Category: Blog

Garden Update: December 2023

It’s been an unusual winter so far for Winnipeg. We’ve had very little snow.

For quite a while, it was looking like we’d have a brown Christmas, something we haven’t had since the mid-90s. But the days leading up to Christmas saw some snowfall. It wasn’t a lot, but it was some. Normally at this time of year we’ve got maybe a foot or two of snow, but so far this year we’ve got about an inch.

While it has been nice not having to do any shovelling, it has left us a little concerned about the garden.

We plant our garlic at the end of the summer and rely on a cold winter to keep the cloves in stasis until the spring warmth brings it to life and growth begins. Our winter so far as been hovering around 0 Celsius / 32 Fahrenheit—some days it’s just below freezing and some days it’s just above freezing. While I haven’t uncovered the garlic to check on it, my fear was that the warm days might’ve encouraged the garlic to grow. However, we’re fully past freezing now, so what’s done is done and we’ll see what happens in the spring.

The garlic patch is covered by garden debris to help insulate it over the winter.

The other risk we run with very little snow is water supply. While we prefer to water the garden with rain water, when we go through dry spells we rely on the city supply of water. This past summer was quite dry, which required a lot of city water. A handful of years ago, lakes in various parts of the province were low and water rationing was put in place. A dry summer followed by a low-snow winter might find us in that situation again. Here’s hoping we get several feet of snow in January through March.

But that’s enough worrying about things I can’t control.

Alcohol Projects

The honeydew melon wine finished a couple weeks ago and I bottled it up. I haven’t tried it yet…but I’m a little hesitant.

For background for folks new to the blog, I really dislike honeydew melon and John, my husband, is not really a fan of it. We grew it because our neighbour gave us some seedlings, and when we realized that neither of us want to eat it, I happened upon a recipe for honeydew melon wine.

Sometimes wine tastes like what it’s made from, like grape wine, dandelion wine, and cherry wine. But sometimes it doesn’t taste at all like what it’s made from and instead just tastes like a nice wine, like beet wine, parsnip wine, and corn cob wine. I didn’t know which type of wine honeydew melon would produce, but I certainly hoped for the kind that tastes nothing like what it’s made from.

Unfortunately, with the tiny spoonful taste I had, it was very melon-y. And it has an extremely intense melon-y aroma. Blech.

John thinks it’s all right.

We’ll leave it for a month or two before we crack open a bottle and see if ageing it changes the flavour and aroma. I found apple wine changed drastically over time, so here’s hoping the same is true of honeydew melon wine.

I’ve taken on a few other alcohol projects in the last couple months:

  • I did up a batch of rhubarb ginger gin. Normally this takes on a nice golden hue, but this time around it turned a bright, gorgeous pink.
  • As a bit of an experiment, I tried a lemon-lime soju, based on my recipes for grapefruit soju and orange soju. It has a lovely citrus taste and could easily be drunk as-is, but would likely taste wonderful mixed with a splash of sparkling water for a sort-of alcoholic Sprite.
  • Back in the summer when I was utterly exhausted from juicing apples and canning the juice, I’d sliced up a bunch and bagged them for alcohol projects. The first I’ve taken on is an apple whisky with a hint of cinnamon.
  • In addition, I’ve started a batch of apple liqueur. This one takes a couple months to make, so I’ll be sipping these summer flavours in the deepest depths of winter.
  • My mom had some leftover cranberries and rosemary at Christmas, so I threw those in a jar and topped it off with gin. I’ll let it infuse for a couple weeks, strain out the cranberries and rosemary, and see what flavour adventure I’ve created. At present, the gin has turned a brilliant red.

The sugar shortage continues

As I mentioned in passing in my recent pumpkin butter post, there’s a sugar shortage going on in Western Canada. Apparently all, or nearly all, of the sugar in Western Canada is supplied by one company that’s been on strike since September, which resulted in the shelves going bare in the grocery store as we were leading up to Christmas baking season.

That also meant I needed to ration my sugar supply. By making kombucha, I require a cup of sugar every eight to ten days to start a new batch—and with no end to the strike in sight, I can’t risk running out…which means not taking on extra projects.

However, a friend visited from Ontario, a part of Canada not experiencing a sugar shortage, and she brought us a 10 kilogram bag of sugar as a Christmas present!

This means I finally get to try out the new steam juicer I bought (CA Amazon, US Amazon). I’ve got three large ziplock bags of tart cherries in my freezer just begging to be turned into wine or liqueur. I normally find it a bit of a laborious process because of the juicing step, so I’m looking forward to using the juicer to easily create sediment-free juice—and then add a TON of sugar to turn it into wine.

When I try the juicer, I’ll post a review here on the site.

Planning for 2024

It seems the garden truly is a year-round project, even in a climate where half the year sees the garden frozen solid and buried in snow.

John and I are already having conversations about what we want more of, what we want less of, and how we might rotate the crops to get a better yield. Some areas of the garden are sunnier than others, the local ecosystem of certain patches can lead to higher yields, and some plants produce more when planted next to each other—all factors we consider when we plan for the summer.

But until then…

While we’re certainly thinking about the 2024 garden, it’s still months before we actually have to do anything. We unfortunately don’t have the space to set up seed starters indoors, so we rely on planting seeds directly in the ground and buying seedlings from the garden centre.

Our neighbour, whose garden we use, also provides seedlings that he starts at his house. Normally this is in the form of tomato plants—he provides us with several dozen seedlings of a whole variety of tomatoes—as well as a few other veggies. This year, after seeing how much we love bell peppers, he’ll also start a bunch of pepper seedlings for us.

But until that time of year rolls around…we just have to enjoy eating all our preserved produce and toasting with our garden wines.

Garden Update: October 2023

With an unusually warm October for Winnipeg, our gardening projects have continued a week or two longer than they normally do.

All of our vegetables and fruit are harvested and preserved (canned, fermented, frozen, and/or put in storage) and as I write the draft of this post, I’m currently drying the last of our herbs. Parsley is in the dehydrator right now and thyme will go in tomorrow. After that, I have to finish up the mustard seed—I have a few plants drying in large paper bags and I need to break out the seeds and filter out the detritus—and with that, make a batch of mustard. The ginger still needs to be dug up, though we’re undecided if we’re going to put it in a pot and turn it into an indoor plant or if I’m going to make candied ginger with it. In my September update, I’d mentioned the plan to dig up and remove the horseradish from the front yard—at this point I think we’re keeping it where it is for one more year.

As I’m typing the draft of this post, my husband is building a pergola in our front yard—a large wooden structure for the grape vine to wrap itself around. Previously he’s used a structure made of dried out sunflower stalks (which are surprisingly durable) held together by rope, but it really wasn’t a long-term solution. This September, a windy storm knocked the whole thing over.

This pergola has become a community endeavour. John (my husband) is one of those people that knows everyone in the neighbourhood. He got initial advice from our neighbour, who directed him to another neighbour across the street—and that fellow has become John’s co-worker on this project. John has little to no experience building wooden structures or woodwork in general, so this across-the-street neighbour’s help is greatly appreciated. In order to put the posts securely into the ground, John borrowed a post-hole-digger from another neighbour down the street, who similarly offered advice on the project.

If it were me doing this, I would have just hired a company, LOL. But, John being John, this has turned into a more-affordable project that is almost community-driven. (On the plus side, when John sent me to the hardware store for the washers he forgot to buy, I noticed another neighbour down the back lane had put their old barbecue out with the trash—so I got a new-to-me barbecue that’s a definite improvement over our old one, which I would have missed out on if John hadn’t taken on this project.)

The pergola is done now!

Our grape vine is certainly going to love this! These are red wine grapes. In the spring, we might buy a white wine grape vine to plant on the other side of the pergola. Hopefully in a few years we’ll have enough grapes in a summer to make small batches of wine.

Speaking of wine…

The garden wines, also from the September update, continue to ferment. (If you’re looking at making garden wines at home, check out my Rough Guide to Making Country Wines post.)

To sum up, the following are still fermenting:

  • Chokecherry wine (this might be almost finished)
  • Beet wine (does not taste like beets)
  • Honeydew melon wine
  • Corn cob wine (does not taste like corn)
  • Grape wine (this might be almost finished)
  • Rosemary wine

Since the last post, the sour cherry wine completed its thing and I bottled it up. It is amazingly delicious! I got seven half bottles (375 ml)—we drank two of them pretty quick, we shared two with the person whose cherry tree we raided, I put two in storage for next summer (my step-dad lives out-of-country and will be back in the summer, so I’m saving a handful of different wines to share with him), and I have one bottle left that John and I will likely pull out soon. We like to share some wine when we’re watching a season premiere or season finale of a show, so we’ll likely share it this week when we start season three of What We Do In The Shadows.

The sour cherry wine retained much of its cherry taste, which was a nice surprise. (Some wines like beet, parsnip, and corn cob lose their original taste—thank god.) And now I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I have a big bag of cherries sitting in my freezer, waiting to be used for something…and I don’t know if I should make more cherry wine, more cherry gin (which tastes phenomenal with simple syrup and lemon juice), or more cherry liqueur (which is also phenomenal). I’ll have to do a survey with friends and family to see which they liked best.

Levelling up

Because of the magic of the Instagram algorithm, the app shows me content from food preservers and homesteaders. Around this time of year, they’re all showing off their pantries filled to the brim with canned and preserved goods.

I think I’m almost at that level. At least for us, a family of two, I’m at that level. (Quite often these social media posts come from content creators who come from families of four or more—they would need to produce and preserve a lot more food than we would.)

Because our house is tiny and doesn’t have a basement, we’ve been using my mom’s place for food storage. Unfortunately, it’s always been a bit of a mess that my mom has thankfully put up with. This year, John got in his organizing mode and decided we needed to treat my mom better. We got a bunch of metal shelving units from the hardware store and lined them along the walls in an unused bedroom in my mom’s basement. It’s now our food storage room. We keep all of our jars of preserved food in there, our wine-making equipment, and the squash.

We keep the potatoes in a separate room in my mom’s basement, one that does not have a window and where the door is rarely opened. The total darkness keeps them fresher for longer.

As usual, we filled up my mom’s chest freezer, mostly with rhubarb. This year we bought a small chest freezer for our house…and quickly filled it up. So we bought another small chest freezer for my mom’s basement…and it’s half full. (And in case you’re wondering, the freezer attached to our fridge was filled to the brim with veggies back in June.)

We clearly have a year’s supply of vegetables.

As a thank-you to my mom for letting us take up so much space at her house, she has free access to any and all food stored at her place. She’s been enjoying the pasta sauce, salsa, and beets that I canned this year.

Celebrating the harvest

Every year as the garden wraps up, I host a Garden Harvest BBQ, where most of the dinner ingredients come from the garden.

This year the dinner included:


  • Pumpkin sourdough bread
  • Grilled baguette slices
  • Basil pesto
  • Pickled banana peppers
  • Cowboy candy (candied jalapeño peppers)
  • Pickled beets
  • Toum (a fluffy garlic spread)
  • The pumpkin, basil, peppers, beets, and garlic all came from our garden.

Main Course:

  • Garlic and rosemary grilled pork chops
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and potatoes
  • The garlic, rosemary, Brussels sprouts, squash, and potatoes all came from our garden.


  • Black bean brownies
  • The black beans came from our garden.


  • Mint tea
  • Rhubarb wine
  • The mint and rhubarb came from our garden.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures to share with you… but it was delicious!

Looking ahead to November

Gardening is really a year-round activity, especially when you go all-in on food preserving and homesteading (even just urban homesteading like we’re doing). While things certainly slow down in November, they don’t cease.

In early November I’m going to treat myself to a steam juicer—this one, I think—as it will make juicing apples, rhubarb, cherries, and tomatoes so much easier. I’ll have to test it next year to see if it works well with cucumbers; my concern is the heat of the juicing process might dampen the freshness that’s associated with cucumber juice.

When it arrives, my first project will be juicing that bag of sour cherries, provided I figure out if I’m making liqueur, gin, or wine.

Buried in the back of my freezer, I also have pincherries. This is something my stepdad harvested when he was here this summer. I’ve never worked with them before, so I’m not sure what to do. Since I don’t have a ton of them, maybe I’ll soak them in some gin and make pincherry gin. (If I do that, then I think that reduces my options with the sour cherries to liqueur or wine.)

Sometime in the next month or so, our popcorn—what little of it we were able to save from the squirrel—might be dry enough to pull from the cob and start using on movie nights.

The squirrel story: We had somewhere around 60 cobs of popcorn, which would have easily been enough for a year’s supply. In half a day—half a day—the squirrel either ate, partially ate, or absconded with 54 cobs. Yes. Out of 60, we’re down to 6. We harvested them right away, but they’re supposed to fully dry on the stalks before harvesting and then dry further in the house, so I’m not sure if the early harvest will affect the poppability of the popcorn.

Looking ahead to next year

We’re always thinking of what to do next year. What do we want more of, what do we want less of, and what do we want to introduce?

There was some concern that the neighbour whose yard we use would move, but he’s committed to staying at least another year. To sweeten the deal, my husband offered to help him tend to his flowers all of next summer.

We definitely want our lengthy list of usuals: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, onions, cucumber, peas (for canning), sugar snap peas (for snacking), potatoes, squash (pumpkin, spaghetti, butternut, acorn), bell peppers, hot peppers, popcorn, sweet corn, tomatoes, kidney beans, black beans, garlic, celery, mustard, green onions (I think they’re also known as spring onions), sunflowers, Saskatoons (AKA June berries or service berries), blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, rhubarb, horseradish, basil, rosemary, parsley, mint, dill, and thyme. I’m sure I’ve forgotten one or two things.

I know we want to increase our mint (John has a renewed love for mint tea) and our fruit. Part of increasing fruit means buying more blueberry plants and possibly getting another grape vine. But it also means figuring out what other fruits we want and figuring out if we can grow them in our climate—I definitely want to try watermelon again (we’d tried it this year, but the squirrel…), and if this honeydew melon wine is tasty we’ll want more of that.

Another thinking project for next year is figuring out where we want to plant things.

Part of this means where in the yard. Mustard is better in the back yard because it gets covered with insect eggs in the front yard. This year we moved the celery from the front to the back and nearly the whole crop was destroyed by slugs.

Very little celery was salvageable.

Part of this also means which property. We been invited to use up some of the garden space at a meditation retreat centre just outside of Winnipeg where—(wait for it…)—they do not have a squirrel problem. Our popcorn is definitely going out there.

John may move both our sweet corn and popcorn out to this rural garden, which frees up a ton of space at home. Ideally, corn is alternated with beans year after year—corn uses nitrogen and beans replenish nitrogen—so we will likely be growing beans in our corn patch next year. We can only eat so many beans, so we also need to figure out which beans to grow and at what quantities and what to do with them. We definitely want more black beans as we’ve almost used up this year’s supply already (I made a batch of black bean brownies and today I made a batch of black bean tofu).

As well, it’s gotten me thinking…if we’re looking at alternative protein sources like beans, should we be expanding our meatless meal options? Both John and I don’t eat a lot of meat and we like the idea of being friendlier to the environment, so this is leading me to wondering if chickpeas and possibly lentils could be grown in our climate. As well, we don’t consume a lot of dairy, so can we look at homemade non-dairy milks and cheeses made from legumes? Those are questions to explore over the winter.

The big unknown for next year is the sour cherries. The couple that owns the property where we pick cherries has pointed out that the tree is dying and might not last much longer. If it does die, we’ll have to find a new source of cherries. (I think a house across the street from us has a cherry tree—the strategy might be to send John over there to make friends with yet another neighbour.)

Enjoying the harvest

The big task over the next eight months or so is to simply enjoy the harvest and the months of effort put into food preserving.

We have a full year’s supply of vegetables—we’ll run out of broccoli pretty quickly, since we didn’t get a big harvest, but that’s easily made up for by our over-abundance of bell peppers—and we easily have a year’s supply of lots of canned goods. As the wine fully ferments and gets bottled, we’ll likely have a year’s supply of it. Grocery bills dip in the winter due to all this, but more importantly, quality of life skyrockets with all this gourmet homegrown produce.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how we expanded into our other neighbour’s yard this year with just a strip of their property along our shared fence. We may or may not expand beyond that strip in their yard next year. I think they want us to expand so they don’t have to mow the lawn, but it’s also a lot more garden work for us, and we’re realizing we do have limits. This neighbour is a group home with a couple residents and a few regular staff. One of the absolute joys this year was to show up at their doorstep and give them bags and boxes of vegetables, most of which were grown on their property. We’ve learned that one of the residents there absolutely loves fresh corn on the cob, carrots, and potatoes. Whether or not we expand further in their yard next year, I think we’ll be sharing more of our over-abundance with them. It helps build neighbourly relations, but more importantly, my husband loves knowing that someone is truly enjoying the work he puts into gardening, and he definitely has a very appreciative fan next door.

The only appreciative fan my husband dislikes is the squirrel.

Garden Update: September 2023

As the height of summer passes and we inch our way slowly toward fall, we find ourselves entering the busiest part of the year for me. While my husband is the primary gardener, I’m the primary food preserver—and everything needs to be preserved in the next few weeks.

Harvesting and Preserving

We learned our lesson last year. We used to like keeping things in the ground as long as possible, meaning that when we get the notification that frost is coming (usually in mid- to late-October), we then hurry to harvest everything all at once. And that means having to preserve non-stop for days or weeks to make sure nothing goes rotten.

I think I really burned myself out last year.

This year, we’re harvesting things when we think they’re ready rather than leaving them as long as possible. Really, an extra couple weeks won’t make much difference.

This means that this past weekend we harvested all the beets—53 pounds—and I pickled 26 pints / half-litres. We also gave some away to both our neighbours, my mom, and some friends of ours. We still have a small pile left. If I can find the motivation, I might try turning them into beet chips.

This past weekend also saw our potato harvest—234 pounds of Yukon gold and red-skinned potatoes. Thankfully, these don’t need anything done with them, at least not right away. In the past, a restaurant has taken some of our Yukon gold potatoes off of us, so I’m hoping they’ll be interested again this year. The red-skinned potatoes are good for canning, so once things settle down in November/December, I might look at canning some potatoes. These make great last-minute additions to dinner (fry them up like gnocchi) or breakfasts (fry them up like hash browns)—and since canning fully cooks them in the process, adding them to dinner or breakfast just takes as long as heating them up and maybe getting a little crispy on the outside. I’m hoping to convince a coworker to teach me how to make gnocchi, as I’d love to have bags of homemade gnocchi in the freezer, ready to be pulled out for dinners.

The tomatoes are ripening at a nice pace. They keep me busy but don’t overwhelm me. I just finished canning a batch of salsa and I’m stewing up a batch of butter chicken sauce that’ll be canned later today.

Looking ahead, I think this next week or two is going to be the herb-harvest period. We’ve got lots of basil that I’ll turn into pesto, lots of oregano that I’ll dry for kitchen use, some mint I’ll dry for a friend for tea, and rosemary that I’ll likely turn into a batch of rosemary wine. We also have some thyme, but I don’t know if I have a use for it—I could dry it, but it’s not really something I cook with—so I might just leave that one in the garden.

A lot of the other remaining things can wait till I have time. The peppers are slowly ripening but they’re fine sitting on the plant until I’m ready; the carrots and parsnips can wait till we have time; and the black beans and kidney beans are slowly drying and I’m in no rush to harvest them.

Legal Mustard

A few years ago, a wild mustard plant took root in our garden and we decided to let it grow. Though mustard leaves are edible, we never really came to like them. The seeds, though…I taught myself how to collect mustard seeds and make homemade mustard.

The first batch was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I threw it in the back of the fridge and forgot about it. And when the following spring rolled around and we were doing our first barbecue, I pulled out that mustard with a wary look. We gave it a try and ohmygod it was delicious. The flavour clearly matures over time.

Mustard plants grow millions of seeds and no matter how hard you try to collect them all, some always scatter. Year after year our mustard harvest grew as the plants spread. We never had to plant them ourselves—nature took care of it all.

Then, last year, we got a letter from the city about property maintenance bylaws. The letter was very unclear but mentioned tall grass (we have about two square feet of grass that got a little long) and noxious weeds. After researching it, wild mustard is a noxious weed. We had to tear it all out.

Turns out, after we tore it all out and contacted the inspector to verify we’d done everything right, he told us he hadn’t even noticed the wild mustard. The letter was just about the tall grass and the generic language included noxious weeds even though that wasn’t what he flagged for our property.

(Wild mustard is a noxious weed because it resembles canola and can infiltrate canola fields. If a canola harvest has too much mustard in it, the whole lot has to be dumped.)

We’ve still got half a jar of now-illegal mustard in the back of the fridge that I pull out when friends are over.

This year, we discovered the seed catalogue we order from has mustard—a legal kind!

The mustard plants are slowly dying off now—the seeds are harvested when the plant is brown and brittle—and I’m throwing the plants in one of those large paper lawn bags. In a few weeks I’ll work on harvesting the seeds and then set out to return to the world of mustard-making.

Since this is a new variety, the heat level of the seeds might be different. Wild mustard was black and dark brown seeds, which are the hottest. I’m not sure what colour these seeds are yet. But I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Looking Ahead to 2024

We’ve been gardening at this scale for a few years now, but we always learn new things and make new plans.

Next year our front yard will fully be fruit-only. My husband is planning to take out the horseradish plant before the summer is over, which is the only non-fruit/non-flower plant on that part of the property.

In the past, our neighbour who lets us use his yard has talked about moving to somewhere that requires less work and upkeep, and he’s talking about it again. This means we have to start coming up with contingency plans in case he does follow through on the idea of moving. (Given what’s been going on in this part of the city, if our neighbour moves, his house will be torn down, his property divided, and two or three new houses will go up in their place. The garden will be gone.)

This year we started gardening a little strip in our other neighbour’s yard. I think they don’t like mowing the lawn, so they’re eager for us to convert their whole property to garden space. If we lose our big space, this could be the route we go.

We’ve also talked about how we could downsize things and do it all on our property. (Do we really need 234 pounds of potatoes, 130 ears of corn, and 53 pounds of beets?)

Lately, my husband has been connecting with a meditation retreat place just outside the city and has volunteered some of his time to help out in their garden. They’ve offered to let us take some of the space for our own use. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s a big space and it could be ideal for things that don’t need lots of attention (since we can’t get out there everyday), like onions, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.

Of course, for all the talk of moving, our neighbour with the giant garden might end up staying there for several more years. But it’s always good to talk about these things so that if and when it happens, it’s not a disaster and we already have a plan in place. It also gets us thinking of what we’re growing and why. Like, this year we grew honeydew melon and realized that neither of us really like honeydew melon. If we’re crunched for space, that’ll be the first to go.

Update since I wrote the draft of this post: I decided to give honeydew melon wine a try—and I had just enough melon!

Honeydew melon wine (green) and corn cob wine (yellow).

Wine Failures

In my recent post about winemaking, I listed the country wines / garden wines I’ve made and the ones that are currently in process.

Well, I’ve had two disasters—one is salvageable and the other, well, we’ll see.

I noticed the airlock on the chokecherry wine wasn’t bubbling. This is concerning as it means that the yeast might not have taken hold and might’ve died off. If that’s the case, then I don’t have a bucket of wine, but rather a bucket of sugary juice that runs the risk of going mouldy.

I do these big batches of wine over at my mom’s place where there’s more room, so I’ll head over there this weekend and see if it’s salvageable. It’s certainly possible that the lid isn’t airtight and the excess gas is escaping elsewhere (and it is indeed fermenting), which is why the airlock isn’t bubbling. We’ll see.

Edit since I wrote up the first draft of this post: The chokecherry wine is indeed fermenting. It smells alcoholic and there have been some positive changes (like there’s no longer a layer of sugar on the bottom). I’m not sure what’s going on with the airlock not bubbling, but wine is certainly being made.

That seems to be the exact problem I had with the Saskatoon wine, though that one is salvageable.

The Saskatoon wine did actively ferment during primary (the first stage of fermentation where the yeast is most active), but after moving it to a new jar (called a secondary), the bubbling seemed to have died off quickly. I left it like that for a few weeks to see what would happen…but no bubbles ever came.

Well, it had certainly fermented earlier, so I knew the yeast had taken hold and survived, so maybe this was a wine that just finished early for some reason? It could have a low sugar content and the yeast ate up all their food quickly.

Anyway, I bottled it and let it sit around for a few weeks. I started to worry, though, that I might’ve bottled it too early. Maybe the lid wasn’t tight enough and gas escaped that way rather than through the airlock?

It didn’t take much convincing my husband when I said we should try a bottle of Saskatoon wine to see if it turned out.

I opened the first bottle…and it shot out like a geyser. There was wine everywhere.

Clearly, I had my answer. The wine had not finished fermenting before I bottled it and it continued to ferment in the wine bottle. This creates a safety hazard because if the pressure builds up too much, it could shatter the bottles. Not only would that be messy, but it’s potentially dangerous.

We opened two more bottles to see if they were the same. They did not shoot out geyser-like.

Anyway, now we had three open bottles of wine, though one was half-empty after the geyser. These are 375 ml bottles (half the standard wine bottle), so collectively it was just shy of a litre of wine.

We got some snacks, poured out the wine, and settled in for the first couple episodes of The Enfield Haunting.

The wine was great! I definitely want to try it again next year and see how it tastes when it’s fully and properly fermented and aged.

There were still three more bottles of Saskatoon wine, but we didn’t want to drink that all in one night. We have a friend that was really interested in trying this wine, so we wanted to save it for our next hangout.

To be safe, I put the three bottles in extra-large Ziplock bags, hoping that this would prevent glass shards and massive spills if they shatter, and then put them in the bottom of the fridge, as the cold air will slow the fermenting if it’s still occurring. When we bring it to our friend’s place, we’ll tell him to put on rubber gloves (in case the bottle shatters in his hand…which has happened to my husband once and required a hospital visit) and do it outside (in case it’s another geyser).

Preparing for Winter

Though Winter is still a few months away, we’ll soon be in fall and then very quickly the snow will fly.

The next month or so will see me harvesting the last of what we’ve got (which is still a lot) and finding ways to preserve it. Last year, we managed to grow enough veggies to last us the year, except for mushrooms, which we don’t grow. I’m hoping this year is the same. Although I’m soon going to an indoor mushroom growing workshop, so mushrooms might soon be off our grocery list.

The only thing we buy in the produce section at the grocery store are mushrooms, apples, oranges, bananas, and ginger (which we’ve got in our garden this year!). That’s it. The rapidly rising cost of fruits and veggies hasn’t really hit us.

As the food preserving winds down in October, I hope to get back into baking bread and bagels. I’ve been maintaining my sourdough starter but haven’t had time to use it to make anything.

I’ve also got other projects I’ve been long neglecting because of the garden. Outside of this, I’m an author and a publisher and while I’ve managed to keep the publishing going, I really need to get back into writing. My favourite part of winter is the slower pace and just enjoying all of the food and drink that we’ve grown and preserved. It tastes so much better when we know we did it all ourselves.

For my husband, preparing for winter means slowly clearing out the gardens and planting the garlic so they come up right as the spring rolls around. As the snow falls, he wedges tree branches in our chain link fence and strings Christmas lights through them, giving it all a sort of enchanted forest look.

And as we get into the real depths of winter, well, that’s when the seed catalogue arrives in our mailbox and we start preparing for the upcoming spring.

Garden Update: August 2023

It’s becoming abundantly clear to me—as if I somehow hadn’t already learned my lesson—that it’s near impossible to do anything else but garden during garden season.

Keeping up with this site has been a challenge. I’ve been making recipes and taking photos and making notes, but finding time to sit down and type it all out has become quite difficult. I suspect that once the end of fall hits and we roll into winter, that’s when I’ll be able to sit down and write about all of my kitchen adventures.

When I tell people we have a big garden and it keeps us busy, I don’t think they truly understand the scale of it until they see it. I had some new friends come to our place for the first time this summer for a BBQ. I gave them the address, but then added “there’s no number on the house, so look for the garden, you’ll understand when you see it”.

Most properties in our area have just plain grass front yards. There are a few front yard gardeners in the area, but they still come nowhere near matching our scale.

The first thing that’s immediately noticeable, especially in late summer, are the sunflowers. My husband lines our front fence with sunflowers and we easily have the tallest ones in the neighbourhood, with them regularly reaching up to 15 feet in height. Along one side of our property is our wall of corn. So when you’re pulling up to your house and you’ve never been there before, it’s like a cube of greenery. And once you pass through the front gate, it’s been described as almost like a secret garden, likely aided by the fact that the sunflowers sort of hang over the entryway, making it look almost magical.

The Crops and the Harvests

The purpose of our front yard has evolved over the years, but it’ll be our fruit garden moving forward. Here’s where we have in the front:

  • Those sunflowers I mentioned along our front fence
  • Snap peas
  • Scarlet runner beans
  • Saskatoons (also known as juneberries or service berries)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Horseradish (not a fruit but it’s where we planted it years ago)
  • Goji berries (we planted the bush this year, haven’t had fruit yet)
  • We also tend to plant squash in the front to fill up the remaining space. In future years, this remaining space will likely be taken up with more fruit bushes. Currently, though, we have:
    • Acorn squash
    • Butternut squash

The front yard is also our most floral area, with a lilac bush, a rose bush, a double flowering plum tree (which just gives us flowers, no fruit), lilies, pots of flowers, and a handful of other things.

Along the side of the house, we have:

  • Corn
  • Snap peas
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Dill

Our back yard is bit of a mishmash:

  • Various flowers and non-edible plants
  • Borage (an edible flower/plant but we mostly grow it to keep the bees happy)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic (and garlic scapes!)
  • Green onions / spring onions
  • Mustard
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Pumpkin
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers

That’s all we can fit on our property, but we don’t stop there.

Our neighbour to the west is a lifelong gardener but isn’t able to manage his entire garden anymore, so he lets us plant what we want as long as we take care of it. We do, and we share some of our harvest with him, and we help him maintain the patches of produce he’s growing for himself.

On that property, we have:

  • Beans
    • Black beans
    • Kidney beans
  • Tomatoes (several types and sizes)
  • Popcorn
  • Peppers
    • Bell peppers
    • Banana peppers
    • Jalapeno peppers
    • Cayenne peppers
    • Scotch bonnet peppers
  • Squash
    • Butternut squash
    • Acorn squash
    • Pumpkin (both small edible pumpkins and big jack-o-lantern pumpkins)
  • Melon
    • Honeydew melon
    • Watermelon
  • Potatoes
    • Yukon gold potatoes
    • Red-skinned potatoes (good for canning!)
  • Cucumber
  • Alaskan peas (good for canning!)
  • Onions
  • Shallots
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Swiss chard
  • Rhubarb
  • Horseradish

This list still isn’t over.

Our neighbours on the east side have asked us to help them garden a bit—partly because they hate yard work and partly to cut their grocery bill a bit. Since it’s primarily us that would be tending to it and we’re already stretched thin, at this time we’re just doing a little strip along the shared fence between our properties. We share our harvest with them, particularly if it’s something we’ve grown on their property; one of the folks living there loves the corn.

Over there, we have:

  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Carrots

They’re eager to get rid of their grass, so as a solution for next year, they’ll likely put a tarp over their grass and we’ll plant all our squash and melons around the perimeter, filling their yard with the big leafy plants—essentially, the effect of a giant garden, but with minimal work since it just requires watering around the edges.

And… that’s still not it.

That’s what we’re growing, but that’s not the limit of what we’re harvesting.

My husband up on the ladder picking cherries

I’ve also managed to gather:

  • Apples from a friend’s trees (200+ pounds with more coming this week!)
  • Sour cherries from a tree on that same friend’s property
  • Grapes—boxes and boxes of grapes—from a friend’s vine
    • While we have grapes, so far we get just a few bunches a year, most of which the birds eat
  • Saskatoons, foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • We have our own Saskatoon bush, but the birds ate every single berry before I had a chance to harvest them. I distinctly remember looking at the bush on a Saturday evening and thinking “Hmm… some of these are ready for picking, I’ll start harvesting tomorrow morning so I get them before the birds do.” The next morning, the bush was bare.
  • Chokecherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park
    • With this, he had the specific request that I make chokecherry wine because he has good memories of his mom doing the same. Here’s hoping my wine lives up to that memory!
  • Pin cherries, also foraged by my step-dad from a local park

This has been and will likely continue to be a year of abundance. Last year with approximately the same number of plants, we had an abundance of broccoli but everything else did just okay. This year, everything is in abundance… except the broccoli. At this point I have more than a year’s supply of certain vegetables, and there’s still more coming.

The Preserving Plans

With a garden as big and as overly-productive as ours, the huge challenge is always: How the heck do you preserve all of it so you don’t end up throwing out tons of food?

Well, the answer to that will slowly be revealed over the coming year as I upload all my recipes here. However, I will say that it’s definitely a challenge.

Our little house doesn’t have a basement. (We have a little dug-out crawlspace where the furnace and hot water tank are, but it’s prone to flooding in storms and in the spring melt, so we can’t store stuff there.) Until recently, we only had a side-by-side fridge/freezer. This year I bought a 3.5 cubic foot deep freezer that fits nicely in our kitchen, doubling our freezer space.

However, I rely heavily on my mom’s house. She has a cold storage room in the basement that’s perfect for the potatoes and a deep freezer twice the size of ours that’s great for the rhubarb and various other things that get frozen.

But if we froze everything, we’d need a dozen freezers.

When my husband started in on this ambitious garden project (which began as just a strip in the back yard), I quickly taught myself farm wife skills, to borrow a phrase from a friend. I’ve written about my food processing journey here, but over the years I’ve learned what I like frozen, what I like canned, what I like dehydrated, and what’s fine to just sit as-is.

The biggest challenge has been to get an understanding of what my husband and I like to eat. Sure, there are hundreds or thousands of recipes online to preserve food, but if you don’t like the end result then it’s the same as just not doing anything.

For example, there are lots of great jelly and jam recipes, but we don’t eat jelly or jam. (The one exception is this Inferno Wine Jelly that tastes amazing on a bagel breakfast sandwich.) We’re also not really dessert people, so there’s no point in canning up a bunch of fruit pie fillings. These dislikes of ours immediately cut out a lot of uses for the fruit that we grow.

This Year’s Theme

One challenge I gave myself this year was to try making a bunch of different wines. It’s a great way to use up some of the produce and it ultimately saves us a ton of money down the road. (Here in Manitoba, alcohol is quite expensive.)

The wines I’ve made and plan to make this year include:

  • Dandelion wine (done and aging, but I’ve made it before and know it’s good)
  • Apple wine (super delicious and more coming)
  • Lilac wine (nicely sweet and floral)
  • Cherry wine (still fermenting)
  • Corn cob wine (got some cobs stored in the freezer)
  • Grape wine (notoriously difficult to make but I’ll try it!)
  • Parsnip wine (made it before, quite nice)
  • Rhubarb wine (a favourite of a friend of ours)
  • Chokecherry wine
  • Rose hip wine (not sure about this one for this year)
  • Hot pepper wine (just came across this idea yesterday, so I need to dig in more before deciding to do it or not)

In addition to wine, I have various recipes for flavouring store-bought alcohol. So far all the ones I’ve tried have been incredibly good. These recipes will show up on this site, likely in the winter. So far I’ve tried or will soon be trying:

  • Rhubarb ginger gin (a crowd favourite)
  • Sour cherry liqueur (mind-blowingly good)
  • Sour cherry gin (fantastic over ice)
  • Apple cinnamon brandy
  • Apple pie liqueur
  • Dandelion cordial
  • Hot pepper vodka

Looking Ahead to September

As August slowly reaches its end and we head into September, and then on into the fall, the busiest time of the year for me is about to be here. The tomatoes are just starting to ripen and soon I’ll have boxes and boxes of them. The potato plants are dying off, which means in a few weeks we can dig them up. And the kidney beans and black beans are forming now, and they’ll eventually mature and dry and be ready for harvest.

My husband has his own routine for the end of summer and oncoming of fall. He carefully puts away all the sticks he’s used to brace plants, he prepares the gardens for the winter, and he plants garlic cloves so they pop up first thing in the spring.

The best part of winter, though, is enjoying the fruits of our labours—all of those home-grown and preserved vegetables, the fancy drinks and wines that remind us of summers when the weather is hitting -40 C, and perhaps most importantly, sharing this abundance with family and friends.

But as winter sets in, there’s always one thing on our mind…planning for the upcoming garden season.

Canning 101

I’m relatively new to canning—the process of putting food into jars and making them shelf-stable so they can sit in your pantry for up to a year or longer—and at first it seemed super intimidating. While my mom had a water bath canner, she doesn’t know much about canning, which meant that my whole process of learning how to do this was done by reading as much as I could on the internet and then just giving it a try.

After a couple years of figuring out water bath canning, I got a pressure canner for Christmas. This greatly expanded my repertoire of canning recipes and has allowed me to also do things like meals in a jar.

If you’re brand new to canning, here’s what I’d consider the 101 to get you started:

Some Basic Terminology

  • Canning: The process of putting food in jars and making them shelf-stable for long-term storage.
  • Water Bath Canner: Some foods are processed by using a water bath canner, which processes and seals the jars by submerging them in boiling water.
  • Pressure Canner: Other foods are processed by using a pressure canner, which operates similarly to a pressure cooker to raise the pressure (and thus the temperature) to achieve even hotter temperatures to process and seal jars. A pressure cooker cannot double as a pressure canner, even if the pressure cooker tells you it can be used for pressure canning.
  • Headspace: When filling the jars, recipes say to leave a headspace of a certain amount. This is how “full” you make the jars; if the recipe calls for a headspace of an inch, you fill the jar to within an inch from the top.

Water Bath Canning

A water bath canner is essentially a large pot. It includes a rack that sits in the bottom of the pot so that the jars don’t touch the bottom. Once the filled jars are put in the pot, water is added to completely submerge the jars and cover with at least an inch of water. The stove is turned on and the once the water comes to a full boil, the processing time begins. If the water ever stops boiling, the water must come to a boil again and the processing time restarted. (So don’t turn down the temperature too much.)

As the water boils around the jars, the contents of the jars heat up and oxygen escapes. The wax rings on the lids soften. When processing is done, turn off the stove and let the water stop boiling. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then carefully remove the jars using a jar lifter and put them on a thick towel somewhere to sit overnight. Do not tilt the jars or lay them sideways; keep them upright until they’ve fully cooled overnight.

Foods processed using water bath canning are typically high-sugar or high-acid foods. Processing the jars in boiling water kills most pathogens, but there’s still a risk of botulism, which thrives in low-oxygen environments. Canning creates a low-oxygen environment in the jars, but the high-sugar or high-acid content inhibits the growth of botulism, making the foods safe to sit on a shelf and be eaten at a later date.

Pressure Canning

Like a water bath canner, a pressure canner is essentially a large pot. These ones have lockable lids, though, and equipment and attachments to raise the pressure within the pot and monitor that pressure.

I have a Presto 23-quart induction compatible pressure canner. This one comes with a screw gauge to regulate the pressure, but after reading several recommendations on the internet, I upgraded the screw gauge to a weighted gauge. So, rather than me having to constantly fiddle with the gauge through the processing time to ensure proper pressure is maintained, I instead just have to keep an eye on the weighted gauge to ensure it’s “rocking” properly, allowing me to do other things while my jars process. (If the pressure ever drops too low, then the pressure must be raised again and the processing time starts over.)

Pressure canners come with their own specific instructions on how to process jars, so always follow the instructions that come with your pressure canner.

Unlike water bath canning, jars in a pressure canner are not completely submerged. The pressure canner allows the water and steam to reach higher temperatures than can be achieved in a water bath canner, and it uses the steam to process the jars. Similar to water bath canning, most oxygen escapes from the jars and they sit on a thick towel overnight so that the lids properly seal.

Pressure canned foods do not have to be high-sugar or high-acid, because the higher processing temperature kills off any botulism that could be in the jars, making it safe to store in your pantry and eat at a later day.

General Safety Tips

  • Always use lab-tested recipes. Because there are potentially serious health considerations when canning (botulism can kill you), always use recipes that have been fully tested. Some good places to find these recipes include Bernardin, Ball, and Healthy Canning (which generally compiles recipes from elsewhere, though they sometimes customize the seasoning a bit).
  • Follow the recipe exactly. Part of what makes a recipe safe is the density of the food in the jars. If something is too dense, then heat cannot fully penetrate the jar and heat the food to the required level. So if a recipe calls for certain foods, do not swap them out for others or add something the recipe doesn’t call for. This also includes using bottled lemon juice rather than freshly-squeezed lemon juice, if the recipe calls for it, as bottled lemon juice is guaranteed to have a certain level of acidity that you can’t rely on fresh lemons providing.
  • Some variations are allowed. Typically, the only variations that are safe to experiment with come down to any dried seasonings that are added. Always thoroughly research or access help from Master Food Preservers before proceeding.
  • Use the recommended jar size or smaller. Always use the jar size the recipe calls for. You can go smaller if you wish. (I have a family of two, so sometimes I don’t want large jars of food that I open and then have to use up.) You cannot go larger. Going larger means that the contents of the jar might not heat to the necessary level, putting you at risk of food contaminated with bacteria or other microbes that could prove harmful.
  • Be careful when doubling a recipe. In general, it’s okay to double or triple a recipe. It’s usually a good idea to write out the new ingredient quantities before you start canning so that you don’t get caught up trying to do doubling or tripling math on the fly. This does not apply to jams and jellies. Anything with pectin cannot be doubled or tripled unless it is a special type of pectin meant for doubling/tripling. If you try doubling a jam recipe, the jam will not set properly.
    • Before I knew this rule, I had tried doubling a recipe for ginger marmalade (which goes great on a baked brie). It didn’t set properly, so I threw it in the freezer just in case and used it as a cooking sauce for chicken.
  • Always use new lids. You can reuse jars and the metal rims, but you must use a new lid each time. If you reuse a lid, the wax ring has already been used once and may not properly seal when used a second time.
  • Sterilizing the jars is optional. A lot of recipes have you sterilizing the jars as step one. However, research has found that if the filled jars are processed for at least ten minutes, then any bacterial contaminants in the jar are killed off. If the recipe calls for the food to be processed for five minutes, you can generally double that to ten minutes with no effect on the food. If sterilizing the jars is something you want to do for that extra feeling of safety, definitely feel free to do so.
  • Test the lids the next morning. After everything has fully cooled, test the lids in the morning to ensure a proper seal has formed. First is a visual inspection; the lids should be slightly curved inward due to a lack of air in the jars. Second is a manual inspection. Remove the rings and gently try to lift the lid off. If it’s stuck in place, it’s properly sealed. If the lid comes off easily, then the jar did not seal. Any unsealed jars should be put in the fridge and consumed promptly.
  • Remove the rings when storing the jars. It’s generally recommended to store the jars without the rings. They could rust and adhere to the lid, or they could be holding the lid down in a way that makes it look like it’s sealed when it’s not. To be honest, I’m not the best with following this rule. I have, however, once gone to open a jar and after taking the ring off, discovered that the jar had never properly sealed and the ring was holding it in place. I had to throw out the contents of that jar, just in case.

Equipment You Need to Can

  • Water bath canner, if wanting to do water bath canning
  • Pressure canner, if wanting to do pressure canning
  • Mason jars
    • You can order these on Amazon in the sizes you want, but I’ve found they’re usually cheaper at grocery stores, Canadian Tire, and Walmart
    • Jars can be reused as long as they are not cracked or chipped, so you can even sometimes find them at yard sales
    • You should not re-use pasta sauce jars or other similar jars, even if they say the word “mason” on them, since they may not be true mason jars and might crack during processing
  • Metal rings
    • New jars come with metal rings, but when you start re-using jars you might need additional rings in case some get lost or become damaged
    • Again, you could order these on Amazon, but they’re usually cheaper in grocery stores, Canadian Tire, and Walmart
  • Lids
    • New jars come with new lids, so you need these when you’re re-using jars and have discarded old lids
    • Again, you could order these on Amazon, but they’re usually cheaper in grocery stores, Canadian Tire, and Walmart
  • Jar-lifter
  • Digital Scale
    • Most recipes give measurements in weight, as that’s the most accurate
  • Optional equipment
    • Funnel: I really like this. It makes it easy to get stuff in jars without making a mess all over the place, and some of them even have measurements on them so you can accurately assess headspace. This is the one I have; there are cheaper ones on Amazon but they don’t appear to have the measurements to help with headspace.
    • Magnetic lid lifter: If you sterilize your jars, you’re supposed to put the lids in lightly-simmering water to sterilize and warm them. A magnetic lid-lifter lets you pick them up from the hot water and put them on the jar without risking contaminating the underside with your fingers. (I don’t use one of these.) Here’s one that comes with a jar lifter, or here’s one that comes with scrapers.
    • Scraper: You’re supposed to scrape the insides of jars with a non-metal utensil to remove air bubbles that are trapped in the food. You can buy this sort of thing, or you can use a chopstick, or plastic cutlery. I just use a chopstick, but if you’re looking for a fancy one, here’s a couple scrapers that come with lid lifters.
    • Something to open jars: I used to pry them open with my fingernails and that usually ended with chipped fingernails. My mom found a paint can opener at Home Depot that works perfectly for prying off lids. I’ve found some bottle openers similarly do the trick if you can hook it under the lip of the lid. I can sometimes use the handle of a spoon or the ring from the jar to wedge between the lid lip and the glass thread on the jar, giving it a little twist and popping the lid off.

What Urban Homesteading Means to Me

In my self-education quest of learning how to preserve our massive garden harvest, I latched on to the homesteading subculture. If you take a cruise through homesteading sites, most of them are folks who are living rurally and/or on farms and are looking to be self-sufficient. For some this could be because they’re in a spot where a good snowstorm could knock out power and close roads, and for others they might have religious or political reasons. (I won’t get into it, but some of those sites make this gay, urban, science-trusting, millennial guy a little uncomfortable.)

Homesteading looks a lot different for me in an urban setting. Do I really need to be entirely self-sufficient?

I don’t, and I don’t think it’s possible. Our little slice of urban property isn’t big enough to provide all of the food that we consume in a year and we have no room for any sort of power generation like solar panels.

What it look like, though, is making the best use of the little piece of land that we have.

Our backyard garden, and our neighbour’s garden (which we also do)

It saves money

My husband loves to garden and he always wants to do better than the year before, so that means we have a surprisingly massive fall harvest for such a tiny garden. That’s where I come in—I have to preserve it all.

Rising grocery costs are our primary driver for growing, harvesting, and preserving our own food. This was our motivation before the recent spike in prices, and the recent surges in prices make me thankful that we’ve put in all this work over the years. Our weekly grocery bill hasn’t risen by much since a lot of the staples we buy seem to be the things that have had reasonably-steady prices.

It’s impressive (while saving money)

We’re known for the fancy barbecues we put on. It’s almost lavish with the sheer amount of seemingly-gourmet foods we bring out and the near-endless supply of fancy drinks.

The secret—and this isn’t really a secret since we’re quite open about it—is that a big proportion of that lavishness is home-grown and home-preserved food and all I have to do is open a jar. I might do a simple salad, but if I then lay out the options of toppings, like dandelion capers, sundried cherry tomatoes (dehydrated tomatoes stored in olive oil), and pickled beets, with an infused vinegar and oil dressing… it feels expensive and gourmet. But it’s dirt cheap and took no prep time on barbecue day.

We also get to experience some of the gourmet-ness with our daily dinners—such as chicken pesto with homemade pesto sauce just the way we like it (made months ago and frozen in a serving-size jar) with homegrown frozen veggies thrown in and served with a side of crusty bread home-baked the day before.

Sure, it takes prep work, but that work is done in advance on a day when I’ve set aside some time to do it. When I come home from work exhausted and need to cook up dinner before we head out to a movie, it takes next to no effort to put together something that’s delicious, healthy, and feels fancy.

Chicken and mushrooms in garlic cream sauce

It’s healthy (while still saving money)

I’m not one of those folks that gets too concerned about what’s in store-bought food. I trust that the food industry is regulated well-enough that if what’s in my food isn’t healthy, it’s at least not harmful.

However, it does allow me to make tweaks to make things healthier. My husband’s favourite food is pesto and the jars of pesto from the grocery store or either very salty or very oily (which makes sense since oil is a main ingredient). When I make pesto at home, I replace some of the oil with lemon juice—not only does it mean there’s a little less oil in there (and thus I don’t feel guilty about having it frequently), but the lemon juice adds a brightness to the flavour.

If you’re someone that gets concerned about additives and preservatives in store-bought food, home food preservation helps you avoid some of those things.

It changes the local ecosystem

This I did not expect.

When we first moved in, the only birds in the area were grackles (which are sort of like smaller crows) and a pair of mourning doves. But as we basically converted our property from boring grass to a little piece of farmland with a front yard full of fruit bushes, the ecosystem of our property evolved.

I don’t know my birds very well, but while there are a few grackles still around, they’ve mostly moved away. Now we have dozens of different bird varieties that visit our property regularly, like blue jays, sparrows, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and many more that I don’t know the names of. We even once had a peregrine falcon sit on our fence for a bit (after it unfortunately crashed into our window).

The cats certainly enjoyed this change. It gives them something to watch from the windows.

Wizard warning off the birds

It’s adaptable

While I do a huge laundry list of homesteader-type things, homesteading activities are adaptable to wherever you might be located. I know folks who live in apartments and can’t have a garden, but they have a few potted vegetable plants on their balcony and break out the canner to do some pickling at the end of the season.

These activities also don’t require homegrown food at all. I do a lot of pressure canning so we have heat-and-eat meals when we’re tight on time but don’t want take-out. When I do my weekly grocery shopping I keep an eye out for discounted chicken thighs and discounted stewing beef—not only am I looking for cheaper cuts, but I’m looking for the “here’s 50% off but you have to use it today because it expires today” meat. I just throw it in the freezer when I get home and when I have enough stored I thaw and can them.

It can also be a way to preserve food you get a good deal. I once scooped up several bags of parsnips that were on sale for less than half price and used them for some of the food preservation recipes I have on hand.

Whether you have an acreage, a small urban garden, a few potted plants on the balcony, or none of these but you like taking on the challenge of these projects, urban homesteading is a practice that can be adapted to circumstances, time, and interest.

My Food Preservation Journey

Several years ago, my husband decided he wanted to try gardening as a way to get him away from the computer and out of work mode. Since he works from home, it’s very easy to be in that mode 24/7—but if he goes outside and leaves all technology inside, he’s forced to take a break from it.

What started as “just a little strip of dirt for some potatoes” quickly evolved to our whole back yard. Then the strip alongside our house. Then the front yard. Then the neighbour’s back yard (which he had been using as a garden until recent years). And now we’re helping the neighbours on the other side develop a garden too.

My husband and I are a two-person family and we end up with hundreds of pounds of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. In other words, it was far too much food for us to eat as we were harvesting it. We needed to figure out how to preserve as much of it as we could. We have a tiny house, so that means no basement cold storage and no deep freezer. We have the freezer in the kitchen, but it can’t hold anywhere near enough.

An IKEA bag of beets

I started with finding storage

My mom doesn’t live too far from us and, thankfully, she lets us store some food in her place. She has a cold storage room in the basement that’s perfect for our potatoes and squash. And she has a deep freezer, which I fill up every year with bags and bags and bags and bags of washed, chopped, and frozen rhubarb.

There are some easy-to-store-in-a-tiny-house things, like popping corn. That usually fills a few jars that we can easily store in our snack cupboard, and some of the other items that come up in the following sections—like freezing, canning, and fermenting—have found storage spots in our house.

I then started freezing

There are a few things that freeze well. Brussels sprouts are one of them.

My husband loves pesto for dinner and over the years I’ve developed a handful of pesto recipes. There’s the traditional basil pesto and sundried tomato pesto, but I also make garden pesto (with spinach, kale, and Swiss chard), kale pesto, and green onion pesto. I’ve learned these freeze really well in single-serving glass jars that I purchased from the dollar store. Plus, they store much longer than they should—every recipe I’ve read said they can stay in the freezer three to six months, but right now (2023) we’re eating pesto that I made in the fall of 2021 (about 18 months ago) and it’s still great.

I discovered canning

I knew very little about canning other than the fact that you could pickle things and store it in the cupboard until opened. We got into this because my husband loves beets, but they don’t seem to store very well for us, so I needed to figure out a way to preserve them. I knew my mom had an old water bath canner kicking around, so I stole it from her and taught myself pickled beets. It took some time but it was easy to do and my husband loves them.

From there, we’ve experimented with pickling a huge number of things. Some have worked out great and some not so much. I love my pickled hot peppers, but neither of us cared for pickled carrots.

In 2022, given that we were starting to grow more produce than we could reasonably eat in a year, I signed up for a few farmers markets. I canned a bunch of pickled things and got into jams and jellies. It was a moderate success, but I figured out a bit about what people are looking for at a market, so I’m hoping future years will be more successful.

Rhubarb simple syrup (for cocktails) and caramelized onion jam with Balsamic vinegar

I took the leap into pressure canning

There were some pressure canning recipes I wanted to try, but couldn’t. Pressure canning gets the jars hotter than a water bath canner is able to do, so the recipes are not swappable between types of canners. In particular there was a cherry tomato pasta sauce and a seasoned tomato juice cocktail. I made both of them, but since I lacked a pressure canner, I stored them in the freezer.

I got a pressure canner for Christmas in 2021 and quickly dove head-first into that. I got a great cookbook for pressure canners—Pressure Canning for Beginners and Beyond by Angi Schneider—and worked my way through a lot of it. In addition to the older recipes of cherry tomato sauce and seasoned tomato juice cocktail, I was suddenly canning soups and stews for lunches and heat-and-eat meals for dinners. These easy dinners became a real life saver during busy times of year like harvest season or Christmas holidays—I could have a nutritious and delicious meal on the table in under twenty minutes with next to no effort.

Then came the dehydrator

I needed to preserve some foods that weren’t canned, mostly because we could only consume so many jars of the same thing within a year and we needed some variety. I started with dehydrating cherry tomatoes, which became a delicious after-work snack (just shake a few out of the jar and pop them in my mouth) and an impressive appetizer for when guests come over (rehydrate them in some olive oil and serve with crackers and fancy cheese).

I struggled with figuring out how to best use my dehydrator, though the sheer number of dehydrated tomatoes alone made it worth the purchase price. Recently, we started getting into planting herbs, so I’ve been using it to dry the herbs as a way to store them.

And then there was fermenting

I’d heard that fermenting was a way of preserving food but I really struggled to find recipes that were appealing to us. My first experiment were fermented cherry tomatoes—they have an interesting champagne texture on the tongue (they’re fizzy), but they didn’t really taste all that great to us.

Eventually I took a fermenting workshop. We did a fermented sauerkraut and kombucha. The sauerkraut was a hit at our barbecues and the kombucha was a hit with my husband. I now make kombucha weekly. I’ve grown to become comfortable with fermenting—my biggest lesson was that fermenting is more of an art than a science. There’s room for experimentation once you understand the basics.

Which eventually led to baking

It seemed like everyone’s COVID pandemic hobby was learning how to make bread. I never got into it. Well, we did get a second-hand bread machine from my husband’s uncle, but I was never really happy with the results.

In late 2022 I finally got bitten by the “I want to learn how to make bread” bug. But I didn’t want to do something easy and straight forward. No, I wanted to learn how to make sourdough. And learn how to make my own sourdough starter (which is fermented flour). Following some online tutorials, I created my own starter and made my first loaf. With some tips from some online friends, I tweaked the recipe to better fit my climate here in the depths of Winnipeg winter. I’ve expanded from there with focaccia and English muffin bread. I’ve got a list of recipes I want to work through in the coming months.

Along the way, things got a little tipsy

During this whole process, I started learning wine and beer making using kits from homebrew stores. Once I got the general process under my belt, that allowed me to experiment with garden wines and infused alcohols.

For garden wines, I’ve made rhubarb wine, dandelion wine, parsnip wine, lemon wine, and rosemary wine. For the most part, they’ve been great—some better than others.

For infusing (putting alcohol and fruit/veg/herbs together), my big one is rhubarb ginger gin. It’s hard to keep that one stocked in my home bar because everyone wants a taste and then a second glass. Beyond that I’ve done rhubarb schnapps, a Bing cherry liqueur, and citrus-infused soju.

Citrus soju

And next…?

I don’t know if there’s a new food preservation technique I’m looking to take on, but I definitely want to expand and solidify my experience and knowledge in all of these things.

All of this is what’s led to this blog.

I’ve accumulated so many recipes over the years and adapted or created some of my own, and I need a place to store them and share them. I get a lot of compliments on my kitchen skills because the food I make usually seems difficult or expensive to make, but really my motto of food has always been “How can I make this super delicious but also super affordable and super easy?”

I love food. I’ve learned I love to preserve food. And I love sharing that food with other people.