Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Pineberry

The past few weeks have not been very productive at the farm. Most of our work has been delayed by the incessant Spring rains.

Things however are progressing in our Growing Dome. Seedlings are sprouting and awaiting transplant to the raised beds. It's now all a matter of patience....waiting for that last frost (which in this region averages around May 25th).

Borage and Scarlet Runners are doing well in the greenhouse...they're our favorite edible flowers for the Tea Room
In our last post, we also mentioned that the dome would finally be put to more productive endeavours. Well, we can finally announce that it has become the new home of Southshore Saskatoons. For those not familiar with the Saskatoon berry we urge you to do a search on this blog. We've covered it a few times since we discovered two rows of this native berry bush on the farm. We also planted some additional saplings last Fall.

In the dome, Southshore is attempting to propagate the plant from seeds. We have a total of 450,000 seeds now waiting to sprout. Some of them have already taken.

Saskatoon seedlings...a very small percentage of what is coming
The Saskatoon nursery has now convinced us that these may be our baseline crop. It will take a few years but Southshore and the team at the farm are looking forward to bringing this delicacy to the region.

Another oddity in the dome this year is the Pineberry. Many of our readers know how we love to experiment and this is our latest.


Nursing Pineberries...we may actually have a couple of fruits this year.

The Pineberry is a rather new "offering". It was developed in the Netherlands in 2010.

When the family left Switzerland some 5 years ago, they were becoming a hit in Germany. The berry is actually a Strawberry cultivar which cannot be readily reproduced from seeds, so it has taken us quite a while to come across some plants.

The reason we are keen to try them is the fact that they are quite attractive and tasty (resembling pineapple). The berries are smaller than conventional strawberries and are white with red "seeds" and a yellow flesh.

When we saw these, we had to give them a shot.
If these work out, we think they might be a great decorative addition to the Tea Room menu.

Although, it normally takes 2 years to begin producing, the plants in the dome would suggest we may actually be lucky and get a couple of berries this year.

Finally, everything is evolving on the land (as it should). The Asparagus are out in full force and many plants are in flower.

Nothing like fresh, organic Asparagus in the Springtime!
The Apple trees are always a good indicator of the great things to come.
 
 



Even the Rhubarb is blooming (time to cut it back).
We'll leave you for this blog entry with a clear indication of Spring...the so ever colourful Tulips!




Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spring is in the Air

After what will hopefully be the last snow of the season, signs of Spring are everywhere. The Crocuses have come and gone, and just in time for Easter, the Daffodils are blooming....next are the Tulips.

The last of the Crocuses....

...and the first of the Daffodils.
This means its time to get back to work on the farm...and there is certainly a lot of work to do.

For us it was time to get back to the greenhouse dome and every year. when we get back to the dome, we get a few surprises. This year, we found that a few stray seeds took hold and we were pleased to find a couple of Borage plants blooming successfully....somehow they managed to get enough water to survive all this time.

A couple of stray seeds and a minor amount of water and voila! Borage.
As we cleaned the dome, we also found a rather strange dead fern. Surprisingly, it turned out to be Asparagus. How do we know: we have nice white shoots. The lack of sunlight under our growing shelves turned the Asparagus white. How they got there is simply beyond us.

Dead Asparagus fern from inside the dome.
White Asparagus shoots.
The cleaning of the Dome was essential since it is now the second week in April and it is high time for seeding.

Our core group of vegetables are based upon your typical Mediterranean diet: Tomatoes, Zucchinis, Peppers and Eggplant, and of course Basil.

We always enjoy the Tomatoes and have been growing a few heirloom varieties every season. This year we decided to greatly expand on this with a new selection.

Our seeds are planted.
For those looking for a local source of heirloom seeds we recommend: The Cottage Gardener. Over the past four years, we have been ordering some of our seeds on line and they have always provided us with speedy delivery and quality seeds. Their selection of plants is also fascinating.

Although the dome has had some limited use in the past year (with our Aquaponics set-up taken apart). We actually have a coupe of exciting ideas for it...so watch this space! We hope to make some announcement in a couple of weeks.

Now that the Tea Room is up and running, we've also decided to make some additional investment in our operation. 

We usually make our jams in very small batches (8 to 12 jars at a time). The limitation is really due to our stove-top equipment. The result is that we always run out of jam for our market shelves.

This year, we invested in a steam jacket kettle. This will now allow us to make batches 6 times the size!

Our new steam jacket kettle...just needs to be wired.
This is it for now, but stay tuned for the "dome announcement"!


Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Simple Soup

Well its now Spring and the team is preparing for our Tea Room's seasonal opening next Tuesday!

Meanwhile, since our last blog entry, we had the opportunity to compose a new soup recipe based on what we had on hand.

The last (hopefully) snow storm of the season, did not stop us from trying to dig up some Sunchoke roots. With what had been a rather mild Winter, we thought the ground would be soft enough to recover a few tubers and we were quite right.

Gathering Sunchoke tubers following what we hope to be the last snow storm of the season
 In the past, we had always harvested our Sunchokes late in the Fall and usually after the first frost. We were told that Inulin (the carbohydrate that causes flatulence) turns into sugars when the tubers are subjected to low temperature.

Picking the tubers so late in the season was an opportunity to test this thesis.

The Sunchoke Tubers, once cleaned, were ready to be processed
Once cleaned, we decided to taste them raw. Usually, we found the Sunchoke to have a nice mild and nutty taste. We were quite surprised to find that this late in the season, they are indeed very sweet. They almost tasted like carrots!

We decided to turn these into a soup. In the past, we have tended to use a simple combination of potatoes and Sunchokes to make a nice creamed soup. This time, we decided to combine these with some Squash. We roasted the Sunchoke tubers with diced Squash and added them to a combination of cooked leeks, onions and garlic. Since we had some at our disposal, we threw in a few handfuls of pumpkin seeds.

A great vegetable base for a soup.
We added some stock and once the vegetables were fully cooked, we took the mix through a blender.
The result was a very good and simple Sunchoke and Squash soup.

A simple Sunchoke and Squash soup, garnished with Pumpkin seeds
Finally, the inspiration for this soup was the theme of our first 2017 SlowFood Niagara convivium meeting which was hosted at the farm last Sunday. The theme was: Aboriginal Foods.

The members really outdid themselves by preparing a potluck that included everything from Pemmican, to salmon, bison stew and wild rice.

SlowFood Niagara meeting....a great "spread"



Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 27th!

This is our first blog entry in quite a while....and we're back!

The reason for this quiet period is simple: we've been hibernating.

During this time, we've had a lot of people ask when will the Tea Room open again for the season. Well, the date has now been set: March 27th.

This is a bit later than expected. But during this relatively mild Winter, we've not stopped any of our major projects. This year, this has involved finishing the first floor of the barn. Basically insulating it all and extending our kitchen/production area. With some of our wall covering on back order, we simply could not finish it all in time for our originally planned 21st March seasonal opening.

The back of the barn's first floor: in its original configuration

The back of the barn: a new and improved production area

Meanwhile, the Winter months have allowed us to continue experimentation in wine making and fruit liqueurs. The focus of our work has been the Kiwi berries we harvested last Fall. We continue to work on Melomels (a fruit-based Mead or Honey wine). The results have been quite good and we've now perfected the clarification of our wines. 

In the end, the process is rather simple and involves just 4 basic ingredients: fruit, honey, water and yeast.

Kiwi berries drenched in Honey
Once water is added, the activated yeast does all the work
Within just a few weeks, our fermenter is ready to disgorge a beautiful dry white wine



Finally, quite a few changes are expected in this year's Tea Room operation. We hope our patrons will benefit from all these changes. In any case, we now are looking forward to a great new season and the blog is now back on, full swing with weekly updates.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Well we've now had our first...and second, blanket of snow at the farm, and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.


The land is officially going to sleep for the Winter

Since our last post, we actually had the time to do one final job on the farm: planting saplings.

One final chore completed in a "nick of time"...next day we had our first snow storm.

During the drought this summer, we were able to help out a neighbour. A nursery that adjoins our property was in serious trouble. We happened to have a pond close by and allowed them to use what water remained in the pond.

A couple of weeks ago we were surprised when they came to us with 22 saplings of Amelanchier Canadensis ready for transplant. It was a very nice gesture and we were quick to get them into the ground. In fact just quick enough to avoid the snow...which started to hit us the day after.

For those not familiar with the plant, as its Latin name suggest, it is native to these parts. It is also known as Serviceberry, or Juneberry, or for Westerners, the Saskatoon. We already have a few on the property and were really pleased to fill up our rows with these additional saplings. The berries make an amazing jam and some great pies.

With Christmas on its way, this is now the last week for the Tea Room. The shelves in the market are almost bare and we will be closing for the season on Thursday night.

We'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of our patrons. You've made this year a record year for attendance. We are looking forward to seeing all of you next year when we plan to re-open in March for our 2017 Spring season. Hopefully we'll have a few new surprises for everyone as we work this Winter on brand new menu ideas.

So to all of you, from all of us at the farm, we wish you a very happy Holiday Season and a very prosperous New Year!

The latest addition to the family, Oliver, gets his first tree ornament (I wonder who's more excited about this)

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.