Author: Jess

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a photo of what is still good in our root cellar in April

Here we are, the first week of April. Last month, I did a food storage / root cellar report for March; this is hopefully going to be a recurring feature. Here’s what we’ve still got in the root cellar (and other cold storage) in April:

Honeycrisp Apples: The apples were stored in ziploc bags; some in the root cellar, and some in the fridge. They were basically done last month, but we left the firm ones to check again this month. While they looked good on the outside, the insides were pretty brown. You could probably eat these in an emergency, but we chose to feed them to the chickens for a treat, instead.

Honeycrisp apples after seven months storage in the root cellar

Maxima Squash: We store our squash in a cool room, though with the sun really hitting the windows on the house now, the temperature in there is starting to fluctuate quite a bit. These squashes look to be some sort of Mandan cross, from our landrace breeding experiment. We still have nine good-sized (ten-ish pounds) orange winter squashes left, and they seem to be going strong, despite a number of our other squashes succumbing to sudden rot. They have a really waxy feel to them, which may have been what allowed them to store so well. We will save the seeds from these for replanting.

Sugar Pie Pumpkins: I am blown away by these. I have no idea why they are storing so long, but we still have three sound pie pumpkins (a couple have gone soft since March). Normally, the pie pumpkins don’t last much past Christmas. At this rate, we’ll have pumpkin pie for Easter!

Spaghetti Squash: No surprise here. These often last until the next harvest. We even store them on shelves in the (much warmer) pantry and kitchen, and they don’t seem to care. We have more than a dozen left, and are really just starting to use them now, as we run low on the other types of squash. I do notice that the spaghetti squash that were stored in the cool room are denser and heavier than the ones stored in warmer locations, which is an interesting thing that I will try to keep paying attention to.

Potatoes: Our potatoes are still firm, and not yet sprouting. They are starting to get slightly bitter, though. I don’t know if it’s light exposure (from the little window in our root cellar) or just age, but it does seem to happen to us every year in the spring.

Onions: Again, the only surprise with the onions was that we have basically run out. Onions store well for us, just loose in a basket in the cool room.

pumpkins, spaghetti squash, apples, onions, and potatoes after seven months in the root cellar

Our carrots are done, now, and I think we can call the apples done, though we’ll keep a few kicking around just to see what happens with them. Pretty soon, we will have spring eggs and early chives to add to our local food diet, and not too long after that, we’ll be enjoying asparagus and rhubarb. I’m excited about that, as we’ve tried to eat mostly seasonal vegetables through the winter, and I’m just a bit tired of root veggies, cabbage, and squash. The snow is just starting to melt off the garden, and in a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to dig up the parsnips and carrots we left in the ground last fall. We didn’t leave a lot for eating – we’re going to try to save seeds from these – but I might just try one or two to see how they taste!

By Jess

Frozen & Cracked Eggs: Can You Eat Them?

March 17, 2019 | Chickens | 2 Comments

An egg with a cracked shell

We are finally getting temperatures that suggest spring might come…eventually. A couple of weeks ago, I started writing this post, as it was still -40, and we were having problems with cracked eggs. While it won’t be an issue for us now for several months, I thought it was still worth putting up a post about it, as we all know winter (and polar vortexes) will be rolling around again soon enough.

We keep our chickens in an unheated barn / coop that we made from a converted granary. While the walls cut the wind, there is not much insulation, and the body heat from the chickens still doesn’t bring the temperatures in the barn up above freezing if it is cold out. Of course, we are zone 2/3, and get pretty cold in the middle of winter. As in -40 kind of cold.

This year, February was exceptionally cold, and the temperatures hardly came up above -25 for most of the month. As you can imagine, that sort of weather is hard on chickens. Their feed consumption goes way up, and their egg laying goes way down. We are careful to keep the coop ventilated to reduce the chances of frostbite, and the hens tend to cuddle together to stay warm.

We still get a few eggs, even on the coldest days. However, if we aren’t there to collect them as soon as the hen lays them, they will freeze. Egg shells have two layers – the hard outer layer, and a thin, flexible inner membrane. As the egg freezes, the egg yolk and white expand, and can crack the egg. If they don’t sit for too long, or if the weather is not terribly cold, they don’t crack; however, if they get too cold, or stay frozen for long enough, they will develop cracks in the shell, and sometimes even the inner membrane is affected. Some days (especially the -40 days), we are collecting nothing but cracked eggs.

chicken eggs that have frozen and cracked

Frozen eggs are fine to just thaw and eat, and if they haven’t cracked, they can be stored as usual in the fridge or root cellar with no special treatment. While we haven’t done an actual comparison, we haven’t noticed any significant difference in how frozen eggs cook, nor how long they store.

Eggs with a cracked shell but intact membrane are fine to cook and eat, as long as they are not poopy or dirty, but the cracks will allow bacteria in, so they should be used up right away, and thoroughly cooked – we won’t even taste cookie dough made with cracked eggs, just to be on the safe side. We just let them thaw in a dish on the counter, then use them as soon as they are liquid again.

The odd egg is so badly frozen that even the inside membrane is broken. We don’t eat those ones, as there is just too much chance of contamination. You could, I suppose, if you were desperate, but I’d recommend making sure they were thoroughly cooked to a high temperature (something way beyond soft boiled or over-easy), as there is a lot of bacteria even in the cleanest nesting box. We just cook them up right away in a nice porridge to feed to the dogs, who appreciate a hot meal on those cold days.

an egg that has frozen to the point that the shell has cracked and the inner membrane damaged

By Jess

Starting Asparagus From Seed

March 13, 2019 | Gardening | 5 Comments

Asparagus seed packets and a tray of dirt.

I get a little frustrated with my access to garden plants, sometimes. There are no fruit tree nurseries in the nearest town, and only a couple of big-box stores that carry garden stuff; the locally-owned place shut down last fall. There are a couple of bedding plant places, but they don’t generally have much (or anything) for perennial plants.

Big box stores are frustrating places to try to buy perennials. Far too often, I see zone 4 or even 5 stuff being sold; a lot of tree and shrub buyers are going to be disappointed the first time their purchases encounter a normal winter.

I am also sick of winter. Seriously sick of winter. The local news pointed out that we had 67 consecutive days that did not come above freezing; more than half of them were -30 or colder. The days are getting longer, but the snow is still at least thigh deep across most of our acreage, and while it is around freezing, it’s not really warm. This is probably a taste of our new normal with climate change. The hype had us all set for growing mangoes on the prairies in my lifetime, but instead it’s looking more like drought and polar vortexes and forest fire smoke. Blech.

Showing snowdrifts in my yard - I am sick of winter!

Clearly, I needed something to get into a better headspace. What better than playing in some dirt?

I ordered a couple of asparagus seed packets over the winter, since there are only three (!) varieties of asparagus that I have come across to order as roots online in Canada. What the heck, Canada? I’m all about the diversity, and have been pretty disappointed about the Mary Washington / Jersey Giant / Sweet Purple asparagus options.

Luckily, Baker Creek had a couple of new options I hadn’t seen before – Connovers Colossal and Precoce D’Argenteuil. Ordering those effectively doubles my asparagus options. I have never tried growing asparagus from seed, though, so it may or may not work out as planned. Some of our asparagus has self-seeded before, as we’ve found tiny little fronds in the garden, but we haven’t tried to do it on purpose, up until now. Stay tuned for updates in a few months.

The seed packets indicated to start the seeds 8-12 weeks prior to last frost, and here we are, 11 (or so) weeks from our anticipated planting date. Perfect timing.

So I got out all of my seed starting supplies (hello, old friends!) and played in the dirt for a bit. Besides the asparagus, I planted a bunch of seeds for perennial flowers that will attract bees and butterflies. Black Eyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers, and some Speedwell – pretty things for the flowerbeds I plan to dig in the front lawn this spring.

Now we just need this snow to go…

A tray of asparagus being started from seed

By Jess

16 Hardy Apple Trees for Zone 2 & 3

March 9, 2019 | Orchard | 2 Comments

Two green and red apples on a branch.

A lot of people have the impression that there isn’t much we can grow here in Zones 2 and 3. While we won’t be growing citrus or peaches or sweet cherries, there is a surprising selection of fruit trees that survive or even thrive in our climate.

Apples are the original prairie hardy fruit tree – at least when you are discussing introduced varieties. We have a crab apple tree here that is probably original to the house (from the 1950’s), and there are many older apple trees in the various towns and farmyards around here. Apples are particularly nice for the homestead, because many varieties store well in a root cellar for several months, allowing you to harvest them and put them into storage without having to can, dry, or freeze them.

Most Prairie apples are smaller and more tart than what you would buy at the grocery store…especially since the apples at the store seem to be getting sweeter and sweeter! Recent breeding programs have improved many varieties, but there are also older favorites that are worth a look. The University of Saskatchewan has posted a fantastic article from 1991 by breeder Roger Vick, which discusses the history and development of Prairie-hardy apples, with a list of ‘recommended’ varieties; it also includes a list and brief description of all of the hardy named varieties at that time.

The University of Saskatchewan also has extensive descriptions of the apples they grow at their test site, which are worth checking out.

The Hardy Fruit and Nut Trees of Alberta group on Facebook is another great resource for growing fruit in difficult conditions.

I have made a big list of Canadian bare root fruit tree suppliers, but some of them are located in relatively warm zones in Ontario and Quebec, so you will need to pay a bit of attention to what rootstocks they are using. We prefer Antonovka (full size trees) and Bud 118 (Semi-dwarf trees) for our cold, windy, and drought-prone location; other rootstocks might be just as good or even better for you, depending on your minimum temperatures, soil type, and rainfall. It is also worth noting that most apple trees require a pollenator, so check your neighborhood to see if there is an apple or crab apple nearby, or plan to plant two trees.

A red apple hanging from a branch.
Image by pixel2013 on pixabay.

Here are sixteen hardy apple varieties that are on our homestead or our wish list, with links to some reputable suppliers that carry those varieties (at least as of spring, 2019):

Battleford (zone 2) – a classic Prairie apple! The Battleford apple was selected here in Saskatchewan, and is very hardy. They are also quite early, ripening in mid-August. It is best used as a cooking apple. Silver Creek Nursery carries these.

Cortland (zone 3) – Another old selection, that was released in 1915. Cortland apples are fairly late for the Prairies, ripening in October. They are reputed to be quite disease resistant, and the apples themselves are slow to brown, making them especially good for drying; they are also sweet enough to eat out of hand. Silver Creek Nursery and Whiffletree carry these.

Fireside (zone 3) – An older (early 1900’s) selection that is reported to be quite sweet and juicy. They ripen in mid-October, and are said to be excellent keepers. I haven’t gotten one of these yet, as my focus has been on earlier apples – I am not convinced that a mid-October would have a chance to ripen here, most years; however, it’s on my wishlist as a sweet apple that is a long-keeper. Silver Creek Nursery carries these.

Honeycrisp (zone 3) – A newer apple that is quite popular. We have a Honeycrisp here at our place that has survived some very low temperatures (below -40), and we are quite pleased with how well the apples store. In our area, the apples are pretty tart at harvest, but they get sweeter in the root cellar. Most of the sites indicate that Honeycrisp is difficult to grow, but ours has done well with no special care. I think we got our Honeycrisp from T&T Seeds, but Whiffletree and Silver Creek also carry them.

A cold-hardy zone 3 Honeycrisp apple
A Honeycrisp apple from our own tree

Lautz (zone 3) – This one is on our wish list, as it is reported to be a very long-storing variety that will keep up to 6 months. Hardy Fruit Trees carries these.

Minnesota 447 / Frostbite apple (zone 3) – These are an older variety, which was identified and used for breeding other apple varieties in the early to mid-1900’s, but not released as a named variety until 2008. The flavor of these apples is described as being intense and sweet, and they are reported to be excellent storage apples, lasting up to a year in commercial storage. These are not a vigorous tree this far north, but I really wanted to try one, just for the storage time. They ripen in mid-October. We got ours from a local nursery, but they are also carried by Whiffletree

Norkent apple (zone 2) – Bred in Morden, Manitoba, Norkent is a very hardy tree, with good quality eating apples. Norkents are supposed to be decent storing apples, as well, storing up to 14 weeks, though they are reported to lose flavor towards the end of the storage time. They ripen in mid to late August. We got ours from Whiffletree, but they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees and T&T Seeds.

Norland apple (zone 2) – A very hardy medium-sized apple that is good for fresh eating or making applesauce. Norlands ripen fairly early – in mid-August, which is handy in our short season. They are also reported to bear fruit quite young, though we haven’t gotten fruit from ours, yet. We got our Norland apple tree from a local nursery, but they are also carried by Silver Creek

Nova Easygro (zone 3) – These newer apples have been described as ideal for organic growers, as they are very disease resistant, and will store for a couple of months. They are also reported to be a tasty apple, with crisp white flesh and a sweet flavor. It is on our wish list because of the disease resistance, but has not been a priority due to their late ripening (mid-October), which is late enough in the season that we probably would not get ripe apples most years in our location. Silver Creek and Whiffletree carry these.

Parkland apple (zone 2) – Parkland apples are extremely cold hardy (though susceptible to fireblight), and are grown as far north as Alaska. They are described as being tart in flavor, but they are very early (early August) and will keep for a couple of months. We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery; they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees.

Prairie Sensation (zone 2) – A University of Saskatchewan release from 2006, Prairie Sensation is described as an aromatic apple with a pleasant, mild flavor. It is also supposed to be a good storage apple. They ripen in mid-September, which is perfect for our season. We ordered one of these from Whiffletree for 2019.

an apple tree branch with apples on it
Image by Capri23auto on pixabay

Red Astrachan apple (zone 3) – These were developed in Russia in the 1700’s, and are reported to be very flavorful. They are a fairly early apple, ripening in mid-August. We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery, and I haven’t seen them anywhere else.

September Ruby apple (zone 2) – A super-hardy apple with medium-sized fruit that is good for eating or cooking. As the name suggests, they ripen in early September, and are said to be a good keeper (up to 4 months). We got ours from Whiffletree.

Sweet Sixteen apple (zone 3) – These apples are described as having a complex flavor that is almost spicy, and that taste better when grown in cold climates. They are fairly disease-resistant, and are said to store well, though I haven’t seen anyone commit to exactly how long they will store for. Sweet Sixteen apples ripen in early October. We got ours from Whiffletree Nursery, but they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees and Silver Creek.

Wealthy apple (zone 3) – Wealthy apples are an heirloom variety that dates back to the mid-1800’s. They are reported to be juicy and sweet, as well as disease resistant, making them good for organic growing. They ripen in early September, so they will ripen before things freeze here at our location. Wealthy apples are on our wish list. Hardy Fruit Trees, Whiffletree, and Silver Creek Nurseries carry them.

Wolf River apple (zone 3) – These are a heritage cooking apple that are renowned for their large size. They are fairly late (early October), and susceptible to fireblight, but are resistant to most other apple diseases. I was quite taken with the idea of producing huge apples, though it will be hit-and-miss with our early freezes. Our tree hasn’t produced fruit yet, but I am excited to see how big they are when it finally does! We got ours from Silver Creek Nursery; they are also carried by Hardy Fruit Trees.

If you missed it earlier, you can find links to a ton of Canadian fruit tree suppliers here.

Pin it for later:

Sixteen Hardy Apple Trees for Zone 2 and 3 - Rural Dreams

By Jess

13 Tasty Carrot Recipes

March 6, 2019 | Recipes | No Comments

whole carrots with greens on a cutting board

After doing the food storage report, I decided that we really needed to get using up the carrots. A lot of the apples are mostly past where we are willing to use them, and so a couple of apple crisps will use up the rest; however, we still have quite a lot of carrots that will need using pretty soon.

I went poking around on the internet, and came up with a bunch of tasty-looking carrot recipes. Most of them use pretty simple ingredients, and are straightforward to make (we generally don’t do fussy cooking). Here’s a list of the recipes that looked tasty to me:

Slow Cooker Carrot Ginger Soup from The Busy Baker

carrot soup
Image courtesy Einladung_zum_Essen on pixabay

Carrot Baked Oatmeal from Annie’s Noms

Carrot Cake Pancakes from Taste of Home

WW2 Vintage Carrot Cookies from Melissa K. Norris

Carrot Cake from My Cake School

Mashed Carrots and Turnips from Bake. Eat. Repeat.

Whole Wheat Carrot and Honey Muffins from Skinny Ms.

carrot muffins
Image courtesy milliways42 on pixabay

Carrot Red Lentil Soup from Vegan Family Recipes

Cheesy Carrot Casserole from Num’s the Word

Carrot and Kale Vegetable Saute from Taste of Home

Spiced Carrot Bread With Vanilla Chips from Don’t Waste the Crumbs

Healthy Carrot Apple Pumpkin Muffins from Celebrating Sweets

Perfect Roasted Carrots from Cookie + Kate

Roasted carrots - photo courtesy of Kathryne Taylor of Cookie + Kate
Photo courtesy of Kathryne Taylor of Cookie + Kate blog.

PS – I love Pinterest. Really, really love it. Pinterest is fantastic for finding new recipes, which is a huge help when you are staring down a glut of something. I can’t even begin to describe how often I come in from the garden (or up from the root cellar) with so much of something that I know I’m going to be eating it every day for a couple of weeks, and need some novel ways to prepare it! I am building Pinterest boards of recipes for the various veggies I tend to get big harvests of – come on over and check out my Pinterest profile!

By Jess
Pumpkins, squash, apples, potatoes, and carrots that have been stored since harvest.

I want to keep track of what we’ve stored, how long it’s lasted, and how our storage conditions have fluctuated over time, so this is the start of a (hopefully) monthly(ish) report. It’s pretty late in the (storage) year to start this little project, but I think it is worth doing anyhow.

We specifically plant a lot of our garden with an eye to long-term storage vegetables. Our house has a lovely, dirt-floored root cellar built right in to the north-west corner of the basement, and that is the backbone of our vegetable storage. However, a few of our veggies prefer dry conditions; we store those in a spare bedroom with the furnace vent closed off, so it is quite cool (maybe 10-15 degrees Celsius), but not at all damp. While we also store a lot of produce by canning and freezing, it’s nice to be able to simply put a part of our harvest away, without having to process it in any way.

As of March 1, 2019, here is what’s still going strong:

Sugar Pie Pumpkins – these are a surprise to me, as the pumpkins usually get soft by late December for us. We stored them in the spare room, same as always; the only thing we did differently this year was dipping the stem ends in a bleach solution before bringing them in the house to harden off. We had one for supper a few days ago, and it was still perfect.

Red Kuri Squash – the Red Kuris usually last until sometime in March or April, so it’s not surprising that they are still doing fine.

Sweet Meat Squash – this is another variety that has a good shelf life for us.

Various cross-breed c. maxima squash – we’ve been doing a little breeding project in our garden, trying to come up with an improved c. maxima that will tolerate our short, often droughty seasons, taste good, and store well. We have a handful of squashes left that seem to be going strong; we will save seeds from these ones, for replanting in the spring.

orange winter squash

Spaghetti Squash – spaghetti squash is always a particularly good keeper for us, and they don’t even seem to care whether they are stored in warm or cool conditions. If we run out of space in the spare room (we usually do), the spaghetti squash goes into the pantry, or even on shelves in the kitchen! This year, we’ve got spaghetti squashes all over the house, and they are all still perfect.

Onions – our onions typically last until the chives come up in the spring. This year, we didn’t plant enough of them, and have had to supplement with store-bought; however, the few teeny onions we’ve got left are keeping just fine. We usually keep our onions in baskets in the spare room, though this year, they got moved to the basement around Christmas, because they were in the way.

Potatoes – potatoes are another long-storage champ for us. We have tried numerous varieties, and they all seem to keep very well. Our current potato stash is still going strong, and they normally hold out until sometime in late April or early May, when they tend to sprout and get bitter. They don’t rot, though, and are generally in fine condition for replanting by the time we’re ready to do so. We store the potatoes in burlap sacks in the root cellar.

Carrots – this year, we tried storing our carrots in perforated plastic vegetable bags in the root cellar, and they stored for considerably longer than they have in the past, when we put them in covered plastic bins. We also tried storing carrots in bins of sand, but that didn’t work out well at all – I suspect the sand was too dry, as the carrots shriveled up in just a couple of months. The carrots are starting to go a bit limp, now, and sprouting green tops, but they still taste fine.

Honeycrisp Apples – most of the Honeycrisps were stored in regular zip-top plastic bags and perforated vegetable bags in the root cellar. We didn’t do a good job of sorting through them over the winter to use up the ones that were going bad, so it’s hard to tell which type of bag was better for storage. However, the bags have held the apples much longer than last year, when we stored the apples in uncovered five-gallon buckets in the root cellar. We also tried storing some in a bag in the fridge, though the bag was not zipped tight. Most of the apples from all three storage methods are shriveled to some extent, though a handful are still quite firm.

A Honeycrisp apple that is still firm after almost 6 months in a root cellar

All of the apples I cut open had some extent of browning on the inside, but the majority are still edible. All were sweeter in flavor than they were in the fall, but the ones in the fridge had a stronger flavor and a somewhat better texture. While mealy and not exactly ideal for eating raw, the apples are still mostly edible, and could be used in a pie or crisp or porridge.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the veggie storage this year, as we managed to extend our storage season on several things. The pumpkins, carrots, and apples, in particular, are big wins.

By Jess

Ordering Bare Root Fruit Trees in Canada

March 1, 2019 | Orchard | No Comments

a row of young fruit trees in a grassy area

Just a couple of days ago, it was -35 at our place…and it’s almost March! While the newest zone map insists we are zone 3a, polar vortexes beg to differ, and drop us down into the -40 (and colder) range, which is pretty solidly zone 2. Locals say that these temperatures are actually closer to ‘normal’ than the 6 or so winters before; however, the extended (month-long) cold snaps are an anomaly. Climate change is clearly messing with weather patterns, and extended cold snaps may well be part of our new normal.

I suspect that long stretches of cold are not as hard on fruit trees as the melt-and-freeze cycle of chinooks that we used to get in Alberta, but we lost several of our young trees last winter, when we experienced similar long stretches of deep freeze. We plant several fruit trees and bushes every year, in the hopes of having a lush orchard at some point. This year, there were a couple of things I really wanted, so I ordered them very early, as they had sold out the year before. However, with all this cold, I am looking at ordering a few more trees to fill in the gaps I expect we’ll see in the orchard, come spring.

There are actually a pretty good selection of fruit trees that are rated zone 2 and 3 – the main trees that grow here are apples, pears, and plums, and there is a reasonable assortment of varieties from each type. However, there are not many tree nurseries that are actually within reasonable driving distance, which means we’re often ordering bare root fruit trees from far away.

We normally order bare-root trees. Bare-root trees are trees that have been grown in fields (rather than in pots), then dug up, washed off, and shipped by mail. We’ve had excellent success with bare-root trees; we’ve only had a few that did not start leafing out within a few weeks of planting, which is a pretty good success rate, when you consider how many trees we’ve planted. Our trees don’t always make it through the winters, though, which is mostly our own fault – we tend to ‘push’ zones a bit, and try out varieties that may not be fully hardy in our area.

A newly planted bare root fruit tree that has not leafed out yet

Because we’re often ordering from far away, we’ve found there are a couple of things we really have to pay attention to.

A lot of the Canadian fruit tree nurseries that will ship trees (the majority, really) are in southern Ontario and Quebec. Most of them are at least zone 5, and a couple are as warm as zone 7. Nurseries generally strive to be accurate in their zone assessments, but a zone 5 or 6 nursery is not going to be able to conclusively say that any given tree will ‘make it’ in zone 2 or 3. Sometimes things are not quite as hardy as advertised, so there is an element of risk when you are ordering from a nursery several zones warmer than you.

The odd nursery really stretches credibility with their zone ratings, so if something seems too good to be true, like a peach or a sweet cherry that is rated hardy to zone 3…well, I recommend you put your wallet down and save your money, or maybe go buy a lottery ticket, instead.

The other issue that we occasionally come across is a perfectly hardy cultivar that is grafted on a rootstock that won’t take real prairie winter. We’ve found we really have to watch this with pears, as some of them are grafted on OhxF rootstocks, which are only supposed to be zone 4 hardy, or Quince A, which simply won’t take our winters at all.

We prefer full-sized Antonovka rootstock for our apple trees, as it seems to do well with both cold and drought, which are our big challenges. We’ve also got several apples on B118 rootstock that have survived at least a couple of winters, and seem to be thriving.

Our plums and apricots are generally grafted on Mustang rootstock, which handles prairie winter just fine. Last year, we ordered a couple of plums on Myrobalan, which is supposed to be fairly hardy, though I’ve never seen a zone rating; this winter will be a good test for them, as it has been very cold.

I do recommend ordering bare-root trees, overall. If you pay close attention to the rootstocks, and cross-reference zone ratings (especially for things that seem too good to be true), you can get access to a much wider variety of cultivars, and it is often considerably cheaper to order bare-root trees than to buy potted trees at the local big-box store.

I’ve created a big list of reputable Canadian bare-root fruit tree nurseries – check it out!

By Jess

Red Kuri Squash Muffin Recipe

February 26, 2019 | Recipes | No Comments

A photo of Red Kuri winter squash muffins, to illustrate our recipe

Around this time of year, we’re all about the squash. Our pumpkins have usually given up by late December or early January (though this year, they are still going strong at the end of February, which is amazing!), and we are on to the c. maxima squash, which tend to be better keepers for us. However, even the best of our c. maximas don’t usually last much past early April, so by February and March, we’re motivated to use them up.

Two Red Kuri winter squashes

One of our favorite c. maxima varieties are Red Kuri squash. They are a cute little teardrop shaped squash (around 3-5 pounds), that has a gorgeous deep red-ish orange color. They generally keep until sometime in March for us, and they are very dense, with a distinctive nutty flavor that is not as sweet as our other favorite c. maximas (Sweet Meats). We often use Red Kuri squash as a substitute for sweet potatoes in various savory recipes, because they hold their shape fairly well when cooked. However, sometimes, it’s nice to highlight the squash for what it really is.

A Red Kuri winter squash, cut in half.

These muffins are a nice way to use up some Red Kuri squashes, especially late in the year when they can sometimes get soft spots, and roasting and mashing is simpler than trying to cut out the spots and still get nice cubes. They are great for a hearty winter breakfast, with a bit of a gingersnap flavor.

Red Kuri Muffins:

2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 Tablespoon fresh grated ginger

2 cups red kuri squash, roasted and puréed (to roast the squash, just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast in the oven at 350 degrees F until it is soft when you check it with a fork. Refrigerate or freeze leftover purée)

3 eggs

1.5 Tablespoons molasses

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

In a large bowl, mix puréed squash, eggs, olive oil, and molasses until well blended. Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined, but don’t over-mix, as the texture of the muffins will suffer.

Stir the raisins into the batter.

Spoon the batter into paper-lined muffin tins and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Serve warm with butter.

Red Kuri squash, and muffins from our recipe

By Jess
A photo of three parsnips

Usually, Seedy Saturday (or Sunday) is in March in our nearest town. Seedy Saturday is a really cool event – in our town, there are speakers, seed and garden vendors, a few activities for the kids, and some information tables about permaculture, composting, local environmental initiatives, and such. It’s held in the basement of our local library, and one of the neat offshoots of the event is that our book library now also has a seed library – a filing cabinet full of donated seeds that people can take, grow out, and later replace with seeds they’ve saved.

With the kids being little, and not very patient, our ventures into Seedy Saturday have been brief, and we haven’t been able to stay for the speakers or activities. This year, the kids are a bit bigger, and have more of an attention span. We hummed and hawed about whether or not to go, though, since I’ve already ordered more garden seeds than we really need, and it’s a long drive into town, plus it’s -30 today, which saps everyone’s motivation to leave the house!

But…

…but there is the Parsnip Lady.

Last year, one of the vendors (Prairie Garden Seeds) talked us into trying parsnips. We followed her advice, and the parsnips did very well in our garden. We had a good harvest, and found several ways to cook them that we really enjoy – even the kids enjoy their ‘parsnippitys’ (as our youngest has dubbed them).

Unfortunately, parsnip seeds don’t last very well. From what I’ve read, germination goes way down even after just one year. I want to grow a lot of parsnips this year, since we enjoyed them so much, and they should keep for a while in the root cellar. We weren’t able to save seeds from the parsnips last year, because parsnips are biennial – they grow big roots the first year, then flower and set seed the second year.

The lady from Prairie Garden Seeds told us that one of her varieties of parsnip (the Short Thick) can be overwintered right in the garden, even in zone 2, with a bit of protection. We dumped a couple of bales of straw over the end of the parsnip row last fall, and hopefully, they will have survived the brutal cold, and will grow and flower for us this summer. Meanwhile, we needed to buy seed if we are going to plant the Short Thick parsnips again this year, as I haven’t been able to find them anywhere else.

So, we packed up and headed in to Seedy Saturday. One $4 packet of parsnip seed later, we were ready to go…except there is no such thing as just buying one packet of seed. The Prairie Garden Seeds lady talked us into trying melons this year…so we’ll see how that goes! I also picked up a couple of books, bringing the total up significantly. I’m glad we went, though, and now I’ve got parsnip seeds to overwinter again, to tide us over until this year’s seed crop is ready (which will hopefully work out okay!)

A handful of seed packets from Prairie Garden Seeds

By Jess

Protecting Fruit Trees From Deer and Rabbits

February 24, 2019 | Orchard | No Comments

A young fruit tree that has been damaged by deer browsing and rabbits chewing the bark

Our first year here at the acreage, we planted over a dozen fruit trees – apples, plums, pears, and some smaller fruit bushes like currants and hazelnuts. We were pretty excited to get going with this whole homesteading thing!

Winter that year was fairly mild, and we didn’t run into any issues with the new trees. The next winter, however, was long and cold, with tons of snow and huge drifts. The wildlife really suffered in the cold weather, and they came right up close to the house to chew on our poor little fruit trees. The rabbits stripped the bark off the trunks, and the deer just bit the branches right off!

The wildlife damaged the trees so badly that a couple of them died, and several more were seriously set back, which was a sad and expensive lesson for us. We needed to figure out how to keep the critters from decimating our orchard.

Young fruit tree damaged by rabbits chewing the bark off

Coincidentally, that spring, we were doing some fencing, to create a pen for our buck goats. Goats are real escape artists, so the fences needed to be particularly tight. We had purchased rolls of tall wire mesh fencing, and, as they unrolled, we got the idea to fence the wildlife out of the trees, using the leftover bits of goat fence.

Basically, we just used roll ends to create circles of fence around each individual tree. Each fall before it snows, we bring out the ‘tree cages’, and set them up around vulnerable trees in the orchard. If they are tippy, we peg them to the ground using tent pegs, or use step-in electric fencing posts to hold up the fence, which adds a lot of stability; we don’t want the wire falling on the tender trees and bending or breaking them. Once it has snowed a couple of times, the snow does a good job of keeping the cages firmly in place.

A fruit tree surrounded by fencing to protect it from deer and rabbit damage

The fencing we use has very small mesh – 2×4 inches – and keeps the rabbits out. It is also quite tall – 5 feet – so it protects the trees from hungry deer, as well. Rabbits are terrible for chewing through the bark all the way around young trees – this is called girdling, and can kill the tree. We sometimes have problems with mice gnawing the tree trunks, as well, so we also put spiral plastic trunk guards on the youngest trees, to keep them from being girdled by smaller rodents.

In a few years, once the trees are well established and taller than deer can kill by browsing, we don’t bother with the cages anymore, though we do still put the spiral guards on the trees with thinner trunks.

In the spring, we remove the fencing, and store it away in a shed.

We haven’t lost a tree to wildlife since we started this, though our yard does look a little funny in the winter!

A winter scene showing caged trees and a small red barn.

By Jess