Friday, July 26, 2019


Shrubs are a sweetened vinegar-based syrup traditionally used to preserve fruit and have been popular throughout history. There are many names for this type of drink including switchel, haymakers punch, and ginger-water.

When diluted with water or soda and sweetened slightly, shrubs often have a flavor reminiscent to that of lemonade due to the light, refreshing flavor and slight tartness.

(Chokecherry Shrub)

Shrubs are frequently made with a 1:1:1 ratio of sugar, fruit and vinegar. Let sugar and fruit sit until the juice of the fruit has dissolved the majority of the sugar. Then add the vinegar and strain out fruit solids. Let the shrub sit in the fridge or at room temperature for a few weeks. Various types of sweeteners as well as different types of vinegar can be used.

To use, dissolve a few tablespoons of sugar in a little hot water. Add approximately 2 tablespoons of shrub and 1 gallon of water. This ratio is to taste but I prefer the drink to not taste of vinegar. 

I find that shrubs encourage me to drink more water on very hot days and do not make me feel ill like plain tap-water has a tendency to do when drunk in the heat. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Garden Binder: Resources

In early June last year, I was well into the planting season. Unfortunately, this year I have given up my little community plot in favour of bigger and better future gardens in Manitoba. I probably won't have much by way of garden this season but I do hope to plant a few kale plants.

I have been keeping a fairly detailed garden binder over the last few years and have found the information collected to be invaluable for future planning as well as memory keeping about gardens past.

General Notes
The first section of my garden binder is lined paper where I write general dated notes that include everything such as work done, seeds planted, watering dates, emerging problems and when plants first emerge. This section sees the most action during the height of the summer.

Garden Planning
The season's pre-planning occurs in this section through the use of detailed seasonal to-do lists, an outline of the garden layout on graph paper, as well as a paper copy of West Coast Seeds Vegetable Planting chart. Last year I included a detailed planting chart to help me sort out specific details for various indoor sowing and direct sowing dates for various types of plants.

This section includes a Harvest Tracker, a chart of first and last kale harvests throughout my gardening history, and an Individual Seed/Plant informational sheet.

This section consists of printed information for various garden projects, recipes to try this season, and building projects.

Seed Lists
I maintain three separate seed lists. One is a wish list for future gardening years where I note new and interesting plants as well as unique varietals I want to try. I also maintain a list of seeds purchased this year to note company and price. The third list is a seed inventory list that includes leftover purchased seeds, trades, as well as saved seeds.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Farm Planning: Planning the Farm on Paper

We closed on land in Manitoba in early 2016 and have been living in Yellowknife, NWT since then. As a result of this technicality, paper planning has been the primary feature of our farm life thus far. Our paper planning has been fairly extensive over the last two years and while nothing physical exists I have still learnt several very important lessons as a result of the planning process.
(Mr. Frank Silver, June 2016) 

Expect a Large Learning Curve
As my experience with indoor composting worms highlights, all new projects come with a steep learning curve. It is important to anticipate and react to this learning curve to prevent discouragement when projects do not go as planned.

Limitations of Paper Planning
There will be unexpected realities when attempting to follow any plan - no matter how detailed. I like to plan some flexibility into the official paper plan to accommodate these unexpected realities. Accepting the limits of paper planning allows one to embrace changes as new information is presented.

(The land, April 2018) 

The Importance of Permaculture
Even though we have yet to begin a farm project, I have embraced the importance of permaculture. I research and detailed an Angora rabbit plan to begin in Fall 2018 but soon discovered that if the rabbits exist outside of a permaculture system the cost of inputs and the problem of their outputs results in an expensive, time consuming and unnatural system. Instead I opted to delay the rabbit purchase until they can exist within a permaculture system which will be more beneficial overall.

There is a time and a benefit derived from paper planning, I am excited to begin projects IRL!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Grow Curious

I have been following Gayla Trail since the early 2000s - well before my first gardens and have most of her other gardening books which I enjoy for their generally approachable gardening advice. As a result of this I was quick to jump on the kickstarter for her 'garden activity book for adults' which is called 'Grow Curious'.

This book has 199 activities that are separated by season as well as by 'tags' such as inspire, explore, and create. The tags seem to cover overlapping topics so they are not much help when attempting to identify activities by type. Some activities include several pages of personal essays, art, and/or additional information while some are simply a sentence followed by a page of empty white space. Most of the activities relate strictly to the five senses with the addition of an artistic exploration and a lot of the activities require you to simply 'note' something. This book is aesthetically pleasing with a lot of wonderful garden related quotes.

Overall, I do not find this book very inspirational. I would rather it was a series of personal essays that inspire related activities rather than a series of very similar activities. The chosen quotes and personal essays that are included relate to the author's relationship to the garden which leads me to think that a book of garden essays from Trail would be a joy to read.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Filet Crochet Bookmarks

I love purchasing craft supplies at thrift stores but this means that I usually have spools of crochet cotton with an unknown amount of yardage left. I recently discovered the meditative nature of filet crochet and have been making simple geometric patterns for use as bookmarks or ribbons.

Repeat pattern until finished piece measures 7-9 inches for bookmarks and anywhere from 12-52 inches for ribbon - depending on use.

Chain 21.

‘x’ - ‘closed’ filet crochet stitch

‘   ‘ - ‘open’ filet crochet stitch


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Review: The Garden In Winter By Rosemary Verey

I grew up on the Canadian prairies, spent a decade in the relative warmth of Toronto's southern winters, and have since moved to sub-arctic Yellowknife. I missed winter's crystal beauty. Our next move is back to the Canadian prairies so winter will be a part of my life for a long time to come.

In researching prairie garden design, I often read plant descriptions that included details regarding the plant's appearance into late fall or early winter. I then began to think about garden design with winter's beauty in mind. When the Canadian prairie winters last so long, it seems vitally important to have beauty in your garden even - or especially - in the dead of winter.

This spurred my purchase of The Garden in Winter by Rosemary Verey which was published in 1988. This book has gorgeous, inspirational photography as well as many beautiful descriptive paragraphs. This book is a must purchase if you need to learn to love winter - or if you already do.

"If your garden looks good in winter, 
you belong to a select band capable of bending nature to its will" - Verey

"I began to realise that the structure of my garden is even more important in winter than in other seasons, because the bones become apparent and the eye is not distracted by beguiling planting. So the framework of my garden had to be set in winter. Paths, walks, hedges, allees, vistas, all would determine its form. I also had to realise that winter's beauty - clear and spare - is quite different from the freshness of spring blossom, the lushness of summer flowers or the richness of autumn leaves" - Verey

The key to winter garden design, according to Verey, is to view each plant, tree or shrub as it would appear each season which is more demanding at the onset but also more rewarding overall because doing so offers a garden that can be enjoyed year round. Planning a year round garden requires a new appreciation of plant beauty in all its forms - leaf, berry, flower. 

"Planning the garden to take into account of winter requires an overall framework and ground plan, as well as a planting scheme. The framework is provided by the vertical elements - hedges and walls and fastigiate trees - and the ground plan by paths, border shapes and lawns. These are the permanent feature that remain more or less the same each season of the year, but whose character is more apparent during hte winter, when colour distracts less. This is the structure of the garden and it must be considered for its effect in summer as well." - Verey 

Verey discusses how to plan and enjoy the winter garden with all of one's senses even the surprising ones such as smell. The next chapter details the beauty of various winter garden colours and how to use and add those colours to your own garden. 

"Winter colour is nature's most sophisticated palette - a range dominated by subtle tones, sombre contrasts and striking highlights. As shades of autumn give way to gentler winter hues, it is as though a hand has bleached the canvas. Perhaps the most dramatic change comes with the loss of deciduous leaves - horizons extend and foreground diminish as surfaces all over the garden emerge from summer seclusion and concealment. Many of the trees and shrubs appear skeletal after the lushness of their summer growth and yet it is these newly shorn textures and stripped torsos that become the background colour of the garden. Whereas before it was the flaming reds and burning golds, now it is the gentler fawns and purples and the multitudinous browns and greens that dominate. For the winter gardens, the challenge is to enhance and build upon this mellow array." - Verey 

A plant profile section finishes out the book where Verey states that she has chosen 'the plants in the following pages for the beauty of their winter bark, foliage and flowers and for the colour, scent, form and texture that they bring to the garden throughout the year." 

After devouring this beautiful and inspiring book, I could not help but notice winter garden beauty on my regular dog walking route. The grey of landscaping rock, the stark white of birch bark, the natural wooden twig fence, the snow covered shrub with tiny seed clusters, and the chipped white picket fence. The range of texture, shade and colour made for a beautiful winter garden.