Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sustainable Shopping - Low Gift Miles

Everywhere I go, nearly everyone asks me the SAME question.

"Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?"

Mass "Holiday Retail Mania" has commenced!   Flyers and email notifications began to arrive weeks ago as retailers jockeyed for position to vie for our dollars.  Now, more than ever, the "push" to spend is at an all time high (and not just for gift giving)!  Decorations, housewares, kitchenware, clothing, furniture and appliances...  I've seen all of those things advertised as necessary for a merry and bright holiday capable of making all our dreams come true.  Hogwash!

As a family, we have been breaking away from that "spendy" path, choosing to make gifts or support local artisans and local producers instead.   Hand making or buying a gift made with quality local ingredients or materials (usually with a story behind it) is meaningful and enjoyable beyond what any imported, factory made purchase could ever be.  The trend toward a local, low food mile diet is really picking up speed here ~ why not extend that thinking a little further and make 2013 a low gift miles holiday?

Just last weekend,  I attended a fantastic barn sale at Alberta Rose Alpacas.   It was a PLEASURE to meet such a lovely couple and see their gorgeous (very healthy looking) alpacas and shop for beautiful, one of a kind locally made gifts so close to my home.  Amid natural decorations, I shopped for handmade goodness and had a terrible time choosing!  After a very pleasurable sensory overload of touch, I was thrilled to have picked up a few gifts for some special people who I know will appreciate the soft warmth of handmade alpaca goodness.  Also available was ultra soft alpaca wool in many beautiful colours (which has motivated me to practice my knitting so that I can create something useful with it!).  

In addition to buying gifts, I'm so pleased to have purchased this beautiful hat and matching mittens just for ME!   My old mitts were so worn after 15 years, they were no longer warm.  These new ones are toasty warm and so soft.  The hat doesn't itch and is the PERFECT size and shape for my head.   What a great morning - I left poorer in dollars, but richer in warmth and appreciation, excited about gift giving and seeing the look of joy on a special person's face when the gift will be opened and touched for the first time.    That kind of shopping feels GOOD.  Keeping our hard earned dollars IN the community by supporting a local couple directly feels right to me.   Had I bought a hat and mitts at "the store" for myself, I'd be sporting high miles winter wear likely made overseas (by a child), shipped halfway around the planet by container ship, rail and truck (all totally dependent on fossil fuels).   No connections there, just buying strictly to fill a need.  At the farm, I SAW the alpacas (of all colours), MET their attentive owners and CONVERSED with the knitter.  Total community connection and relationship building, not to mention snapping another piece solidly into the "local goods" puzzle.

This holiday season, I encourage YOU to find a way to support your local producers be it for food, gifts or personal supplies.  Nearly everything you need can be sourced locally,  but you may have to go looking for it...  it's worth the hunt!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Stretching the Limits

This bright green baby lettuce is a sight for sore eyes!  It's looking very frosty just now (I just trudged out in the snow to check on it).   I hope that it survives the cold snap we've had - I'll report back in a day or so.

Everything is white outside ~ the only green is of the pine and spruce variety and even those are laden with their share of white, too.

We've been waffling between snow, melt, then snow and melt again for quite some time, but now, it's white (and white it should stay) until we crawl out of "hibernation" in Spring.  We are under heavy snowfall warning for today - the perfect day to tuck into some sewing.

Inside the greenhouse, nestled in cold frames, are seedlings, trying as hard as they can to grow to maturity.   It's a very slow process that won't end well I'm afraid, as I can't seem to keep up with brushing snow off the roof (which blocks the sunlight needed for growth).

Apparently, this weekend we are to enjoy temperatures ABOVE zero which just may aid my snow clearing efforts enough to keep these lovelies growing a wee bit longer.  Micro greens?  How about microscopic greens!?

The hens are fully in the coop at the moment as temps are simply too cold for them to be outside.  just last week, they enjoyed the last of the spoiling apples.  I've processed enough for this year, and it's so lovely to share with feathered friends ~ they savour them as much as we do, most especially as their diet has changed so much in recent weeks.  No outside greens here!

We cleaned out the coop's deep bedding recently, and the resulting pile of "compost in the making" is cooking along nicely!  I LOVE this compost thermometer because it helps me make higher quality compost much more effectively.  I'm still learning, so this guides me in my efforts...  I want the pile to be good and hot for at least 10 days to kill off any pathogens and weed seeds, then it will settle in the active zone for a few weeks and finally, drop to steady...  this pile is now totally buried under snow, but I'm going to brush it off to check the temp today.  

Notice the varied material below.  The bulk of it is coop bedding which of course has plenty of hot chicken manure, but also, a large amount of wood shavings and shredded paper plus a little bit of peat (great for soaking up moisture in the coop).   Now that we use wood shavings in the coop vs. straw, the smell is WAY better when cleaning out the deep bedding.  Also, straw tends to mat something terrible in spite of all our efforts to reduce capping.  Wood shavings are THE way to go!  Straw can be added to the mix when we layer to create a compost pile (which adds more diverse carbon sources).

In layers, we dump wheelbarrow loads of the bedding layered with plenty of leaves, kitchen waste, garden trimmings, spent greens, chopped up shrub/tree prunings, shredded cardboard, and (most importantly), duff from the natural wooded area in our windbreak tree line.  This inoculates the pile with healthy soil biology, so necessary for good finished compost.

Here the pile will sit all winter under the protective cover of cardboard and snow and will hopefully be ready for use in Spring.  I'm already dreaming of top dressing my garden beds!

I'm reading more now as the snow falls and winter settles in for good...  I have book list a mile long since taking my Permaculture Design Course and am slowly making a dent in the stack.  Our instructor recommended SO many good books during the course but as it was Spring and Summer, time for reading was slim, indeed.  Too much to do out of doors!

Additionally, I'm learning how stellar nutrition can make a tangible difference in the health of our hens.  Suzy at Chiot's Run posted about fermenting chicken feed and all I can say is WOW!  

We started soaking our hen feed and their egg production has gone up dramatically in spite of our frigid temperatures.   I'm thankful for the extra eggs, but I'm more concerned about our chickens' health during winter when they have no access to the ground to forage for insects and greens.  They rely on me entirely for their nourishment, so it's important that I am providing them with healthy, varied food to stay warm and healthy all winter long.   With soaking, we are going through less feed and I'm hauling less water as the hens seem to be getting moisture from the grain.  

I'm told that sprouted grain is higher in protein and also, is better for gut health.  Combined with worms from our thriving worm farm and greens and herbs sprouted in the garage under grow lights (the next project for the weekend), the hens should come through winter in good health.  If you haven't tried soaking your animal feed, give it a whirl.  You'll be pleasantly surprised with the results!

Lastly, I've been putting away oats and lentils for winter storage.  I barter my time with a local couple who farm organically (John and Cindy Schneider of Gold Forest Grains) in exchange for the crops that they grow (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, rye, lentils, buckwheat & flax).   I'm thankful for the opportunity and am glad to be helping out a hard working local couple (albeit in a very small way).  

I'm also slowly working on an urban design project and am learning so much in the process.  What a great way to come face to face with what one doesn't know!  That old saying about having to know something well enough to teach it really proving true.   I'm forced into filling those learning gaps and although that's quite a challenging process, it's very rewarding, too.   Hopefully, the homeowners will like my design and at least implement some of it.  I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Winter Preparations

As I type, there's snow on the ground and more is falling.  No matter, we were ready!  October was mild which gave us plenty of time to get ready for "old man winter".  My intentions of growing rye as a cover crop in the main garden didn't go quite as planned as the chickens got in and ate most of it, LOL!   I admitted defeat and let them all in to finish it off - lucky girls :)  Plan B is heavy mulching but I wanted a different material from what I used last year (straw), so I hauled over a hundred bags of leaves from the city to use as mulch on the garden this year.  I didn't make a special trip, I just grabbed the bagged leaves from the curbs in town when I was already there taking my daughter to school.  It astounds me how people can't wait to get their leaves picked up by the city to get them off their property.  They are such a great nutrient source for mulching or for compost fodder!

The chickens happily obliged in spreading all the leaves out for me, picking through to eat seeds and bugs...    Those spoiled hens also indulged in frost damaged pumpkins, squash AND some apple drops from our son's yard.  Soon, I'll start sprouting wheat for them to add greens to their diet during the lean winter months.  The Wormery will (fingers crossed) be able to supply the hens with worms through the winter as well.

 A peek in the greenhouse shows that the fall rye is flourishing in there!   I seeded one side to rye and planted the other side out to (light) frost hardy greens.  I've set the sawhorses in place now to avoid trudging through the deep snow in Spring to get them set up for my seasonal seedling tables.  I did that last year which was one too many times :)

The greens are coming along in the cold frames IN the greenhouse.  The nighttime temps have been well below -10C already, so the extra protection of the cold frame covers will HOPEFULLY buy me enough time to harvest these as micro greens before we have temperatures too low for anything to live in there.  The kale on the far left will likely never make it to harvest (even as micro greens), but you just never know until you try, now do you?

These baby pac choi (below) are directly in the greenhouse soil with no cold frame so that I can compare how they fare with the ones that are protected.

Thankfully, these lettuces (below) are nearly ready to grace the salad bowl - they were started several weeks earlier than the tiny spinach seedlings next to them.  

 With winter on the way, it was time to give the chicken coop a good clean out in preparation for a new start with the deep bedding method.  We LOVED the deep bedding method lat year - it kept our hens warm all winter without any need for supplementary heat!  A fresh addition of carbon at regular intervals (wood shavings, shredded paper or cardboard, etc) kept the smell down and balanced the nitrogen nicely to make a dynamite compost kick start!

All inspired to lay an egg in a fresh nesting box!  Under those shavings are sage and oregano plus a sprinkling of tea tree oil to keep any mites at bay.

The compost bays got some loving pre-winter attention (namely turning and watering).   The left bay is a pile built a few weeks ago from spent greens, leaves and garden waste.  The middle pile is the new pile created from the coop cleanings,  leaves and greens and the right bay is all set to add fresh material to it while the other piles cook.  

I brought some of our garden herbs inside for the winter...  cilantro, sage, mint, rosemary to name a few.  So lovely to have fresh herbs for cooking - what a difference that makes to winter meals.

Last but NOT least, our darling Grand-daughter, Penny celebrated her VERY first birthday!!!!  

She LOVED the card and listened VERY intently when her Daddy read it to her :)

Then she slowly relished in opening her gifts...  one little paper rip at at time,

she savoured every single tear!

Such a darling - we love her so much!  Penny, you have brought much love and light into our lives and we are so thankful for you, precious girl  XO