Thursday, June 28, 2012


Raised on homecooked, German meals, I didn't grow up with a huge array of herbs and spices. Dill, however, was one herb that was part of our regular repertoire and to this day, it's still one of my favourites.

The dill in our garden is at its peak.  It's time to harvest, freeze, share and enjoy!
We probably have over 50 plants just like this that have self-seeded themselves.  We've given away and tried transplanting several of them to friends and our school butterfly garden (black swallowtail butterflies love dill).  There is still a lot of dill!
Black swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on dill, we've been watching this guy grow in our garden. 
Melanie took this bunch to sell at a plant stand when the Transition Winnipeg held their walking tour of the Sustainable South Osborne Community Coop's gardening initiatives.

I took another bunch to freeze, so I can have dill all year long.  A couple of years ago, I tried drying the dill and using it throughout the year.  It dried well, but the flavour just didn't hold up.  Freezing, I find, works really well and the flavour stays true.
Drying dill in 2010, it worked, but the flavour didn't last long.
I much prefer chopping and freezing the dill.

But what I really love, is dill sauce on potatoes.  Ideally, on freshly dug new potatoes - but it's a little early in the season for those.  We made do with fresh dill sauce on big potatoes served with ham and red cabbage - a classic German supper.
Here's our recipe for a bechamel (white sauce) with dill.

Dill Bechamel Sauce

2 tbsp of butter
2 tbsp of flour
1 cup of warmed milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsps chopped dill

  1. In a small saucepan, gently melt butter (do not let brown).
  2. Sprinkle in flour and mix well.  
  3. Cook and stir for 3 minutes.
  4. Gradually stir in the warm milk, whisking thoroughly to ensure no lumps.
  5. Cook sauce over medium heat for 8-10 minutes until smooth and creamy.
  6. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and dill and cook for 1 minute.
  7. Serve over potatoes, spaetzle, fish, or schnitzel.
Enjoy and let us know if and how you use your dill.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Poison Ivy - Identifying and Treating

The Wilderness Skills Intensive weekend I was at this past weekend was amazing.  I can't wait to tell you all about it. I took home fond memories, invaluable skills, new friendships, various hand-made tools and a wee bit of poison ivy.  Let's begin with the poison ivy.

I discovered I am one of the 60-80% of people who is allergic to the oil produced by this plant back in the 80's when I had such a bad case that my eye was swollen shut, I had webbed toes and my boss asked me to leave the office and go home.  If you've ever had a severe case of poison ivy, you can relate.  

While it brings me such great discomfort, I am in awe of this plant that can bring even the biggest and toughest of us to our knees begging for mercy.   Here's a little more about this incredible plant that we should all treat with the utmost respect and caution.

Identifying poison ivy:
If you're planning a trip to a park (yes, even urban parks like Assiniboine Park can have poison ivy),  river bank, bush or forest know how to identify this plant and don't touch it with any part of you.
  • Three leaves 3-12cm in length, red in spring, satin green in summer and shades of yellow, orange, red or bronze in autumn. 
  • Slightly toothed, somewhat shiny, smooth leaves. 
  • A woody stock at the base of the plant. 
  • Grows along the edge of trails or disturbed habitats where sunlight can reach it.
General Info:
  • Urushiol,  a colourless, odorless oil (resin) contained in the leaves of the plants is the cause of allergic reactions in 60-80% of people. 
  • The oil can be carried in the air, on clothes or on pet fur. People extremely sensitive to this plant may get a rash from airborne oil particles.
  • Burning the plant releases the oil in the air and can cause extreme reactions to all parts of the body (even air passages). Do NOT burn poison ivy plants. 
  • People can develop the allergy over time and repeated exposure. 
  • The reaction causes a rash, itching, swelling and tiny blisters. 
  • The reaction can happen within hours or within 5 days of contact. 
  • The rash may take one to two weeks to heal. 
  • Severe poison ivy should be treated by a Doctor. 
  • Poison ivy blisters are not contagious since they do not contain urushiol. However, if urushiol remains on something (pants,hiking boots, pet's fur) you might be re-exposed and experience a reaction again. 
  • Urushiol can remain active for over a year!
The Rash
I know what the plant looks like, I know how sensitive I am, I know not to touch it or to touch any part of my clothing or footwear that has come in contact with it - and still, I usually get a bout of poison ivy every year.  As unattractive as it may be, I feel obliged to show you what the rash looks like.  Here's my wrist three days after exposure.  It's itchy, it's red and it's blistery.

By the way, I would consider this a mild case - it can get much worse, especially if you start scratching.
Treating Poison Ivy
Laura Reeves, a botanist and the instructor for the Wilderness Skills Intensive workshop, and our hosts from Northern Sun Farm Co-Op that are surrounded by poison ivy plants daily, suggested I try some natural remedies for treating poison ivy rash.  


The sap inside the stems of jewelweed (related to impatients) should be rubbed on the parts of the skin exposed.  It will reduce the symptoms significantly and if applied immediately after contact, may prevent the rash from occurring.  

The really cool thing about this plant is that it grows in the same habitat as poison ivy.  Poison and antidote right next to each other - isn't that amazing.  
If you don't have access or can't find jewelweed, try garden variety impatients.  They're rumoured to have the same properties at smaller concentrations.

Oak Tea
Another natural remedy recommended was to soak the affected area with oak tea.  Apparently the tannic acid in the oak leaves, bark and acorns will act as an astringent to help dry out and calm the rash.  I wasn't instructed on how to make oak tea, but I figured some leaves and bark in a pot of boiling water, left to steep for half an hour should be enough to produce tannic acid water. 

Conventional Treatment
If you prefer more conventional treatment, here are some suggestions.   Calamine lotion doesn't seem to do anything for me, but some people say it helps them.  When I had it really bad, I did see my Doctor who prescribed some heavy duty hydrocortisone.  I've never taken antihistamines for poison ivy. Do what you gotta do!

  1. Stay outside. If you know you've been exposed, avoid going indoors to prevent spreading the urushiol.  Take your shoes and clothes off outside.
  2. Clean your skin immediately. If you do this within 10 minutes, you may be able to get the urushiol off before it penetrates your skin. 

  • Don't use hot water on your skin. This can draw the urushiol deeper into your pores.[2]
  • Don't use soap until after you've rinsed off your skin with just water. Soap can pick up the urushiol and move it around to other parts of your body.[1]
  • Don't forget to clean under your fingernails; you may have scratched off some urushiol and could redeposit it on other objects or areas of your skin by accident. 
  • Since urushiol is an oily resin, it binds to proteins in the skin and, after this process is complete, is nearly impossible to remove.

  1.  Recognize the symptoms. If you didn't get the urushiol off in time, an allergic reaction may follow within 48 hours. First, your skin gets red and itchy. Then a rash follows, usually in a pattern of streaks or patches. Eventually the rash turns into red bumps or large oozing blisters. The rash will appear wherever you came in contact with urushiol, although it may take longer for the rash to appear on parts of your body where your skin is thicker. It doesn't spread  because there's no urushiol in the blisters.[3][4] Once the urushiol is gone, the rash will go away. Spreading only occurs if urushiol remains on your skin, fingers or clothing.  Because it is an oil, you must be diligent with washing and using soap in order to remove the oil.
  2. Stop scratching! Even though the rash is not contagious, it's best to avoid damaging the skin, or else you run the risk of getting an infection from germs.
  3. Wash clothes and anything else that may have come in contact with a poisonous plant (gardening tools, pets, sports equipment, sheets). Don't underestimate the power of urushiol; it can remain active for over a year.[4]
  4. Cool off. Take cold baths or showers, apply cold compresses, and/or massage the affected area with an ice cube. The cooling sensation will provide temporary relief.[2]
  5. Dry off. Always let the area air dry – this reduces the itching and oozing of blisters.[2]
  6. Work to soothe the rash. Some of the following products can help soothe the itching and irritation of poison ivy or poison oak:

  • Take antihistamines. They can be taken orally or applied topically, or both. Unfortunately, these types of products only treat the itching symptoms but do not help the rash heal more quickly [5]. Antihistamines, generally offer only mild relief from the symptoms of poison ivy, but if taken before bedtime their combination of anti-allergy and drowsiness-inducing effects can help you get some rest. 
  • Try hydrocortisone cream. However, some people find that hydrocortisone cream makes the symptoms worse in the long run. While the ingredients work for several hours, these creams tend to moisturize the skin at a time when drying provides longer-lasting relief. 
  • Apply calamine lotion. Calamine lotion can ease the itching and soothe blistered skin. Apply regularly and liberally.
If - or for many of us - when you get poison ivy, good luck and don't scratch! 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Foraging and Wilderness Survival

This weekend, I have left the familiarity and comfort of the garden for the wilderness.  I'm on a Wilderness Intensive Skills weekend being led by Laura Reeves and Dwayne Logan.

Last year, I joined Laura on a one day course called "You Can Eat That?!".  I thoroughly enjoyed foraging and preparing a feast with the great wild edibles we learned about.  You can read about that adventure here Wild Edibles .

This year, I'm going for the full weekend deal - I know I'll learn a ton from Laura and Dwayne - I can't wait!

The agenda includes topics such as:

  • Shelter
  • Direction Finding
  • Fire
  • Primitive Hunting
  • Plant ID
  • Cordage
  • Stone Tools
  • Tracking

I love that this is a "learn by doing" course - not some lecture in a classroom.  We'll be out in the bush practicing these skills all weekend.

We get to bring a tent, sleeping bag, knife and water bottle.

Don't tell anyone, but I'm also sneaking in some coffee.  I don't think I could survive without caffeine.  Actually, I'd scrape by - but my fellow participants might not want me wielding a knife while suffering from caffeine withdrawal.  I'm just sayin...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Random Images June 2012

  While the veggies are busy growing, I thought I'd share some of these images from our garden.
Earlier this year I wondered if we had calendula or bachelor buttons growing in our garden.  As the photo proves - they're bachelor buttons.

The spinach, which looked a little beat up earlier this spring has recovered nicely.  We've had a few suppers from this collection.  

 Looks like one leaf could feed a family of four!

Black Swallowtail caterpillar on the volunteer dill.  My kids have transplanted some dill with tiny eggs into their butterfly hatchery that their dad helped build last year.  

Looks like this rogue milkweed was all that was needed for these two monarch caterpillars.

And finally, another mystery plant growing where Melanie had her mixed flower bed last year.  Is it a flower or a nasty weed eager to spread its seed in our garden?  Does anyone know?

Red Cabbage Blues

What the heck is going on with my red cabbage!?  Here's what they looked like shortly after planting.

Here's what it looked like the other night.

Six out of six red cabbage plants are dead.  This, after I carefully surrounded them with cutworm protection, added some rich soil mix and covered them lovingly with the floating row cover to protect from other pests.

The kohlrabi and broccoli right next to them underneath the row cover are looking just fine.  The flea beetles have been thwarted and all is well.

What could have caused this devastation?  Not enough water during that hot spell we had?  Bad batch of red cabbage?  I'm stumped but not deterred - I'll plant some more today and see how they do.

I expect shenanigans like this with cauliflower, eggplants and kohlrabi - but red cabbage?  Mmph!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Edibles in Our Walkway

Our patio and walkway, made of Roman concrete pavers, is almost as green as our lawn.

Determined to yank out some of this greenery, I noticed that a lot of the intruders are edible.  Not that I would  eat them from this particular spot - after all, we do have a dog and it is a high traffic area.  It was just an interesting observation.

All the stuff growing in the cracks of our sidewalk and patio.  The following close-ups were all taken in this one tiny area.  
Believe it or not this is lettuce, I guess it self seeded from my planters last year.

Licorice mint, another great self seeder

Chickweed, this stuff tastes like corn silk.  Try it, it really does.

Dandelion, of course.  Small and tender leaves are really just like lettuce.

 Common plantain.  Add small, tender leaves to a tossed salad.

What's growing in your cracks?!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Beans, beautiful Beans

The bush beans are coming up and so far, they're looking great.  Here's a look at their journey so far.

I soaked the beans in water overnight to give them the moisture they'll need to spring to life.  Then I seeded them in three even  rows.

 Bursting through the ground.  Seriously, that's gotta hurt!
 Seed shell still stuck to leaves.
Free to grow into big bush beans.  Let's hope those pesky cutworms stay away!

Monday, June 4, 2012

My apple tree has apples!

It really shouldn't come as a surprise that my apple tree has apples - but look, it really does!
It's just so exciting to have this growing in our very own yard.  Let's hope they continue to thrive.