Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Annual Guelph Organic Conference coming up

The annual Guelph Organic Conference - formerly known as the Canadian Organic Growers (or COG) conference - is coming up again at the end of next month. This is an event that's well worth the while for anyone interested in farming, gardening, seed purchasing, livestock raising, learning more about biodynamics & organics, checking out new Canadian organic products, meeting other farmers, and generally connecting with a group of likeminded others from across the country. It's a yearly highlight and veritable pilgrimmage for us (Greg & I have been attending the conference for more than 10 years, and had one of our first "dates" at the conference many years ago!). The conference includes workshops, keynote addresses, an organic dinner, a trade show & food expo, video and book rooms, and lots of time to catch up with old friends, and see favourite vendors (there's always a line-up at the Mapleton's organic icecream, even though it's often been a January blizzard outside!). The event is usually held on the last weekend of January, the perfect time to purchase your heirloom seeds and still have plenty of time to start your seedlings for spring. This year it will be from Jan 24-27, at the University of Guelph. More details at:

December chickens

The chickens are doing well. They still like to run around outside each day, unless there is a raging wind, ice rain, or blowing snow. They love to perch on the strawbales, or the new logs that Greg has placed in their run, so they can get their feet off of the cold snowy ground. So far we haven't had any terribly bitter cold nights where we have worried about whether to bring them inside somewhere, but we do continue to heat their coop with a heating lamp that's set on a timer. We will also wrap a tarp around the rest of their run to help keep the cold winds out. Each morning their water trough needs to be checked, the ice broken and water changed if it's frozen. It has been cold enough most nights/mornings that the water is frozen.

They are still laying about once every 1.5 days, only slightly less than in the summer, and have made a new "back up" nest in one of the strawbales inside their run (for when the other nest boxes are occupied). However, we have noticed their egg shells getting slightly softer, so have started to feed them crushed oyster shells as a supplemental form of calcium. They are just not getting as much in their regular diet as they did when they could forage in the garden for greens. They love to nibble at the frozen broccoli and kale stalks, which we hang in their run just at beak's-reach. Otherwise, the main part of their winter diet so far consists of the store-bought chicken feed, shredded carrots, rice & beans, warmed oatmeal, bread crumbs, sunflower & flax seeds, apple bits, raisins and other dried fruit, and any greens we can spare from our greenhouse. Next season I will plan to dehydrate as many greens (kale, broccoli leaves, chard) as possible, so as to have a steady supply for the winter diet. We haven't been able to find much information about winter chicken keeping in northern climates (zone 5-6 and colder), but know many local farmers obviously do keep chickens year-round and they seem to do just fine as long as they have a warm dry draft-free place to get away to.

a little bird told me craft sale!!

The first annual "a little bird told me" craft sale was a huge success! We were amazed at the turn-out, with estimated 200-250 people dropping by to browse the beautiful hand-made wares. The house was packed with guests from start to finish, and we could hardly have fit more people in. It really shows that people want to connect with each other, and people want to support local artists.

Thanks to all our amazing vendors, and all of you who came by to check out the sale! We even met some other urban chicken-keepers, and are still considering forming a chicken keeper alliance in the spring as part of an urban agriculture network. We made some great contacts with other local crafters & artists from our neighbourhood, and are beginning to make plans for a larger neighbourhood nulti-house art-walk for the spring/summer 2008. If you live in our area and want to get involved, please contact us! Otherwise, stay tuned...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New cork kitchen floor

We've been busy around here the past few weeks, with renovations to our own kitchen (cork flooring, new larger sink, newly tiled counter, repainting) as well taking on a side job of installing bamboo flooring at a friend's new place.

We debated flooring options for our kitchen, wanting something ecologically sound, durable, affordable, and easy to keep clean. Our beautiful old pine floor was just getting too hard to maintain, with cracked boards that needed replacing as well as a huge job of stripping off decades worth of old paint. We finally decided to add a new cork floor over the existing pine boards. As the manufacturer says, it was quite easy to install, with no glues, nails, varnishes or other finishes. So far we've been quite happy with the results.

Some of the benefits that convinced us to go with cork are (taken from the Wicander's site):

- Cork flooring products are made from all natural raw materials; offering the resilience and excellent performance of cork as an insulator, while providing amazing decorative possibilities.
- The glue less joint systems of the cork flooring floating planks permits fast and efficient installation of the cork flooring on any level surface at all levels of the home.
- Cork floors can be installed in kitchens with good performance and protection from moisture.
- The raw material for cork floors is obtained by harvesting the cork oak tree bark; with the tree never being cut down. This enables the bark to regenerate itself within a few years. Cork floors are an ecologically sound building material which allows for continual harvesting of cork for centuries making it a renewable resource for generations to follow.
- During the production process of natural cork flooring products, we utilize 100% of the harvested materials with no waste produced.

- Cork Forests cover worldwide an area of 2.5 million ha, of which 1 million is located in Portugal (1/3 of the country). Other countries cork grows include: Algeria, Spain, Morocco, France, Italy and Tunisia.
- Cork is harvested from the beginning of June to the end of August. This is possible only every 9 years, 20 times all together.
- Cork is peeled only from the trunk and from branches of a specified circumference down to the thin reddish parent layer, below which new cork is growing (approx. 1.5-4mm per year)
- 20 % of the cork bark is left intact to protect the tree from drying up.

Environmentally Friendly- Cork Flooring is produced using all natural cork products which are harvested with no waste materials produced. This results in no damage to the tree or the environment in which it is harvested.
Durability- Cork flooring is remarkably resistant to wear, as it is less affected by impact and friction than other hard surfaces because of it cellular composition. Cork flooring offers great warranties.
Resiliency- When cork floors are subjected to pressure, the gas in the cells is compressed and volume reduces considerably. When released from pressure cork flooring recovers quickly to its original shape. Cork floors are gentle on your joints and soft underfoot.
Insulation- Because 90% of the cork tissue consists of gaseous matter, the density of cork is extremely low giving the material wonderful insulating properties, thermal as well as acoustical. Cork floors are warm and quiet underfoot.
Impermeability- The presence of Suberin, an inherent waxy substance, renders cork impervious
to both liquids and gases. As a result, it does not rot and may therefore be considered the best seal available. Cork floors are perfect for residential and light commercial applications.
Fire retardation- A natural fire retardant, cork flooring does not spread flames and does not release toxic gases during combustion.
Hypoallergenic- Cork flooring does not attract dust and consequently does not cause allergies.
Electrically Dissipative- Cork flooring does not produce static electricity making it suitable for rooms with electronic equipment and appliances.
Exact Milling- Cork floors have a UV finish prior to milling that guarantees a seamless varnish coat and a homogenous surface.
Easy to clean- Cork flooring can be easily maintained by vacuuming and damp mopping with approved cleaners.
Easy Installation- Cork floating flooring panels are easily installed without the use of special tools.
Suitable for Radiant Heating- Cork floating floors are suitable for installation over Hot water radiant heat systems, provided that the temperature does not exceed 81 degrees F.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Winter Greens

October 21 - also planted our crop of assorted winter greens in the double raised bed that acts as our coldframe. We have thin black PVC piping curving over the bed to create a frame - the plastic pipe is set on metal stakes which are dug into the ground for sturdiness; then we cover this frame with plastic sheeting to create a grow tunnel that acts as a small greenhouse on the sunny winter days.

This year I planted cilantro, basil, red winter lettuce, buttercrunch lettuce, mizuna, mesclun, tatsoi, spinach, arugula, swiss chard, dill and green onions. The herbs will grow slowly, but the greens are already coming up nicely. We also keep kale in various beds in the winter, carrots are still in the ground (nice and sweeet now after our frosts), and the greenhouse is packed with hot peppers, eggplants, and basil in pots, plus chard, arugula and other greens in the beds. We don't need many leafy greens in the winter, as we are fine with eating seasonally (going more toward root veg in the winter, or greens we have preserved in our freezer), as well as sprouted indoor greens. However, it is heartening to peek into the tunnel or lounge in the greenhouse on cold days, enjoying the fresh green colours and flavours, and dreaming of spring again.

Fall Garlic Planting

Oct 21 Garlic Planting - it's a little later than most years, but this October has seen incredibly warm weather (upto 30C), sunny days with mild nights. We just kept harvesting from our summer beds: lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, chard, basil, and didn't feel ready to pull plants out and prepare the beds for winter.

Finally near the end of October I decided I had to plant the fall garlic, or it would have to wait until spring. I pulled the entire basil bed, made a few last batches of pesto, and then I put in one full bed (5x8 raised bed) with about 150 garlic, which will make only a reasonable dent in the amount of garlic we eat in this household. Next year I will consider claiming two raised beds for our garlic planting! 9 rows of organic elephant garlic (don't know the variety - saved from our CSA farmer, Martha); 1 row each of heirloom organic garlic from a friend on Salt Spring Island in BC - White Polish, Salt Spring, Red Russian, and Chinese Rocambole.

We recently heard a friend talk about his father's cafe, which uses nearly 10,000 garlic bulbs in a year to supply the cafe kitchen (garlic is a staple to start nearly every dish!). All this garlic is planted each year, diligently on the father's nearby farm. I love the connection from farm to table, with the work done by the same hands - and the idea of measuring your cafe status by the amount of garlic used!

A little bird told me craft sale...Dec 8

We have started advertizing for the upcoming craft sale that will be held here on Sat, Dec 8. The "A little bird told me craft sale" will feature 8-9 artisans/crafters who will be showcasing their work throughout our house.

The house will be transformed into a hub of musical instruments, knitted goods, baked treats, handbound books, herbal soaps, photogrpahy, recycled clothing, and much more! All items are handmade, with the emphasis on using recycled or earth-friendly materials! A great place to do your holiday shopping while supporting local crafters...

We hope this will become a semi-annual event, and grow to incorporate other houses in our neighbourhood, developing into a walking studio tour the way several other neighbourhoods in our city have done.

Winter chicken preparations

We've had our first few hard frosts, then a little snowfall, and temperatures dipping to -4C at night. It's time to prepare our chickens for the winter months ahead.

At this point we are planning to keep the girls in their coop for the majority of the winter, unless the temperatures drop drastically in which case they can roost in our greenhouse (where we have a small heater available). We have surrounded the coop with strawbales for added insulation, and installed a small heat lamp which is on a timer so it goes on mid-night.

So far the girls are adjusting well to the cooler temperatures, getting a chance to warm up by stretching their legs roaming through the garden/yard during the day. We have started feeding them warm oatmeal in the mornings, which they devour (if you add rice milk they go crazy for it! - although this is a rare treat). They lay a few less eggs, now 4-5 per day instead of 6, and this is due to reduced light levels (it's dark by 5 pm now, at which point they climb on their perches and tuck away for the night). They have also developed a new yard nest, laying eggs in a small nest fashioned under a huge pile of twigs & brush near their coop. It's a perfect wild nest, completely hidden and tangled under bramble and raspberry canes - safe from predators, and cozy.

In appreciation of the apple! Apple tasting extravaganza

Again, it's been a busy few weeks so not much time to post updates here. A few weeks back we hosted a "heritage apple tasting" which was an amazing afternoon of great people, unique flavours (from tart, to sweet, to crisp, to sour, to dry), interesting learning, and later delicious homemade wine (thanks Alfred & Meghan!)

A huge thank you again to Bob Wildfong, of Seeds of Diversity, for leading us through the history and flavours of 22 different varities of apples! All varieties had been purchased at the local farmers market, from an assortment of vendors (some with larger orchards, some with a few old fruit trees, etc). Even though Bob mentioned we would have had more than 500 varieties available a century ago, I still find it inspiring to know that many of these old varieties have been kept over the years, tended and valued, and are all locally available through our farmers - even if not at the regular grocery store.

The varieties we learned about were:
1) McIntosh (c1811, Colorado) - crisp, mild, tart
2) Snow (or Fameuse) (c1730, near Lake Champlain) - possibly first apple grown in Canada?
3) Delicious (c1870, Iowa) - a good long keeper
4) Empire (1945, New York)
5) Golden Delicious (c1890, West Virginia)
6) Cox's Orange Pippin (c1825, England)
7) Royal Gala (1934 New Zealand)
8) Jonagold (1943, New York - Golden Delicious x Jonathan)
9) Northern Spy (c1800, New York) - favourite pie apple in NA
10) Sandow (1912, Ottawa - Northern Spy x ?)
11) Ida Red (1942, Idaho) - great for baking
12) Tolman Sweet (Pre-1800, Massachusetts)
13) Wealthy (c1861, Minnesota)
14) Golden Russett (19th century, USA)
15) Northwest Greening (Golden Russet x Alexander)
16) Wolf River (pre-1875, Wolf River, Wisconsin)
17) Cortland (1898, New York - McIntosh x Ben Davis) - the "caterer's" apples (does not brown)
18) Honey Crisp (1991, Minnesota) - very crisp and sweet
19) Ambrosia (1980's, British Columbia) - chance discovery in an orchard
20) Baxter
21) Schatzi
22) Hyslop crabapple (mid-1800's) - tangy and dry, good for apple jelly

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Egg-rich! Chicken update

We are egg-rich! Currently we are getting 5-6 eggs/day from our lovely layers and are handing them to any friends who drop by for a visit. We are so proud of our hens, who have all learned to lay in the nest boxes over the past month (Aug 22 was our first egg). We have also been able to employ several friends as chicken-sitters, when we go away for a night or weekend trip. This is a must for any urban chicken keepers, as the birds do need to be fed and watered, as well as let out for a stretch several times a day.

The girls love to eat greens - as much as they can get, so we feed them bunches of it cut into small strips with their feed every day, as well as hanging bunches from strings along the fence of their enclosure so they can nibble all day. They especially love comfrey (which encourages laying), broccoli greens, kale, swiss chard, dandelion greens, and the latest, sorrel. We also give them grains such as buckwheat (especially kasha, which is roasted buckwheat and this is a real treat for them), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (which deter mites), oats, millet, quinoa, etc. Shredded carrot, and any kind of berries or fruit (grapes, raspberries, melon) - fresh or dry - is their absolute favourite, and they will go crazy for these snacks.

We are starting to prepare their winter house. We have not been able to find much information in books or on the internet regarding winter/northern chicken keeping. The main detail we've learned is that chickens can survive fairly cold weather, down to several degrees below zero, as long as they are out of the wind (so they don't get frostbite). It seems we could keep them in their coop over the winter, if we added a heat lamp or small heater, but this poses a slight fire hazard and also means running electricity for days on end. Our plan is to house them in our greenhouse, where we have planted fresh greens for them to eat, and they would have more space to roam. On sunny days we will let them stroll in the yard, or under the outdoor coldframes just to get some more exercise and fresh air.

We have been meeting various other people here in the city who also keep chickens. There seems to be a small underground urban chicken keeping movement, and so we are considering starting a urban chicken keepers alliance, so we can help create more of a network where we can support each other, as well as further the idea of chickens within urban agriculture/food security plans. If there are any other local urban chicken keepers out there reading this, please contact us if you have ideas or (in other cities) if have formed such networks and could give us advice from your experiences.

Affordable homemade wood-fired hot tub!

As a new feature for our homestead my partner is currently working on a wood-fired hottub. His design is based on a combination of cedar tubs from out West that are fired up with a chofu heater, ancient soaking tubs from Japan, and small Dutch wood-fired tubs ( The plan is to build an efficient, beautiful, and inexpensive tub, using materials we have on hand.

The basic idea is to start with the size of tub you want - either build one (from cob, cement, metal), retrofit an existing bathtub/clawfoot tub, or, in our case, buy a 150 gallon stock tank from the local farm store. Secondly, insulate the tub as necessary, to help hold in the heat of the water. Thirdly, find a way to heat your water. This can take many forms - either a woodburning stove with a water coil wrapped around, a chofu heater (* see note below), or solar-heated tank. I once lived on an organic farm near Nelson, BC that heated water for their outside shower and bathtub in a large black plastic barrel that was ontop of the shower structure. We took baths or showers at night if we wanted warm water (after the sun had warmed the tank all day long), or cool showers in the morning. This was a very simple design, that is easily manageable for the novice builder - but your property needs adequate access to sun.

In our case, we are hoping to buy an old woodstove, and use a coiled pipe wrapped around it to heat our water. Currently we are heating water in a very rustic way, by the kettle on our firepit which is located beside the tub. Once the main body of water is heated it's actually not that much effort to continue to heat water by the kettle to top up the tub, and have a cozy campfire burning beside us as we lounge in the tub under the stars! For our guests, the woodfired model would be more suitable.

The photo shows our tub, with two sitting benches inside, and the insulation layer. We have a large volume of old tongue&groove boards in our barn, and this is going to be the outer covering, followed by a wider platform on which to sit around the edge of the tub. More photos to come as this project unfolds...

* Note on the chofu: The chofu is a precision built wood-burning water heater designed specifically for hot tubs. It circulates water using the principal of thermosiphon (the pumping action created by rising hot water), eliminating the need for a circulating pump or electricity. This unique feature opens up a whole new range of possibilities for alternative hot tubs. Now you can have a basic soaking tub without pumps, chemicals, or high maintenance. With the chofu heater you can retrofit an existing tub or put together a low-cost soaking tub, using a wooden tub or stock tank (from

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Open Fridge

I read about a movement to showcase an "open fridge", exemplifying the adage "you are what you eat". I decided to open our fridge, today on Thursday, September 27, to tell you what was inside.

We are always trying to eat as local as we can, and even though it's nearing the end of the harvest season, there are still many good local items available in terms of produce, dairy, eggs, fruit, grains, honey, and seeds for winter sprouting. Of course, root crops will be available at the farmers market for the course of the winter, and we have also purchase some bushels in advance to store in our house. Since we have just completed a bountiful apple harvest, the open fridge will display an assortment of homemade apple products.

We have not been able to find local sources for all our grains (e.g. rice), baking supplies (e.g. chocolate, vanilla, sugar), nuts (e.g. almonds), or other assorted items (e.g. lemon juice). We also won't ever have local coffee, but our compromise is to buy it green from a local fair trade supplier and roast our own within 1-2 days of drinking it. We grind it minutes before it's used so it's as fresh as it gets.

I also want to note that I have a small business doing "slow-food" vegan baking & catering, which accounts for the large selection of flours, nuts, chocolate chips, and baking supplies.

Open Fridge - main compartment:
- roasted vegetables (red peppers, potatoes, garlic, onion, carrots, sweet potato) all from our CSA
- assorted tomatoes (green zebra, red & orange cherry, yellow pear, Mennonite orange, longkeeper, Cherokee purple, Yukon red) all from our garden
- snow peas from our CSA
- eggplant (Italian Vittoria & Japanese) from our garden
- green beans (Cherokee Cornfield & French Filet) from our garden
- pears from our CSA
- prune plums from our CSA
- applesauce; apple cider; apple jelly from our wild harvest
- homemade blueberry sauce from organic berries from our CSA
- homemade mulberry syrup from wild harvest
- homemade black current & raspberry jam from our CSA
- pure amber maple syrup from our local farmers market
- arugula from our garden
- fresh herbs (basil, chives, oregano, thyme) from our garden
- fresh eggs (3 dozen!) from our backyard chickens
- homemade pickles using cucumbers from the local farmers market
- canned pickled beans from our garden
- local bee pollen
- organic ketchup
- nutritional yeast
- organic stoneground dijon mustard
- homemade wholewheat seed bread
- organic lemon juice
- traditional bread yeast
- chili (made from organic dried beans, our own tomato sauce & cayenne peppers)
- hummus (made from organic dried beans & garlic/cilantro from our local CSA)
- organic yogurt from a nearby farm (we also make our own sometimes)
- Braggs, tamari, miso and green curry paste
- flax and hemp oils
- soya margarine
- rice milk
- applebutter made at the local cider mill
- organic brown rice syrup
- hemp seeds (Canadian - from Manitoba)
- homemade "dragon" hotsauce from our hot peppers in 2006

Open Freezer:
- frozen fruit (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, sweet cherries, peaches, red & black currents from our CSA)
- frozen fruit (rhubarb from our garden, sourcherries & mulberries from local harvest)
- bread & bagels made in our wood-fired oven
- tortillas organic wholewheat flax from the health food store
- apple cider from our local harvest
- green beans from our garden, peas from our garden
- roasted red peppers from our CSA
- shredded zucchini from our garden
- pear compote from wild harvested pears
- plum chutney from our CSA plums and garden produce
- yogurt starter
- fair trade coffee beans

Open Cold Cellar:
- home preserves (wild grape jelly from our garden; wild apple jelly from local harvest; tomato salsa & sauce from our tomatoes; peaches from local farmers market; applesauce from wild harvest; pickles made from local CSA cucumbers)
- organic carrots (our garden)
- four varieties of potatoes (purple, french fingerling, red, yukon gold) from CSA & our garden
- onions from our CSA and our garden
- 7 varieties of garlic (Saltspring, white Polish, red Russian, Chinese rocambole, Yugoslavian, suda artichoke, and elephant hardnecked) from our garden
- 6 kinds of squash (butternut, red & green hubbard, acorn, pumpkin, delicata) from our CSA

Open Cupboards:
- 10 kinds of dried beans (kidney, lentil, cherokee cornfield, soy, blackbean, black eyed pea, jacob's cattle bean, mung, adzuki, chickpea), and 2 kinds of lentils (green & red) all organic, from our garden, from our CSA
- 8 kinds of dried grains (couscous, bulghur, brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat kasha)
- 8 kinds of organic flour all Canadian other than brown rice (whole wheat, all purpose, spelt, rye, oat, barley, brown rice, hemp)
- white sugar & brown sugar (yes, refined sugar made it into our house)
- chocolate chips & cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla
- dried tomatoes & kale from our garden
- dried fruit from our CSA (apples, pears, peaches)
- seeds for sprouting (radish, red clover, alfalfa, sunflower, wheatgrass, mung)
- dried basil, oregano, fennel, thyme, etc from our garden
- hot cayennes, jalapenos, and scotch bonnets from our garden
- organic Thompson raisins
- natural peanutbutter
- local honey
- homemade granola
- dried nuts (almond, walnut); and seeds (sunflower, flax, pumpkin, hemp, sesame, poppy)
- whole oats, wheatgerm, wheatbran
- organic popcorn
- nori sheets and rice paper wrappers
- dried spices, sea salt, black pepper
- dried herbal teas, yerba mate, and roasted chickory root drink

Herb Shares Delivered This Week!

I believe I had mentioned the 2007 Herb Shares earlier in this blog. The end of September is nearing, and the herb shares are nearly ready to be delivered. This share idea is based on the concept of the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where members buy shares in advance, so I know how much to grow & harvest, and then received their finished herbal medicinal products at the end of the season.

For $55/share members will receive:
- 3 bags of tea enough for 10-15 cups/each (Less-Stress; After-Dinner Tea; Women's Tea)
- 2 oz. echinacea tincture (boosting the immune system)
- 4 oz. sage cough syrup (to soothe colds, sore throats, coughs)
- All-Purpose Salve (for minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises)
- Migraine Wonder Oil (to ease migraines & headaches)

All the herbs are harvested at their peak. Beeswax for the salve comes from friends at a nearby farm who keep honey bees, and all the herbs are grown in our own gardens or purchased from nearby organic sources.

It's been a pleasure working on these herb shares, and I do hope the life-giving, healthful properties have been instilled into each product that was made carefully. I hope to do this project again next year, as well as include herb garden tours, and a monthly herbal e-newsletter.

Tours to Little City Farm

We have had a busy September (one of the reasons I have not had time to write here)!

We were happy to host a second open house event, as various friends, co-workers and neighbours were not able to attend our July opening celebration. We baked wood-fired bread, gave garden walks, explained the greywater system and peeked in the greenhouse, showed off the chickens, and toured our newly renovated bed & breakfast space in the second floor of our house. Thanks to all who came, and for the many lovely "farm warming" gifts, cards and well-wishes! We appreciate everyone's support so much!

We were also happy to tour a group of university students who are involved with a community garden project through WPIRG (Waterloo Public Interest Resource Group) at the University of Waterloo. This group of about 10 students has gotten together to grow their own product just north of the campus, and work communally to share the produce among themselves and other volunteers.

From this group, we met a woman who is also involved as an intern at the Ignatius Farm outside of Guelph (30 minutes from here), through the CRAFT farmer-internship program. She organized to bring the whole group of interns from her farm a few weeks later, also to tour our place. As several of the interns are thinking more of urban farming or small-scale market gardening/CSA, rather than large-scale farming, they had many questions regarding how we are managing to do things here in the city. We were so happy to meet them, and are going to visit their farm tomorrow to learn more about the great work done at Ignatius.

Apple Cider Pressing & Heritage Apple Tasting Event

In an earlier post I had mentioned the urban fruit tree project (fruitshare) - we had posted an add in the local paper about harvesting "forgotten" fruit trees around the city, gotten various good responses, and have been busy following up on the calls. So far, we have harvested about 10 bushels of otherwise unused apples, 3 bushels of which were beautiful eating apples that are now being stored in our greenhouse to savour throughout the winter months. 4 bushels we pressed into cider at our local cider mill. We can press 50 litres for a minimum charge of $18, which comes to about $0.36/litre (compared to $2-$3/litre in the store for organic cider!). Our four bushels made about 30 litres, which are unpasteurized, so need to be frozen, used, given away to friends, or turned into hard cider or vinegar. Last night I also canned several jars of wonderfully pink and sweet delicious "wild apple" sauce, harvsted from a forgotten tree in our local conservation area which we happened upon during a walk on the weekend. We are learning never to leave home without a few extra cloth bags, as you never know what you will find along the way that is ripe for the harvest.

On October 21, we have invited our friend Bob Wildfong to host a heritage apple tasting workshop at our place. He is a master gardener at our local pioneer heritage village, where he tends old heritage fruit trees, and grows heirloom varieties of vegetables to be saved for seed. He has also been involved for many years as program manager/president with Seeds of Diversity, a Canadian non-profit organization that is a "source for information about heritage seeds, seed saving, plant diversity, garden history, and your own garden heritage...It is a network of volunteer gardener-members across Canada who grow unusual and rare heritage plants as a preservation project. " We are very excited to host this workshop, and the description is as follows:

Savour over a dozen varieties of delicious heritage apples, and learn the fascinating stories behind them. Do you know which common apple variety was born in Ontario nearly 200 years ago? Have you ever seen an apple that weighs up to 2 pounds? What makes a good baking apple, a good saucing apple, and how can you choose the right varieties for your favourite apple recipes? Sweet, sour, soft, crisp - apples come in more varieties than any other fruit. Learn to appreciate a whole new side of your daily apple. Cost: Pay what you can as a donation to Seeds of Diversity.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Herb Share 2007

Fall is a busy time here at the homestead. We are harvesting the last garden produce; canning, preserving, pickling & drying foods; planting greens for the winter (in our greenhouse and raised bed coldframes); planning the garden for next season; gathering black walnuts; making apple cider; and (new for this year) preparing herb shares for our members.

Many of us already know all the benefits of eating/supporting local food. Now, we hope to have our community consider supporting locally produced natural medicine. The herb shares are a new project of a little natural herbal business "Homestead Herbals" that has grown out of my passion for natural healing, working with medicinal plants, and sharing this with the broader community.

Herb shares are similar to the concept of a CSA vegetable share - members purchase a share in the spring, and receive their harvest in the fall. Herb shares can take many directions (e.g. women's health; children's herbs; herbal first aid kit; chef's blend; aprodesiac). For this year our herb share is focussed on general health & well-being for the whole family and so include several teas, an all-purpose healing salve, a sage cough syrup, migraine oil, and an immune-boosting echinacea tincture.

All herbs for the shares are grown organically in our gardens, harvested at their peak, and created into natural health products with care. We have 12 share members this year, and are very happy to have such great support in this first year! Herb shares will be ready and shipped off or delivered locally by the end of this month.

Cob Oven Baking

We have a lovely second open house yesterday, despite cloudy drizzling weather. Thanks to all who came out to see our place, and for all your support and appreciation!

As anytime when guests come over, one of the features of the afternoon was fresh baking from the wood-fired cob oven. I try to bake once a week in the cob oven, especially during the summer months when I don't want to heat up the house. After baking breads, the oven is perfect for cookies, then granola, slow-roasting vegetables, and finally dehydrating fruit or tomatoes overnight. The result of oven roasted and dried roma tomatoes is stunning - rich, tart flavour, delectable colour, and all done on "residual heat", without running our electric dehydrator.

A few guests asked about our wheat-free recipes for the cookies, and the rolls. The cookies were our all-time favourite spelt chocolate chip cookies, and the rolls had a mixture of rye-oat-barley-spelt flour, and are a simple quick yeasted bread that always turns out perfectly! I like to add seeds (sesame, flax) to the mix, and sprinkle them ontop of the rolls just before baking. Here are the recipes. Enjoy!

Spelt Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup soy margarine
1 1/2 cups brown or white sugar
2 free-run eggs, or 2 Tbsp egg replacer
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups spelt flour (or all purpose is fine)
2 cups whole oats
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup chocolate chips

1) Cream margarine and sugar, then add eggs and vanilla; mix well.
2) Combine all dry ingredients, other than chocolate chips. Add to wet and mix well.
3) Blend in chocolate chips.
4) Make 1/4 inch balls and flatten slightly.
5) Bake 10-12 minutes at 350 F on ungreased cookie sheets, or until golden.

Four-Grain Dinner Rolls
adapted from ExtraVeganza, by Laura Mattias (one of the best vegan cookbooks around!)

2 tsp dry traditional yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup soy milk, heated
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp white vinegar
3 1/2 cups flour (I use combination of rye-oat-barley-spelt)
Handfull of sesame and flax seeds, optional

1) In small bowl combine yeast and warm water and set aside.
2) In a separate large bowl, combine soy milk, maple syrup, oil, salt, and vinegar.
3) Mix 1 1/2 cups of the flour into the soy milk mixture, stirring well to combine.
4) Add the yeast mixture, combining all ingredients together.
5) Add remaining 2 cups of flour, stirring to form a soft dough.
6) Place in oiled bowl, and make sure all of the dough is lightly oiled.
7) Cover with clean towel and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.
8) Press down dough and divide into two halves.
9) Roll out one half of dough on floured board in a circular shape. Cut into 12 pie slices.
10) Roll each slice toward the middle, from wide end to pointed end.
11) Place on lightly greased baking sheets, brush with water and sprinkle on seeds.
12) Let rise again until doubled about 35-40 min.
13) Bake in preheated oven (400 F) for 12-15 minutes, or until golden.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Urban Fruit Harvest

As urban homesteaders, with limited growing space on our own property, we can also include wildcrafting, and finding other edible resources or growing spaces that are available around the city to produce what we need. For example, we know of urban farmers who "rent" growing space from neighbours and friends, and produce enough food to feed themselves, run a small CSA, plus fill a market stall each week. They exchange fresh produce for the land to grow on. The possibilities of this are endless, as the city has vast amounts of unused growing space in it's rooftops, parks, private properties, residential front & backyards, school yards, vacant lots, church green space, etc.

Over the past few years we have also been sourcing out wild and forgotten fruit trees and berry bushes around the city. We've found treasures of wild raspberries, mulberries, saskatoon berries, grapes, plus endless pear, cherry and apple varieties with ripe fruit falling to the ground. We've been able to harvest only a small fraction at each location, and supply ourselves with jams, sauces, juice, chutney, wine (mmm, sour cherry wine) and fruit for eating.

Upon reading about Portland, Oregon's "Fruit Tree Project", and Victoria, BC's similar venture organized by "Life Cycles" - we decided we needed to do something likewise. The Fruit Tree Project is an amazing concept where local fruit trees (private and public) which are available for picking are registered on a city map. Volunteer harvesters get to collect 1/3 of what they pick; 1/3 is donated to the homeowner, and the remaining 1/3 goes to the local food bank. The group also hosts harvest parties, and canning/preserving workshops. An astounding concept, building community spirit, tapping into surplus underutilized food resources, providing healthy food to those who may not have access to it, and all for free! I would like to see a fruit tree map in every city. Very inspiring to say the least.

As Kitchener-Waterloo does not yet have a fruit tree map, we took it upon ourselves to put the word out another way and organize the first annual fruit tree project locally. We placed an ad in our local newspaper, saying "we'll pick your fruit - 1/3 goes to homeowner, 1/3 donated, and 1/3 to the volunteer harvesters". So far we've had one great response - a household which boasts cherry, apple and pear trees. We'll be heading over this week Thursday with our ladder and picking baskets, and look forward to what we will find.

Anyone local reading this who wants to join in the fruit harvesting, just send us an email!

Here's the link for the Portland "Fruit Tree Project":

Here's the link for the Life Cycles "Fruit Tree Project":

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

First Egg!

Great News! Our largest hen Sadie, laid her first egg on Monday!

We have been waiting and watching the girls, just wondering who is going to be the first to lay. Any information we've read states that the hens are ready for laying when they are between 17-20 weeks old, and when their combs are developed. Our three biggest hens, the Plymouth Barred Rocks, who are named Sadie, Neko and Lucy, were exactly 20 weeks old on Monday. Our three other hens, the Black Sex-Link (which is a cross between Rhode Island Red & Plymouth Barred Rock), named Pickles, Buttons, and Gypsy, are a week younger. It was no surprise to find out that Sadie laid the first egg, as she has been the most dominant of the brood from the start.

The first egg was not a "wind egg" (hollow inside) as we had anticipated, but in fact a solid, small sized brown speckled shell egg. The following day Sadie laid her second egg - however, both times not in the nest box. She actually laid her egg out in the open, near the gate of the chicken pen. This seems surprising as hens are said to like to lay their eggs in private. We've placed a white golf ball into the nest box, as this is meant to encourage egg laying in the nest, but we may have an independent hen on our hands! She was crowing loudly with a new sort of voice, almost like she was making an important announcement to the world, (or out of shock, surprise, or relief!) and there it was! We felt like proud parents :)

Two excellent resources we recommend for new urban/backyard chicken keepers are:

Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Space - by Barbara Kilarski. (this book provides instruction on building a coop, chicken history, and good breeds for backyards including lots of colour photographs!)

Backyard Poultry Naturally: A Complete Guide to Raising Chickens & Ducks Naturally - by Alanna Moore. (this book has an excellent section chicken behaviour, nutritional requirements, herbal remedies including homeopathics, and poultry & permaculture)

Tomato Harvest

It's been almost a month since I last wrote! We've been so busy with harvest that there has been little time for the computer.

Tomato harvest is on! We've been collecting tomatoes by the 11 quart basket since early August, for making salsa, sauce, preserved whole tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, slow-roasted tomatoes, tomato chutney, and of course just eating lots of toasted tomato sandwiches!

Each year when we attend the annual Canadian Organic Growers conference, held at the University of Guelph in January, we find it difficult to select only a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes. The vendors have an astounding array of unusual and familiar types, boasting great flavour, intense colour, early season ripening, late season ripening, champion size, and so on. Each tomato comes with it's own unique story of how the seeds were saved and preserved for generations, so that we have access to these varieties that are unavailable in the grocery store. For example, the "Mortgage Lifter" tomato was said to have helped an ailing farm bail out from under it's debt, the "Polish Pink" was smuggled overseas on the back of a postage stamp, and the "Cherokee Purple" was first grown by the first nations Cherokee people.

In any case, we finally decided on 16 varieties this year - including several we saved from our own garden seed of the previous year's harvest. We have some standard favourites that we grow each year - Yukon Red (early ripening and cold hardy); Mennonite Orange (low acid, beautiful brilliant orange); Yellow Pear (small sweet yellow tomato that is pear shaped); Sweet Baby Girl (tiny red early cherry); and Orange Cherry (which we call the Plan B Orange Cherry, as we first saved seeds from cherry tomatoes picked at this organic farm near Hamilton). This year we also grew Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Early Girl, Stupice, Patio (hybrid variety, which grows well in a pot and is an excellent producer of heavy red tomatoes), Polish Pink, Money Maker, and more...

If you can, save your own garden seeds. If your plot is too small, and you fear the varieties becoming cross-pollinated, then purchase seeds from small seed companies that support heirloom varieties. Also, consider joining Seeds of Diversity, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of heritage varieties of all sorts of produce. Members trade seeds, and volunteer to grow small batches of heirloom items in their gardens and send seeds back to be stored and passed on by Seeds of Diversity for the next season.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Edible Earth

The latest New Internationalist magazine has an excellent permaculture section which needs to be mentioned here, as permaculture is a system of design whose ethics incorporate earth care, people care, and fair share.

Founded by Bill Mollison in the 1970's in Australia, permaculture design is argueably a design system that can bring about social change. It is a design system that is based on observing what makes natural systems endure, establishing simple yet effective pinciples and using them to mirror nature in whatever we choose to design (e.g. gardens, farms, buildings, woodlots, communities, businesses, towns).

Permaculture is about creating beneficial relationships between individual elements, using principles such as:
- work with nature, not against it (use it as a teacher)
- everything in nature "gardens" (e.g. deer in the woods "prune" edible shoots)
- minimum effort for maximum output
- see the problem as the solution (e.g. thistles actually benefit the soil they are growing in)
- multiple functions (e.g. a greenhouse propagates plants, harvests rainwater, extends the growing season, reflects sunlight)

Here are a few simple do-it-yourself permaculture ideas for the city.

1) Living Roofs
By adding boards, pond membrance, and soil growing medium a sturdy roof can be turned into a fabulous garden. Make sure the rafters are adequately load-bearing for the volume of soil you plan to use. Then plant drought-resistant plants into the soil, mulch the gaps and watch everything grow. Incorporate bees, flowers, planter boxes...

2) Growing in Small Spaces
Balconies, windowsills, sunny walls, trellises, and patios are all great places to increase your garden yield when growing in small spaces. Contianers can be hung from the celieing and railings to grow edibles such as berries and vining plants. It's even possible to grow dwarf apple and fig trees in pots on a warm patio. Shady balconies can grow rhubarb, salad greens, and garlic. You can include innoculated oak logs to grow shiitake mushrooms. Keeping chickens for eggs is possible if you have enough space for a run.

3) Forest Gardens
The idea of a forest garden is to grow mainly perennial food crops in every available niche, from the roots, ground cover and shrub layer, up to the small trees and larger trees. In this way, we learn from and mimic how a forest grows.

4) Community Garden Plots
Gardening communally or with individual plots in an urban community garden has so many advantages. Allowing people to share the work, expertise, and the harvest, as well as providing opportunities for adding ponds, shelters, strawbale buildings, worm composting, rainwater harvesting, even planting fruit trees and berry bushes.

5) Water Harvesting
There are many ways to harvest and collect rainwater. Placing a barrel at the end of a down-spout is the most obvious. Why not add a tray of watercress at the bottom to grow some edible water-loving greens? Incorporating a series of interconnected rainbarrels, larger tanks, bird baths, ponds, greywater systems allows more rain and household water to be saved for gardening use and diverted from our sewer systems.

6) Reusing Tires
This was an early permaculture idea, given than used abandoned tires are virtually everywhere and will not break down easily in the landfill. Tire ponds can be created by digging a tire into the ground and lining with plastic. Cover the edges with soil and stones to make a natural looking finish. Tires have also been used to make retaining walls, planter beds, potato planters, composters (using tractor tires), and even walls for "earthship" rammed earth homes.

7) No-Dig Mulch Gardens
This idea was first written about by Masanobu Fukuoka, a pioneer of natural farming in Japan (see his book The One-Straw Revolution). The idea is simple - healthy soil is an ecosystem in itself, a complex web of microorganisms, plant ntrients, and organic matter necessary for healthy plants. If we dig the soil, we disrupt that ecosystem and reduce fertility. The easiest way to grow vegetables in the no-dig way is in a raised bed where organic matter can be accumulated each year, and the gardener's feet do not compact the soil. All sorts of material can be used for mulch - newspaper, non-synthetic carpet, black plastic, leaves, strawy, cardboard.

8) Animal Tractors
Till the soil (if necessary) by using animal power, such as a chicken or a pig. Chickens naturally scratch up the soil, eat disturbed pests and small weeds and leave their manure behind - a perfect example of permaculture given the multiple functions and interconnections of this relationship. Chickens can roam from raised bed to bed, in a simple chicken tractor which is a fenced in run on wheels that is moved as each bed becomes ready for planting.

9) Chicken Greenhouse
Multiple yields again - the antithesis of monoculture. Chickesn are inherently useful creatures! No only do they yield eggs, they are good waste-disposal birds eating vegetable scraps and garden weeds. They produce rich manure for hte garden and are useful pest controllers, Place them inside or their house outside on the shady side of a green house and you can also harvest their heat at night, their carbon dioxide for plants, and use th early morning heat from the green house to warm them up to lay eggs. Add a rainwater collection and plant a forage garden around their run to make them more self-sufficient. In a largescale battery house (chicken barn) their carbon dioxide, manure, feathers and heat are a problem. However, in the small-scale permaculture system they are yields! The key to this success is scale, and the relationship between all the elements in balance.

10) Swales
Swales are small ditches that hold water and allow them it to penetrate the soil They slow down, even stop, water run-off and soil erosion. They can be smlal ridges in garens, rock piles place across a slope or excavated hollows. Essential is the planting of trees.

This information taken from New Internationalist, July 2007.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

We Love Local Food

Sourcing Local Food

As most of us know, the average grocery store item travels 1500 miles (that's 2400 km) before it reaches our plate. This of course means the vast consumption of fossil fuels to transport our food; packaging so the food retains it's colour & shape; produce picked when it's underripe and sprayed so it ripens slowly as it travels; nutritionally & flavour deficient produce; and countless hands of workers along the way. With most such travelling foods we do not know the names of the farmers who grew them, the conditions the workers who picked them endured, the ecosystem they developed in, or the impact their farm had on the surrounding environment.

By buying local food, we support our local economy, gain knowledge over our food system, have opportunity to get to know the growers, reduce transportation emissions, and enjoy natural fresh taste of food picked in season and in it's time.

Here are some ways to source local food, or better yet, grow your own!

Community Supported Agriculture - provides members a chance to buy a "share" or subsciption in local farms, and receive weekly boxes of food during the growing season.

Local Farmers Market - offers wonderful Saturday recreational event, touring from booth to booth, talking with growers and sourcing your favourite fresh produce, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, and other local specialties. Make sure to ask it the items are produced locally, as many booths also resell produce.

Food Co-op - join a local food co-op, or frequent a natural foods store. Here you will often find more choice, and more voice when it comes to sourcing local foods.

Grocery Store - ask your grocery store manager whether the produce is local, and request this if it's currently not. Managers are interested in what customers want to buy, so make your preferences known.

Farm-Gate Sales - many small farms will sell produce, eggs, cheese and more from their local farm-gate. If you have the means to get out into the countryside, take along a map of local farm-gate vendors and stop by.

Community Gardens - if you are new to growing a garden, or lack growing space in your own backyard, join a local community garden. Most cities have such community gardens in each neighbourhood, and if not, start your own - many city councils will provide start-up funds for gardens, especially if you are beautifying abandoned lots or underutilized park areas. Community gardens are great places to meet other gardeners, and share seeds, growing tips, and unique produce.

Food not Lawns - turn your home lawn space into gardening space - whether it's your front yard, backyard, rooftop, or patio, there is always a place to grow a few more vegetables and herbs.

Indoor Sprout Garden - in the winter, start an indoor sprout garden to get fresh, organic greens during the cold months. Sprouts are easy to grow, take minimal effort, space or resources, and produce top quality nutrients quickly. Almost any seed or grain can be sprouted, and easy ones to start with include alfalfa, radish, sunflower, and mung. An excellent source for sprouting seeds & equipment is Mumm's in Saskatchewan!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wonderful Weeds

"Let food be your medicine and medicine your food".

Wild plants are resources, and should be encouraged to grow whenever possible. Often, edible wild greens have a much higher nutritional value than cultivated greens. Some wild plants have been with us for more than 10,000 years! Always make sure you are property identifying the wild edibles, as many plants have similar counterparts that may be inedible or even poisonous. Investigate in a good field guide - for our region we use the Peterson's A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America.

Here are 10 excellent wild edibles to grow or wildcraft. If you visit us, you will find all of these coexisting peacefully among our other cultivated plants on our property!

(list from Organic Gardening, Feb/March 2007)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Used medicinally as an immune stimulant; historically, it was used to relieve flu aches and as an antiperspirant. Caution: a closely related species is poisonouse.

A tasty salad green that's been used topically to treat skin irritations. Grows well in cool climates.

Common Mallow
Harvest leaves for salad or cook in soup. Herbalists use tea made from the leaves and flowers to sooth sore throats.


Leaves are healthful both cooked and in salads. Leaves and roots are used in herbal tonics to aid liver function and better overall health.

Lamb's Quarters
A tender annual substitute for spinach that does well in the heat. Use in salad or cooked.

The flowering tops are used by herbalists for heart problems and female health concerns.


A rich source of iron and calcium eaten as a cooked vegetable or made into a tea. Look for it in hair products as a scalp stimulant and tonic.


Eat the leaves raw in salad or cooked in soup. Makes a healing poultice that is used to relieve bug-bit symptoms and aid the healing of wounds.


Add a taste of spring to salads, soups, and pesto. Both the leaves and flowers are edible and high in vitamin C. Herbalists apply violet internally for irritated throats and exernally to treat burns.

Wild Fennel
Has an anise-like scent and taste, and its yellow flowers attract beneficial insects that prey on leaf-eating insects.

Here at Little City Farm our other favourites include:

Has been eaten and appreciated in India and Persia for more than 2000 years, and is also a prized vegetable over much of Europe and Asia. The entire plant, stem, leaf and flower bud is good to eat. Use in salads, casseroles, steamed, and even pickled (the fat stems)!

Also known as Great Gobo, the sliced roots of this vegetable are a common ingredients in Japanese cooking. It has a long history of having a great reputation as an aphrodisiac. Burdock is a biennial, and the roots should only be collected from first-year plants in June or early July. Used by herbalists as a liver tonic.

Yellow Dock
Young leaves used in salads, and roots combined with burdock as liver tonic.

Large wooly mullein leaf is used by herbalists for sore throats, coughs and bronchitis. The smally yellow flowers can be infused in oil to make a remedy for ear aches.

Also known as "knit-bone" the comfrey leaf can be made into a poultice and applied to wounds, scrapes, sprains and even broken bones. Gets mixed reviews regarding internal use, as it may contain toxic compounds.

Youngest leaves used to make a salad. Taking a knife or weeding tool, dig underground and cut the root near the top. The white, underground parts of the leaves make an excellent salad that is most tender. The long taproots can be dried and ground into powder for an excellent coffee substitute.

Wild Grape
Wild graps can be made into a jelly, that is even more fragrant and delicious than cultivated grape. The leaves are excellent for making stuffed grape leaves, a recipe originating in the Middle East.

Day Lily
Prized in Chinese cooking, the day lily buds and flowers can be eaten fresh or dried. They can be added to soups, stews, or garnish vegetable dishes or salads.

The only food eaten by monarch butterflies, so we like to keep it well stocked in our yard to attract these beauties.

Wild Raspberry
Leaves taken as a sweet tea are wonderful for menstrual pains, and for toning the female reproductive system. Berries are small, sweet and luscious.

Wild Carrot/Queen Anne's Lace
Seeds of wild carrot are reputed to be a contraceptive. Wild carrot is also a favourite of bees and butterflies.

Read: Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell Gibbons

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Live Simply on Your Urban Homestead

Living simply is not about choosing poverty or deprivation. It is about discovering what is "enough" in your life, based upon thoughtful analysis of your lifestyle and values, and discarding the rest. By thinking carefully about the way you use resources - time, money, food, energy, shelter, etc - it is possible to get much more out of life by using less.

We think that an urban homestead is just the place to learn about simplicity. Developing your urban homestead involves many small steps, and can take many forms. Don't feel pressured to create the perfect self-reliant homestad all at once. Be assured, there is lots to do, but start with choosing projects you have always been meaning to try: Set up rain barrels; start some winter sprouts; establish a regular breadbaking day; learn to make natural cheese; make a batch of home-canned tomato sauce; study herbalism; investigate solar panels; string up a clothes drying line; experiment with fermenting sauerkraut; start a container garden; build a coldframe; make soap; weather-proof your house; install a wood stove; plant your front yard in native perennials; join a local barter system; consume less by making your own or making do without.

At your urban homestead you many decide to grow organic vegetables, divorce your car, raise chickens, build a strawbale addition, make handmade wares to sell at the local farmers market, or take more time to read or write about your experiences. You don't need to be an expert - don't be afraid to learn by doing, and involve your friends and neighbours. Use the resources available in your particular community

Water Conservation

"Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century: the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations." - Maude Barlowe

May-July 2007 has been one of the driest summers in the past decade for our area. Farmers and gardeners are noticing the lack of rain, with certain plants not germinating properly, not leafing out as full, or not producing the volume of produce as in wetter years.

Here are a few water conservation tips to keep in mind, as water becomes a scarce and valuable resource.

- handwatering not hose or sprinkler watering
- installing low flush toilets
- installing low-flow showerheads, and limiting showers & baths
- composting toilet
- recycling sink and laundry water to the garden
- mulching your garden
- growing food rather than a lawn
- rainbarrels connected to every house/garage/shed eavestrough
- naturalizing lawn with native & drought-resistant plants

Read Maude Barlowe's Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water
Read Vandana Shiva's Water Wars

Ten Guiding Principles for Green Homes

These are ten simple principles to help create a more healthy, ecological home. (partially excerpted from Natural Home Magazine, July-Aug 2007 - all comments in italics added by Karin).

1) Plenty of Daylight
South-facing windows provide natural daylight, and the sun's rays help keep rooms warmer in the winter. Shading windows in summer (curtains, blinds, treecover) protects against overheating.

2) Air Circulation
Indoor air quality is an essential component of any healthy home. To keep your air clean, choose cleaning products without toxic chemicals, and paints and wood finishes that are natural and contain few or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Use a high-efficiency air filter. Use only low-toxic adhesives and plastic-free grout when installing tile. Also add insulated windows that open fully and create cross-breeze with fresh air, rather than cranking up the air conditioner!

3) Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs
If you can do just one thing to be more energy efficient, replace old incandescents with compact fluorescent bulbs. Some people also prefer light emitting diodes (LEDs) which can be more expensive but use very little energy.

4) Energy-Conserving Building Envelope
Most houses leak air. Holes and gaps in the wall, roof, foundation, doors and windows allow air loss, which results in winter heat loss and summer heat gain. Tight construction, good insulation and high-performance windows are key. Use weather stripping and caulking. Get a home energy audit from an accredited organization such as REEP, to find out where you could improve your home's energy use. When renovating, consider retrofitting rather than building new, and use renewable or reclaimed, or natural building materials whenever possible. Consider the size of footprint your home takes up - how much space do you really need?

5) Indoor-Outdoor Connection
Doors that open onto an inviting patio can exend your living space to the outdoors.

6) Water Conservation
Low-flow plumbing fixtures save substantial amounts of water. Low-flow toilets only use 1.6 gallons of water per flush (compared to older models which use 5 gallons per flush). Also, limit times flushing toilet, or install a composting toilet. Use low-flow showerheads which use 2.5 gallons of water per minute or less (compared to 5-8 gallons per minute).

7) Sustainable Landscaping
Rain gardens, ponds, birdbaths and streams are great for the environment, create friendly habitat, and are relaxing for us. Native and drought-resistant plants require less water and maintenance than lawns. Organic gardening builds the soil, and does not use toxic chemicals. Consider growing food not lawns!

8) Energy-Efficient Appliances
Check for Energy Star labels on kitchen, laundry and bath appliances and fixtures. Get rid of your dryer, in favour of an outdoor clothesline. Remove the microwave!

9) Renewable Energy
Solar, wind, water and geothermal are all renewable forms of energy. Although installing solar panesl or a wind generator is a fabulous goal, it may not be attainable immediately if you have budget constraints. A great right-now solution is to buy wind-generated or other renewable power from your local utitly - it may be as simple as marking a little box on your energy bill to sign up. In many areas it's not much more expenseive than conventional energy. Also take a look at solar water heaters, which can pay for themselves quickly by reducing energy bills.

10 ) Location!
Living close to your workplace, shopping, and recreation reduces your car dependence. Join a car co-op, ride your bike, walk or carpool to get around town. Take the train rather than jetting across the country by plane.