Cedar bark harvesting

One of the fantastic things I found while living outside of Vancouver over the summer of 2013 was the Urban Weaving Group.
With a deal worked out with the Parks Board (who manage parks throughout the city) for a long term lease of a field house the group had a home for at least 5 years. For anyone whose ever done any type of craft, storage space is very important and the field house, although a little small, is big enough to store materials and host small workshops.
I regularly went on Tuesday evenings to the cedar weaving facilitated by Todd de Vries and absolutely loved it.
There was always a great group of people to sit and talk with while weaving and everyone was happy to provide advice if needed. Not to mention the tasty treats that also get brought along to share, salmon and bannock anyone?
A massive highlight for me was having the chance to head up to Squamish and harvest cedar bark. Selecting a tree, giving thanks, pulling the bark, removing the outer bark and then further processing once it’s home to split it into thinner strips for weaving.
Although I was far from an expert it was inspiring to see the work of the more advanced weavers and the spiders and bracelets I made improved over time.

Beetroot and carrot salad with tahini miso dressing

This gorgeous image is © Janie Pirie 2012. Used with permission

Growing up in the tropics there wasn’t a lot of fresh beetroot around and I’ve enjoyed the abundance of this vegetable during my time in Canada, creating many delicious salads and experimenting with lacto-fermentation (not a huge fan, I prefer fermented carrots) and dishes such as borscht.

This recipe is super simple and can be made ahead of time; in fact I think it tastes better of the flavours have some time to meld before serving.


  • 1.5 cups beetroot (about 2 smallish beets)
  • 1.5 cups carrot (about 2 medium carrots)
  • 1/3 cup red onion (about 1/4 of an onion)
  • 1.5 tbsp miso paste
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup fresh coriander
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 3-4 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds (optional)


  1. Grate beetroot and carrot.
  2. Finely chop the fresh coriander and red onion.
  3. Mix the vegetables together in your serving bowl.
  4. In a smaller bowl measure the miso paste and add a couple of tablespoons of the warm water; mix until evenly blended.
  5. Add the tahini and stir well before adding the rest of the water and stirring until the dressing has an even consistency.
  6. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and coriander and mix until well combined.
  7. Stir the sesame oil through.
  8. Let the salad sit for at least 20 minutes and sprinkle with toasted sunflower seeds before serving.


Mud Girls Rule!

Mud Girls Natural Building CollectiveLast week I was lucky enough to participate in the second half of a 10 day cob building workshop facilitated by the Mud Girls, a natural building collective that works across western BC. Our mission was to create a farm gate store and cob oven at Funky Revolution Farm on Salt Spring Island. Over a 2 week period approximately 30 participants completed a cob oven and got the farm stand almost ready for stocking.

It was a fantastic week of sunny weather that saw about 15 participants camping, learning about cob and other natural building principles, swimming in the nearby lake, enjoying the tasty food provided and hanging out with the kids. Childcare is included for all participants at every single Mud Girls workshop and although I don’t have children myself I appreciate how this can mean the difference between attending or missing out on a Mud Girls event.

I enjoyed getting familiar with the basic building processes of building with cob – see a very brief description below – and was lucky enough to try out some plastering on the finished walls.

  1. Measure out your ingredients (clay and sand in a set ratio followed by water and finally straw – it’s like rebar)
  2. Smoosh it all together until homogenous; feet are good for this
  3. Build your walls a handful at a time; do your best to keep the walls straight (plumb)
  4. Incorporate features such as windows, pretty glass bottles and dead men (not literally; they are wooden frames that can then be used to attach items such as shelves and door frames when building is completed)

A highlight was getting to meet the farm crew (I admit I had farm envy of their young orchard) and chat with the other workshop participants. It was a diverse group which included Amanda and Max from Laughing Mother Farm in California and Sarita from Habitat Landscape Design on the Canadian Sunshine Coast.

The workshop facilitators were always ready to answer questions and enter into discussion about natural building and we covered a great range of topics.

  • Building foundations
  • Incorporating recycled materials such as tyres and bottles
  • Roofing
  • Different ways to finish walls with plaster
  • Flooring
  • Adding windows, door frames and arches
  • Using ‘dead men’ and corbels
  • Methods of insulating structures (straw bale and clay/straw slip insulate while cob provides thermal mass)

I was equally fascinated by how the Mud Girls functions as a successful cooperative that has now been going for 8 years. They practice consensus decision making and accessibility to their services and workshops is a key priority. With Molly in her third trimester and Sheera with a 10 week old bub, they were a a true demonstration of what can be achieved with commitment, determination, passion, skill and support.

If I could do it again next week I would so a big shout out goes to Nico and Mykal of Chainge the Cycle who first put the idea of a Mud Girls workshop in my head!

Thanks to Lisa Rilkoff for the photos.

Buckwheat Hummus

BuckwheatWe didn’t have any chickpeas in the house the other day so after a quick search of the internet and the assurance that it wouldn’t be a complete disaster I thought I’d try a buckwheat hummus instead.

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) isn’t actually a grain (i.e. a grass) at all but actually a fruit/nut. It’s easy to grow and supposedly fairly simple to harvest on a small scale although last year it didn’t feel that easy and in the end if fell off the to do list but perhaps that was the variety we were growing. It’s packed full of protein with up to a 74% protein absorption rate and has a good balance of amino acids. All this in addition to its versatility in the kitchen (I’ve used it in muesli, cooked up with vegies, added to soups and now hummus) means it’s definitely something that should be in the pantry.


  • 1 cup soaked/sprouted buckwheat
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Soak the buckwheat for a day/overnight then rinse and drain in a colander. If you have time then let it sit in the colander for another day or so rinsing a couple of times. This gives the kernels a little more time to sprout.
  2. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
  3. Add some water if you find the consistency is too thick.

It turned out surprisingly well. I omitted the cumin I normally include in chickpea hummus and it was still tasty but of course I’d love to know of any particular spice combinations that work with buckwheat.

This is adapted from a recipe at Get RaWcous!

An incidental garlic crop

garlic rustWhen I arrived at Common Ground I noted the garlic growing next to the washing station. It was a thick patch of the stuff (with plenty of weeds of course) and no discernible rows or spacing. I found out it was incidental garlic; the result of a very wet June the previous year which made the garlic go mouldy. Faced with this loss Dave decided to till it all in and this season plenty of it popped up again. Unfortunately, garlic rust started appearing and instead of diagnosing the problem and taking action straight away the garlic fell to the bottom of the to do list the fungus continues to spread.

What is garlic rust?
Garlic rust is a fungus. There are at least two varieties that affect garlic from the genus Puccinia (Puccinia allii and Puccinia porri) I’m not sure exactly which type was affecting us but it looks exactly like the picture to the right; picture credit to Garden Betty. It reduces a plant’s ability to photosynthesise, results in smaller bulbs and can eventually kill the plant.

What causes it?
Garlic rust spores are wind-borne and can also overwinter on plant material. The fungus thrives in hot, humid conditions so given that the washing station was draining into the garlic patch which was pretty weedy and the same place garlic grew last year it’s no surprise it popped up.

What to do about it?
While it seems there’s little to do once the fungus has gained a foothold, Miles Smart from Cherry Lane Farm seems to have had success using rotten fish as a preventative measure in the form of a soil and foliar drench.
If only a few signs of rust are evident then removing and burning (not composting) the leaves or whole plants that are affected can help prevent the fungus spreading – keeping any bulbs or scapes for consumption.
Of course the usual good gardening practices will help keep the fungus away:

  • Adequate spacing between garlic plants
  • Keeping the garlic weeded
  • Planting it in a sunny spot
  • Rotating crops so alliums aren’t planted in the same place more than once every three or four years
  • All is not lost…
    Garlic harvest hung to dryWe harvested the garlic scapes a little early (end of May) and got a good harvest with minimal rust markings. In an effort to protect the rest of our alliums since the rust can spread to anything in that family (leeks, onions, scallions etc) we harvested the garlic a week after the scapes and while there is a huge variety in bulb size (mostly due to the way it grew) it’s still a respectable harvest and means there will be plenty for our CSA boxes. Normally we wouldn’t harvest garlic until July/August but we also needed the space and it does feel good to get the garlic harvest put away.
    Also, according to a study by the University of California garlic that has been affected by the fungus can still be used as seed garlic the next year so we can save some and plant again this fall.