Saturday, August 27, 2016

Something from Nothing - The Big Bobber

One thing we try to do at the cabin is use and reuse items to their fullest potential. Here's a recent example of making something from nothing. On a recent boat trip, our good friend John found an old black rubber float washed up on the beach. Upon inspection, the crustacean and algae encrusted discard was still watertight and able to float. John brought it home to us and Wayne transformed it into what we call "The Big Bobber."

A little elbow grease and paint, and now it looks like a huge red and white fishing bobber. We've given it a place of importance at the end of our entrance boom. Now passing boaters can see our breakwater logs (for safety reasons) and we can easily find our front "gate."

Do you reuse or repurpose old items? I invite you to share some of your stories. -- Margy

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Canning: Small Batch Pickle Relish

My cucumber plant has been struggling, but I found two yellowing ones hiding underneath the leaves and one nice new one near the top. The yellow ones weren't good for eating raw, so I decided to make all of them into pickle relish. I couldn't find a recipe that small, so I took one from my Farm Journal's Freezing and Canning Cookbook and adjusted it down.  

Small Batch Pickle Relish

3 medium cucumbers (2 cups) diced
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped mild peppers
1 tablespoon pickling salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon yellow prepared mustard
scant 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon mustard seed
scant 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
scant 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
scant 3/4 cup sugar

Dice the vegetables.
You can use a food grinder or processor set on course. Up at the cabin I chose to use the old fashioned manual method, a sharp knife.

Make a brine and soak vegetables.
Finely dice the cucumbers, onion and peppers. I used my homegrown dried onions (the small ones get used first) and a mix of banana peppers and one Anaheim chili.

Strain and rinse away excess salt.
Dissolve the pickling salt in two cups of water. Do not use table salt because it has additives and iodine that can turn pickles dark and unappetizing.

Cover the vegetables in the brine and let them rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of three hours.

Strain the vegetables and rinse them well to remove excess salt. Use nonreactive utensils, bowls, strainers and pans to prevent the acidic ingredients from taking on a metallic taste.

Mix the vinegar, sugar and spices.
Mix the vinegar, sugar and spices in a non-reactive sauce pan. I used the enamel lined pot that I found at the thrift store for $2 several years ago.

Simmer until vegetables are tender.
Add the vegetables and simmer over medium heat until they are tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce.

Follow safe canning procedures.
It was a really hot day so I used our outdoor BBQ for the cooking portion of this recipe. And the view wasn't half bad standing there to stir the mixture to keep it from sticking to the bottom.

One half pint in my small canner.
If you eat a lot of pickle relish, you can let the mixture cool and store it in the refrigerator.

If you want to preserve your pickle relish for longer storage, use the water bath method (click here for step-by-step directions) and process for 10 minutes (adjust as necessary for your elevation).

Since I do small batch canning, I invested in a Norpro Asparagus Stainless Steel Cooker/Steamer. It doubles as a small canner that can hold one half pint or one pint with the required one inch of water over the lid. I cook with propane (even in the kitchen), so I don't have to heat or maintain a large volume of water at a rolling boil for small batches.

And there you have it. A small batch of great tasting pickle relish. This recipe will give you two half pints, or one pint. I processed one for saving and put the second in the fridge for immediate use.

My dad would have been proud of me. He was the pickle and relish maker in our city-folk family. The funny thing is that I don't remember watching him do it.

The finished pickle relish.

Do you make pickles or relishes? What are some of your favourite recipes? Do you have to adjust recipes for small batches? -- Margy

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Coastal BC Plants: Swamp Gooseberry

Swamp Gooseberry

Gooseberries can be distinguished from Currants because they have prickles and spines on their stems. Otherwise, they are members of the same family. The Swamp Gooseberry is very common along streams, lakes, swamps, and moist forest slopes. We found this example next to Bob’s Lake on Texada Island growing in the shade of a fir tree.

Swamp Gooseberries grow at low elevations from northern California to southern Vancouver Island. The plants are from three to five feet tall and have reddish flowers in June. The glossy green leaves are small and maple-shaped with five indented lobes. Dark red or purple berries form in late summer. The berries are edible but don’t have the most pleasant flavour raw, but it is said that their juice can be made into wine.

Caution should be taken because the spines can cause an allergic reaction in some individuals. -- Margy

References: Wild Berries of the Pacific Northwest by J.E. (Ted) Underhill (Hancock House, 1974), and Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon (Lone Pine, 1994).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Coastal BC Animals: Black Slug

 Black Slug

There's lots of moss, sticks, leaves and other debris lying on the forest floor. That's called duff. I found this slimy visitor taking advantage of this buffet of blow down.

Slugs are in phylum mollusca and genus gastropoda. The Black Slug (Arion ater) is from Europe, but was introduced into British Columbia in 1941 and has been considered a serious pest since 1962. They can grow up to 18 cm, pretty big for the slug world.

They are characteristically black in colour, have tentacles (eyes and sensory organs) at the front, and tubercles (rough projections) on their back. They have the distinction of being hermaphroditic and can self-fertilize. This makes reproduction quick and easy. They start at about three months and lay about 150 small round eggs at a time. During their 1-2 year lifespan, they can produce a tremendous amount of offspring, and so on, and so on, if you get my drift. That is one of the reasons they are such a tremendous pest.

Touch one and they roll up into a ball and sway from side to side.

I haven't found any in my garden, only up on the cliff or out in the forest along shady trails. They typically feast on feces, dead animals, fungi, algae, lichens and decomposing plant matter. That sounds pretty beneficial, but they also enjoy ingesting live plants and can dramatically alter the ecosystem. Eradication is near impossible, with mechanical removal the most successful method. That may work in a small garden, but not in the open forest. I guess that means they're here to stay. -- Margy

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sunrise Backlight

For three days each summer there's an unusual occurrence at sunrise. The sun comes up in the notch near the top of Goat Island. It then sets behind the hill to rise again near the peak.

When that happens, sunlight backlights the treetops, giving them a brilliant halo.

Fortunately, even though it's summer, sunrise doesn't occur until 8:50 am because of the peak.  That makes it easy for me to catch the beautiful sky view. -- Margy

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Heriot Bay Inn and Marina

Heading up Lewis Channel on the way to Quadra Island.
Even people who live off the grid like to have a vacation on the grid. Last weekend we treated ourselves to a short holiday at one of our favourite places, the Heriot Bay Inn and Marina on nearby Quadra Island.

Rounding the north side of Cortes Island.
We went by boat from Powell River. There are several routes, but we chose the scenic one via Desolation Sound and the north side of Cortes Island.

BC Ferry leaving for Cortes Island.
If you aren't travelling by boat, you can reach Quadra Island by car via BC Ferries from Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

Heriot Bay is on the eastern side of Quadra. The original inn was built in about 1895, rebuilt in 1912 and updated since.

We chose to stay in the marina with our Bayliner 2452. They have diesel and gas, and offer slips for boats large and small.

Our Bayliner (the small one) at the Heriot Bay Marina on the second dock.

There's also a dinghy dock for people from the nearby anchorage at Rebecca Spit to tie up. Call ahead for a reservation or check in on Channel 66a to get a spot. Amenities include water, showers, laundry, Internet, and some power hookups. The village grocery store is within walking distance for re-stocking.

Getting to the Inn from the Marina.

Other accomodations options include rooms in the inn, suites and cabins, or oceanside tent and RV campground spots.

The Heriot Bay Inn.

We love to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Inn's Heron restaurant. There is inside seating, but we love the outside deck with marina and ocean views. There's also a pub for music, watching games on TV, or dancing.

Dining on the deck at the Heron Restaurant.

The Heriot Bay Inn and Marina are open all year long. Travelling in winter or shoulder seasons offer a substantial discount, but with such reasonable prices coming during the summer is your best bet.

Heriot Bay Inn and Marina
1 (888) 605-4545
(250) 285-3322
Marine Channel 66a
673 Hotel Road, Heriot Bay, BC V0P 1H0

Have you been to the Heriot Bay Inn or Marina? How was your stay? -- Margy

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Banana Peel Compost Tea

Step 1: Chop banana peels.
Following homesteading blogs gives me some great information. Because my floating garden and deck pots drain into the lake, I’m always interested in finding organic means for pest control and plant nutrition. I learned at about Banana Peel Compost Tea at Survival at Home.

We frequently eat bananas for breakfast and I always cut up the peels to go into my compost pile, but thought this new way of using them was worth a try.

The article said banana peels are high in three major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Here are the directions to extract these nutrients for garden use.

Banana Peel Compost Tea

Step 2: Add peels to water and refrigerate.
1. Fill a container about ¾ full of water.
2. Chop banana peels and put in the water.
3. Refrigerate to preserve the liquid.
4. Continue to add chopped peels until full.
5. Strain the liquid into another container.
6. Store in the refrigerator until use.

Soaking the banana peels extracts the nutrients and chopping the peels makes this process easier. Once you strain your first batch, start over again. The remaining banana peels can be added to the compost pile. The banana peels will turn black, but refrigeration will keep the compost tea fresh.

Uses for Banana Peel Compost Tea

Step 3: Strain the liquid and store in fridge.
1. To use it as a liquid fertilizer, mix one cup of the compost tea in one gallon of water. Use it to water around the base of plants.

2. To use it as a natural aphid control, mix the compost tea 1:5 with water (one part tea and five parts water) in a spray bottle. Spray plant leaves and stems. Aphids hate bananas, plus the plants will absorb the mixture for extra nutrients.

Step 4: Dilute with water before use.
Last year aphids attacked my kale with a vengeance. Insecticidal soap didn’t faze them one bit, so I was curious about this homemade remedy. I don’t know if it was the crushed Marigold flowers or the Banana Peel Compost Tea spray, but this year’s aphids have disappeared completely. Just in case, I’ll keep doing both applications throughout the hot summer months. -- Margy

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Coastal BC Reptiles: Pacific Chorus Frog

 Pacific Chorus Frog

We have lots of critters up at our float cabin on Powell Lake. Most of them are annual returnees, but this year I saw my first Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla). I went to water my zucchini plant and there he was, sunning himself on one of the large leaves.
A Pacific Chorus Frog on a matching zucchini leaf.

The Pacific Chorus Frog is common in Southern BC west of the Rockies and on Vancouver Island. It can be found in the woods, meadows, and even in urban areas. They come in light grey, tan, bronze or bright emerald green. You can see which kind I found.

This colour is great for camouflage on summer plants.

They are small frogs, up to 5 centimetres in length. A distinguishing mark is the mask-like stripe that starts at the nostrils and continues all the way to the shoulder.

This view shows the sticky toe pads on their feet to assist in climbing.

Pacific Chorus Frogs breed mostly in temporary water bodies that dry up later in the summer months. This prevents enemies such as fish and bullfrogs from raiding their eggs and young. Powell Lake has a good sized population of invasive bullfrogs, garter snakes and trout, so breeding here must be a challenge.

Mating season comes in the spring. Next year I'll have to listen more carefully for their krek-ek song. -- Margy

Reference: B.C. Frogwatch Program (online)

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Cabin Baking: Banana Chocolate Loaf

I had two over-ripe bananas, so I looked through my cookbooks to find a recipe to put them to good use.

I found one in a cookbook I got at The Economy Shop, my favourite thrift store in Powell River.

Banana Chocolate Loaf


1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons sour cream
1 cup mashed bananas
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chocolate bits


Cream together the butter or margarine and sugar. Add the eggs and salt and mix well.

Dissolve the baking powder and baking soda in sour cream and add to the creamed mixture. I didn’t have any sour cream, so I substituted plain yogurt. Don’t be surprised, the mixture will foam.

Stir in the mashed bananas (2 very ripe bananas makes one cup mashed) and vanilla.

Gradually stir in the flour, then mix in the chocolate chips. Don't skimp on them, that's what makes this cake so yummy!

Pour into a well greased and floured loaf pan. I used a piece of parchment paper in the bottom to make removal after baking easier.

The recipe says to bake at 350 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours. I found that one hour was too little, and 1 1/2 hours made it too brown and crusty on the outside, at least in my oven. The next time I’ll try something in the middle and test with a toothpick to check for doneness. -- Margy

Reference: Wonderful Ways to Prepare Cakes and Cookies by Jo Ann Shirley (Playmore Inc., 1978).

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Coastal BC Plants: Oxeye Daisy

Oxeye Daisy

When Wayne and I went quad riding on Texada Island this July, everywhere we looked there were carpets of daisies bobbing their pretty white and yellow heads.

Oxeye Daisies growing in profusion in a road cut.

The variety was Oxeye Daisies (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum). They are a member of the Chrysanthemum family and were introduced to the area as a weed from Europe. Since they have spread far and wide.

The Oxeye Daisy is a perennial plant that regenerates annually from a woody rhizome. They grow profusely in fields, meadows, roadsides, and clearings such as logging cuts at lower elevations. Leaves are found predominately at the base of the plant with a straight stalk supporting each flower head.

The young leaves are edible and very sweet, and the flowers can be used to make a wine similar to dandelion wine. These daisies may be weeds, but very beautiful ones in summer. Well I guess that is unless they aren’t taking over your hay field or pasture. -- Margy

References: Roadside Wildflowers of the Northwest by J.E. (Ted) Underhill (Hancock House, 1981), and Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon (Lone Pine, 1994).