halifaxearthtech: Photo of fairy wrens taken by Bengamint444 from Wikimedia Commons (Habitat)
It seems to be quite the debate in Permaculture discourse as to whether species can or cannot be 'invasive'. I feel it necessary to add my $0.02.

To give some context, the Prairie provinces find themselves in a heated debate surrounding 'invasive species' (I can't find the link at the moment), with pesticide companies standing to gain from municipal laws mandating the removal of 'invasive species'. Sometimes this even extends to species that are native to the area such as the bulrush. It is advocated that the stems of these plants be cut and Glyphosate (Roundup) pesticide poured into the stem of the plant to kill it. This creates a toxic environment in wetlands such as ditches, and compromises the ability of these ditches to purify rain runoff before it gets into larger bodies of water. I almost don't need to say that this is not an ideal situation.

Plants have enjoyed international travel since the beginning of life on earth, and no plant is truly native. There has always been the odd far-faring bird pooping a seed onto a new continent, and the immigration of life on new volcanic islands is well documented.

When I speak of invasiveness it's within the context of the massive influx of new species from the Old World to the New world in what is a geological blink of an eye. Yes, nature will sort it out and in a few million years these new plants will find a niche and be controlled by lifeforms designed to prey on exatreme concentrations of one species. They are even now adaping to different conditions from the home continent. Diversity will prevail, and those native species who become extinct from the events of colonization will be out of luck. Pouring glyphosate into stems will do little to affect this process.

However, my definition of invasive is different from whatever these municipalities are looking at. Permaculture looks at a human-scale of time as well as geological time. Some people talk about introducing species such as goutweed into food forests because they are (marginally) edible and a habitat for predatory calcid wasps. However plants like goutweed will choke out other plants in a food forest to the extent of creating a field in which there is no understory or forb layer aside from goutweed. I don't know where the plant comes from, but the controls that existed in its native habitat are clearly lacking here. Such people, much as I love them, are exhibiting a lack of insight grounded in observation. They are these plants that I call invasive, those that don't play well with others on a human scale, and threaten our survival in the time interval before nature creates balance again.

Another example is Phragmites Australagus, which chokes out bulrushes from their native habitat, threatening moose and other animals that benefit from their concentration of carbohydrates and proteins, including us. P. australagus is useful to thatch roofs, but it's a loss of productivity for the land, and a reduction of the possibility for diversity and variety and thus productivity. A plant with similar tendencies to P. australagus is Japanese knotweed. Now I enjoy eating knotweed sprouts in the spring, and there is doubtless potential to use the abundant biomass from their stalks. But it would be folly to introduce it where it is not because it does not play well with others, and it creates a climax condition where competing trees that would shade it out cannot be established. Plus there's already lots out there to take from.

I differentiate 'invasiveness' from 'having a high rate of reproduction'. Norway maples as far as I know play well with others (edit: they don't, they'll poison the ground beneath them in a process known as alleopathy). As much as I have several problems with Norway maples that would fit best in another article, anyone who calls them invasive has not seen the behaviour of a tree in an intact forest, which must seed tens of thousands of seedlings every year just to have a chance that one will find a patch of available sunlight. In the city, this just means the trees will try to recreate the forest where they are. This is more of an indication of the landscape than the tree. I would prefer to see the same behaviour in a tree that is slightly more useful to us.

I use the word invasive because it best communicates to people the tendencies of a plant that excludes all others (through rhizome mats or a high rate of seeding), create climax conditions, and to be nearly impossible to eradicate in a human-based interval of time, even with fossil fuel-aided human effort. The possibilities for redundancy and resiliency are limited. The word 'invasive' still has relevancy to serve as a warning to those who garden.


Perhaps the word invasive can be most usefully be broken down into at least 4 categories;

Difficult to remove,
Does not play well with others,
Aggressively sends out runners or rhizomes
Aggressively seeds and/or remains in the seed bank
halifaxearthtech: (Default)
A few days ago I had the fortune to be invited to an exciting project, a secret compost pile in the Halifax rail cut. It seems neigbourhood residents who can't or don't want to compost at home bring their organics here, as well as several landscaping companies who would rather not pay to haul lawn trimmings. Perhaps some of these people live in apartment buildings, which when they are over a certain number of residents are not legally obligated to provide composting services.

A friend who shall remain anonymous checks on the compost at an undisclosed location.

The finished goods, ready to go back to the trees of the railcut.

Neigbourhood regional composting stations provide a necessary service to people who can't compost at home and who want to reap the benefit of nutritious finished soil for their gardens. They also save the gasoline that would be converted to greenhouse gasses shipping organics to city facilities. In an ideal world these could be out in the open, occupying a corner of city land such as in a public park, in attractive well build and rodent resistent boxes. It's a tough call to say whether these piles should be more vermin proof or not. Doubtless if someone built a couple of nice boxes in the railcut the clandestine nature of the pile would be removed and all manner of fits would be thrown to have them removed. I hope more discussion on central community composting can be started.

On my way home I also saw my first evidence of urban maple tapping. Maybe two years ago, buckets and spiles showed up beneath maples on Allan street. The CBC tried to find out who was tapping but never got answers. If you know who the tappers were, I'll ask you to keep mum about it here as well because it remains illegal to do any urban food production in the city, including tapping the city's trees.

I'm not sure I would use a paint-thinner can though. I hope they washed it very thoroughly.
halifaxearthtech: (Capture and Store Energy)

I have been doing some more research into using pallets for construction. Pallets are being thrown out all the time, and present a tempting source for free lumber. I always have a lot of projects on the go that require lumber, from potato towers, raised beds and cold frames to compost boxes, pallet gardens and frames to hold rain barrels. I'd recieved some information stating that pallets were safe for construction, and others saying they all were dangerous and treated with harmful chemicals. It turns out that some are okay to use while others aren't.

All pallets are treated with heat and pressure, to kill things like pine beetles that you don't want to ship internationally. Many countries also treat their pallets with something called methyl bromide which is used as an insecticide. It is a potent neurotoxin and carcinogen. Methyl bromide has the potential to 'gas off' as elemental bromine, after which it acts as a serious ozone depleter. I'm not sure if methyl bormide or its products enter food, compost or soil but exposure to it is dangerous and the effects are cumulative. During the Montreal Protocol talks, in which substances causing ozone depletion were banned, methyl bromide got an exemption when the pallet undustry argued that it was necessary to their trade and to prevent the spread of harmful species. 1 All except Canada, who still doesn't treat their pallets with anything except pressure and high temperatures. 2

Most pallets will have a country code. The HT stands for Heat Treated. It was illuminating for me to see from how far away pallets really came, from Germany and India to Mexico to the US. 3

Good to use

Not good

Also not good

Different pallets have different specs depending on what industry they are used as well. Pallets used in the food industry can be contaminated with e-coli 4 , but are probably still the most suitable to use. E-coli does not survive for very long outside of the gut of an animal, a matter of weeks to months, and you could easily keep pallets around for that length of time before having them be in contact with your finished produce. 5 Pallets that have been used to carry paint or hazardous chemicals might be avoided by the more careful.

This is a guide with specs for pallets used for different industries 6. One might avoid pallets used for telecommunications/paint, drums, military/cement, automotive, drums/chemical, and Military 1/2.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methyl_bromide#Regulation
2 http://www.repallet.com/2.html
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallet#Phytosanitary_Compliance
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallet#Food_safety_risks
5 http://weblife.org/humanure/chapter7_8.html
6 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallet#Dimensions
halifaxearthtech: photo by Lykaestria from Wikimedia Commons (Energy)
I found a sattelite dish last evening. It must have blown off someone's roof. At any rate it looked like it had been sitting outside in the parking lot a long time. This was an exciting find, because sattelite dishes are parabolic in shape, and are designed to focus radio signals from tv sattelites onto a reciever, which translates the signal into something a television can interpret.

A sattelite dish is a three-dimensional parabola, and it can also focus the sun's rays onto a point. These are already being made to function as stoves. There are already tons of blogs about this within a search of seconds.

This guy is enjoying melting My Little Ponies in a collector made from a very large dish, being used in California in high summer. This blog illustrates an interesting fact that dark objects will cook faster than lighter ones. Hence a marshmallow will take a long time until it starts to singe, and then as it gets darker will burn more and more quickly.


I became skeptical of the potential of a little collector in March in the far North but I had to try.
This kid made something he colourfully calls the Solar Death Ray: power of 5'000 suns. This sattelite dish is only slightly larger than mine.


And Myth Busters also covered this in Archamedes Death Ray


This company is in Nova Scotia and uses two parabolic mirrors to melt small quantities of metals. They are looking for investors


So last night, instead of putting together a workshop I'm supposed to deliver today, I spent the night cleaning the grime off of the dish and fixing it to a base. I'm sure the attendees of a workshop on food forests will appreciate the importance of immediate gratification given this opportunity for passive solar technology.

This one has some nice adjustability

When the dish was immaculate, I glued on strips of aluminum foil. I'd already started this process by the time I learned that little mirrors would work better by creating a more highly reflective surface.

It must be said that concentrating the rays of the sun can set things on fire and blind you. If you think that a fusion reactor several tens of thousands of times the size of the earth doesn't have the potential to harm you if underestimated, I am not responsible for any repercussions.

Then I waited till the earth turned Halifax toward the sun again.
Today is a hazy day. The sun could be concentrated into an area the size of a tennis ball. When I placed my hand in the focus it became warm.

I also need to build a more robust food-holder. I've taped on the original plastic antenna to remember where the focus point is located.

This is a sun-finder, really a section of pvc pipe with two holes drilled 180 degrees apart. When you can see the sun shine through both holes, you know the sun-finder, and anything parallel to it, is pointed toward the sun. It is near the time of being equinox, and we are near the 45'th latitude, so the sun is about 45 degrees from the horizon at noon.

I think my next attempt will be with mirrors. I am finally becoming somewhat proficient with the glass cutting knife, or I might just purchase and dismantle a disco ball. Hopefully by summer I will be nearer my goal of bringing Halifax to its knees boiling water for coffee or tea.
halifaxearthtech: Photo of fairy wrens taken by Bengamint444 from Wikimedia Commons (Habitat)
I want to be these people when I grow up. CFI plant forests and wildlife habitat in Africa and the Maritimes with the understanding that they are more likely to remain in place if they can also provide people with food, building materials and a living.
halifaxearthtech: (Default)
It takes a certain amount of research to source one's staples locally in Halifax but it can be done! Take advantage of my own reasearch and peruse if you will;

The 100 Mile Diet Resource:
Essential Goods Local to the Maritimes

I have heard from those beginning to eat locally that a big hurdle was not knowing where to procure local goods. It can be more complex than just going to one big box superstore
Beginning to eat local can be a daunting process at first, but is completely achievable by making small changes to our diet and cooking and procuring habits. This resource is intended to point the way to local providers of essentials and staples so we can begin to:

Reduce our carbon footprint
Keep money in the Maritimes
Keep Maritimers employed and local fields in production

The cost of eating local is at least partially offset by making changes like buying in bulk, direct ordering from farmers and cooking from scratch. Buy local as much as you can afford, and be sure your money is an investment in our foodshed of the future.

Dry goods and flour
Speerville's local products include: Red Fyfe flour, other wheat flours, pancake mix, Van Dyne dry beans, spelt, rye, oats, Maple products. Their other goods are organic but sourced from outside the Maritimes.

Speerville Flour Mill
152 Speerville Road
Speerville, NB E7N 1S2
Toll Free Phone: 866-277-6371

Mushrooms, spawn kits, mycoremediation
Available at The Local Source, The storehouse, the Seaport Farmers' market and more!

Valley mushrooms
Box 59, Waterville, N.S. B0P 1V0

Produce, eggs, fruit
The Local Source (5783 Charles St Halifax),The Grainery (2385 Agricola St, Halifax), Homegrown Organics (6186 Allan St Halifax), the Old Brewery and Seaport markets, Tantallon market, Halifax Shopping Centre on Thursdays during the growing season, Dartmouth farmer's market, Local Jo's cafe (2959 Oxford St, Halifax), other farmers' markets. Sobeys and Superstore will usually label Atlantic grown produce seasonally.

Dairy: milk, butter, cheese, ice cream
All Farmers Dairy is produced in Nova Scotia
Sobeys, Atlantic Superstore, Pete's Frootique,
That Dutchman's Cheese
Seaport Farmer's Market, The Local Source (5783 Charles Street Halifax, NS)
Fox hill Dairy
Seaport Farmer's Market
Leicester's Deli & Cheese Emporium (6253 Quinpool rd)

Soy Products
Tofu, veggie burgers, tofu slices, jerky, dips and spreads, veggie pate, pot pies, tofu turkey, okara sausage, okara bars and granola, baked goods. Available at Sobeys and Pete's Frootique, the Grainery, Home Grown Organics, Chester Organics, Mariposa Natural Market.

Acadiana Soy
Box34, Grand Pre, NS, 542-0675

Meat and poultry
Local seasonally pastured and grass fed meat and poultry can be found at the Storehouse (5544 Kaye Street), Halifax, the old Brewery and Seaport farmer's markets, Local Jo's, Charcuterie Ratinaud (2082 Gottingen), Flipburger (277 Lacewood), The Armview Restaurant (7156 Chebucto), The Wooden Monkey (1707 Grafton Street, Alderney landing) and more.

Fish (cod, haddock, or hake)
The Off The Hook CSA is organised by the Ecology Action Centre to link consumers to fishers who use sustainable harvesting methods. The fish is distributed to Halifax (Brewery Market and Ecology Action Centre), Wolfville, Truro, Bedford, Dartmouth, Tatamagouche, Tantallon, Lower Prospect, Musquodoboit Harbour, and the Digby Neck Islands. www.offthehookcsf.ca

Chadebucto trap caught shrimp are sustainably trapped close to the shore in the Strait of Canso. Available at Pete's Frootique and possibly other specialty fish stores. If not, ask for it!

Alen Newell
Chedabucto Bay Trap-Shrimp Fisherman

Vegetable oil
Organic bulk sunflower, flax, pumpkin, and canola oils. Available in bulk at the Grainery
(2385 Agricola, Halifax, (902) 446-3301 www.thegrainery.wikispaces.com)

Fox Mill Organic Oils
8961 Peggy's Cove Road
Indian Harbour, NS

Honey and beeswax
One of our largest producers are Cosman and Whidden, who can be found at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. Some other producers are Cornect Family Farm and Smeltzers, available at the Java Blend Cafe (6027 North Street Halifax) and Avery's markets.

Cosman and Whidden

Cornect Family Farm
New Glasgow, NS,

G.G. Smeltzer & Son Honey
Shubenacadie, NS

Maple Syrup
You can find a handy list of all NS maple producers at this website: www.novascotiamaplesyrup.com. One nearby producer/distributor is Acadian Maple: 13578 Peggy`s Cove Rd. Upper Tantallon NS, 826-2312, www.acadianmaple.com

Dulse is a dry seaweed nutritional amendment and snack food, it is leathery and salty and surprisingly tasty. Get your dulse from www.fundydulse.com Or many shops and grocery stores around town.

Juice and Vinegar

Boates Orchard

Apple cider and Pear juices and vinegar. Available at Old Brewery Farmer's Market, select Sobeys, Pete's Frootique, The Local Source, The Grainery

Terra Beata Cranberry Farms

Juice concentrate, dried and frozen cranberries, preserves, sauces
Available at the Local Source, Seaport Farmer's Market and Atlantic Superstore.

Northumberland Max
Union-made cranberry, cran-blueberry juices and lemonade from Miramichi. Available at Sobeys

If anybody is reading this who might want to become a grower, here is a wish list from one aspiring locavore:

Frozen and canned chopped vegetables;
Canned beans;
Beans other than Jacob's Cattle and Soy
Pasta and couscous;
Potato chips,
Hot malt and chickory drinks and coffee substitutes;
Raisins and dried fruit;
Sea salt;
Other seaweeds than dulse like Irish Moss, Kelp and sea lettuce;
Rice and other grains from wheat oats and barley;
Gluten free facilities;
Tree nuts;
Peanut butter;
A greater quantity and variety of greenhouse greens in the winter.

Also, coffee, chocolate and cane sugar would be nice, but we'll take it one step at a time.

--edit-- I've discovered today that Terra Beata also sells local dried apple and cranberry slices available at the Local Source.

--edit-- I believe Covered Bridge chips are Maritime-made. An interesting corollary to this is that PEI so aggressively exports potatoes that these Maritime spuds crowd out local potatoes in other places, including Peru, where the breed originated.
halifaxearthtech: photo by Lykaestria from Wikimedia Commons (Energy)
It finally looks winterish in Nova Scotia. In spite of a few very late very warm days into the double digits, we did have a white Christmas, and now the lakes are thickening up and it looks like we might even be able to skate on them this year.

On my locavore diet I find I need to supplement my vitamin c with some orange juice a couple times a week. Greens are scarce, I failed to harvest dandelion roots before the ground froze to force grow in the dark in my basement. I am making do on cabbage, sprouts, kale chips and some pricy greenhouse greens and some imported things, as well as some peppers I froze earlier on. The frozen berries are long gone and I am into the jams and syrups. I am planning some cold frames to start spinach as early as possible in late February, after the day length is greater than 10 hours according to Niki Jabbour. My husband and I went away for the holiday to spend time with family. We both felt much healthier after returning to our diet of root-cellar local, seasonal and organic vegetables and dry goods: flour, rice and beans. Ah well, Christmas is also a time for excess!

We are also thinking of ways to bolster the growing and house-heating power of our south-facing porch. It already heats the house a bit especially on sunny days but desperately needs to be insulated and have proper windows installed. These days I am building a rack which will hold bottles filled with water and painted black: thermal mass to capture solar heat and distribute it slowly throughout the night. The ultimate goal would be to have that room not freeze at night so we can grow plants in there year-round.

Winter is a time for planning, reading, administering and building. Winter is also a time to build soil. The city is always fileld with the raw ingredients of compost: horse manure from the Bengal Lancers on Bell road, grinds chaff and burlap from cafes and coffee roasters, and right now, christmas trees. This is a pile of chopped up christmas tree in my backyard that I am hoping can eventually become mulch for the native garden beds I am planning for my front yard.
halifaxearthtech: (Capture and Store Energy)
There was a time when, in a spate of reducing plastic waste in my life, I turned to a deoderant known by most as the Crystal". The Crystal does last a long time, most kinds don't use aluminum (there is also some doubt as to whether aluminum contributes to Alzheimer's as well 1., 2.), and comes with some minimal plastic packaging. Once word got out that I was using the Crystal, other people started giving me theirs, saying they had stocked up and then found it hadn't worked for them.

To be honest I was never quite sure if the Crystal were exactly as good as using nothing at all. As long as I showered every day things were tolerable, and let's face it: after a day full of shovelling in the summer sun I sweat from everywhere else and deodorant ceases to make much of a difference. But our society has a low tolerance for the human's natural bouquet and the Crystal just wasn't cutting it for polite company. I resorted to sharing a brand-name deodorant with my spouse, but felt pretty guilty doing it all the while, not to mention the fact that I smelled like fresh air, manliness and extreme sports!

There are some reasons to be doubtful of conventional deodorants.  Parabens are a preservative that is common to find in, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics such as shaving cream, toothpaste moisturizer and makeup and also underarm deodorant. They have been found in breast cancer tumours and have also displayed the ability to slightly mimic estrogen 3.

The lead researcher of a UK study, molecular biologist Philippa Darbre, reported that parabens found in tumours indicated that they came from something applied to the skin, such as an underarm deodorant, cream or body spray, and stated that the results helped to explain why up to 60% of all breast tumours are found in just one-fifth of the breast - the upper-outer quadrant, nearest the underarm 4. Philip Harvey, an editor of the Journal of Applied Toxicology, writes"From this research it is not possible to say whether parabens actually caused these tumours, but they may certainly be associated with the overall rise in breast cancer cases. Given that breast cancer is a large killer of women and a very high percentage of young women use underarm deodorants, I think we should be carrying out properly funded, further investigations into parabens and where they are found in the body," 4

No effective direct links between parabens and cancer have been established 5. However The American Cancer Society also concluded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support a claim that use of deodorant increases an individual's risk of developing breast cancer, but went on to state that "larger studies are needed to find out what effect, if any, parabens might have on breast cancer risk 6.

Pthalates are organic chemicals used to make plastic softer (they're often used in air fresheners and those gummy hands that stick to the wall). They can leach out of bottles into foods and substances containing fat like meats, butter and dairy, which acts as a substrate into which pthalates dissolve. As plastics age and break down, the release of phthalates accelerates. In studies of rodents exposed to certain phthalates, high doses have been shown to change hormone levels and cause birth defects 7 and they may have been implicated as a cause of Breast cancer in a 2010 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives 8. They can be volatile and released into the air, and most Americans tested by the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention had at least some in their bodies. However since they can be degraded by ultraviolet light and the action of microbiology, they do not tend to persist in the environment.

I came across this recipe for DIY deodorant from Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry. It seems to be as cheap as bargain-variety deodorant and without artificial scents, and can be poured into a glass jar. It smells like coconut and essential oil. Though this paste would seem to be the very definition of "chalky residue", I don't find myself exposing my armpits 9/10 out of the temperate Maritime year, and it's better than cancer.

Start with about 1/2 C of coconut oil, or another saturated fat
Add 1/4 C baking soda and 1/4 C starch, and a few drops of an antibacterial essential oil such as lavender, mint or tea tree. *

Keep more baking soda and starch on hand to work into the oil until it just won't hold any more. This dough will never stick together very well but should make one ball in the fist that doesn't crumble. Bear in mind that the oil will warm in your hands and become liquid as you work it; you might want to let it rest a few times during this process to chill and firm up again. Put the lump of dough in a jar. That's it!

*(I would like to argue that since Oregano oil is such a potent antimicrobial oil that it should be saved for situations in which we need it such as acute infections, so that its efficiency isn't lost through preventative and cosmetic uses).

1.Is Altzheimers Type-3 Diabetes? http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/bittman-is-alzheimers-type-3-diabetes/

2. http://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/guide/controversial-claims-risk-factors

3. Harvey PW, Everett DJ (Jan 2004). "Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours". Journal of Applied Toxicology 24 (1): 1–4. doi:10.1002/jat.957. PMID 14745840. From Wikipedia

4. Cosmetic chemicals found in Breast Tumours Vince G (12 January 2004). "Cosmetic chemicals found in breast tumours". New Scientist.

5. Golden R, Gandy J, Vollmer G (2005). "A review of the endocrine activity of parabens and implications for potential risks to human health". Critical Reviews in Toxicology 35 (5): 435–58. doi:10.1080/10408440490920104. PMID 16097138.

6 The American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MED/content/MED_6_1x_Antiperspirants.asp?sitearea=MED

7. Pthalates cause birth defects Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, U.S. CDC, July 2005.

8 Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in Northern MexicoLopez-Carillo L., Hernandez-Ramirez R.U., Calafat A.M., Torres-Sanchez L., Galvan-Portillo M., Needham L.L., Ruiz-Ramos R., Cebrian M.E. (2010). "Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in Northern Mexico". Environmental Health Perspectives 114 (4): 539–544.Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, U.S. CDC, July 2005.

Taken From Wikipedia
halifaxearthtech: (Default)
This is a super cool blog that has a post addressing more on the wildlife-corridors idea and other means of sustainable building.

halifaxearthtech: (Default)
A short but interesting article about constructing wildlife corridors through suburbs.

halifaxearthtech: (Default)
I wrote the preceding blog post two weeks ago and then got extremely ill. So I'm posting them now. Partly as a result of my illness I've come to realise that my locavore practice is limited so long as I continue to shop at grocery stores.

So I'm going to try as far as possible to phase large chain grocery stores out of my life, to be replaced by Speerville, ordering coops, small grocery stores, farmers markets and ordering from farmers directly.

This afternoon as I was buying shampoo at a large chain grocery store (the kind I get is cheaper there) I realized that there is no local maritime producer of malt/dandelion coffee substitute. Yes, I quit coffee too. That and sugar might spell social suicide for me. But there is an opportunity for someone to create this beverage! Entrepreneurs, get on this now! Until you do I will be roasting my own dandelion coffee as I like to have something hot and bitter to drink in the morning.

Stay tuned for more on this adventure.
halifaxearthtech: Mysore fruit seller (Food)
I wrote this blog post two weeks ago but never posted it.

Following up on the Bulrush starch adventure, I proceeded to make more wild foods for my Sunday morning humanist group. This time I made blancmange, a pudding from irish moss seaweed, as well as 'elm food' from the inner bark of elm trees, and an attempt at marshmallows from the marshmallow plant.

I cleaned and chopped the marshmallows, then boiled them in some water. I intended to make the marshmallows like merangues. The water did indeed come out very stringy and slimy like egg whites, but when I tried to whip them like egg whites they simply did not hold air. Perhaps I would have had better luck with an egg beater. Euell Gibbons had good results slicing the roots, boiling them, then frying them with some onion (Stalking the Healthful Herbs, 193).

The seaweed and elm I boiled in milk, with added sugar. The irish moss gelled up nicely and ended up setting well. The elm stayed pretty liquid and was not pudding like at all. The general consensus was while they are all certainly healthy, the blancmange would have been even better with a touch of vanilla. One in our number works at a fast food restaurant, and we all pronounced the wild foods a good antidote or supplement to the fried diet.

Boiling in milk

Squeezing out seaweed slime

Elm bark processing 1

Elm bark processing 2

Elm final results, not pudding-like

Seaweed results, pudding-like

halifaxearthtech: Photo by Panphage from the Wikimedia Commons (Soil)
I am feeling very relaxed and happy and calm after a perfect day. Besides my friends and wonderful spouse I can't think of anything more that I need.

I began the day with a meeting with the Way of the Preserver. We got a lot of productive planning work done. I even ran into an old friend.

Two members, who were sticking around town to study, took care of some homebrewed wine that needed moving from a plastic jug to a glass carboy. The others and I meanwhile had agreed to conduct a third friend to an eco-centre called the Deanery an hour out of town, and help them out earth-plastering a root-cellar. The land is still mostly meadow/lawn but some truly gorgeous buildings are up on it now.

That was a wonderful afternoon after a gorgeous drive through autumn-coloured and sparsely populated coastline. I got to introduce Way members to Deanery members and introductions were made. We got to run through the woods and we all got our hands and feet dirty together making cob.

halifaxearthtech: photo by Marlene Thyssen (Water)
Yesterday I went to Cow Bay with the intention of gathering on Rainbow Haven beach but wound up instead discovering Silver Sands beach. I was there at about dusk and didn't stay long. The tide was fully in and the place was deserted.

I found some shells of Jonah crabs, surf clams and blue mussels, and took home some bullrush roots. I gathered carageenan seaweed but lost track of my little pile of them and since I have plenty at home I did not gather more.

The sprouts I've peeled and steamed. The outer leaf layers were fibrous and inedible but the core was sweet, potato-like and delicious. It was a bit fishy too but these were saltmarsh cattails.

The roots I also peeled and rinsed in cold water. I cut the roots crosswize but this was not helpful ultimately. The starch really does rinse directly into the water and the fibers dissolve out. Cutting the roots just made for more little pieces to keep track of.

The water is strained and allowed to settle. Besides starch, the water has dissolved out lots of stringy, slimy polysaccharides, and in a survival situation could also be eaten, or fermented ;) ;) ;)

I've dried out the starch on the stovetop because air-drying I think would cause it to go moldy. I think rendering starch for flour would be a waste of time and fuel. However it can be boiled down to a nourishing pudding-like substance that tastes sweet and breadlike and would probably make good papier mache. The yield was 1 part starch starting from 2 parts root, which for a wild food is pretty good. Cattails hold promise, at least until you can grow a first crop of wheat.

As a biscuit. It looks very gluten-free.

I rinsed some dulse in tapwater and am drying it in the oven and I will see how that goes.
halifaxearthtech: Photo by Panphage from the Wikimedia Commons (Soil)
It's a familiar story. You didn't intend to grow potatoes in your garden but April came around and you were left with a bag of sprouted ones, pale necks yearning and straining towards life and you take pity on the potatoes and plant them. This time of year is like a second kind of Easter egg hunt.

I put these ones in a raised bed that was filled with fresh Bengal Lancers horse manure. This is part of my project to fill my raised beds without buying soil. A lot of soil available for purchasing can come from questionable sources: slow-to-replace peat moss strip-mined from bogs, biosolids, or sometimes the topsoil from a bankrupted farmer's field. And there is no need to buy it, if you are able to sit tight for a year or two. Just look at this finished product after only one year!

I eschewed the shovel and easily sifted through the raised bed with my hands. By the way, Bengal Lancers are always pleased to give manure away for free to anyone who asks nicely as they have to pay to have it removed.

Of course I have no idea what variety these guys are, I think they were the tail end of the Ecology Action Centre root cellar project, so they were organic and purchased locally. These will tide me over until the next root cellar purchase and are going to go into some veggie pate. And yes, I dug up my potatoes in the dark. The shorter days are catching me by surprise. And I'm kind of a goth, ok?

I want to see a side-by-side trial of raised beds filled with mulch and potato towers, to see if the potatoes planted into a tower that is already filled burrow down all the way and make just as many tubers as the potato that has mulch piled around it higher and higher all year.
halifaxearthtech: photo by Lykaestria from Wikimedia Commons (Energy)
the news reports say we might get rain today but after several false alarms in the last six weeks or so since it last rained, I am being cautious.

Every morning this week I've gone outside and picked a pint of raspberries for my breakfast. My berry bushes are going berzerk, and so are the ones in the wild. This is a combination of the fact that I fertilize them a little more than the average bear (finished compost, several times a season) and the fact that they are under stress from the drought, preparing to send forth as many seeds as possible in case they don't make it. A tiny scrap of genetic instructions, some food, maybe some compounds to fend off invaders, but that's all, and the seed is off, to lie in the soil and wait, sometimes for decades.

I am continuing my project of recording how much water we use in my household per month. I'm afraid that since I've had to resort to irrigating my beds, the numbers will be off the chart. The container gardens in particular require a lot of water, almost every day. I have a lot of container gardens because they make use of some of my enormous driveway. I always save the cookwater from potatoes, pasta or beans for my garden but now I've started to save greywater from doing my dishes too. It is an incentive to use less of it when one has to carry it all to the garden several times a day!

I read an aricle in the Cape Breton post on Sunday that got me thinking. The article reported on a lack of harvesting workers in Prince Edward Island, and that farmers were downgrading the size of their fields to account for the food going to waste. The article (I will try to get the title) goes on to interview a farmer who says that people have no ambition today and that he knew of some children who made $400-$700 a week picking strawberries. This comment is made at a time as an announcement that people on employment assistance will have to take picking and harvesting jobs to continue benefits.

Is this how we are going to make these jobs attractive? By saying that they are for children and those on benefits? In my opintion it continues the negetive public attitude toward farmers and producers which I suspect have been handed down since feudal times; that the only ones growing food are those who are of too low social status to find an alternative. Traditionally the province of migrant, possibly unpapered workers, picking was relegated to the status of virtual slavery in James Howard Kunstlers dystopic novel, World Made by Hand.

Can I propose that picking be elevated from the work of serfs to a civic duty? That's our food going to waste. Saving it is an honourable thing. Perhaps if we all were expected to help out for one weekend of the year this wouldn't be an issue. And maybe our kids would learn a little something about local food on the way.
halifaxearthtech: Photo of fairy wrens taken by Bengamint444 from Wikimedia Commons (Habitat)
As we enter into the harvest season things are not slowing down! I will next post an entry I wrote a month ago and neglected to post!

In the meantime, my two zucchini plants are producing as much as my house hold can handle. I am not going to plant more than two a year ever again unless circumstances change dramatically!

I am also observing many thread-waist wasps in my garden. These are a good sign as they prey on problem insects and keep them under control. I also saw a couple of
Pelecinus polyturator. From http://web.ncf.ca/bf250/gardenhym.html

"This wasp thrusts its ovipositor into soil to detect a grub larva, lays one egg on each. The wasp larva burrows into the beetle larva, killing it, then scavenges remains and pupates there in soil."
Gruesome yet effective. I did not get any pics unfortunately but this is from the above site:

I have put in my autumn planting: arugula, black seeded Simpson lettuce, Bloomsdale spinach, Bright Lights swiss chard, and some beets. I seeded the Occu-pee with white clover as a green manure.

The zucchini still going strong

As are the potatoes: they were a good use of not-quite-finished compost in these raised beds.

It looks like it's going to be another good grape year

My front wildflower garden has really come into its own:

Do you ever wonder, "what the heck is permaculture anyway?"? I am giving a workshop tomorrow (August 23) and the Thursday after, August 30 at Just Us cafe on Spring Garden road at 7:00 pm titled What Is Permaculture. Admission is free. Tell your friends.


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May 2017

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