Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Welcome Spring!

Spring is officially here. It's been a long time since I made a blog entry but life has a way of 'getting in the way' of things like blogging. It's been a busy time addressing deadlines for my articles in upcoming issues of Muskoka Life magazine and my summer column in The Muskokan as I always like to be ahead of the game. And now the sun is shining and the promise of warmer weather this week has me wishing that spring would suddenly burst forth. It's been a long and cold winter with lots of snow but I know that so many gardeners are just itching to get their hands back into the dirt.

Last week we attended Canada Blooms, our premier garden show and came home full of new ideas. Peter and I checked out new composite decking materials for the future replacement of our cedar deck. While our gazebo will last another summer, we looked at a wooden structure that would provide less maintenance (as we now assemble and then take down our gazebo each year to lengthen its longevity) as we get on in years. It's important to think about these things so that we can continue to enjoy our garden as we age.

We also got some new ideas for adding water features and planting combinations that will bring our garden to life again this summer. Now all we need to do is wait for the snow to melt. With April on the doorstep you still have time to order your veggie seeds. I'm anxious to try out some of the many varieties of new tomatoes this season. Remember to check out the new grafted vegetables now on the market. This year's new plant is Ketchup 'n' Fries - a tomato grafted onto potato rootstock, a great novelty plant to add to your kitchen garden collection.

For those of us in the snow belt, spring is still a couple of weeks away but the lengthening days keep us hopeful!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gardening for Geeks

I just finished reading this great garden book, "Gardening for Geeks" and let me tell you it just isn't for geeks or novice gardeners, even seasoned gardeners can learn a new thing or two. This book by Christy Wilhelmi is chock full of information on the basics of gardening with many great ideas for simple solutions that you can do yourself to complex problems in the garden.

Christy covers the basics of building garden beds, soil amendments, composting and much more. There is information on building your own trellises, irrigation and water harvesting (especially important in these days of climate change) plus information on various techniques of gardening including French intesive, Aquaponics and Bio-intesive.

The book also provides information on growing a variety of basic vegetable crops and then finished up with some recipes to use your fresh picked produce (they're simple too if your not into cooking). As well Christy provides information on a variety of ways to save your produce including making your own dehydrator.

Gardening for Geeks is a real how to manual that is easy to understand and follow, a must have for any novice gardener or garden geek or for those of us who need a refresher or want to learn something new. I know I got some new ideas and tips I want to put to use in my garden this summer. So take time out from weeding, settle down with a cool drink and enjoy this book - it's a quick read.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Protect Your Garden - Eco Friendly Solutions

The garden season will soon be upon us and with flowers and veggies come pests and diseases. Not all that happens in the garden are good things, nature has it's own agenda but with a little knowledge you can learn the good pests  from the bad. And if you're growing veggies you will certainly want to use eco-friendly solutions as the trend in health consciousness continues.

A terrific new book that offers great identification and solutions is "Ed Rosethal's Protect Your Garden, Eco-friendly Solutions for Healthy Plants." This easy to read book covers topics like Pests, Diseases, Nutrients, Environmental Stresses, and Controls. I love the format of the book which is so beneficial for new gardeners. Great close-up photos make identification of pests and diseases easy. For each problem questions are asked: How common are the pests? What do they look like? What kinds of plants do they attack?Where are they found on the plant? What do they do to the plant?  And then to help you remedy the situation there is Exclusion and Prevention followed by Controls and Beneficial Biologicals.

The book covers most of the common pests and diseases and you can rest assured that the control methods are both eco-friendly and safe for your plants, family and family pets. As I work with community gardeners many of whom are new to gardening, learning how to prevent garden problems is high on their list. For our Demonstration Farm in Kenya and the many subsistence farmers we work with over there, learning eco-friendly solutions to garden problems is something we are constantly being asked for. And the photos in the book are very good for helping farmers to clarify their agricultural problems.

There are some things in nature that you just can't control but for other problems a little knowledge on plant, pest and disease life cycles can result in applying eco-firendly solutions to keep your garden healthy and producing productively. Ed Rosenthal's Protect Your Garden book is a great resource title to add to your garden library.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Growing Organic Vegetables and Herbs for Market

"To think like a true farmer is to think of many things. It is to think about waht makes crops grow, what constitutes healthy soil, and what it takes to develop a market for your produce, keep customers happy, and run a successful business. It is to think about, then develop, a farm plan as well as aplan to dodge nature's weather-related curveballs and her pests and diseases. And it is never to lose sight of what it takes to be a good steward of the land, not just for yourself but for future generations as well."

These are words by Keith Stewart in the preface of his book "Growing Organic Vegetables and Herbs for Market". There are many people today both young and old, who have a romantic notion of getting back to the land, planting a few vegetables to sustain their family and sell the rest, a little market garden farm but they really have no idea of the work that is involved in creating a sustainable market farm. But here is a book that can really help them, that is if they read it before they take the plunge.

The very first chapter identifies 20 questions for a newbie to ponder before laying out cash, time and effort to get involved in farming, it's not as easy as it seems as the quote above shows. Once you've answered the 20 questions in Chapter 1 positively and decided that a market farm is for you, this resouce manual takes you step by step through the process. Keith uses his own farm and other small farming operations as examples and covers everything from land selection to tools, shed, greenhouses and other structures on to plant materials and even down to designing your farm stand, making signage and marketing. I love his final chapter "Looking After Number One" which focuses on personal health and safety including taking time off for rest and relaxation (a hard thing to do if you're a farmer). However, farming is demanding work and if you can't handle your stress then you won't be able to deal with the problems (most thanks to Mother Nature) when they occur.

With the continued emphasis on healthy eating, more and more people are turning toward their local farms and farmers market for the source of delicious, nutritious food for their families and we have dedicated farmers to thank for that. For those who really do want a change of lifestyle and are willing to make the commitment to farming, we thank you. This book is as necessary a tool as a trowel and a hoe for the aspiring market farmer. I guarantee that if you read Keith's book, you'll be well on your way to growing a succesful market garden business.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Farm Animals and Gardening - A great combination!

With the trend towards backyard vegetable gardening and the production of our own food, many people are getting interested in keeping animals as part of a small-scale farming eco-system. Many municipalities now are even allowing residents to keep a few chickens in their yard in urban areas. Those who live outside urban centres are finding interest in housing a goat or two, a few rabbits and some honey bees as part of a small scale farming enterprise.

This concept is not new as our forefathers all had small scale farm operations, even in their backyards. Raising farm animals is part of a sustainable gardening or agricultural system. Take chickens for example, not only do they provide us with eggs and meat but they help in the garden by scarifying the ground once a crop has been removed and they eat those nasty pests and bugs that can harm our crops. And not to mention, they help fertilize the gardens as they walk through depositing their excrement. The same is true for ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats, pigs, sheep and cows even though you may need to relegate them to a zero graze unit or small barn structure. And we haven't even discussed the possibility of other commercial by-products like goat's cheese, fudge, soaps, wool and more. And what about the honey bees? A few hives will provide bees that help pollinate our vegetables and flowers while at the same time providing delicious and nutritious honey, along with products like bee pollen, beeswax for candles and other uses.In urban areas, there is even the suggestion of keeping rooftop hives but take note of the cautions in terms of extreme heat and cold and the difficulty of lifting the honey filled supers.

If you are interested in enlarging your backyard agricultural garden to a more sustainable and inclusive ecological system then perhaps the addition of a few animals might be for you. A great book to help you learn more about incorporating small farm animals into your backyard homestead is "The BACKYARD HOMESTEAD Guide to Raising FARM ANIMALS", Edited by Gail Damerow. This is a wonderful book for novices as it uses simple language with great drawings to show the different breeds of animals, how to determine their sex, care and maintenance, and even down to dealing with disease. It even shows birthing positions of normal and problem births for goats. Each chapter gives drawings for different kinds of animal housing along with feeding instructions. As well each chapter explains the parts of the animal that are used for culinary purposes. Even though I live in an urban area and can only hope someday soon to be able to have a chicken or two in my backyard, I was fascinated to learn so much about all the other animals that can make up a sustainable farming enterprise (makes me want to move to the country). This book is certainly an essential part of any small scale gardener or farm business library as it covers it all.

A companion book to The BACKYARD HOMESTEAD Guide to Raising FARM ANIMALS is HOW TO BUILD Animal Housing, 60 Plans for Coops, Hutches, Barns, Sheds, Pens, Nest Boxes, Feeders, Stanchions and Much More" by Carol Ekarius. This book is gives more detailed architectural type drawings of the various animal enclosures from small portable chicken coops to full scale horse and cattle barns. It outlines the minimum area requirements needed by each different type of animal  for optimal aminal health encompassing the Five Freedoms for Domestic Animals: Freedom from: 1) Malnutrition; 2) Discomfort; 3) Disease; 4) Fear or Distress and 5) Freedom to express their natural behaviour. The line drawings with detailed dimensions and instructions will help even new farmers to build proper structures correctly. The book discusses issues like working safely with sidebars on "Caution" and "Tips" helping you to achieve a positive outcome while maintaining a safe working environment. The Chapter on Construction helps you identify the various kinds of building materials, tools you will need for building and even helps you understand the load-bearing capacities of soil so that you can build a strong and true foundation. This book is also a  much needed element of any small-scale farme'rs library.

It's time we starting considering more about healing our planet earth and ridding ourselves of our reliance on fertilizers and chemicals and got back to a more natural and sustainable way of raising garden produce with the help of our four legged friends. These easy to read books will help get your started and are available from Storey Publishing.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring is on the way!

"Praise gladly in springtime when earth seems to glow with new life and colour in all things that grow."

It's in the air, I feel it! Spring is on the way. Despite today's biting wind (and last night's ground covering snowfall), the sun is shining and just that alone gives one the feeling that life is on the upswing. But earlier in the week it was really nice, the sun exuded spring's warmth and everywhere you went you heard the constant drip, drip, drip as icicles began to melt. Along south facing walls, the snow began rapidly disappearing and that beautiful damp black earth was exposed. I even saw the shoots of daffodils and some early crocus pushing through the snow. What a joy that was!

Spring is a time for rebirth, a time when seeds and bulbs planted last fall, having had a long winter's rest, germinate and spring to new life bringing smiles and delights to our hearts and gardens. It is a wonderful time of year. And this spring we here at Rosewood have lots to celebrate. Seeds of another kind we have been sowing  with our family charity The Ronnie Fund are also germinating and taking root. On the 7th of April Ronnie will be travelling to Western Carolina University in North Carolina where he will be lecturing as a visiting scholar telling all about our development projects in Wongonyi Village. Meeting with Anthropology, Sociology and Nursing students he will inform them of our programs in Agriculture, Microfinance, Greenhouse Operations, Biosand Water Filters, Educational Scholarships and Health and Nutrition. The tiny seeds that Ronnie has planted and nurtured with Dr. Mwaniki and Dr. Hickey at WCU through their student study abroad program over the past 3 years has blossomed into a great partnership. Ronnie will then travel to The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where he has been planting more seeds. Together we are all creating a beautiful garden in Wongonyi Village, Kenya. Then Ronnie joined by his wife Serah will travel here to Bracebridge where they will meet the many donors who have funded over programs and projects over the years.More beautiful flowers will be added to the bouquet.

Gardening takes patience - you sow a little seed, give it sunshine, water and a little love, nurturing it in good weather and bad until one day you can reap a great harvest. Community development is just like gardening - patience and kindness are needed but someday a successful community will be your reward and harvest.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fresh Food Basket Programs - Get Healthy

In winter when you don't have access to the farmer's markets, a fresh food basket is the perfect alternative to healthy eating.

Last week  it was cold and blustery outside but in the kitchen at Bracebridge United Church all was cozy and warm as I was joined by a group of ladies and we were cooking up Ukranian and Mediterranean delights. This Community Kitchen group cooks once a month on the delivery day for the Fresh Food Basket Program in Muskoka. Operated through several partners including the District of Muskoka, the program aims to get people to eat more nutritiously. For only $20.00 a month you can sign up to receive a food basket brimming with fresh produce. I find this especially appealling when the ground is covered with snow and there is no access to farmers markets or your own garden. And it's a bargain - last week our basket included: Iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, red cabbage, an english cucumber, 4 bananas, a couple of oranges, three lemons, a bag of mini carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, 2 tomatoes, a bag of locally grown pea shoots, a bag of spinach, a cantelope and a 5 lb bag of potatoes. How great is that! And they even supply nutrition information and recipes for the produce in our baskets.

And so our Community Kitchen group, using the food provided in the basket got cooking. We made yummy Ukranian Pierogies with the traditional potato and cheese filling and a delicious Mediterranean Vegetable stew chock full of tomatoes, cauliflower, onions, carrots, boccoli flavoured with basil, oregano, thyme and of course, garlic. It's a great afternoon of fun and friendship and the ladies each go home with two dishes for dinner. We love to try new recipes covering all different types of cuisine from tradtional familiar home-cooked favourites to African, Asian, Mediteranean and southern specialities. And this same group of ladies is involved in a Community Garden program in the summer, each having a plot to grow their own selection of veg. It's a great program promoting healthy eating. Some of the women with children say that since they have been involved in the Community Garden and Kitchen program, their children have developed a great interest in growing and eating their own produce. And that's what it's all about!

Even if gardening's not for you, I encourage you to seek out a fresh food basket program in your community. Let's get off the fast food feed wagon and back into cooking delicious healthy food at home. Cooking is easy when the produce is fresh and cooking at home can be a great family activity.