Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Documenting Strawbale Addition - 5












There has been loads of progress on the strawbale addition since the last documentation post. Above is a series of photos to show the developments. To summarize - we laid the radiant floor heating pipes and covered them with crushed limestone, on which we will lay our earthen floor. Then Greg picked up the strawbales, purchased from a local farm - a very exciting day to have them arrive in the huge moving truck! Of course, baby Maya is around most days to help supervise the activities...

By now, all the strawbales have been placed, and the walls are now filled in. As we are doing wood framing (as required by our city building department in order to get our permit), we need to notch every single bale to fit them tightly around the stud walls. This is immensely labour intensive, compared to load bearing walls or even modified post and beam, which most strawbale homes are built as. Thus, the photo of me using a small chainsaw to notch the bales! We also had to retie bales to be able to fit them into the smaller spaces, or triangular segments of the wall near the roofline. We are currently stitching on the mesh (chicken wire) with baling twine to hold the bales tightly in place and for the plaster to stick on. The walls will have an appealing organic undulating shape and curved corners, as it's impossible to have bales so tight that they form straight walls. This is the beauty and warmth of the strawbale "look".

We hope to start plastering on the weekend, including simultaneously the interior and the exterior plasters. We hope the weather stays warm and dry for at least another month! These coats of plaster need time to dry slowly, and we need 3 coats (scratch coat, second coat, finish coat).

Organic Beekeeping



Thanks to Les Eccles, from the University of Guelph beekeeping lab, for an excellent beekeeping workshop here on Saturday!

We held the workshop in our unfinished strawbale house addition, where we set up extra bales into risers for people to sit on. Turned out to be the perfect "farm" setting for a beekeeping workshop (see photo above)!

The workshop was packed with information, definitely whetting the appetite of would-be beginner beekeepers. He mentioned a 2-day hands-on workshop in spring, which would be the next step for someone getting serious about beekeeping (otherwise apprenticing with a seasoned beekeeper would be a good way to start). He was encouraging of urban beekeeping and there was some interest from participants in the idea of forming a beekeeping co-op, sharing equipment such as honey extractor, yard space, and also the care of the bees. Hopefully we can stay in touch through an email list to see a group like this form next spring!

A highlight was the honey tasting, with varieties of honey from Les' apiary - examples of raw and liquid (pasteurized) spring honey (harvested in June, made from flowers such as dandelion and red clover), and fall honey (harvested in September, made from summer flowers such as alfalfa). He mentioned that trees such as willow, linden and buckthorn make excellent honey, and that certainly there is enough greenspace and gardens in the city to supply bees their nectar.

Organic Beekeeping
Our group had strong interest in organic beekeeping, and although he said it's virtually impossible to become certified organic with honey (given that you need such a large radius of certified organic farmland around your beekeeping operation to ensure bees are only feeding on organic plants), you can use organic practices to reduce chemical residue in honey. Here is the contact information for those who wish to follow up on organic beekeeping:

Ontario Beekeepers' Association Technology Transfer Program
Alison Skinner, Janet Tam and Rachel Bannister
519-836-3609
www.ontairobee.com

From the organic beekeeping brochure:

Why choose organic beekeeping practices?

- risk of relying on a single solution is eliminated when using a combination of treatments
- monitoring disease levels and treating when it is required saves the expense of treating for the sake of treating
- alternating treatments reduces the selection pressure for that treatment, decreasing the likelihood of resistance
- organic management eliminates the potential of residues from hard chemicals

The national standards for Organic Honey as reviewed by the Canadian General Standards Board are available at: www.honeycouncil.ca

Resource List

We recently presented at our local library as part of a series on Local Food initiatives. Our talk was about "urban agriculture and urban homesteading", done as a slideshow as well as discussion based on questions from the audience. There were some great questions raised, including:

"is it legal to keep chickens and bees in the city?"
(In our city the bylaws seem unclear, but we do know of many people keeping both hens and bees locally, and also of many cities that do allow this)
;

"is it really making a difference to go off grid in the city?"
(We say why not aim for net-zero by reducing your energy comsumption and producing your own energy even if you are on the grid)

"how can we produce more food during the winter months?"
(We use grow tunnels, cold frames, a passive solar greenhouse, and an audience member mentioned both an underground greenhouse which has been set up at the University of Guelph, and a geodesic greenhouse model)

"does buying local food hurt international farmers?"
(We believe local small farmers will never put other small farmers out of business. The problems with trade are to do with the largescale agriculture and production which has taken farming out of the hands of individuals, as well as the disparate systems of distribution that are set up for global trade. If every city could be supporting it's small farmers, plus individuals growing much for themselves in whatever space they may have - rooftop, balcony, yard, acreage - and trading for those commodities that can't be grown locally - in our case, coffee, chocolate, spices, rice, etc - then we would be more sustainable globally. But a very good point for discussion, and much more could surely be debated on this topic.)

There were some requests for our resource list, so here it is. I hope to post the entire presentation on our website at some point, but for now this is all I have time for.

Resources

URBAN AGRICULTURE
Kitchen Gardens - www.kitchengarden.org
Heifer International - www.heifer.org
FoodShare - www.foodshare.net
Centre for Ecoliteracy - www.ecoliteracy.org
Ryerson - www.ryerson.ca/foodsecurity
American CG - www.communitygarden.org
Cdn Organic Growers - www.cogwaterloo.ca
SPIN Farming - www.spinfarming.com
Edible Schoolyard - www.edibleschoolyard.org

URBAN HOMESTEADING
City Farmer - www.cityfarmer.org
Path to Freedom - www.pathtofreedom.com
Fairview Gardens Farm - www.fairviewgardens.org
Rhizome Collective - www.rhizomecollective.org
Little City Farm - www.littlecityfarm.ca

LOCAL FOOD
FoodLink - www.foodlinkwaterlooregion.ca
Baileys Local Foods -
www.baileyslocalfoods.ca
Fertile Ground CSA -
www.fertilegroundcsa.com
100 Mile Diet -
www.100milediet.org
Slow Food Canada -
www.slowfood.ca
Edible Toronto Magazine -
www.edibletoronto.com
Food KM -
www.foodkm.com
Local Eating
- www.localeating.ca
Locavore -
www.locavore.ca
Ontario Farm
Fresh - www.ontariofarmfresh.com
Ontario Harvest -
www.harvestontario.com
Kitchener Market - www.kitchenermarket.ca

SELF-RELIANCE

Lehmans Hardware -
www.lehmans.com
Mother Earth News –
www.motherearthnews.com

There are many other great books, websites and blogs about urban homesteading, gardening and self-reliance.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Record Article & Pear Gingerbread Upside Down Cake Recipe!

Local B&B anything but typical

September 20, 2008

Is it weird to want to stay in a B&B in your own town - and mainly so you can eat the breakfast? Maybe so. But Little City Farm in Kitchener makes it a tempting thought.

The eco-friendly guest house is run by Karin Kliewer and Greg Roberts who (along with new baby Maya) run an urban homestead of sorts on their Duke Street property near downtown. They grow much of their own food there in a massive garden, bake and cook in their backyard cob oven and are committed to supporting local farmers and eating organically and sustainably.

"It's like a regular working farm," Kliewer says of their home. "People come knowing it's not a regular B&B. They end up interacting, helping with baking or helping in the greenhouse or weeding. We really encourage people to get involved."

Kliewer says she enjoys knowing that they may be introducing guests to new ways of eating and living and inspiring them to adopt new habits.

"Hopefully people will take a little bit home with them," she says. "Much of it is simple stuff that we can all do. I hope we even just inspire guests to think, 'Maybe I can plant some tomatoes next year.' "

As for those breakfasts, they look and sound fantastic. There's plenty on the menu, says Kliewer -- frittatas made with local goat cheese, organic free-range eggs, and herbs and vegetables from the garden; whole-grain breads from the cob oven with local fruit jams and honey; homemade organic yogurt with seasonal fruit and maple syrup. Kliewer even makes her own herbal teas.

Apparently my temptation to stay someplace a few kilometers from home isn't out of the ordinary, either. Kliewer tells me they've had several local guests.

"People have biked and walked over," she says. "We had people from around the corner that had a new baby and never had a honeymoon. It's an easy getaway and a neat way for people to get to know their own community. Often we neglect what's right there in our backyard."

If you can't get your head around the local travel idea, there are other ways to enjoy Little City Farm. Kliewer and Roberts regularly hold workshops that are open to the public -- on subjects like canning and preserving, bread-making and gardening. Next Saturday they'll run one on beekeeping, complete with a honey tasting. And they'll be sharing their experiences this Wednesday evening when they speak at the Kitchener Public Library's main branch. See the couple's website at www.littlecityfarm.ca for more details.

I asked Kliewer to share a recipe and she provided this one, which I then made myself -- and loved -- on a recent, rainy Sunday. Now is certainly the time to enjoy pears.

Kliewer serves guests this cake (adapted from Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert's Simply In Season) with homemade yogurt and garnished with edible flowers. I can't think of a better way to start the day.

dinahmurdoch@yahoo.com

PEAR GINGERBREAD UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp. white sugar

1 tbsp. margarine

1 tbsp. water

2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced

1/3 cup margarine

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. each nutmeg, allspice, sea salt

1/2 cup molasses or honey

1/2 cup buttermilk, soymilk, or regular milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Prepare syrup by melting first four ingredients together in small saucepan. Stir until well combined. Pour into 8x12 glass baking dish.

3. Arrange sliced pears evenly on top of the syrup.

4. In medium sized mixing bowl, beat margarine, brown sugar and egg.

5. Mix all dry ingredients together in small bowl.

6. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with molasses/milk.

7. Spoon cake batter over pears in baking dish.

8. Bake about 30 to 35 minutes or until knife inserted in cake comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and turn onto a platter.

9. Serve warm or cold with homemade yogurt or whipped cream.

Makes eight servings.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bailey's Local Foods has a website

I don't know if my sudden surge of energy has something to do with the summer ending and the cool fall nights signalling winter approaching. I am suddenly feeling an intense need to gather as much of the last local food as possible for our family, even though canning and preserving is a slow process with a new baby in the house. Maybe it's also my post-pregnancy "nesting" urge, as I'm thinking about all the great organic locally grown baby food Maya will get to start eating around about February if I preserve it now.

In any case, I may have overdone it, but I ordered a vast amount of produce and fruit from Bailey's Local Foods this week. I mentioned this business a few weeks ago - it's operated by a friend of mine, who has been a local food advocate for as long as I've known her, even before the 100-mile diet was trendy or local farmers seen as heroes. She grew up on a farm in Indiana, came to Ontario for university (where I met her), got married and now has three beautiful kids and lives with her family on an urban homestead here in our city. She is a true inspiration about how many projects one person can have on the go at the same time, plus baking bread from scratch each week (I learned to make bread from her back in university when we lived together), cooking amazing foods, tending her garden & chickens, preserving the harvest, caring for her kids, socializing in the community, running this local foods business, and working a professional part-time job. Her website is chock full of useful information, plus gorgeous food & farmer photos - www.baileyslocalfoods.ca

I already ordered pears, peaches, blueberries and plums from her a few weeks ago. Now I've ordered grapes, more pears & plums, red peppers, dozens of corn, squash & pumpkin, and a few other items which we weren't able to grow enough of on our own property. I will pick up apples for sauce from her in a few weeks. The next few days will be busy trying to put this all away for winter. Maya and I will head over tomorrow afternoon to pick up the food, and I hope it's all going to fit into my bike trailer to cart it home. They wisely discourage pick up by car so as not to clog up the neighbourhood with traffic. Most buying club members are local anyway, and come by bike, with backpack, panniers, trailer, cart, wagon, etc.

I'm dreaming of our winter months filled with the tastes of local grape jelly, pear-plum chutney, plum cake, corn chowder, roasted red peppers, pear sauce, pumpkin pie, blueberry pancakes, peaches on yogurt with granola, applesauce for Maya...

Documenting Strawbale Addition - 4




Roof is on, Straw is coming!

We've finished the steel roof (so the addition is now dry!) which is excellent for collecting rainwater, and Greg has completed all the framing and window bucks in preparation for filling in the strawbale walls. The electrician is here today setting in any wiring that's needed, which has to be done before the walls are closed in with the straw. The rest of this week includes floor preparations (i.e. insulating and laying radiant heat piping), and then we'll be picking up the bales on Saturday from a nearby farm! Finally!

We are keeping our fingers crossed that the warm dry weather holds out for a few more weeks. The nights have already been cold, which is not so bad for doing the wall plastering as that allows slower drying (and less cracking which could happen in hot summery weather). However, dampness is not good as we do need the walls to cure/dry before we can put the second coat on, and definitely before we can move in for the winter.

The invaluable honeybee

Really excited for our beekeeping workshop which is coming up next Saturday. There is a huge interest in reviving small-scale beekeeping and bee preservation, stemming from all the recent information about the mysterious disappearance of honeybees and entire colonies of bees in North America. Given the cornerstone/keystone role that bees play in our food system (and therefore our livlihoods in general) this is an alarming situation not to be overlooked. Much research is going into the causes of bee losses, and how to develop sustainable solutions. There is a group of people talking about the possibility of setting up an urban beekeeping co-op locally, so we can all share the responsibilities of tending the bees as well as reaping the benefits of the honey.

The facilitator for the workshop next Saturday is Les Eccles from the University of Guelph Beekeeping Lab, who will speak about his research about the recent losses of bees, as well as setting up your basic first honeybee hive. He will also do a honey tasting! Honey tasting? It's true - there is an astounding variation of flavour, texture and colour to honey (not unlike wine) depending on where and when the nectar is collected. For example, in New York City where there is a thriving urban beekeeping movement, one bee farmer, David Graves, who sells his honey at a farmers market in the city, keeps 13 hives on rooftops in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx in order to get variations on flavour. Based on what different neighbourhoods have growing in their parks, community gardens and backyard gardens, he finds distinct changes in the honey from bees kept in that location (see New York City Rooftop Beelicious Honey). From his site: "So, how does NYC honey taste? Sooty? Fortunately, no:The bees sip from deep inside the blossom, beyond any grime, feeding on linden and locust trees, cover, and a range of flowers. The honey varies in character seasonally and from hive to hive. Last fall, Grave's Upper West Side honey was intensely sweet, and electric amber in hue. His Brooklyn blend was as dark and as thick as treacle. By spring, both were clear gold, with a mild, clean flavor. Graves takes pride in his truly local honey, noting that some say it helps build immunity to indigenous pollen."

There's also a whole listing of beekeepers clubs, including the Long Island Beekeepers Club whose goal is to "education beekeepers on the proper beekeeping practices for the management of honeybees in a suburban environment and the general public on the importance of honeybees and their products". Their website provides a wealth of information to new would-be beekeepers (www.longislandbeekeepers.org).

And here's a little honey bee trivia, to present the amazing qualities of these bees:

How fast can a honey bee fly?
15 miles per hour

How many eggs does a queen bee lay in one day?
800-1500

What do honey bees do in winter?
hibernate

What happens to drone (male) bees in the fall?
They are evicted out of the hive by the worker bees

How many bees are inside the hive during honey season?
40,000-60,000

How long does a worker bee live in the spring/summer?
4 weeks

How much nectar can a honey bee collect in one flight?
1 eyedropper full

How far does a honey bee fly to give us one pound of honey?
55,000 miles

How much honey (fuel) would it take for a honey bee to fly around the world?
2 Tbsp

What is the average yield of 2 beehives in Canada or the US?
150 lbs of honey

Maya's Birth-Day Zucchini Cake

Baby Maya slept for almost 8 hours straight this past night (from 10 pm - 6 am), and is napping beside me again. Being a little more rested myself this has given me the impetus to rush around a bit today, working on this blog, cooking zucchini soup, harvesting basil to make pesto, drying calendula & hot cayenne peppers, hanging laundry outside, and supporting Greg on the strawbale construction, all at the same time!

Speaking of recipes that use up profuse amounts of vegetables, here is a zucchini cake recipe from my mom that is so moist and chocolatey that it can easily replace any other version of a chocolate cake fit for a birthday celebration. No one will ever guess zucchini is the secret ingredient! We made it just after Maya's birth, as zucchini was in abundance in our garden at that time. It may well become her traditional birthday cake for each end of July. Today (mid September) we still have zucchini in hoards, popping up unexpectedly every other day when I happen to move one of the zucchini leaves aside to discover it. I decided to make up the zucchini cake again, as well as zucchini chowder, zucchini bread, marinated zucchini, zucchini & fresh egg pizza, and more shredded zucchini to put away in the freezer! We'll be grateful for it in February.

Here's the zucchini cake recipe for all you chocolate lovers who want to get some of othe benefits of vegetables and "eat your cake too":

Maya's Birth-Day Zucchini Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 3/4 cups white sugar
2 cups grated zucchini (add this at the very end)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup milk

Mix all above ingredients except zucchini in large bowl. In separate bowl mix:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
5 Tbsp cocoa
1 Tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon, optional

Add 2nd bowl to first and beat. Then add zucchini.
Put into greased 9x13 glass baking dish.
Top with:
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup nuts, optional

Bake at 325F for 45-60 minutes, until knife inserted comes out clean. Serve warm or cold.

Best Pesto

I heard from farmer friends on the outskirts of the city that there has already been a light frost, ending their tomato and basil crops abruptly. Although I feel we've been innundated with tomatoes & basil this year, especially a new variety of cherry tomato we tried which grew profusely and the genovese basil which was exceedingly abundant due to all the rain (I planted 40 plants for pesto!), I'm still not quite ready to end the harvest yet. So, I went out today to gather armloads of basil, and make up yet more pesto to put away in the freezer for use over the winter months.

I like to make a dairy-free version of pesto, so that it's versatile when vegan friends come to dinner. Of course, it can also be made the "richer" way using parmesan cheese and pine nuts. Either is delectable, and so easy to prepare when the basil is fresh. I also love to make up a few batches using cilantro instead of basil, and use it in bean, burrito, or egg dishes in winter when fresh cilantro is not available locally. Here's my recipe:

Best Vegan Pesto
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
6 cloves garlic
3/4 cup olive oil
5 Tbsp nutritional yeast (or parmesan cheese)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (or pine nuts)
dash of sea salt
dash of lemon juice, optional

Blend well in food processor. Store in 2 cup containers in the freezer, or freeze in icecube trays and then store in freezer bags.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The "Slow Home"

along the lines of slow food...consider the slow home!

1. GO INDEPENDENT

Avoid homes by big developers and large production builders. They are designed for profit not people. Work with independent designers and building contractors instead.


2. GO LOCAL

Avoid home finishing products from big box retailers. The standardized solutions they provide cannot fit the unique conditions of your home. Use local retailers, craftspeople, and manufacturers to get a locally appropriate response and support your community.


3. GO GREEN

Stop the conversion of nature into sprawl. Don’t buy in a new suburb. The environmental cost can no longer be justified. Re-invest in existing communities and use sustainable materials and technologies to reduce your environmental footprint.


4. GO NEAR

Reduce your commute. Driving is a waste of time and the new roads and services required to support low density development is a big contributor to climate change. Live close to where you work and play.


5. GO SMALL

Avoid the real estate game of bigger is always better. A properly designed smaller home can feel larger AND work better than a poorly designed big one. Spend your money on quality instead of quantity.


6. GO OPEN


Stop living in houses filled with little rooms. They are dark, inefficient, and don’t fit the complexity of our daily lives. Live in a flexible and adaptive open plan living space with great light and a connection to outdoors.


7. GO SIMPLE

Don’t buy a home that has space you won’t use and things you don’t need. Good design can reduce the clutter and confusion in your life. Create a home that fits the way you really want to live.


8. GO REAL

Avoid fake materials and the re-creation of false historical styles. They are like advertising images and have little real depth. Create a home in which character comes from the quality of space, natural light and the careful use of good, sustainable materials.


9. GO HEALTHY
Avoid living in a public health concern. Houses built with cheap materials off gas noxious chemicals. Suburbs promote obesity because driving is the only option. Use natural, healthy home materials and building techniques. Live where you can walk to shop, school and work.


10. GO FOR IT

Stop procrastinating. The most important, and difficult, step in the slow home process is the first one that you take. Get informed and then get involved with your home. Every change, no matter how small, is important.

www.theslowhome.com/blog/slowhomeprinciples

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Urban homesteaders will share their experiences at public talk - KW Record article

Urban homesteaders will share their experiences at public talk
September 13, 2008

RECORD STAFF

WATERLOO REGION

Karin Kliewer wanted to enjoy the fruits of living on a farm, but she also wanted to be near the resources of the city.

The solution: urban homesteading.

Kliewer and her husband, Greg Roberts, now run the Little City Farm in downtown Kitchener.

"Basically, farming -- but on a small scale," Kliewer said.

The pair will share their experiences as urban homesteaders at a free public talk later this month in the One Book, One Community campaign.

This year's book is The 100-Mile Diet, the chronicle of a Vancouver couple's year-long odyssey to eat only local food. Authors Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon will visit Waterloo Region next week for readings as part of the events being held all month.

Now in its seventh year, One Book, One Community is like a regionwide book club, with everyone encouraged to read and discuss the same book.

The 100-Mile Diet urges people to think about what they eat and where it comes from, as well as sustainable living in general.

That's a part of daily life for Kliewer and her husband. Little City Farm's focus is living simply and in a way that's easy on the environment.

The couple grow most of their own food in an organic garden on their third of an acre, bake in an outdoor wood-fired oven, use solar power and build with natural materials. They get around the city on foot or bike and buy from local farmers.

To share their passion for sustainable living, the pair opened a bed and breakfast. Visitors have come from all over the world,Kliewer said.

"I think people are coming here because they know it's something a little bit different."

Quite often, people ask to pitch in and get their hands dirty in the garden or with other projects. For the morning meal, most choose the 100-mile breakfast of local, free-range eggs, organic bread made with local flour and jam made with local berries.

"Really, we're in a great area of the country," Kliewer said.

Kliewer and her husband also hold workshops -- from organic gardening and canning to soapmaking and beekeeping -- to help others in the community get started on sustainability.

Best of all, green living can be easy and even small steps make a difference.

"Anybody can do these things, even if you have a balcony," said Kliewer. "Everybody has something that they can do."

jweidner@therecord.com

Friday, September 12, 2008

100-foot diet - featured article in KW Record

Forget the 100-mile diet. Why not try the 100-foot diet?

July 19, 2008

I've written in this spot before about my own lack of gardening prowess, especially when it comes to edibles.

This year, I've broadened the range of potted herbs on my front porch. I've even branched out into heirloom tomatoes thanks to my mom, who started several plants from seed in the spring and gifted me with a couple that are now waist high.

But I guess I've always figured sustaining one's self on homegrown produce was more effectively left to those in rural parts -- people with acres of property, a barnful of seeds and tools, an encyclopedic how-to knowledge and a feverish work ethic.

That was, of course, until recently, after numerous encounters with various regular folks around the region who are practically farming in their own backyards -- right in the city. It's been referred to as "urban agriculture" or "urban homesteading." Some like to think of it as the "100 foot diet." And during a time when many of us are thinking about food miles, fuel costs and the origin of what's on our plates, it certainly makes sense.

Karin Kliewer, an avid organic gardener who lives in Kitchener, says she and partner Greg Roberts are eating what they cultivate in their Duke Street backyard from March to December. In fact, they're able to go all summer without buying produce.

Indeed, when I stopped by to visit, Kliewer made us a snack of flat breads (baked in an outdoor cob oven and topped with homegrown asparagus, greens, garlic scapes and fresh herbs) and homemade herbal tea.

Name it and it's probably in their garden -- grapes, apples, currants, shiitake mushrooms, peas, lettuce, carrots, peppers, edible flowers, sorrel, borage, 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, the biggest oregano plant (no, shrub) I've ever seen. You get the idea. Everything is grown sustainably according to principles of permaculture -- a somewhat complicated concept to explain in a short space, but one based on the notion that it's better to work with nature than against it.

Kliewer says she and Roberts enjoy the perks of living in the city -- being able to walk to work, for example -- but felt they could still incorporate aspects of what most of us tend to think of as "rural living" into their lifestyle.

Not too far down the road in downtown Kitchener, Tim Simpson and partner Aura Hertzog have a somewhat smaller but nevertheless substantial plot in their backyard -- they like to call it their "urban farm."

Simpson grows his plants from organic heirloom seeds and is able to harvest and eat "things you'd never find in a grocery store" -- Armenian cucumbers, strawberry spinach and Black Aztec corn, for starters.

Though his 22 tomato plants will yield more than the family can eat this summer, he'll busy himself making tomato sauces and relishes. He'll also do some freezing and plans to build a fruit cellar in the basement to house some canning and preserving. This way, Simpson says, they can extend their backyard eating into the winter and beyond.

Nina Bailey-Dick, a local food champion and yet another urban homesteader (beyond the fruits and vegetables, she has two hens in her Waterloo yard providing her family with eggs), says it's all about starting small. A cherry tomato plant is a good place to begin. Or maybe some sugar snap peas instead of the typical clematis for your trellis.

"Just do one thing," she says to those who might be intimidated by the notion of growing their own food. "You'll be overwhelmed if you try to do everything at once. Just take one step at a time."

dinahmurdoch@yahoo.com

Fork in the Road - CBC special on local food in Waterloo Region

This recent CBC short story focusses on the costs of importing food to Waterloo Region, and this region's efforts to go local. It showcases some of our local food producers and community gardens - the community garden is The Good Earth Garden located at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in uptown Waterloo, the produce auction is the Elmira Produce Auction, the CSA is at Ignatius Farm in Guelph, the farmers market is Waterloo/St. Jacobs, and comments are from Katherine Pigott of Waterloo Region Public Health department.

You can view the entire story on the CBC website at: http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/special_feature/running_on_empty/fork_in_the_road_1.html. Note the links CBC put up in the latter website address: it includes our Food Miles and Food Flow analysis studies, a recent StatsCan report on food imports and the local food trend, and links to local farmers' markets.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Herbal landscape



I was amazed when I started to make a list of all the herbs we are growing here. I use many of them for my herbal business, making dried teas, tinctures, infused oils, salves, balms & soaps with them. Many herbs are expensive or even difficult to source in the local stores (or by mail order), so it's been useful to be able to produce many of these here on site. I know the quality is top notch when I harvest them at their peak, know they have been dried or preserved properly, and know they are organically grown. Best of all, they are always at my fingertips, whether I need to run out to the herb garden for chives, parsley and dill to add to the evening's salad, make an herbal tea of fresh sage for a sore throat, or infuse calendula for making fresh baby oil for Maya. Every home should have at least a tiny herb patch, even a few containers on the back deck, with basic herbs on hand.

Here is part of my list of what we are growing and some ways I use the herbs:

Teas
bergamot, red clover, feverfew, red raspberry leaf, nettle, sage, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, lemon balm, mullein, chamomile, sweetgrass, rosehips, coltsfoot, anise hyssop, stevia, valerian, hops

Tinctures
black walnut, echinacea, dandelion, nettle, yarrow, thyme, red raspberry leaf, lemon balm

Salves, Balms, Oils, Soaps
calendula, sage, yarrow, rosemary, ints, orris root, cayenne, arnica, witch hazel, evening primrose, st johns wort, chickweed, marshmallow, comfrey, aloe vera

Culinary
thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, dill, winter & summer savory, lavender, pesto basil, purple basil, lemon basil, thai basil, caraway, fennel

Edible flowers
borage, calendula, nasturtium, violet, evening primrose, wildrose, yarrow, dandelion, squash blossoms, lavender

Wild flowers
asters, bee balm, milkweed, butterfly weed, lobelia, red trillium, bloodroot, wild ginger, many others, sweet flag, blue cohosh, black cohosh (many have been purchased from local native plant nurseries) and also many cut flowers (annuals) which we use for bouquests in the B&B guest rooms

Garden bounty



Tomato photo: includes yellow pear, yellow plum, orange cherry, sweetie cherry, moneymaker, cherokee purple, green zebra, mennonite orange, jeune flamme, early girl, ground cherry and tomatillo.

Edible flower photo: includes spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, oregano, nasturtium, lavender, calendula, marigold, anise hyssop, sage, fennel, thyme, evening primrose, bergamot, violet, pansy, feverfew, yarrow.

September is a glorious month! Our garden is just past it's peak, but the harvest is still going strong. Every day I gather armloads of zucchini, and baskets of tomatoes, beans, hot peppers, lettuce, chard, kale, cucumbers, eggplant, basil and other herbs. I've dug up carrots, garlic, beets and potatoes. I'm collecting seeds to be saved and stored for planting again next spring. I'm preparing our cold frames for planting new seeds of chard, kale, mesclun, lettuces and Asian greens which will be ready for a satisfying early spring harvest. Here are photos of an assortment of our heirloom tomatoes (back in May we wrote about our annual Seedling Sale, where we had 15 varieties of tomatoes - many heirloom variety - for sale), and a selection of edible flowers.

We did a little survey of our property (gardens, as well as yard spaces) and came up with this tally of what we are producing on this property:
* 50+ kinds of vegetables
* 100+ varieties of culinary & medicinal herbs (see next post)
* 8 varieties of berries & grapes (raspberry, strawberry, black currant, gooseberry, chokecherry, blueberry, mulberry, grapes)
* 8 varieties of tree fruit (2 pears, 1 Italian plum, 3 apples, 2 cherry)
* 20+ kinds of edible flowers. It's an encouragement to see what can be produced, with minimal effort, on a small 1/3 acre property!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Documenting Strawbale Addition - 3






Here is a series of photos to catch up on where things are at with our strawbale construction. We are building a small addition to our existing 100 year old brick home. The strawbale section will consist of a living room and bedroom for us to live in, while the rest of the house remains our bed & breakfast space. We are basically creating our "one room cabin" that we have always dreamed of building (and of course we may still build another cabin someday if we decide to go rural). The space will include many of the features we have loved over years of looking at cabins, cottages and eco-homes, and has been a lot of fun to design. Even though it's a small space, Greg has spent hours pouring over books and drawing and re-drawing sketches of what might be possible, then talking this over with our architect and engineers. Now the end result is that this includes:

for heating -
the strawbale and plaster itself which creates incredible warmth, insulative value and an earthy feel, radiant floor heating, passive solar gain, and a wood stove;

for aesthetic -
green "living roof" on board & baton section, 15 foot ceiling for one length of strawbale section, a deep window seat (built on the thick strawbale wall), large windows over looking our pond/garden, door from bedroom opening into garden, board & baton detail on the wood framed section, sleeping loft, earthen floor and natural paints/plastering on inside.

We have had some set backs due to the vast amount of heavy rain this summer, foundation problems which resulted in a much larger excavation than planned, as well as delays with our permit. Last Friday (Aug 29) we finally officially received our complete permit after negotiating for almost 5 months! We have had a "half permit" for the past month or so, which allowed us to build the foundation but not raise any walls or strawbales yet. We did have other work to do, including preparing the new board & baton back room which will attach from brick house to strawbale (not to mention tending the garden, and spending time with new baby Maya!) The board & baton section is featured in the photo above and will house our laundry area and new full bathroom (with reclaimed clawfoot tub donated by Liz, and marble sink donated by Alfred)!

Part of our design principle includes limiting the amount of concrete that is used as this is so energy-intensive to produce. We used Durisol blocks (made of a composite wood fibre and concrete) as our foundation blocks. It comes to about the same price as using concrete but many more "green" builders are using this material. The blocks are made locally, near Stratford, and we picked them up ourselves with a rental truck rather than having the pay the shipping.

Photos here include the new board & baton back room, foundation and raising of first walls. We hope to start strawbale in the next two weeks, and plastering by the end of the month if possible.