Homestead Junction

Make Your Own Strawberry Jam June 07, 2016 11:40

Make your own delicious, nutritious, strawberry jam! It's easy and fun.

Strawberry season is my favorite season. Not only because the fruits are available during summer time but also because I just love the berries so much. Well, technically strawberries aren’t even berries but aggregate accessory fruit. At least that’s how I remember it from my botany class a long time ago.


I harvested some of this red gold last weekend and made sure to eat as much as I could freshly. But sadly strawberries don’t keep fresh very long and I had to chop up and freeze a bunch.

Today I decided to make some jam, too cause enjoying that delicious flavour with your breakfast bagel gets you off to a great start into any crappy day.


For this recipe you’ll need:

  • 5 cups crushed strawberries
  • 1 packet of Bernardin original pectin
  • 7 cups sugar*
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ½ tablespoon butter or margarine unsalted
  • 4-5 jars


Start with washing your strawberries

Local BC strawberries make a great homemade Strawberry Jam

Next hull your strawberries and cut them to speed thing up.

Hull your strawberries and cut them up to speed up the jam making process


Put a big pot on your stove and place the jars and lids in them. Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for at least 10 minutes. You can also sterilize your jars in a stove or using a pressure canner which you can rent
here.

Sterilize your jars before packing in the jam

In the meantime, start crushing your strawberries. If you have a potato masher use it. If you have an understocked kitchen like I do: use a fork.

Strawberries to Homemade Strawberry Jam

Put the mashed berries in a pot and add the butter, lemon juice and pectin.

Strawberry mash, butter, lemon & pectin are all you need to make a good strawberry jam

For this recipe I worked with Bernardin pectin. You can also use Pomona’s pectin but I would not recommend only using regular sugar as your jam will stay very runny.

Bernardin Pectin makes a great homemade strawberry jam

Bring the ingredients to a boil and don’t forget to stir. Then add the sugar and bring everything to a boil again. Keep everything at a hard boil for a minute while stirring. Remove from heat and remove foam if necessary.

 

Strawberry jam: stir ingredients while bringing them to a boil

 Fill the jam into your jars and leave a little room (headspace) approx. 0.5cm on top.Close your jars and turn them upside down for a few minutes. This is my granny's trick to make sure they seal. It saves you a last step of having to boil them again.

Granny's trick: Turn hot jam jars upside down to seal better

If you are using a water canner, make sure that the (closed) jars are covered by at least 2.5cm of water. Then cover the canner and bring to a full boil. Boil the jam jars for 10 minutes. Then remove the lid and wait 5 minutes. Remove the jars and let them cool for 24 hours without tightening the lids. Store in a cool dark place.


Then enjoy!

Homemade Strawberry Jam on Crackers

*Note: I usually use less sugar than recommended i.e. by Bernardin. If you make adaptions to the recipe and use less sugar, make sure to consume the jam relatively quickly as its shelf life is reduced. Making adaptations or cooking multiple batches at a time may also influence the consistency and taste of your end product.

 

By Reni Dieggelmann


Taking Care of Your Red Wriggler Worms June 01, 2016 12:16

Red Wrigglers

For those of us who don't have the luxury of a yard suitable for a functional outdoor composting system (maybe we only have access to a balcony, or maybe we have a shared yard with limited access), vermiculture is an efficient way to compost most kitchen scraps quickly, and build up excellent, nutrient-rich compost we can apply to the garden.

When worms eat kitchen scraps they poop out porous, nutrient-rich castings, attractive to many beneficial micro-organisms. These bacteria and fungi not only aid in the decomposition of your food scraps, but many of them also make great garden allies. Bacteria and plants have been in relationship since plants came into existence. Many bacteria are necessary for the survival of plants as they are able to fix nitrogen for plants to absorb. Other micro-organisms like certain fungi help defend plants from harmful root-dwelling nematodes by booby trapping them into their mycelial networks, and then eating them.

Vermiculture compost is an excellent way to cultivate these micro-pals and introduce them into your gardens. Contrary to popular belief, worm bins are easy maintain, and when properly maintained, they don't stink or attract many fruit flies.

Here's the basics:

Housing: You can make a bin out of a big blue tupperware container by drilling many air holes in the lid, and a few at the bottom to let out the worm tea. Of course you would want to sit the container on a tray to catch the tea so you don't have a huge mess on the floors. If you're looking for a ready-to-go system, you can buy vermihuts like this one

For either of these systems, starting with about 1/2 lb of red wrigglers is recommended. They will reproduce and fill your bin in no time.

Temperature: Room temperature (15-25°C) is ideal. Though slower moving, worms will be fine in colder temperatures (5-10°C) but will likely freeze and die if left outside in the winter. Warmer temperatures will increase the rate of food rot, which smells more and can attract more buggy scavengers like flies. During the summer, it’s good to be prudent with bin maintenance if you want your bin to remain free of fruit flies.

Food: Worms will eat a lot, and quite quickly. They will pretty much eat any veggies or grain except things that are highly acidic. I have even heard of worms eating disposable bamboo chopsticks (though it did take a few months).

 

Feed Worms

Don’t Feed Worms

Veggies & Leafy Greens

Citrus (lemon, orange peels, grapefruit)

Banana, apple, mango skin, avocado skin, etc

Onions and Garlic (skins are okay)

Grains & Coffee Grounds in moderation

Meat + Bones + Dairy

Fungus & Spent Sawdust Spawn

Too much Tomato

Eggshells

Tons of Big Avocado or Mango Seeds

 

Other Considerations:

Grit: Worms don’t like to just hang out in their poop and food all the time. They need a bit of grit too. I find consistently adding eggshells does the trick, but you can also add rock dust.

PH Levels: Red wrigglers have very sensitive and absorbent skin. High acidity will actually hurt them, so if you notice your worms trying to escape their bins, that is a big indication the acidity levels are too high. A very easy and quick fix is to add limestone to your bin, which will also give your bin some grit.

Light: As you’ve probably seen, worms are susceptible to drying out in the sun. For this reason, as soon as they are exposed to light, they will dig down and bury themselves deep into the bin. This is practical for harvesting castings, as they will often poop on the surface.

Bedding: Bins should be moist, and dark. A good way to maintain this is and to keep fruit flies away from composting food, is to wet newspaper or yellow pages under the tap, then shred them in lengths to be placed on the surface of the bin after each feeding until food is no longer exposed. Damp straw also works well, but breaks down much slower.

 

The Steps:

1. Break up food scraps into human-bite sized pieces (can be bigger or smaller, but helps speed up the process)

Food Scraps!

2. Cover completely with a layer of damp newspaper or yellow pages, torn into strips

Shredded damp paper on top

3. Come back in a week and harvest an ice cream bucket full of black gold!

Worm Castings

4. Make Compost Tea

5. Repeat

 

Pests & Worm Bin Ecosystems:

It’s perfectly normal to have more visible life in your worm bins than just red wrigglers. In keeping a wormbin, you are essentially creating a habitat that is it’s own ecosystem. Where there is food, there is life, and where there is life, there are relationships. Here are some that you might find in your bin which will also tell you about the environment you are encouraging.

Potworms: Tiny white worms that feed on bacteria and fungi that eat microbes that exist in a lower pH. This means if your bin is overrun with them, your bin is too acidic. If you see a few potworms in your bin, don't panic. It is totally fine to have them around.

Mites: Little reddish brown spider-like insects. They like moisture, and water-rich food wastes like cucumbers and melons. Mites make up a lot of the soil-life population and are fine to have in your bins. If they are dominating your bins, try adding dry bedding, or some more holes in your worm bin.

Springtails: Tiny white hexapods about 1-2mm in size. They are called springtails because they are spring-like in structure and when disturbed, will actually jump about 4inches high! They are decomposers and eat plants, pollen, grains, fungi, and pathogenic fungi. As soil life is concerned, springtails are typically seen as beneficial, especially since they tend to spread around mycorrhizal spores.

Slugs: Only 3 species of slugs eat worms, so if you see a baby slug in your worm bin, it’s probably ok. However, slugs like to eat garden plants, so don’t let them in your gardens.

Woodlice: Like warm, moist environments, and won’t bother your worms. They are also decomposers.

Centipede: Predators, they will sink their fangs into your worms at night, and eat them! Luckily, they don’t usually live together in big populations, so they probably are fine to leave in there if you can't catch them.

Red Mites: Predators that feed on worms, they are bright red and like vampires, they will suck red wrigglers dry. If you have mites, and they are grouped up in some avocado skin, they are probably fine. If they are surrounding your worm friends, you may have to torch them. They are not very common to find.

Fruit Flies: Bound to be attracted to your bins, especially in warm temperatures. They will feed and lay eggs in food scraps. Harmless, but annoying. One way to keep them out is to wash the skins of your food first. Often flies will lay their eggs in the pores of food so when eggs hatch, the larvae will have immediate access to food. Making sure bedding is always covering food (which also covers smell that attract flies), and the bin is at room temperature should be good enough measures to keep fruit flies from getting in.

 

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
June 1, 2016


DIY Mending for them Holey Sock Soles: A Web Comic May 24, 2016 15:21

“Oh no my socks!!!?”


It's so heartbreaking when your favorite socks get holes in them.


What do you do?

My answer: mend them!


A Wounded Sock:

Holey Sock


Unholy Sock:

Regular unholey sock


At this point, it's time to start mending…


[If you don't have it in you to mend, or your mending pile is too big and you don't want to, never fear, you can always ditch the mending and pair up non-holey mix-matched socks and call it a day. Or do some sort of alternative sock craft, but my blog is about sock mending today so I'm going to get back on topic.]


Mending.


You'll need 1 needle. There are many different sizes, and they all have different purposes, and we could be really detailed about it; but at the end of the day, if you like your needle, it's not broken, and you can see it, it's good to use!


You'll need some thread. Color and style of your choice. Obviously with thread too, you can get all different kinds for various purposes; but if your sock mending pile is growing, just use what you've got, and you can always change it later.


If you mend a lot, your socks will be like rainbows, and that's a simple kind of joy right there. Or you can get a repair kit like this one and have all the colors. Again, it's your choice.


Rapids Repair Kit

Back to mending, here's how:

How to Mend Your Socks: Comic Blog

Find Sock Holes

Panic!

Fix It!

Step 1 and 2

Hand in the Hole

Hand Puppet

Put Needle Through Both Sides of the Hole

Pull it Tight!

Sew the Seam the Other Way

Double or Triple Knot

Trim

New Socks!

Put them on!

awkward socks

Learning Curve

 

Socks up!

 


Seeking Zine Submissions About All Things Fermented May 19, 2016 09:20

Zine Issue 2: Fermentation Call Out
Homestead Junction Zine: Issue 2 is on it's way,  along with all the fermented wisdom a community can share! 

Send us your entries! They can look like written rambles, comics, recipes, tricks, favorite disasters, favorite songs to ferment to, poetry, and anything that inspires you in the dynamic world of fermentation.

Submissions should be about 2-3 half pages, or up to 500 words.

Deadline is Friday, June 17, 2016. 

Send to community@homesteadjunction.ca

And if you're thinking, "what the heck is a zine, anyway?!" you can check out our first issue here!


Upcycled Burlap Hanging Planter May 18, 2016 08:35

DIY Burlap Hanging Planter! Fits right into a patio or cozy backyard garden.

Guest blog by Denise Corcoran! Check out more of her clever ideas and happenings at Thrifty By Design.  

finished burlap planters
Summer is coming and everyone’s getting their garden in gear. No matter the size of your garden or skill of your gardener - this DIY is a fun, simple and useful way to add greenery or greens to your home.

Plan to put aside 2-3 hours one sunny afternoon to get crafty! Feel free to switch up the steps, supplies or greenery. And think about adding some style to your planter with upcycled jewelry, repurposed hardware or other details.

twine for burlap hanging baskets
What you’ll need for this project:

- burlap - source out a free sac from your local coffee roaster. My go to place is Agro Cafe on Clark Drive;
- a plant liner - I used a 12” liner from my local hardware store;
- a wire hanger;
- hemp;
- rope or sisel;
- a darning needle;
- pliers;
- scissors;
- pins or stapler;
- chalk or Sharpie;
- clear tape (optional);
- potting soil;
- flowers or herbs from your local nursery or trimmings from a friend’s garden.

Once you’ve gathered all your supplies we’re ready to get crafty! First lay the burlap sac flat then place the plant liner on top. Fold the plant liner in half. You want to trace 2” from the curved edge of the liner. This is to create a seam for the hanger.

When you’ve traced around one side then flip the liner over and trace the other curved edge.
tracing the planter

Now connect the two traces together to create an oval. Once you have a full oval then cut the burlap.

cut out burlap in shape of planter

Next add box pleats to the burlap - this is to create the bowl shape the plant liner sits in. Use pins or a stapler to create the bowl and hold the box pleats in place. Adjust as needed to fit loosely around the plant liner.

Note: leave a space between the folds so the opening isn't too narrow for the insert.

pin burlap into basket shape

Next thread the darning needle with hemp. Hemp is the perfect 'thread' for stitching the burlap. Sew a seam 1" to 2" in from the edge - this is to hold the folds in place.

start to sew basket with jute twine

Stitch all the way around then stitch again so you end up with a solid line of stitching.

continuing to sew burlap with twine

Once you've added the seam then prep the wire hanger. Take it apart then create a wire circle - this is for the opening of the hanging planter. If using a 12" plant liner you may need to trim the wire by 1" or 2".

wire rim for basket

Turn the burlap inside out then bring the top through the wire hanger circle. Fold the edge of the burlap over the wire circle and pin. We're now adding a stitch to keep the wire circle in place. Whip stitch the burlap to hand sew through the two pieces of burlap while keeping the wire in the centre.

Note: A whip stitch is an easy way to not only finish the edges but to stitch the wire hanger in place. I found spacing the stitches 1/4" to 1/2" apart was perfect!

finishing rim of basket around wire

Once you've added the whip stitch around the top, turn the burlap planter inside in again. Now insert the plant liner and we're ready to add hangers! You can use sisal, rope or you can braid burlap for the hangers. The length of rope depends on how long you want your hangers.

Use the end of your scissors to create a hole in the threading of the burlap. Don't cut the burlap just enlarge a space in the threading.

make a hole without cutting

Tape the ends of the rope so it doesn't fray - plus it's easier to pull though the hole this way. Pull the rope through.

Note: I pulled the ends through two different holes then pulled them through the loop. Feel free to experiment with different knots, different ways to hang your planter.

looped twine around wire for hanging

Do the same with another rope on the other side. Then tie all the ends into one big knot at the top for hanging.

Note: I would try 2 ropes and if needed add 2 more. The 4 ropes should be evenly distributed around the hanger opening so the planter hangs evenly.

looped twine tied at top

Now you're ready to fill the planter. Add potting soil and fertilizer...

potting mix in

Then dig holes for the plants and insert them into the holes. Massage the soil around your plants. Add more soil as needed.

Feel free to buy from your local nursery or use trimmings from a friend’s garden. I scavenged herbs from my parents’ garden for my planter.

scavenged herbs

Once you're done then hang and water the planter.

planted burlap basket

That’s it - you’re done! The hand-stitching takes a bit of time but it's worth it!

planted and beautiful burlap hanging basket

Now it's time to give these to their forever homes. Yay for crafty love!

Homestead Junction loving the upcycled planters 

Update from HJX: Thanks for the awesome planters!


Flies are Pollinators Too! May 11, 2016 12:30

Hoverfly

Last weekend I attended the EYA's Citizen Scientist program to learn how to better observe and count pollinators in the city. While there was of course a lot of focus on bees, including sweat/mining bees, bumble bees, hairy-belly bees which include the popular blue orchard mason bee, and of course honey bees, we also talked a bit about flies and wasps as pollinators.

While hanging out at Oak Meadows Park, an old illegal dump site turned golf course later purchased and donated to be a city park, we walked along patches of wild flowers and watched different pollinators interact with the flowers. I saw the heavy set bumble bees sit on lupin to open their flowers and get to their bright orange pollen. I witnessed a ton of sweat/mining bees swim around in nootka rose pollen. Apparently sweat/mining bees are not a common sight in the Vancouver, Coast Salish area, so it was pretty special to see so many of them.

Sweat/mining beeSweat/Mining Bee filling their cargo legs full of nootka rose pollen

All around the park's flowers were tiny hoverflies also known as syrphid flies. Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by these flies as they move around super quickly and then hold themselves stealthily stopped in the air like a hummingbird. I was happy to learn they are also pollinators, feeding off the pollen and nectar of flowers with their incredibly long tongues. In larvae form, some of these species eat aphids and decompose dead matter, making them decomposers, garden allies and one of my new favorite bugs.

Sharing space with the sweat/mining bees and hoverflies, I was also surprised to see thin black beetles also getting in on the pollen feeding frenzy. With a little home research, I feel confident to describe those little buddies as pollen beetles. Though they help with pollination and don't harm the flowers at all, a lot of humans find pollen beetles to be a nuisance because they are attracted to the pollen of pretty flowers people like to cut and bring into their homes for decoration - not a good enough reason to spray insecticides which will undoubtedly also affect other efficient pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Speaking of insecticides, during our Sunday class, author and bee lover Lori Weidenhammer popped in briefly to talk about  her work with bees. With the minimal time she shared with us, she felt it was important to talk about a growing problem in Vancouver, the Canadian-approved insecticide called neonicotinoid, which many Vancouverites are applying to their lawns to fight off chafer beetles. Of course, this insecticide does not only affect chafer larvae but also has horrible effects on other insects and is especially toxic to bees. This pretty scary considering some landscapers will spray hundreds of lawns with neonicotinoid a year. It is a cheaper option than nematodes and is marketed as more effective. I hope there will be more awareness about the uses of toxic chemicals as pesticides and how they affect the ecological balance of the nature we depend on. Perhaps a better option to neonic and even nematodes is to seed deep rooted plants which chafer larvae can't feed off. Less lawns, more gardens?

As I continue to learn, I am understanding more and more that bee and pollinator populations are largely reflected by the environments we humans create, whether those environments be toxic or growing abundantly with food. The best things we can do is inform ourselves with the different needs and abilities of local pollinators, and try our best to create environments they can thrive in. Subsequently, I imagine we will create environments we can better thrive in too.

 

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
May 11, 2016


The Two Pinoideae of Southern Coastal BC - How to Identify! May 03, 2016 14:33

As a preface, I would like to highlight the majesty of Coastal British Columbia’s natural environment by introducing you to Aplodontia rufa, the mountain beaver.

 (source)

Looook at it. Such a cutie-puhtootie.

Ahem. Today, I’ll be talking about trees. The Pinoideae sub-family, to be exact, within the larger Pinaceae family. To be exacter still, I'm focusing on the two main Pinus species in Coastal BC. They are both beautiful and deserve love.

Without further ado.

Pinus contorta subsp. contorta – shore pine

(source)

One of four subspecies of Pinus contorta, these glorious beasts of trees can be found close to the ocean in craggy, low nutrient conditions. Their growth can often seem eccentric, windswept. Pinus contorta var. latifolia, a close relative, is found in less immediately coastal environments, distinguished by its taller and straighter appearance as well as a more red-coloured bark.

Identification

  • Needles in pairs
  • Eccentric growth pattern
  • Pollen cones in clusters, reddish, at tips of branches (spring only)
  • Egg-shaped seed cones with pointy tips

(source) (source)

 Pinus monticola – western white pine

(source)

The above picture well describes Pinus monticola’s overall mature form – tall, thin, and symmetrical. You’ll find these marvelous creatures in a range of conditions, from sea-level to sub-alpine, from damp ravines and valleys to dry, exposed slopes. When young, the bark is smooth and studded with resin blisters. A fungus by the name of “white pine blister rust” has been killing off these trees in scores, to the point where they exist in only a fraction of the abundance of a century ago, when the fungus was first introduced.

Identification

  • Scaly dark grey bark, light-brown-coloured underneath
  • Needles in bunches of five, light blue-green
  • Yellow pollen cones, small (up to 1 cm long) in clusters at tips of branches
  • Seed cones cylindrical, no spiky bits, 10-25 cm long

(source) (source)

 

I hope this post has left you feeling bright and sparky! Now get out there and appreciate ye some pine trees.


Home Grown Green Tea April 26, 2016 09:43 1 Comment

Make your own green tea from scratch! It's the perfect pick-me-up on a chilly morning.

Tea is great. It's the perfect cozy drink on cold rainy mornings, the perfect pick me up in the morning or in an afternoon slump, and cold and refreshing on hot summer days.

What a lot of people don't know is that black, green, white, yellow, and oolong tea are all from the same plant - Camellia sinensis

Green Tea Tree

All the varieties can be made from the same plant depending on the age of the leaves, if they're wilted, oxidized, bruised, crushed, or fermented. 

A basic run down on tea varieties:
Black - top 2 or 3 leaves and a bud, wither in a cool, dry area for up to 20 hours, rolled, dried in a single layer at room temp.
Green - top 2 or 3 leaves and a bud, lightly steamed, rolled, and dried/roasted
White - very young leaf buds (no mature leaves), withered in the sun for 3-4 hours, and oven dried

Since green tea takes the least amount of time and is the least picky about when the leaves are picked, I decided to try that. 

Green Tea Leaves

First, you'll want to pick fresh leaves. You'll want to pick the youngest two leaves with a third leaf bud in the middle (so really it will be three leaves at a time). Older leaves will be too tough to process and should be left on the plant. 

Since my plants are still pretty young (three years old), I wasn't able to harvest much this year. 

The next step is to separate them. Don't worry if there are some twigs! 

If you have a bamboo steamer, use that. If not, a metal steamer will work just fine. 
Steam the leaves for 2-3 minutes and immediately take off the heat.

Carefully peel off the leaves and gently roll in between your index finger and thumb until they stay rolled up. 

If you want, you can try to make leaf pearls by rolling the leaves in a circular motion (in theory, it didn't really work for me).

Crushed Green Tea Leaf

Once all the leaves are rolled there are two options for drying. One is in the oven at 215°F for ten minutes with a quick toss after five minute. The other, which I did, is to roast them in a dry skillet. 

Green Tea Skillet

I just pushed them around the pan until they were fully dry and put them immediately in a bowl to cool.

Pour boiling water over 4-6 leaves per cup and you'll have a nice, refreshing cup of green tea!

homemade green tea

Bonus - if you have a coffee plant, dry and lightly crush the leaves for a tea similar in flavour to green tea
 


Home-Dried Apple Snacks April 19, 2016 09:12

Home-dried apple snacks - easy and delicious!

I love to snack. Always have and that likely isn’t going to change any time soon. I blame my unstable blood sugar for my random food cravings and usually pack lots of little bits that I can snack on throughout the day to prevent me from becoming hangry. Which -take my word for it- isn’t pretty.

So I am always looking for healthy and affordable snacks that are locally available. One of my favorite snacks are dried apples. They not only remind me of my grandma but are easy to make and yummy. For this recipe you’ll need only two ingredients and some standard kitchen tools:

  • Apples
  • Lemon juice

Apples + Corer

First wash your apples and take out the cores. You can either do that manually or if you want to save lots of time use an apple corer like this one. This not only takes less time but your dried apples will come out in nice rings and you reduce the portion that gets thrown into the compost. I would not peel the apples since their skin contains lots of vitamins. 

Apples Cored
Next cut your apples into rings. The thickness of your individual apples will not only affect the taste and consistency but also the duration of drying and their shelf life. 

Apple Rings Soak

After cutting the apples place them in a bowl of lemon juice. This prevents them from becoming brown and adds a little extra Vitamin C to the snack.

After soaking them for a minute or two, let them dry off on a towel or whatever you have on hand. I used the same cloth I use to make Labneh cheese or cover my bread dough while the yeast does its  work.

Apple Drying Rack

Now place them on a rack and turn your oven to a low temperature. Something like 150 fahrenheit would be good but as you can see, my stove only goes as low as 170. I would recommend placing a wooden spoon in the oven door to keep it a tiny bit open allowing the moist air to get out of there. This will not only speed up the drying process but also prevent the liquids that evaporate from settling onto your stove surfaces. That stuff is very sticky and hard to get off. Believe me I’ve been there.

Apples Oven

The drying duration depends on the type of apple you used, the thickness of your rings and the stove temperature. It will likely take 3-4 hours and if your want to be able to store them for a longer time (preferably in a fabric bag), just go ahead and extend the time in the oven. Alternatively, you could use a dehydrator. These get you more consistent results and you can buy or rent one at our store.


That’s it. These are now ready to be snacked away...

Dried Apples!

Omnomnom


The elusive morel April 12, 2016 23:11

I've certainly looked for morels on many occasions. Any time I'm in the woods in spring I keep an eye out for these wrinkly-looking delicacies. What was unique about last weekend was that it was the first time I'd hunted for them with any kind of coherent plan for success. After a bit of research, a long drive, and four hours of traipsing through scorched earth, Cait and I proudly weighed in at just over one pound of fresh morels. I guess that's not a lot by some standards, but we were happy just not to get skunked!
rick with morels
The scheming began several days before the trip. We set out to improve our odds with a few basic assumptions:
  1. morels are most abundant in the first spring after a fire.
  2. morels, like most (all?) other wild mushrooms, need temperatures well above freezing and plenty of moisture
  3. we had nothing particular planned last weekend, without another free weekend in sight. It was now (then) or never!
  4. anecdotally, morels are seemingly widespread across BC.

So, we were looking for a spot that burned last year (in 2015) with public road access and thoroughly defrosted, moist soil. Oh, and we planned to sleep in on Saturday, so no all-day drives!

Since I can't remember what happened last week, let alone last year, I took a quick peek at last year's wildfire news. This was a helpful starting point to recap the major burn sites. The BC Wildfire Service also provides this helpful summary of the current season (as of writing, still shows 2015) as well as maps of previous years' burns. Note that in some cases, access to burn sites may be restricted for safety reasons!

Ok, so now I have a mental map of wildfire sites within less than a full day's drive. Think I'll share it with you? Ha! Not a chance. The links above are shortcut enough.

On to item #2, soil moisture and temperature. Ideally, we'd want the weather to warm up and then there to be a bunch of rain. Since we haven't had much rain in the last week and a half, but have instead had warm, dry weather, we're looking to another moisture source: receding snow. Since morels need soil temperature well above freezing and grow slowly, we postulated that we'd find the corrugated rascals on ground that had been snow-free for several weeks. We wanted ground that had warmed in the sun but was still moist from melting snow.

We looked mostly to trail condition reports to try to get a sense of the variable snow level, but weren't able to get much detail from trailpeak, summitpost, or bivouac. Ultimately, we found the BC Highway Cams site extremely helpful. They've got cams in many regions with published elevations, so by cross-referencing several cams in an area, and visually confirming presence or absence of snow, we were able to get a rough idea of where the snow level was.

And off we set to seek our fortune! When we arrived at our destination, we found it hot and dry. The snow was far higher than we'd realized, to the point that even the crests of the ridges were clear. Nevertheless, we found our first morel almost immediately!

morels up close

We walked for at least 45 minutes before finding the second one. It was in good company, but they're darn hard to see. How many morels can you see here?

how many morels?

We mainly found them on the southern (shady) slope of a ravine. The vegetation was coming back, and a hand pushed into the soil was very cool. On the sunny side, the soil was warm and dry a few inches down, and we found very few.

morel-rich ravine

There's some tension between the urge to keep moving and the need to be thorough. I imagine experienced pickers find the perfect compromise between covering ground quickly and slowing down enough to pick out the crenulated fugitives against the camouflage ground.

Most of the morels we found were within a few feet of others. In particular, I found several by almost stepping on them on the way to pick other mushrooms. It's a funny mental game; I found it hard to concentrate hard enough to actually find a morel without fully believing the mushrooms to be there. Once we'd noticed the mushrooms growing more prevalently on the shady side, we lost faith that we would find any at all in the sun. Sure enough, the wrinkly rascals were scarcely to be seen on the sunny side! Or perhaps it was our prejudice that prevented us from seeing them? Truly, mushroom picking is an exercise only for the deeply introspective.

A final note to would-be morelnappers: there are many lookalikes, and some are poisonous! As always with wild foods, please be careful and seek expert advice where unsure. Even excellent guides like this one are no substitute for experience.

Happy hunting!

***UPDATE***

If you're lucky enough to find more than you want to eat right away, dried morels are delicious. Properly dried they keep for a long time - surely until next mushroom season!

dehydrating morels in excalibur

 

To use, just soak them in water for a few hours until they're fully piable again and cook 'em up like they were fresh. The flavour becomes, if anything, more developed, and BONUS the water you use to rehydrate them is now mushroom stock.

dried morels


Introducing Mason Bees to the Urban World April 05, 2016 11:50

After a long winter of hanging out in the fridge, this past weekend we prepared the mason bees to get out into the world and fly free. Living in the concrete jungle, very close to the highway in East Vancouver, my housemates and I are pretty aware of how fragmented habitat for bees and pollinators can be. For this reason, we did a bunch of research to try to provide habitat that is as hospitable and abundant with as many resources as possible.

Blue Orchard Mason Bees

Here are few tips we learned to help blue orchard mason bees thrive:

1. Food: Make sure there is food close by and available all through the seasons! Unlike honeybees who will travel within a radius of 2km to find food, mason bees stick within 100m of their nesting site! So, it's important to be sure you've planted enough beneficial flowers that will bloom from early spring into summer. At the beginning of spring, mason bees will enjoy dandelions, daffodils, fruit tree blossoms (also great for your trees to have mason bees associated with them!), cranberry, heather, primrose, hazelnut, and foxglove. Mid-season plants mason bees love include, raspberry, yarrow, willow, lavender, sunflower, dahlia, chives, blackberry and catnip. Some late season plants they will be sure to benefit from are sedum, golden rod, borage, squash, cosmos and aster. 

2. Shelter: Though you can very easily make a mason bee house, I've been super busy these days and have proven to not make the time to do so. So I went out and bought a couple with pre-rolled cardboard tubes. You can drill holes into some wood and roll up old toilet paper roles to accomplish the same thing. 

The shelter should be placed in a warm spot facing East. This spot should be protected from rain, and also exposed to the morning sunshine. 

Mason bee Nest

2. Water: Make sure mason bees have access to a little pool of water to stay cool. Place some rocks in a bowl and fill it with fresh water, but not too high as to cover the rocks completely. You want to make sure the bees can safely land on them without drowning.

4. Clay: Mason bees use clay to make their walls. Beekeeper Brian Campbell told a story of how one year his mason bees found construction-grade sand to build their walls instead, which the new bees couldn't chew through the next spring. So from his experience, we made sure to get some clay to place close to the nest as well.

After we set this all up, it was time to bring out the bees! This was probably one of the cutest things you can witness. The bees we got from Brian at West Coast Seeds, started to emerge immediately as I brought them outside. This is probably related to the fact that it was pretty sunny and warm morning, and the drastic change of temperature encouraged them to come outside. I placed the bees close to the nest and watched them chew the cocoons and push their fuzzy bodies out. So very cute. When I listened carefully, I could actually hear their chewing. I imagine this would be a great experience for kids to witness too.

Mason Bee Coccoon

So that's it. The beginnings of how to help create habitat for the native blue orchard mason bee! Good luck!

 

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
April 5th, 2016


Special Order Salt Spring Seeds March 31, 2016 13:07 1 Comment

Special Order Salt Spring Seeds

It's officially spring and we want to help you get ready for gardening season. Here's how it works:
  1. Take a look at the Salt Spring Seeds website and decide what you want
  2. Submit your orders using this Order Form. You have until 8am on Tuesday, April 5th to place an order.
  3. After you order, we'll email you an invoice. Please pay online (credit card or Paypal), by phone, or in person by 10am on Friday, April 8th.
  4. You should be able to pick up your seeds after one week (Friday April 15th) but we will confirm the date once the shipment has arrived. Pleas pick up your seeds within a week of their arrival.

poppy seed flower