Wednesday 21 September 2022

A Walk on the Commons with Judith

Lady Fern beside Sword Fern



Twinflower (Linnaea borealis)

The Pond

Grand Fir

Evergreen Blackberry 

Queen Anne’s Lace

 At the Fall Fair 2022, Judith Roux and Susan Yates led us on a walk through all of the ecosystems on the Commons. Here are some of the plants we observed:

Tuesday 4 September 2018

All about Calendula

Calendula makes an excellent skin cream that improves skin firmness and hydration. An antiseptic and anti-inflammatory herb, it is excellent for healing wounds by promoting cell repair and growth, speeding up the healing process. It is good for treating chapped skin, scrapes, burns, rashes, bruises, skin ulcers, skin infections, varicose veins, insect bites, fungal conditions such as athlete’s foot, and eczema.  For babies it is helps treat cradle cap, diaper rash and other skin irritations.  Calendula also has been shown to help prevent dermatitis or skin inflammation in people with breast cancer during radiation therapy.

The botanical name, Calendula, is derived from Latin, calendae, meaning little calendar or clock and has long been associated with the sun, as the flowers open at sunrise and close at sunset. As October’s flower, it symbolizes endurance, which makes sense since it blooms from April until the first frost.

A sun herb, it strengthens the heart and thus the spirits. It warms our hearts toward others, so that we can be compassionate to others. Some say calendula builds psychic powers and induces prophetic dreams.

Thursday 25 January 2018

Sunchokes (Helianthus tuberosus)

If you visit the little field, you will see a big clump of sunchokes.  More commonly known as Jerusalem artichokes, they are not related to artichokes, and are native to the northeastern U.S. They are actually tubers of a perennial sunflower that produces edible low-starch tubers that look like small potatoes and taste like water chestnuts.  They are very easy to grow, although the flowers are small and unassuming on top of these tall 5-10 feet high plants. Once established, they are fairly drought resistant.

The sunchoke is best planted in a dedicated bed as they spread rapidly and may be difficult to remove completely.  I learnt this the hard way, as I removed a bed of these growing by my garage and was careless with where I put the soil and tubers.  Soon we had huge clumps of them growing in mad abandon in several different places, which required a great deal of work to remove.

Sunchokes will keep in the fridge for 7-10 days.  They can be frozen or left in the ground, and can be harvested between September and March.

They are great for soup, and here is a recipe to try:

Sunchoke and Garlic Soup 
Serves 8
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound sunchokes, scrubbed and chopped
2 small waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold, red or new potatoes), scrubbed and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch dried red chili flakes
6 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper

Fresh chopped baby kale for garnish
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over high. Add the sunchokes, potatoes, and onion. Sauté about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and optional chili flakes, and continue cooking until the vegetables are lightly browned. Add the stock and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil then lower the heat to low. When soup settles into a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes and sunchokes are tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves and then process the soup either with an immersion blender, or in a blender in small batches, until smooth. Check for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, as desired.
Garnish and serve.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Flower for every month of the year

My everblooming pink rose
Last year I was told that there are flowers that bloom every month of the year on Gabriola.  Given the unusually cold and snowy winter we had, I had difficulty believing that claim.

In my garden, I have an amazing little pink rose that has been blooming since the summer.  This picture was taken on January 7th.

What is blooming in your garden?  If you send me a picture I would love to share it.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

How the Little Field was named

How big does a vegetable plot need to be to be called a field? With the average farm size in BC being about 350 acres, the field where we currently grow our vegetables clearly falls in the category of “little field”.  (In case you were wondering, there is no “big field” on the Commons.)

By way of comparison, the smallest regulation-size soccer fields are 50 yards by 100 yards, or 1.03 acres. 

The Commons Farm, which has 26 acres, with only a few acres under cultivation, falls in the most common farm size in British Columbia (about 37% or 7,250 farms).  Some 27% of BC farms have fewer 10 acres,  with many of these smaller farms located in the lower mainland, southern and eastern parts of Vancouver Island, and parts of the Okanagan in the southern interior. Only about 18% of BC farms have more than 240 acres.  

While total gross annual revenue generated by BC farms in 2016 was over $3 million, on average just under half of all farms earn less than $10,000 annually, and less than 6% generate a gross annual revenue of over $500,000. 

Saturday 23 September 2017

Puffmaranth – Recipe for Popped Amaranth

If you remember how to make popcorn on the stove, this is basically the same technique.  You could also try putting some in a paper bag and popping it in the microwave for about 12-15 seconds.

6 Tbsp raw amaranth will yield ~2 cups.
  1. Heat a small to medium pot over med-high/high heat. Test if the pot is hot enough by adding a drop of water.  If it instantly balls up, dances around in the pot, and evaporates you’re good to go. 
  2. Once hot, add in 1-2 tablespoons raw amaranth (a thin layer across the bottom), then cover with a lid and quickly shimmy/slide the pot back and forth just above the burner.  If your heat is set correctly it should start popping within 1-3 seconds and finish within 10-15 seconds.  It burns very quickly! 
  3. Just as the amaranth pops are slowing, empty it into a bowl. 
  4. Replace the pan back on the burner to heat back up for 15-30 seconds. 
  5. Repeat the popping process until desired amount has been reached. 
  6. Let cool in the bowl. 
  • Wear oven mitts!  The heat gets intense when you’re making multiple batches.  
  • If you don’t cover the pot, amaranth will pop everywhere
  •  It is crucial that your pot is fully heated.  If the amaranth doesn’t start popping within 3 seconds your pan is not hot enough. If the amaranth instantly burns your heat is too hot. 
  • Dump the amaranth into the bowl just as the popping is slowing down.  If you wait until it is completely stopped it will burn. 
  • If you’re using an electric burner you may have to slide the pot back and forth on the burner and not above it. 
  • If you let the popped grain fully cool you can store it in a sealed container in the fridge for at least a few weeks. 

Friday 18 August 2017

Beautiful gluten-free amaranth - a forbidden crop

Have you started growing amaranth yet? If you visit the little field you will see this beautiful plant that can grow up to 8 feet high, making it both a lovely ornamental plant and excellent nutritional source of gluten-free food. Like quinoa, amaranth is not technically a grain but is the seed.  One plant can produce up to 60,000 seeds.
Amaranth was a key part of the diets of the pre-Columbian Aztecs, and it was used both for food and as part of their religious ceremonies. Sadly, when Cortez and the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, amaranth crops were burned and its use forbidden. 
Amaranth has a protein content of about 13%, which is much higher than most other grains.  It has twice as much protein as a cup of long-grain rice (26 grams of protein in one cup).  It also contains lysine, making it a complete protein containing all of the essential amino acids.
It is a source of key vitamins and minerals - calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron.  One cup of uncooked amaranth has 31% of the recommended dietary allowance of calcium, 14 percent for vitamin C, and a whopping 82 percent for iron. 
Amaranthus, collectively known as amaranth, is a cosmopolitan genus of annual or short-lived perennial plants. Some amaranth species are cultivated as leaf vegetables, cereals, and ornamental plants. Most of the Amaranthus species are summer annual weeds and are commonly referred to as pigweed.
This plant is hardy, preferring a high elevation, but can grow at almost any elevation in temperate climates if it has moist, loose soil with good drainage.  It can also survive in low-water conditions once the plants have been established. Considered a native plant of Peru, it is now grown around the world in countries including China, Russia, Thailand, Nigeria, Canada, the US, and Mexico, and has become a part of the cuisines of India, Nepal and the African continent.
More than 60 different species exist of this super food. The leaves of the amaranth plant are also edible. Commonly used in Asian and Caribbean cuisines, they can be stir-fried or chopped and added to soup. Amaranth porridge is a traditional breakfast in Peru, India, Mexico and Nepal. Popped amaranth is used in Mexico as a topping for toast that looks like tiny popcorn kernels and has a nutty taste.
It has been estimated that amaranth was first domesticated 6,000 to 8,000 years ago - and considering how easily and quickly it grows, that makes sense!
Amaranth is good for your heart - several studies have shown that amaranth could have cholesterol-lowering potential. For example, a 2003 study published in Guelph showed that amaranth has phytosterols, which have cholesterol-cutting properties.
Among its other impressive nutritional stats, amaranth is a good source of fibre, with 13 grams of dietary fibre per uncooked cup compared to 2 grams found in long-grain white rice.
In my next post I will explore some more of the history of this fascinating plant and how it was used by the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

A Walk on the Commons with Judith

Lady Fern beside Sword Fern Goldenrod Cascara Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) The Pond Grand Fir Evergreen Blackberry  Queen Anne’s Lace  At t...

About Me

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A spiritual wanderlust, linguist, yogini, foodie and gardener, my travels have taken me across South and Central America. Through my love of languages I ended up being a multilingual translator for many years. Now you will find me creating a new garden on beautiful Gabriola, BC.