Saturday, November 27, 2010

Local Organic Spelt Growers

I am researching options for purchasing local organic spelt. My gut reacts strongly to consumption of regular wheat, but I have discovered spelt has no such ill effects.

So far we have been purchasing organic spelt from the Daybreak-Scheresky Mill in Estevan, Saskatchewan (via a health food store in a small Saskatchewan town where the in-laws live). I have been wondering what other options may be out there and cost comparisons, since we use a lot of it. If anyone has info further to what is listed here, please let us know.

I contacted a local Calgary bakery and they said they source most of their spelt from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Other sources I have found, so far, via the internet includes:

Grainworks Inc. (Kincaid, SK)
A family farm moved in 2001 from near Vulcan, AB to SW Saskatchewan (near hamlet of Kincaid). They sell various organic products including spelt.

Gold Forest Grains (near Edmonton, AB)
Do not currently grow spelt, but plan to in the near future.

General Directories of Organic Farms

Saskatchewan and Alberta Organic Farm Directory (no spelt growers currently listed)

Calgary Area Organic Crop Growers Directory (no spelt growers currently listed)

Alberta Virtual Farm Tour (no spelt growers currently listed)

This page will be updated as I discover more related info.

Above photos are of the family farm I grew up on in Saskatchewan.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Harvesting After Frost - Coriander and Wheat

Hard frost has hit, but gardening work continues for a while longer. Compost has been spread on the garden (note to self, take frequent breaks to save the back). Leaf raking in process.

Neighbour's Mountain Ash (aka Rowan, Genus: Sorbus), not sure which species. The photos were taken during a brilliant rose-coloured sunrise. The photos are shown as-is, unedited.

Harvesting continues. The coriander (cilantro) is at perfect harvesting conditions, falling off the plant with relatively little effort (relative to the wheat harvesting).

Below is Threshing Box Experiment #1 for the wheat. Should be self-explanatory from the photos.

I have not got around to winnowing the grain yet. Not sure if there is really any easy way to do this. No matter what method, it is time and labour intensive at this scale. Harvesting machines rank high on the labour-savingness scale. So far my other half has been meticulously separating the hulls from the grains during the occasional movie watching.

Utrecht Blue Wheat (above) after hard frost. Quinoa behind and on the right.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First Moderate Frost

Looks like we beat the average first frost day of September 14 again this year! Although not as impressive as October 1 last year, the forecast is looking good for the next week.

So far only the Amaranth has taken a hit. Everything else appears to still be growing. So I guess this is a "moderate" first frost, no "heavy" killing frost yet (unlike Edmonton, sorry guys). According to Environment Canada, measured at the Calgary ariport (same elevation as the Middle Earth Garden), we had -0.5 C on September 18. Everything survived this first light frost. Last night was -1.1 C.

The Amaranth doesn't seem to have any seeds yet, that I can find. I will take a closer look tomorrow. So may not get any Amaranth seeds this year. This spring was exceptionally slow germination, starting them inside would help alleviate this risk.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Harvest Time

Potatoes of Unknown Variety gradually being consumed. We dig them as we eat them, since no cold room or root cellar for storage.

I'm currently researching when best to harvest the Amaranth (above) and Quinoa (below). Teresa provided a good reference regarding when to harvest at Salt Spring Seeds.

Monday, August 30, 2010

August Garden Update

My neighbour called this a Himalayan Orchid but a web-search suggests it is more likely a Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), also known as "Policeman's Helmet". This eager volunteer plant migrated over the fence from the neighbour's yard.

Considering that it's growing in a pile of rocks, I suspect this may be a good candidate for the next revision of the undesirable Alberta invasive species list. A brief web-search confirms its invasive nature including seed pods that explode, spreading seed several meters! OK, I'm going outside to pull it right now. It has an attractive flower that belies its evil intent to take over the world.

My guess: Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis) caterpillar. Found August 21 on an apple tree leaf 2 blocks from our home. This seems late in the year to find this caterpillar, since this reference mentions "This species has only one generation per year, usually appearing in mid-May and flying to late July depending on latitude." Maybe they are trying for a second generation? Or wrong species? The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail apparently goes for 2 summer generations in the warmer eastern climates.

The annual Zero-Mile-Diet-Applesauce-Making-Festival gets ambitious this year. A little too ambitious for one weekend in retrospect, but it's satisfying to survey the full freezer afterwards. No canning this year, too busy with baby to take care of. Our favourite tree is about a 5 minute walk from the house. It's one of many to choose from within similar range.

This time we also picked some sort of prairie cherry (with pits) from the neighbour's yard. It looks and tastes somewhat like a Nanking Cherry. It is likely one of the fruit bushes listed on this page. The bushes had no thorns, which I thought the Nanking Cherry has, but I could be wrong.

The Utrecht Blue Wheat heads are now turning blue (though it's hard to tell due to high exposure and contrast in the photos). Due to wet conditions this summer and possibly for want of a longer growing season, the wheat is still quite green. I've started to cut it and hang it in the garage to ripen and avoid possible frost tonight.

The "West Central Garden", showing marigolds, beans, cilantro and carrots.

Bean harvest is turning out really well this year. The carrots that did germinate are doing well. We will start harvesting the potatoes soon. We have virtually no raspberries or strawberries yet; not sure if it's the variety, weather or improper care. They are not very established yet, so we will see if they improve yield next year.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

July/August Update

Above: Unknown potato variety and Utrecht Blue Wheat. The wheat heads have begun to form but are green at this stage and not yet "blue".

Delphinium (transplanted from neighbour last year)

Amaranth R158 (Amaranthus cruentus) has decided to grow after all, though still slowly. The R158 variety is described as "developed by Johnny's Selected Seeds and Rodale Research Centre. The leaves and seed heads are mostly red. It is early and heavy yielding." The grains are rich in protein (16 - 18%). Amaranth is believed to be a domesticated form of Pigweed (Amaranthus hybridus). It was historically grown in Central America as long ago as 4000 BC [unreferenced wikipedia info, to be confirmed].

Carrot going to seed in its second year. The carrot was found in the garden this spring left behind from last year. It was transplanted to an appropriate location so we could collect the seeds.

Mystery volunteer plant/weed in compost pile.

Close-up of the mystery weed flowers.

[UPDATE: Appears likely to be Common Hemp Nettle or Galeopsis tetrahit identified by Dave the Home Bug Gardener, see comments below]

Possibly some kind of volunteer Wild Mustard (possibly Brassica kaber)? I was debating letting it go to seed and try eating the seeds, but I changed my mind and pulled it. I might try if another one pops up. I think this is the Mystery Weed posted previously.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Calgary and Alberta Gardening Blogs

This reference page will include some other gardening blogs I have encountered and occasionally revisit. The geographic range will extend to garden locations primarily in Alberta, but may also include some from Saskatchewan (the homeland) since the climate is somewhat similar.

I should mention that Cold Climate Gardening has an excellent gardening blog directory covering much of North America. This directory includes some good blog summaries, organized alphabetically by state or province. I will be much more brief.

Calgary Gardening Blogs

Teresa's Garden Blog

Balcony Gardener

Red Deer Gardening Blogs

Alberta Home Gardening

Edmonton Gardening Blogs

The Far North Garden
Gardening and edible landscaping in cold climates.

Gardening with Latitude
Reviving a forgotten garden at the 53rd Parallel.

Gardening Zone 3b
An exploration of naturalistic gardening. Gardening for the appreciation and encouragement of nature's diversity.

The Home Bug Garden
A rumination on backyard biodiversity.

Kevin Kossowan
From the: Cellar, Wild, Garden, Local Farm

Saskatchewan Gardening Blogs

A Prairie Journal In Saskatchewan

If I have left someone out it is not because I do not enjoy your blog, but rather because time limits me from keeping up with too many. Please do not take offense!

This page will be updated as I encounter new local gardening blogs.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

June Garden Update

Most plants, especially those planted directly in the garden this spring, are a week or two behind due to some cool wet weather from end of May to mid-June. But with some recent hot weather, some are picking up the pace.

Unknown variety of Potatoes (above). This is what they looked like before planted (below).

They were received from friends of family in a small town in Saskatchewan who have been growing them for years. They have no scab and looked healthy, so thought we'd give them a try.

The R158 Amaranth seems to be growing very slow most likely due to poor soil conditions. In hindsight I should have dug out some of the heavy clay and planted the seedlings in a planting soil mix within the clay. I did not spread much compost this year due to short supply (it's amazing how much the volume reduces as it digests!). This section of garden was recently overturned sod that has a high clay content and likely low soil nutrients.

The Temuco Quinoa is also growing slow, most likely due to poor soil conditions.

The amaranth and quinoa seeds are from the last Seedy Saturday exchange table. Interestly, they were left at the table by a local garden blogger, whom I asked last year about where to obtain some amaranth and quinoa seeds! There are some excellent posts on Teresa's blog on how to harvest the amaranth and quinoa seeds I plan to reference.

Approximately from bottom to top of above photo: volunteer Chervil forest, Peas, Beans, volunteer Dill, experimental bird scaring device (some seedlings have been disappearing), Potatoes...

... Dill, volunteer Carrot, Potatoes...

... Brussels Sprouts, volunteer Spinach, Utrecht Blue Wheat, Quinoa (left of wheat)...

Delphinium (left), volunteer Oregano and Strawberries (behind).

Volunteer Chervil thriving where even the dandelions hardly survive.

Volunteer Chervil "forest". Chervil has a pleasant licorice flavour.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bee House

I may or may not have some native bees nesting in my recently constructed bee house/nest. Or more accurately a small bee apartment complex.

The house design was inspired by some links I came across:

Nests for Native Bees - Invertebrate Conservation Fact Sheet

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service - Backyard Wildlife Habitat Tips

It simply involves drilling some holes of variable diameter and depth into wood. Since we have lots of dead birch stumps lying around, I thought I'd give it a try.

I was surprised to recently learn that most native bees do not form hives but live a primarily solitary life.

I will be keeping an eye on these homes to see what eventually emerges, though I may easily miss that event. Not sure if they are actually bee nests, or some other insect who prefers this convenient shelter in the dead paper birch stump.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Native Plants - May Flowers and Unknowns

A pleasant May Long Weekend spring walk through a mostly still native grassland urban park resulted in sightings of various native prairie plants (to add to the native plant feature series):

Saskatoon bushes (Amelanchier alnifolia) in bloom. We hope to plant some in the yard eventually if we can manage to find/make some room.

Golden Bean aka Buffalo Bean (Thermopsis rhombifolia). The flowers were used by some native peoples as a source of yellow dye to colour skin bags and arrows. The growth of the flower indicated the time of year when the buffalo were considered fat enough for hunting, hence the name "buffalo bean". The buffalo did not likely eat the flower, as all parts are toxic. [1]

[1] Wild Flowers of Edmonton and Central Alberta, France Royer & Richard Dickinson, 1996

I need to get the 'Calgary and South Alberta' edition, though many plants likely span both books.

Two unknown fossilized plant species discovered in stones removed in local road construction projects. Not sure if this species is still around, not likely I am guessing! I will see if I can find a local palaeontologist that may be able to help.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spring Seeding

Spring seeding is complete, as of last Saturday, May 22, 2010. This year there was no indoor seed starts due to busyness with new baby and loss of spare room from the same event. All seeding was direct outdoors.

Utrecht Blue wheat under glass to help warm the soil. Lovage in bottom left of above photo planned to be removed and passed on to friends. The lovage takes up too much space and we hardly use a fraction of it.

New strawberry starts from neighbour adding to the existing strawberry bed. Oregano (bottom right in above photo) unexpectedly came up from last year.

2010 garden layout (above).

2009 garden layout above (forgot to post last year).

Now we wait for the rains and warm weather!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rhubarb is Up!

I use the rhubarb as an informal gauge as to whether spring is progressing quickly, slowly, or average.

In previous years the rhubarb has started it's rebirth on April 15 (2008) and April 25 (2009). With only a three-year track record, it's hard to say if it's early or average timing, but most likely average since spring 2009 was generally on the late side.

It's located on the north facing side of the garage so somewhat less affected by early Chinooks (shaded soil there taking longer to warm up than soil in the sun). With today's high reaching around +18 C after a cold week, the temperature in combination with daylight hours seems to have convinced it to wake up.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Heirloom Wheat Varieties

At Seedy Saturday a few weeks back I bought some heirloom (heritage) open-pollinated wheat varieties for some trial plots in the garden this year. Although I grew up on a farm and have some basic knowledge of how the stuff grows, I have not attempted to grow grains on a small scale before (except some very small plots many years ago).

This will prove especially interesting when threshing time comes. Machines have been invented to thresh grains for a reason. From what I've read in the history books (and seen in developing countries), it can be a lot of work! Fortunately I've read about some methods for small scale threshing that I'll have to experiment with and that should for the most part eliminate my concerns. More on that in future postings.

Growing ancient varieties of plants seems to be a fad of late and I think a worthy cause to preserve the genetics to prevent extinction. Why? Well, if it wasn't for the efforts of some persevering souls to save some ancient kinds of wheat through the generations I would not be able to enjoy foods like pizza like I once did! The revival of Red Fife Wheat is one such inspiring example, though I have not experimented with this variety yet.

I developed a wheat intolerance a few years back after a bout with the flu. Since then I have discovered that I can tolerate spelt (Triticum spelta), an ancient variety of wheat. The science on this is not very far along yet, so the theories on why this is so are still somewhat speculative. In the meantime I plan to experiment with some other ancient wheat varieties to see what I can stomach and possibly open up new food opportunities while helping preserve and multiply some heirloom varieties.

The varieties I purchased are Utrecht Blue and Polish Wheat. The taxonomy of wheat I have since discovered is somewhat confused at this time, and clarified somewhat on this table. To simplify things I will refer to the "traditional" species names, which can be correlated to other taxonomic systems on the table linked above.

I have read that Utrecht Blue may possibly be Triticum macha but have not been able to confirm this. There seems little info about this wheat variety other than what was provided in the seed catalogue from Jim Ternier of Prairie Garden Seeds (from whom I bought the seeds at Seedy Saturday) which reads: "This variety was still grown around Utrecht, Netherlands in the early 1900's". Since my grandpa grew up in that very region this caught my eye. My ancestors likely grew and ate this same wheat variety! Prairie Garden Seeds has many other heirloom varieties I hope to try in coming years.

Triticum macha has been grouped in the more recent taxonomic systems with Triticum spelta as Hexaploid (6x), Domesticated and Hulled. My body seems to have tagged Triticum aestivum (Common bread wheat) as bad, and for some unknown reason, spelt is OK. So if Utrecht Blue is different enough from modern wheat and possibly similar to spelt, I may be able to eat it without ill effect.

Polish Wheat (Triticum polonicum) is categorized under Tetraploid (4x), Domesticated and Free-threshing along with durum wheat (used to make pasta). I plan to experiment with durum also since it is technically yet another wheat variety different from bread wheat.

One thing I am not sure about is if these two wheat's can cross-pollinate. I may have to grow only one each year over the next two years. More on this topic to come.