Bringing In Your Plants

Autumn is just around the corner! It's September now. The days are getting shorter and the nights cooler. It's time to bring the houseplants back inside.

Trays for the plants have always been a concern for me. I bring in a lot of geraniums and so forth from the garden and start many plants indoors early in the spring. This year I am going to use boot trays under the plants! It's an idea that just came to me while shopping at Home Depot today. It's the only thing I could find that is big enough for this pot but it works perfectly. I can add other pots to the tray as well and use them in front of the patio doors too! I love the idea!

I planted most of my plants directly into the garden in June this year, so will have those to dig up and plant into pots with fresh soil shortly. I will have to look carefully to make sure there are no earthworms, earwigs or other insects coming in with them.

I'm buying more boot trays today!

Wildcrafting In The North

We live in the Northern Rockies of British Columbia, Canada. Short growing season, super long days in summer and short days in winter, but we love it here! The days we get in the winter are short but very sunny. The more southern warm regions of BC are usually rainy and rarely sunny in the winter.

We live in a very small town in the wilderness, the "bush" as it's called. There is little up here but wilderness and this gives us a great deal of access to the wild things.

Bearberry leaves drying under a tarp outside 
I am constantly amazed at the number of medicinal herbs and berries that grow up here! I spend much of my summer time gardening and collecting plants from the surrounding wilderness. I gather as many herbs as I can and hang them to dry out of the sun and rain. Sometimes in the house, sometimes in the shed and some on the porch. I make herbal salves in the winter. 

I recently lost a large amount of yarrow to a bunny rabbit who lives nearby. We occasionally leave things out for him, but this time I didn't leave the yarrow out on purpose. I just didn't think about it and left it outside on a rack to dry under a cover, out of the rain, just until I could get it properly hung to dry. The next morning it was all gone, every last piece! He ate all the fireweed (willow herb) flowers too, not the leaves, just the flowers. I guess he likes fireweed flowers and yarrow. He likes spinach too...

Yarrow drying in the shed
I have learned a lesson here and put all my herb bunches up out of the rabbit's reach, if I don't hang them right away. I don't bother with the feverfew, as I know he won't eat it. Nothing eats feverfew! lol! It's fabulous for headaches, even migraines, but it's the most awful tasting stuff growing. I have gotten used to the taste and am thankful for it, if I have a migraine. If you have migraines, you know what you will go through to get relief! Feverfew doesn't grow wild up here. I plant it on purpose. 

I love yarrow! It's one of my favourite herbs and is good for just about anything. It's particularly good at healing and preventing infection in wounds. It also makes a good herbal tea base. We use a lot of it. 

I guess I will have to collect more fireweed flowers too. They make excellent tea and jam! Fireweed is also called "willow herb" and has some good properties. We may sell the dried fireweed leaves, and the flowers, if I have enough to sell, after the rabbit's visit.

Another herb that grows up here in plenty is usnea, sometimes called "old man's beard". It's not really an herb. It's a lichen that grows on the trees. It is, like yarrow, a marvelous antimicrobial dressing for wounds. It goes into the healing salve, along with the yarrow and several other healing herbs. 

We hope to have our herb and seed store up and running this winter. When we lived in Ontario, we had a successful online seed store and we hope to start it again, selling the seeds along with the dried leaves and salves. 

Garden Reseeds - Volunteers

Does your garden reseed itself? Mine does, all over the place, but I like that! It gives me a second crop of everything, naturally. It's not in neat little rows, of course, it's in patches. Larges patches of spinach, green onions, chives, cilantro, thyme, oregano and anything else I leave to go to seed. I let everything go to seed because I have a seed store.
A lot of it escapes before I harvest it and I always lose some in the harvesting anyway, so I get a lot of volunteers. I love them! I am still cutting from a large, reseeded patch of spinach resulting from just one plant left to go to seed. I have a lot of cilantro growing all over the garden. That stuff really grows wild! I have baby chives coming up all over, baby dandelions, baby purslane, baby thyme and baby oregano.

I'm sure I would also have baby catnip, mint and choc mint, if I let those go to seed too. I will probably let them go that long next year so I have seed for the seed store but this year I cut them back and dried them.
If you keep your garden spotlessly clean, weed regularly or mulch heavily you will never know the joy of harvesting volunteers. I like my garden the way it is. Everything grows well and is green and healthy, shown by the ability of the plants to reproduce themselves all over the place. I do pull some weeds, but the useful things get left to grow.

Community Shared Agriculture (CSA)

Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) is becoming the new age way to farm. It is the only way for a small family farm to stay in business these days. It is the "farm share" concept put into practice. It works the same way as "cow shares", so much in the news lately. Also available are egg share farms and shares for anything else that the government and marketing boards have such a tight hold on.

Basically, the consumer is buying shares of ownership in the farm and are, therefore, part owners rather than simple customers. They can then partake of anything the farm produces for the amount of time that they pay their share of the cost in partnership fees.

This allows a lot more freedom of choice for the consumer and organically grown, fresh produce for much less than it would cost in the supermarket. Depending on the farm and type of partnership shares offered, consumers can have their portion of all vegetables, fruits, fresh herbs, cut flowers, eggs, baked goods, farm soap, dairy products, meats, honey and other things not available to the general public due to legal restrictions and marketing boards. It also gives them access to things they would otherwise no be able to afford in the supermarket.

Although many CSA farms offer only vegetables, some offer egg shares, dairy shares and meat shares sold separately. You usually pay a separate fee for each one. Occasionally, a really good farm will combine everything offered with occasional home baked cookies, pies, jams and pickles processed on the farm. Especially in the months when grown vegetables are more scarce, i.e. early season May and late season October.

It benefits the farmer by allowing him to sell everything he has available, directly from the farm without added costs for sales or transportation. Many of the seasons costs are covered ahead of time by the CSA partnership fees. Most farm shares are paid for up front each year in the spring or the season is divided in half and two payments are made. Either way is good for both the farmer and the consumer.

Ownership in a farm can have a downside. The consumer also takes the same risks as the farmer. Bad weather, drought, insects and other unncontrollable circumstances can reduce the vegetables by quite a bit and destroy some altogether. There is no refund for a poor season, you take the bad with the good, just like any other farm owner does.

Vegetable farm shares usually come in two choices:
One bushel basket per week for a family of four, called "a full share", half a bushel per week for a childless couple or single person, called a "half share".
If you have a large family of six or eight adults and nearly adults, you can buy a share and a half, which is a combination of the two, or two full shares. These are just what I have seen this year, in this area. Farms can arrange this any way that is convenient for them and the customers. 

Delivery is not usually included in the price, if it is offered. Some farms deliver and some require you to pick up your shares, some with substitutes offered on hand. Many folks like coming to the farm to pick up their baskets. This gives them the opportunity to see what is produced first hand and to chat with the farmer and other partners. Some farms have other items for sale to the public that can be bought when farm shares are picked up.

Farm shares usually start in late May or early June and continue through until late September or early October with a basket every week of whatever the farm is producing at that time. Usually 18-19 weeks are offered, with extensions on either end if growing conditions are favourable. Obviously you won't get everything offered every week, as it is all locally grown and seasonal for your area. Farms that sell shares usually have a greenhouse or cold frame(s) to start early and end late, thereby giving their farming partners the fresh vegetables as long as possible.

I have considered starting a CSA farm. I would include more than just vegetables, hoping to compensate for the occasional poor vegetable selection with other things, like handmade soap, candles, baked goods, jam, pickles, etc. 

Planning would be a large part of the work. Planning and planting for a specific number of weekly boxes and limiting the customer base to just what we are able to supply. Making sure there is something growing and ready for each week of the season and preparing to fill out the boxes with everything the farm produces, i.e. soap, candles, herbs, fresh flowers, farm crafts, etc. 

I think Fort Nelson would benefit a lot from a CSA farm in the area. At this point in time, however, I am planning on using all of my available gardening space to grow food for the Food Bank. 


I love primulas, also called primrose or polyanthus. They are one of my favourite flowers in the garden. One reason I like them so much is because they are so hardy! They stay green under the snow all winter. They bloom in the early spring and late autumn, even in the snow. They can be grown on a windowsill as a houseplant and do very well outside in the shade. They are an excellent shade garden plant that flowers.

Primulas like to be kept slightly moist and do not tolerate drying out completely. They do best in shade and like cool temperatures. A truly northern flower. They like slightly acid, humousy soil. (Is hymousy a word?) Sounds like a good peat bog plant.
I grew my first primulas from seed and had those plants for a decade. I continued to divide them as they grew and spread them around the edge of the flowerbed.

They are very low to the ground and make an excellet edging. You will want to keep them in the front of the bed as they don't get more than about 6-8" tall.

There are a lot of newer varieties of primulas. Some are taller with blooms on a stalk and they come in a rainbow of colours.

I bought these marked down to .25 each at the grocery store. They were almost dead when I brought them home. All they needed was a drink but they are in very light, poor soil so have to be constantly watered. I think I will replant them into potting soil until the ground thaws. Then they will go directly into the shade garden in the spring


Growing & Using Winter Squash

Squash is one of my favourite vegetables from the garden. This also includes the sweet pumpkins, which are in the same family. It is so versatile and so good for you! It can be boiled, baked, sliced for the BBQ, grilled, baked in a pie for dessert and made into delicious soup. It can also be eaten with lots of real butter and a drop of maple syrup for a side vegetable dish.
I took an interest in the various different types of squash this year and planted five different kinds of winter squash. Having grown only hubbard, acorn and buttercup in the past, I was astounded at all the types of winter squash available out there. Some have long growing seasons and may not do well up here, but most of them look like they will produce well enough if started early indoors and given lots of hot, sunny weather. Unfortunately, we didn't get the hot, sunny weather this year, but I think we will have plenty of squash, nonetheless.In the actual vegetable garden, I planted hubbard, ambercup (a golden buttercup type), butternut and nutty delicata. I have never grown the nutty delica squash before, but I thought it sounded good. I love nuts and this is suppose to have a "nutty" flavour. It is a relatively new Japanese ebisu hybrid type. I have not previously grown butternut, either, although I have eaten it and seen it in the stores.

I planted acorn squash in the back field on the fence. Only two of those came up but I grew a very large acorn squash plant in the front flowerbed. It was an accidental dropping of the seed in the wrong place, but that bed was new and needed some greenery anyway, so I left it there.

It took over a large part and is producing extremely well, much better than the same seed grown on the back fence. I think that is due to the extra chicken manure dug into the flower beds. It looked nice there too with the large golden blossoms and huge green leaves. I may consider doing that again next year. Is that what is referred to as a "Potager Garden" - vegetables mixed in with the flowers? I like it. It had four little squash on it until yesterday. I accidentally left the gate open and the chickens got into the front yard. They ate three of the little squash. I managed to cover the other one up with a bucket for the rest of the evening. They had not found it yet. The vegetable garden has a fence around it to keep out the groundhogs that live under the garage, so the chickens cannot get in there.

In my search for squash types, I found one in particular that interested me. It was the Hopi pale gray winter squash. I came across a reference to it as being an especially good "keeper". These squash are an heirloom variety originally grown by the Hopi Indians but have almost disappeared. When I tried to find a source, I was disappointed. The Hopi squash are very difficult to acquire. I did manage to get some seeds, in a trade from this year, 2009, for both the Hopi pale gray and the Hopi black squash, to grow for next year. Since they are from more southern regions I will start them very early next spring on a heating source. I am excited about growing these next year to test for the perfect squash and as a source of rare seed.

All of my winter squash plants have small squash growing on them, except for the butternut. The first female butternut flower opened this morning. I hand pollinated it. Even the long seasoned hubbard has small squash growing. We have had exceptionally cool weather this year. I don't know why there is 
a difference.

Perhaps the butternut need more heat? They are all in the same bed and have received the same treatment. I planted the butternut because I read that they were good producers, making a lot of squash on one plant. We will see how 
it goes...

I am looking for the perfect squash. One that is not stringy, keeps all year and has a fabulous, sweet and nutty taste. Is there such a thing?

Squash like to be grown in very light, loose soil so the roots are well aerated. They are nutrient hogs and like a lot of water, without being waterlogged (see previous sentence). I dug chicken manure into the hills where I planted the squash and I have occasionally fed them with organic commercial transplant fertilizer with a high phosphorus content, that I bought at a garage sale. Avoid using a high nitrogen fertilizer as this causes lots of leaves and 
few squash.

Squash, pumpkins and gourds are all from the same general family and all depend on bees for their pollination, so a small and dwindling bee population causes a poor harvest. (What will we do when there are no more bees?? ) Last year I had a lot of flowers and very few squash, signalling poor pollination. I am hand pollinating my squash this year and it has made a difference. All of the female flowers that opened were hand pollinated and are now growing small squash. This is exicing and so rewarding! I did that myself! It can be frustrating when the male flowers are plentiful and the female flowers have not opened yet.The male flowers open first in the center of the vine. The female flowers are located further along the central vine and on the lateral branches. The male flowers are on taller stalks while the female flowers sit tighter against the branch on a little ball which, if pollinated, will be the growing squash.

To pollinate the female flowers you will need to use a small paintbrush. Just rub the paintbrush against the pollen in the male flower and then paint the pollen onto the center of the female flower. You can also pick the male flower, remove all but the pollen sitck and rub it against the center of the female flower. I prefer to use a paintbrush and leave the male flower growing where it is, to be used again later unless there are plenty of open male flowers.

There are many rare and delicious winter squash out there, yet to be discovered. Some are heirloom varieties that have been grown for centures in North America and have just slowly been replaced with the modern hybrids and genetically modified versions. One of the main reasons for that is the patenting of hybrid and genetically modified (GM) seed. Seeds from vegetables grown from patented seed cannot legally be saved by the grower for the following year. The farmer legally must repurchase these seeds each spring. Natural and heirloom seeds cannot be patented and so, there is no money in selling them. Large seed companies, such as Monsanto, sell only genetically modified and patented seed. The old fashioned heirloom varieties are slowing dissappearing. The gene pool is shrinking and we are losing valuable material. Not necessarily inferior material either!

We really enjoyed the little acorn squash last year, baked with maple syrup, raisins and dried cranberries and I know that hubbard and buttercup both make excellent pies. Some softer skinned buttercup varieties of squash do not keep very long, however, so they need to be cooked and frozen shortly after harvesting. I have read that the delica squash are not good keepers, either, so we will cook and freeze those when they are ready.

I have collected a selection of squash recipes that we have found to be delicious and have made many times. Winter squash and sweet pumpkin are interchangeable in any recipe, since they are the same thing. Pumpkin and squash are both members of the gourd family. No canned pumpkin will ever taste as good as the homegrown vegetable.

All spices are dried and ground. If you wish to use fresh, you will need to research 
the amount.


Squash Pie

1 1/2 cup squash,cooked, mashed and unseasoned
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
2 teaspoon all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add squash. Beat eggs in another bowl and add milk to eggs, then add to squash mixture. Pour into an unbaked pastry lined pan. Bake at 350F until firm in center, about 1 hour

Squash Loaf

3 cups sugar
4 eggs beaten
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2/3 cup water
3 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice or 1/2 tsp mace
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 cup squash, cooked, mashed and unseasoned
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 350F, grease 3 loaf pans. Mix sugar, oil and eggs. Add squash. Sift together all dry ingredients and add to squash mixture. Add water and pour into pans. Bake 1 hour.

Squash Soup

2 pounds uncooked squash
1.5 pints of stock, chicken or vegetable (can be made with bouillon)
Onion: 1 medium, diced Garlic: 1 crushed clove
Cream to add before serving, amount is optional
Salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon: (optional)

In a large saucepan, slice and saute the garlic and onion in oil or butter until tender. Add squash, stock, nutmeg or cinnamon, salt and pepper. Boil and cook for 25 mins until squash is tender. Puree mixture with a blender until smooth and return to saucepan. Before serving, add cream and gently heat. Do not boil.

*Stock amount can be changed, depending on how thick or thin you want your soup.

**Add thick applesauce for a special taste treat.


Squash Muffins

1 cup squash, cooked and mashed
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon mace

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin tin or use papers. Mix together squash, eggs, oil and corn syrup in large bowl. Stir until well mixed. Stir all other dry ingredients together in smaller bowl. Add dry ingredients to squash mixture. Fill greased tins to the top. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 mins until lightly brown on top.
* Very good with raisins added.

Add raisins to batter if desired.

Squash Dessert Squares

1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups squash, cooked, mashed and unseasoned
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease square pan. Beat together shortening, brown sugar and shite sugar unti light. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in squash. Combine dry ingredients and gradually stir into beaten mixture. Spread in greased pan. Bake for 30 mins. Cool in pan. Spread with orange icing (optional). Cut into bars.

Painting A Farm Mural

With the onset of the huge farming conglomerates, the farm mural is becoming a thing of the past. Gone are the cows commonly seen painted on the side of a barn. Farmers used to take pride in their farms. It was their home as well as their livelihood.

Now that small farms are springing back to life, we are hoping to see more artwork and pride in the family farm and home. We have personalized our small farm with a colourful rooster mural on the side of the big chicken house.

Are you interested in painting a cow, chicken or pig on your barn or buildings? Maybe this post will help you to get started.
The first thing you need to do is decide exactly what it is that you want and where you want to put it. Location is a big decision. Why hide a beautiful painting where only the cows can see it. You also need to keep it out of direct sun all day as this will fade the colours. You can use new paints specifically made to resist fading from the sun but they are more expensive and still only last a short time in direct sun. Our rooster mural is on the north side of the building and protected from direct rain by a small overhang, yet it faces the road - a perfect spot.

To help you decide what you want, try looking at the hundreds of murals on the interent. Just use Google Images and type in "barn mural". Study them, what it is about them that you like and so forth. Put together an image from these pictures that you would like on your building. It is much easier to use a mural already done by someone else as a general reference guide than it is to make one up from your own photographs.

Once you have the picture put together that you want, decide how you are going to transfer that outline to the building. All you need to start with is the general outline of the pictures.
Here is the rooster outline that started our mural. It was originally drawn in charcoal. When we were happy with it we used black paint to make it permanent. Needless to say, this has to be done on a dry day when you have time to draw the entire thing and make the drawing permanent before any rain falls. Even a heavy dew or wind will 

erase charcoal.

There are a few ways to transfer this outline to the building. An overhead projector makes is easy, if you have access to one. What I like to use is a grid. Draw a measured grid on the building and a corresponding one on the picture. Then draw only the lines that you see in each square of the grid. Ignoring the rest of the picture, draw only one grid at a time. Then erase the grid and and stand back to look at the drawing. Adjust it a little here and there until it is right.

Colour is the next consideration. What colours do you like? Do you want it to be bright and cheerful or soft? Do you want realistic or playful cartoon like? Colour theory can be a complicated subject but here are a few simple things to consider:

- Cool colours such as pastel purple and blue are better in the background and cause things to look like they recede.

- Using complimentary colours together will make the object stand out and the colour really "pop". Complimentary colours are opposite on the colour wheel. Examples are: blue and orange, purple and yellow or red and green. It is mostly the basic blue and orange combination in our rooster that make the colours stand out so.

- Use black and white to shadow and highlight. Mix each with a little of the colour you are using, to blend it in smoothly.
 After drawing the animals and deciding on the colour, you then need to collect your paint. Latex or oil? - good question. Both have pros and cons. Oil has more durability outdoors and the colours stay brighter when dry. Latex colour tends to darken and soften just a little when it dries. Some new latex paints can be very durable, as well, and latex washes up with water. Oil takes much longer to dry. Since you will be painting in layers, that will mean that it can take days longer to complete than it would if you are using latex paint. If you decide to go with oil, don't invest in various expensive artist extenders, conditioners, etc. You won't need those for this project. We used mostly latex with bright colour highliting in oil. If the latex is very dry, you can put oil paint on top of it without a problem. You just cannot mix the two types of wet paint together.

Make sure you have every colour you will need on hand when you begin. Some shades you can mix yourself as you go. Any colour can be made from red, yellow and blue with black and white to lighten or darken. Small variations can be mixed as you go but you will need to buy at least a small can of the bright, single important shades. I like to put used paint into plastic jars or margine/yogurt type containers for storage after use. They don't keep well in the can. Large plastic mayo jars are perfect and have a large mouth for use with bigger brushes.

You don't need expensive artists brushes for a mural. You aren't going to be doing that much detail and the rough surface will ruin whatever brush you decide to use. I bought a few small, med and large brushes at the dollar store for this purpose. Use real brushes, not foam. Foam brushes just won't last long enough on a rough outdoor surface.

So, now you are all ready to start painting. All I can do is give you some general direction here. You will have to work out the details as you go along. To start off, keep it simple. You can fill in more and more details as you go, if you think it needs it. Don't expect to finish it all at once.

You are going to paint this mural in layers. If you have a background planned for your animals, paint it first. Then paint the animal on top of the background where it goes in the picture. To keep it from looking "pasted on" draw something from the picture, like blades of grass, over part of the animal, such as the feet. Another trick to keep it from looking pasted onto the background is to make part of the outline of the animal `blend completely into the background, such as an outside line of an ear or part of a leg.

The entire animal needs a base coat of paint, each section painted in its single base colour. This should be the colour that you want to shade the whole animal when it is done, as it will show through, just a little, in the overall picture, especially on a rough surface. 
Here is our rooster with the base colours painted on. You can see the slight rusty look in the finished painting. I have already filled in some detail and highlighting on the head and tail feathers because I knew what I was doing and was up there on the stool anyway. (Climbing up and down is hard on the knees.) It also helps to put your paint on a table or raised surface so you don't have to keep squatting to dip your brush each time.

So you fill in the base colour on each section of the figure, just like a child does in a colouring book. When that base colour is dry, you will then begin to shade it with the dark shadow colour. Go over the entire figure and shade it with the dark wherever there is shadow and darkness in the picture. Then use the light highlighting colour to do the highlights. Don't be afraid to paint the light. All lighted surfaces need to be highlighted.

After you have done this basic work, you can begin to narrow your focus and fill in the details. So far you have been looking at the animal as a whole. Now you need to concentrate you efforts on one small part only and fill in the details of that one spot. Eyes are very important and a great deal of time should be spent in getting the details and highlighting done right. Concentrate on the reflection of light in the eye.

As you move over the various smaller sections of the animal, filling in the details of each, it will begin to take on life and look real. You don't need to do a great deal of tiny detailed work for a mural. This is not a portrait, it is just a mural, to be seen from afar.

When you have finished it and are happy with the result, take a picture of it and post it on the internet for your friends to see.