Archive for the ‘Winter Veg’ Category

Lactuca – New Site, So Close


Lactuca - New Site

I’m getting quite a few questions about the prospective new Lactuca Urban Farm site, so figured I’d share where things are at. The quick answer: it’s in Inglewood and we’re in the process of negotiating the lease. Although nothing’s a done deal, we’re very near the end of the process. Perhaps I need to back up a bit.

Travis and I started looking at prospective farm sites some time ago. Despite being totally sold on the feasibility of backyard operations, we decided to scale via tapping into unused urban space for a variety of reasons – mostly financial and logistical, partly because we could, but also because both of us are keen to explore the potential of ‘what could be’ in urban ag. This site was our best hope: large enough for a considerable scale-up, easy striking [read: biking] distance for he and I [~1km or so as the crow flies from his house and mine], reasonably tucked away. It’s a site slated for residential development down the road, currently sitting unused. We approached the developer and they were on board if we could clear it by the City and the Community League. We’ve done both those things over the past couple months, with resounding support from the community. So now it’s time to sign on the dotted line.

The site’s over an acre. So we’re adding to the roughly 1000 square feet in the backyard intensive setups by about 45,000 sq ft. It’s more than we need, in fact, and we’re only going to use a portion of the space in the 2013 in order to manage our growth. All this space allows a serious expansion on the salad greens front, but also gives us the space to go to market with heirloom tomatoes, heirloom carrots, heirloom leeks, beets, radishes, cooking greens, and plenty more. The farm plan is drawn up. Seed is in-hand. Logistics are being finagled. Fingers are crossed.

Lactuca Inglewood Site

Episode 51 – Cold Frame Build


I built my first cold frame back in March of 2011. It has undoubtedly changed the way I grow food. I’m now up to 8 frames under lids, with another 6 soon to be built for the 2013 season – the majority for market. This vid is simply a look at how we’re building them now, after much homework in old-school books about how the Dutch and French used to rock this technology, and much debate between Travis and I about the best way to tackle it.

A simple description of the current design: 2×10 back and sides, 2×6 front for the frame on the ground. The lid is a 2×4 back board hinged to the ground frame. 2x2s are then added to the sides and front of the lid, and a space-age corrugated greenhouse plexi is affixed to the top. That’s it. It uses geothermal and solar heat to assist on temperature, and the biggy is the lid itself protects against hail, pounding rain, heavy winds, and frost. And leaf debris, and house sparrows, and neighbourhood cats, and romping children. And snow. I’ve grown greens as early as April and as late as November before without much effort. Now that we’re supplying restaurants, food trucks, caterers, the local culinary school, and the public, it’s time for some effort to extend the season in an energy-passive way and with some volume. I’m not interested in heaters – not just because they’re energy pigs, but because they falsify seasonality, and alter the culture around it. I am however interested in advocating for a re-think about what’s in season, helping sharpen the #yeg pencil around terroir, if you will. There you have it.

Episode 32 – Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes


Eagle Creek Seed PotatoesIt being February and quite possibly a particularly early spring, I was contemplating my annual seed potato order from Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes when it dawned on me that perhaps I should go check them out. So I did. I knew they’d be filling my order in the next couple months, so they had to be busy prepping for that busy season – which was exactly the case. More seasonal food action that you perhaps wouldn’t think is going on up north in February.

This farm should be celebrated by Slow Food and anybody who values biodiversity. While others are farming a single variety of potato in serious quantities, this 4th generation family farm is growing 40 or so varieties and counting. Potatoes need not be a boring staple. What struck me when listening to John was his focus on taste – choosing potato varieties because they have the best taste. What a novel concept for something we eat. John also offers some great advice for what varieties to use in different cooking applications. I thought I knew potatoes, but apparently I have a few things to learn. They also do a veg CSA, raise heritage laying hens and turkeys in a straw-bale construction coop, and all kinds of other cool stuff. Add to that a stunning location atop a high point with a view over the Rockies, and it’s quite the memorable place.

Their online catalog is here, if you’re in the mood for potato enlightenment and/or want to order from them. I will be, again.

Garden Greens…in January


Here’s something I wasn’t expecting. Back when building and planting cold frames I had written numerous times how I’d like to see a harvest from them in December. I thought that might be bold. I wondered if I’d have to eat my words. Then in early December, as my garden fork bounced off the frozen soil nearby, it slipped easily into the soil protected by the cold frame, and I dug up some carrots. Mission accomplished. But it didn’t end there.

In this strange spell of warm January weather, when I’d long accounted the arugula and spinach in the cold frames for dead, I noticed that amongst the mature leaves that had clearly been beaten by the cold, younger leaves had emerged, or better survived, or something – whatever the case, what you see in the photo was harvested January 6. This is a deal changer for me. My ‘dream date’ of December harvest has now been moved into January. And with new plants about to be seeded to be transplanted into the cold frames [I'm hoping in February], the gap of non-gardening season is awfully narrower than I had suspected – all without having to use fossil fuels to heat a greenhouse. I suppose that’s the kicker. If it’s a non-energy consumptive solution to growing more of our own fresh, extremely inexpensive, organic food, the cold frame seems like a rudimentary technology that needs some major revisiting, and a serious pat on the back.

Episode 25: Cellar Food


Strange. It’s mid-December, the soil’s frozen, plants toast – but counterintuitively, this time of year is one of the best times of year food-wise. The freezers are full of a variety of meats, fruits, stocks, lard, and more. The wine cellar’s full of apple wines, ciders, and dry cured pork and game, while the root cellar is an exciting world of veg – from squashes to parsnips, potatoes, beets, carrots, rutabagas, leeks, shallots, and more. It is a time of year rich in food in our home, and will continue to be for some time in fact – nearly all the way into spring when the veg starts to go sideways, the cider stash drops, and the freezers are once again navigable. All the way into the ‘spring gap’ that I’ve largely found ways to close.

Since my cellar seems to be desired stop number one for folks that visit my home, I thought it’d make a decent location to shoot video at a time of year when the food scene has moved from outdoors to underground. It’s a cold place to shoot video – about 2C at this time of year. So I grabbed some things from the cellar, put together a snack for my wife and I, and rolled some…SD card. Rolling tape sounds way cooler.

November Garden Greens


The snow is falling, it’s -3C, with -20C in the forecast later this week. And yes, still harvesting garden veg. Was last year too. Not because I have a greenhouse, hoop houses, or even stuff under cold frames [well.. I do, but not for this stuff]. Just planted cold hardy veg in August and let them tough out the elements. Even if the bounty is very limited, it makes the winter without element-protected garden veg short when December through February are the only months that don’t see fresh produce coming into the house from the garden. That’s 3 months that I’m forced to cook exclusively from the cellar without fresh yard supplementation. I can happily live with that.  I think the rule of thumb around here for many folks [which used to apply to me too] is to seed May long weekend, and then harvest in September. That means garden produce is available fresh from the yard June through September, or 4 months of the year. Instead of 9. I don’t like that math.

I used to think Kale was a trooper, and it is, but I have collards next to red russian kale, and the collards are winning hands down for cold hardiness. They look fantastic. Who knew. Guess I’m planting them again next year. You’ll notice in the photo below a broccoli side shoot. I love brassicas. They’re tough as nails, good for you, and tasty.

So I’ll polish off what’s left of the greens, check out the cold frame to see how late I can harvest from that for fun, then get ready to start seeding flats in January. Which really leaves December as the only month I get a full-on garden break. I’ll take it.

Root Veg Harvest 2011


Harvesting root veg demarcates the border between fall and winter for me. Since September I’ve been watching the weather, waiting for the cold to come that would force my hand and make me get the produce into the cellar. It was an especially fun game this year with a remarkably temperate fall. I feel like I got away with something harvesting in early November, when many pulled their root crops back in September.

I have to focus on that for a minute, as it’s important. If you pulled root veg to cellar in September, you’ve already got 1-2 months more of storage on your crops than I do. That matters. Vegetables will only store so long. And if a vegetable will survive storage for 4 months, say, I’d rather start that 4 month clock ticking in November than September.

Which brings me to point #2. At the moment, my cellar is 6-8C. With the coming cold, it will soon be close to 3-5C. The veg I did harvest and put up in the cellar [a farm glean] in September got to enjoy some balmy 10-12C temps for a month or more. Not ideal. So the longer I can wait, the colder the cellar is when they go to their winter home, the better it is for the quality and longevity. A rare moment where procrastination pays dividends.

Although I haven’t weighed it, my potato harvest has to be about 3-4 times what it was last year. We have lots for the winter for the first time. Mostly a function of developing more annual veg beds where lawn once stood, partly due to better soil health as time goes on. My fall carrot, rutabaga, and parsnips [photo below] probably add up to 2-3 times what I had last year. Beets are about the same, maybe a bit more. My back’s done with forking. Time for a brandy.

The Last [Root Cellar] Supper


I’m out. April 16th will mark the 2011 date that I ran out of 2010 garden veg in the root cellar. Turns out in one meal, I ran out of potatoes, carrots, and beets – all at the same time.

Things may have been able to hold out longer, but quality was definitely starting to suffer. In best shape were the carrots – still crisp and earthy. The beets had held on incredibly, but recently hit a wall and cratered in quality quickly. Perhaps the recent milder 6C did them in. One rotted. That’s it though. The potatoes were still in okay shape, the biggest problem being size – only the smallest were left, and small doesn’t store well.

That’s one lesson from my first year of root cellaring: size matters. The biggest of the veg fared the best in storage. Anything small was first to go soft. Another important lesson was that the cellar can handle a mild freeze. The first couple nights my cellar temp was near 0C, I was freaking out, putting hot stock pots of water in there to bring the temp up. I learned from experience that -2C was nothing to worry about. My dad says he’s had his dip to -7 without major damage. A last biggy would be my experience with washed carrots trumping unwashed. I’ll be washing my carrots this fall, no question.

Our celebratory last root veg supper included carrot sprouts/shoots – surprisingly pleasant atop a carrot slaw – to mark the season, along with a couple different cuts of pronghorn. The shot below is briefly marinated skewer or pronghorn heart grilled over a wood fire. I had no idea root cellaring would yield such successes in a first attempt. This growing season, the objective will simply be to grow and stow more.

Carrot Storage: Washed Beats Unwashed


I’ve had cats. One of the carrots looks like a carrot, and the other like something scooped from a litter box. In the weird little world I live in, this is important research. All of the root cellaring books – including the most widely respected ones – advise not washing root veg before storage. A major no-no. So I intended on not washing my root veg. Cause I’m a good listener. But knowing that root cellaring books are written in climates warmer than ours, with humidity generally higher than ours, and knowing that local experience was likely valuable, I looked to my dad’s techniques when putting up veg this fall. He washes his root veg. At first, I thought ‘oh, if you only knew what all those books said’, but then considered his successful results – often storing carrots well into spring.

So this past fall, I put up many bins of washed, and a test bin of unwashed carrots. The one that looks like cat poop is the unwashed carrot. The other – washed. Crazy. Unbelievable difference in result. The washed carrots did not desiccate and/or rot like the unwashed ones did. The washed ones are far better quality too – crisper, fresher, tastier. In fairness, I chose one of the worst unwashed specimens from the unwashed bin for the photo – some of them were in usable form. But quality wise, no contest.

Flax Aioli & Carrot Slaw


This is long over due. Long, long, long overdue. I have come to feel very strongly about winter slaws. Despite all my root cellar bliss, I thought that the one thing I’d long for is salad in the dead of winter, but honestly, I am still diggin’ the slaws.

This one is carrot from the cellar with a touch of cabbage, and a flax-oil/duck-egg aioli – finished with flax for some texture variation. It was tweaked with a little cider vinegar and seasoned, but otherwise is super-simple, local, healthy, cheap, tasty, and a tad exciting. That’s right: exciting. Winter salads can be exciting. It’s a new-to-me discovery, and I love it.

When I first started making slaws heavily this year – the garden greens ended mid-November, and no, I have not purchased any since – I thought I would tire quickly. They were good, but how much could one take of them, really? Apparently, lots. Granted, I don’t want to eat a lettuce-salad-bowlful, it’s better as a side kind of deal, but it’s also a lot more dense.

If you have a box grater and some local veg, you’re most of the way there. Try it.