Roots and Shoots Farm Tour 2014 – Part 2: The Fields

A few weeks ago, I visited Roots and Shoots for their annual farm tour. I’ve already posted the first set of photos of the various greenhouses.

After touring the greenhouses, we moved on to the fields.

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This field is white with floating row cover. The lightweight garden fabric protect plants from cold and wind, block insects, and prevents the spread of disease. It also keeps the soil and plants from overheating. It is especially useful at the beginning of a plant’s life in the field, before it has grown large enough to fend for itself. I think the kale, chard, and romaine lettuce were hiding out in this field.

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Danny B, our tour guide, is also the CSA and Market Manager at Roots and Shoots Farm. A native of England, he’s been with the farm since its first year in 2010. Here he is standing a field of carrots, beets, and Hakurei turnips.

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The field is in need of weeding, which is all done by hand! That’s part and parcel for an organic farm that can’t use any herbicide for weed suppression. I’ve heard weeding is something the interns do….:)

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I had so much fun taking pictures of Danny’s shoes!

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One of the most important parts of organic farming is crop rotation. Crop rotation is a systematic approach to deciding which crop to plant where in each field from one year to the next. Crop rotation helps balance soil fertility and aids in disease and pest prevention. This is a buckwheat field. When the time is right, the buckwheat will be mowed down and tilled back into the soil. This will add vital nutrients to the soil, preparing it for next year’s planting.

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Oh the Allium family, how I love thee! Onions and garlic grow here. The garlic variety is called, “Music”. How lovely! “Music” is the most popular type of garlic grown in Ontario. The black, biodegradable mulch keeps the weeds at bay, and helps trap heat, helping the plants grow.  The straw in between the beds of biodegradable mulch also keeps the weeds down and provides tonnes of organic matter for the soil.

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Do you know what vegetable this is? It’s the unfamiliar top to a ubiquitous root vegetable. No? Potato!! This year, they’ve planted some fun varieties in addition to the stalwart Russet. We’ll be getting Russian Blue (blue skin and blue flesh) and Adirondack All-Red (red skin and red flesh) in our CSA this year.

That’s it for the fields at Roots and Shoots Farm. Next post will cover the harvesting and storage of veggies before they go to the CSA pickups and markets.

Roots and Shoots Farm Tour 2014 – Part 1: The Greenhouses

Last year I signed up for my first CSA (community shared agriculture) share at Roots and Shoots Farm. Every other week from June to October I received delicious, organic, local produce as part of my half-share. It was a great experience, and I was especially happy to be supporting local farmers. When registration opened for this year’s CSA, I signed up right away.

Each year, Roots and Shoots offers CSA shareholders a tour of their organic farm in Manotick Station, Ontario. It’s a great opportunity to learn about organic farming and meet the people who will be growing and harvesting your food all season. So this year, on a cloudy Saturday in June, some friends who are new to the CSA and I headed out the farm.

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The first place on the farm we visited was the seedling greenhouse. Jess Weatherhead, Owner and Farm Manager, grows all the seedlings. She also creates the farm schedule and tells the labourers when to plant the seedlings in the field.

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The seedling greenhouse is the only one that is heated. Since they don’t need all the space, they rent out a portion to a local micro greens grower.

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The farm has a few other greenhouses where they grow selected crops. Danny B., our tour guide, explained that the a lot of vegetables from the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers) didn’t fare well in the field last year. This year, they’re growing a lot of them in the greenhouses. The field tomatoes and peppers are growing under temporary “caterpillar tunnels”, which protect them from the rain and give them a big heat boost.

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The tomato greenhouse. The crop greenhouses aren’t heated, but they do have air pumped between the two thick sheets of plastic that cover them. This keeps the plastic taught against the greenhouse frame and prevents tears.

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They grow basil and parsley between the tomato plants. This is called “companion planting”. Companion planting is an organic way of discouraging harmful pests without losing the beneficial allies. Basil repels flies and mosquitoes while improving growth and flavor. And we get fresh herbs in our CSA share!

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The cucumbers!

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A beautiful cucumber flower.

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Orient express eggplant. Its beautiful purple flower will turn into a delicious eggplant.

I’ve got lots more pictures of the farm to share with you, so come back soon for part 2 of the tour: the fields!

Why I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions and the “Vegan Experiment”

I don’t really like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. They tend to be vague ideas or goals about something we’d like to change about ourselves. They are rarely actionable, and they don’t usually come with a well thought out plan. That’s why they are often short lived, our will-power fizzling out sometimes even before spring returns.

Despite all of this, I am implementing some new habits and experimenting with others in 2014. I actually started on this path in early December, so not exactly New Year’s Resolutions. 😉

One of my new commitments is to my health; all aspects of my health Seeing as I love food and love to cook, my diet is the first thing I’m changing. I’ve been reading a lot of books; mostly on veganism, macrobiotics, and whole foods. While there are a lot of compelling reasons to become a vegan, I’m not sure it’s for me. Despite this, I challenged myself to eat a vegan diet for a week earlier this month. My “vegan experiment” taught me a lot about food, meal planning, and making healthy choices. I also cooked a lot of yummy food!

While I’m not switching to a vegan lifestyle, I am making a conscientious effort to eat more organic and whole foods, and reduce my meat and dairy consumption. I’m also trying to eat as healthily as possible. I’ve nearly cut out white sugar and refined foods. I’m also eating as little processed food as a can, opting to cook a many meals a possible.

I even cut out most caffeine! Those who know me know I love my daily latte. I’ve switched to a green tea called Kukicha. It’s made from the twigs and stems of the Camellia sinensis plant, instead of the leaves, which are used to produce green and black tea. It has a light flavour and has 90% less caffeine than regular green tea. Kukicha is lovely and I feel more mellow now that I’ve significantly reduced my caffeine intake for the last month.

Making all these changes all at once poses its challenges, but I’ve prepared myself for success by planning ahead as much as possible. What I really want to share with you are the new recipes I’ve been making. They are delicious, and really good for you!

Here’s a sneak peak at some of the yummy food I’ve been making so far.

Garlic Chickpeas and Scarlet roasted vegetables
Garlic chickpeas and scarlet roasted vegetables

How to Turn Tired Vegetables into Liquid Gold

Sauteing vegetables to make vegetable stock

Do you ever find yourself with tired, wilted veggies, that you don’t know what to do with? Don’t throw them out! Instead, use them to make beautiful, liquid gold: homemade vegetable stock.

Vegetable stock is the easiest of all the stocks to make. It only simmers for an hour, unlike the three or four hours meat or fish stocks require. It’s also a great base for soup!

Generally speaking, any vegetable except those from the cruciferous family can be used in a vegetable stock. Also, too many carrots can make the stock too sweet.

This afternoon, I made a batch of vegetable stock, knowing I would use it to make a pot of Minestrone Soup on Monday. I vary the stock recipe each time I make it, dependent on the vegetables I have available to me.

Here’s my Recipe for Vegetable Stock

Ingredients

1 tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, well washed and chopped

4 medium onions, chopped

5 large carrots, peeled and chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped.

1 small rutabaga (about 1 cup), peeled and chopped

2 – 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely

1 small bunch of parsley

1 teaspoon of whole dried thyme

2 dried bay leaves

8 cups of water

Directions

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. I like to use a stock pot.

Add the vegetables and stir-fry for about 10-15 minutes to brown lightly.

Sauteing vegetables to make vegetable stock
Sautéing vegetables.

Add the thyme, bay leaves, and cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for one hour.

Strain the stock through a fine sieve of a cheesecloth-lined colander. Press or squeeze the vegetables to extract their liquid. Discard the vegetables.

Use the stock as called for in your favourite recipes or chill and freezer for later use.

What to do with your Stock

I saved my stock for a vegetarian Minestrone Soup to make on Monday. I’ll share that recipe with you later this week.

Hope you see just how easy it is to make your own homemade vegetable stock. Now you can put those tired vegetable to good use, and waste less in your kitchen!

Happy cooking!