Monday, August 6, 2012

My zone 5

After taking the intro to Permaculture Design in May, I decided I wanted to make room for a small zone 5 in our teeny tiny urban back yard. The great thing about creating a zone 5 is that you don't have to do anything. Just leave the space alone and let nature do her thing. After 5 months, I'm amazed at the variety of plants in this area. In addition to a few types of grasses, I have all sorts of plants (including two that I've never seen in my garden before). Here are the notable ones:

Sunberry (planted in the garden a few years ago. I don't like the taste of the berries so didn't plant again but it self seeds and it seems to attract the flea beetles so I'm happy it's stuck around):
A volunteer tomato (interestingly not a variety that I planted last year):
Some sort of buttercup? (it's flowers only open in the morning, I was a little late taking this pic):
Don't know what this is but it is lovely:

A young raspberry cane:

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Not sure what this is next to the mullein. Seems to thrive in urban Ottawa, perhaps an invasive?:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kevin Kossowan's 1 hr veg garden

Kevin Kossowan, an urban gardener/farmer, locavore and blogger from Edmonton whom I greatly admire recently began a new project he titled 'the 1 hr garden'. The goal of the project is to bust the myth that it takes a lot of time to grow your own food. The video below tells the story. Since Kevin made this video he has started selling greens from his garden (including the 1 hour garden) as part of an urban farm cooperative. And in his words "First 1hr Garden harvest = $8 sale price at market. 1/2 hr in, $16/hr and just starting. "

Not bad eh?

Monday, July 16, 2012

On buying less and working less

Approximately 5 years ago, I started actively reducing my carbon footprint.

Just over 2 years ago I switched from working 5 days a week to 4 days a week.

These two events are connected.

Often I get asked how much money I save from the environmental changes hubby and I have made. "Just how much do you save by not having a fridge?", is the most common question. When I tell them that it is probably a hundred bucks a year I generally get a lot of "oh".

It's clear they are disappointed.

The truth is that the cumulative savings from getting rid of the fridge, the car, the dryer, and using less water is substantial enough to make all these things worthwhile financially as well as environmentally.

But the one change we have made that has saved us the most money by far, is buying less stuff. Less clothes, less electronics, less take out food, less household items. Basically we stopped buying things we didn't need.

I won't go into the environmental and social issues related to over-consumption because I couldn't hope to do a better job than Annie Leonard did in The Story of Stuff.

Suffice to say it's not good.

But even with 'the Story of Stuff', the environmental benefits from individuals buying less doesn't get a lot of airtime. We tend to think more about our utility usage (gas, electricity, wood, water) when we think of our carbon footprint. These things are easy to measure and so we can assess and compare our success. I can personally attest to how good it has felt to see our utility usage go down.

On the other hand, it's impossible to measure the environmental savings from not buying all the "stuff" we might have bought over the last 5 years. I don't know what those things are nor how or where they would have been manufactured. So I can't use a cute calculator that will tell me how many barrels of oil or trees I have saved. It's not so warm and fuzzy.

But what I do know is that buy buying less stuff meant that after only a short time we were living below our means. Way below our means. And because of that, reducing my work week by 1 day was financially easy. Almost unnoticeable.

And so life has slowed down. I'm not rushing, feeling out of breath, feeling that I'm missing out on things. This morning I took the dog for a long walk through the little urban forest near our house. I came home and had a breakfast of yogurt (homemade), granola (homemade), and local raspberries. As I type this I can hear the birds chirping outside my window. Later today I'll bike up to the library and then perhaps go swimming in the community outdoor pool at the end of my street. Life is good.

Friday, July 13, 2012

2 mornings on a lavender farm

Hubby and I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Prince Edward County. Always one of our most favourite places to go, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It's hard to beat evenings sitting on a deck drinking wine and gazing at the West Lake.

For me though, this visit was all about lavender. Derek and Rolande of the Prince Edward County Lavender Farm were kind enough to let me come to the farm to help with their harvest and give me a crash course in essential oil making via steam distillation and all things lavender.

Last year the farm produced around 11 litres of lavender and lavadin essential oil which is sold as is and also made into soaps, lotions, body washes and creams which they sell in their store on the farm. They also have hives on site and sell pure lavender honey and have collaborated with local companies to make lavender chocolate and preserves. For the aromatologists and aromatherapists in the crowd, their lavendula angustifolia oil meets the ISO 3515 standard (the oil is sent to a university in Quebec for the gas chromotography analysis).

The lavender is harvested by hand and it is no easy job! Doing so means that the birds and rabbits that nest in the plants are minimally disturbed since the only equipment used is a hand scythe. I'm not going to lie, it was a little backbreaking. But it was so peaceful without the sounds of heavy machinery. I definitely shouldn't quit my day job - the experts Dave, Miranda and Holly harvested 2-3 rows to every 1 row I harvested! But, I enjoyed my time among those rows and rows of purple. The scent of lavender kept me energized (lavender is one of only a few balancing oils which can relax as well as invigorate) and the hum of the bees remained in my ears long after leaving.

Derek and Rolande were so kind and generous to share their knowledge with me not only of lavender and essential oil making but also on running a farm. I learned so much.

I can't recommend a visit to this farm enough. Bring a lunch and sit under the trees next to the lavender fields. Come during harvest season (late June/early July) and you can get a tour of the farm and watch the essential oil being made (call ahead to find out what time they are planning to make the oil so you don't miss it).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The value of trees

There are a crap-load of "green" calculators on the web these days. A lot are pretty boring, or too generic/vague to provide anything of value. But this one caught my eye - The Ontario Residential Tree Benefits Estimator.

You select the type of tree, enter the diameter of the trunk, distance of the tree from the house (and some other things I am forgetting) and it spits out some really interesting stats like:
  • how much CO2 the tree will sequester over it's lifetime, and
  • how much stormwater is mitigated by the tree and
  • replacement value of the tree
The calculator estimates that the 4 main trees in our front and back yards will, over their lifetimes, sequester 18,884 kg of CO2 and will suck up a whopping 1,861,644 litres of stormwater!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Well that didn't last long

We turned the air conditioning on yesterday. Funny how you can go from 'meh, it's not that bad' to 'holy fire of hell it's hot in here' in half a day.

Was hoping I wouldn't need to have it on this morning but we woke up to 24C (32C with the humidex). Yuck. Just....yuck.

Looking forward to the heatwave breaking (fingers crossed will be tonight) so we can turn off the A/C and open the windows again.

I miss fresh air.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How we are beating the heat

We are going through a bit of a heat wave here in Ottawa (it is currently 11pm and is still very warm outside: 25C with a humidex of 35C). We have a window A/C unit but we only turn it on when we are really desperate (a few nights every summer). We aren't feeling desperate yet so instead of A/C we/I have been doing the following to beat the heat:
  • turned on the furnace fan to circulate cool air from the basement (uses the same amount of electricity as a light bulb)
  • closed all the windows and curtains during the day
  • have a cool shower (or better a bath) before bed
  • put a damp face-cloth/flannel over my feet when I go to bed (if my feet are too hot I can't sleep!)
Right now it is a comfortable 26C in the house. I'm actually a little cold!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rescuing food destined for the dumpster

I've been thinking a lot about food waste lately. I recently borrowed Dive! (the film) from the library (it's great), and I'm currently reading An Everlasting Meal - cooking with economy and grace by Tamar Adler (pure poetry and I want to buy a copy for everyone I know).

So inspired, I walked into my local health food store to discover that all their organic whole milk was marked down from $3.79 to $.99. The reason for the drastic price reduction was that it was due to expire in two days. Knowing what I know about expiry dates I bought all 6 litres they had on sale. The owner of the shop was happy to sell it so that she didn't have to "pour it down the drain".

Each litre container was slightly bloated but a taste test of each revealed that the milk wasn't even starting to go off. It was absolutely fine. After turning the first litre into yogurt I decided to turn the rest into paneer. I could have also made ice cream/frozen custard but I was excited to make my first attempt at cheese.

A quick search of the internet turned up countless recipes. I picked this one, followed the recipe exactly and it worked perfectly. I worked in batches and had hoped to use the whey from the first batch to separate the curds from the whey in the second batch (instead of using lemon juice) but it didn't work. So I switched back to lemon juice.

All in all I ended up with 2.5 cups of paneer. After pressing the paneer and cutting it into cubes, there were some crumbly bits from the edges of the block which I salted and used the next day on top of a salad. Since I didn't want to eat all that paneer in the next week, I fried the 2.5 cups of cubes and froze them. I'm already craving mattar paneer.

What I realized in this is that knowing how to make food from scratch is not only economical (I ended up with 2.5 cups of organic paneer, and 1 litre of organic yogurt for $6 - as opposed to $22.74), but also makes me feel great. All the energy that was used by the cow, the farmer, and the distributor to get the milk to the store was not for nothing. And nothing ended up in the landfill (milk used, whey composted*, cartons recycled).

*I know whey makes a very healthy drink. I tried it but didn't like it. Any other suggestions for how to use whey would be much appreciated!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Urban foraging score

Inspired by Unstuffed and her foraging finds, I have been keeping my eyes peeled in my neighbourhood.

Today I found a patch of wild black raspberries! It was a prickly, mosquito filled harvesting experience. But worth it for about a cup and a half of berries.
Initially I wasn't sure if they were black raspberries or blackberries so I asked my folks and learned that black raspberries are hollow in the middle (like a red raspberry) vs. blackberries which have a solid core.

I'm not sure what I will do with them yet. My family seems to think that they are too seedy for jam (although FoodinJars would disagree). On top of that, I didn't harvest enough fruit to make jam and despite my love for preserving food, I am trying to enjoy the fruits and veggies I harvest in season (and not preserve all of it).

So maybe I will make black raspberry lemonade (sweetened with the lemon grass syrup I made last weekend - with lemon grass from the garden).

Or maybe I will just have yogurt and granola and black raspberries for breakfast.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Milkweed flowerbud capers

I came across some milkweed in various stages of flowering this weekend and vaguely remembered that you could turn something from the milkweed plant into a caper-like product. So I picked some flowerbuds just in case.

When I got home I did some research and learned that you can make 'capers' from either the flower buds (harvested when the buds are slightly loose and green) or from the seed pods (also green but larger pods that appear after the pretty purple flowers fall off).

I'm lactofermenting the flower buds using this recipe.

Here are some pics of the process so far:
Flower buds:

I discarded these. They were too close to flowering:

'capers' in their salty brine:

In a few weeks I will forage some milkweed seed pods and experiment with the recipe in Sandor Katz' book Wild Fermentation.