Saturday, March 30, 2013

wild foods (aka sourdough bread)

I recently went to a book signing and talk on fermentation at Banyan Books. The author in question is Sandor Katz, the Kraut guy. I found him to be very informative and entertaining, and I got one of his books, "Wild Fermentation, The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods".

Therefore the experiment of the week: sourdough bread.

This is the starter I made:

2 boiled potatoes, which I mashed in their own water
2 cups unbleached whole wheat flour (it could be any unbleached flour)
1/2 cup unpasteurized honey
2 tsp salt

I mixed it and put it into a glass casserole dish with a lid (lacking a crock). I have let it sit on the kitchen counter where it has done its thing, getting quite bubbly and sweet and yeasty smelling after 2-3 days.

Yesterday, I took a cupful or so of the starter and made a whole-wheat, millet loaf. It turned out pretty well, considering. I think I was a bit impatient in letting the cooked millet cool, so perhaps added it to my dough when it was a bit too warm. That might have killed the yeast a bit. The resulting loaf rose fairly slowly and the texture of the bread in the end was a little heavy with big pockets of air running through it, rather like swiss cheese. Obviously, I need to revive my long-dormant bread-making skills and be a bit more patient with the process next time.

In the meantime, whenever I have only about a cupful of starter left, I feed it another cupful of water and flour. I give the whole thing a stir with a wooden spoon every couple of days. Pretty much any yeasted bread recipe you like can be made with the starter as the substitute for the yeast: pancakes, muffins, French bread, sourdough rolls, injera....(oooh, injera! more on that later)

update: uprisings (aka first seedlings)

The mini choi seedlings coming up a few days ago... look like this!

Seedlings of pot marigold making an appearance. I have to confess I haven't had the courage yet to place the "insect beacon" pots out on the ledge outside the balcony as planned. I suspect that the whim will strike one of these days, perhaps when I'm assured that the flower seeds I've planted have taken and I've thinned them as necessary.

The blueberry, Vaccinium x "Chippewa', is a bit earlier than my other blueberry, 'Patriot'. The blooms are just about to open. Now all we need are a few bees to pollinate the flowers, and soon we'll have fruit!

Here betwixt and between the tarragon, mizuna, and kale, the experiment in "eating your veg and planting them too": can you see the green onions? Leaving an inch or so of the onion attached to the root end and popping it into the soil works like a dream. The seedlings are those of chervil.

Here, the Winsor beans are also showing some green. I'm still regretting that I didn't start them last fall. Oh well.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

the telephone and how to be awol without guilt

The phone rang today while I was catching up on my reading. At first, I felt terribly guilty for ignoring it and silencing the ringer. You wouldn't think I was still -- after all this time -- capable of being yanked about by other people's expectations, but I am.  Long ago, I was rather proud of my ability to ignore the phone -- much to annoyance of some who expected me to be available and at their beck and call, day or night.

What kind of tyranny do we allow ourselves to submit to? That's it, exactly. Despite answering machines, messaging abilities, etc., we still feel compelled to answer the phone, no matter how important the task we might be involved in, or how dangerous answering the phone might be in that precise moment.

Don't believe me? Maybe you don't feel it, but I've been left feeling enormously guilty when I choose to ignore the phone in the midst of popping up a batch of stove-top popcorn, no matter how hazardous interrupting that activity might be (and not for the reason of the mere satisfaction of my popcorn addiction, obviously.)

For many reasons -- not the least of which being the importance of fragrant, fresh-out-of-the-pot stove-top popcorn -- one shouldn't try to pop a batch of stove-top popcorn if there is a chance of being interrupted! It's a safety concern of course. And, besides, it doesn't take long, a few minutes at most! So, is it unreasonable to be unavailable for 5 minutes?

I'm sorry if this is a rant, but it's my perhaps over the top reaction to my unhealthy need to be nice.

So, I realized today that my reading is my work. Many work-places actively discourage personal phone calls to and from their employees while at work. So, why should I be any different in my own work-place, ie my home if it is, for all intents and purposes, my work-place!

Not everybody finds this balancing act as difficult as I do, of course. But I realized and I am again re-iterating my right to claim my time as my own and I can always check the messages left and deal with them later, when I am not working!

mysteries unfolding

Hah! After a couple of days of glorious sunshine accompanied by somewhat damaging winds, my unprotected pot of mystery seedlings (due to my vague record-keeping) is the first -- the first! -- out of the gate and has sprouted some seedlings. Who wants to place bets on what they might be?
   a. toy choi
   b. chervil
   c. something else altogether

And here's evidence of the effect of the winds. A bamboo wind-chime given to me by my friend Melody has chafed itself to a partial disintegration. Fortunately, the rest of the wind-chime is still intact and I can restring this bit and tie it back in.

Meanwhile, the kale and mizuna are putting on vigorous growth and begging to have a leaf or two stolen for inclusion in a meal soon. What shall I make? A salad? An Asian-inspired noodle bowl?

Saturday, March 16, 2013


So I noticed I'm lazy! Not news to some, I'm sure! Still, I'm all for making life easier if possible without falling into the trap of enslaving future generations to gratify my wants (dumping the real costs of environmental degradation on my grandchildren and great-grandchildren).

But the problem is watering. To keep my Balcony PermacultureFood Forest watered has thus far required several way, way too many trips back and forth to the kitchen sink to refill the milk jug that serves for now as my watering can. (Those who remember my previous gardens will wonder at that, but I got rid of nearly all my tools and accessories when I moved across the country from Ontario to British Columbia nearly 3 years ago.)

I'm ok with making one trip if it's like ... super-efficient, but realize there's only so much I can physically carry on that trip from the kitchen sink to the balcony.

I've toyed with some sort of hose that will reach from sink to balcony, but other than the shopping channel's collapsible hose version, I've found nothing that grabs me yet in my vague attempts at browzing through the garden centres, etc., locally. Plus, I'm kind of averse to buying another plastic thing created from petro-chemicals and shipped from who knows where.

So, I'm into scavenging. I think that at least is better than encouraging somebody to make more crap to crap up our environment when somebody decides it's garbage.

Here's where the internet comes to the rescue. Here are some of the ideas I've gleaned by roaming around and that I think I may be able to adapt to my own situation.

A way to connect multiple buckets, such as I have, to a water butt:

And then there's the buckets themselves, which I can envision making more environmentally friendly by using materials like gravel, seashells (instead of two buckets), and bamboo (for the down-pipe), all fairly easy for me to obtain locally. No need to double-bucket. I can instead use a single bucket, or even better a clay pot, gravel on bottom, straw or landscape fabric to keep soil in place and lengths of bamboo instead of pvc pipe (which has huge issues).

Of course, I realize I have already put the cart before the horse. Besides having many perennial plants in my pots, I have also started planting seeds for this year's annual crops. If I am going to have a self-watering system, I am going to have to retro-fit what I have somehow. Hmmmmm.

I'm going to have to think about the design and materials and whether it's worth it to risk damaging the perennials and re-seeding the rest to retrofit the pots I have! Aaaargh!

seeding aka jumping the gun, 4

The next two pots are the break-away pots. I haven't had the courage yet to put them out onto the stone-covered ledge outside the boundaries of my balcony, even though the vote was overwhelmingly to do so! They are fairly small square plastic (?) pots from Canadian Tire, approximately 14 inches by 14 inches.

The first has a fuchsia in it that is hardy in this area. (I'll have to find out which fuchsia it is as I've forgotten.) At its feet there is a small English thyme which I may or may not move, as it would be difficult to harvest if it's  living outside the balcony railing. Also at the feet of the fuchsia, I seeded some calendula aka pot marigold.

The other square pot will also be another Insect Beacon. A lavender already lives in it, and I seeded it with some dill ("Dukat") and California Poppies. I'll also add some Verbena "Brazilian" to it later for height.

So what does it look like now? Here's a picture:

The herbs in the little window box will probably not continue to live there. I hope to find a better box/basket arrangement for the balcony railing to which they will be moved. The window box may end up living over a fish-tank in the future.

seeding aka jumping the gun, 3

The next pot down will later be another tomato (did I say I love tomatoes?), so now, another white plastic restaurant-sized food-container pot is planted with broad Winsor beans and arugula. I think broad beans planted in the fall would have been a better timing for things, but -- ah well. So this is where they will live for now:

The next pot is another black pot from Canadian Tire. Into it I planted "mange tout" peas, aka "Snow Green" snow peas. They will be followed by another tomato.

And this is how it looks so far. Don't you love my view? If you lift your eyes over the rooftops, the view is better, trust me! On a clear day, I can see Vancouver Island across the Georgia Strait. Really!

On that balcony railing I am hoping to put a hanging planting box/bag that will house herbs and some colourful flowers.

seeding aka jumping the gun, 2

In this lovely black plastic pot from Canadian Tire, I had the tarragon re-emerging from last summer, and some mizuna and Black Lacinato Italian Kale, both going gang-busters despite having been cut back (aka harvested) a few times even during the winter for a few greens. There was a languishing perennial spinach and a volunteer stinging nettle which I decided to consign to the worm bin.

I read about how it's possible to regrow green onions from the root tips, so I popped a couple in a gap to see what would happen.  Here's where my vague record- keeping is already coming to bite me in the butt! I think I planted some Toy Choi in the wee gap. Or perhaps it was some chervil!

In the next pot, a white plastic scavenged restaurant-sized food bucket (thanks to Youngest Daughter), I kept some self-seeded perennial spinach, and added some "Toy Choi" Pak Choi -- at least I'm pretty certain that's what I did. The plan is to harvest that and plant out the tomatoes later once the weather warms up.

Minus the mushroom (shiitake) kit, this (above) is what the plantings look like thus far.

seeding aka jumping the gun

I can't help it. I see the buds busting out on the blueberry bushes on the balcony, the tarragon pushing upwards and I start to get excited!

So off I went to the local nursery and bought seeds (plus a meyer lemon tree) and spent way more than I really needed to. Impatience is expensive and lonely as there are many local seed-swaps that I could have participated in if I had been smarter!

However, this is what I have planted thus far:

This is a space atop the worm bin and instead of the vague mushroom log I envisioned, I found this mushroom kit for shiitake mushrooms at Homesteader's Emporium. It lives for now in a plastic pot atop a dinner plate, but I'm sure I'll find a nicer house for it soon. 

And if you like referring to the base plan, this is where the worm bin and the plants etc atop it live in relation to the rest of the Balcony Permaculture Food Forest:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

the base map -- sort of

So, as I already mentioned, this was the winning design.

This is the base-line design which I'm using to diagram the various elements and energies that affect the Balcony Permaculture Food Forest, everything from sun and wind, to noise and views.

A fascinating and distracting part of this process has been to visit my local civic mapping site. Each city probably has one. The many layers that interested me were the transit routes and stops, bicycle paths and parkways, sewage, water mains, and services like community centres and libraries.

This is partly to satisfy the requirements of my Permaculture Design Course:
"This open creative mapping project looks deeply into your home and surrounding areas. Include a base map noting all the elements on your land including identifying plants and animals as well as doing a permaculture zone map and series of sector maps charting the flow of energy onto, and off of, the property. Those with more time might consider history of the landclimatological info for the region, as well as neighbourhoodcommunity and bioregional maps."