Uh oh!

November 30, 2009

Photo: James Tse

According to a study by Ketchum that was reported in the February issue of Canadian Grocer magazine, 78% of Canadians would like to get their food from local farms or companies by 2020.  Regrettably, this isn’t likely since as Rebecca LeHuep, executive director of the  Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance pointed out in the September issue of that same magazine, “by 2012, more than 60% of farmers and farm managers will be retiring. The average age of a farmer is about 57 and he doesn’t have a succession plan for his farm.” In an email correspondence Rebecca shares another grim stat that between 1991 and 2001 Ontario lost 135 of its farmers.

Beyond the fact that these stats reveal a disappointing gap between Canadian consumer aspirations and the reality of farming situation, LeHeup’s comments point out that we may be en route to becoming a society almost solely dependent on other countries for food.

Would you ever consider being a farmer?  Or, if you are a farmer, is it a career choice you’d make again?


Garlic: it’s not too late to plant

November 13, 2009

iStock_000002952072SmallYesterday I had a nice chat with Warren Ham, the farmer who runs August’s Harvest garlic farm in Stratford, Ontario and guess what he said? It’s not too late to plant some garlic so that you have a home harvest next year. In fact, even if the ground is frozen in your area, Warren says you can scatter compost over the hard ground; plant the cloves and then top them with a thickish layer of compost and you’ll have garlic scapes for stir fries next spring. Seriously.

So, if you were wondering what to do this weekend, now you have plans!  Just follow these tips – provided by Warren – for growing garlic:

  • Make sure you choose cloves that are hard and solid.
  • Plant in a raised bed of about 4-inches to give the bulb uncompacted soil that will allow the roots to develop and for excess rain to drain away in the spring.
  • Plant each clove with the root plate end down
  • Space the cloves 5 inches (12.5 cm) apart
  • Plant near a fence or hedge that can act as a wind break to prevent winter kill

In the spring, harvest the scape flower 10 to 14 days after it appears and use it in your recipes. Harvest the bulbs at the end of the season when the leaves have died back by 30% (the bulbs will open if left longer. Dig from the ground, hang and cure for at least a week before using them in recipes.

Have you ever grown your own garlic?  If not, now that you know how easy it is, will you try?


Topline Trends Tuesday: Crystals, cow horns and moon beams – biodynamics defined

October 27, 2009

Even if they can’t recite technical definitions of words such as organic and all-natural, most people have a strong sense of what these terms mean. However, when it comes to biodynamics, I doubt there are very many Canadians who can confidently spout a definition.

Yet, some people believe that biodynamics is the next big thing. So, to help all of us (until I started researching this post, biodynamics confused me, too) here are the essential things you need to know about biodynamics. Seariously, keep reading and you’ll easily carry on a cocktail party conversation about biodyamics! (Your grateful hosts are welcome to send me thank you cards if they like. Email me for my address.)

Biodynamics:
1. is a specific method of organic farming.
2. strives to be a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the earth to the movement of the cosmos.
3. looks upon the soil and the farm as living organisms that are holistically linked and interdependent.
4. regards the maintenance and feeding of soil life as a basic necessity that will preserve soil quality for generations.
5. uses an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.

Still having trouble envisioning how biodynamics can impact your life? Check out these real-life biodynamic food and beverage products:
Southbrook Farm’s Biodynamic Wine
Zhena’s Biodynamic Tea
Australian William’s River Beef and lamb

Want to take your level of biodynamic knowledge to the moon? Check out the Demeter website or watch the video posted above.

Have you ever bought a biodynamic product? If not, will you now that you know more about this farming system? Or, is this just some crazy idea whipped up by pot-smoke addled hippies?


Grow your own apples

September 25, 2009

appletreeFridayI don’t have my own apple trees but I do live a short drive away from Pine Orchard Farms, a wonderful orchard in King City, Ontario where row after row of wonderful apples grow in abundance. Although home gardeners will never plant trees on this scale, the same rules apply whether you have to tend to two trees or 200.

• Choose a location that offers 8 hours of sun per day (trees in shady areas won’t produce ample fruit).
• For pollination to occur, you need to plant at least two trees within 3 o 4 m of one another.
• Well-drained soil is very important since too much moisture will harm the roots of both new and established trees.
• Likewise, the soil needs to be rich; abundant nutrients are essential for a bountiful crop, so when planting, work compost, bonemeal or bloodmeal into the planting holes dug for each sapling.
• To maintain richness in the soil, add compost each fall or spring around the base of the trees as far out as the drip line; top up with mulch except near the trunk where excessive moisture can cause rot.
• Each fall clear fallen fruits from around the base of the trees to minimize the occurrence of apple maggots and other pests that can ruin the next crop of fruit


This wraps up apple week! Check out 10 tasty ways to eat apples for more suggestions on how to make the most of the season.


Grape expectations

September 4, 2009

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Does everyone have food memories that take them back to their childhood? Probably. I know I have many.

At this time of the year, popping a semi-seedless Ontario Coronation grape on my tongue and feeling that burst of juicy goodness takes me right back to age 11 when my family lived in a house whose former owners had valued self-sufficiency very highly. Our standard-issue suburban yard was crammed full of wonderful fruit-bearing plants: damson plums, peaches, apples and pears grew in our backyard. All around the house, positioned above the lower storey windows like living awnings, were full, glorious grape vines whose leaves shaded the house all summer.  I fondly remember, as an 11-year-old, teetering on my desk chair to open the window, sliding back the screen and picking a bouquet of blue-black grapes to eat before settling down to memorize my first list of spelling words for the school year.

Coronation and the other Ontario blue grape variety, Fredonia, are only available from mid-August to late September, so this is the perfect weekend to pick up a basket if you don’t have a grape vine growing over your bedroom window.

During the rest of the year, most commercially-available table grapes sold in Canada are imported from places like California. You can easily distinguish native blue table grapes from other table grapes by examining their size and skin. Imported table grapes are considerably larger than the blue grapes Canadian home gardeners can grow and they have skins that cling to the flesh of the fruit. Canadian-grown blue grapes, on the other hand, are each about the size of a small marble, cluster in tight bunches on the vine and feature ‘slip’ skins that can easily be removed from the fruit.

These wonderful little grapes are still a favourite of mine to eat out of hand, but I also like to add them to salads and use them in this once-a-year focaccia recipe:

Coronation Focaccia

1 envelope fast-acting dry yeast
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) bread or all-purpose flour (approx)
1/2 tsp (2 mL)  salt
3/4 cup (175 mL) very warm water
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey
1/4 cup (50 mL)  melted butter
2 cups (500 mL) Ontario blue grapes, halved and seeded if necessary
1/3 cup (75 mL) muscovado or granulated sugar

1. Stir yeast with flour and salt and reserve. Stir water with lemon juice, honey and melted butter in a large bowl. Stir in half the flour mixture and blend well. Stir in remaining flour mixture and turn out onto the counter. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic,  adding up to 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra flour if necessary. Place in a lightly buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Rest for 10 minutes.

2. Turn dough out of bowl and press out all the air. Roll dough into a large rectangle. Scatter half the grapes over dough and sprinkle with half the sugar. Brush around the edge of the dough with a little water and fold dough like a letter to make a rectangle. Crimp the edges of the dough to seal. Sprinkle with remaining grapes, turning skin side up and pressing gently into dough. Sprinkle with sugar. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

3. Tent bread with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Bake focaccia on middle rack for 25 to 30 minutes or until well browned. Immediately loosen bread with a spatula from pan (it will be saucy on the bottom) and slide onto a rack to cool. Makes 1 loaf.


Green bean dress-ups

July 27, 2009

TracyGreenBeansUsually by mid July my garden is bulging with green beans. This year, due to our sucky Ontario weather, I’ve had to buy green beans for most of July. Now, at last, I have bush as well as French green beans on the vines in abundance.

While I love to eat green beans that have been simply boiled and tossed with butter, salt and pepper, there are a lot of beans in this garden that are going to be ready pretty much all at once. I have a feeling I need to be ready with some alternate ways to serve them. Otherwise, Oliver may take me hostage and demand another vegetable as ransom. Well, no. That’s not truly likely but regardless, I think we’ll enjoy our crop more if I mix it up a bit with a few simple dress-ups:

Gremolata: Toss hot green beans with enough extra virgin olive oil to coat lightly. Add finely chopped parsley and grated lemon zest, a dab of minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste.

Lemon Pecorino: Toss hot or cool green beans with a little grated lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and coarsely cracked black pepper. Stir in a little minced garlic. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and add a handful of finely diced pecorino or asiago cheese. Toss before serving.

Tonnato: Purée some canned tuna with equal parts mayonnaise and olive oil to make a soft paste. Add an anchovy fillet and a tablespoon of capers. Purée, adding lemon juice and pepper to taste. Toss with green beans or spoon over beans and serve on a platter.

Soy ginger: whisk equal parts soy sauce and sesame oil until well combined. Stir in a little minced ginger. Toss with hot green beans. Season with lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds if you like.

Do you have any yummy ways you like to serve green beans that you’d like to share?

Photo credit: Tracy Cox


How to grow a great pumpkin even if you aren’t Charlie Brown

May 20, 2009

garden

I’ve had challenges as a grower of pumpkins. Last year, despite planting seedlings from an entire packet of heirloom seeds, I only got one (albeit a beauty) pumpkin for my troubles. That’s it pictured above. Lovely, isn’t it?

This spring I started pumpkin seedlings in my little greenhouse only to have each of the sturdy stalks that popped up die over night when I transplanted them to larger pots. It was a sad morning.

So, given my lackluster track record, I’m trying something new with the two new packets of seeds I bought last weekend. I read an article in Grow Magazine about planting squash and, knowing that pumpkins are a type of squash, I’m following their instructions. My hope is that I can, with good luck, create a vision of spooky splendour this Halloween using my own crop.

Here’s what the article suggested:

1. Make a mound of dirt in the sunniest part of the garden. (check!)
2. Dig a hole in the centre of the mound and sink a plastic nursery pot into the hole. Back fill around it so that the empty pot is submerged in the soil. (check!)
3. Plant the pumpkin seeds around the submerged pot as directed on the package. (check!)

What’s the purpose? Well, you can add water to the submerged pots and water the roots of the plants more effectively!

Will it work? Only time will tell. At this point I don’t even have sprouts showing but I’ll be sure to get back to you as the season progresses.

Do you have any pumpkin patch tips for me?