Saturday, July 25, 2009

What I Did On Summer Vacation

I had the opportunity to visit Dump Site 41.

A landfill is to be built here, directly over top three aquifers including the large Alliston Aquifer (see map and read more info here), containing some of the purest water in the world. This site is also situated on a floodplain, next to farmer's fields and sensitive wetlands. There is a public outflow of water just down site from where the dump is to be built. People have been coming to this spring for drinking water for countless generations. I have been to the spring many times myself to fill up on this incredible tasting, clean water. Once the dump opens the spring will be made inaccessible to the public, 'just in case'.

Needless to say, area residents oppose the location of the dump and have been protesting the site for many years. Protest efforts have recently stepped up as dewatering and construction of the site has begun. Since early July many community members including farmers, residents, cottagers and First Nations people have blocked the gate to workers trying to get onto the site. They are asking for a one year moratorium on construction of the dump so that further studies can be made.

Earlier this week a court injunction was issued making the blockade illegal putting protesters at risk of arrest, fines and imprisonment.

This hasn't stopped the protesters. Many are prepared for arrest and others are willing to support them from the other side of the road where it is legal to protest.

I am so saddened to see yet another example of our water being taken for granted and threatened. I am angry that this decision was made in the first place. And I am heartsick at another example of society shitting and pissing in the places where we eat and drink.

At the same time I am so encouraged and heartened to see the group of dedicated people standing strong and holding their ground to protect our water. It was such a privilege to talk to some of the people on the site. I spoke with older farmers who live in the area, their wives bringing pots of food for the protesters, the Anishinabe women who set up the protest camp, the young people taking their turn at the gate. They are not the militant, angry activists stereotyped by the media. They are plain folk. Just like you and me. And they don't want anyone messing with their water.

It's 9:30 on Saturday morning as I write this. At 1:30 this afternoon the protesters will hold a rally to raise awareness and support for this cause. I am leaving soon to go camping with my mom. If I wasn't, you can bet I would be at that rally and I sure as hell would take my turn at the gate.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Homestead Holidays

Hi there. I'm on vacation! I'm relaxing with family in the lovely Georgian Bay area. My holiday plans are to spend a lot time reading some herbal books I brought with me, taking lots of plant and weed walks and doing yoga outside.

I'll try and make it back at some point on Friday for a roundup. In the meantime, check out this article on growing food movements.

(Sound of own horn tooting: I was interviewed for the article. Toot! Toot!)

Oh and for anyone coming to the blog via the article: Welcome! Come on in and make yourself at home. Feel free to be nosy and take a look around. There are links to tons of great blogs and resources here that will get you informed, inspired and active.

Have a great day!


Monday, July 20, 2009

Independence Days Week #12

Plant something:
- chard

Harvest something:

- wild carrot
- lettuce
- 10 oz peas
- rhubarb

Preserve something:

- froze rhubarb
- decanted and refridgerated herbal oils
- stored dried catnip in labeled jar

Reduce waste:
- composting
- made oat cakes (instead of buying store bought)
- salvaged packaging paper from supply delivery to my work
- carpooled to herbal course outside the city

Preparation and storage:

- had another herbal apprenticeship day, learned about herbal actions, more materia medica, learned about elder, how to identify St. John's wort
- reading The Herbal Home Remedy
- reading Put a Lid on It! Small-Batch Preserving for Every Season
- became a member of Transition Ottawa!

Build community food systems:

- went to farmer's markets (Saw a fellow Peak Oil discussion group member at a local, organic veggie booth. I stopped to chat with him and was introduced to the friend he was with. The friend is involved in a transition movement near London, ON. I shared about the new Transition Ottawa movement. We talked for quite a while. I bought some delicious chard from the vendor at the veggie booth. As I was walking away the vendor asked the two who had stayed behind, "What's the transition movement?")

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Urban Homestead Series

A Low Energy, Simple Afternoon and Low Impact, Simple Gifts

I got home from work one afternoon last week and while it was hot, humid and bright outside, inside was cool, dim and refreshing. I took advantage of the calm and soothing atmosphere and decided to have a low energy afternoon. Instead of turning on my laptop, a couple of lights and putting music on, I left everything shut off.

I did switch on the radio, but I used my wind up one. The only thing in my place that was plugged in was the fridge, cordless phone and alarm clock.
(The pictures are a little dark because I didn't use any flash, to give an idea of the natural light in my place at the time.)

Breathing a deep sigh of peace I set myself to some pleasant tasks.

First I took down the yarrow and mallow hanging up to dry, removed the flower tops and leaves from their stems and placed them in labeled jars for storage.

Then I wrapped up a birthday gift for a young boy. I found a wooden sailboat and toolbox craft kit at a kid's consignment store in my neighbourhood. I thought it was a good choice since the boy's father is a very talented woodworker and this would make for a nice project that they could do together. I used a colourful silk scarf and bright yellow ribbon to wrap the gift in.

Speaking of gifts, this weekend I gifted a friend this sweet trinket box that I bought secondhand. I wrapped it in a lacy scarf and tied it with a cream coloured ribbon I had saved. The card was also bought secondhand. (Thrift stores are great places for stationary and unused cards. It's nice to have a stash on hand when I don't have time to make my own.)

I know many people worry that giving second hand gifts is tacky and cheap. I think that if I'm able to thoughtfully choose something that is appropriate to the person, then why not? What I like about second hand gifts is that there is usually little to no packaging. This way I'm not giving someone a big pile of garbage to deal with along with their present. Also, second hand gifts are often unique and one of a kind. (Handmade gifts are awesome too, and I like to give those whenever I can!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Independence Days Week #11

(When it's not raining, straw bales and a moving blanket make a great garden lounger!)

We've been getting a lot of rain lately so gardening and harvesting action has slowed down somewhat. Here is what I've been able to do the last week.

Plant something:
- kohl rabi and kale (The soil was really wet, sticky clay so I'm not sure how well the seeds will germinate. The ADGMD said he had wanted to put down a layer of compost first. Oops! Guess we'll see what happens.)
- basil starts gifted to me from a friend

Harvest something:
- 8 ounces of peas please!
- red currants
- lettuce (had to compost a couple of stunted heads that were rotting from too much rain :( )
- lots of fresh herbs from the kitchen garden
- chamomile
- a wee bit of new nettle growth
- It's been too wet to harvest herbs for medicinal use so I've been harvesting a little bit of tansy (contains toxic constituents and should not be used internally) and mugwort instead. Both tansy and mugwort have insect repellent properties, so I'm experimenting with different preparations for this use.

Preserve something:
- drying what herbs I can
- labeling and storing dried herbs in jars
- froze currants to keep until ready for furthering processing

Reduce waste:
- participating in The Law of Return! (i.e. composting :) )
- bought second hand birthday gifts
- bought second hand cast iron, enameled dutch oven
- used old and/or thrifted silk scarves and ribbons to wrap birthday presents
- reusing vinegar and cider jugs for water storage

Preparation and Storage:
- added 8L of water to emergency stores
- reading The Earthwise Herbal and The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism (Full disclosure: These books were purchased new and bought online. What can I say? I try and get local and secondhand whenever I can, but sometimes there are some books that just can't be found that way.)
- reading Naturopathic Gardening. (This was a gift from a friend who had purchased the book some time ago for herself, but with a job that requires a lot of travel, she doesn't have the time and space for gardening yet, so she passed on this delightful text to me. What a lovely and generous surprise for me!)
- bought second hand, fancy glass jars for future gifts (herbal vinegars, liqueurs, oils...)

Build Community Food Systems:
- didn't make it to any of the farmer's markets :(
- gifted homemade chive vinegar to a friend
- received pepper plants from a friend

Eat the Fud:
- still more pasta primavera with fresh garden veg like peas, lamb's quarters, beet greens... (This is my new favourite meal 'cause it's light, quick and simple and sooo tasty!)
- doesn't count as eating exactly, but I'm starting to use my herbal tinctures, oils and infusions

Monday, July 6, 2009

Independence Days Week #10

Garden Then

And Garden Now

Plant something:
- chard and tatsoi

Harvest something:
- peas
- two heads of lettuce
- one beet that we put in the garden salad
- yarrow, mallow, daisy, nettle, mugwort, spearmint
- chives, dill, basil, cilantro, oregano

Preserve something:
- drying herbs

Reduce waste:
- had a minor thawing freezer emergency last week and had to use up spinach, nettle and cranberries
- saved the popsicle sticks from the thawed popsicles that I was keeping in the freezer for the neighbours
- composting!

Preparation and storage:
- bought rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, ASA
- added bulk brown rice to short term food supplies (brown rice doesn't keep as long as white rice, which has less nutritional value in it to go bad.)
- getting the ADGMD to read Gardening When It Counts
- set up cucumber trellis from salvaged materials

Build Community Food Systems:

- went to farmer's market
- gave allotment information to some interested people I met at a neighbourhood event

Eat the food:
- made nettle and spinach soup
- used peas in a pasta primavera
- made salad in the garden
- drinking tea

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Urban Homestead Series

Last year I spent time learning about herbs and other plants that have both culinary and medicinal uses. I dried herbs like lemon balm, mint, thyme and tarragon that friends and family gave me out of their gardens. I wildcrafted plantain and mullein before I even knew what wildcrafting meant.

I fell in love with these plants, the delicious smells of them drying in my home, and the taste of them in my meals or in tea. I learned that there is a big difference between the vibrancy of one's own freshly dried herbs, and the drab versions of dried and crushed store bought kinds.

This year I am growing many of my own herbs and learning how to identify and sustainably wildcraft plants that grow abundantly in my area. I am participating in a year long herbal apprenticeship with a local herbalist and learning which plants have medicinal value. I am learning how to make my own medicine with these plants.

Last year I had a few bunches of herbs drying in an out of the way corner and some jars of homemade tea in the cupboard.

This year my small space is increasingly filled with drying plant material and jar after jar of herbs in various forms and states for food and medicine.

To accommodate this new love in my life and home, I've set up a few simple systems to ensure that I have the time and space to do things properly, without adding extra stress or waste to my life. Please allow me to share them with you now!

I inherited some beautiful musk mallow and daisy on my garden plot.

Many other wonderful plants grow in my plot and the common spaces of the allotment gardens. My basket is full of mallow, nettle, catnip, motherwort and yarrow.

After harvesting comes the work of properly processing the plants. The kind of plant or part that I've harvested and what I'm going to do with it determines what happens next. On this day I had lots of plant material, some of it quite large, like comfrey. I planned to put most of the plants into oil so I spread everything out onto a clean sheet on my living room floor, and left it all to wilt for 24 hours. This allows excess moisture to evaporate out of the plant, which is what you want when making herb infused oils, so that they won't mold.

I save, use and reuse paper bags to dry flower heads, leaves and small, creeping plants like creeping charlie and thyme that aren't easily tied in bunches. I hang these bags from the stairway into my apartment which is a convenient, out of the way place, that gets good air circulation.

Plants large enough to be hung in bunches get strung up in the kitchen, away from the heat of the stove. As you can see my kitchen is small, but I still have space to hang quite a few bunches of herbs. It's lovely to see and smell plants hanging here while I prepare food and wash dishes.

I save all of my glass jars and they are perfect for making medicine and storing dried herbs. Here I have some plants infusing into oil.

I'm making tinctures with these plants and they are infusing in vodka.

Herbs should be stored away from light and heat. That's easy enough for me in my basement apartment! Here are some dried herbs in a cupboard.

Growing and drying your own herbs is a very simple, affordable, fun and rewarding thing to do, that doesn't have to take up a lot of space, and can be done almost anywhere.

If you don't have a garden many herbs do well in pots and can even be grown indoors in a sunny windowsill. If you live in a basement like me and don't have enough light to grow indoors, you can try wildcrafting (mint, catnip, mullein, plantain and violets are just a few plants that are easily found growing all around) or hitting up your gardening friends for fresh plants.

If you buy a bunch of fresh herbs from the store or market and find that you can't use it all up at once, don't let the rest go to waste. Hang it up to dry, store and use it for later.

But be careful! It's very easy to get addicted to growing and storing your own herbs. Before you know it you'll be spending all your free, good weather days harvesting plants, sidestepping herbs drying on a sheet in your living room and constantly stopping the sniff the air around your drying herbs!