobs:
in Winnipeg where the CWB, the Grain Commission, the Canadian International Grains Institute, and other agencies are headquartered;
in Thunder Bay, Ontario; Churchill, Manitoba; Vancouver, B.C.; and Montreal, Quebec; where Canadian export grain is cleaned, blended, and loaded onto ships; and
across Canada as money is retained in this country and spent in rural and urban centres. The CWB raises farmers’ revenues by $500+ million annually, money largely from foreign nations that is spent in urban and rural businesses across Canada. PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculated the CWB’s total benefit to the Canadian economy at more than $850 million annually. Without the CWB, citizens and communities across the nation will suffer financially.
6. Our democracy The vast majority of farmers want a strong, effective CWB. Farmers have reaffirmed that support in 10 votes—3 plebiscites and 7 sets of Directors Elections. Despite this, the Harper government is pushing forward to destroy the CWB. And it is doing so illegally. Section 47.1 of the CWB Act requires that farmers must vote in favour of major changes to the CWB. The government is ignoring that law and refusing to hold a vote. Also, the government is ramming its legislation through parliament, using closure to limit debate, refusing to let the Agriculture Committee examine the bill, and instead setting up an ad hoc committee to review the bill, but limiting that committee to just 5 minutes per section. Prime Minister Harper has announced he will “walk over” the farmer majority that support the CWB, and he has called his drive to dismantle the CWB a “train barrelling down a Prairie track." Our federal government is sneering at democracy, evading due process, and bending the law to the breaking point. If these antidemocratic tactics are not challenged, they will be repeated.
7. Farms and the land The CWB raises farmers’ prices and incomes. And the CWB provides equitable access to the market for all farmers, big or small. Losing the CWB will accelerate the loss of family farms. In so doing, it will concentrate farmland ownership in fewer and fewer hands. A blow to the CWB is a blow to family-farm agriculture, and the men and women who produce our food.
You can help protect our food supply, sovereignty, economy, and democracy
Time is short. We need to act fast. But action takes just 15 or 20 minutes. What is needed right now is for Canadians to write two short letters:
OnetoPrimeMinisterHarper,askinghimtoscrapBillC-18,hisdestroy-the-CWBlegislation,andto instead enact policies that foster Food Sovereignty and a strong Canadian nation and economy; and
OnelettertoCanadianSenators,askingthemtoresistpressuretofast-trackBillC-18,andtoinstead give careful and adequate consideration to this detailed and far-reaching legislation; to hold meetings of their Agriculture Committee; and to hear presentations from farmers, workers, businesspeople, and other Canadians who will be affected by this legislation.
Contact information for the Prime Minister and Senators is:
Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada 80 Wellington Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
FAX: (613) 941-6900
Canadian Senators
c/o the Clerk of the Senate Parliament Building Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4
FAX: (613) 992-7959
If you have the capacity, please send your letters to Ottawa via fax. Time is short. And please fax a copy to the NFU office: (306) 664-6226. PLEASE MARK “SENT” ON THE COPY YOU SEND TO US
This information brought to you by the National Farmers Union

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CBAN Alert:Stop Canada from legalizing unapproved GM foods

This alert was received from CBAN today...

Concerned about what you are eating and may be eating in the future? Don't really want to be a guinea pig? Please consider taking the following action and having your concerns heard.

This is what we already need to worry most about. Why add to the list?

Updated GM Food Chart 2011

Stop Canada from legalizing contamination from unapproved GM foods. 

Write to Agriculture Canada from http://www.cban.ca/llpaction

The Canadian Government is proposing to allow contamination of our food supply with genetically engineered foods that have not been approved for safe eating in Canada. Agriculture Canada has opened a comment period until November 25, 2011.

The Canadian government wants to allow a percent, 0.1% or higher, of our food to be contaminated with genetically modified (GM, also called genetically engineered) foods that have not been approved by Health Canada for safe human consumption. The GM foods will have been approved for safety in at least one other country but not yet evaluated as safe by our own regulators. The federal government calls this “Low Level Presence” or LLP and argues that this “low level” of contamination from unapproved GM foods is not harmful.

LLP is unacceptable and unjustifiable:
- LLP is trade policy at the expense of public health. The goal of LLP is to facilitate the free flow of goods into Canada, without the restriction of safety assessment.
-  LLP overthrows public health policy. LLP rejects Canada’s “science-based” regulation of GMOs because LLP assumes that GMOs are safe before evaluating the available data.
- LLP makes safety regulation irrelevant. LLP establishes an exception to the (already highly criticized and woefully inadequate) process whereby government regulators review scientific data to determine human health safety. The introduction of LLP will further undermine our international reputation for food safety as well as the confidence of Canadians in our food system.
- If LLP is introduced, it will be clear that the Canadian Government has no interest in protecting the health and safety of Canadians.

Write your letter today from http://www.cban.ca/llpaction

For more information visit http://www.cban.ca/llp

Donate today to support the campaigns at http://www.cban.ca/donate


Monday, November 7, 2011

Guest Post-Beet Leaf Buns

Thanks again to Leslie ( and her friend Jennifer) for this very special recipe and blog post.

Food can evoke some powerful memories and allow us to share time with special people in many ways, even if they are not with us.


Beet Leaf Buns
This past summer I saw a posting on Facebook (yes facebook) by a friend of mine, Jennifer, about how she was going to make Beet Leaf Buns. I was instantly intrigued as I had never heard of Beet Leaf Buns so I sent Jen a message. Turns out her Baba (Grandma) made these all the time when Jen was growing up. At the time of our chat about these buns Jen explained that her Baba had had Alzheimer’s disease for awhile and in the last few years it had progressed significantly and as a result Jen was becoming quite nostalgic, hence her trying to make them on her own. Coming from a part Ukrainian family like Jen, I was surprised that I had never heard of the buns. After inquiring with my mom and aunts they too had never heard of them before. Well after many batches this has now become a new tradition for my family. Thanks Jen for sharing your family’s tradition with me! I hope other people enjoy this recipe as much as my family does. 
This recipe is a combination of a few different ones that can be found online. Now Jen told me her Baba never made the sour cream sauce but she did fry chopped green onions in “skads” of butter and drizzled it over the buns and then tossed it all to make sure everything got a nice light coating. The choice is yours as both ways taste great! 
This blog post is in memory of Verna Serhienko (Jen’s Baba) who passed away on November 1, 2011. 
Raised bread dough (make your own or buy it ready made) 
Beet Leaves 
Sour Cream 
Onion powder 
Garlic powder
Fresh dill
Salt & Pepper 
Wash and dry beet leaves. 
Mix together approximately 1 cup of sour cream with onion powder, garlic powder, dill, and salt & pepper to taste.  Set aside. 
Grease a round roaster or large casserole dish with butter. Cut off small pieces of bread dough (about the size of a walnut) and wrap each in a beet leaf, rolling loosely. If leaves are very small, use 2 or 3 per bun. Place in the pan. Place the rolls tightly together. 

After you have laid the first layer, spread a few “small specks” of butter here and there and then slather with some of the sour cream mixture. 
Lay the next layer on top, and finish with more butter and sour cream mixture. 
Let sit for about 40 minutes, or until bread dough doubles in size. Place in a 350C oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour (or until bread is baked and getting golden on top) 
Serve with extra sour cream mixture for dipping. 

Seed Saving Season Never Ends

Last April I began the age - old process of saving seeds for the 2012 garden and for my seed sales.

Those plants considered "biennials " in terms of their seed saving cycle were planted back in the newly thawed ground. Winter radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, mangels and cabbages are amongst my favourites to save and replant.

The multi-legged Long Black Spanish winter radish above needed a large hole needless to say, coming in at a weight over 10 lbs. Big radish.

I store these items with the tops removed, in barrels and layered in straw, then plant them in the cool spring soil.  Then magic happens. The seed stalks shoot up, and months later I am harvesting the lovely dry seed.

Imagine- a bean necklace!

Jolly Jester Marigold

The seed saving continues for the entire season. From tomatoes, to peppers and eggplants, flowers, seed potato and potato berries, beans, peas and lettuces. I could go on, and certainly do!

The beans I am still in the process of gathering.

A late wet spring resulted in late bean plantings, and a wet fall has made it difficult to get the beans off the field. But worth the effort none the less.

I have dry beans in their dried up pods everywhere! On my bedroom dresser, hanging in the garage, in the basement, and "lucky beans" in most of my pockets. As does Mollie. Some of them are just so beautifully patterned we carry them for luck. They remind me of the beauty of nature and of diversity.  They also speak to the potential of everything...even a small pretty patterned bean.

These beans are food for now and for the future. They are also 'objet's d'art" in my opinion. I believe the potential of bean jewellery is huge. However I have failed to sell anyone on this idea just yet.

Beans are one of the last seed harvests in the garden, as are the members of the physalis family. Tomatillos, ground cherries and cape gooseberries sit well in their little husks for weeks, so I get to them when I have the time.

My massive Salinas Valley tomatillos

They are fun to get seeds from. I pull out my trusty "Vita Mix" blender, pop in the de-husked fruit with a healthy splash of water and whir the fruits on low speed until it is a pleasant mash.

I wait for a minute for the contents to settle and the heavier seed has sunk, while the pulp and skin floats above it. I strain off the mash on top ( feeding it to my resident pig Joey) and clean the seeds below in a sieve with cold running water.

They are then laid out to dry, packaged, hopefully labelled and stored in a dry cool place. For me, that's the bottom of my freezer in a mason jar.

Want to save more of your own seed? They key is saving seed from open pollinated varieties, isolating varieties so as to prevent cross pollination and ensure seed purity and storing seed properly.
The very best guide I have found is Suzanne Ashworth's book "Seed to Seed", worth every penny you will pay for it.

When you learn the basics, you can really start to have fun. You can create your own varieties, work on growing out your favourite hybrids until they are open pollinated, and join the seed exchanges to share your valuable seed.

And of course, Niagara Seedy Saturday provides this opportunity too. Mark your calendars and get your seed packaged.

And I'll see you at Brock University, Pond Inlet on Feb 11, 2012!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Ever feel stuck? Stalled or immobilized?

Stuck in a rut, in a job, in a relationship, in a mood?

Can't move. You're paralyzed.

Imagine how this little soul felt when he tried to get through a 1/2 " circle in a hard plastic planting box.

I'm so glad I found her.  It was really just a fluke of a thing. I looked in the right direction and there she was. Her gorgeous little brown eyes staring up at . Pleading silent. Help me, please.

She was wedged in pretty good. Her poor little bottom end just couldn't slip through.

What to do, what to do?

A few weepy moments then to the task at hand. It took me about 30 minutes to cut through the hard plastic with my secateurs. And ever so carefully as I approached her little body. I was so scared I would nip her.

But I freed her. She was in shock I think. I made her a nice little bed of straw to rest in, where it was safe.

When I came back she was gone. Scampered off I hope to do mousy little things. Survive.

Good luck little soul.

Turn to friends, I think that's the lesson. And friends might be those who you least suspect will help you.

We all need each other and can do good.

Why wouldn't we?