Sunday, February 14, 2016

Comox Valley Diet?

This question has perplexed me for years. Since my involvement in the early days with the Edible Valley podcast, and the Comox Valley $100 Challenge, I have wondered" Could one survive an entire year on just the food grown in the Comox Valley". I think that is would be actually quite easy, as long as one was willing to put in the effort and change their expectations of what's available, and when.

Recently, I was invited back on Edible Valley to discuss our local food shed, and dealing with the rise in prices at our grocery stores. In the discussion were hosts Chef Jonathan Frazier and Darren Howlett, along with farmer Arzeena Hamir. We came up with many really great ideas about shrinking your grocery bill and food footprint. The stability in local food prices is evident and not as influenced by drought, storms, and transportation problems like the majority of the food available in our grocery isles. Cheap energy and farming that don't take into account the long term repercussions of the practices have created an artificially priced industrial food system, as we are writing IOU's for miss used resources to the future generations that we can't re-pay, to speed up our need for cheap commodities. To reverse these trends, mankind can make changes by shrinking our food shed to our bio-region, province or state, or better yet, our communities, regional districts and counties.

Several years ago I made some major life changing decisions. I began to follow a Paleo diet,(read my journey here) and food became my focus of everything I did. I recreated around food by fishing, hunting and foraging. My social circles became farmers, chefs, and small value added producers. I became a devout "Farmers Market Shopper". While all this was taking place, I began to see the diversity and quality of the food that was being produced locally. Preparedness became something important to me as well, so preserving all this bounty became another past time. Canning fish, pickles, apple sauce, salsa, and relishes. I made sausage, smoked salmon and bacon. Our kitchen soon had the magnificent odour of sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and fermented dills. This was a food revolution in our zone one. Amazing transformation from one who was scared of the market, ate grocery store meat, veg and bread, never took their biome into consideration or saw the connection to my health. With these new found skills, I knew a Comox Valley Diet was possible.

For those not familiar with the Paleo diet, also often lumped in with Primal, Ancestral, or Caveman, I will give a quick synopsis. Based on evidence and research of fossil records, scientists determined that the Paleolithic man was much healthier than we are today, void of the diseases that we are afflicted with now, like cancers, diabetes, tooth decay, and auto-immune. The Paleo diet intends to mimic the food choices available to our ancient ancestors 10,000 years ago, before agriculture became the mainstay of our sustenance. Paleo man was a hunter and gatherer. He foraged for plants and eggs, hunted game and caught fish. He didn't eat grains, which are types grass seeds better suited to be eaten by herbivores and birds, than man. As humans evolved over millions of years, up until agriculture it has been argued, that we never developed the ability to eat grains, legumes or dairy, and for optimal health we must eat meat, fat and vegetables. Low in carbs, including fruit, and sugar-even natural sugar. I find the diet really beneficial, to break the addiction to sugars and carbs. I notice improvements in digestion and inflammatory issues in my joints. Plus a more regulated blood sugar. This is a very broad definition of the diet. If you are interested in further investigation, there are loads of great resources on-line.

Now I know that many of you reading this might not agree with me about dietary choices, and that is fine. I don't believe that one can have a complete spectrum of heathy foods by the following the food pyramid eating foods grown in one region. Most of conventional foods, talking breads, pastas, and "center of the store" stuff is made with ingredients grown all over the place, so you would be missing out on a huge amount of your calories. I am talking about changing that paradigm, and improving your health by getting rid of all that crap! Although I have some experience with vegetarianism, which I think you could do okay here because of eggs and dairy for protein, vegans could be challenged. There are some farmers growing beans, but maybe not in sufficient quantity. I could be wrong on that, and hope there are. My ideal would be to have everyone eating fresh, local ingredients, cooking at home the majority of the time and breaking free of the cycles of obesity and illness related to our current food system, regardless how you accomplish it. Keeping it local is a huge step in this direction.

A book and blog that gain lots of attention was "The 100 Mile Diet", where two Vancouverites completed challenge where they ate only food grown in a 100 Mile radius around their home. I read the story and was impressed. However they had some major challenges. One being grains. This region isn't great for the growing of grain crops because of our rainfall. It is possible, but not in the quality that makes farmers target them. More of a fun experiment that a full production endeavour. Another challenge was cooking oils. Butter is available as the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island have many dairy farms. Forget any olive oil, canola oil or other seed oils, they just aren't available. Vegetable oils parent crops are farmed in the prairies. After much difficulty they made it through the year and were very happy to go out to eat at a restaurant after the year was over!

Here we have two very admirable individuals who took it upon themselves to shrink their food shed. I applaud them for this and am sure this inspired so many to take up the challenge of bringing their nutrition closer to home. One observation of this particular book, however, they didn't change their expectations of what foods they could eat. They still expected to eat breads and grains. I don't remember how much effort they put into preserving and fermenting, so probably time for a re-read. I suggest that with some changes in our expectations and eating with the natural cycles of the earth, we can more easily evolve our habits to become free of the world commodity food markets.

Here in the Comox Valley, food is everywhere! We were called the "Land of Plenty" traditionally by the First Nations. Our deep soils created by the forest, sea, rivers, and salmon. Our great climate of warm, dry summers and damp, mild winters create a wonderful place to grow food. We have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 450 farms of various sizes, from enormous dairy operations to backyard urban C.S.A's. There are shellfish farms, nut farms, yogurt factories, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, and even a bison farm. It is all here, and finding the bounty isn't hard. These days of social media make it simple to find producers doing something interesting that will temp your taste buds.

How do we do this? How do we eat in the winter? Complex answers to simple problems. You must be involved. It has to become a passion and a past time. You have to want it.

I suggest taking it back to our grandmothers, or great grandmothers expectations of the foods we eat. Fresh tomatoes or strawberries in winter isn't normal. Neither are mangos, bananas, pineapple or asparagus in January. Families at the turn of the last century would rely on their larder to keep them fed during the long winter. A root cellar full of preserved fruit and vegetables from the previous summer. Livestock were kept "on the hoof" as long as possible because of the lack of refrigeration. I know not everyone can have livestock and a quarter acre garden, but we can follow those same ideas, by purchasing or foraging our foods from local resources. We have the ability to have a chest freezer and water bath or pressure canning. Fermentation bacteria still float freely around, just waiting to help preserve your bounty. We need to return to the cycles of the seasons and adapt to the length of day and availability of food, just like creatures in the wild. Feast on the bounty while it is available, put some up for the lean month, and expel less energy in the winter, so we need less fuel.

First, buy a deep freeze! This is your alternative to "on the hoof". Local Farmers generally slaughter their  livestock in rotation according to the season. Our family always gets chicken in the late spring, beef in the early summer, salmon in August, and pork in October. We buy in bulk, and saving money and the concern of running out of protein. There is a certain amount of freedom in this kind of buying. I remember when we used to buy our protein weekly at the market. Missing that Saturday morning meant buying meat from the grocery store. It was slightly stressful and also made going away for a weekend a little more involved. There is nothing much I like better than having a freezer full of local protein! The choices in cuts and the price point make it fully worth doing. Plus you get the bones and offal if you choose. These add nutrient and mineral content to anything you add it to. Bone broth is all the rage these days, and is nothing more than bones simmered for a long time with a variety of vegetables, herbs and spices. Along with the talk of animal products, one of our favorite proteins are eggs. Chicken, duck, quail, even turkey. They are all delicious and full of health. There are egg coolers hidden all over the area, and it is a fun "egg hunt" anytime, not just at Easter to find get eggs.

Along with this freezer(or freezers, as we have three) for meat, it is also a great place to store berries from the summer. Berries are everywhere in the summer, so buying in bulk or picking your own, either from a U-pick or foraging, allows one to have that taste of summer even during the coldest days of winter. You can avoid the pesticide residue and footprint of berries trucked in from California, Mexico or Argentina(that kind of travel kind of defeats the purpose of organic in my opinion) by choosing local and organic in the proper season. Picking ripe fruit also means you get the best nutrition available in it.

How about other fruits? Apples, pears, plums, cherries and, if your lucky, peaches. This is where your water bath canner comes into play. All of these fruits can be easily preserved with some know how and effort. Some added local honey and water, you have saved the bounty for the lean months. A dehydrator also is invaluable for preserving fruits. We have a hard time not eating the apple chips as they are made, and pear chips are amazing! Tree fruits grow all over the place in this Valley, many of the trees are heritage, having been here since the early settlers. Interesting varieties and all shapes and sizes. You will find your favorites, like we have, and keep them a secret. Another tree crop that is probably under-utilized are nuts. Walnuts and hazelnuts in particular are very abundant, if you know where to look. Joining the local non-profit, called LUSH Valley, is a good start to connect eager pickers with tree owners who can't pick the fruit.

Vegetables, of course, are grown in huge volumes seasonally too. We are lucky to have such a great community of growers and producers locally. Buying in peak season is the best way economically for you to keep food over the winter. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, potatoes, you name it, the veggies are here. I love to make salsa with local ingredients, and preserve it in jars. Another super way to preserve tomatoes is to make fermented tomato paste. Many vegetables will keep in their un-adulterated state for months, like winter squash, potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots. Buy these at the end of the growing season to help bridge that time until the fresh greens of spring appear. Fermentation of vegetables is a choice way to preserve. Locally available sea salt and chlorine free water in the base to make krauts, pickled cukes, carrots, beets, or zucchini. Once fermented these vegetables can be stored in sealed jars in a cool place for months, even years. Condiments, beverages, dairy and meats can be preserved in this fashion. I believe the art of fermentation is essential to our zone 0 resilience by increasing the nutrition of the food and re-building our damaged gut biomes from years of chlorinated water and antibiotic exposure.

Other minor ingredients in the kitchen that we often over look can also be had locally. Sugar replaced by honey. Cooking oils derived from animal fats, like lard and tallow. Vinegar can be made from apples, wine or kombucha.  Local companies are producing sea salt! So many herbs are available either fresh or dried. Locally derived teas of domestic or wild herbs can also be concocted or purchased. Coffee and chocolate are two things that many of us can't do without, but the natives always traded with other tribes, so we can always make exceptions! Use local producers if you can't live without these indulgences. Dairy, while not generally accepted in a true Paleo lifestyle, is also available. The local yogurt makers do a wonderful job, plus cheeses made from Comox Valley reared cattle are available too. I would caution on conventional dairy as the cows aren't raised in the best conditions, and fed silage crops that are most often genetically modified and sprayed with herbicides, pesticides and other poisons.

Yet another sector of available foods are the wild edibles that are found in abundance. Wild mushrooms are prolific in season, full of micro-nutrients, minerals and flavour. Eating the fruit of the forest gives a certain energy to your dish. Wild mushrooms are probably my favorite item to search for and I have been doing so for over 30 years. The sea brings a myriad of seaweeds and sea asparagus. Yet more micro-nutrients and minerals, distinct flavour and plentiful. Oysters, clams, mussels and crabs are available as amazing ingredients. I could probably live on oysters! Salmon, cod, trout and other bottom fish are around too, although many restrictions exist and not available to everyone all the time, to glean an opportunistic harvest is so worthwhile. Foraging is a fun, educational and rewarding pastime that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

As you can see, living a Paleolithic style of diet in the Comox Valley, based on Comox Valley based food, is not only do-able, but quite accessible and would benefit us greatly as a whole. Not only health-wise, but economically and socially as well. Creating a system of abundance within our region, saving us from the ups and downs of the just in time model of grocery store stocking, fuel prices and topsy-turvy weather in other parts of the world. If you are interested in exploring this more in-depth, I am happy to chat about it, and pass on information if you wish to connect with growers and producers.

Friday, April 24, 2015


(A series of blog posts on the 5 basic human needs and how we can transition away from our current model of exploitation, extraction, and fossil fuel based systems.)

This is normal! Where are the trees and greenspaces?

Shelter is our second most critical need. We need protection from the elements, being scorching desert sun, instant frost-bite inducing Saskatchewan winters, Cascadian deluges of rain, or even the desiccating winds of Hawaii. These weather patterns in different climates dictate that we need to take refuge under or inside some form of structure to thrive in the natural world. I think back to some of the survival manuals of my youth, and shelter was always near the top in content of the book. I was most interested in trap building and hunting. Food gathering is sexy, but shelter building will keep you alive. A simple lean-to, with a thick layer of forest floor detrius, can give us the basic protection from many weather events. Shelter has become anything but basic in our ever devolving world of complication and regulation.
Old, hand built and still standing
Once upon a time a man would build a home on a piece of land. The materials used would generally be from the surrounding area, as transportation from afar was impossible. Regional specific materials gave way to resilient housing and easily repairable structures that lasted generations. Local materials and techniques that best suited the bio-region. Log homes in Canada, Adobe shacks in desert regions, thatch huts in the tropics, and stone walled castles in Europe are a few examples of these appropriate construction technologies. With the advent of fossil fuels and the centralization of our needs, along with clever marketing, our homes are ever more complicated, fragile and full of non-renewable, off-gassing poisonous products that are shipped from across the globe. At great cost to our pocketbooks and the eco-system.
Hand made, salvaged wood, resilient beauty. My Grandparents home.
I grow increasingly frustrated at the regulations that are involved in home construction. There is little thought put into the whole system of the dwelling. The only thoughts the builder has are "is it to code", and "how much money will I make". This way of thinking has removed the craftsman component of our building, creating cookie cutter homes put together like lego blocks. There is very little uniqueness to our builds. Conformity breeds monotony. We have mono-cultured our homes. We wrap them in plastic, then wrap that in plastic, or concrete board. The roofs are covered with oiled based sheets of grit that rapidly wash off and have absolutely no second life. Studs and joists are made of the softest, most widely available lumber. Landscaping is rolled out and fruit-less trees are planted, with no support, aside from the posts and straps to keep them from falling over in the wind. Under-performing cedar fences separate neighbors, until the post rot or the panel fails, causing a "who pays" stressful situation. Neighborhoods with very little meaningful green space. Homes are not built to utilize the sites energies well to capture or repel. Solar exposure for gain or shading and taking external un-desirable elements like noise from a street or industry into consideration.
Passive solar. Great design for temperate climates
As a whole we end up a slave to the wage economy, the banks and the government because it has become very difficult for the average person to construct their own simple home anymore. Wading through the bureaucracy of building code and zoning, sub-division requirements for minimum size homes and exterior by-laws. A home created by one own hands, with pride, to shelter his family is something that mankind is losing uber-fast. There are better ways to do this, to create a resilient, low footprint home that can become part of a productive system, rather than the energy intensive, consuming model that currently exists.
Large tracts of land being developed for homes is going extinct. Societies overall wealth has eroded to a point where people are less and less able to afford new single family homes. Townhouses and condos are hot markets in large cities, and increasingly so in smaller towns as well. Young people are more inclined to live with less stuff, in a smaller space, to save money for things that are important to them. Older folks are downsizing, wishing to lower their burdens on their offspring when they pass, by de-cluttering and simplifying. Most age groups tend to wish to be closer to where they work, play, and shop. The days of hour long commutes are waning. The suburbs will eventually become undesirable and this is where cities like Detroit get into trouble. Servicing these lots, far out of the city centers, becomes very energy intensive and expensive. Cities liked boundary expansion in a growing economy, but in a shrinking one, we shall see homes becoming vacated and foreclosed on. Good news for the initiated. Moving into these areas, buying several plots of land with less that ideal buildings for a bargain, and create one beautiful home from the materials. Suburban homesteads, I believe, will become a big thing of the future in a de-centralized world. Urban farming is already catching on like wildfire, and that will just grow exponentially. If government doesn't get in the way.
Bio-Regional appropriate materials salvaged red cedar
If a family is able to acquire land and wish to build a homestead of their own, or even a lot in an urban setting, Care of Earth is most important. Large swaths of trees shall not be removed just because it is easier that way. Flora will be removed selectively to the greatest advantage to the site. Opening up the southern exposure for solar gain and gardening is an example. Septic fields will become obsolete with resilient, simple, and inexpensive composting toilets becoming the norm. The timber felled on the land will be milled on site and used in the construction. Log building techniques including cord wood, timber frame, and log homes are skills that a ambitious person can learn and complete. If the home site has no trees of usable size, or quality, the earth shall be used. Cob structures have been created around the planet in all but the most inhospitable zones, simply from the soil, straw and sand. Materials readily available and easily harvested by hand. A beautiful, lasting home that will go back to the earth when its time is up. I can't say that about modern vinyl clad home!
Beautiful, functional and appropriate
Energy usage in current building is outrageous. Because they are so poorly designed, they require vast amounts of fossil fuels to heat and cool. Lighting is something that not many think about as a heat gain, but most new homes have far too many lights, creating a situation where the air conditioning might run in the winter! That is silly. Too high of ceilings, and low windows create a dark feeling in the room, so the place is over lit. Appropriate solar exposure, window and skylight placements and element integration can aid in the amount of light gain. Day lighting a room when it is dark is silly. Getting back our circadian rhythm of light/dark cycles at different seasons is important. Our current model of going full steam ahead isn't conducive to this reality. For heating and cooling there are many appropriate technologies that we can utilize, many of which can't break down, because they use gravity and mass, have no moving parts or electrical inputs. Earth contact structures are really cool(pun intended). The earth maintains a constant year round temperature of 14 degrees C below the frost line. This creates a cool environment in the summer and warmer in the winter. Earth is a perfect insulator and stores heat incredibly well. Paul Wheaton's WOFATI design, using stored heat from the summer sun to heat in the winter is fantastic. Solar chimneys use the natural stack action of air to pull cool lower air into a home, while exhausting the higher, over heated air outside. Easy, inexpensive and no energy inputs at all. For heating in temperate or cold zones, nothing beats wood. It is normally in abundance and with smart technologies we can make better wood burning appliances that cost a fraction of conventional, heat better while using much less fuel. The Rocket Mass Heater is a fantastic, home-built appliance. Using a rocket stove to burn wood, the super insulated burn chamber pyrolizes the wood at extreme temperatures, creating near perfect combustion, resulting in ultra low to no particulates in the flue gas. The flue gas is then piped through a heated bench, storing the energy to be slowly released into the space to keep it warm for hours or days after the fire is extinguished. A beautiful appliance that can be made of earth and recycled local waste. Appropriate technology. These are design factors that must be considered before building, and will create a much more habitable dwelling.
Urban Homestead.
The last point I wish to touch on is the concept of "renovation proof" homes. Years ago, home renovations only happened if there was a major catastrophe or more space was needed, so an addition was built. Floors were made of wood, fixtures were white, and roofs were wood. Homes would go fifty years with out any renovations or major repairs, because the home worked as a system and the simple fixtures didn't follow trends. In the fifties and sixties it all changed. The affluence of the middle class after World War 2 created a sense of entitlement and modernization. Planned obsolescence was "invented" by manufactures and cheap over-seas labour was discovered. Suddenly, marketers saw the importance of creating trends, to sell more products by altering fashion year after year. Soon a home would look "dated" and the owners would have to "update" to keep up with the Joneses. This had never stopped and homeowners following trends like sheep. I have had to throw incredible amounts of waste in the landfill because of the previous owners desire to do a cheap update to this house and the original builders lack of fore sight. Carpet and asphalt shingles are made of plastic and toxic oil sludge, never to break down in the land fill.
Natural, beautiful, fuel, and local.
Simple, lasting elements in your Zone zero will go a long way into making a resilient shelter that will create happiness and a feeling of home. A well designed dwelling will keep you their, instead of moving every couple years. Your house is more than an "investment", it is a place to have pride and stay grounded. Build community around your site and stay put. If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear them!

(I borrowed most of the images from the internet for this blog. I hope no one gets mad:)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Planting trees from Seed

(This is from a presentation I was asked to do for our local Seed Savers chapter. I have been sitting on this for a few months and it is time to release it. It is tree planting time!)

Apple and Black Locust seedlings. Tap Roots!

Hi I am Blayne Prowse. I am a local family man with a passion for sustainability, and food security. I am sick and tired of eating Round Up, and seeing our resources depleted as an astonishing way. We have so much opportunity as a species to live a complete. right life. Mother Nature can provide all we need, for eternity, if we work with the natural cycles of her. As a Permaculture designer, I have learned how to do just this, wishing to help our species transition to a system of utmost abundance and to break free of the cycles of control leashed upon us by those with the most to gain. Air, water, food, fire and shelter are the five elements that we need to survive, and a wise Permaculture design can create all of these in perpetuity, for generations, if we can break free as a society from the convenience of our normalcy bias. Planting trees from seed are key, in my opinion, to creating these systems. Seeds are less expensive, they can be gleaned for free and make for healthier specimens. We can keep control of our food security by planting perennial systems that only need one time installation and can last for decades with little care and attention. I will explain all this as we carry along.

Deforestation is a huge problem. HUGE. Humans are chopping trees down at a blazing pace. We are scraping the forests away in the boreal regions for tar sands and natural gas extraction, burning down rainforests for palm oil, soy beans and corn, which products are sold as commodity to the processed and fast food industries. Several places in the developing world are destroying the rain forests, which have sustained man for centuries, to grow GMO crops for animal feed in CAFO operations. Still in other areas, such as arid desert regions, the slow growing trees are being removed for cooking fuel. The Wests interference in many African countries have thrown their traditional herdsman lifestyle into one where they rely on conventional cropped annuals, and created a more “in place” lifestyle. The land can’t maintain this type of settlement.

Following along with deforestation we find erosion by wind and rain, stripping once deep fertile topsoil. De-nuded slopes have nothing to hold precipitation. Rain quickly following gravity down slope, creating silted water ways(ring a bell), mud slides, and eventually, without new trees to quickly pioneer the area, will contribute to desertification. Deforestation removes vital habitat for all plants and animals, and often removes bio-diversity. Most re-forestation plans follow a conventional farming model, mono-cultures of the most economically viable crop, that doesn't follow Her plan. Ever wonder why there are pest problems, like pine beetle? That has little to do with climate, and more to do with mono-cultures and un-healthy ecosystems(if you could call it that)

So what can we do? I am in the processes of re-foresting my small lot in Cumberland. A dozen and a half alder trees, two Douglas fir, three nut trees, a couple maples, a dozen fruit trees, 18 nitrogen fixing, food producing trees and bushes as well as many fruiting shrubs and ground covers. A huge diversity of species, stacking time and function into the design. Nitrogen fixing tree, like Black Locust, will support an apple tree, eventually successing out and becoming fire wood, or fence pole material. The nut trees will not have a yield for a decade or more, but the blueberries and huckleberry produce in the first year. This is a design of a food forest. I am not re-foresting in a the native species of my biome, however, I am using the design of Nature to mimic a system that will produce the five elements that humans need to thrive. Add in some mixed annuals a small lot can, in time, produce a huge amount of food, with little need for maintenance and care. Weeding sucks, eat your weeds!

That brings me to my main topic of this talk. Trees from seed. I am no expert at this process, but I have listened to many pod casts on the subject, watched videos on You Tube, as well as taken 2 Permaculture Design certificates, so I feel like I am knowledgeable enough to share some of this information with you.

I have heard over and over again when I tell people about starting trees from seed, especially apples. I cringe every time waiting for the response….”but your not going to know what kind your going to get, it isn't worth it” I am so tired of hearing that. My response it “So what!” Yes, it is true, an apple doesn't prove true to type. A Gravenstein apple seed probably would not grow a graven stein apple tree. I don’t care! One of my mentors, the always out spoken Paul Wheaton, states “20% of apples from seed will be spitters, 20% will be awesome, and 60% will be just fine to eat” Apples have gone the way of every other crop. We have removed diversity from the varieties for conformity and grocery store displays. I would love to see more diversity brought back to the apple world. The best way we can find new, exciting varieties is to grow from seed. Let it happen naturally, and see what appears. In my mind, any apple tree that produces fruit is a keeper. Even if the fruit is not great for eating off the tree, it could make decent preserves, cider, vinegar or animal feed. If nothing else, the fruit makes great food for worms and wild bird in the winter. And if the fruit is that horrible and you would rather make space for more trees, chop the offensive tree down, using it for heating, meat smoking or Huglekulture. The hesitation to grow apple trees from seed needs to disappear. This is basically a free method for producing root stock, to be grafted with known varieties of apples. A tree from seed will send down deep roots, and will produce a tap root, and that is a good thing. Bare root, or root bound potted grafted trees have a root crown that it close to the surface when transplanted. These trees are susceptible to drought, low nutrient accumulation, and less strength in the wind. This fact is true with all trees, not just apples. Since apples are the most widely orchard grow and sprayed fruit tree, these are a great species to get into a more home scale, organic model that all people can produce. Plus the seeds are free! In my opinion, we should be filling parks, parking lots, and other decorative landscapes with edible trees and shrubs, at least with some inclusion of them. Food security issues would quickly drop, and our reliance on mono-cultured conventional, annual grain crops would recede as well.

To start growing trees, first we need seed. I generally pull all the seeds from any organic apple that has plump, healthy looks seeds in the core. I store them in a small open container for a few days so they dry, them move them into a sealed vessel, to avoid a spill. That would be a big mess! I have found apple seeds in very good shape most of the time. Pears are different story. I find most pear seeds to be very small and skinny. I have saved some, and mixed them in with apple seeds, so there could be a few pear trees in the mix, and I am OK with that. My grandpa once grafted pear to apple and created an interesting flavoured pear, so I doesn't really matter.

Cold stratifying is something that has to happen with all tree seeds, from my research. This mimics the natural cycle of the dormant season. Either we can use a fridge or plant the seeds directly outside in the fall. All seeds have various cold chilling times. Apples I stratify for thirty days in the fridge, wrapped in a damp paper towel and stored in a zip lock bag. I did this with the Black Locust seeds as well, after soaking them in hot water for a little while. I am not going into specifics on each seed in this talk, as there is mountains for information in the internet about this topic.

This year I plant in experimenting with more apple seeds, Black Locust, white mulberry, Russian olive, hazelnut, peach, nectarine, and seaberry. Seaberry is a shrub rather then a tree, but it can grow very tall and produces bright orange berries, high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants.

Along with planting trees from seed we can also grow shrubs and some trees by cloning and rooting. Cultivating more and more edible species for free is a tremendous way to slow the issues facing us. It costs basically nothing and can be done by anyone!

I urge you to stop listening to the negative Nellies! I don’t care what kind of tree you plant. I prefer it to have some function for the eco-system, food for us, food for animals, forage for bees or livestock. Regardless put trees in the ground. Your home, your rental, a park, a vacant lot, a beautifully manicure commercial parking lot. Gorilla some trees, its free and it beautiful. Leave a legacy. Get started today! Go do it!

Merino Wool, Permaculture fiber

Cascadia is a beautiful, lush bio-region of North America. More this area is know by the proper names British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. The areas commonalities with climate, geography, flora, fauna, culture and history are all shared, regardless of Nationality. People of Cascadia have more in common with each other than with the folk is the more eastern parts of the our respective countries. There is a more free, liberty mindset here, as well as a general deep connection with the earth, the ocean and the skies. Big trees, snow capped peaks and clean, cold ocean waters border our towns, and that creates a symbiosis with us and the land. One element that is ever present in this climatic zone, and for the most part, all year round, is precipitation. Whether it is rain, snow, fog, or condensation drip, moisture is what allows for the lush bio-diversity of our region. Being an outdoors person, dealing with moisture is the number one factor with being comfortable during our outdoor pursuits.

A number of years ago I was introduced to Merino wool by a friend. I was blown away by the softness of the material, the comfort against the skin, and how light weight the garments were. Never experiencing this before, having always worn rag wool type sweaters for work and play. While warm, and durable, this material is much heavier, bulky, and quite itchy at times. Although this natural material is better than synthetics in breath ability, fire resistance and sustainability, it has nothing to Merino. That introduction was a game changer, and created a passion for the most comfortable clothing I had experienced.

Merino has a wonderful ability to regulate your body temperature. Wearing a t-shirt made from it in the summer when it is 25 degrees or more allows the skin to breathe really well, complimenting your bodies natural ability to self regulate. Merino also has a high SPF rating. Combine these two qualities and you have a perfect garment for summer sports. Hard hikes, bicycle rides, runs, even water sports like SUP and snorkeling all work well with Merino.

Layering systems, such as the one by First Lite, allow for fine tuning of the bodies temperature in the winter time too. Layer up heavy for the early morning as you prepare for the day climbing a peak, or riding a chairlift, then open zippers or remove layers as needed to keep you from over heating. If you do end up perspiring, another key to Merino, like all wool, is its inherit ability to keep you warm, even when wet. Unlike cotton that pulls heat out of your body when it gets wet, Merino maintains the insulating ability when wet. This fact has, in my opinion, saved more than one lost hiker from not making it home alive. The insulating quality of Merino, for the weight, is the number one reason this should make up the bulk of your kit in the outdoors.

Along with being safer in cold temperatures, Merino is also much safer around fire. Wool doesn't burn well. A spark landing on it will not ignite or melt. Synthetics and cotton will ignite rapidly, potentially creating a serious, maybe deadly situation. I find this to be like not wearing a life jacket in a boat. Being around a campfire in anything but wool, aside from maybe thick denim, is not worth the risk.

For the hunter, especially those who choose to stalk their quarry, silence is golden. Merino wool is as quiet as your own skin. It doesn't make a whisper of noise, unlike other outerwear made from nylon, and polyesters. The swishing noise made from those carry great distances in the woods, and are a very un-natural sound to animals. Trying hard to keep your feet quiet while stalking, only to be busted by your arm dragging loudly against a branch.

On the sustainability front, Cascadians are quite conscious of our environmental footprint, nothing beats wool. Sheep are a key species in a holistic grazing system, turning grass into wool, which is made into clothing for humans. Truly renewable, sheep can be sheared season after season, and building topsoil as they graze and manure the range. Cotton, unless organic, is generally all Genetically Modified, and doused in herbicide and pesticide. An annual crop, the tilling of fields destroys soils and allows for erosion. Bamboo, hemp, and silk are also natural materials, and have their strong points, but I feel like Merino can  fill many different niches. Weights of fabrics are variable, from ultra light weight, to heavy weight outer layers. Because it is a natural fiber, Merino is compostable. No need to landfill Merino that is past its useful life. Toss it in the compost, into the attic for insulation, or stuff pillows with it. We have used Merino t- shirts as pillow cases while camping from garments that we no longer favour. Very nice! Plus Merino is safe for our waterways. Increasing awareness of plastic micro-fibers in our water ways is making the rounds on social media. These tiny fibers, largely from the lofty fleeces that outdoors people wear like Polar Fleece, are making their way through waste water treatment facilities and into our lakes, rivers and oceans. Aquatic species are incidentally ingesting these particles and being poisoned. I am certainly not comfortable with anymore plastics being released into our environment.

The one missing link of a Merino wool kit is a waterproof layer. I don’t know of any brand who makes a waterproof wool garment. If there is one, I would be of the assumption that it would be very heavy, an oiled, or waxed wool. This would be incredibly bulky and not breathable. To combat this issue, wearing the most breathable rain wear available is the best choice. My pick would be the First Lite Stormtight pieces. The most breathable on the market, it is made to layer over Merino base and mid-layers to create the perfect system of comfort for the Cascadian region. While First Lite is largely a hunting focused brand, I would venture to say that many other outdoor pursuits would benefit from their wares. Hikers, fisherman, skiers, dog walkers, bird watchers or any other hobby in Cascadia that entails hours outside in the elements would appreciate this system.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


(A series of blog posts on the 5 basic human needs and how we can transition away from our current model of exploitation, extraction, and fossil fuel based systems.)

Water is the element that connects all living beings on the planet. Everything needs water. Water is a beautiful thing, hydrating, cleansing, hypnotic, carrier of energies and nutrient. The trickle sound of a creek or raindrops on a metal roof sending our minds into a peaceful place. As a society our access to clean water is under attack. Corporations wishing to control the one thing that we all need, pollution from farms and factories, mismanagement of the resource by cities, states and countries. These problems have very simple solutions that can be met, only if we the people choose to break free of the system that dictates how we live, and take control of our resource, at a micro-level.

The largest issue to water management is the massive scale that current models use to transport water to areas that are naturally very dry.  Currently, energy used to push water up hill, is the single largest draw on a municipal electrical grid. Millions of gallons of water are needed to keep cities operating, and for high elevation, arid areas. This is a not an appropriate use of energy. As energy gets more expensive, so will the cost of delivering water to these cities, raising taxes and lowering the citizens standard of living. This will eventually cause the decline of said cities, Bad design, bad outcome. Even grid water systems that rely on gravity are not ideal. Often these systems, such as in California, are open air canals that move the water in man made rivers of concrete or earth. Exposed to the sun, evaporation takes place. Because of this, the water becomes higher in minerals, by volume and adds to the salting of irrigated agricultural land. Salted soil quickly becomes inhospitable to plants. This leads to desertified landscapes, unable to support any living creatures.

To reduce the energy consumption in moving water, we need to reduce usage dramatically. Low flow shower heads, toilets, faucets and washing machines designed to use less water are green washing marketing techniques by the manufactures. A ten minute shower is still a ten minute shower, regardless of how much water is used. I believe we need to drastically change our perception and expectations of water, especially in areas that are prone to drought, and where the water must come from pipes hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers away. Flushing clean drinking water down a pipe is absurd. We could encourage the use of composting toilets. Poop, sawdust and time makes soil. Big win for all. There is no reason that our waste can't be turned into a resource. Instead of showering or bathing, a better model would be either sponge bathing, or using natural water ways if available. A living pond in the backyard would be a perfect option for bathing in the warmer months. We are much to concerned with cleanliness in the west. Afraid to smell like a human. I hear of people having multiple showers a day makes me ill. Why?  If you work hard, get sweaty, and dirty, it is very possible to clean well using only a fraction of the water. I have given up using shampoo in my hair, and guess what? My hair doesn't smell! A little soap on my pits and bits, a quick rinse in the shower is all I need. I believe that if we all embraced our humaness, we would be less worried about being so clean all the time.

We have options for gaining control of our own water resources. Rainwater capture is the best one. A proper design, with first flush diverters, wise use of gravity, appropriate roofing materials, and strict conservation, most areas of the world could be water independent. The governments of this planet do not want this to happen however, since that takes away their control of the machine. Many places have rules about rainwater capture, which is ludicrous. Millions of acres of roofing on this planet that could all be transitioned to rainwater capturing systems. The idea of water piped to faucets and toilets on demand needs to be re-thought. Walking outside and filling a vessel with water from your backyard wouldn't be that bad of a thing.

Running rainwater away from the earth it lands on is also leading to desertification and making fragile lands more brittle. De-forestation also contributes to this problem. Rainwater, as well as grey water should be soaked into the soil, to recharge aquifers and allow for proper trans-expiration. Trees are water pumps, sucking water from the soil and releasing it to the air in the dry times. This is natures way of cycling water in a closed loop. Without a balanced lens of water in the soil, the water is sucked from the trees, causing the tree much distress, and can kill the tree. New streets and neighborhoods could be designed on contour with an emphasis on slowing and soaking the rainfall, rather than running it directly to a larger body of water. If rainwater was captured and stored on site, that would greatly reduce the impact on municipal storm water systems, lengthening their lives and cutting cost of utilities improvements. Slowing and soaking rainwater is a wise technique for all farmers as well. The pumping of fossil waters from aquifers will cause major issues with our food security in the future. Farmers using appropriate water smart designs, like Key-Line, no till, mulching, heavy compost, and bio-char can reduce their water input needs immensely.

We are rapidly approaching a time when our resource exploitation can not be ignored any longer. We must transition to a regenerative system to avoid devastating effects of climate shifts, growing police states, income inequality, corporate control of our food and medicine, and a reliance on a debt based economic system that makes financial slaves of us all. Collectively our society has been led on path of lies and destruction, fueled by dis-satisfaction, boredom, addiction, and indoctrination. We can mulch our own way to a future where we all live in abundance, regeneration and simplicity, with smart design and paradigm shifts.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Permaculture Technique #2: Mulching

Fall has come upon us. The weather was stormy and wet for a month, and now a "Polar Vertex" has appeared, bringing forth un-seasonably fridgid temperatures to begin November. With such a mild first half of autumn, the trees were holding tightly to their leaves, gathering the last precious bits of photosynthesis. Once the weather turns colder, and days shorter, the trees give up the fight. They pull the starches created in their leaves via photosynthesis to the root system. Over winter is when the tree concentrates it's energies to seek out underground niches to grow its root mass. With leaves gone, the tree has to expend less energy to fight the forces of nature upon the foliage. Wind exerts a great amount of stress on all trees, the deciduos species have an easier time of it during the dormant seasons.

Now nature teaches us a valuable lesson during the fall season. Leaves from trees falling to the soil are mulch. They create a layer of carbon that is full of nutrient for the microbes in the soil. A layer that holds moisture and covers any bare earth. Bare soil is bad news. Un-covered soil will quickly dry out, be succeptable to erosion and wind drift. Mother Nature always wants the soil to be covered in some medium, either a live or dead one. Permaculture teaches mimicry of Mother Nature and indiginous peoples methods of living with nature, not perpetually battling the systems presented to us. Observing a forest, we see bio-mass accumulation over decades. Natural succession, leaf and fruit drop, wind or fire disturbances, and animal interactions all aid in soil building. Humus is the stuff of life, holding moisture and the microbes for healthy soil.

Mulch can be applied anytime of the year, not just in the fall. I prefer to cover the beds in the fall, as winter will help to decompose the material. The mulch will also stop erosion during winter rains, and snow melt. Water will percolate into the beds under the mulch, and the mulch will help it from evaporating when the sun returns. If you mow a lawn, the grass clippings in the spring work wonders as mulch. Worms love to live in the wet, decomposing, nitrogen rich mass. Wood chips from a tree service, sawdust from your own cord wood harvest, rocks, straw, seaweed, and shredded newspaper all make great non-living mulchs.

Mulch gives a place for seeds to germinate, similar to a reproduction in nature, sprouting in the mulch of the deceased mother plant. Mulch helps the soil warm quicker in the spring and delay hard freeze late in the fall. We love mulch because it can keep pioneer weeds from wanting to colonize bare soil, and smothers grasses and other un-wanted species. Covered soils are more inviting to earthworms too! Underground tillers de-compacting soil, no back breaking labour for us, and they leave valuable castings to feed our plants.

Living mulches are another option for gardeners and farmers alike. Cover crops like white clover, alfalfa, field peas and vetch are wonderful as biomass accumulators and they also fix nitrogen. Seeds of these plants can be broadcast over a bed at various times of the year. Once they established you can remove patches of it and plant starts into it, leaving most of the mass intact. I love buckwheat for a mulch. Buckwheat grows quickly, self-seeds, and is frost killed. The flowers are a favorite forage for bees and other insects. It's leaves are edible, and the foliage makes a great mulch once "chopped and dropped". I also have a high regard for comfrey for a mulch. It is a bio-accumulator, with it's huge tap root that will bring nutrient and minerals up from the sub-soil, accumulating in the leaves. I can then chop those leave several times a season, without harming the plant. Comfrey also has great flowers for bees, and most varieties only spread from root cuttings, not seed. On small sliver of root with grow back as a full plant within a few months during growing season. Chickens love to eat it too. Comfrey is a magic plant!

If you are tired of weeding and watering constantly, look into mulch. People ask me what my number one suggestion is for implementing Permaculture in to their systems, and I always tell them "mulch, mulch, mulch!".

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Early Summer Update

Beautiful Raspberries

Holy cow, where does the time pass! I was just browsing the blog and realized that there were no updates since March 17th. That is far too long for my liking! With the season of camping, fishing, harvesting and preserving upon us, it was time to post something. If I didn't get back to this, the snow would be flying!
Baby apple trees
Black Locust seedlings

Things have been moving along well with the plantings that occurred on my property over the past two seasons. There have been some surprises so far this year including the ease in which I was able to sprout and grow seeds from grocery store apples. Talk about a game changer when it comes to propagating many trees on the cheap. I am out of space for them to find a home in the soil, and get out of pots, so I am going to offer these guys up for anyone who wishes to help my experiment with home grown apple trees. I have about two dozen, so if you are at all interested, let me know! I also have several Black locust, Russian olive, Sea berry and Gogi berries that were started from seed, with a variety of results.
Fuzzy bums
Another surprises has been the appearance of peaches on the tree I planted last spring. Hoping that I placed the young bare root tree in a good micro climate, south facing yard, close to the driveway to help warm the air around it, it would put some good roots down. To our delight, it has fruit on it! About ten little "fuzzy bums" have been slowly growing and we are waiting patiently to feast on them. One of the apple trees I placed in last year also has two apples growing on its limbs. Great surprise, very exciting ones for sure.
June bearing goodness

Wild Blackcap Raspberries
Our strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries are all producing well, while not giving us enough for preserving, plenty of fruit for after dinner snacking. The large, plump, June bearing strawberries are from the ASHberry Farms lineage, so you know they are very good producers and have fantastic fruit.
Zucchini, clover, buckwheat, Heartnut

Heartnut tree
In the back yard, the new installation went smoothly. It started with a fence that was mostly build from poles and drift wood we harvested, with the addition of some 1x4, to keep my pal Marshall out. I wouldn't want him running over my baby trees. I have four beds, all with trees as the main plantings , and have placed support species around them. Three apples, a multi-graft plum, walnut, pecan and heart nut trees round out the list of the over story. All the trees are quite small and will take sometime to produce, but we are doing this for the future, not for instant gratification. With these trees I also have squashes, peas, radishes, herbs, dandelion, plantain, buckwheat, black locust, sunflower, gogi berry, tomato, clovers, comfrey and alder. All of these plantings have multi functions, such as bee forage, shade, bio-mass producer, nitrogen fixers, nutrient accumulators, food, and beauty. Stacking functions is so important in a healthy eco-system. We even used some creative driftwood placement for a predator safe bird feeder. Right now it has a hummingbird feeder, and in the winter we will change to a seed feeder. Bringing in nitrogen and pest control, plus the volunteers that come with the seed spread.
Zucchini and Buckwheat

Dinosaur head bird feeder
I put in my first rain barrel this spring. I have been wanting to buy one for years, several in fact. Upon pricing them, I decided that building one would be much more affordable, and cool as well. A quick chat with a pal at a plumbing wholesaler, I had the parts I needed for $20, and a 20 gallon trash can from Canadian Tire on sale for $10. I wished the can was a little bigger, and my next one will be at least 30 gallon, but it is a start, and has been wonderful for watering things on the deck. I have ideas for a small fish pond, fed by the over flow. I just didn't get it together this year. Had the tank set up, but it grew bugs. I deleted it for now, and will revisit in the spring again.
Home built rain barrel
I continue to "chop and drop" every chance I get. Comfrey is everywhere in my yard, it is such a great bio-mass producer, that accumulates nutrient from the sub-soil and makes bees very happy. It is also a food source for us and livestock(with caution) I love this plant. I would encourage all to have a few around. It makes an especially good "chop and drop" plant, breaking down quickly and creating a wonderful mulch. I am also "chop and dropping" dandelion, vetch, horsetail, and creeping buttercup. Yes I have to weed, but it does not concern me to the degree that I did in the past, knowing that these plants are giving me signs about how to make my gardens better, and are doing it for me.
Bee foraging in Comfrey flowers

Four days after "chop and drop" Comfrey
One more exciting bit of info. I have signed up for another Permaculture Design Certificate course starting soon. It is the initial fundraising venture for a Permaculture Farm in West Virginia. PermaEthos is the over seeing company, and I am one of the 1000 founding members in this course. It will be filmed in a new way, on the ground, not in a class room, as the farm is being established. I am looking forward to this and the possibilities it holds. I am also pondering the idea of a market garden on some leased land. I think that I have a spot for this. I am hoping to raise some laying hens, meat chickens, and various vegetables. Hopefully there will be interest in this type of thing, Permaculture food is the best type, bar none!
Second year Blueberry

Abundance of Kale
Thanks for reading this post. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me anytime.