Forest Gardening

Pushed out of the Nest

12191207_10153614925031181_6932379236836923475_o

Before…

There are times in life where it becomes clear that you need to move on.  I have been imagining lately how difficult and frightening it must be for baby birds to be pushed out of the nest by their mothers.  But if it weren’t for the mother’s gentle nudge, would the baby bird ever have fledged?

So it is with us.  I have been elusively writing about ‘dark times’ and feeling stretched.  It is now time to come clean about what’s been going on around here.  I finally feel ready to share this difficult journey, as I know we’re not the only ones.  It has been an emotional roller coaster for us, but one that needs to be talked about and examined for what it is…

In August, a letter arrived from our municipality announcing we needed to ‘clear our land of weeds longer than 6 inches by Friday.’  We had a week to mow down our forest gardens.  Our lawnmower grunted in anguish as it attempted to mulch the scythed remnants of our former orchard meadow.  The trees still remain, but many of the shrubs are out.  Apart from the plants Rob saved in pots, all of the herbaceous and ground cover layers are also gone.  Years of work to regenerate and re-wild the plot…mowed down in a few days.  Once a bylaw infraction has been made on your property, you are required to come into compliance for the full property, regardless of the nature of the complaint.

It is a week I will remember forever.  My heart was broken.  Our gardens were gone.  I had been betrayed.  Better still, I didn’t know who reported us (and still don’t) other than it was a neighbour.  During the process of removing the vegetation, I overheard comments from two separate neighbours, celebrating the destruction.  It felt like the world was against us.  I have never felt so powerless.  I have never been so angry.  I wanted to post nasty signs on my lawn.  I wanted to return the wagon my children inherited from the couple next door.  I also wanted to shrivel up and die.  I wanted to be invisible as I mowed.  Unseen as I cried while murdering our plants.  Unnoticed as I hurled unripe squash across my yard after they were snapped too early from their vines in an effort to clear the neighbouring plants that qualified as infractions to the bylaw.  My mind was concerned with who was watching us and when.  I felt scrutinized.  I worried and still think about what other aspects of our lives are the concern of others.  For the most part, I have been able to move through the darkness, finding my way to the other side.  We are blessed to have a very strong community of like minded permaculture types to call our friends.  It has been so helpful to be held and so deeply understood through this process.  We also had the unwavering support of my mother-in-law, who watched the children, offered tender words and hugs, and was out in the garden with a sickle, while I cried.

The reality is that we live in a neighbourhood.  Over the 7 years we’ve lived here we’ve engaged in numerous conversations about what it is that we’re doing, and why.  Usually we were answering a question inquiring about our property, but sometimes conversations were started in defence of our yard’s appearance. But you can only go so far with a conversation that is one sided without sounding like you’re trying to convert people, or like you’re nuts!  We have neighbours and a municipality which values mowed lawns and manicured gardens.  We have since learned that the bylaw in our area even applies to rural agricultural properties!  So if you are reported, you must come into compliance, pay a fine or hire a lawyer.  We could have fought it.  We could have spent our income on a lawyer to make our case for forest gardening and provide bountiful uses for the plants we were growing which reside on the ‘noxious weeds’ list.  But it was immediately clear to me that I was not prepared to take on a fight for a property we no longer wanted.  Feeling unwanted in your own home is not something I am willing to fight for.  We don’t belong here.  We have chosen instead to find joy!

We have been pondering for a while how to make the jump to a farm.  There were many pull factors, things that made us want something different, but nothing that was pushing us from our current home.  Well, now we have had our own nudge out of the nest.  We’re not fully clear about what we’re jumping to just yet, but we’ve got some interesting ideas and are more motivated than ever!  It is now time for us to spread our wings and fly!

Mushroom Innoculation

At our party last weekend, we had intended to do grafting and mushroom inoculating, but didn’t get to the latter.  Rob has been working on evenings this week to complete the task, which is not difficult, just time consuming.  Amassing the items required for the job was the most tedious part.

We have been collecting wax for a while, getting a bunch of old beeswax from a friend (which inadvertently attracted a swarm!) and kept it for this purpose.  We didn’t want to make waste of a paintbrush by covering it with wax, so my husband and eldest son had a good foray around the yard looking for a brush substitute.  They settled on a dried Queen Anne’s Lace flower.  It worked well!

The process went something like this:  Find the appropriate type of healthy wood for the mushroom spawn you have – logs should be at least 6″ in diameter.  If the wood is old and dried out (in other words, older than a couple of weeks or stored in the sun) it needs to be soaked over night.  For our sawdust spawn, we drilled holes in the wood 7/16″ wide and 1/2″ deep spaced 6″ apart in a diamond pattern.  Plug the holes with spawn by pushing it in the holes with a dowel.  Cover the hole and spawn with wax to protect it from weather and insects.  Find a shady spot for the logs.  Wait.

Building Community with Skill Share

This past weekend we invited friends over to learn how to graft fruit trees!  Rob and a couple of other attendees have attended workshops with Ken Taylor to learn how to graft onto root stock.  There were a few reasons for us to host a work party.  Realistically, we have been meaning to do this grafting for a while, but it never seems to make it to the top of the ‘to do’ list, so scheduling a time on the calendar with people coming over made it possible to get the work done.  We also enjoy having many like minded people around, and any excuse for a gathering is a good one.  We were also excited to share the skills we’re developing with others.  The most beautiful and unexpected part for me though was sharing the process of learning – that messy bit where no one really is sure they’re doing the right thing.  Muddling through the learning process with others to support and guide each other made the whole process so much more enjoyable.

We took it slow.  We started by watching a short video demonstration of what we were about to do before heading out to the garden.   During the grafting process we took time to pause and talk, look at each others work, ask questions, and generally meander through the afternoon together.  It was nice to have a relaxed but purposeful atmosphere.  There were many children in attendance as well, which added to the joy of the afternoon.  Because there were so many adults around, no one really had to watch them, they were playing close by.  It all seemed so natural.  There was flow to the afternoon, as the grafting finished up, we drifted into a pot luck dinner.  People came and went as they needed to.  It was easy.  It was what I envision life should be like.  It was a taste of life lived in community.

Anticipation

We lost a great deal of our orchard blossoms early in the season during a frost.  It was a disappointing day.  We tried hard to save them, throwing a sheet over each tree, which knocked off some of the blooms in the wind before we decided to remove them.  After the frost hit, Rob got up before sunrise and misted the trees in an effort to prevent the frost from doing damage, a trick we learned from an excellent DVD we own called, “The Permaculture Orchard.”  We still ended up losing most of our fruit.  We have some pears coming on and a few apples.  Last year we were only able to harvest four pears and four Asian pears.  It looks like we’ll have an equally scant year this time around.

We have many interesting and different varieties of fruit.  Apple, pear, plum, corneilian cherry, paw paw, chum.  We are eagerly anticipating the year when we can sample all of the different varieties, selected for winter heartiness, disease and pest resistance.  I can’t wait for the day we have to give fruit away because we couldn’t possibly consume it all!  But this year, I look forward to sampling whatever our orchard offers us, no matter how small the yield.  There is nothing quite like biting into something you’ve grown yourself.

For the Love of Garlic Scapes – 10 Ways to Use Them!

Our garlic scapes are now coming fast and furious!  They are a wonderful byproduct of growing garlic, since by harvesting, the garlic bulbs grow much larger.  In the interest of making no waste, we use every single one!  I get asked a lot what we do with them all, so I thought others may have the same question!  Here is a list of 10 ways we use garlic scapes:

  1. In stirfry!  Slice them into pieces a few centimeters long (about an inch) and throw them in!
  2. Grill them whole on the barbeque or by using a grill over an open fire.
  3. Make garlic scape pesto.  I have used this recipe in the past, and it turned out well.  For me it was nice to cut the raw garlic bite with a bit of spinach and parsley.
  4. Pickle them!  Use a favourite pickle recipe or lacto-fermentation method.  We used a favourite pickled bean recipe and they turned out great.
  5. Throw sliced scapes in with roasted vegetables.  Chop a variety of root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.) and scapes into 1 inch pieces/cubes.  Cover root vegetables and scapes with olive oil or cut chunks of butter on top of the mix, sprinkle on some salt, and other spices (cayenne and thyme are two of our favourites) if you like,  and roast at 350˚ for about an hour.
  6. Chop finely and use in place of garlic.
  7. Blend into a paste by adding some oil and use as a garnish on soups or to flavour dips (like hummus) and dressings.
  8. Chop coarsely and add to soups or stews.
  9. If you don’t have time to deal with them all, they freeze very well and can be thawed and used later in all of your culinary delights.
  10. I saved my favourite until last…most of our scapes end up as garlic scape powder.  It takes up far less space to store than the scapes themselves, and I haven’t bought garlic powder in years!  To make it, se blend the scapes in our food processor, dry them in the dehydrator, then when they come out dried, we blend them again to make a powder.  To vouch for it’s awesomeness, it sells for over $25 per 100g!

Salsify Stem Stirfry

Young salsify buds and leaves

The salsify has spread across our property.  A main criticism of planting salsify is that it spreads so readily.  I haven’t figured out why this is a problem yet.  Usually we hold out until fall when we harvest salsify roots, but since we have such an abundance of shoots in our yard, we have harvested young salsify stems and flower buds this spring to fry them up!  The result was a wonderfully mild cooked green that was easy to harvest and prepare.

Salsify fry with pine nuts and pepitas

To make this, young salsify leaves, stems and buds were placed in a cast iron frying pan with butter.  At a medium-high heat I fried them until they were starting to soften.  Then I threw in some pepitas (hulless pumpkin seeds) and pine nuts.  I served it up once the greens had gone limp.  This has become a staple vegetable on our spring table.

Edible Weeds – Forage Your Yard!

“A weed is a plant whose virtue is not yet known”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is a photo tour of five ‘weeds’ likely growing in your yard that you can eat!  We use all six to make our ‘weed salads’ which we eat all summer long!  The children love finding and eating many of these plants in the yard as well.  There are several other uses for each as well.  Weeds are great at up-taking nutrients from the soil, so eating them provides a great source of vitamins and minerals.  Their nutrient density is far greater than that of cultivated greens, as they grow in places where they will thrive, not in soils used repeatedly for mono-cropping.  With that in mind, be careful where you harvest from, ensuring the area has not been sprayed or contaminated.  To avoid this problem, we harvest from our own yard.  So, here’s my list of edible weeds to try:

1: Lambsquarters – a beautifully mild and soft leaf.  Great substitute for spinach in recipes, but we usually eat it raw as a nice base for salad.  Leaves can also be dried and powdered to make a flour substitute.  Lambsquarters has the second highest in nutrition of all wild foods following Amaranth.  It is high in Vitamin A and K, and also a great source of calcium and protein.

11411705_10153288482351181_3500195647275379554_o

Lambsquarters

 

2: Plantain – young leaves make a nice addition to salad in moderation, as the leaves can be a bit tough.  Older leaves can be cooked like spinach or used it instead of cabbage for ‘cabbage rolls.’  Rich in iron and vitamins A and C.  As a side note, plantain is great when used as a poultice on stings or bites, just chew it up, spit it out, and pile it on top of the affected area, covering with a large leaf or bandage to hold it in place.

11062366_10153288476596181_2707982405531697369_o

Plantain

 

3: Clover – Lovely little round leaves and flowers that make a nice addition to a salad as well.  The petals of the flowers have a beautiful sweet taste, so I usually pluck them before serving to take advantage of this!  It is also considered to be one of the richest sources of isoflavones.  It makes a lovely tea and can be brewed to assist with women’s moon cycles or menopause.  Clover is a source of calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C.

11114026_10153288478131181_2366751935580705214_o

Clover

4: Mallow – a soft mild tasting, but slightly mucilaginous leaf (gummy-like quality once chewed) that makes a nice addition to salads.  The flowers are also edible, but the cheeses (flower buds) are particularly good!  Great source or flavinoids and vitamin C.  Another side note, Mallow tea left to steep for a long time in not quite boiling water is great for dry coughs or hoarseness.

11406635_10153288479421181_2896129954504464756_o
Mallow
11270356_10153288482161181_1936783010277654166_o

Mallow Cheese

5: Wood Sorrel – I saved my favourite for last!  This ‘weed’ is everywhere and tastes amazing!  Its distinctive heart shaped leaves make it particularly easy to spot.  It has a sour, lemony flavour.  It makes a delicious addition to salads, including its little yellow flowers.  The leaves are soft and delectable.  We also use this plant as a garnish for the top of soups.  Although I haven’t done it yet, I’m sure if I collected enough of it, I could make a sorrel soup!  High in oxalic acid, so should not be consumed in large quantities often as it inhibits the uptake of calcium.  This ‘weed’ is particularly high in vitamin C, and has historically been used to treat scurvy.

11270351_10153288483821181_8492953961652845_o

Wood Sorel