Earth, our home

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot
• At the time of writing it’s Earthweek, a great time to be reminded of the Earth Charter created as a follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit. The document was developed over a decade of extensive international consultation and in this column I’d like to share an extract from their website. I also encourage you to read the charter at www.earthcharterinaction.org/content/

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward, we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace.

Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life and to future generations. Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life. The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution. The resilience of the community of life and the well being of humanity depend upon preserving a healthy biosphere with all its ecological systems, a rich variety of plants and animals, fertile soils, pure waters, and clean air.

The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity and beauty is a sacred trust.

We must realize that, when basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more. We have the knowledge and technology to provide for all and to reduce our impacts on the environment… To realize these aspirations, we must decide to live with a sense of universal responsibility, identifying ourselves with the whole Earth community as well as our local communities. We are at once citizens of different nations and of one world in which the local and global are linked. Everyone shares responsibility for the present and future well being of the human family and the larger living world.

As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning. Such renewal is the promise of these Earth Charter principles. To fulfill this promise, we must commit ourselves to adopt and promote the values and objectives of the Charter. This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility. We must imaginatively develop and apply the vision of a sustainable way of life locally, nationally, regionally and globally. Our cultural diversity is a precious heritage and different cultures will find their own distinctive ways to realize the vision. We must deepen and expand the global dialogue that generated the Earth Charter…

The spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life is strengthened when we live with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life, and humility regarding the human place in nature. Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace and the joyful celebration of life.”

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero-Mile Diet and The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook (Harbour Publishing). She currently grows ‘Seeds of Victoria’ at The Garden Path Centre. www.seedsofvictoria.com. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

Shortcut tips for growing food

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot

• Contrary to general belief, growing food doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Cognizant that most of us lead busy lives, this planting month of March I’m going to share some shortcuts for growing the maximum amount of food in the minimum amount of time.

Successful soil building: Mulch the garden with generous layers of compost, leaves, manures and seaweed. Make top quality compost using a diversity of materials that are well decomposed. Bacteria that decompose compost depend on air, water and heat so get oxygen and moisture into the pile, turning it to generate heat.

Tree roots penetrate widely through topsoil and deeply into subsoil taking up valuable nutrients, which are then stored in the leaves. When leaves break down, they return these nutrients to the soil. Stockpile leaves of tall trees such as oak, maple and chestnut in fall in circular wire cages or large piles and mulch with them once a year.

Find a source of animal manure that has not had inputs of growth hormones, antibiotics or genetically modified grains in livestock feed. Animal manures should not be added to food gardens when still fresh; they should be composted or aged first. You can also add nitrogen to the soil using green manure crops of fall rye, pea, fava beans, barley or wheat in winter and ploughing this under in spring. Tip: In summer, grow green manure crops using vetch, clover, buckwheat, alfalfa or phacelia.

Seaweed contains micronutrients and trace elements essential for healthy plant growth and can be added as mulch directly to the garden or layered as an ingredient in the compost (or use purchased powdered kelp).

Lasagna gardening: This is about growing soil and food at the same time! Build the bed any size or shape by adding two-inch layers of any of the following (uncontaminated) materials to a height of 12-inches: Manure (cow, sheep, horse, llama, goat or chicken), leaves, spoiled hay, grass clippings, woodash, sawdust (not cedar), seaweed, compost or topsoil as the top layer.

The high fertility of this growing medium as it breaks down means it’s possible to plant rows close together which keeps weeds down. It takes one cycle of production for the bed to decompose six inches so before planting the following crops renew the bed with another six inches of layered, organic waste. You can transplant or seed into the top layer the same day you build the bed.

Cool weather crops for now: Lettuces, chicory, leeks, onions, endive, parsley, peas, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, rutabaga, celeriac.

The pea gutter trick: Plant peas into recycled rain gutters filled with organic potting medium. Sow pea seeds one-inch deep and one-inch apart into the gutters. When well rooted, peel the strip of pea seedlings out of the gutter and place directly into a soil furrow, made using a hoe. Once the peas are nestled into their furrow simply scrape displaced soil back over the furrow to cover.

Hoe a row in five: The secret to growing other vegetables the ‘pea gutter’ way is to sow seeds sparingly into individual packs filled with potting medium. When established, tip the block of well rooted seedlings out of the pack, without disturbing the roots, and settle end to end into the furrow as described above.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero-Mile Diet and The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook (Harbour Publishing). She currently grows ‘Seeds of Victoria’ at The Garden Path Centre. www.seedsofvictoria.com. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

Weaker organic standards

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot

• I suppose it was predictable that, once the ‘corporate giants’ got their hands on the organic food sector, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) would discover pesticide residues on almost 50% of ‘organic’ fruit and vegetable samples as they did in recent tests. Many consumers now have doubts about how genuine supposedly organic products are.

A gap in the EU rules on organic food allows producers to use artificial aromas so that ‘organic’ strawberry yoghurt doesn’t necessarily contain any fruit at all. “In the long run, standards that are not trustworthy can jeopardize public confidence and lead to market failure,” says the draft of a new EU directive. EU Farming Commissioner Dacian Ciolos wants to remove the many exceptions that lead to an organic product not consisting 100 percent of organic ingredients. Today, farms are allowed to engage in organic as well as conventional farming, but the Commission plans to forbid that to reduce the danger of fraud and contamination.

Monsanto and the food industry have already signalled that 2014 will be a decisive year for GMO labelling. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing more than 300 food manufacturers and trade groups, is pressuring the FDA and Congress to pass a law that would pre-empt mandatory GMO labelling laws.

This year, consumers will have to fight for a right so basic that nearly every country except the US and Canada recognizes it: The right to a simple label that tells us whether or not our food has been contaminated with genetically modified organisms. Surely, the word natural loses credibility now that ‘natural’ food is allowed to contain GMO ingredients?

As a certified organic grower for many years, I pay fees, keep records and undergo annual inspections of my operation, records and inventory (PACS 16-533). I comply with the standards and requirements and stay educated on changing products and practices. Consumers should be reassured by the Canadian organic logo on my product because Canadian certified organic food contains:

No toxic synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fumigants.
No chemical fertilizers or sewer sludge used as fertilizer.
No synthetic hormones or antibiotics.
No artificial preservatives.
No artificial colours or synthetic flavours and sweeteners.
No trans fats.
No irradiation.
No genetically engineered ingredients or use of cloned animals.

However, on my certificate for 2014, I note I am certified for 95% + organic ingredients, which leaves me questioning what this infers about the remaining 5%. In BC, there are 600 certified organic operators compared to 2,767 ‘uncertified organic’ producers. Many of these are small-scale operators without long-term access to land and although they follow prescribed standards and practices, they cannot advertise as being organic. As a solution, the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC) Organic Sector Development Program is exploring the possibility of an education-based accreditation for the grower, rather than the present inspection-based product certification. Certifying the grower is certainly an idea worth considering because it leads to the development of much needed education in food production for a growing community of inexperienced farmers.

When you consider that before 1935 all food was organic, perhaps the way forward is to turn back the clock 80 years and grow all food organically again. I say we need to revert to certification for 100% of the ingredients because it’s a slippery slope watering regulations down to the point where they lose significance.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero-Mile Diet and The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook (Harbour Publishing). She currently grows ‘Seeds of Victoria’ at The Garden Path Centre. www.seedsofvictoria.com. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

In pursuit of beauty

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot

• If asked to name one book that had a profound influence on my life, it would be Masaru Emoto’s Love Thyself: The Message From Water 111. In 1994, Emoto had the idea to freeze water and photograph the resulting snow crystals under an electron microscope. From the water of pristine rivers and lakes, he observed perfectly symmetrical, beautiful, shining crystals and no two were the same; from city tap water and rivers and lakes close to big cities, he saw disfigured and dark crystals.

In order to explain this, Emoto continued his experiments using pure distilled water and directing energy to it by way of sound (music), thought and prayer. When loving words, harmonious music or pure prayer were offered, the result was images of beautiful crystals. Following harsh sounds and negative thoughts such as hate, however, the result was disfigured crystals.

Emoto believes “everything is the combination of energetic vibration and as vibrations resonate, it makes objects tangible. Combinations of non-resonating vibrations result in destructive energy, from which nothing can be created. When vibrations resonate, it always creates beautiful design; thus most of the Earth is covered with beautiful Nature.

“The photographs of crystals are neither science nor religion, but I hope will be enjoyed as a new type of art in which the world shows its truth. There is no doubt that many messages essential to our lives are hidden in it,” Emoto says.

After reading this book and viewing the photographs, I realized how easy it was to change my energetic vibration by the way I talked to myself; after all, water molecules make up over 50 percent of my body. If you are child of the sixties like I am, you’ll remember growing up having to be “seen and not heard.” Add to those feelings of worthless the mental agony of a young girl desperate to fit in by looking like an anorexic fashion icon called “Twiggy.” This dissatisfaction with body image continues to haunt today’s generation of young girls and women and it breaks my heart to think how we waste our youthful beauty with such destructive thoughts.

I considered all the years I had beaten myself up with negative back chatter that infused my being with energy that lowered my vibration. I decided it was time to learn to love myself, which has been the hardest journey I have ever taken. Once I arrived and became more self aware, I changed the messages I give myself. Today they sound like this: “From now on, I am going to see the world in a positive new light. Not black, nor grey but white. From now on, I will learn to love myself by never speaking against myself with messages that are self-sabotaging. From today forward, I will put love into action to create the change I want to see in the world.”

Emoto asks, “Is it presumptuous to suggest that scientists, philosophers and religionists in the pursuit of the unknown take a different path – one in the ‘pursuit of beauty’ as a means to confirm the right path?” If we re-imagine the future in pursuit of beauty in this way, we can work to restore the world back to the way the Creator intended.

Sing with me, ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” and have a Happy New Year in 2014.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and a companion book, The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour). She grows Seeds of Victoria at The Garden Path Centre. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

Reimagining the future

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot
• They say the 60s are the new 40s so at the start of yet another year, in my sixth decade of life, I have decided to reinvent myself. However, it came as a bit of a shock to discover this rebirth also involves a change of residence. Timing is everything in life so I checked my body and it said, “Yes.” It had one more garden to create.” – good to know!

Timing is everything in real estate too. I researched real estate on Vancouver Island – in a ‘buyer’s market,’ with record low interest rates – until I nearly drove myself mad. The problem: I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I soon discovered that, by moving away from the city (of Victoria) across Malahat Mountain, the price of real estate drops dramatically and by moving into a different jurisdiction, zoning restrictions change too.

After much searching, we found a ‘dream’ home in Yellow Point and we’ll soon be starting a new life in the Cowichan Valley region. The rural residential zoning in the CVRD opens up many possibilities for home-based business – think B&B, tea garden, gift shop, garden, school/nursery or art studio. There’s even an authentic English pub – The Crow and Gate – at the end of the road and every Sunday, in season, they hold a vibrant Farmers’ Market.

After we fell in love with the house, we discovered that, for the past 25 years, our neighbours have organized a Christmas tour of artisans, over four days of fun, weaving in and out of all the local studios, shops, galleries and farms; this happens throughout the summer months too. (Visit www.cyartisans.com) What a great way to get to know your neighbours and also continue to make a ‘Zero-Mile Living.’

I recently became aware of the vital role small business – defined as those that employ 50 people or fewer – plays in BC’s communities: 385,100 small businesses in BC represent 98 percent of all businesses in the province, employing over a million people. Four out of five small businesses can be further categorized as ‘micro-businesses’ that employ five people or less; 56 percent of these are self-employed with no paid employees. It’s surprising to discover that ‘micro-businesses’ generate more than a quarter of the province of BC’s GDP. (www.resourcecentre.gov.bc.ca/pdf/SmallBusEngWeb.pdf).

Small businesses also play a key role in upholding the quality of life locally. These business owners invest in their communities by supporting local events and festivities and sponsoring sports and arts events. When you ‘buy local,’ you also get the intangible benefit of bettering everyone’s quality of life. When we support small businesses, we see people face-to-face and they become people we know we can trust. Considering the contamination and poor quality of food produced by our prevalent centralized, industrialized food system, there’s no better time to put our food back into the hands of our local communities.

Could it get any better than this for us? Yes! The zoning in the CVRD also allows for a legal secondary suite and a second single-family residence on the five acres. Now we can consider community living into old age and be able to stay in our home sharing with people who will take care of each other.

It’s inspiring to know what can happen when you decide to reimagine the future.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and a companion book, The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour). She grows Seeds of Victoria at The Garden Path Centre. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

Turn on to turnips

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot
• I used to I turn my nose up at turnips before I began growing them myself, after which my opinion of this ‘lowly’ root vegetable changed. I discovered them to be not only easy to grow, but also very tasty whether boiled, baked or roasted.

Turnips – Brassica rapa – are annuals grown for their crunchy roots and leafy greens and in my opinion are seriously underrated as a vegetable. They grow fast; seed to harvest time varies from 40-50 days so you can pull turnips out of the ground after the radishes. Sowing in succession, in spring and/or fall, you can enjoy a steady supply. Turnips grow half in and half out of the soil and are harvested either as baby turnips at three to four inches in size, or full-sized at six inches. Turnip roots are surprisingly delicious and the young greens are great steamed and in salads.

turnips
‘Purple top white globe’ and ‘Golden ball’ turnips, with ‘Marion’ rutabagas in background.

Turnip roast recipe

In a large bowl make a colourful medley of bite-sized pieces of turnip, beet, carrot, potato and onion or garlic cloves. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place in a single layer in a baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (175°C) for 30-45 minutes until tender. Drizzle with flavour infused balsamic vinegar before serving if desired.

Rutabaga – Brassica napus var. napobrassica – is a close relative of the turnip, producing larger roots with milder and sweeter flesh. This reliable Brassica produces uniform purple- topped, globe-shaped roots with yellow flesh of splendid flavour and texture, with the bonus of resistance to club root and mildew. Frost tolerant and hardy, it thrives in moist soil, crops over a long period of time and can be left in the ground throughout winter.

Seeds germinate in a wide temperature range, from 50 to 80°F. Turnips are fast growing, but rutabagas need to be seeded in early summer in time to mature by fall (90-100 days). Keep an eye open for flea beetles, detected by the appearance of small holes in the leaves. I find dusting plants with diatomaceous earth puts an end to flea beetle attacks, allowing the plants to outgrow any damage done.

Because of its fresh, sweet taste, rutabagas are great for eating raw in salads and coleslaw. They are particularly good when teamed with other root vegetables in soups, stews and casseroles. You can also harvest the leafy greens and treat them as cabbage. Roasting concentrates flavour whereas boiling dilutes it.

Tatties & neeps

Take an equal amount of potatoes (‘tatties’) and rutabaga (‘neeps’). Peel the skin off the rutabaga thinly. Chop the root vegetables into one-inch cubes. Boil for 20 minutes until soft and tender. Mash together to remove lumps. Season with butter, salt and pepper to taste. Optional: Add herbs such as parsley and thyme or replace the ‘tatties’ with carrots.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and a companion book, The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour). She grows Seeds of Victoria at The Garden Path Centre. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

The future of farming

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot

• Recently, while driving in my Smart car, I heard the following on CBC radio: “In 10 years time, 75% of Canada’s farmers will have retired.” My thoughts immediately turned to where the food will come from in the future. Today, about 70-80% of organic products in Canada are imported, primarily from the US. The bulk of Canada’s organic exports are grain, sold mainly to the European Union.

The figures for employment in agriculture are disturbing; the number of workers employed on Vancouver Island farms fell by 40% over the past seven years. In BC, province-wide, the drop was 50%. The downward trend began in 2006, after the provincial government introduced sweeping new farm regulations imposing tougher restraints on farmers who raise and butcher animals. Many small-scale producers, the mainstay of the rural economy, were hardest hit and went under after standards with prohibitive capital costs were imposed on commercial-grade abattoirs.

The last 10 years have seen a phenomenal explosion in the organic food movement, as it has moved from niche market to mainstream. Today, it is the fastest growing segment of the food industry, attracting all the major food corporations. Recently, a film on CBC’s Doc Zone, The New Green Giants, looked at a number of organic corporations and showed how many had failed to live up to the idealistic dreams first espoused by the back-to-the land folk of the late sixties and early seventies. When an international team went to China to investigate compliance with USDA organic standards, they found some farmers had not even read the standards because they had not been translated into Chinese! As an advocate, activist and practitioner of organic growing for the past 30 years, I feel completely betrayed. (http://www.cbc.ca/doczone/episode/the-new-green-giants.html)

We could either see this as a crisis or an opportunity. I see the future of farming as a golden egg, offering phenomenal growth and employment in the gutted agricultural sector. Concerned citizens are flocking back to farmer’s markets – and their own backyards – to safeguard the quality of food by establishing a connection to its source. The law of economics shows supply and demand go hand in hand; as demand increases so does the incentive to restructure local food systems.

I have coined a new term for this: the new “gastro-economy.” I envisage local food systems where not only producers are rewarded financially, but also the entire community, which reaps benefits from the gastronomic spin offs. Buying local keeps money in the local economy, which makes everyone better off.

As an operator of a certified organic plant and seed nursery, my experience has proven there is a good living – and a good life – to be had from making sure your neighbour is fed. It’s time to tell my story in another book, The Zero-Mile Business: Making a Living From the Land, in which I intend to inspire a new generation of farmers and market gardeners.

Until government introduces policies, incentives and training to ensure a succession plan for agriculture, we must join and support the expanding grassroots food movement to grow safe, nutritious food without a carbon footprint. Otherwise, we will have to accept organic food with a “Made in China” sticker and from a personal, sovereign and food security point of view, that’s just not acceptable.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and a companion book, The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour). She grows Seeds of Victoria at The Garden Path Centre. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

God’s food plan

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot
“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” (Genesis 1:29)

This bible quote runs through my head at harvest time as I gather in the seeds and fruit of my labours and express deep gratitude for the abundance of ‘meat’ in my little piece of ‘Heaven on Earth.’ Each year, the garden blesses us with bumper crops of fruits and vegetables, the crops different each year depending on weather conditions. This year, it’s bumper crops of plums and berries.

The pit of a wild plum somehow landed in my mixed border three years ago, but I didn’t know what the resulting woody plant was until it fruited last year and I identified it as Prunus americana. This year, it grew into a sizeable tree that produced a massive crop of rosy-red plums known for excellent flavour and eating quality. So for three weeks in August, I was busy pitting and freezing this crop for plummy winter desserts.

Five years ago, a friend gave me a packet of woodland strawberry seeds (Fragaria vesca). Until then, I’d only propagated strawberries from offsets so what a surprise to discover these tiny seeds produced strawberries only three months after germination. I’ve been growing them in a half-oak barrel – and as a border plant in semi-shade – and they sail through winter producing the sweetest, impossible to resist berries from mid-June to mid-November. What more could you ask for than an attractive ground cover that grows in full sun and part shade, is drought tolerant and winter hardy and produces edible fruit?

Strawberry Spinach

I first spied the shiny-red fruits of Strawberry spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) in the restored garden at Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford-Upon-Avon. How could I resist a tiny pinch of seeds? This heritage 16th-century food plant now volunteers happily around my garden and continues to stop visitors in their tracks. Although small, the leaves are nutritious and can be steamed or used in salads, but the main feature here is the strawberry-like fruit, bound to inspire a conversation – perhaps even a play?

The plant that gets the prize for novelty is the mouse melon cucumber (Melothria scabra 1866). These unique cucumbers look like miniature watermelons and the tangy crunch makes the little fruits perfect in salads, stir fries, salsas or pickled. Tip: Try growing these fun little cucumbers with kids. Grow one plant in a one-gallon pot; fill with screened compost and feed with liquid seaweed to get the highest yields. Grow a few pots in a row and you’ll get a curtain of vines dripping with these refreshing treats that kids – and adults – think are way cool!

I find it comforting to know there are strawberries that grow from seed in three months, plum trees that volunteer from pits and self-seeding spinach that has survived 400 years. I hope we never face a food crisis, but wouldn’t it be great to spread these gifts from God around in case we ever do?

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and a companion book, The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour). She grows Seeds of Victoria at The Garden Path Centre. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

Photo by Kristin Ross.

Preserving the harvest

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot

• A “zero-mile diet” involves meal planning around crops in season as well as preserving the harvest for year-round eating. Preserving food from the garden ranges from basic cool storage for winter squash and root crops (i.e. onions and potatoes) to freezing, canning, dehydrating and fermenting. It may sound time consuming, but if eating the most nutritious, organic food is important to you, it’s easier to make time in the ‘down’ season to ensure it’s available.

In traditional cultures, many foods were preserved by fermentation: grains as miso, beans as tempeh, dairy products as yogurt, beverages as kombucha, vegetables as sauerkraut and kim chi; and fruit as wine. People ingested a steady supply of beneficial bacteria, which kept intestinal tracts healthy and immune systems strong. Today, scientists are recognizing that intestinal flora impact an array of human health issues and there is speculation that many modern diseases are, in part, caused by abandoning this ancient practice of fermentation. In North America, we do not consume enough fermented foods and this needs to change. Once again, it’s all about the microbes.

I recommend canning as a communal activity – inviting friends over for a party and sharing the results. Last winter, I attended a preserves potluck where we exchanged preserves to mix it up a bit; after all, how many jars of pickled beans can you eat?

Fruit CompoteFood rotation is important because the maximum storage time for quality frozen fruit is 12 months and frozen vegetables, eight months. The maximum amount that should be frozen at once is three pounds of food for each cubic foot of freezer space; freezing small loads of food fast keeps the ice crystals small. Tip: Freeze berries and cherries on a baking tray in a single layer first and then freeze them in dated zip-lock bags.

For canning, you need a canner with a lid and metal loading rack, glass mason jars with snap lids and metal rings, a funnel, ladle, tongs and oven mitts. These things are inexpensive and readily available in any hardware store. While there, pick up a book on home canning, which will answer all your safety questions. A boiling water canner processes high acid foods to 212°F (100°C), which destroys moulds and yeasts without compromising the quality of the produce. If correctly processed, deadly botulism spores cannot grow in airtight jars where lids have sealed properly. Food processed this way keeps well for 12 months.

Effective food dehydration requires a good dehydrator with at least 1,000 watts of power. Dehydration removes the water content of food by 80 to 90 percent, which inactivates the growth of bacteria, moulds, yeast and other spoilage organisms. In general, dried fruits will feel leathery and pliable; dried vegetables will be brittle and tough. Apples, plums, strawberries and blueberries: 10 hours drying time. Carrots, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms: six hours drying time. Herbs, such as dill, mint and oregano, only take around 45 minutes to dry at temperatures not exceeding 100F.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and a companion book, The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour). She grows Seeds of Victoria at The Garden Path Centre. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath


Fruit compote

Place dried fruit in a heatproof dish. Just cover with boiling water. Leave dish to stand uncovered overnight. Keep refrigerated. Add lemon slices, vanilla pods or cinnamon sticks to make a really flavourful syrup.

The edible hedgerow

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

portait of Carolyn Herriot
• As an organic gardener, I know from experience it’s the birds, bees and butterflies, along with myriad beneficial insects, that keep the plants in my garden healthy and pest-free. I respect wildlife and rely on a diversity of plants to keep my garden in harmony with nature. So much food today is grown in the absence of wildlife or diversity. I witnessed this during a recent flight over the Fraser Valley where I saw endless swaths of desert-like rectangular fields without a hedgerow in sight – which means no habitat or food for wildlife.

Without wildlife in the production cycle, farmers must rely on a plethora of pesticides and fertilizers to make food production possible. These often appear as residues on food and runoff in drinking water; now we know that what we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves.

My latest project to grow more food began when my neighbour tossed her pear over the fence that divides our properties. It landed in the ditch and grew into a large pear tree. This pear tree inspired me to clear the overgrowth in the ditch and plant an edible hedgerow. I strive for aesthetic value and productivity and three years later I’ve created a ‘food forest’ in an otherwise unused and unsightly drainage ditch.

My new edible landscape has evolved nicely; the trees are producing fruit and the lower canopy bushes are now covered in berries. I am encouraged to think that many waste spaces in urban environments could be turned into food forests such as this and in the process would provide habitat and food to encourage wildlife to return.

Right now, the elderberry Sambucus nigra is covered in sprays of sweetly scented, creamy-white edible blossoms that make a refreshing aromatic cordial. Best gathered on a dry day, never when wet. Check that the perfume is pleasing. Tip: Remember to leave some flower sprays for berry picking later; dark-purple berries contain vitamins A and B and more vitamin C than oranges.

Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet: A Year-round Guide to Growing Organic Food and a companion book, The Zero-Mile Diet Cookbook: Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour). She grows Seeds of Victoria at The Garden Path Centre. Info and online catalogue at www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath


Elderflower Presse

Elderflower heads
4 cups (2L) filtered water

25 elderflower heads (inspect carefully for bugs)

2 organic lemons, sliced thickly, pits removed

1 organic orange, sliced thickly, pits removed

500 g (1 kg) granulated sugar

Optional: 28 g /1 oz citric acid (available from the chemist)

Place the sugar in a large saucepan. Pour in the water, bring to a boil and stir until the sugar has fully dissolved. Slice the lemons and orange into thick slices and add to the sugar water. Leave to cool. Strain out the fruit. Put the flower heads into a large stainless steel bowl and add the sugar water and stir. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to steep for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, strain the liquid through cheesecloth into a jug and cool in the refrigerator before serving. Serve diluted with ice-cold club soda or sparkling water for a summer refresher or mix with sparkling wine or champagne for special occasions. The presse will keep for months if you add citric acid to the recipe before pouring into sterilized bottles and capping. Tip: Recycled kombucha bottles work great. Store in a cool dark place. Makes 2 litres.