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Taking stock

Local, handmade gifts for the foodies, gardeners, and nature-lovers on your list

Val Thomson

Designed by Birtle gardener Val Thomson and handcrafted by Bill Wright, these metal plant supports come in three sizes.

Brook Drabot Glass Dress up winter windowsills with handblown glass bud vases from Brook Drabot Glass.

Keith Dupuis

Kozy-Coats are water-filled teepees that give you a head start on harvesting fresh produce. Made right here in Winnipeg.

River City Mushrooms

Handcrafted mushroom grow kits are available from River City Mushrooms. Shown: Fresh blue oyster mushrooms.

By purchasing gifts that tell a story, hold promise, and support local artisans and businesses, you’ll inspire the foodies, gardeners, and nature-lovers on your shopping list this holiday season.

Mushroom growing kits let you grow your own edible mushrooms at home. Tom Nagy is the gourmet and medicinal mushroom spawn producer, consultant, and educator behind River City Mushrooms, a small Winnipeg-based company specializing in artisanal ready-to-fruit mushroom grow kits.

“Growing mushrooms indoors is a great choice for those who want to continue to grow their own food year-round,” says Nagy. The handcrafted mushroom grow kits are available in limited quantities and are packaged in 5.5 lb. bags at $25.00. Each kit consists of hardwood sawdust supplemented with bran derived from locally grown certified organic spelt grain and inoculated with the mushroom species or strain of your choice. Choose from shiitake, lion’s mane, black pearl king oyster, pearl oyster and blue oyster mushroom species. Detailed growing instructions are provided.

Shiitake mushrooms have a longer maturation period – usually ranging from 1.5 to two months – but most of the species and strains should be ready to be used within two to three weeks of the date included on your grow kit, says Nagy. “If you are not planning on using your fully mature grow kits immediately, they can be safely stored in the fridge for several weeks or a couple of months and still remain viable,” he says, “but do make a point of checking them periodically.”

River City Mushrooms is located in the West Broadway neighbourhood. To pre-order your mushroom kit, visit www.rivercitymushrooms.ca. All orders are for pickup only. Nagy says that River City Mushrooms is working on introducing some brand-new cultures and mushroom species for release early in 2022. Follow their Instagram page, @rivercityfungi for growing tips, species profiles, cultivation techniques, wild foraging finds, and more.

Brook Drabot is a glass artist who creates nature-inspired blown glass pieces by hand at her home studio in Warren, Manitoba. Drabot started with pottery and then stained glass in high school and studied at the Sheridan School of Craft. She has been creating for almost 25 years and today her beautiful lampwork glass pieces can be seen at numerous galleries and boutiques in Canada.

Drabot uses three different sizes of oxygen and propane-fueled torches to melt and blow glass. “I buy glass in solid rods as well as hollow tubing in different sizes,” says Drabot, “and then I melt it and blow it out and shape it.” The different glass pieces she creates include bud vases for displaying fresh cut flowers, herbs, or greenery as well as hanging glass tube vases that are ideal for plant cuttings — perfect for dressing up winter window sills, shelves, or walls. Just add water.

Choose from a selection of unique candleholders, apothecary bottles (flat, round, and square), terrariums, and more in both clear glass and coloured glass. Drabot’s online shop, www.brookdrabot.com, is stocked for holiday shopping. Drabot will also be participating in Petit Magasin, an online event that will be held December 4 and 5 which will feature a collective of local artists and unique items in limited quantities.

In early September, this column featured a brief description of metal plant supports designed by Birtle gardener Val Thomson and handcrafted by Bill Wright, a retired teacher skilled in manufacturing and innovation. Demand for the attractive and functional plant supports far exceeded supply so Thomson and Wright revved up production to make more available in time for Christmas.

The plant supports come in three sizes and are made of ¼ inch hot-rolled round steel with a 19-inch top ring diameter that has an elegant curl top detail. I have the tall plant support (48 inch) in my garden and plan to add another two. In addition to supporting peonies and other plants, the metal plant supports provide elegant architectural interest. Birds like them, too. In winter, they perch on the rolled steel and survey their snow-covered domain.

Orders for the plant supports must be placed by Saturday, November 27. Pickup will be at a location in River Heights the week of December 13. To order, visit https://birtlearts.ca/events-fundraisers/.

Net proceeds from the sale of the plant supports go to support programs and operations at Birtle Centre for the Arts, an arts organization with a focus on manufacturing classic garden structures and accessories. Gardening plays a key role in supporting the financial viability of BCA. Wright worked in the manufacturing industry and taught welding when he was a teacher. He developed shop programs for several schools. Today he volunteers at BCA and mentors local youth who learn the manufacturing process of creating the plant supports and other items.

Wright has also designed advanced chattering tools for pottery which are available at www.artisanpotterytools.com.

With the prospect of rising food prices in 2022, many gardeners are planning their food gardens for next year. The gift of seed packets is always appreciated but how about a warm coat? For tomatoes, that is, as well as the cucumbers and peppers you are planting next spring. Kozy-Coats are reusable water-filled teepees that protect your vegetable crops from frost and allow you to get at least a one-month head start on harvesting fresh produce.

Kozy-Coats are made in Winnipeg at HJS Wholesale and are a registered trademark of Bonadea Gardens. “We bought the business from Brian Gory (aka Mr. Tomato) in 2004,” says Keith Dupuis, controller at HJS Wholesale. HJS packages and distributes Kozy-Coats across North America. A popular product each spring, demand has soared for Kozy-Coats since the start of the pandemic with more people staying home and spending time gardening, says Dupuis.

Dupuis grows tomatoes in planters on his patio. “My Kozy-Coats are eight years old and I use them again and again,” he says. He starts his tomato plants in April. “By late June when I lift the Kozy-Coats off my plants, the water inside the teepees is bathwater-warm. That’s how much energy they gather from the sun. On nights when temperatures get close to 12 degrees C., the Kozy-Coats maintain the warmth inside and the plants continue to grow.” Sometimes Dupuis tucks small petunia plugs inside the Kozy-Coats and by late June or early July, he has masses of petunia flowers in addition to ripe tomatoes.

HJS has just completed a huge order for T&T Seeds & Garden Centre in time for Christmas gift giving. Kozy-Coats will also be available at many local garden centres.

There will be a lot of gift cards changing hands this holiday season. How can you make it special? Grow your sense of community and make a positive environmental impact with a gift that inspires someone to plant a tree next spring. Pick up a gift card at your friendly neighbourhood garden centre and tuck it into a plantable botanical note card from Botanical PaperWorks, 111 Pacific Avenue. They offer many eco-friendly, seed-imbedded holiday cards to choose from that leave no waste behind. Carts that depict rustic woodland scenes feature a seed paper tree that grows wildflowers when you remove the tree and plant it in a pot of soil.

colleenizacharias@gmail.com

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