Tuesday, November 22, 2016

First Frost

This Fall has been amazing. The Spring-like weather made it difficult to believe Winter was on its way...until this week that is!

Our first dusting of snow overnight and the first frosts of the season meant it was Sunchoke season. For those following this blog, you are probably aware that we are great fans of the Sunchoke. With its beautiful Sunflower-like blooms in the Summer, this is one of the easiest foods to grow.

After the first dusting of snow - and while the ground is still soft - it's time to collect some tubers

What endears us to the Sunchoke is that it is also a food native to the American north-east. Regrettably, often sold as Jerusalem Artichoke, it is often perceived as an "exotic" food in local supermarkets. Yet, the Sunchoke grows wild in ditches around our country side, and it was originally cultivated by the Native Americans.

We've covered before how the Sunchoke became the "Jerusalem Artichoke", so we wont address it in this blog entry. What is also fascinating however is how the Sunchoke got its French name: Topinambour. It was introduced to the French court in the 17th century, at about the same time as Native Americans were introduced to the court. Even though Champlain brought the root to France in 1807, calling it "Canada", regrettably one native tribe was also introduced to the French at about the same time. It was a Brazilian tribe...and yes, they were called the Topinambour. Ever since, the plant was mistakenly called after this Brazilian tribe.

In any case, the first dusting of snow meant we could start harvesting our treasured roots.

The Sunchoke is loaded with inulin (similar to the inulin in beans, they can induce "petulance"!). Frost has a tendency to transform the inulin into sugars making the roots a lot more digestible.

The thin skin of the roots means that they do not necessarily need to be peeled. They just need a good wash and scrubbing. They can be eaten raw (wonderful when shredded in a salad) or cooked and prepared as you would a potato. They make an amazing velvety soup. If eaten raw, the taste is akin to a nutty carrot.

Like most of our fresh veggies, we love them roasted. We toss them in olive oil with some salt and herbs and put them in the oven (350F for about 20 minutes).

Roasted Sunchokes - tastier than they look!

If you have a small piece of land waiting for an easy veggie to plant...give these a shot. You'll be surprised how rapidly they will take up space. Their tubers will rapidly spread and they will self-propagate in no time.

Since our last blog entry, it was also time for us to harvest our Kiwis. This is also a misnomer since they were originally called Chinese Gooseberries...because they are originally from Asia.

They are the last fruit of the season to ripen and this year we kept them on the vine to fully ripen.

This year we picked our Kiwis late, as the leaves were yellowing and falling to the ground

This year was a good crop and much of it we froze. Our purpose this year is to attempt once again the production of a Kiwi wine. This wine has been a trial and effort for the past three years. We know it can be great, but we also know we can produce something akin to strong pure alcohol! Homing in on the process and recipe is key and based on our last Yellow Raspberry wine, we think we may now have it down pat.

Finally, we'll close this blog entry with a bit of history.

We are preparing the barn for another set of renovations. In clearing the back end of the lower floor, we found a painted date on the old barn wood.

Someone dated the old barn!

We knew the barn was built around the same time as the old Victorian house ie. 1880. Now we think we think we know for sure. The barn is dated 1881!


Sunday, October 9, 2016

We're Back!

After what has been a 3 months "hiatus", we're back on line.

The reason for our lack of postings is manifold, but primarily it is due to the recent Tea Room success. The month of June saw record attendance, and the month of July beat that record. And things did not let up in August or September! This has meant "all hands on deck" for the family. As a result our farm activities have taken a "back seat" to our restaurant operation.

Also a major desktop failure/catastrophe didn't help.

In any case, we're back with the blog and will likely be publishing now once a month....and this entry gives us a great opportunity to wish everyone a great Thanksgiving weekend.

On the farm, the major lack of rain this summer has not helped. Our Strawberries ended early, and a large portion of our Raspberries dehydrated on the canes before we were able to get to them.

All was not lost however. The Black Currant crop was amazing and so were the Blackberries. Last year we should remind everyone we had no Blackberries and no Kiwi berries. This year was different and we are slowly awaiting our last crop....the little Kiwis!

The Kiwis are looking great this year
For this blog entry, we thought we would cover our Tomato experience this year.

We were rather proud to grow our seedlings from our own seeds for the first time.

However we were a bit late in planting and when we transplanted the seedlings to the raised beds a catastrophe occurred. Something was munching on the small plants. This had never happened before.

Something was eating our Tomato plants

The culprit: rabbits.

They effectively took down more than half of our Tomato plants. Not having identified the location of our four varieties, we became rather concerned that one of them would have been totally lost.

The nasty culprits caught on camera
Mother nature however has a way to compensate. A few days later it became apparent that some Tomatoes had "self seeded" from some fruits we had left rotting on the vines.

New seedlings, a gift from Mother Nature, grew all around our surviving transplants
The result: all varieties were salvaged and we ended up with more Tomato plants than originally anticipated. The heirloom Italian canning Tomatoes (Ropreco) ripened early and eventually we recovered our "monster" European Tomatoes (Cuaustrale and Marizol) and even our Chinese "black" tomoatoes.


Tomatoes...we just love them!
We'll close the blog by also announcing a new addition to the family! Two of us are now very proud Grandparents.

Meet Oliver! As he grows up, we're sure he's going to have a great time at the farm.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Thistle

For those following the blog, you will note that there is the beginning of a common thread: weeds. This week's weed is the Thistle. We often find it in our Raspberry rows and it grows everywhere in our fields.

This week's weed: the Thistle
Of course, we could not cover a "weed" without highlighting its useful purposes. In this case, the Thistle turns out to be edible! In fact, the Artichoke is a distant cousin.

You can eat the stem, the leaves (once devoid of the nasty spines) and the flower (pretty much like an Artcihoke heart). The best time to pick these for eating is in early spring when the plant is young and the stems are not very fibrous. They can be eaten raw or cooked. In fact there are some Italian recipes for Thistle stems in Tomato sauce (of course).

In any case, we had to try this. We decided to try a young stem. The idea was to cut the leaves off, peel the stem and simply eat it raw.

Prepping a Thistle stem with our trusty Vendetta knife
A quick side note: if you ever get to Corsica, be sure to acquire an artisan-made Vendetta knife (yes their name reflects their original use). We've had ours for over 30 years and never needed sharpening and still as deadly as they were when we bought them.

So for the taste of the Thistle....actually really good! Not just your typical green, it has a very mildly sweet and nutty taste, a bit like Artichoke! We'll definitely have to pick more next Spring and try some Italian recipes. This could be a great culinary experience.

Meanwhile on the farm, it looks like it will be a great berry season. Although we had zero Blackberries last year, it looks like we will be overwhelmed this year.

Just like the Black Currants, we should be overwhelmed with Blackberries this year
The yellow Raspberries also look very promising. They are so healthy that the weight of the plants are starting to pull down our posts.

Our posts are being pulled down by the weight of our Yellow Raspberries
Although the Black Raspberries are also doing very well, we were quite surprised by the volume of wild Black Raspberries on the property. Since the corn was pulled, the edges of the forest are healthier than ever.

Wild Black Raspberries ripening
Even the Wild Grape looks promising. In fact, we should be able to harvest enough for some Wild Grape jelly this year.

Wild Grape flowers on a vine climbing a tree
So far, we've been quite pleased with our first Strawberry harvest, but it is already coming to an end. It's now time to turn our attention to the Lavender. The dried buds will be used in our Tea Room baking and teas, but here again, we have a lot more than we can use, particularly since we added more plants on the back ridge of the house.

Time once again to pick our Lavender.
In previous blogs, we mentioned the abundance of frogs on the property. this week's frog picture is that of the Pickerel Frog. A beautiful little frog that is copper coloured.


The Pickerel Frog
For our Tea Room patrons, we have a couple of announcements for the week. On the 25th, the Tea Room will be holding a charity fashion show. There may still be a couple of tickets for those interested. Please call Carol at 289-897-8943 for details.

On the 26th, the Tea Room will also be closed for a private event.

Finally, we'll close with a picture of someone enjoying our stone bench overlooking the berry fields.


Monday, June 6, 2016

It's Strawberry Season!

Well that didn't take long. Last blog entry our berries were still green, now we're piking berries every single day.

The Strawberries are ready for picking
There is nothing like sun-ripened freshly picked Strawberries. They certainly put the store-bought versions to shame.

If you live in the Fonthill area, we urge all our readers to go to your local "pick your own". You'll have a delightful time and you'll be enjoying this year's first crop of berries.

Here at the farm, our entire crop is dedicated to the Tea Room. You'll find our berries in pies, jams and every so often on our High Tea.

With the Strawberries now in season, we decided to survey the other berries which we will soon be able to pick. We expect that these will be the Mulberries and Saskatoons.

The Mulberries are ripening.....
...and so are the Saskatoons.
This year is looking very promising. We've never seen so many Black Currants in our bushes.

The Black Currants are simply prolific!
Even our Kiwi Berries will be showing more blooms than we've ever seen.

Kiwi buds just ready to bloom.
As we continue working on our raised beds, we also have made acquaintance with a new "weed". Looking a bit like small Christmas trees, this weed is called the Field Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense). We have found it primarily in the beds near our dome and we have left it occupy a portion of our Asparagus bed as ground cover.

Field Horsetail fronting a thick wall of Asparagus ferns.
It turns out that the Field Horsetail is a living fossil. It has descended from larger versions that covered the globe some hundreds of millions of years ago. It is one of those rare plants that actually reproduce by spores. As a weed it is very difficult to get rid of. Herbicides do not generally work and the plant develops a deep network of roots making it difficult to pull. The best solution is to just keep cutting it down.

The reason we have an abundance of these is that the plant loves a wet sandy soil. Exactly the conditions around our dome.

Our latest "weed" discovery: Field Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense)
Always looking for the good in "weeds", we had to do some research on this plant and we discovered a few very interesting facts.

The Field Horsetail contains a lot of Silica (in fact it feels a bit like plastic). As a result, it has been used in biodynamic farming to condition soils. A tea made with the plant can be sprayed on a given soil to prevent fungus.

As avid foragers, we were also surprised to find that this plant is indeed edible! It can be poisonous to certain animals (eg. horses), and it also can contain Nicotine (so not recommended for children). The buds are eaten in Japan, where it is called Tsukushi, pretty much the way we consume Fiddleheads.

For thousands of years concoctions of this plant were used by man around the world. It is said that the tea strengthens hair and nails. It has also been used to aid in kidney dysfunctions. However, nothing has yet been proven by modern science.

We were a little late in discovering this new weed so we've not had a chance to taste its buds. But you can be sure that next Spring, we'll be looking for some Japanese recipes!

We'll close this entry with a quick wildlife pic: the Northern Leopard Frog.

A very well camouflaged Leopard Frog
We must have thousands of frogs on the property. We figure it's a good thing and an indication of a healthy ecosystem. However, it can also a problem.

These very well camouflaged frogs can turn into a sad mess when we BushHog or mow the lawn. We do our very best to avoid them but every year we sadly find we just can't avoid them all. At least one of us in the family always cringes when he has to mow the fields.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cottage Season Has Officially Started

With the "May 2 4" weekend officially behind us, it is now cottage season in Ontario and, as the unofficial start of the summer, it is time for some serious gardening.

For us at the farm, it's been a time of pruning our berry canes... under what has been a very hot mid-day sun. It's also been time to tackle our strawberry beds. And on this front, we're starting to learn a few things from past mistakes.

When we first arrived at the farm, we planted a couple of strawberry plants...just for fun. These now fill an entire bed. To control weeds we have been using straw mulch.

Last year, we decided to expand our strawberry production by planting a few rows. Although we have made strawberry jam and pies for the Tea Room using local berries, the idea was to finally produce enough ourselves for this purpose. The results look very promising this year, many plants are in full bloom and some are already showing signs of green berries.

The Strawberry crop is looking promising

However we've also made some terrible mistakes. First, we were not very liberal with our straw mulch. Second, we planted Strawberry rows and left grass in between. Since we do not use any chemical fertilizer, herbicide or pesticide, the result this Spring is a bit of a mess. Weeds have taken over our Strawberries in a big way.

Strawberry rows....a mess of grass and weeds
Now we have a major effort on our hands clearing each row individually and by hand. The hard fought campaign against weeds is finally showing some promise.

Things look a lot better when cleared up.
We've decided to never let this happen again. In fact, not only will we be more liberal with our mulch, but we've decided to cover the entire Strawberry patch with straw later this season. After all, the grass in between is a waste of labor and energy (mowing) and could be used to increase our yield per square meter.

On the other hand we have discovered something interesting in our old Strawberry bed: a new weed. We call it "new" because we've never really had to identify it. It turns out, it's called Purple Deadnettle. Related to the nettle, it is called "dead nettle" because it does not sting.

The reason this weed caught our attention is that it seems to grow well with the Strawberries, while keeping other weeds at bay. Its small flowers also seem to attract pollinating insects just as the Strawberries need them. The Strawberries grow tall and bloom well among the Purple Deadnettle and the bed requires no weeding!

Strawberries blooming among Purple Deadnettle in our old Strawberrry bed
Thinking we may have struck on a great permaculture solution we actually looked this up on the Internet and the first hit was a bit a surprise. A forager had blogged about a Purple Deadnettle and Strawberry salad!

It turns out that Purple Deadnettle is edible and like its distant cousin, the Stinging Nettle, is a healthy food. We had to try it. The taste is nothing to write home about, but it is fascinating to see these two plants (the making of a salad) working so well together.

The result is that we are no longer weeding the Purple Deadnettle whenever we see it near our Strawberries. We hope to see what this will do next year. The problem is that the Purple Deadnettle is an annual that is obviously self-seeding. Hopefully the seeds do not travel too far.

Elsewhere, at the Tea Room, work has now started on some new bathrooms. Foundations have been poured. This does not affect our operations, but we ask our patrons for their understanding as the back of the barn looks a bit like a work zone.

Work on new Tea Room bathrooms has now started.
We'd like to add that now that summer is unofficially started the Tea Room is getting rather busy and a lot of functions have been booked. This is particularly the case on weekends. As a result, we now highly recommend reservations (we hate to have to turn away regular and prospective patrons).

If you've not been to the Tea Room recently, we'd like to add that the market also has a new look and expanded offerings. Seating is available for basic tea service and along with berries (seasonally), jams, chutneys, and syrups, gift items are also available. This includes art work (from our own in house artist), clothing, and vintage jewelry.

 

We'll close this blog entry with one quick announcement. The Tea Room will be hosting an event on the evening of June 7th. SlowFood Niagara is hosting its first evening open to the public. Tickets are $15/person. Food will be provided by the SlowFood convivium (this includes our Tea Room finger sandwiches) and a talk will be provided by Anna Valli of The Valli Girls meat shop in Ste. Catherine's (our source of drug-free, hormone-free meats). Should you be interested, please call us at 289-897-8943 to reserve a seat. Wine will also be available at additional cost.



Thursday, May 12, 2016

We're in Full Spring

Mothers' Day is over (the busiest day of the season for the Tea Room) and the tulips are in full bloom. This means the farm is in "full Spring" and in fact everything is blooming.

The tulips are in full bloom
Our Asparagus continues to surprise us. One day we see them just penetrating the surface of the soil...and it seems the next day they stand three feet tall. There is nothing as delicious in Spring time as freshly picked tender Asparagus from the backyard. If you're not growing them yet....you really should. It is a very simple perennial to care for.

If you cannot grow them, it's certainly now time to look for great local Asparagus at your farmers' market.

The Asparagus shoots really spring to life after a good rain
In fact, just about everything has started to bloom around the farm. This year's crop of Black Currants looks outstanding. We've never seen anything like it!

Look at all these berries in the making....this year's Black Currants will be prolific
Even our Strawberries are in full bloom. This being our first full year with our Strawberry plants, we finally expect to make some decent Strawberry jam for the Tea Room (you just can't beat it with scones and clotted cream).

The Strawberries look just as promising
Perhaps it was the mild Winter, or the early Spring weather, but even our Apple trees look like they will be producing a lot of fruit.

Beautiful Apple blossoms
The only worry for us now is frost. The average last frost in this area is mid-May. Last year we lost our entire crop of Kiwis due to a May 25th frost. We're now just crossing our fingers.

Finally this week we finished our Birch syrup. We made enough for our family BBQ's but we still had quite a bit for bottling and it is available in the Tea Room market.

This year's syrup is light, but still as dark as ever. It always reminds us of the colour of tar!

Dark as ever...this year's Birch Syrup is ready for BBQ season

Monday, April 25, 2016

Time to Garden

With snow hitting the region earlier this month, it has been difficult to get back to do some farm work. Our fingers however have been getting "itchy" to plant.

As we finish our Birch syrup, the weather has been more typical of Spring and we could finally use our Growing Dome greenhouse to begin planting our seeds. We're quite pleased with our effort since for the first time, we are generating plants from our very own seeds. This includes all of our Tomato varieties, herbs, Peppers and even Asparagus.

We're finally (and proudly) planting our very own seeds.
As many useful plants begin to sprout, it was also time to move our Rhubarb and once again split the roots. From two plants originally found in the back of the old Victorian house some three years ago, we now have well over 40 roots firmly in place! They had to be moved once again since we had located them in the back of the barn where some construction work has taken place and this work will likely continue thru summer.

Transplanting Rhubarb in their new raised beds
From seeds gathered off "feral" Asparagus in the field, our Asparagus raised bed is also showing signs of life. It will not be long before the family can enjoy its first Asparagus dinner of the season.

The Asparagus are sprouting!
We'll close this week with our favourite find of the season: Ramps (Allium Triccocum). They are only to be found for a very short period of time in the Spring. However, they are a real delicacy.

The Ramps are out.
We have so many Ramps available to us from our swampy patch of Carolinian forest that we like to share a taste of these with our Tea Room customers. Recently our guests have had an opportunity not only to learn about this wonderful plant, but also to taste it in our daily soup.

Ramps ready for soup!
We'd like to close by warning people not to pick Ramps in conservation areas or the Greenbelt. Extreme care must be given to prevent these from extinction. The problem is the very long life cycle attributed to the plant. It may take 6-18 months for a seed to germinate and it can take 5-7 years before a plant is mature enough to flower! As a result, in our own patch of forest, we greatly limit how many plants we will pick in any given season.