Tuesday, 15 November 2011

vermicomposting and sustainability demonstrations

We are excited to have received a grant through the AMS Sustainability Fund and are in the process of planning a vermicompost demonstration next to our current three-bin composter, as well as a structure to cover the compost and bees.  We are hoping to include in this design a rain catchment system and solar panels...  The process will take some time but we are excited at the potential for this site to act as a sustainability demonstration site.

Aren't these cherry and maple leaves gorgeous?!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

women farmers feed the world

As we enter the Season of Night, here in Vancouver, many other parts of the world are entering their harvest season.  We will have less activities in our own garden to report on and in turn will be sharing articles and other initiatives surrounding urban agriculture, agroecological practices, and garden-based learning.

Click here http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/women-farmers-feed-the-world to read an excellent article from Yes! Magazine on the struggles of growing food in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Following the failure of the Green Revolution in Latin America and Asia, many small-scale West African farmers (predominantly women) are skeptical of similar initiatives planned for their land.  The Green Revolution is proposed as a solution to food security in a climate where several months of the year endure the "Season of Hunger".  But many farmers reject the chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and genetically modified seeds that encompass the Green Revolution project.  The West African female farmers in this article prefer to work with the land they are given, using indigenous and agroecological knowledge of the appropriate plants and practices to use.  "Food Sovereignty" is another term explored in this article, and while we Vancouverites are incredibly fortunate to live in a land of ample rain and easy access to food, the concept of being independent of large agricultural corporations is important for us to consider.  Being self-reliant on our own contextual farming/gardening practices can be enormously empowering.

Julia also reminded me that our Orchard Garden team is largely comprised of young women- here's a token of gratitude for all the women farmers of the world.  Hope you enjoy the article!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Apple Preserving Workshop

It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man.
-Henry David Thoreau

With ever-darkening days full of cold rain, it was especially cozy to spend yesterday evening amidst the warm smells of apples, cinnamon & cardamom.  Leanna led an excellent workshop on three ways to preserve the iconic bounty of fall:  Apples.

Workshop participants chopped local honeycrisp apples to make a cardamom apple compote (recipe to follow), as well as made apple jelly from local cider and canned homemade apple butter.

Unfortunately the lack of evening light meant that the workshop had to be held indoors, and as such, this is a disclaimer as to the lack of vibrancy in the photos here...
But, the lively conversation and warm cooking smells made up for the 'indoor-ness' of the evening.

Participants discussed the value of food preservation in light of food security issues and also the importance of following food safety regulations when canning.

All participants took home a jar of their choice of apple compote, apple jelly, or apple butter.  When properly sealed, these delicious condiments will keep for up to a year!...  thereby extending the bright flavors of fall into the dark days of winter.

This workshop is the culmination of our 2011 series.  We are busy planning upcoming workshops beginning in February.  Stay warm and stay tuned!

Apple Cardamom Compote  
(from an old Orchard Garden recipe)

7-8 medium apples, chopped into cubes
1/2 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 kg demerara sugar
1/4 (or less depending on taste preference) cardamom
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. ginger, minced
dash of rum
250ml canning jars

Put apples, water, & lemon juice and 1/2 kg. sugar in a large pot.  Simmer until apples soften.  Add remaining sugar, cook for 10-20 minutes more.  Add spices & dash of rum; simmer for 5-10 minutes more.  Pour warm jam into clean, sterilized jam jars & seal them.  In a large pot, process jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Let sit for 24 hours.  Will keep for 1 year if properly sealed.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Putting the garden to bed: cultivating healthy soil

This past Thursday the garden hosted our second seasonal workshop in the Field School series.   This one focused on the idea of becoming "soil farmers" through the planting of cover crops, organic composting and mulching.  As we acknowledge that gardens represent cycles and systems we come to understand that  although we are approaching the 'end' of this season's harvest, we are simultaneously planning for next spring's planting.

The workshop began with a discussion on healthy soils: emphasizing a balanced makeup of 24% air, 25% water, 45% minerals, 3-5% organic matter, and 1% living organisms.  Fertile garden soil should have the texture of couscous- feeling light and fluffy (with air spaces for roots to penetrate), and be able to retain and drain water.  It is important to note that organic gardening practices seek to cultivate and maintain a diversity of beneficial bacteria, fungi and insects within the soil food web.

Participants explored the garden to identify plants that would overwinter (such as kale) and those annuals that can be pulled and used as green mulch or compost.

Garden beds were weeded and aerated, in preparation for planting garlic.

Hard-neck and soft-neck varieties of garlic are planted in the late fall and harvested the following August.

Eric gave us a comprehensive demonstration on composting, reinforcing the need to balance carbon and nitrogen inputs (through woody & green materials) and generate heat to facilitate the decomposition process.  It is important to note that healthy compost should not smell bad (indicating anaerobic bacteria), but instead should have a sweet, earthy smell (indicating appropriate amounts of oxygen and the presence of beneficial bacteria).  We have a three-bin system which enables us to move compost through three different stages of decomposition and incorporate kitchen scraps from the Agora Cafe.

Participants also cleared garden beds of summer radishes, reserving the greens for green mulching which was finished with a thick blanket of dried leaves from across campus.

This rich mulch prevents weeds, maintains soil moisture, and helps to retain existing nutrients that would otherwise be leached during the rainy season.  The leaves will break down over the winter and be incorporated as organic matter prior to planting in the spring.

Thanks to everyone who made these first few workshops a success!  We look forward to tomorrow's Apple Preserving Workshop as the final workshop for 2011.  We are busy planning future learning opportunities starting in January.  Stay tuned!