Archive for February, 2011

I went a little crazy ordering seeds and seedlings. Have I mentioned that moderation just isn’t my thing? I keep meaning to do ‘just a little’ of something but so far in all my years haven’t managed to pull it off. Granted, I went with way less than I would have liked to and I think that counts for something. Maybe common sense is not long to follow. I hope (if that is the case) that it comes in small doses because I am greatly reliant on my abject refusal to believe in the impossible. It’s a lifestyle.

So- what we have on the way this year… 50 Manitoba maples, 100 choke cherry bushes, and 75 hawthorns- courtesy of the Agroforestry Development Centre. We had hoped for some Siberian crab apple trees and red osier dogwood but they were out of stock, so they’re on the list for next year. Still, that’s a lot of digging for this year.

From the Cottage Gardener, we have received seeds for mule team and Czech select tomatoes, fordhook giant Swiss chard, spaghetti squash, potimarron winter squash, common chives, Greek oregano, purple coneflower, Roman chamomile, dark Italian parsley, anise hyssop, borage, cilantro, feverfew, lemon balm, milk thistle, white sage, and Oriental poppies.

From Salt Spring Seeds we ordered, and received, quinoa, yarrow, evening primrose, purple amaranth, tomatillos, and sweet rocket (aka dame’s violet). And from PR Seeds we ordered onion, carrot, leek, quinoa, soy bean, and amaranth. We placed the order some time back and I am starting to get a little concerned having heard nothing yet. I’ll give it until next week and then ring dude who runs the place. We also ordered goji berry seeds from a place in Saskatoon and I’m quite excited to see how those turn out.

In addition to those, we have nasturtium, Swiss chard and red onion seeds harvested last year, as well as partial packages of beets, dill, bush beans, turnips, lupine, and lettuce. Ah, and I hope to separate out some of my rhubarb this year. And see if I can’t get those fern seeds that I harvested in Oregon started… Yep, so- quite the plan considering that I have to build most of the gardens that will house these wonderful plants. Of course, this in advance of starting the build on our earthbag domes with the intention of finishing this year. It’s alright though- I’ve been working out in preparation. (I shit you not.)

It’s been really interesting, planning the garden this year. I played around with companion planting last year, and with soil building and raised gardens, and it was pretty successful given the very limited amount of time I had to dedicate to it. By successful, I mean that we got a lot of meals out of it. And some decent seeds saved. This year will push the envelope a little further, with a concentration on plants that not only do well in our environment and with our soil type, but serve multiple purposes (as most of our herbs do, and even our trees and bushes). And we’re trying something a little different with shapes and contours. Some of it we’ve read about, some we’re just going to try and see what happens.

I can’t wait to get started- it should be a lot of fun! And plenty o’ work. There’ll be whining later, I’m sure. 🙂

still a ways off of planting anything but my bum in the ground


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I should preface this with saying that I have never liked tofu. Blah. B-O-R-I-N-G. But I was interested in seeing what kind of non-meat high protein meals I could potentially make in future, using only produce from the property, and I’ve ordered (non-GMO) soy beans for next year’s crops. And so the adventure began. I’ve gotta say- I liked it. Took a couple of tries to get just the right texture but it worked out really well. So here it is, how to make tofu from scratch…

Start by soaking your beans. I used about 500 grams and left them to soak overnight. Add water as required to ensure the beans are fully immersed. Once your beans are soft, grind them to a paste in a blender or food processor. Add just enough water to ensure a nice, even mixture.

Transfer the soybean paste to a large pot and add about 4 cups of water. Heat the mixture over medium heat, for about 20 minutes. Stir regularly. You’re not looking to boil it so much as evenly heat it and allow the fibrous material to separate from the milk.

When you’ve just about hit the 20 minute mark, get your straining materials ready. Finally- a use for those couple of dozen embroidered table runners from the mother-in-law! At least that’s what I used- I don’t like the commercial cheesecloth available these days, too flimsy. I chopped a section of tablecloth and I positioned it over a bowl, to strain the soy mixture.

This stage of making tofu involves “milking the bean”- not nearly as sexy as you might expect, but just as messy. There’s way too much mixture to strain all at once, so I transferred some of it to a measuring cup and poured it a bit at a time through the cloth. You’ll have to squish what remains in the cloth- there’s an amazing amount of liquid left in what appears to be solid mass. Then scrape the remaining soy bean mess (otherwise known as okara) off the cloth and set aside- you can use this later.

Dump the filtered milk back into a clean pot, and repeat until you’ve worked your way through the mixture. (Note: this is where you’d stop if you simply want soy milk and not tofu. Refrigerate and drink plain or add a banana or berries and whip for a tasty smoothie.) Return the pot to the stovetop over low heat.

There are a few coagulants that can be used at this stage. The most commonly used agent is nigari but, not being a tofu-maker, I didn’t have any on hand so I used lemon juice. (Another coagulant that you may have on hand is apple cider vinegar.)

Add about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to the hot mixture and give it a few swirls. Do not stir vigorously. Turn the heat off and put a tight fitting lid on the pot. Leave it sit for about 20 minutes. Once the time has elapsed, check the mixture. The solids should have separated from the (yellowy) liquid. If it hasn’t properly separated (i.e. if you have a grainy mix instead of fully separated chunks) add a little more lemon juice and let it sit a while longer.

Alright- more straining! When I said this process was messy, I meant it. Your kitchen will be splattered with soy bean milk and remnants and all of your dishes will be dirty. So get your tofu press ready if you have one. I don’t own one, so I made one by punching a bunch of holes in an ice cream container. (On my next try I punched holes in a rectangular margarine container which was a considerably nicer form.) Line the press with your straining material (cheesecloth or tablecloth) and carefully pour the tofu into the press. Cover the tofu with your cloth (wrapping it like a present) and gently press out the excess liquid. Place a weight on the tofu (I used cans) and leave it to sit for about 90 minutes.

Once the time has elapsed, unwrap the tofu and check for firmness. It should hold its shape nicely and be the consistency of store-bought tofu. Transfer the tofu to a plate and cut into squares. It’s now ready to use or store in the refrigerator for use later on.

Note: the okara can be dried on low heat on a baking sheet, and used in place of breadcrumbs, or sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon for a light topping for yogurts, etc. It has a slightly nutty flavour, I like it plain too. There is more protein in the okara than the soy milk or tofu, kind of a shame not to use it.

blending the beans

first stage straining

milking the bean

coagulated tofu

straining tofu

pressing the tofu

pressed tofu


tofu, soy milk and okara- not bad for a bunch of beans

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It’s been a while since I’ve written and it may seem that’s because I haven’t anything new to report but it’s been quite the opposite- too much on the go and not enough hours in the day. Add to which at any given time, I have a dozen ideas on the go and it’s just painstakingly difficult to focus on one thing long enough to write. Our seeds have been ordered (one set already received), we received confirmation of our order for trees and bushes, we bought our power system (less the batteries which we’ll buy closer to the move-in date), we’re busy making firebricks, experimenting with vegetarian meals, and- of course- loads of studying going on.

Since we went ahead and committed to a system, I figured I should learn everything that I can about off-grid systems- PV arrays, batteries, wiring, chargers and inverters, gensets and so on. Holy f*ck. This isn’t my first round of studying this stuff but it might as well be- I feel so overwhelmed. I’ve often thought that stupid people must have such relaxed, pleasant lives but I’ve reconsidered that position. My experience with it is that it’s downright frustrating.

Today I decided to break away from the power side of things and examine landscape design in more detail. It has to be decided by spring as well. I’m thinking of adding a few keyhole gardens to the mix, possibly with the intention of bringing them all together down the road as one big mandala garden. I started soil building last year and will continue with raised beds this year given the condition of the soil out here, add to which with the exception of last year we have limited rainfall at best. Keyhole gardens sound like my best option for maximizing use of available space and limited water.

Well, my head is swimming. Just thought I’d touch base and let you know what’s going on with the Canadian dirtbags these days.


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