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Preserving Garlic

A few days ago, we raided out our vegetable patch that we had in Montreal and came home with a ton of garlic. Now, because we have been so busy during the summer, we actually let our garlic in the soil for too long, meaning that it did not have those protective paper-like layers around that makes preserving garlic so simple. Our garlic was extra fresh and beautiful, and we really didn’t want it to go to waste.

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So, I made some garlic paste! This has come in so handy already because it means that whenever I need some garlic, I have some already minced perfectly and ready to be used. Great! It was also so easy to prepare and to store, that I’m thinking of doing this with my future garlic purchase… if I ever need to buy some garlic again. Seriously, growing garlic is super simple and so rewarding! For every clove that you plant, you will pull ou 5 or 6 new cloves! How generous and exciting! We planted around 15 cloves and ended up with a 100 garlic cloves. That’s garlic for you!

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Anyways, here is the basic process of making garlic paste.

For around 10 heads of garlic, you will need 1 cup of olive oil:

  1. Peel and wash each garlic clove. Place them in your food processor with 1 cup of olive oil.
  2. Process until you have a smooth paste. If you prefer to have minced garlic, just process the garlic for a shorter time.
  3. Place in clean masson jars, ice cube trays or freezer-friendly container of your choice. Fill up your container leaving some space for some extra olive oil to cover the top. Close the lids tightly and place in your freezer!

Now, because there is olive oil, this should stay soft enough for you to scoop out a few teaspoon at a time. When cooking, consider that one teaspoon makes for about 1 garlic clove. You don’t need to add any olive oil to your pan as it’s already there. I’m really enjoying having this on hand, and so I really recommend you to try it out! Let me know what you are preserving for the winter!

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Urban Agriculture Summer School

Last week, I had the chance to participate to ‘L’école d’été d’agriculture urbaine‘ that is organized every year by the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the most rebellious of Montreal’s universities. If you are interested in gardening, changing the world, growing your own mushrooms, or taking care of bees, this week is perfect for you. For an entire week, you are visiting urban farms, listening to passionate guest speakers, and participate in some really fun and interesting workshops. Just to give you an idea of what my week was, here is a glimpse at my favourite activities from last week’s urban agriculture school.

  1. Favourite visit: The Hospitalières’ Garden Tour: I really enjoyed visiting the nun’s gardens that are situated behind the Hôtel-Dieum hospital in Montreal because it has had such an important role in the city’s history. I was really surprised to see how involved and dynamic this community of cloistered nun was. It was also great to stumble upon such a big garden right in the middle of really busy neighbourhoods. It was particularly interesting to learn that the nuns used to have a big medicinal plant patch and used the gardens as part of their patients’ therapy. How very modern! urban-agricultureurban-agriculture2urban-agriculture3
  2. Favourite workshop: Mycelium propagation by Champignons Maison: I loved how Geoffroy Renaud was so enthusiastic and passionate about mycelium and mushrooms! It was really inspiring to listen to him explaining how to take care of mycelium because he does not have a formal training in biology or agriculture. Now, this may seem weird, but it really was encouraging to meet someone who has built an entire successful business and created his job by being passionate and persistent. He also had a more relaxed approach to growing mushrooms which made everyone in the workshop just want to start right away. urban-agriculture4
  3. Favourite guest speaker: Serge Mongeau: Writer and simple living advocate, Serge Mongeau’s closing speech was very inspirational and reassuring. He talked about the necessity of changing our perspective on our consumption of goods. He supports the idea that by really thinking about what makes us happy and fulfilled, we can identify our real needs and adjust our relationship to money and work in consequence. This particular speech touched a delicate string in my heart because I have lived through two really intense years work-wise, and I feel like I’m a little off-balanced and disconnected. Hearing the particular guest speaker gave my ideas and inspiration.
  4. Unexpected fascinating workshop: Beekeeping 101: I really didn’t think I would find bees so fascinating! It was incredible to learn about how they live and work. I still don’t know if I’m completely comfortable with the way we use bees in modern farming, but it was really interesting to learn more about these hard workers.

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Of course this is just a glimpse of all the acitivities and learning that took place along the week. If you are in the Montreal area, and speak French, I would really recommend checking it out for next year because it is such a dense, inspiring and enjoyable week.  Cheers!

 

 

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Floramama and beautiful organic flowers

In my ideal world, my house would be filled with flowers all year long, in every room, multiple bouquets per room, in all colors, all the time and for no particular reason but to enjoy them. Flowers are so wonderful in their variety and simple elegance. I feel that adding flowers to any room suddenly makes everything more fun and lively. However, even if all flowers are beautiful, they are not equal when it comes to their environmental footprint. Think of it a minute. Flowers are plants, cultivated in fields and are therefore treated in ways similar to ‘regular’ agriculture and all that implies. That’s why I try to buy local and organic flowers when I can. And, luckily enough Floramama is here to save the day!

Floramama is a flower farm in the Eastern Townships that has been created a few years ago by Chloé, a passionate young farmer. Since then, she has put a lot of time and energy into producing exceptional fresh flowers. I have a particular soft spot for her ranunculus and anemones.

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She too brings her flowers to the Laurier Farmers Market every week. Check out her facebook page to see when she’s coming and also have an idea of the flowers that will be ready for the market. I love her flowers because they have a simple charm to them: I don’t know if it’s because they are not your typical flowers or if it’s because they are so fresh, but they make me feel shabby chic just looking at them. They also keep a lot longer than most flowers you can find at your florist.

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If you fall in love with these beauties, Chloé offers a ‘basket’ option where you get to support her farm through a CSA kind off system: you can subscribe to receive bouquets every week or every two weeks. I did this last summer and loved it: fresh, beautifully composed flowers every week! What a dream!

I really suggest checking her out if you are in the Montreal region, or if you love flowers! Even if it’s just to take a look at her wonderfully colourful market stand, you won’t be disappointed. And, as you will probably succumb to the temptation and buy a few flowers, take a minute to thank Chloe for her amazing work. It’s so inspiring!

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Kitchen Gardening: The Best Lettuce

A few months ago I presented our aquaponics system. We have been growing and trying different kinds of seeds to see what worked best, and we have recently been quite successful with lettuce.

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This was quite exciting because we have a lot of trouble growing lettuce from seeds. They always end up being weaklings and die off before we can even call them lettuces. This time however, we just sprinkled some lettuce seeds in our system, hopelessly waited, and it worked! Beautiful lettuce leaves, fresh and exceptionally local as they come from our own kitchen. How fun!

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I served this with a simple dressing, and it was delicious! The texture was soft, and the leaves melted in our mouths: it was actually quite similar to butter lettuce. It was the best lettuce we ate in a while! Great, great, great! We’re off to sprinkle some more seeds!

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Here is what you need for the simple dressing:

  • 1 tbs pistachio oil
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp tamari sauce
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt, pepper to taste

I added some tomato, cucumber, black beans, and served this with rice. It was really good! I can’t wait for the new lettuce to be ready.

Gardening on the mountain

Today was the “Corvée du Mont-Royal” which is an event organized every year were people go to our beloved Mount-Royal, pick up trash, write down notes on erosion and tree health and other fun things. Last year, I was really excited about it and wanted to participate with my students. However, since negotiations between teachers and the government were starting, I was told that I couldn’t organize any activity at all. Deception. Well this year, the student council organized it! How fun!

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Our guide explained what we were looking for (trash or any object that does not belong in nature), gave us gloves and even provided with granola bars. Amazing! I was really happy with our team: the students were really fun and interesting, were super motivated and were just, well, happy. It was really nice to see that they were willing to come on a ped-day (no classes, but teachers come in) to go clean up nature. Once again, I was happily surprised with their enthusiasm and energy.  It was also a great change of pace to see students outside of the classroom and to be outside with them.

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It was a great day outside! The weather was perfect, and we found a lot of stuff, including these wood pallets! How strange! We also found pieces of metal banister that weighted a ton and made us wonder why and how it got hauled up to the mountain (it was a pain to haul down by the way), chairs, a gazillion beer bottles, a 1996 Orange Crush bottle, and a million plastic bottles and bags. It was quite astounding to see how much stuff is left behind by people and how much of the trash is actually recyclable.

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It was so much fun to be outside, to do something good for a Montreal landmark, to interact with students in a relaxed setting and to move a little bit. I really hope to participate in more events like this one because it was great! Let me know if you have something similar going on in your area!

Blanc de Gris, or how to have a mushroom farm in the city

Last summer I had the chance to visit the urban farm Blanc de Gris which specializes in growing mushrooms. After being a little bit confused by the very urban setting (the farm is in fact situated in an old warehouse), Dominique, one of the co-founder took us around a tour of the “farm”. One word: wow! I was really impressed by the installations, the ingenuity of their project (they up-cycle coffee grinds and beer grains) , their technique, and their fresh enthusiasm for a really original and awesome project.

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Lysiane, the other co-founder in one of their growing chambers. Look at those mushrooms!

Today however, I was even more excited because their farm was open to the public (hey, that’s me!) since their oyster mushroom production just exploded! We got to buy some fresh mushrooms. Will you just look at them? They are so perfect!

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We were really happy to meet with Lysiane, who is the other co-founder of Blanc de Gris. She was very friendly and gave us amazing mushrooms to bring back home. Her passion for her job was palpable and so refreshing. She told us that they were really happy with their production and that things were really starting to grow. While they are still working with high-end restaurants of the city, they are now looking into creating their own line of transformed mushrooms products.

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This is a really fun new venture for this young farm as it would make their production shine outside of its current clientele, while also making the entire production of mushrooms valuable. I am very curious to see what products they will be working on, but I’m quite sure that it will be done with the same care, integrity and excellence that you can witness when visiting Blanc de Gris. Their business is truly an asset for the city of Montreal, as well as for the foodies and urban farmers alike.

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I really can’t wait to cook these amazing mushrooms; there’s also a little bit of pressure on my shoulders! I really encourage you to like their Facebook page as they announce when they organize flash sales or visits. You wouldn’t want to miss that, right? Also stay tuned for a mushroom-filled recipe!

 

Tour: Lufa Farms

Last Saturday, Montreal was under a really cold spell. It was freezing enough that when you went outside, your nose hair (yes, we are at this point in our relationship) froze up!

It was the perfect day to go visit the Lufa Farms, and be reminded that someday, the sun would be back and that we would be able to garden again.

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Cute basil!

In the meantime, it was great to visit these urban farms. They use hydroponics on a large scale and grow different vegetables, herbs and greens that are sold in the Montreal area in the form of subscription baskets.

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Gorgeous cucumbers

What makes these baskets different from other forms of CSA baskets, is that the member can choose the contents of his or her basket online. This makes for a more flexible basket that will really meet your needs, but also reduces waste as they only harvest what has been bought. Clever!

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CEO and founder, Mohamed Hage giving us information on his greenhouses.

The tour was given by Mohamed Hage, the young and dynamic CEO and founder of the Lufa Farms. I thought is was pretty nice of him to directly give the tours, as I imagine his schedule to be quite busy. Meeting him was great, but it also made us a little jealous as the greenhouse we got to see was quite amazing and impressive.

This farm uses hydroponics systems and grows on coconut fiber as it is a neutral growth medium.

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Water from the rooftop is recuperated and conditioned on the spot to provide with clean and readily available hydration for all these lovely plants. I thought this was quite clever too as it really takes advantage of the accessible resources.

A lot of greens are cultivated, but not only. As you have seen, cucumbers and bell peppers are also produced. If you have been following the narrative carefully, you will now ask yourself the following question: how are fruits produced in the dead of winter when no insect is there to pollinate? Glad you asked.

A little army of bees are normally installed on the rooftops during the summer. During the winter, bumblebees are used instead and live in these little yellow boxes. They are not the only insects populating the Lufa oasis. Indeed, the farms use biocontrol in the form of various insects (ladybug, anyone?) to hunt and protect the precious produce from pest.

If you were wondering, the distribution center is in the same building. In fact, night workers harvest and build the baskets that are then scattered around the city. This means that the produce is harvested in the morning, delivered and available to eat on the same day. Wow!

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So, is this all worth it? Well, it is undeniable that the farm is impressive, the system well organized and the produce amazingly fresh. It is also a great way to eat locally all year round. We had tried one Lufa basket a few years back, but thought that even though the quality of the produce was quite extraordinary, the price-quantity ratio was to our disadvantage. As vegans, the quantity of fresh produce we consume is not supported through these baskets. However, it is such a well organized farm, with astounding principles and practices that it is worth giving it a try.

Let us know if you have a CSA basket or if you tried Lufa’s.

Presenting Aquaponix! (our home aquaponics system)

During the summer, I attended Montréal’s Urban Agriculture School held at UQAM. During a week, I had the chance to participate in workshops, visit urban farms and meet fun and inspiring people.

On the last day of the week, we were presented with four different “house farms”. The teams had to come up with a concept to help urban people produce their own foods. Now, this is a great idea for so many reasons: making food accessible, encouraging people to eat more fresh vegetables and greens, having people think outside the box, and more. After listening to all four presentations, I have to say that I was sold to the idea. Among the four kitchen-farms, two of them were aquaponics systems (one named BioUnit, and the second, Yaku) and they were really inspiring.

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So, when I came back home, I shared the idea with my boyfriend, and he was intrigued and hooked. We worked on it for a couple of months and made our very own kitchen-farm!

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If you are observant, you will see that some of the plants are growing in clay pebbles (red) and other in small rocks (gray): invest in clay pebbles. They really make plants grow faster and healthier.

The most tedious part was to gather all the required material. We made a few trips to Ikea, home hardware stores and the Botanical Garden before we had the shelves, water pump, air pumps, tubing, clay beads and lights. Luckily, we already had an aquarium, so that reduced to costs a lot. We were also able to keep our parsley, strawberry, and thyme plants for our urban garden patch.

We also added some timers so that the lighting and watering would be automatic. The lights come on in the morning, and turn themselves off after 14 hours. As to the water, it circulates 10 minutes every 90 minutes. We have nothing to do! This is perfect for the lazy gardener (you do have to feed the fish however!).

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The idea behind any aquaponics system is to have plants live on water-dissolved nutrients. However, unlike hydroponics systems where you have to keep adding nutrients to the water in liquid form that you buy, an aquaponics systems counts on fish poo to feed the plants.

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The Five Poopers and their haunted castle!

The tricky part is to find a balance between what the plants’ needs and what the system can filter: as the water is “dirtied” by fish dejection, it is circulated through pumps to the plant baskets. The plants clean the water by absorbing the fish waste as their food. Finally, the water comes back into the aquarium by gravity. It is therefore important to make sure that the number of fish is not too high for what the plants can clean to avoid having them live in a toxic environment. To make sure that this was not the case, we bought a water testing kit. So far, our five fish have lived in a perfectly balanced environment and are quite lively.

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For the last few months, we have had success with leafy greens and herbs. We are being adventurous now and trying out some tomato plants. We also have had some success with edamame beans, but our 3 plants produced 3 bean pods. Not the best outcome!

However, the best thing about this is that we can enjoy fresh greens and witness their growth from seeds, in the dead of winter (which also makes it difficult to harvest…). We are still working on this: we would like to grow our own fish food to avoid relying on store-bought fish food, but we are still figuring this out. We also like to experiment with different seeds and plants to see what works best.

Let us know if you have such a system at home and what you think of it! Also feel free to ask any questions, and I’ll try to answer them!

Garden Update!

It has been a while since I wrote anything here! Well, I guess it was something that I could have foreseen: I am now done with my bachelor’s!!! The last few weeks have been quite busy between work and school and just plain life! I am so happy to be done! I still have to give in my last paper, but really, no more work for at least … a few months!

Yes, indeed, a dew months because I have enrolled in a long distance certificate in horticulture! I am really excited. I know it might sound weird to learn about plants in a long distance course, but I thought it would be the best way for me to start my teaching career while still learning about a topic I am really interested in. The truth is I cannot wait to start!

Our balcony garden has been really growing! We are completely attacked by our tomato plants! They have grown so much we had to invest in a few smart pots to keep them happy. It is very exciting to see the little tomatoes grow. I cannot wait to see them ripen and to taste them!

Aren't beauties gorgeous?

Aren’t beauties gorgeous?

Our calendulas are in their second full bloom, and we have been enjoying a few flowers in our salads. As to our kale, I had to move it to a shadier spot because it was starting to be overwhelmed by direct sunlight.

This will be a white eggplant variety. I hope the other flowers also turn to fruit!

This will be a white eggplant variety. I hope the other flowers also turn to fruit!

We are also checking on our pepper and eggplant plants as they are also working on their fruits. It is so exciting!

 

A different cultivar I wanted to try this year! It makes me think of Aladin's shoes!

A different cultivar I wanted to try this year! It makes me think of Aladin’s shoes!

As to the mushrooms we had out first harvest of oyster mushroom yesterday! These little guys took a while to come out, but once out, they grew so fast! In four days they were big enough to harvest! They were really tasty too. I hope we will get another, and maybe bigger, harvest because these mushrooms were really tasty!

Look how cute they are!

Look how cute they are!

Our first Harvest!

Our first Harvest!

As you can see, our balcony garden has kept us quite busy between frequent watering, tutoring and happy enjoyment. We are so excited to go observe it every morning: we are like little kids on Christmas morning. I’ll keep you updated when the first fruits start to ripen!

Our happy garden!

Our happy garden!

Happy Gardening!

Balcony Garden Update!

Hello!

What a week! While I was busy with work and school projects, my little plants have been busy growing and becoming quite charming.

Growing!

Growing!

A few weeks back, there was the Great Gardening Week-End at the Montreal’s Botanical Garden. As I work there for the summer, I was really excited. This event is really nice if you enjoy plants and gardening: different horticulturist share their knowledge and growers come to sell their plants/seeds. It is a lot of fun to see all the variety that is available and to meet passionate people.

Last year, I had spotted Violon et Champignon, which is a small company specialized in mushrooms. I really wanted to try it out, but I was a bit suspicious and afraid that it would be an epic fail. So I let it go for a year. However, during the winter, I thought back on those planters and decided that I would try them out. The week-end finally came and I went straight to that stand and bought a smart-pot filled with mycelium for oyster mushrooms! We are so excited!

 

Cat enjoying the plants and sun.

Cat enjoying the plants and sun.

 

Here is how it works: the pot is made with geo-textile and comes filled with about 10 cm high of straw mixed with mycelium. You bring that home (on a very busy and warm afternoon in the subway if you are me…) and fill it in with soil onto which you put plants! The plants help you keep track of the humidity of the whole thing as you want it to be fairly humid but not drowned. You have to keep the pot in a fresh and not to sunny place to help with the humidity. I had to create a micro-climate by putting some pots all around it so that it stayed fresh.

 

We planted a mix of herbs and herbal teas to have a dense foliage to help with the humidity level. So far, so good.

We planted a mix of herbs and herbal teas to have a dense foliage to help with the humidity level. So far, so good.

 

We are so excited to see what comes out of this puppy! How exciting!

We also harvested some kale, fresh herbs and herbal teas. Our beans are also growing; some beets and carrots are also peeking out. Besides that, out mints and tomato plants are going crazy. It is so much fun to wake up each morning and to go see what changed! I feel like the kids I’m teaching…

 

Difficult to take an accurate picture of our balcony... there's always a part missing!

Difficult to take an accurate picture of our balcony… there’s always a part missing!

 

Right now, I am investigating micro-greens because I would love to continue to grow things during the winter besides our interior plants. Any tips?

 

Magic beans!

Magic beans!