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!

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!

 

 

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!

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!

Balcony garden

Yesterday was me and my boyfriend’s birthdays! Exciting!

Marche_Jean-Talon_13After a long day at work, I wanted to go buy some ice cream because summer has finally caught up with Montreal! From 11C to almost 30C in a week, spring has come and gone. One of the best ice cream places in Montreal is situated in the Marché Jean-Talon: the Havre aux Glaces.

Once I got to this outdoor market, I found myself surrounded with flowers, fruits, noises, smells, colors and people from all countries and ages. I had forgotten how much I liked strolling between the stands and looking for more plants to put on our balcony.

I am so happy with how it is turning out! We found two types of eggplants, a sunflower, kale, and fine herbs. We also installed our tomatoes and calendulas out. Now all we need it some sun, water and patience. I can’t wait for all those little plants to grow! 🙂

I really enjoyed going to the market as it proved to be the perfect place to find the last plants we needed up here.

Our balcony garden is turning out great! :)

Our balcony garden is turning out great! 🙂

So next time you get yourself in a market, take the time to steal a few smells by softly rubbing your fingers on fine herbs, soak your eyes in colours and listen to lively people’s friendly arguments. You might find some new happy plants to keep you company!

Planting our own tomatoes!

Living in a big city like Montreal has its ups and downs. For example, we both miss the open spaces of the countryside and having a garden to grow our own plants and vegetables. This feeling is exacerbated by my sister-in-law who is lucky enough to live in the French Loire Valley in a cute house with a gigantic garden. She has apples, cherries and prunes growing.

Well, lucky for us, Montreal is a city of balconies. Even more lucky, our balcony is not on the street but on a private backyard, which means we have calm and green surrounding this outdoor extravaganza. In our previous apartment, the balcony was huge! However, it was facing North, meaning we had about 3 hours of direct sunlight in the middle of the summer. We still managed to have thyme, rosemary, stevia, sage and some flowers survive there. We also tried green peas, and they did work, to the great joy of our next door neighbor: the squirrel. At one point we even had strawberries.

To have a great balcony with a lot of sunshine was one of our greatest selection criteria when we were looking for an apartment. This paid off as we found a great apartment, facing South this time, with a sun bathed balcony!

As the winter is still reluctantly leaving Montreal, we had to start sprouting indoors. This years we are going for sun-loving plants: tomatoes (all colors) and Calendula are starting their growth inside. When the weather will be better, we will also try out beans, carrots and beets. We are so excited to see these babies grow, and we will keep you posted on how it goes!

Baby plants coming up! :)

Baby plants coming up! 🙂 This is what they look like after a week!

Do you have any experience growing vegetables on a balcony?