Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rocket Stove!

This summer the ADG completed a project that's been on my wish list for some time; he built a rocket stove

Basically, a rocket stove is an insulated fire that burns efficiently and hot, releasing very little smoke or particulate matter and uses minimal amounts of small wood fuel. It's a fire that burns clean and runs on twigs. They come in all shapes and sizes and some are adapted as thermal mass heaters to heat homes.

The version that the ADG built comes from Root Simple's design, using a 5 gallon metal bucket, which I just happened to have on hand.
We finally got around to firing it up for the first time last week.  Carrying it to the edge of the river, in a secluded area, we proceeded to light the inaugural fire.  This took a few false starts and some time before we got the fire going, but eventually it ignited and started to burn.

As you can see, the horizontal fuel chamber is near the bottom of the bucket. Once the fire was going, we had to keep it constantly fed with twigs and sticks, because they burn very quickly.  My plan is to use the dried stalks of invasive Japanese knotweed as fuel.
We didn't cook anything this time around, but a rocket stove is best suited to things that you can cook quickly with high heat.  We'll probably end up trimming the stove pipe coming out of the top and fit a wire cooking rack over it, and then we'll be set.  I hope to offer a cooking demo sometime in the spring for any locals who are interested in seeing how it works first hand.
I'm really excited to combine rocket stove use with my solar oven cum haybox cooker, for some majorly low-energy, fossil fuel free cooking!

Thanks ADG for making this happen.  Yer awesome dude!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


...I had a litre of milk left over from a workshop I hosted recently on wild, roasted root coffee. I don't drink milk and the ADG has been so busy lately that he wasn't able to drink any of it before it had begun to sour slightly. Not wanting to cry over spoiled milk, I heated it up on the stove, added some apple cider vinegar to separate the curds and whey and proceeded to make farmer's cheese, thus extending the life of that milk by at least a couple of weeks. The ADG promises it won't last that long!  
...I ladled my most recent batch of bone broth into jars to keep in the freezer.  This one is rich in minerals and immune boosting herbs with the addition of astragalus, burdock, nettle and clover. It's so good.
...I found a little quiet time in the afternoon to work on a couple of craft projects, destined for Christmas gifts.

...the marshmallow roots I dug out of the garden the week before, were finished drying in the dehydrator so they got stored away in jars. 
...these local, organic apples were turned into juice and apple sauce.
...I cooked up another batch of homemade laundry detergent while the apples were steaming.
...it was such a beautiful day that I went for a long walk and watched the sunset at my sit spot.
Yesterday. It was a good day.

Friday, November 9, 2012

You Just Might Be a Plant Nerd....

...when a trip to your local vascular plant and mycological herbarium is the most exciting thing that can happen to you in a week.

When the Fletcher Wildlife Garden volunteers were invited to tour the National Vascular Plants Herbarium and the National Mycological Herbarium, I jumped at the chance!

An herbarium is a collection of dried plant specimens that have been mounted onto paper, or sometimes preserved in alcohol, labelled with pertinent information and collected for scientific study. Properly preserved, herbaria can last for hundreds of years. The oldest herbaria date back to the 1600's.

In Ottawa, the plant and mycological herbaria  are housed in the William Saunders building, on the the Central Experimental Farm.  
The plant herbarium houses a million and a half species, representing 20% of the world's plant population and 61% of Canada's. The focus of the collection is on cultivated, agricultural plants. The oldest specimen in this collection dates to 1820.
We got to see some archival mounting action! (I deeply want to believe that these researchers have all kinds of corny [Ha!  Corny. Agricultural plant.  Get it?]  jokes about their job. There's got to be a cheeky one for how many botanists does it take to mount a plant specimen?) Anyway...

The researchers who work here do some really quite fascinating work. They collaborate with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to identify unknown plant specimens crossing the border, that may be invasive and are involved with issuing phyto-sanitary certificates to companies shipping foodstuffs and other plant based goods. They've also worked in the past with the RCMP in getting a conviction for growing marijuana by being able to identify the root of the plant. And our tour guide shared the story of when they assisted in a murder case where the victim was taken by car from a golf course to the forest and they were asked to identify the plant matter caught in the wheel rims of the car. They IDed over 50 species.
Next we headed to the fungal collection, where 350,000 specimens are housed including the John Dearness collection.
The collections are kept in a climate controlled environment to help preserve the specimens, and the smell of moth balls in the air was evident.
The herbaria are currently in the process of establishing an electronic database of the collections.  What a job that must be!
I loved these giant puffball specimens.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to tour these facilities and have a peek inside a world that your average citizen rarely has the chance to see.  Now I think I might just have to get myself a plant press!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Oh blessed and joyous days!

If you've been following this blog for the last year or so (and thank you so much if you have!), you know how much I love the BBC series (serieses? seriesi?), Tales From the Green Valley, Victorian Farm, Victorian Pharmacy and Edwardian Farm. I've spent many glorious hours in period reenactment ecstasy.  While I busied myself with crochet, mending, working with dried herbs or whatever other handwork needed to get done, I watched Alex, Peter and Ruth live out the lives of peasant farmers throughout history. (Thanks technology for making that happen bee tee double u!)

And now, my fav trio is back again with Wartime Farm. Coping with the challenges of farm life during the second world war, the group takes us through the war years dealing with the pressure of needing to increase food production for the government, rationing and shortages, refugees from the city and dangerous resistance activities.

I've watched quite a few episodes already while working through the second half (16 lbs) of my black Spanish radish harvest, processing it for dehydrating and fermenting.

Some highlights for me so far (and by highlights I mean clapping my hands and shouting out with glee) have been harvesting rosehips, foraging and haybox cooking.

The rosehip harvest starts at 34:12.

Foraging starts at 23:25 and haybox cooking at 26:43.

Obviously, this isn't about trivialising the tragedy of war or romanticising the hardships people had to endure.  Rather, it's a fascinating look into the coping strategies and skills people quickly developed to ease some of the discomforts of hard times, reduce waste and make ends meet with precious and reduced resources.  And these are skills and strategies that I would argue are just as valuable today.  So pull up some handwork and enjoy this informative and charming series!