Friday, 5 September 2014

Cheapskate Soup Stock

I have already shared my love of freezing the excess summer bounty to eat during the cooler months here, and I am going to share more freezer love.

I love composting kitchen scraps, but sometimes I like to freeze them instead.

Why would I do this, you ask? I like to use leftover vegetable scraps in homemade soup stock when I am able to instead of buying new vegetables.

Image source

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Garden Art

I am a bit of an Instagram addict, and my gallery is filled with photos of my backyard garden. But this summer I grew bored with the same old photos and began playing with my veggies and flowers, which developed into some photography fun. I began with making faces, or veggie selfies. 

Then I started getting more creative and playing with colours and patterns, which developed into garden mandalas. 

Despite feeling wistful about the turning of the season soon, I am looking forward to trying some leaf and pinecone mandalas in autumn.

If you are on Instagram, I am crustyroll35. Find me and say hello.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Summer Bounty

It's been a busy gardening summer, so busy that I haven't really blogged about my garden at all. On top of weeding, cleaning and reseeding, I water every day, which alone takes 30-40 minutes. It is a labour of love, and the time spent in my garden is my personal therapy session.

There is nothing more satisfying than walking out my back door and picking my food, and nothing compares to the taste of fresh, homegrown food. Recently I had a greek salad for dinner at a restaurant and it tasted bland compared to what I could make at home.

Every summer I am reminded about the true cost of our food. I am much less prone to wasting food when I have grown it with my own hands because I understand the effort that went into growing it. When I walk around farmers markets and groceries stores I'm astounded at how reasonable the food actually is, even though people complain about the high cost of fresh, healthy food.

I have four raised beds and multiple containers around the beds. Here is a selection of photos of my summer harvest:

For a family birthday party: greens (kale, chard, lettuce, beet, arugula),
cucumbers, carrots, dragon's tongue beans, tomatoes, peppers.

I tried something new this year: potatoes in grow bags. It was successful,
but next year I will go back to the garden beds to get a higher yield.

Asian greens, so good! I am currently starting new greens (sui choy and
bok choy) for my fall garden.

This mini harvest turned into pesto.

It has been a pretty good year for tomatoes, despite a rough start. The hot
summer has provided the perfect conditions for them. Now to pick them
before the squirrels eat them all! 

I like growing heirloom varieties too, like these yellow pear tomatoes.

The pride and joy of my garden: garlic! It was a bumper crop this year.

Speaking of bumper crop, my cucumbers have been amazing!

I'm trying four different varieties of hot peppers this year: jalapeƱo, habenero
yellow and red.

My beautiful yellow peppers, so sweet with a little kick.

My beets did very well too. There were a few gargantuan sized ones, but
these ones are so pretty when sliced.

It was my first year growing spaghetti squash and I have enjoyed it. This
is my first squashed harvested, and it was delicious.

My first successful year with onions, and the difference was buying the bulbs.
I have learned a lot this season, such as not planting onions with garlic.

Perhaps the hot, dry season wasn't as good for my zucchinis, which
did not produce as many as previous years.

Another first for me: edamame (soy beans), and I will definitely be growing
these again. 

Finally, the harvest today. I gave much of this to my neighbour who
has helped me so much by building my raised beds and fixing
my fence. He's so awesome.

My Garden This Season:

basil, thyme, cilantro, sage
arugula, salad bowl lettuce, mustard
four varieties of kale
three varieties of beets
spaghetti squash
two varieties of potatoes
yellow onions
four varieties of carrots
multiple varieties of sunflowers
multiple varieties of heirloom tomatoes
green beans and dragon's tongue beans
four types of hot peppers
bok choy 
hard neck and soft neck garlic
snap peas

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Freezing the Harvest

This is the time of year when the earth's bounty is overflowing. The harvest is in full swing and there is abundant fresh, local and often organically grown vegetables and fruit. Those of us who have kitchen gardens are faced with buckets full of tomatoes, beans, zucchinis, greens and herbs. I am trying to bake as much zucchini bread as I can, but it is nice to have homegrown, or locally grown food in the winter months when most of our produce comes from far away.

Climate Crusader has written of easy food preserving methods, and I would like to share my favourite way to preserve the summer bounty for the long, wet, cold winter. 

I enjoy eating my easy refrigerator pickles and beets, but I have yet to delve properly into the world of canning (it's on my "to learn" list every year). This would be my best bet for saving the majority of my harvest, but every year the complications of life seem to get between me and my canning dreams. 

Freezing the Harvest

My preferred method of food preservation, by default, is freezing my food. This past spring we used up the last of my frozen zucchini just as I was preparing to put the new zucchini plants into my garden bed. I have learned that it is possible to freeze many vegetables and berries, it just takes a little preparation and time to do it properly.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Nature Heals

I have struggled with blogging for the past few weeks, with little desire and seemingly little time to do so, which is ironic given that I am on summer vacation. I have also been trying on post ideas and tossing them to the side because they didn't grab me. I have even forgotten to post when I have made commitments to do so, which makes me feel guilty. But I now have something that I think I am ready to share, and it is going to be hard for me, so please be kind.

I have been depressed for many weeks now. Thankfully I have not struggled with depression for many years, or a lifetime, as some people do. I am no expert on depression and in the past I have struggled to empathize with people who are depressed. You know, like just focus on the positive, stop dwelling on the negative in your life. 

For many reasons my life this summer has been a perfect storm for depression. Professionally I am struggling because I am involved in a prolonged labour dispute that shows no end. This has triggered monetary stress, which in turn has triggered a whole variety of other stresses. Then there are cyclical reasons for my low mood (what woman hasn't experienced this?). The cherry on top is that my left hip has been inflamed and extremely painful since June (hmm, coincidence?) which has caused my lower back to go out. Anyone who has every experienced chronic pain can tell you the effect that it can have on mood. Of course, the pain has slowed me down and I have not enjoyed as many long walks and bike rides as I had hoped I would. Thankfully my hip and back are improving (but that is another story).

Also playing into this, I believe, is that I may be spending less time outside than I should in the last couple of weeks. My middle daughter was stung quite badly at the beginning of the summer and it has been a struggle to get her to spend any length of time outdoors, which caused us to cancel our summer camping trip. Also, because it is so hot out during the day (we have had an unusually hot and dry summer here in the pacific northwest), we have been seeking cooler locations, usually indoors during the warmest times of the day. 

But I know that Mother Nature is the greatest medicine, and I have a treatment plan.

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Monday, 28 July 2014

DIY Salve with Plantain

For many reasons, I feel like I come alive in the summer. One part of the season that I do not enjoy, and I know I'm not alone in this regard, is bug bites. Not only do I dislike the itch and sting, but it is compounded by the fact that my daughters hate them and often refuse to go outside because of them. There are many products on the store shelves for bug bites, but in my quest to make my own and avoid unnecessary packaging and potentially harmful ingredients, this summer I have made my own skin salve, with the key ingredient being plantain. I also fits in nicely with my one little word for the year, make.
Plantain is a very hardy plant and grows almost anywhere, especially in lawns along concrete path and driveways. Most people think it as a weed and pull it up, but it is edible and can be used as a topical application for skin irritations like bug bites, stings, rashes and cuts. I have some growing in my raised garden beds and as long as it doesn't take over, I leave it.

Sometimes when I'm watering my garden in the morning I get mosquito bites, so I just grab a leaf of the plantain, crumple it (some people suggest chewing it) to release the moisture inside and directly apply to the itchy spot. Within 5-10 minutes the itch and sting is gone. 

I like to have salve with me when I go out with my daughters, and I want to have some when the growing season is over, so I made some plantain salve. I'm happy to report that it works as well as directly applying the leaf. 

I apologize for the approximations in my recipe below. I just played around different recipes  until I had the consistency I liked. Because I use coconut oil that can be very soft to liquid in warm temperatures, I added a little more beeswax to help keep the salve in more solid form during warm summer weather.

Ingredients and Materials:
  • approximately 1 to 1 1/2 cups dry plantain leaves, chopped 
  • approximately 1 1/2 cups oil (I like coconut oil for skin care)
  • approximately 1-2 tablespoons beeswax 
  • essential oil of choice (I like tea tree oil for it's curing properties)
  • glass jar (I use mason jars)
  • fine strainer or cheese cloth
  • containers for the completed salve
  • double boiler or pot and stainless steel bowl or crock pot


  • Harvest the plantain leaves. If you must wash them, make sure they are dry so that the salve will last longer. Chop them into small pieces.

  • Place oil on the plantain leaves in a glass jar. Completely mix together.

  • Place the jar in a pot or crock pot with enough water to come almost to the top of the oil. Gently heat the mixture on very low heat for about 12 hours. I wasn't home long enough to do this in one go so I split the heating over two days. 
I added a cloth under my mason jar in the crock pot
so the glass wouldn't have direct heat on it.

  • Strain the plantain leaves from the oil and allow the oil to cool completely. 

  • Using a double boiler or pot of water and stainless steel bowl, melt the beeswax and add the plantain oil. Thoroughly mix. Add a few drops of essential oil of choice. 

  • Pour into small glass jars or stainless steel jars. Leave it to cool completely and store for future use. 
The salve is cooled and ready for use, which I have already
done with the salve in the mason jar. You can see how
hard my mixture is (had to use my finger to scape it) but
if you like it softer just use less beeswax.