Spring has taken its sweet time this year leading many to wonder if it's actually going to show up. There have been the odd warm days, but nothing has stuck so far. One day just last week it snowed off and on all day. It was like nature was mocking us. But things are slowly changing, and tuesday we were actually able to get into the garden for the first time, and it felt great.
We've overhauled the garden plans this year and are aiming to make five permanent beds to rotate. Jesse's dad climbed on the tractor and gave the garden a good, deep till, and as soon as the kids saw the fluffy soil, their shoes came off.
They spent a lot of time squishing, throwing, running and burying their feet in the soil.
Meanwhile, Jesse planted his much anticipated patch of malting barley, and has big plans for it this year.
Last year, he planted two regular sized packets of seed, and thought only one stalk of barley would grow from each, but to his surprise most had at least three stalks coming up, and at the top of each, a head with over two-dozen new seeds. That's what I call exponential growth. He ended up with a brown paper lunch bag full when he was done threshing it on our porch. All from two packets.
Well, he's put it all back in the ground, and based on last year's harvest, he's going to have more barley than he knows what to do with. And we'll probably need a combine soon.
Our garlic is up and thriving, which is a good sign as we continue to eat our garlic from last summer. We're trying to use it up quickly before we have fresh garlic scapes and shortly after that, the 2013 crop.
Our heirloom apple trees are budding and look promising this year. Last year we had some incredibly warm temperatures in the spring... well, actually, all winter long. Many plants started to bud mid-winter, and then those buds were killed off by the inevitable frosts to come. Apples and cherries in our area were a complete loss. This is one of the reasons we have been okay with a slow and steady spring, while other complain about the cool temperatures and cheer for freakishly warm patio days in February.
We dug around to find the first asparagus shoot coming up. This year we will actually be able to eat from our little crop after letting the crown, or roots, mature for a few seasons to be able to stand up to being cut back multiple times each spring.
We transplanted a struggling rhubarb plant into the garden last year, and it looks like this is the year it's going to thrive.
Strawberries are greening up nicely.
This year we are excited because we are actually making beds in the garden so that we can have a proper crop rotation, instead of just winging it and remembering (or forgetting) what we planted where last year.
And the first thing to go into the soil (after the barley) was our 300 onion sets.
We're looking forward to building a more permanent garden at the farm that should handle all of our needs. Not too much, just enough. It's only our third year with a big garden, but we feel like we're finally getting the hang of it. We're by no means pros, and definitely still on that steep incline of the learning curve, but there's a lot less fear and worry when it comes to planning things out.
The one thing we've really focused on this year is better planning of the garden. And so far it's wonderful. We're going to plant a bit less, but manage it better. We've been pacing out our starts and so far the tasty sweet potato is in the lead, since it was one of the early starts back in February.
We've sprouted sweet potatoes before, but we love them so much that I went a little crazy this year. Jesse had picked up some sweet potatoes at the Dundas Farmers Market, and we ate all but one. It stayed in the bag and drifted to the back of the pantry. Months later I found a mysterious paper bag, pulled it out and discovered that lonely forgotten sweet potato covered with tiny sprouts. As I was about to throw it in the compost I changed my mind and put it in a cup of water instead. That was mid-February, and the potato has been producing leafy shoots at a steady rate.
When the sprouts grow to a few inches long, we pinch them off and put them in a glass of water to root. After a couple weeks they begin to grown roots, so we plant them in our homemade newspaper pots.
To date we have over twenty four sweet potato plants ready for the garden, and the slowly shriveling sweet potato is still going strong as it uses up its own starch to constantly feed the shoots.
We'll have to be patient and wait another month until we can put them in the ground at the end of May, but come August, it'll all be worth it.
What exactly would growing up be without "mom's chocolate chip cookies"? There are a lot of treats in life, but warm cookies, right from the oven are near the top for me. So, when we were pregnant with our first, I went on the hunt for the worlds best chocolate chip cookie recipe. The recipe that would be "ours". This turned out to be a dangerous task with horrible, crunchy, soggy, and over-fluffy failures. But they were small obstacles in a challenge I wasn't prepared to back down from.
I don't know how many recipes we tried, but there were a lot of them and even more variables: Butter content, oven temperature, preheated baking stones, cooking time.
As you may have guessed, Jesse didn't once complain about all the baking. Several recipes, and a few pounds later, we discovered what made the best results. We tweaked and combined recipes to come up with the ultimate cookie.
It has been a long time coming, but we are ready to share our tried, tested and true "Ultimate" chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's impossible to disappoint.
We try to hold back on the sugar, so I use slightly less than 1 cup of loosely packed brown sugar, and we also make these with only organic light spelt flour. No, this doesn't make them taste like a brick of health food!
A few things we do is to cook them on a preheated baking stone, use a little batter scoop to make them into balls, and we don't flatten them, which keeps the middle a little undercooked and gooey.
Sometimes we do a double batch of batter, scoop out cookie balls onto a tray, freeze and then store in a freezer bag to bake later. It's great to throw a few in the oven, while it's still on from cooking dinner. It also helps with self control so that we don't feel like we have to cook the whole batch at once.
However, with the increasing number of mouths that seem to find their way to our house when we make these cookies, we tend to bake the whole batch.
The humble honey bee is the creature that continually amazes us. What they give is so far out of proportion with what we give them. In our past Field Trips we've visited maple syrup producers and stare in awe at the amount of fuel needed to boil down 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup. Then we think about the quiet, combustion-free environment of the bee-yard (excluding the smoker of course), for a similar amount of sugar.
Our good friend, David Neumann's father is a beekeeper. We visited him a couple years back, and learned all about bees. (Make sure you visit the post with its video.) Since then, he's sent some wax our way, but it's waiting at David's house until we can have a much belated get-together. In the meantime Melanie and a friend, Jaycee, sourced some from Zavitz Honey Hill Apiary, a local, Norfolk County beekeeper who's honey we've been buying for a year now.
Orville, the beekeeper, sent some wax over to us with his wife Janice. She helped us with our first ever attempt at processing wax from raw honeycomb right through to candles. We used our Mehu-Liisa juicer/steamer base to serve as the bottom half a double-boiler with an old stock pot on top. This kept the wax from overheating as it melted and separated from any honey and water.
We sieved the melted wax through some burlap into some water in an old pan below to help it cool quickly. The wax is almost like an oil so it doesn't mix with the water, and will harden and float. It was a long task the first time, but we know future batches will go much quicker. And some solar oven designs on YouTube make melting the wax a simple thing in the summer.
To make our candles, we secured our wick to the bottom of our jars with some melted wax and held them centred with a clothespin as we slowly filled the jars with wax. The candles burn well, and smell amazing.
The thing that we love about burning beeswax candles is that they burn clean, so clean, in fact, they said to purify the air. This is a welcome change from regular paraffin wax candles, which are an oil production byproduct, and don't make sense to burn indoors, regardless of how nice they smell. This makes naturally scented, slow-burning, fossil fuel-free beeswax a welcome addition to our home.
Although, our article doesn't fit this issue's theme of "Wanderlust" too well, hopefully it'll inspire you to take off and find a Seedy Saturday or Sunday, or pick up supplies for some early garden planning.
We've had the pleasure of being a part of Pure Green Magazine from way back before it's print days, and are in awe at the quality in each issue. There are so many great contributors, we feel more and more lucky to be a part of it. So pick up a copy and check it out.
In December, our little man turned 5, and his sweet baby cousin Louis turned the big 1. So a big celebration was in order.
Since Eli is obsessed with Lego, and Louis was cool to tag along with that theme, we went all-out for the party. I found lots of inspiration on pinterest, and used all of my favourites to plan the special day.
Baby food jars are the perfect shape for a lego mini-figure head, so they were the base of a lot of the decorations. I drew faces on with permanent marker, and we used them for drinking glasses.
I found some lego juice box templates here, and used this template for the kids to design their own Mini-Figure.
For the straw-holders, I saw some pencil holders on Handmade Charlotte and couldn't resist. I painted the inside of the jars with yellow acrylic paint, and then drew the faces on the outside. Eli asked to keep them on his bedside shelf to hold his "treasures".
I loved the simple decoration of lego bricks in the bathroom soap dispenser. It was fun and inspired a new level of hygiene in the house. For the treat bags I made crayons using a lego mold I bought on Etsy. I used the template from Delia Creates for the boxes and printed out a little colouring book I found online here. We, of course, had to include some brick candies in the treat bags.
The utensil caddy was definitely one of my favourite decorations. Eli helped me build it from our imaginations. I used the same mold to make little chocolate lego guys as the crayons. We filled the body sections with red, and then piped yellow melting chocolate into the cavities for the hands and head.
I filled large mason jars with lego, not only were they a great decoration, but we used them for a few of our lego-themed games: Guess how many lego pieces are in the jar, how many pieces can you collect with only a straw, and which team can build the tallest freestanding tower in 5 minutes.
One of my favorite games was pin the head on the lego man. I just drew it out on some card stock and taped it all together. (see the image at the top)
I saw this cake on pinterest with a great tutorial that made me feel like I wanted to attempt my first fondant cake. Looking for a simpler first-time recipe, I found a marshmallow fondant that was incredibly easy.
I baked my cake in my Pampered Chef Classic Batter Bowl, the shape wasn't exactly how I wanted it, but overall I was pleased. I didn't want to waste too much cake by shaving it off to create a perfect cylinder, so I just iced it as it came out of the bowl. I drew the face on with a gel icing tube that I also used for the faces on the marshmallow pops.
Planning birthdays are a lot of fun, and something to look forward to during cold days. And seeing how much it's appreciated by the kids makes it more than worthwhile.