Edible City is where I muse about urban gardening and share tips from my new book City Farmer

Monday, September 27, 2010

A New Hen for the Flock

My chicken flock is back up to three hens. (Exactly WHERE my flock is, I'm not saying, since the gals remain fugitives...chickens are not allowed in Toronto.)

I went to Blue Haven Farm (www.bluehavenfarm.moonfruit.com) near Fergus two weeks ago and chose a gorgeous, fine-tempered white bird of the Columbia breed. (She's the one on the right.) I expected her to lay white eggs (and was excited by the thought of daily blue, white and brown eggs) but she pops brown eggs. I saw it as a great omen that her first one had two yolks!

She has integrated well with Nog and Hermione--no fighting to sort out the pecking order.

As for her name, I'm thinking of Harriet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

R.I.P. Chicken Roo

One of my chickens, Roo, died on Saturday. She was a Buff Orpington, just over 2 years old, and a great gal. Her illness and death brought to mind all the practical dilemmas and philosophical contradictions, for me, of keeping egg-laying hens in the city. For example, when it became clear that she was sick, I didn't know where to turn. Should I find a Toronto vet (none of whom specialize in farm animals) willing to see Roo and possibly do surgery (I thought she had an impacted crop, but now I'm not so sure)? If my cat was sick, I'd take him to the vet without any hesitation. But Roo wasn't exactly a pet, though I did have strong and affectionate feelings for her. Instead, I went to the farmers market and talked with a number of farmers--all of whom said, "If it's an impacted crop, kill her and make soup." Gotta love those very practical farmers!

By the time I got home, Roo was dead. TC (my friend who runs torontochickens.com--this is a psuedonym; she prefers to remain anonymous because chickens are still illegal in Toronto) and I buried her in my backyard and I plan to plant some currants near her--she'll feed the berries over time. First, though, TC and I did an autopsy, which sounds grizzly but wasn't. We wanted to determine whether or not Roo did in fact have an impacted crop, but the results were inconclusive. I have to say that dissecting the neck of a dead chicken--a chicken I've spent a lot of time with--was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I learned something about Roo's anatomy and I learned something about myself: I've got a bit of the practical farmer gene in me, after all. Next time, I'll probably cut her neck pre-death (yes, cause her death) and make soup.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tasty Native Wild Ginger

I'm drawn to unusual edible wild plants and foraging. But I'm also keenly aware that our few remaining natural areas just can't sustain much wild harvesting. One great way to deal with this conundrum is to grow native plants in our own gardens and harvest them from this sustainable source.

So this weekend, for the first time, I harvested and ate some of the wild ginger I've been growing for years. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is a woodland perennial groundcover native to the forests of northeastern North America. It spreads quickly, creating a dense, gorgeous mat of heart-shaped leaves, perfect for shade gardens. The root is an excellent substitute for ginger--the flavour isn't as strongly ginger-ish as the Asian ginger from the supermarket, but it is, I'd say, more complex and interesting. It's peppery and almost perfumey.

I dug up a couple of roots, cleaned them, and chopped them up into very fine slices (using only the white part of the root--as the root gets greener and turns into stem, it becomes bitter). I then took some boneless chicken breasts, sliced them in half and stuffed the wild ginger in between the slabs. I cooked the chicken in the oven (wrapped in paperbark--something I'll save for another blog posting later) and served it with a simple mayo/lemon accompaniment.

Another thing I did was to steam fresh peas with a bit of wild ginger root.

I'll be doing a workshop on growing edible native plants where I talk about these and other unusual culinary garden ornamental natives. It's on July 17, 10am to noon, at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto (http://ebw.evergreen.ca/cal/event/edible-native-landscapes).

Monday, May 31, 2010

Potato Trick

I'm moving house right now and looking for ways to re-purpose the tons of stuff I've accumulated over the years--such as bushel baskets. I'm going to try a trick my friend Dagmar Baur told me about. I'm going to grow potatoes in bushel baskets this year,

Step 1: Line the bushel basket with plastic in which some drainage holes have been punched.
Step 2: Put approximately 8" of soil in the basket.
Step 3: Bury seed potatoes in the soil (I'm going to use heritage varieties recommended by Dagmar: Irish Cobbler, Slovenia Crescent, Matsuama).
Step 4: When the potatoes start to send up stems, add another inch or so of soil (this apparently encourages more potatoes to form). Keep doing this as the stems grow.
Step 5: Later in the summer (I'll keep you posted!), harvest a bumper crop.

I'd appreciate hearing from anyone else who has tried this technique.

These potatoes will be a memorial crop for Dagmar, who died a couple of weeks ago. She was an amazing person who generously spread love, plants and wisdom to the world. I'll miss her, as will so many of her friends in the Toronto gardening community.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Moveable Feast

I don't know who made this garden, but it's one of the sweetest I've ever seen. A moveable herb feast attached to a bicycle! I saw the bike/garden parked outside the University of Toronto's school of architecture building, so it was probably put together by an inventive student. Can't you just imagine the wafts of basil-scented air coming from this bike as it travels the city?!

If you know of other, equally quirky gardens, I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rooftop Veggies

My garden gets shadier every year (not surprising--I planted 30 trees when I moved in--this in a regular-sized downtown Toronto lot), so it's hard to find a sunny spot for tomatoes. My solution was to colonize the roof.

There's a section I can reach with a small ladder, and that part of the roof has just a gentle slope. I hoisted a couple of bags of topsoil up there, cut 2 slits in each and planted heritage tomato seedlings in each slit. Couldn't have been easier. I watered them every day (and with compost tea every week or so) and harvested a bumper crop of tomatoes. Forget the 100-mile diet; this was the 0-foot diet.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eat Your Weeds

This is a great time of year to forage for young, edible greens in the city. My favourite is garlic mustard. It's an invasive non-native plant that wreaks havoc in woodlands (outcompeting the native understory plants), so you can feel virtuous about harvesting it. A few nights ago, I went to a local park that's infested with garlic mustard and cut a huge swath of young leaves (the later in the season, the more bitter the leaves). I made a batch of garlic mustard pesto and spread it on toasted baguette. Delicious--it tasted like spring.

You can use any regular pesto recipe and just substitute garlic mustard for the basil, but here's my recipe:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 clove garlic
4 cups garlic mustard leaves
pinch of salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Save the Date--Come to the Party

Hope you'll join me and many friends and urban agriculture folks for the launch of my new book, City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing. The launch is on Wednesday, May 26, 6:30pm to 8:30pm and is being hosted by The Stop Community Food Centre at the Artscape Wychwood Barns (601 Christie Street [just south of St. Clair], Toronto. It'll be a party...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pest Control

Sarah Elton (author of the new book Locavore) and I led a Jane's Walk yesterday (www.janeswalk.net), "Finding Free Food in the City," and 140 people showed up for it! Sarah and I both gave out free copies of our books to anyone who answered our skill-testing questions. E.g., what is a good (and legal, humane) way to get rid of raccoons and squirrels and keep them from eating your vegetable garden? One fellow said he collected all his shaved beard trimmings every day and sprinkled them in the garden to discourage critters.
[photo: Sarah Elton on left; me on right, with the blowhorn (note carrot earrings). Photo courtesy of Dennis Swartz and Jane's Walk]

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Vegetable I'm Most Excited About

The vegetable I'm most excited about growing this year is Mexican Sour Gherkin. I ordered seeds through the heritage seed network Seeds of Diversity (www.seeds.ca). I grew it last year, too, and was thrilled with the results--hundreds of tiny speckled fruits that look like 1/2-inch watermelons and taste like cucumbers. This plant was the biggest little conversation piece in my garden. (When I talked with writer Gayla Trail (www.yougrowgirl.ca) about them, she said they looked like "miniature purses for Barbie dolls.")

This year I'm growing 10 plants, so I'll have enough of these prolific little gherkins to pickle--jars of this treat will be great presents for friends. The gherkin is also delicious as is, in salads or an an unusual garnish.