So I decided to learn about farming

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Litchi Tomatoes

The Litchi tomato… AKA Sticky Nightshade… AKA… Fire and Ice… is an heirloom plant and until recently was used more as an ornamental hedge plant than a food plant.

They taste like cherries or sweet tomatoes with lots of little seeds and WOW those thorns are really sharp!

Fire and Ice



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Your Temper, My Weather

Nuit Blanche… for those of you who do not live in Toronto (or other participating cities), Nuit Blanche is a sunset to sunrise celebration of art. I have attended Nuit Blanche many times in the past, but this year I was a part of the art!

It was lots of fun! It was a 6 hours commitment and in addition to coffee, tea, water, fruit, and sandwiches, we were also fed bread and “honey”. This will make more sense if you watch the video.

P.S. I make an sleepy, if not trance like appearance… watch for me!


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Farming & Homesteading Virtual Conference

The last two days I have been participating in an online web conference about farming. I have enjoyed the presenters and have encourage lots of people to join in. It is the farthest away – geographically speaking –  from a farm that I could get and yet still another way to learn. We live in wonderful times ladies and gentlemen!

Below is the conference’s Agenda.


4:00pm Stacey Murphy, HOST: Backyard Farming for Community Resilience  (attended)

5:30pm Leda Meredith: Wild Food – Herbivores Can Hunt Too  (attended)

7:00pm Janell Kapoor: Using Dirt to Build Community

8:30pm Rob Avis: Your How-to Manual for Passive Solar Greenhouses (attended)


5:30pm Andrew Faust: Designing Your Life with Permaculture

7:00pm Paul Wheaton: Bricks to Build a Better World

8:30pm Meg Paska: A More Natural Beekeeping  (attended)


4:00pm Kevin Egolf: How to Structure a Land Agreement

5:30pm Bee Ayer: Finding an Apprenticeship that’s Right for You

7:00pm Molly Culver: Growing Soil: Soil Science Basics for Organic Growers

8:30pm Brian Rosa: Scaling Up Composting Operations




Seed Season

Sometimes I feel like I am on “Ed TV ” or “The Truman Show”. While Jay and I where taking a seed saving class in rural Ontario, the big boys of the culinary world were meeting at Stone Barns in upstate New York talking about seeds. Is the world watching what I am doing? Who is  biting my style?  Is someone out there spying on me… us? Or, are my choices so mainstream that I am predictable?

no matter, if you have a few minutes this article is worth the read.

Sowing a Change in Kitchens

Published: September 24, 2013 24 Comments

POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. — It used to be that chefs believed their work began in the kitchen, where knives and fire and skill would convert good ingredients into a great meal. During the last few decades, a number of top chefs started to focus on an earlier element of the process: the farm, where so many of those ingredients come from.

But on Monday morning, in a high-ceilinged chamber that used to be a hayloft and suddenly felt like a minimalist country church, the chef Dan Barber posed a provocative question to a room full of luminaries from the world of food: “What if we were involved in writing this recipe from the beginning?”

Mr. Barber was talking about seeds. More precisely, he was talking about using seeds to explore a whole new frontier of flavor and cracking open “opportunities that we never even knew existed,” as he told a crowd gathered here at theStone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

What would happen, he asked, if chefs were to team up with breeders, the agricultural experts who know how to guide the evolution of fruits and grains and vegetables? Could that creative partnership lead to tomatoes, melons and wheat with sublime tastes and textures that no one has even imagined yet?

Could kitchen wizards and scientists work together to make good ingredients even better? And, in the words of Matthew Dillon, the director of the Seed Matters initiative hatched by the Clif Bar Family Foundation, “How do we make seeds sexy?”

Only time will tell whether Monday’s meeting of the minds will come to be seen as the legendary (and sexy) genesis of the seed-to-table movement, but it certainly felt historic. “I think we’re all going to remember this day,” the influential innovator Ferran Adrià told the group, through an interpreter, in his closing comments.

Among the chefs and bakers on hand were Mr. Adrià and Joan Roca from Spain, Alex Atala from Brazil, Gastón Acurio from Peru, Michel Bras from France, David Kinch and Chad Robertson from California, Sean Brock from the American South and Sam Kass and Bill Yosses from the White House.

They were joined by a bumper crop of stars who work in New York City, including Daniel Humm, Dominique Ansel, April Bloomfield, Floyd Cardoz, Michael White, Jim Lahey, Bill Telepan, Danny Bowien, Dan Kluger, Matthew Lightner, Mads Refslund and David Bouley.

For many of them, the theme of the day was Meet the Breeders. Placed at tables around the room were some of the nation’s beet, rice, wheat and hot-pepper specialists, most of whom the chefs had never heard of. “The breeders haven’t exactly been recognized in the mainstream media,” said Mr. Barber, the chef and an owner of the Blue Hill restaurant here.

The soil-tilling food experts happen to be every bit as expressive, and iconoclastic, as their knife-wielding counterparts in the kitchen. These days, many in the culinary world tend to view produce in a black-and-white way: You have either your delightfully lumpy, bumpy farmers’ market treasures, or your scarily uniform corporate Frankenfood. As Mr. Barber said, it’s “heirlooms over here, Monsanto maniacs over there.”

But Monday’s convocation, overseen by the Basque Culinary Center, suggested a third way: Independent breeders are ready to help make our breads and salads richer with deep flavor, bold color and plenty of nutrients. They just need someone to ask them.

What they do may also be seen as an old-school alternative to the spread of genetically modified plants, which have not been shown to be harmful but still frighten and concern many people.

“We’re making crosses within the same species, and we’re doing it the way it’s been done for 300 years,” said Dr. Stephen Jones, a wheat breeder from Washington State whose accessibly folksy lecture had the room transfixed. “There’s no forcing here. We put these plants together and we let them mate.”

During a lunch break in a sunny Stone Barns courtyard, several chefs said that they had rarely considered the seed-curating side of their craft, but that their minds were now brimming over with gastronomic possibilities. Mr. Cardoz, of North End Grill and formerly of Tabla, spoke about a curry dish called rogan josh and the difficulty of achieving its red hue and spicy flavor in the United States because the dish requires hard-to-find Kashmiri chile peppers. “You don’t get anything like it here,” he said. “That is something that I would like to grow for sure.”

Mr. Kinch, of Manresa, qualifies as a farm-to-table purist, because he gets his core ingredients from a terraced farm a few minutes away from the restaurant. But the idea of bringing in the perspective of breeders intrigued him. “As a chef, it gives me more control over my product,” he said. “We’re flirting with the idea of opening up a bakery, and I’m fascinated by wheat.”

What if traditional Northern California sourdough could be even chewier and tangier? “Let’s build on that and let’s do it with some artisanal grains,” Mr. Kinch said.

Mr. Telepan and Ms. Bloomfield savored the idea of improving the flavor of the East Coast tomatoes that are available to them. Mr. Humm, of Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad, seemed dazzled (and maybe a tad daunted) by the notion of using science to upgrade the arsenal of countless ingredients at his fingertips. “What would you not want to work on?” he said. “It’s pretty inspiring.”

And a few chefs half-joked that it may not be long before restaurants start hiring their own seed sommeliers.

“I think breeders are the way of the future,” Ms. Bloomfield said. “And now that I know this, I’m going to go in search of my own breeder.


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Seed Saving

Saturday was a great day spent at Everdale Farm  in Hillbough, Ontario (Near… north of Halton Hills). Everdale is an organic teaching farm, you can attend one day classes, take a tour, participate in the the CSA program, or intern for the growing season (6 to 9 months).

In our situation, both Jay and I attended a seed saving class. The class was offered by “Seeds of Diversity”  A Canadian volunteer organization that attempts to conserves the biodiversity and traditional knowledge of food crops and garden plants.

We met some really nice people and learned a bunch… some of the hi-lights:

  1. Seed recognition… what is the seed, the starch (seed food) and seed coat (shell)
  2. Three things that you need to preserve seed… dark, cool/cold, and dry. It is the opposite of what you need to grow… water, light and warm!
  3. seeds can be stored in cold cold environment … frozen even… as long as the are dry. dry seeds should have less than 10% moisture content. Dry means they would shatter if hit by a hammer. If you freeze seeds you may need to warm them gradually… freezer to fridge to room temperature.
  4. Store seeds in glass not plastic jars.
  5. Seeds, if stored well, can be viable for 5 years.
  6. You should collect seeds from the strongest plants that are not diseased
  7. Seeds should be dried on the plant before harvested as it ensures that the seed has collected enough starch (i.e. nutrient or food) until germination.
  8. If you pull and dry the whole plant, the seeds can continue ripening
  9. Some seeds may require a period of dormancy. Typically those seeds are from plants that see 4 seasons. These seeds may need to be tricked into growing by placing them in fridge… they think winter can and now spring, so they germinate.
  10. Some plants require two years to produce seeds… carrots, celery, cabbage, beets and leeks for example. While other plants may require, initially, two years to seed, but then produce seed every year there after… raspberries, and most fruit trees.
  11. In Canada… cus we have frost and cold and snow… you can pull your beets and carrots, then store in sawdust over the winter, and replant in spring to get the the two years required for seed production.

A big part about learning about seed saving is learning where seeds come from and that means pollination…

Some plants are self pollenating, tomatoes are and as such cross pollination is highly unlikely.  The tomato flower is closed and is complete with the male and female parts so no need for bees, wind or other pollinators. For each seed in a tomato, a speck of pollen must be involved. There are 100s of seeds in a tomato… that is a lot of pollen!

To collect tomato seeds (wet seeds), encourage the fruit to rot (mash up in a bucket and put lid on), after about 4 days  wash away the pulp and flesh of the tomato to recover the seeds, dry on a plate. Seeds are heavy and will sink, so you may wish to skim off a top layer of rotting tomato. This process will work for any wet seeds like cukes.

However, many plants due require bees and the like to pollinate. This generally means that their flower is open… like eggplant or squash. Note: beans and peas are a little different. They are half open and have both sexes in the flower. Because there is so little pollen (how many beans/seeds in a pod… 4 or 5 vs a tomato?)  that bees couldn’t be bothered with work it would take to open the flower for such a little a reward. It is unlikely that beans and peas cross pollinate  So eggplant… open flower, both sexes in one plant flower, the bees come along and while trying to get the nectar at the base of the flower carry in pollen and fertilizes the seed. The pollen carried in could be from the eggplant itself, from a different eggplant or from a carrot plant, but the eggplant will not recognize any pollen that is not from its own species. Note: the pollination of the seed is not for the purposes of growing the plant this season… but next year!

Squash… there are 4 species of squash. Within each species a cross can occur, but no cross can occur from species to species

  1. Pumpkin, Zucchini (Latin name Pepo).
  2. Butternut ( (Latin name Moschata)
  3. Hubbard  (Latin name Maxima)
  4. other non edible from South America

If squash have been crossed you will not know till the following year… because it is the seed that has been cross pollened not the fruit. It was explained to me like a mother, father and child. The mother (and father) is the fruit and the seed the offspring… the parents, a pumpkin is crossed with a zucchini…. and the parents don’t change, they are still pumpkins and zukus, but their child… the seed, is the product of both of them. There is no way to know if your squash or zukes have been cross pollinated unless you harvest the seeds and collect them for planting the following year. There is no way to tell from the seed coat if a plant has been crossed.

Tools for seed saving.

  1. Mesh screens, strainer, sieves….
  2. Glass jars
  3. Buckets
  4. Fish bins
  5. Funnels
  6. Little envelopes
  7. Silica (helps dry the last little %s). The silica should be removed after short time.

ever screenUsing screen to remove wheat from husk.

Ever WheatWheat

ever pea

Bob Wildfong from Seeds of Diversity.

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Powdery Mildew on Lettuce

Many of the lettuces beds I have worked with over the summer have been affected by “Powdery Mildew.”  You can avoid this fungus by selecting varieties that are less susceptible or those that are resistant. Some non-chemical way to control…

  1. Remove infected leaves promptly to prevent spore release and contamination of the soil.
  2. Rotate lettuce crops to minimise the risk of infection from resting spores
  3. Do not overcrowd plants… high humidity increases the risk of infection

lettuce top

The mildew can be identified by yellow patches on the upper leaf surfaces, and are generally angular because they are limited by the veins.

lettuce bottom

A fuzzy growth of whitish mould on the underside.