Lacto-Fermenting Workshop!

18 February 2017

Today I went to a really cool workshop at one of my favourite places in town, Little City Farm. LCF is one of our biggest inspirations when it comes to backyard homesteading and they run a variety of really interesting workshops there throughout the year. Everything from soap-making to chicken keeping for beginners (check out their website to see what else they're up to!).  Today I went to "The Art of Fermentation: An Intro to Lacto-Fermenting." I am a huuuuge fan of all things pickled (it's practically all I ate when I was pregnant with Harvey) so I was pretty pumped to learn how to make fermented things without vinegar or that didn't require traditional canning methods - you know the kind where you sterilize a bunch of jars, heat them up and all that jazz. 

So I'm not going to lie, initially the phrase "lacto-fermenting" sounded pretty odd ball to me.  But turns out it's one of the original ways to preserve food and maintain almost all of the nutrients in the food. I personally always thought that pickled things had to be made with a vinegar, is that just me? Anyways, these don't use any vinegar (mind blown) but a sea salt brine and a "probiotic starter" which the instructor told us was just equal amounts of red cabbage and water blended together, strained, and then left to do its thing for a few days. These types of pickles are FULL of probiotics and are great for your gut. Nice! 

A few key things I learned...
  • don't make pickles with tap water! Tap water here (in Kitchener-Waterloo) has chlorine and fluoride in it, which kill most bacteria including the good bacteria you want to make pickles
  • chop everything small so the bacteria can really get at the veggies
  • use a cabbage leaf on the top to push down the veggies and keep everything submerged in the brine
  • use organic veggies - most veggies and fruits have this almost powdery film on them (you can really see it on a red cabbage). This is called a bloom and it is where all the good bacteria live. You want this on your veggies and fruit! 
We got to make and take home a giant jar of pickles that we made at the end of the class and I'm really excited to try them after they ferment for a few weeks on top of the fridge. 

What a lovely way to spend a few hours this afternoon, in a sunny greenhouse making pickles with a bunch of ladies. 

Now I really want to pick up this book and pretty much ferment all the contents of our fridge ;) 


The Bee Dialogues

12 February 2017

I've JUST begun exploring the possibility of keeping honey bees in our backyard in the past 5 months, and I love sharing my excitement with friends, family, and colleagues.  It's perhaps unsurprising to you that my excitement has drawn mixed reviews, lol. Some of the responses I've received...

"Aren't they dangerous??"  
"Your backyard sounds like a really "kid-friendly" place... [tongue firmly in cheek]." 
"Dude, aren't they illegal?"  

You may be thinking these things too, and that's cool! So I thought I'd answer them here to give you a better idea...

"Aren't they dangerous??" 

Typically, no.  Wasps and hornets are more aggressive than honeybees.  They sting freely.  With reckless abandon. Honeybees, on the other hand, are much more conservative stingers.  Their stingers are barbed, so when a bee gives you a love-tap her stinger becomes stuck in her victim (I say "her" because male bees cannot sting).  Some of the bee's innards get left behind along with her stinger.  Result?  A dead bee and a cussing human.  Generally, honey bees will only sting when they feel threatened, or they think their colony is threatened (specifically, their brood and their food).

"Your backyard sounds like a really "kid-friendly" place... [tongue firmly in cheek]." 

Darn right!  It may not be the norm in 2017, but our kids are loving our adventure into vegetable gardening and the like so far.  Part of what motivates Nat and I to homestead is the resulting quality time together as a family.  Homesteading has led to more time talking, planning, working, playing, and enjoying the literal fruits and veggies of our labours.  Consequence?  More loooooooove in the home. On another note, the bee hive will be placed at the back of the yard surrounded by some shrubs to provide a bit of division from the rest of the backyard. But to be honest, we want the kids to see and (eventually) be able to interact with the hive. I mean, what an amazing learning experience! We also plan on having both kids tested before we get the bees to ensure they're not allergic.

"Dude, aren't they illegal?" 

I have looked into the legality of beekeeping in our city. The answer is yes, they're illegal... BUUUUUUT I'm going for it anyways.  Because it's worth it (I'll chat more about this later).  With my neighbours' blessings, careful planning, and of course the best of intentions, I think I'll be able to prevent any issues.  *Fingers crossed ;) Sidenote: Keeping chickens was illegal for years until this year and people all over the city still had them. Just sayin'. 

The Bee Dialogues I have with others are obviously a little easier if my chat-mate's reaction is positive.  I HAVE had some of these!  Which is sweeeeet!  So exciting!  But even if my friend's knee-jerk impulse is to shy away from bees the conversation still has the potential to lead to topics related to agriculture, food, organics, pesticides, and sustainability.  Again, Nat and I admit this is pretty hippy-dippy, but maybe we should all be a little more hippy-dippy if it's good for our health and good for the Earth.


Seeds Have Arrived!

3 February 2017

We have seeds! Woot!

We spent quite some time trying to figure out where to get our seeds from this year. Not gonna lie, prior to this I would just grab them at Home Depot (obviously... being picky about where you buy seeds is, perhaps, strange). This year, after some research, we knew we wanted organic, non-genetically modified seeds, and varieties that are somewhat native to our area. Supporting a family-owned, organic, seed-saving farm sounded like the most hippy-dippy and Portlandia-like move (the only step we omitted here was also visiting the farm to ensure our seeds were treated humanely).  Long story short, we ended up going with Hawthorn Farms which is about an hour from us and hits all of our requirements.  Score! I had requested a hardcopy catalogue, and last weekend when we had a date night we brought it along, got some food and hot chocolate and then ordered all of our seeds. The future bounty of the garden!

The plan is to re-plant our front garden with all pollinators/bee friendly plants.  This will attract more bees which in turn will help out our garden and keep our local bees happy, well-fed, and healthy. Bees are having a hard go of it right now so this is an easy way to help. So, we ordered a bunch of native pollinator plants as well as vegetable seeds too.

We may have gone a little seed crazy and ordered A TON OF SEEDS. But if we store them properly we can keep them for a few years.

The next step seed-wise is to wait until, you know, winter is done. Ha! There are a few varieties that need a "cold moist stratification" (I'm just trying to impress you now), so we can start those ones soon in the fridge since we missed out on planting them in the ground at the end of fall.

Progress guys.  Progress.

- Nat

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