Sarah’s Kitchen Gardens

pets and permaculture: composting poo

So my kid wanted a pet. This was discussed for quite awhile before we agreed that she was responsible enough to take care of a small animal herself. Because, if it’s your pet, you are cleaning up after it. That’s the way it goes around here.

The next task was to figure out what kind of small animal. Fur was high on the priority list (skinny pigs, anyone? UGH), as was a personable personality. We have friends with rats; they are personable enough (both the friends AND the rats) but I was looking for MORE. I didn’t want to have a pet that was JUST a pet.

I’ve been doing some more in-depth learning about permaculture for the past year or so, and one of the tenets concerns the functions of the items allowed in a system. If all the parts of our living arrangement – house, land, indoors and out – are all segments of a living system that we create to serve our needs, then it makes sense that we would consider the functions of every single thing that we allow into our system.

pets and permaculture - stacking functions‘Stacking’, in permaculture, is the idea of things having more than one function. It’s a tree that provides shade as well as fruit, or a bench that also has built-in storage space for the plethora of kids’ toys clogging up the system. The more functions the better, right? Especially when dealing with limited space, as we are, in the city. When it comes to pets, it only makes sense that they should also have more than one function. 

We considered the system. We are expanding our garden space (in the front yard!) but we have limited space for year-round composting. This is why we ended up getting a rabbit. He is fluffy and cuddly and mostly house trained, which suits my daughter’s preferences. His poops are mild enough to be used on the garden straight from the source, which suits MY preferences. I had fantastic peppers this year, grown in rabbit manure from a friend’s compost pile. I’m looking forward to next season, when I can use Bunny’s contribution in our front yard garden.

Would you like to use your pet’s waste in your garden? Dogs and cats can contribute their waste as well, but it needs to be composted first because it will burn plants when fresh. And could also spread disease.

Here are some links to other sites that show you how:

DIY Dog Waste Composter

How to Compost Your Cat’s Litter

Rabbit manure can be put in the garden right away, but my growing beds are not ready for that yet. For now, we’ve got some straw bales set up as a sort of square corral in the backyard, and that’s where the waste is dumped when the cage gets cleaned. In the spring, when we build up the beds, we will use the straw as well as the rabbit manure. The straw will be mostly used for mulch and pathways, and it will gradually work its way into the soil and add nutrition.

Spring seems like a long time away from now, but I’m sure it will be here before we know it!



flourless banana chocolate muffin recipe

flourless banana chocolate muffin recipeOh yes I did. Often when I throw ingredients together for baking, something isn’t quite right. This creation, however, was a beautiful moment in my kitchen this morning. AND I even held myself back from tweaking it when I thought it might be too runny. I resisted the urge, and I’m glad I did. Because these are wonderful and grain-free. And sugar-free; the sweetness comes from the bananas and almond flour.

Almond Flour Tips

Before I get too far, I should mention a few things about almond flour. I discovered a few years ago that I could make the ground almond meal from Bulk Barn work a lot better in recipes if I whizzed it in the food processor by itself before adding any other ingredients. This turns the coarse meal into something that more closely resembles flour, and gives cookies and muffins a MUCH better texture than the coarse stuff as-is.

Another trick I learned along the way about almond flour is that it doesn’t like liquids. Eggs are ok because they cook into something firm. Water, milk, orange juice… not ok. Almond flour does not absorb liquid. At all. So if you’re going to alter the recipe, keep that in mind.

Flourless Banana Chocolate Muffin Recipe

Oven: 375

1 c almond meal

-whiz in the food processor for finer texture, then add

1/4 c arrowroot powder

2 T cocoa powder, the high fat stuff. yum.

1 T coconut flour

1 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

-whiz again until mixed, then add

2 very ripe small bananas

1/3 c melted butter

2 eggs

-whiz until fully blended, then scoop into muffin tins.

flourless banana chocolate muffins - recipeIt’s best if you keep the muffins small, because flourless ingredients do best when there’s not a huge bulk that needs to be cooked through. The batter will seem runny but it bakes up nice. It should take about 20 minutes for the muffins to bake.

I’ve been thinking, if I add another egg, that these would make a nice pancake batter too. I have yet to try it though. If you do, let me know. 🙂



dragon seeds

growing dragonfruit cactus from seedIn my sunny windows, right now, are 15 or so cactus seedlings, all started from seed. And it was super easy to start them! There’s a trick to growing Dragon fruit from seed, a trick that I didn’t know when I tried growing them the first time. The difference between the two batches is incredible! I’ve given away or bartered for many of the 50 seedlings I ended up with the second time around. The first time, I grew none.

I did some searching, and finally found out what I needed to do. I can’t even remember where I found the secret, but find it I did. Thank you, if it was you in that YouTube video!

Growing Dragon Fruit From Seed: The Secret

It’s actually very simple. If you want to actually get plants from Dragon fruit, you need to plant the seeds as soon as you take them out of the fruit. If you let them dry out and sit for awhile, like I did the first time, you won’t get plants.

That’s it.

That’s all.

Well, yes, there’s the usual ‘keep it moist and warm’ recommendation, but fresh seeds made all the difference in my germination success.

Growing a Dragon Fruit Cactus From Seed: Step by Step

grow a cactus from dragonfruit seed1. Obtain fine-looking dragon fruit specimen.

2. Slice it open.

3. Scrape seeds off pulp with a knife. (super easy!)

4. Plant seeds in moist potting soil, 1/8 inch deep.

5. Cover in order to keep moisture in.

6. Place in a warm spot.

7. Check it every day, looking for dryness or a sprout.

8. When the seeds sprout, take the cover off and make sure they’re in a sunny/bright place, like a bright windowsill or under grow lights.

9. Keep an eye on them, watering as needed.

10. Post brag pics on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Pinterest.**


Happy Growing!


using homemade seed paper

using homemade seed paperA couple of weeks ago I had a blast making my own homemade paper. Not only did I make paper, though, I also added some viable seeds to the water. This made paper that will sprout when planted (or just watered). After a few rough starts trying to figure out the best way to do things, I finally found the groove and was able to make 5 different kinds of seed paper. My kids were slightly disappointed that the first water-pressing method was abandoned, since it involved them standing on a board to help press out the water, but rolling with a rolling pin is a much more effective way of getting the excess water out of the paper! Since making the paper, I’ve just started sprouting some of it too.

Growing Sprouts From Seed Paper

It’s fairly straightforward: wet the seed paper, put it in some sort of container, keep it moist, give it sunlight.

growing sprouts from seedpaper


My hubby saves me his sub containers (he buys these quite often) so I use them for spouts. They’re super handy!

use takeout containers to grow spouts


The photo below shows sprouts that were first watered on Nov 13. Today is the 15th, so I think they’re doing really well. This is a mix of broccoli, radish, red clover, and alfalfa.

sprouts growing in homemade seed paper


In the very top photo you can see the 5 different kinds of seed paper that I made. I might have gotten a little carried away, because I was super excited about my talented friend Sarah Moerman (LINK) using her creative talents to make beautiful cards out of this eco-friendly homemade paper. She’s posted one sneak peek of her work so far (LINK), and I can’t wait to see the rest!


Here’s a list of what seeds are in the different papers:

   Brown: Old Fashioned Annual Flower Mix

The brown paper mix is best grown outdoors, but it can be started indoors in April or May. You can keep it moist as is, or you can plant the paper in soil after wetting it so the roots can establish themselves in soil before being transplanted outside.

   White: Basil and Curly Parsley

The white paper mix can be grown indoors for winter herb production, but you’ll need lots of light if you choose to grow indoors. You can also start this one indoors in April or May, using the methods mentioned above.

   Pink: White, Pink, and Burgundy Cosmos

This is an outdoor plant – Cosmos are big and bushy annual flowers! Again, see above for instructions.

   Blue: Calendula

Calendula is an edible flower that looks like an orange daisy. It grows best outdoors as well, but can also be started indoors for a head start on the season.

   Grey: Broccoli, Radish, Red Clover, and Alfalfa

‘Spring Salad Mix’ was the description on the seed packet for this blend of sprouts. Definitely intended to be grown indoors, and no need for soil! You’ll be eating them about a week after planting them, so they’ll use the nutrition stored in their seed flesh to grow into a nutritious snack.

Seedy Saturdays 2014

I’ve got extra paper, so I will likely be selling it at the local Seedy Saturday events in the new year. I’m hoping to attend Niagara, Hamilton, Kitchener, Burlington, and Guelph. These events are tons of fun, with workshops and seed swaps and vendors and community groups and, of course, seed sellers.

I’m also planning a hands-on workshop for anyone interested in learning how to make their own seed paper. It really is an enjoyable, peaceful activity, so if you’d like to hear more about it, let me know!



7 unique tomato varieties

Heirloom tomatoes are one of my favourite things to grow. I like the weird and unusual varieties the best, because you generally don’t find them in the grocery store. And if you’re looking for unique heirloom seedlings, you often won’t find them in major garden centres. I’ve put together a list of unique varieties here in this post that I’ve grown and enjoyed over the years.

They will also be found at the FREE Seed Love Seed Swap on November 9 in Hamilton, Ontario, 1 pm – 3 pm.

yellow pear tomato

Unique Tomato Varieties to Try

1. Yellow Pear. These are the cutest little cherry tomatoes! They have a mellow flavour, not too strong. The plants grow very large and will sprawl all over your garden if you don’t contain them or prune them.

2. White Zebra. This tomato is white and green striped. It has a slightly sour taste, so if you like your tomatoes to have a little bite, this is the variety to try. The tomatoes are on the small side, and often have a slightly yellow hue.

3. Black Prince. Hands down my favourite sweet tomato. Not a speck of sour or tang. They ripen fairly quickly in season, and they keep producing all summer.

4. Isis Candy. A favourite with my kids and nephews, these plants produce prolifically all summer long, and the tomato fruits are super sweet. They’re red and yellow striped, so slightly unusual looking too.

ofps seeds5. Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge. The name describes it well in terms of appearance. It has a great old-fashioned tomato taste, and it’s fun to grow because of its rugged good looks. It’s mostly pale orange, with purple bits on the shoulders.

6. Mennonite Orange. Another orange tomato! This one is a low-acid beefsteak type tomato, great for slicing. The tomatoes will often get large enough that one slice will fill your sandwich.

7. Reisetomate. I saved the weirdest for last. This tomato looks like a bunch of grapes all jammed together, or a pile of cherry tomatoes. But it’s really one tomato with multiple deep lobes. Conversation starter for sure!

Please join us at the Seed Love Seed Swap! (LINK). In addition to all these fun tomato varieties – and I’m sure there will be more from other people – we will also have peppers, flowers, greens, and herbs.

I hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, would you please consider sharing this post with friends who might like to attend? Many thanks!


the easiest way to package seeds

The Seed Love Seed Swap is coming up at the end of this week: November 9, from 1 pm to 3 pm at Platform 302 in Hamilton. I’m so looking forward to meeting people I’ve only had online conversations with, chatting with old friends that I haven’t seen in awhile, and visiting with people who are becoming the people I see most often. My seeds are packaged and ready to go, I’ve started gathering other things I’ll need, and now I’m waiting for Saturday and making plans to promote this on social media. (Please share!!)

Packaging Seeds for the Seed Love Seed Swap

baggiesThe easiest method for packaging seeds, in my opinion, is to buy the small plastic sealable bags from the dollar store. 80 bags for $1, and they do a good job of keeping the seeds dry (better than paper). Of course, you can make the fancy (or not fancy) origami envelopes, buy coin envelopes, and use other small containers. I prefer the small plastic baggies because they’re simple and cheap. I like that they’re re-sealable, because I have a large wooden box full of seeds and they tend to get jostled around when I’m looking for certain seeds. I already have bags that have a jumble of seeds in them because of opened paper envelopes leaking, and I’d like to prevent that wherever possible.

Once you’ve figured out your preferred packaging option, the next important thing about packaging seeds for the swap is labeling. It’s a good idea to put as much information about the type of seeds as you can, so whoever takes your seeds can search the internet or books for more details about whatever seeds you’re offering. It’s also a good idea to use permanent ink of some sort. You never know how long the seeds will sit in a stash.

Seed Love Seed Swap

I hope you can make it out to the swap this Saturday. Can you share this with friends and family? The more the merrier!

More Info (LINK)




using strawberry leaves

strawberry plant

Now that the cold weather is upon us, my everbearing strawberries are finally done. There are some little berries on the plants, but they won’t ripen in the cold. It’s time to cut them down and throw some mulch over them for the winter.


Strawberry Leaf Tea

Every once in awhile I like to make ‘Garden Tea’, which is really just a compilation of leaves from the garden. Mint, raspberry leaves,  and strawberry leaves feature prominently in this tea, plus whatever else happens to be around. If I’ve just been foraging and have some fresh or dried nettle leaves, I’ll add those too. When we’re out camping, often I’ll just gather the wild raspberry and strawberry leaves (and mint if I’m lucky) and make a tea from those. It’s very soothing, this blend of flavours.


Leafcutter Bees Use Strawberry Leaves Too

leafcutter bee holesIt’s a good sign for the garden, especially your fruiting plants like squashes and cucumbers and peppers, when you see perfectly round circles cut into the edges of plant leaves. It may not look polished and spotless in the garden when this happens, but it’s good news. Leafcutter bees are good pollinators. They use the cut-out circles to line the narrow spaces where they lay their eggs. So if you see this kind of semi-destruction, don’t panic, it’s great news for your garden.

This leaf is from a White Soul alpine variety of strawberry. Alpine varieties tend to have smaller berries, but they are packed with flavour and they don’t send runners all over the garden. These are white, which helps with the bird problem. Birds are way more likely to eat red strawberries. In fact, I don’t think I had a single issue with birds eating these white strawberries, and they were not covered at all.

I’ll be sharing some of these seeds at the Seed Love Seed Swap on Saturday, November 9, 2014. Please come if you can!

More details on the events page (link).

I hope to see you there!


eating wild rosehips

red rosehipsI’ve been eating wild rosehips since I was about ten years old. My dad used to take me and my siblings out with him when he went foraging for rosehips, nettles, puffballs, watercress, and probably some other things that I’ve forgotten over the years.

I can’t forget the rosehips, though. Tangy and sweet, with more vitamin C than oranges, they are nature’s little candy bombs.

How to Eat a Rosehip

Many people gather rosehips and dry them out to preserve them. Most often they will make tea from the rosehips. However, vitamin C is destroyed by heat, so if you consume the rosehips in this way, you’re losing out on some excellent nutrition. I like to eat them raw, preferably right where I found them. I’ve developed a technique for this that is fairly straightforward, although it’s hard on the thumbnail. If you have a pocketknife that you can bring foraging, I recommend it. This guideline is for when you forget your knife. Like I pretty much always do.

Eating a Wild Rosehip Raw, Fresh From the Bush:

1. Take off the black end and the stem.

2. Use your thumbnail (or a pocketknife, if you’ve thought ahead) to dig a groove from end to end.

rosehip fingernail

3. Squeeze the two ends together, to ‘pop’ open the rosehip and reveal the seeds.

rosehip popped open

4. Scrape the seeds out of the shell of the rosehip. Again, with your thumbnail (or knife).

rosehip shells

5. Eat the shell of the rosehip. The seeds are furry and don’t really taste that great.

6. Scatter the seeds along your walk as you continue to hike. You never know which one will grow into another wild rose bush!


Can I Eat My Hybrid Tea Rosehips?

Technically, all rosehips are edible. Not all are equal in taste, though, and having tried the hybrid rosehips I can tell you that they don’t really taste very good. Not as sweet and tangy as the wild ones.


growing sweet potato in a pot

sweet potatoesTo be honest, I didn’t expect much from the sprouty sweet potato that I planted this spring. They grow nice vines, which is why I planted the tuber instead of composting it. Confining it to a container didn’t seem to be the best idea for actually producing anything edible. However, the spud had other ideas. Look at these cute little sweet potatoes!

Ornamental, Edible Vine: Sweet Potato

So the takeaway here is: plant your sprouty sweet potatoes!

They have a long season, which means earlier in spring is better than later. Mine were growing in my greenhouse for a bit before they were outside in their containers. If you don’t have any sprouty sweet potatoes, I would recommend buying organic if you want them to actually grow. Often the conventional ones will be sprayed to prevent them from sprouting. (link)

Even if they’re not sprayed, though, keeping them at cooler temperatures before you try to grow them will also slow down germination (see above link, a comment on the post by another researcher). So keep them warm when you bring them home from the store! And buy them in January for sprouting in March/April. Just leave them out on the counter/shelf somewhere warm in the house, they will likely sprout on their own before you plant them.

They will sprout stems/leaves from one end, and roots from the other, generally, but the tuber is flexible. In my case, the end sprouted, so I chopped off the top 2 inches and planted that. As you can see, it grew lots of roots from the amount of tuber I left it. So you could probably chop it in half and plant both halves and it will give you two plants.

If you grow the vine in a container, give it a deep container with lots of room and healthy, nutritious soil. Keep it watered but not soaking wet – make sure you have drainage holes in the bottom of the container so the roots don’t rot. It likes sunshine, 6-8 hours or so per day.

Next year I think I’ll try growing it in the ground, see if I get bigger sweet potatoes! This was such a nice surprise, I’m hoping that maybe I can grow even more next year. Let me know if you have any experience with these, I’d like to know if there are any tips or tricks that will help.


building a cider press

flowing ciderHappy (belated) Thanksgiving!

When I married my hubby, I was instantly imported into a family that loves to tinker and build stuff. A few weeks ago my father-in-law helped me build a cider press, and this Thanksgiving when the extended family got together, we made cider! It was so much fun to have the kids and everyone involved and enjoying the cider afterwards too.

It was a fairly straightforward project, made easier with the help of someone more skilled with power tools than I. Although, if he had his way, we would’ve built it out of steel and welded it all together!

This is a work-in-progress. I will share it here as inspiration and provide a bit of a how-to, but know that it is not perfect and there are still things we’d like to improve. It is possible to get amazing cider from something that is not perfect, though. All the kids agree.

Building a Homemade Cider Press

bottle jackThe first thing I bought was a bottle jack. This provides 6 tons of pressure. Based on my casual online research, it seemed like a good amount to start with. I knew I wanted to use wood, so I didn’t want to get a bottle jack that could possibly break apart the press!

If I would’ve done the calculations that my engineer hubby wanted me to do, I probably could’ve figured out exactly how many tons of pressure the press could handle and bought a larger bottle jack. However, I told him if he was worried, HE could do the calculations, and probably in his sleep. I didn’t want to spent hours on something, only to confirm that all those cider-making guys on the internet were right about 6 tons being a good number. Risky, maybe, but if I was taking too big of a risk, hubby would save me. He’s good like that.

porcupine pailMaybe I’m too trusting of ‘all those cider-making guys on the internet’, but I figure I need to start somewhere, and waiting for perfection is going to kill me quicker than making a mistake or two.

The porcupine pail is another example of trust: a food-grade plastic pail, wrapped with tie-wraps to keep it from exploding due to the pressure. Holes are drilled in the bottom and along the bottom two inches of the sides. We did tweak this, though. Instructions said drill holes all the way to the top, but we didn’t like that idea.

I took a few snapshots of the press today after it was cleaned up so you can see how it’s put together.

First up: the picture that started it all, taken from

cider press plans

The image was very fuzzy so we couldn’t see the measurements. But it clearly gives the basic overview, so we went with it. Our press is 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide, because cedar 4×4 post lumber comes in 10 foot lengths. We made modifications on the feet, and we aren’t using the square pressboards, as you saw earlier.

Here’s our bottom side view. 

bottom side view
The piece of wood extending from the bottom of the shelf is for attaching the meat grinder that we used to process the apples.

Here’s a pic of the grinder in action:

apple musher
As you can see, the boys got tired of the hand cranking and decided to tweak the process just a bit.

I should also show a closeup of the top. Here it is:

top of the press
Hubby found some HUGE washers/metal plates, plus the C-channel (blue metal) to put on the top bar to keep the bottle jack from pressing a hole into the cedar.

All in all, I think it worked pretty well. Still more to tweak, though! Someone wants to incorporate more metal parts, like a drip tray with a spigot (awesome!). And replace the porcupine pail with a stainless steel tube (next year…). And…  there’s more, but I’ll save it for another post.

cider4 cheers