Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Afternoon Stroll

Beautiful weather here on the Prairies: above normal for this time of year!  The Hens and Rocky were outside all day, enjoying the good weather.  They are working over the spruce trees on the edge of their pasture, going after all the cones and pulling out the little seeds for a treat!  It's really quite charming to see Rocky guard all his ladies; he is ever vigilant, herding The Hens under the spruce trees if a magpie flies too close, pulling down some extra cones for the ladies.  When we approach the fence he is always between us and his girls until he is comfortable that we're okay and not intending any harm.  He only seems to relax when scratch is thrown, and he's just like a kid for a minute or two - going after the treats!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Forcing Bloom

This post may be a little late for West Coast or Southern gardeners, but it's very timely for Prairie gardeners.  Did you know you can enjoy the blooms of some of your favourite spring shrubs inside, now?  I'm actually late this year - I quite often force blooms in late February or early March.  Now, you may have heard of forcing bulbs - they are specially cold-treated to make them think that their Winter dormant period has happened; things like hyacinth are often available at the garden centres at Christmas.  Early blooming shrubs and trees like forsythia, double flowered plum, apples, crabapples and plums actually made their flower buds last fall.  They are all wrapped up and protected, just waiting for spring so that they can burst forward.  I've been out this weekend pruning our double flowered plum, and I've got a nice collection of stems in a vase in the house.  You can see the fat little buds on the stems.  In a week or so, these will burst into bloom and make an awesome display.  I'll post the blooms.  It really brightens the early, early Spring here on the Prairies when so much seems gray or brown, dusty and dirty.  I have tried this with lilac before, always with disappointing results: small flowers, odd shaped heads but still decent fragrance.  Give it a try!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: The Finale

This is the last week of the Dark Days Challenge hosted by The (not so) Urban Hennery.  I'm so glad that we've participated in the challenge.  It has made us much more conscious of sourcing local food, and we've taken great pride in how we've been able to feed ourselves this winter.  Even my sister, who reads this blog regularly (Thanks, Sis!) says she's become more conscious of choosing local products.  Yeah!!  So, we've got a couple of mostly local things this week.  First up, Farmer Man made an excellent cottage pie (his name, I would have called it shepherd's pie).  He made it in the SchlemmerTopf, an awesome little clay oven that's he has owned for over twenty years.  It cooks things beautifully - everyone should have one!  It's our own home-grown ground pork, the last of our onions and the topping is German Butterball potato we grew  - very golden, it's not trick photography!  It's an excellent little potato that we will grow more of next year - like Yukon Gold but a more buttery flavor.

The second meal this week was also cooked in the SchlemmerTopf.  We were gifted half of a beautiful blue pumpkin, probably a Queensland Blue or a Crown Prince.  Farmer Man took some of our home-grown pork chops, cubed the pumpkin and roasted it in the clay oven.  Baked potatoes, our own Blue Mac, accompanied the meal.  The pumpkin was outstanding - sweet and a great texture for having been roasted - not too mushy. 

Many Thanks! to Laura of the (not so) Urban Hennery for organizing this excellent winter challenge.  Check out her blog because there are so many great tips for sourcing local food, preserving, growing and cooking.  Many of the bloggers who participated are fabulous cooks, the recipes and ideas are astounding!  Have you been giving more thought to buying local or growing your own?  Maybe we'll see you blogging next year!

Earth Hour. Did You?

Did you participate?  I started my Earth Hour observance at an event organized by the Marquis Project and held at the Green Spot.  The event included a 'tasting' of Fair Trade products, an excellent opportunity for people to sample some different things.  Local artist Jeff Bettle was throwing some pottery, and there was a silent auction of different items to raise funds for the Marquis Project's great work.  Then, a gentleman named Ian Hussey was speaking on Fair Trade and social justice.  How we shop and spend can really make a difference!  There was also a capoeira performance slated, by the Omulu Capoeira Guanabara group.  Then, lights out for an hour of socializing by candlelight.  Now, I must admit, I was just there to help the Green Spot get organized, and I slid out at the end of Ian Hussey's speech.  I was on my way home to observe Earth Hour with Farmer Man!  I arrived home shortly after 8:30 PM and Farmer Man already had the lights out for over half an hour!  We couldn't do anything about the security light in the yard but everything else was pretty much out, except for the glow of the telephone and a few appliances.  I guess our official observance was 8:00 to 9:00 PM because the TV went on at nine so we could catch an excellent episode of 'Spectacle' with Elvis Costello.  Haven't seen much info yet today on how the event went around the world.  Did find an interesting post on Garden Rant about a company trying to sponsor Earth Day events and getting, well, soundly rejected!  Check it out!  It's so true that people have power in the way we spend our dollars, and joining with others in the new social mediums like Facebook.  We try to remember that if we're not a little bitty part of the solution, then we are a little bitty part (at least!) of the problem.  What did you do for Mother Earth yesterday?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Just Chillin'...

A lazy day at Aagaard Farms; not too warm, not too sunny and nothing pressing to do.  No rabbits to chase, the horses in the field below are not in sight, nothing much to bark about.  So The Bears, Grizzly Bear and Panda Bear anyway, are just relaxing.  Teddy Bear, the Diva Bear, is out guarding the perimeter; well, she's actually lying outside in the little bit of sunshine!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Indoor Food!

At Seedy Sunday I got some very nice multiplier onion sets from Heritage Harvest Seed.  Nice plump, firm bulbs with a healthy, papery cover.  Since we have salad makings growing, I decided to tuck a few bulbs into the herb pot.  The pot sits in the south-facing patio doors; our days are getting longer now and the weather warmer.  I figure inside those patio doors may be a little like California (as long as we don't open those doors!).  The onions are doing well, although nothing happened for about four days and then suddenly.....we're going great guns!  They'll be sooooo good with the fresh-cut mesclun greens! 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Organic Lamb Chops

A simple meal, but very tasty!  Organic lamp chops from our friends at Logan Farms, oven-roasted with a bit of bottled BBQ sauce and minced garlic.  Our homegrown Blue Mac potatoes mashed with garlic and a bit of sour cream.  And our first serving of our greens (see previous post) topped with fresh sprouts from our new toy!  Farmer Man used some salad dressing on his greens, but I found them too tasty to need anything. Many of the participants in the Dark Days Challenge over at The (not so) Urban Hennery are in parts of the continent where they are already gardening outside - but a little indoor gardening tasted darn fine here in Manitoba!

Fresh Greens!

Ahhh, fresh greens for dinner! The first harvest from our tray of mesclun mix.  Farmer Man just took the scissors and snipped some greens onto the cutting board.  Remember when baby lettuce was all the rage a few years ago in the restaurants?  Well, now the buzz is micro-greens, the babiest of the baby greens! (People always seem to want to take everything to the ultimate degree!)  Lettuce is an easy crop to start inside, and cutting it this fresh means it's full of nutrition and taste.  ANYBODY CAN DO THIS!  Sorry to 'shout' but really, anybody can do this.  We've used a standard growing tray without holes; here in Brandon you can find them almost anywhere that offers seeds and growing supplies, like the Green Spot, Lindenberg's, maybe Patmore's (I'm not sure) and probably even some of the big box stores that have seed starting supplies (but we like to support the local businesses - don't we?).  We've filled the tray with a sterile, soiless mix called Sunshine Mix but it could be Pro Mix or any bagged seed/potting mix. We've seeded the lettuce mix on top in five rather thick rows, covered with a light bit of more soil and about three weeks later - voila! dinner!  Lettuce is an easy one to start, especially for new gardeners: it likes it cool, doesn't need a ton of light.  No fancy heat mats or grow lights required.  Find a cool, bright place and watch your dinner grow.  Spinach would be another good one to start with, maybe I should get that organized this afternoon!  Just be careful with the watering, since there are no holes in the tray it would be easy to over-water and drown the little babies.  We're topping up the water about every three days - you can tell, with a little experience, by the weight of the tray.  Don't be fooled by just looking at the soil surface - it will always look dry after a day or so, but there may be plenty of moisture underneath.  Once the little plants have a few sets of leaves, we've fertilized when watering by adding a very dilute liquid kelp mixture.  The really cool thing is that most of the lettuces in this mix will re-go, and will be able to be re-cut in a few weeks time.  Are you going to give it a try?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Healthy Chicken

Lately, we're loving Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is a BBC presenter on the show 'River Cottage', broadcast in North America on the Food Network.  We don't have cable or satellite TV; we have Farmer Vision: a couple of channels, one English and one French, from  national broadcasters, and occassionally, if the weather is good, a third national channel.  We catch Hugh when we can at other people's places, the occassional hotel stay and we've found him on YouTube!  Here's a little piece by Hugh investigating the nutritional value of chickens raised in different styles.  Very interesting food for thought!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Getting Back to a Little Free-Ranging!

March has come in like the proverbial lamb.  With days getting a little above freezing and nights just slightly below freezing, the snow is receding rather quickly.  Now, this is Manitoba, and if March goes out like a lion we could easily get another foot of snow.  However, as the snow recedes, The Hens and Rocky are getting outside everyday in a big way!  And they just seem happier!  Don't know what they're finding in all their scratching - but they seem to be enjoying themselves.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dark Days: Rice of the Prairies

Like many of the bloggers involved in The Dark Days Challenge, the cupboard is getting a little bare!  Trying to eat local throughout the winter is, I think, especially hard for those of us in colder climates.  Some of the bloggers on the West Coast, for instance, have had Farmers' Markets all winter with produce.  Yes, we've got a Farmers' Market here in the winter in the Town Centre but there has been no vegetables for quite a while.  It's where I do stock up on local honey and some baking.  If you've been reading this blog you know we've started sprouts and lettuce in the house.  We're fortunate to have a root cellar, and have kept ourselves supplied in potatoes, carrots, onions and winter squash for quite a while, but.....potatoes are all that's left.  We've also got our homegrown pork in the freezer and fresh eggs so we're doing okay.  On my foray to Two Farm Kids I found Cavena Nuda - the Rice for the Prairies and we finally cooked some up a few nights ago.  Cavena Nuda is actually a species of oat without the hull, so it can be used just like rice with additional nutritional benefits according to Wedge Farms, the producer, from Arborg, Manitoba.  Their cooking instructions say to mix half and half with rice.  So, our side dish was half local - although wild rice can be grown around Flin Flon, apparently, and although it's not 100 Mile Diet exactly, it's more local than the rice.  Two Farm Kids has it and I think we'll grab some the next time we visit.  The Cavena Nuda was very good: a bit more chewy than the rice and a good, nutty flavour.  We'll be trying it all by itself, soon, and can tell it would be great in soups and stews.  Dinner included our own Berkshire pork chops and vegetables from far, far away found at the grocery store, but at least organic selections!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

We've Got Babies!

Baby plants, that is!  Seeding started in earnest late in February.  First thing planted - a tray of mesclun (mixed lettuces) that we will eat, shortly!  May even share some with The Hens!  Tomatoes, peppers and herbs have also been started and are starting to sprout like crazy.  Farmer Man made us this seed starting stand and it works very well.  Each layer is hung with lights, the bottom two with plain old fluorescents (one warm, one cool). The top layer has a grow light, the bottom shelf also has some heating pads, all of which we acquired at the Green Spot last year.  The heating pads are super because we use our little sunroom to start seeds and it can be cold in there.  Some plants just enjoy a little more heat.  Fresh lettuce, soon!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Eating Local: Our Favourite New Toy!

We're missing fresh greens these days and have purchased a few bags of the organic greens at the supermarket.  But, they never taste like we remember our own garden greens tasting last summer!  So, when ordering some of our seeds, we saw this gadget and thought to give it a try.  I know sprouts can be fairly easy to start: in a jar, on paper towel, etc.  But we're looking for a quantity in a fast, easy and sanitary way (cats can get up in amazing places).  This is the Biosta from Vesey's Seeds and we ordered three different seed mixes for sprouts at the same time.  Yummy!  Like so many things - fresh is much better than what's available in the store.  And easy!  Sprinkle the seeds on one or all three trays, fill the top tray with warm water twice a day, which drips through the other trays and voila! great tasty, crunchy sprouts in five days!  We might even have enough to share a few with The Hens!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Butt Steak, Who Knew?

Farmer Man is back in the saddle, I'm feeling better and life is returning to normal!  I'm certainly eating better then I have been for most of February.

When we took our Berkshire Pigs into the butcher, Farmer Man did not have too many requests or directions.  When we picked up our meat, lo and behold we had a number of butt steaks, something we weren't familiar with.  A few days ago, Farmer Man took one, sliced it thinly and made an Asian inspired stir fry.  We weren't wildly impressed:  the meat was a bit tough, rather like any old inexpensive cut of beef we might have tried in a stir fry.  Well, he took a couple out and slow roasted them in BBQ sauce for tonight's dinner and WOW!!  A texture more like young lamb, literally falling off the bone, and awesome flavour!  Served with our own Sangria potatoes, scalloped and the last of our carrots and broccoli from far, far away!  Check out more of the great recipes from lots of people everywhere who are trying to eat local this winter at the blog The Urban Hennery.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Stroll, and Then a Bath!

It's a very nice day in the neighbourhood!  Currently -6 C, projected high of -3 C (about 26 F).  Farmer Man had gotten some nice straw on the snow, spread out around the chicken coop door.  We 'seeded' it with some nice scratch and hey! if Rocky and The Hens didn't come out to play!  They're having a nice little stroll in the sunshine - getting their Vitamin D.  I noticed that The Girls (the Leghorns) were looking a little dingey and dirty.  Now, in case you don't know, chickens have dust baths.  They snuggle into a little depression in the dirt and then throw soil up onto their backs with their wings and feet.  In their wood chip bedding, there wasn't much chance for a good bath.  The Chicks (the Browns) weren't looking as bad, but the white hens, well, it wasn't their best look!  So, we devised a little bath: a large size kitty litter box filled with potting soil (Sunshine Mix without fertilizer), a little sand and a little diatomaceous earth.  Although the Chicks were the first in - The Girls are looking better already.  And, as the weather is suppose to stay quite nice, the snow is receding in a few places so they may be able to dust bath under the spruce trees soon.