Homestead Junction

Applesauce Cake October 18, 2016 16:16

Applesauce Cake

I went to a pumpkin patch with my family last week and did not expect to have so much fun!

Picking delicious apples!

I picked about 50lbs of apples with no idea what to do with them, so I figured I might as well bake things.

I went through my large library of cookbooks and picked out my three oldest and most loved books because I figured they would have the best suggestions for apple based baking. They did not disappoint! I can see myself making this applesauce cake recipe again in the future.

Odd food arrangements from an antique Martha Stewart cookbook

I mean who doesn’t want to follow recipes from a cookbook that features saturated images of powdered doughnuts and hot dog roles?

The recipe I used goes as follows:


Applesauce Cake Recipe


  • 2 ¾ cup cake flour
  • 1 ½ cup sugar (¼ cup less if you’re using sweet apples)
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ cup soft butter
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup walnuts (optional)
  • ½ cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 ½ cups applesauce*
  • 1 very large egg (or two very small eggs)


Mix everything in a bowl until smooth and bake for 35 min at 350°F.

To make the apple sauce:

  1. Cut, core, and quarter 4-5 small apples into a pot
  2. Add ¼ cup water
  3. Boil until the apple chunks are soft enough to mash and then use a masher to mush the apples into a sauce texture.

Picking a delicious apple for baking

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

Book Review: Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon March 29, 2016 07:47

The Intelligent Gardener

I already liked Steve Solomon's approach to west coast gardening, so I had been excited about reading this book for some time. As many food gardeners already know, if you can produce healthy soil, excellent vegetables will follow. The book explores the idea that since most soils are depleted of minerals (often from growing and exporting crops), we use fertilizer to remineralize the soil to create the best soil for vegetable gardens, and thus the best vegetables for human (and animal) health. The best soil contains a ratio of specific nutrients, so in order to fertilize effectively we should analyse our soil in order to effectively correct nutrient deficiencies.

The book challenges the Rodale school of organic gardening through repeated applications of compost. If the minerals aren't in the soil from your region, they won't be found in compost produced from that soil, and compost can't magically add back minerals it doesn't have. As a result of natural geology, local weather conditions, and bad agricultural practices, typical soils in North America and around the world are seriously depleted and incapable of growing truly nutritious food. So in addition to adding compost, we should add specific soil amendments based on the results of yearly laboratory testing of soil samples.

The method promises plants that are faster growing, disease resistant, more flavourful, more filling and more nutritious than even your best vegetables have tasted before. I like this approach because it's measurable: analyse the soil, amend deficient minerals, grow crops, repeat. It's a similar process used by agribusiness, except with a different equation: rather than maximum yield and maximum profit (resulting in low nutrient-density food), the goal is maximum nutrition and optimum health.

I had the privilege of attending a soil testing workshop a few weeks after I read the book. Emma Holmes, the workshop facilitator, is a local soil scientist and was eager to share her enthusiasm and expertise. While taking soil samples and sending them to a lab for testing is a relatively simple procedure, knowing what to do with those test results is much more complex, and requires spreadsheets, some math, an understanding of soil chemistry and soil amendments, and a bit of puzzling to get the best fit between your mineral target levels and the soil amendments available.

Intelligent Gardener - Inside the book

The book is primarily a chemistry-based approach to soil, with the idea that healthy biological soil ecology will naturally follow from soil with high nutrient levels. The role of microbial, fungal and animal life toward contributing to mineral availability is considered secondary to the existence of those minerals in the soil (as seen by a soil test). The book does not specifically address any techniques toward encouraging the soil ecology, and how that relates to mineral availability.

The book might also be science-heavy for some. The approach is based on soil chemistry and there's some math to figure your optimum amendments. If you're not into all that, the first half of the book may be all you need. After discussing the background and motivations for soil remineralization, he author offers a simple do-no-harm recipe for a complete organic fertilizer, that while not as effective at remineralizing with a bespoke mix, will be effective at improving the nutrient content of your soil without putting your soil out of balance. 

If what you're looking for is inspiration and an understanding of how a healthy garden relates to healthy humans, then this book could be a game-changer for the way you think about soil, your food garden and your health.

I'm eager to learn about about the potential of soil testing for remineralization. If you'd like to do some soil analysis of your own, I'll be sending out soil sample batches for testing from Homestead Junction this spring, and I'd like to host a workshop on analysing test results to create optimum soil amendments. Send me an email at or ask at the HJX if you're interested. Happy Gardening!



Our Friends at Briarpatch Community Garden November 18, 2015 09:40

Briar Patch Community Garden
This week, we wanted to give a little shout out to our friends at Briarpatch Community Garden, located right around the corner from us on Princess and Cordova in the DTES. Briarpatch is a little community garden that grows communally and makes space for people living in the neighbourhood. This fall they completed their first full growing season and already they've made a huge impact within the neighbourhood, which I've come to recognize first-hand. Whenever I walk to the gardens to meet with their coordinators (or sometimes they share their hose with us or offer their space for workshops), folks walking along the sidewalks stop to tell me how great the gardens are, and how much they appreciate them. I wish I could take credit for the grateful feedback, but really that credit is for Briarpatch's coordinators Rebecca and Ashleen, and all the many volunteers responsible for maintaining the garden.

Briarpatch has already grown tons of food and hosts many community gatherings and dinners. From seed planting parties to pizza parties (they've got their own cob oven), Briarpatch is connecting neighbourhood kids, adults and seniors to healthy food and nature growing right here in the city.

Briar Patch Pizza PartyBriarpatch's pizza party seems like a really good time!

From Rebecca, Briarpatch's garden coordinator:

This summer, the corner of Princess and Cordova was filled with bright yellow sunflowers, sweet cherry tomatoes, children playing, the smell of delicious pizzas, people laughing, brilliant dahlias and colorful carrots. Two years ago, with the help of many neighbours, we were able to transform an abandoned lot overtook by blackberries into a beautiful space for growing vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers. The Briarpatch Garden truly took off this year, growing a bountiful harvest of strawberries, carrots, beets, beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, squash and even grapes! At the heart of the Downtown Eastside, this once abandoned lot has become a gathering spot. We hosted over 12 community parties this past summer. Mission Possible’s potter in residence Shelimar, designed and built a cob oven in our garden, allowing us to have homemade, oven baked pizzas all summer long! As the garden grew, it gathered people in as a place of peace; a place of beauty and connection to nature that is difficult to find in a concrete city. We believe in the power of beauty, nature and connection to the earth to bring healing and restoration to a neighborhood and to individuals. We want to create a peaceful space where people are able to engage in nature and connect to community.

The garden is managed by a community group called Servants Vancouver; however it was built, planted, maintained and looked after by countless volunteers. We wouldn’t have been able to survive without the help of other community organizations. We have been incredibly blessed to partner with Homesteader's Emporium this past summer. While we were able to offer an outdoor space for workshops, Homesteader's has supported us by sharing the knowledge, as well an incredible amount of donated supplies. One of my favourite things about the DTES is the strong sense of community. This is not only true of the neighbors, but also the organizations. It has been so neat for us to partner with an organization that equips people with tools and knowledge and to see their generous spirit equipping us as well. I look forward to continuing to partner with Homesteader's Emporium to spread knowledge and nature throughout the DTES.

 Briarpatch Garden Times

Considering all the ways Briarpatch Community Garden affects our surrounding community, we try our best to find ways to support the work they do. In many ways, we at Homesteader's have a lot of access to resources and very knowledgeable and skilled people. When possible, we offer workshops at Briar Patch that also benefit the garden. For example, we recently had an outdoor mushroom cultivation workshop where participants built an edible mushroom bed for Briarpatch, and a few weeks ago we asked Lynsey from City Farmer to facilitate a composting workshop that would also help Briarpatch with their compost system. 

Homesteader's Workshops at Briarpatch(Top: Lynsey's composting workshop; bottom left: king stropharia mushroom patch; bottom right: aspiring mushroom cultivators working together to install some mushroom beds and logs for the Briarpatch Garden)

Even as a small business with limited resources, we believe in sharing when we have the opportunity. As the winter season approached this year, and folks put their gardens to bed, Homesteader's found ourselves with an excess of gardening supplies. From soaker hoses to hanging baskets, we decided to ask Briarpatch if they thought our overstock would be useful to them - and they said yes. So this past weekend, Rebecca came by and picked up $1500 worth of garden supplies they'll be able to use for a long time coming. 

  Garden Coordinator RebeccaBriarpatch's garden coordinator Rebecca receiving our donation last weekend

 Briarpatch is little community garden doing really solid work in a pretty unique and vulnerable neighbourhood. As we push toward living in a more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable world, we want to do our best to recognize and support the people who are taking the steps to make this more and more possible everyday. So thank you Briarpatch for all the awesome work you do! We hope you enjoy your new goodies!! 

Mushroom Logs -The Stuffing Method (No Dowels!) October 06, 2015 06:00 1 Comment

Last week, we were honored to have mushroom cultivator, soil enthusiast, and permaculture food producer Danielle Stevenson of D.I.Y Fungi in to teach a 3 day mushroom cultivation course/workshop series. She focused on low-tech skills to grow mushrooms from easy to access materials - like grains, straw, cardboard, and household waste - to teach folks how they can grow mushrooms all year around.

Danielle's Palm Inoculator

For Sunday's outdoor mushroom cultivation workshop, we learned some low-tech skills to grow mushrooms outside. She showed us an alternative method to growing mushrooms out of logs that doesn't require dowels (log-specific mushroom plugs that can be harder to access and more expensive to purchase).   

So before I go into it, here are some things you'll need:

-Fresh hardwood logs: between 2 weeks and 3 months old and 4"-6" in diameter. If they have been felled for less than two weeks, your log may still be acting as if it were alive and push out fungi or bacteria. If it's older than 3 months, it is very likely that it is already populated with too many bacteria, fungi, and and/or mold to compete with. Different mushroom species prefer different food sources (just like people), so it's a good practice to look up which tree species work best with the mushroom you want to grow. We used oak for reishi and shiitake, plum for reishi, and cottonwood for oyster - all of which we scavenged from the windstorm last month. Alder and Maple are also really great hardwoods that works for many species. 

-Spawn: You can use several types fairly mature mushroom spawn that works with the logs you have (if it's fully eaten it's food and the spawn bag is looking pretty white with mycelium, it will be totally fine to transfer to a new substrate - aka food). Like people, fungi like diversity in their diet and don't like to eat the same thing all the time. It's good to change up its food sources. So if you have some fungi growing on and eating coffee grounds, bits of straw, sawdust - anything other than grain spawn, which will attract rats and pests (yum, it's pretty much tempeh!) - as long as you can get bits of it to fit into small pinky sized holes you're probably good to go.

-Alcohol OR Hand Sanitizer: It's really important to remember we have TONS of living organisms we can't see on our hands. These little guys can be a real burden to the fungi we want to grow for food and medicine, so it's really important we keep our hands sanitized. A cheap way to do this is to keep rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle, which you can then use for your hands, plus any other surfaces that you or your fungal friends might come into contact with. On this note, it's important to remember we also have a ton of micro-buddies living in our mouths, and so it's best to practice not to be breathing into your bags of spawn, or talking too much while handling your spawn. 

-Palm Inoculator OR Nitrile Gloves (Optional): You can get a palm inoculator online for about $40-50. It essentially sucks up the sawdust spawn and then you can pop it right into the holes in the logs in a more sanitary way (rather than using your hands which is touching everything from the spawn bag to the logs themselves). However, you can also experiment with just using nitrile gloves, or really good sanitizing practices - keeping your hands really clean and avoiding touching too many surfaces.

-Drill: You want a pretty powerful drill with good battery life, or a really long extension cord. The bit size should be on the bigger size, about the size of a pinky finger (like a pinky finger, the size doesn't need to be exact). 

-Beeswax + Pot + Stove: You want to melt some beeswax to seal and protect your logs from other microorganisms that may out-compete your fungi culture. 

-Sponge, Paintbrush OR cardboard: To brush beeswax onto your log with

-Big Piece of Cardboard: For your finished log to sit on. Some mushrooms species we grow are native to this climate, like the oyster mushroom pleurotus ostreatus. But some species we want to grow for food and medicine are not from here and are don't connect well with other bacteria and fungi. So to lessen your odds of contamination, you can put your log(s) on a piece of cardboard. 

-Friends! This method is easiest to do when there are at least 3 people working together. 1 person to drill, 1 person to plug, and 1 person to follow with the beeswax.


 The Steps:

1. Drill Holes: Again, these should be about the size of your pinky, and two knuckles deep. You can wrap tape around your drill bit to mark the maximum depth you want to drill into (a drill stop).  Drill holes about 1 to 1 and a half fist distances apart all along the log on all sides of the log. The holes can be drilled in a diamond or checkered pattern.Drilling Mushroom Holes

2. Stuff Holes with Mushroom Spawn: One of the benefits of sawdust, grain, or coffee ground spawn is that they have a higher ratios of mycelium than a dowel plug which may increase your chances of success. Spray alcohol on to your palm inoculator, hands, and/or whatever makeshift items you can think of (we tried stuffing small funnels to insert into the drill holes, and then poking the spawn out with a stick. We also tried using a large modified syringe. Neither worked as well as using our hands.) Carefully stuff the holes with spawn. If you are using multiple mushroom species and/or cultures, remember to disinfect your hands and tools before moving on to a new species. Different strains of mushroom cultures will also have a tough (nearly impossible?) time growing on the same food source - even if they are the species.

Stuffing Logs with Sawdust Spawn

3. Seal with Beeswax: While your friends are drilling and stuffing, melt some beeswax in a pot. Some folks say to use a double boiler to avoid burning the wax, but you can use a single pot as long as you are mindful of the temperature. When the wax is melted, use either a sponge, paint brush, or some cardboard to seal the already stuffed holes with beeswax. This will help keep competitors out. On this note, it is also important to seal off any major exposed wounds or scrapes on your log where bark has been torn away. Dipping Into the Beeswax

4. Seal the Base of the Log with Beeswax: After all of the holes have been drilled, stuffed, and sealed, seal the end of your log by dipping it into your pot of beeswax. Only seal off one end so moisture can still get in. The unsealed end will also be an indicator of successful myceliation in the future.

4. Place your logs!

For Shiitake and Oyster Logs: The logs are best placed outside in a  shady and naturally moist location. Logs can be placed horizontally on pallets, cinder blocks or even cardboard if it's all you have, off the ground to prevent competition from soil dwelling fungi. 6-9 months after inoculation, you should see white at the ends of the logs. Once you see this, you can stack them "log cabin" style for fruiting.

Lion's Mane and Maitake: After 6-9 months, once you see white at the ends of the logs, bury about a quarter to a third way upright in the soil in a shady moist location.

For Reishi: Bury upright in sand in a black planter pot. Reishi like more heat and does well in greenhouses. Just make sure they don't dry out!

Buried Logs (done with Fungi for the People in Oregon)

(Some fungi are social and like to interact with native soil dwelling species. In some of these cases one option is to semi-bury your logs)

5. Many Days of Moisture: Just like humans, mushrooms are made up mostly of water so it's very important after inoculation to keep your logs moist! Water 2-3 times a week and do not let them dry out. It takes about 6 months to a year for mushrooms to fruit for Shiitake, Oyster and Lion's Mane, Maitake and reishi can take even longer, so it's really important not to forget about your logs during this process and make sure they maintain moisture.

6. Grow Mushrooms! If all goes well, watch your mushrooms fruit! If you can see mycelium (that white stuff growing in a net-like pattern) growing at the end of your log, and the timing is right according to the mushroom (blue oyster is winter fruiting for example), but still no signs of fruiting mushrooms, soak your logs! You can force fruit logs by completely soaking them in water for 12-24 hours every five weeks. Your logs should produce for about 1 year per inch in diameter (so about 4-6 years). Shiitake and oyster will fruit multiple times a year, and Lion's Mane about once a year. 

Enjoy y'all! And thanks Danielle for the tips! 


by Kelsey Cham Corbett
October 6th, 2016


Planting Seeds - It's not too late! September 22, 2015 05:30

If you're like me, the first hint of fall leads to a marathon of canning, dehydrating, and pulling winter clothes out of storage while tearfully packing away the summer ones. Generally, the last thing on my mind when the weather turns cold is getting out into the garden. I mean, that's what spring is for, right? Winter is for letting everything turn to mud and waiting for the sun to come back. I'd rather be inside with my cup of tea, thank you very much.

Except, the garden doesn't hibernate over the winter. It's still going strong, and if I want to really make the most of it, there's plenty to do in the garden in the fall. It all depends on what I want out of it!

1. Fall Veggies

With Vancouver's relatively mild falls, there are plenty of veggies you can plant and harvest in this season. Leafy greens like Arugula, Pac Choi, Mescluns, and Corn Salad can still be sown up until frost, and with a little bit of crop cover, root veggies like radishes and turnips can also go in the ground now. You could be eating your own home grown salads for Thanksgiving!

2. Spring Flowers

I always mix flowers in with my veggie garden. I can be logical about it and say that it's to provide a bit of biodiversity, as well as attracting pollinators, but secretly I'd do it anyway just because flowers are pretty. Many flowers, like Calendula, Lavender, Pansies, Sweetpeas and Poppies can be sown right now, ensuring you get flowers as early as possible in the spring. Even Strawberry seeds can be planted now for a spring harvest!

3. Cover Cropping

When in doubt, cover crop it. If you just don't feel like dealing with your garden, the nicest thing you can do for it is give it the equivalent of a blanket and a nice meal. Cover cropping is often thought of as being only for large-scale farming operations, but the benefits - returning nitrogen to the soil, smothering out weeds, and reducing soil erosion - are just as good in a small backyard garden. If you choose this method, make sure to read the directions on your chosen cover crop - some of them need an application of mycorrhizal root inoculant in order to perform the nitrogen fixing that you want.

No matter you choose to do with your garden this season, you'll probably be happy you didn't just ignore it.

Home Avocado Nursery September 08, 2015 08:00

I love avocados, but I love buying local. Knowing how far they travel, I always feel a bit guilty about buying them. They're just so tasty, though, that sometimes I can't resist. And this spring, after a particularly delicious and intemperate avocado bender, I got to wondering whether I could start my own tropical perennial nursery!

Time to put away the youtube and give it a try! I used a method gleaned from watching about 6 videos from the above link:

1. poke three wooden skewers into the pit, each at a slightly upward angle. I used one bbq skewer broken into thirds. The original pointy end went neatly into the pit, but the other two (broken) ends needed some help from a paring knife. Note that the pointier end of the pit is pointing up in this picture.

sprouting an avocado seed

2. Set the pit with its wooden "legs" in a jar or cup of water. Fill the cup so the water comes about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up the pit. It didn't seem to matter whether the poked holes were moist.

sprouting an avocado seed

3. figure that the success rate will not be 100%, and do this for a few pits. I placed them on my windowsill, one of the warmer spots in my kitchen. Unfortunately, it's also where my cat likes to sit, which is why this is the last photo with four jars in it.

the avocado nursery

4. Wait, and top up the water as needed to keep the level in the aforementioned range. Even in the warm weather we had in Vancouver this spring, it was a few weeks before the root started growing downward. Nearly 8 weeks elapsed between the previous photo (4 pits on a windowsill) and the next picture (pit with about 1.5 cm upward growth).

the avocado is sprouted!

another view from the same day.

great looking roots on this avocado seed

5. Wait some more. Interestingly, once the upward shoot started growing, it went pretty quick. The previous and next photo are only taken two days apart!

avocado seedling

6. keep waiting, and you'll end up with a beautiful seedling! These are the two that survived the ravages of my cat.

avocado seedlings

Not bad for a first effort, eh? These two seedlings are at about 14 weeks.

avocado seedlings

Heidi loves it!

Goodbye Grass! Gardening on City Boulevards August 19, 2015 06:30

Walking around East Van, it’s pretty fun to check out all the amazing gardens. Every garden is its own character with a story to tell. Sometimes they are picture perfect pretty. Sometimes they are ingeniously planted with squash growing up and hanging off kiwi vines. Sometimes they’re messy. Sometimes there are chickens running around. Sometimes the soil is replaced by little white rocks and plants are accessories to funny stone statues. Whatever the case, gardens in Vancouver are pretty great to have around and look at, which is why I love growing them.

Like a lot of folks in Vancouver, I'm a renter in a house divided into multiple suites. With a shared yard, we filled up our growing space pretty quickly. Fortunately for us though, the City of Vancouver encourages the take over of city boulevards, so that’s what we did!

Food Not Lawns! Boulevard gardening

Here are a few good tricks to reclaiming grass boulevards and growing food and medicine for folks in the neighbourhood!

1. Get city support first.

Because of the City of Vancouver's Greenest City by 2020 Action Plan, they are in full support of residents that want to garden in their boulevards, so asking them for permission is really no big deal at all. Plus, if the city is supporting your initiatives, your landlord most likely will too - which is important since they are responsible for the boulevards in front of and adjacent to their properties.

2. Apply for Neighbourhood Small Grants.

Every year the Vancouver Foundation offers up to $1,000 for residents to help make their community projects happen. To put in our boulevard garden, we received a Neighbourhood Small Grant of $500 which ended up covering the costs of topsoil, manure, and first round of plants. Pretty sweet!

3. Dig Down or Build Up? Some considerations when building your garden:

Assess the land and check out your surroundings. Do your neighbours use herbicides for their perfectly green grass? How old is your home? Sometimes landscapes closely situated around older homes (especially those built around the 1920’s) can be contaminated with heavy metals like lead and cadmium from old chipped off house paint. In these cases, it might be safer to build garden boxes. Also, it’s good to consider dogs and what I like to call the "dog pee zone" when planting edibles next to sidewalks. 

Goodbye Grass! Hello New Neighbourhood Garden!

4. Make friends with some gardeners.

We were given a whole bunch of free plants from gardener friends and landscapers. Plant costs can add up pretty quickly when you buy them, and starting perennial plants from seed can often be super tricky (for example lavender, rosemary, and fruit shrubs). We saved a lot of money sourcing out plants that would have otherwise been thrown into the green bin.

Pearly Everlasting

5. Get Neighbourhood Support - Make Signs!

We made a point to grow perennials that reflect our immediate environment. Being aware of the Coast Salish land we are on, we planted native species like salal, elderberry and saskatoon berry. We also wanted to find plants that folks from our neighbourhood might be stoked on too. We live in a neighbourhood with a lot of migrant families, specifically from places in China and the Philippines, so we are growing Asian medicinals like goji berry and sea buckthorn. In considering the bug populations and native pollinators, we’ve planted echinacea, lavender and comfrey, under which we’ve installed a bumble bee’s nest. Our next step is to make signs describing our efforts, and to encourage passer-bys to munch and take whatever they like (though it would be nice if they didn’t take entire perennial plants - we recently just had a blueberry bush taken out of the ground). We are planning on asking friends and neighbours to translate our signs to be written in English, French, Chinese and Tagalog. Hopefully, this will help folks feel comfortable taking part in the new neighbourhood boulevard garden!

elderberry, goji, salal - medicine patch
(Left to right: elderberry, a flowering goji, and salal berries)

6. Drought Tolerant Plants and Watering Systems:

This year’s drought was a big wake up call that my house is also taking as a warning for what’s to come ahead. Our soil was so dry it actually became hydrophobic - meaning no matter how long we hosed into the soil, water just rolled off the top. There are old school techniques we can learn from to get the water in deeper, like swail systems and water spikes, store bought or DIY style. It is also smart to be realistic about how much you and your housemates will actually water your boulevard (which might be a bit more awkward to get water to than a front or backyard). This could affect your choice of plants. For a few years, friends and I shared a boulevard garden with super awkward water access. Wheelbarrowing bags of water back and forth from 3 blocks away got annoying pretty quickly, so we decided to plant a bunch of drought tolerant and resilient species like raspberry, comfrey and buckwheat, then garlic in the fall. It worked out super well!

Planting Drought Tolerant Gardens(Watering the boulevard food and medicine patch)

So that’s pretty much it! 
Low energy + low cost + free garden space = free food + more neighbourhood friends!
Get that boulevard!

by Kelsey Cham Corbett
Aygust 19th, 2016

Urban Food Gleaning July 08, 2015 08:28

I think every apartment dweller dreams of having a chunk of land, and I know my daydream land is already totally populated by imaginary fruit trees, lush gardens, and tasty berry bushes. I always say to myself "One day, I'll have a persimmon tree," or "I'm totally going to plant some apples and espalier them into a fence!". That future acreage is a bountiful one! In the meantime though, how's a girl to satisfy those cravings for fresh, local food? Yes, I can hit up the farmer's market, or go U-picking, but I've discovered an even better way.

Free Fruit!

Two years ago, friends and I happened to park in a public lot and when we looked up, noticed we had parked directly under a massive apple tree. The fruit was at perfect ripeness, and the tree was firmly rooted on public land. We snagged a couple apples and continued on our way, but the fruit was so tasty we couldn't get it out of our minds. Three days later we went back with a fruit picking pole and grabbed as many of the apples as we could. The only sad part of that wonderful experience for me was that as we harvested, we offered apples to everyone who went by. With the exception of one elderly lady (whose grandson tried to stop her!) everyone refused. People didn't trust food that didn't come to them in a plastic package from the grocery store. 

City Pickings

Last year, I started trolling craigslist, looking for similar scores. I found a guy with a massive crabapple tree who was offering free crabapples to anyone who would come pick them. A friend and I loaded up our trusty fruit picking pole and set out. Two hours later we had 36lbs of fruit, and a few days later I had 27 jars of crabapple jelly. I'm still giving those away as gifts!

Kate's Cans

The really cool part about all of this is that I shared photos of these scores on social media, and I immediately started to get a reputation for being the perfect person to give stuff away to. A friend with overly enthusiastic red currant bushes called me over to help her harvest, my cousin dropped off a huge bag of figs from her tree, and even my neighbour hung a sack of plums over the fence with a note saying she thought I could use them. I've been gifted 10lbs of lavender (which got turned into syrup!), a bag of half rotten apples (my first attempt at apple cider), a bucket of pears (pear butter!) and all sorts of other tasty fruits that would have otherwise gone to waste. In turn, I make sure everyone who gifts me some food gets back some of what I made out of it - everyone wins. So, the next time you're daydreaming about making grape jelly from your own grapes, go look to your community. There is abundance there, if you know how to see!

Currant-ly awesome

Written By Kate Dryden

Last Minute Herbal Syrups June 23, 2015 08:31

Last week I was invited to a birthday BBQ at a park. In typical fashion I offered to bring something to share, and then promptly forgot about it until 30 minutes before I had to leave for the party. The shortbread I'd planned to make was definitely out.

I had a few moments of panic until I happened to spot my herb garden. Anything from the culinary or medicinal spectrum (the weirder the better!) has a space in my garden, and one of my very favourite things is to walk past the rows of pots on a hot day and run my hand through all the plants, enjoying all the smells that waft up from them. Lavender, rosemary, sage, lemon balm, thyme, tarragon, mint....even the names are fantastic!
What I to Work With

But how does that help me in this case? I love to make simple syrups from my herbs, but I'd left it far too late to follow the tried and true method of simmering sugar and water with my chosen herb until it was reduced down to a sticky, thick syrup.

So I winged it.

I grabbed my scissors and hacked off some lavender blossoms, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, and mint, and then started throwing them in mason jars. Lemon balm with the lavender, rosemary with the sage, mint by itself doesn't play well with others.  I dumped some sugar on top of them, and then filled the jars with boiling water and capped them tightly. A few good shakes and I popped them into a box and drove to the BBQ.

Lavendar and Sugar

By the time I got there, the sugar had dissolved, and the herbs were starting to look pale and bedraggled, but the smell - oh the smell was fantastic!

I'd brought along some ice and carbonated water, and pretty soon I was the favourite person at the party! (well, ok...maybe that was the guy manning the BBQ, but whatever)

Since then I've been throwing some herbal concoction in with just about everything I drink. The lavender lemon balm goes wonderfully with some lemonade (and I've heard that a splash of gin doesn't hurt either), the mint is fantastic in iced tea, and the rosemary sage? Well, that was the biggest surprise. I've been drinking it straight in fizzy water because it's so good. Seriously, that stuff is amazing.

Lavendar Lemonbalm Lemonade
Sometimes laziness and poor memory lead to great things!

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty June 02, 2015 12:45

After years of wanting one, I finally bought myself a Meyer Lemon tree last spring. I love the idea of having fresh lemon juice and peel without having to use fruit shipped from halfway across the world, and the smell of lemon blossoms is absolutely amazing. Of course, there's a reason we don't have lemon groves here. Winter isn't exactly the balmy sort that they get in Florida. As October came around, I started getting a little concerned about how my new baby was going to make it til Spring, and when the frosts started I knew it was time to act. A lot of people suggest bringing your citrus trees indoors for the winter and placing them near a sunny window until Spring temperatures arrive, but I live in a tiny basement suite with no natural light to speak of. Since Meyer Lemons like to have 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, and my single sort-of sunny window only gets 2-3 hours per day, I decided the tree was better off staying outside. A few hours of research brought me to this cozy winter lemon setup!

The tree (well, more of a shrub really - it was still a baby) was in a plastic pot. Plastic doesn't "store" cold the way terracotta or clay will, which helps to keep the roots warmer. I then placed the pot inside a wooden box which had been lined with straw, to provide a good cushion of insulation. The outside of the wooden box had plastic sheeting wrapped around it as an additional barrier. I also put some straw mulch over the potting soil, leaving a small area clear so I could water the tree without soaking the straw. I placed this whole box setup against the south facing wall of the house, and then wrapped incandescent christmas lights around the branches and trunk of the tree. It's getting harder to find non-LED christmas lights meant for outdoor use, but they do exist, and it's important to get that particular type. LED strings don't give off enough heat, which is the whole point of this exercise! Finally, I wrapped the whole tree in a cloche. This helps to keep warm air against the plant without blocking sun or stifling the gas exchanges the plant needs. I finished this whole setup in perfect time because less than a week later it snowed!

I kept a close eye on it through the winter, occasionally removing the cloche on warmer days to let it have the full benefit of the sunlight, and keeping the soil nice and damp as a protection against cold. One cold snap caught me off guard when I'd forgotten to turn the lights on, and I lost a couple of leaves, but otherwise things seemed to be going well! The tree had come complete with two half grown lemons, and just before winter I removed the smaller one to prevent the tree from using too many resources on it. I kept the larger one, partly just cause I wanted to see what would happen! I'd read that Meyer's will only fully ripen when it gets cold enough, so all winter I watched this stubbornly green fruit until finally...


February 28th! I grew a lemon! I am so proud of myself. Anyway, the lemon tree (I named it Paul, after Peter, Paul & Mary. What, you don't name your plants?) has continued to do beautifully. I finally removed all the protective winter gear and aside from a small slug incident (oh, I killed that was war), Paul looks fantastic.


In fact, last week Paul made some flowers. The cycle begins again!

My Lemon Tree

Mason Jar Soil Testing May 12, 2015 09:13

Soil settling away happily
Gardening isn't really a new concept for me, and I usually tend to think of myself as fairly well versed in it, but the past couple of years have exposed a pretty glaring blind spot in my gardening knowledge: Soil.
I know, I know. You're thinking "Soil is kind of the basis of gardening", and you're right! It seems like I should know plenty about it, but the reality is that I've spent most of my adult life living in apartments, forced to garden solely with containers and pots. So, much as I daydreamed about my eventual future acreage, up until recently my experience with soil has been limited to the types and sizes that can be purchased and then carted home on the bus. I never had to worry about what sort of soil I was working with, because it was always fresh and new, full of nutrients, and neatly labelled on the shiny bag it came in.
And then I moved into a house with an honest-to-goodness yard. A yard with a big garden plot, one that had seen little to no attention for years and looked pretty sad. As I pointed out to my landlord, even the dandelions didn't want to grow there.
Google is my friend, and that's how I found out about the mason jar soil test. It's one of the easiest and simplest ways to see what kind of soil composition you're working with, and to find out what you might need to add to the soil in order to make it healthy.
The mason jar soil test
Soil is, at its most basic, made up of 3 parts. Sand, Silt, and Clay. You can also have chunks of rock or other debris in there, but we're ignoring those for the purposes of this test. Sand is the largest particle, silt the middle, and clay the smallest. An ideal garden soil (called loam) is approximately 20% clay, 40% silt, 40% sand. Knowing how far you are from that perfect balance will help you to decide what sort of amendments need to be added.
To check this balance, all you need is an old mason jar (taller is better - I used asparagus jars), a tightly fitted lid for it (I have a recent obsession with the plastic storage lids, so I used one of those), a way to sift out rocks and debris (a soil screen or wire mesh works well), a ruler, and some water.
Scoop up some soil from your garden bed and sift it through your screen. You can choose to take samples from multiple areas and combine them in one test, or do several jars for each area to get a more specific idea of soil composition. Fill your jar(s) about 1/2 to 2/3 full of soil, and then fill the jar almost to the top with water. Leave a little bit of headspace so that you can shake it up well.
Tighten the lid and shake the jar vigorously for several minutes until all the soil is well distributed in the water, and then set it aside for several hours. Resist the urge to pick it up and turn it. You'll have to start the process over. (Yes, I speak from experience).
Once all the soil has settled down into stratified layers, you can use your ruler to estimate how big each layer is. Sand will be the bottom, heaviest layer, Silt in the middle, and Clay at the top. I was lucky enough to be using a jar with measurements on the side, so I skipped the ruler step.
the proverbial well rotted manure
As you can see from my photo, my soil is more of a 20/20/60, instead of a 20/40/40. This means I have sandy soil, which is often lacking in nutrients, microbial activity, and doesn't hold moisture well. Luckily, the easy answer to this is to add more organic material - like compost! Cover cropping is also another valuable way to improve sandy soils. Since I don't have an active compost bin yet, my temporary solution involves a very familiar tactic.
I'll be busing home with a bag of lovely compost.

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