H&G: Roots Up

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Like any good homesteader, Hillary Veneziale is in it for the love of learning.

Naturally curious about plants, food and nutrition, Hillary is on a path of discovery, learning along the way how to make the most of her Avening property while growing and preserving food, and sharing knowledge with her three young children – Silas, 8, Orson, 7, and Fergus, 4.

“There is value in raising children in an environment where you show them that you do have to work for your vegetables,” she said. “And that eggs come from chickens.”

She sees that some children have a disconnect when it comes to food but she loves to see her’s feasting on peas right off the vine and has discovered they are more likely to want to eat broccoli fresh from the garden having seen it grow from a seed.

As a nurse, Hillary says botany appeals to her science brain.

While she waits for the last threat of frost to pass, Hillary spends the winter reading about vegetation and propagating house plants until it is time to start seeds, some she has collected from the fall harvest and stored in repurposed medicine bottles salvaged from the hospital where she works. In early spring, the seeds sprout under grow lights in the enclosed front porch and in the closet of her son’s bedroom. The humid room has a comforting smell of earth and plants.

“I do feel bad about taking over my son’s room but it’s ok, he prefers to sleep with his brothers anyway,” she says with a smile.

Hillary, who dreams of one day having a greenhouse, holds a spring sale in her driveway selling off the flowers, vegetables and herbs she has grown from seed under the name Roots Up.

She enlists the help of her husband Dan Laird, especially when it comes to building infrastructure. He used surplus building material to create a very long raised garden bed with centre trellis, the prototype in what they hope will be a winning design for root vegetables and tomatoes.

Whatever grows is made into a sauce or pickles, anything that can be canned or frozen.

“Last year’s goal was to get through the winter without having to buy any tomato based sauce,” said Hillary.

And they did it with a little help from her new pressure canner, which allowed her to make meat sauce in addition to chicken broth that proved to be both delicious and economical.

Hillary also makes pickles, salsa, hot sauces and is not afraid to try new things.

Last year they used an evaporator that Dan built for the main purpose of making maple syrup to make walnut syrup, which requires double the sap, resulting in a precious small amount of flavourful syrup.

It’s all about trying new things and making the most of what’s available. When Hillary read a recipe for dill pickles that recommended adding a grape leaf to enhance the crunch, she trudged into the conservation area down the road armed with her book on edible plants and found some. She said she has learned a lot by reading, social media and by trial and error.

At the end of the day, plants bring her peace. She said after a long shift, she can relax by caring for her plants and watching them grow.

Hillary is ramping up for her spring plant sale from June 1-6. She has some new and fun zucchinis, bush cucumbers, tomatoes, and seed packets for sale, in addition to the usual assortment of hot and mild peppers, herbs and house plants. The sale takes place daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and there is an early bird sale on the afternoon of May 31. Find ‘Grow with Hillary’ on Instagram for details. Roots Up is located at 4 Robertson St., Avening.

Hillary’s leek soup

2 tsp minced garlic

3 large potatoes, diced            

small onion, diced

1 1⁄2 cup heavy cream

2 cups chicken broth

3 handfuls of wild leeks

Add first five ingredients to a pot. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Add chopped leeks and simmer for another 5 minutes.

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