An update on our grass alternative beds
EcoHouse is getting greener — four shades greener to be exact! Last summer we established four small test plots for different types of lawn alternatives, right in our own front yard. We wanted to understand the benefits of each type firsthand, and be able to show visitors exactly how each would turn out. This has been an exciting project right from the get-go. There was much debate amongst staff and board as to which alternatives we should choose, and the four finalists that made it into the exhibit were: Continue reading
This week, we updated the green roof demo at EcoHouse with some Sedums! A green roof or living roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. Green roofs are a beautiful and cost-efficient way to conserve energy, manage storm water, and insulate a building. Continue reading
Every now and again things happen unexpectedly that can provide surprise opportunities for environmentalism in daily life.
This lesson was quickly learned by Green Venture’s Garden Coordinator Julia Shulist when preparing to launch the Riverdale Community Garden Project. Peeking out of a large mound of soil were tiny turtle eggs! Being the environmentally conscious and animal loving type of person she is, all work was stopped until Julia could figure out what to do with these little guys. Through contacting the Ministry of Natural Resources we were pointed to a volunteer based, non-profit animal rescue in our area that focuses on native Ontario Wildlife that had recently added Snapping Turtles to their list of animals eligible to be assisted! Continue reading
Empowering Riverdale’s Food Security was Green Venture’s latest project to integrate education, health, recreation and the environment.
Funded by the Community Foundation, this project included a series of nine cooking classes delivered over six weeks that paired local food, agriculture and gardening themed recipes and activities.
Green Venture staff initially experienced frustration locating a suitable space for holding these classes. This challenge ended up leading Green Venture to a fantastic opportunity: a first-time collaboration with the City of Hamilton’s Riverdale Community Centre afterschool program.
The after school program and cooking classes were open to children ages five to twelve living in the Riverdale Community. Thirty children, representing the neighbourhood’s rich cultural diversity (including newcomers), registered for the hands on program.
Through handling, preparing and tasting fresh whole foods, the children explored and learned about the food system and how their choices can make positive or negative impacts. They explored how and where their favorite fruits and vegetables grow (local vs. imports), identifying processed or un/less processed foods, food packaging and waste reduction, vegetarian “superfoods” (i.e.: Meatless Mondays), and the power of food celebrations.
These children learned that making simple delicious fun recipes at home with their families really could strengthen food security in their community while improving the health of their environment and their growing bodies. At the end of the six weeks, each child participated in a mock farmers’ market where they picked out all the fresh ingredients needed to make one of their favourite recipes, cheese and veggie quesadillas. The children were all challenged to apply what they learned by taking the ingredients home and preparing a meal with their families.
It was inspiring to see children build confidence, work as a team and even demonstrate leadership through food. Equally as impressive was seeing them make proactive choices about the types of recipes they wanted to make and eat.
We asked the participants to tell us about what they learned from the program. Here is what a few of them had to say.
The best ingredients Green Venture used was:
“orange pepper” – Shyanne, 6
“tortilla bread” – Nora, 10
“tomatoes” – Shenika, 11
“peanut butter” – Justin, 9 (we used natural PB; no additives)
I learned this about food and the environment:
“you should eat healthy and fresh” – Nora, 10
“[not to eat] processed foods” – Shenika, 11
“unprocessed food isn’t always healthier [for the environment]” in reference to local vs. imported fresh foods – Ronald, 10
The recipe I will try to make at home:
“Kale chips” – Nora, 10
“Fresh Fruit Salsa” – Rami, 11
“Peanut butter-banana spirals” – Shyanne, 6
“Lemonade” – Hailina, 10 (freshly squeezed)
Green Venture would like to thank the Conserver Society, our sponsoring partner, for helping to bring this project to life. And we would also like to recognize the dedication of two high school volunteers from the Riverdale Community that demonstrated a special level of care and dedication to every cooking class.
Written by Sapphire Singh & Virginia Stonehouse
Green Venture recently purchased an Aqua Farm. This is an aquarium-sized version of aquaponics. Fish are kept in large tanks and plants are kept in beds above the water with some rocks, gravel, or clay and their roots hang below into the water in the tank. The water is cycled through the system collecting waste from the fish, is then pumped into the plant beds where it is filtered naturally by the plants and it can then be returned to the fish tanks. We wanted to test out this cool new idea on a small scale. We bought ours at a local aquarium supply store. We are currently keeping the aquafarm in the reception area at the EcoHouse. It’s doing well so far and the plants are growing pretty fast. Using the aquafarm ensures healthy plants, healthy fish and a clean tank.
How Does The AquaFarm Work?
The fish produce ammonia-rich waste which is pumped up to the grow bed. Beneficial bacteria convert waste into nitrates which are toxic to the fish but make great food for the plants. The plants use nitrates as nutrients they need in order to grow, while simultaneously cleaning the water for your fish.
Aquaponics was developed by the Aztecs in c.1000 A.D. They built floating islands for food plants while fish proliferate around the islands while leaving waste on the lake bottom where it was collected to fertilize the plants. fish are kept in large tanks and plants are kept in beds above the water with some rocks, gravel, or clay and their roots hang below into the water in the tank. The water is cycled through the system collecting waste from the fish, and is then pumped into the plant beds where it is filtered naturally by the plants and it can then be returned to the fish tanks.
We called our first two fish in the aqua farm after the Veevers brothers who donated the property to the City of Hamilton in 1986. Please welcome “Bert” and “Ron”.
Start Climate Change awareness at the home! That is what the Green Cottage in Hamilton has done, this house has many ecofriendly features, which helps eliminate its lasting effects on the climate. The house, located in the north end of Hamilton by the harbour, was originally built in 1885 with many similar houses surrounding it, but since then it has had some major renovations, and although the house does not look much different than the ones surrounding it the Green Cottage is unlike any home in Hamilton.
Starting on the outside the house is trimmed with salvaged wood, reclaimed wood helps eliminate the process of manufacturing and saves a few trees from being cut down in the process. The house is also insulated on the outside, this is called Exsulation, which provides more thermal heating for the house, eliminating most of the use of furnaces. The roof is also adorned with many solar panels and solar water heaters. Up to 30% of new greenhouse gases around the globe are contributed by non-renewable energy, and using solar energy as an alternative helps to decrease that number and the impacts of climate change.
On the inside the house is NOT equipped with a clothing dryer, air conditioner, stove, refrigerator or microwave! With the house lacking these amenities they are not sucking out energy for appliances that are not essential for everyday needs. The Green Cottage has significantly reduced its energy use, and has set a very high standard for energy conservation.
The house is also surround by a vigorous and beautiful garden. The garden creates green space in a mostly asphalt ridden area, and the plants not only look great but they are absorbing carbon dioxide and eliminating that from out atmosphere. The Green Cottage has gone above and beyond to eliminate their negative effects on climate change and the environment in general. This house is not only proof that you can take an old home and make environmental improvements, but it also demonstrates the many changes you can make a home level.
Written by: Brittney Massey
Canning and preserving has been around for centuries, and for good reason to. Canning is a simple and effective method for preserving your food and making it last for up to YEARS longer. Some preserved items have even been able to last for up to 30 years after it has been pick, such as canned freeze dried lentils, which were still edible 30 years later. So why not extend the life of your food with these simple canning and preserving tips.
The most common technique for canning is called water bathing, this is best used for high-acid foods such as fruits, pickled produce, or salsa. Canning works by applying heat to food in a closed glass jar to prolong the life of the food and put the natural spoilage at bay, while also removing all of the air to create a seal.
You will need:
- A large deep pot with the lid (the pot has to be large enough to be able to fully immerse the jars with one or two inches of water covering on top)
- A Rack that fits into your pot (you need a rack so that your cans do not directly touch the bottom of the pot and so water can circulate around the jars, you can make your own rack with aluminum foil but twisting the foil to create 8 long tubes, use three of the tubes to form a circle then the other 5 to create a grate like pattern in the center of the circle)
- Glass jars (sterilized), lids and bands (preferably new ones)
- Ladle and funnel
- Jar lifter (if you do not have one wrap rubber bands around the clamps of a tong)
- Towels and pot holders
- And the prepared product that you will be canning. Be aware that when you are preparing your ingredients before canning the freshest, tastiest product will preserve the best, do not use any products that are near their spoiling point.
Step 1: Check your jars, lids and seals for any cracks or dents, if the jars cannot fully seal they will not preserve.
Step 2: Keep your jars and seals warm, you can do this in one of two ways. You can keep your jars and seals warm in the dishwasher by using them shortly after they have run through the dishwasher cycle. The second option is to keep your jars and seals in a warm sauce pot while the water in the pot is at a simmer, leave them in until you are ready to use them. Your lids can stay at room temperature.
Step 3: Be aware of and use the suggested head space, and time frame for preserving your product on the recipe you prepared it from.
Step 4: Using your funnel fill the warm jars with your item that is going to be canned, again leaving the recommended amount of head space at the top of the can. Make sure there are no air bubbles throughout your food, you can do this by running a plastic ladle around the inside of your jars. With a damp towel wipe down the opening of the jar to free it of any mess. Place the seal on top and firmly screw the lid onto the jar, make sure the lid is tight but not so tight that it cannot be opened in the future.
Step 5: Place your rack at the bottom of your large deep pot and fill it half way up with water. Cover the pot with your lid then bring and maintain your water at a full boil.
Step 6: Gently lower your jars into the pot of hot water, make sure your rack is secure and your jars are not touching the bottom of the pot, or each other. You want the boiling water to be able to flow freely around the jars. Add more hot water if you do not have enough in the pot. Your jars all need to be immersed into the water with two inches of water over top.
Step 7: Begin timing your jars as the instructions for your recipe requires. Continuously check during the duration to ensure that your water is maintaining a boil.
Step 8: Once the time is up turn down the water fully and let the jars sit in the pot for 5 minutes before carefully taking each jar out of the water. If you have a jar lifter use them to take the jars out one at a time. If not you can use your homemade jar lifter with tongs wrapped in elastic bands. Set the jars on a thick towel or wooden cutting board to cool down.
Step 9: Give your jars 12-24 hours to cool down and fully seal up. During this time you will hear the lids making popping noises as they pull down the seals. Be careful not to push down the seals yourself as you let them cool, let them be pulled down and sealed naturally by the jars.
Step 10: After you have left the jars to cool for a sufficient amount of time you can now test the seals by pushing on the top of the jars. They should not be able to make that signature clicking noise, and if a jar has not pulled the seal down yet then the jar did not seal properly. For any jars that do not have their seal pulled down put them in your fridge and eat within a few days, the food is still good and edible, but it will not be preserved.
Step 11: Rinse off the jar, and make sure to label it with the type of food and date of canning before storing it.
Step 12: Enjoy your preserves many different times throughout your future!
Although canning may be the most popular it is not the only preserving technique. You can also dry your fruits and vegetables. Many different fruits and vegetables can be dried out, some that are best are fruits with high sugar and low moisture content, root vegetables, peppers, peas or shelled beans.
Step 1: Prepare food as needed, either mash into a pulp, finely chop, or string.
- Peaches and like fruits work well when being turned into a leather. This is done by mashing the peaches up into a pulp (it is best to use extremely ripe peaches). Then take the pulp and spread it out onto a clean surface (preferably one where the peaches can stay for a period of time and can be peeled off of, such as a cooking sheet with wax paper), the pulp should be spread out to 1/4 inch thick.
- Other fruits and vegetables cans be finely chopped or cubed then spread across a cheesecloth over a hard surface, with an additional cheesecloth on top, (stir occasionally).
- Other items can be tied up and strung out along a piece of string, such as peppers or peas. Simply tie up one end of the item along a string with a decent amount of space in-between each item.
Step 2: After preparation leave items out to dry in a warm, sun filled area, some items can take up to a few days to dry (the chopped items typically take longer than the other two methods).
Step 3: Once the items are dry it is very important to keep them dry, if the newly dried fruits and vegetables become even slightly damp once again they will rapidly spoil. It is best to store the dried produce in an air tight container to ensure it will stay dry. When storing remember to label the items with names and dates on them.
The process of drying is as simple as prepping and leaving out to dry! The fruits and vegetables will preserve for a long period of time, if stored properly. Also when an item is dried it retains a lot more of its nutritional value in comparison to if the item is canned, allowing you to enjoy fruits and vegetables off season.
Go out and pick up some fresh local produce today from a Farmers Market, local farm or your very own backyard and preserve it while it has reached its peak during the growing season. Preserving can be completed in multiple ways to help ensure that you can enjoy your produce at any time during the year.
Written By: Brittney Massey
Doing chores in your garden during the fall is a very important process to a modern day gardener. Not a lot of people are aware of how important it is. Doing certain tasks will benefit your gardens future. These simple chores with help promote growth, keep your garden more organized and will make it a lot easier when spring hits.
A good task to do when working on your garden in the fall is to divide all of your overgrown plants. It is always important to do your research before dividing plants to ensure that it is okay to divide. Examples of some plants that are good to divide are daylilies, blue fescue and ornamental grasses. This cleans up the garden and also saves you money because you are able to put the new plants in other gardens. The best way to do this is to loosen up the soil around the plant with a shovel, getting the whole plant out of the soil with the roots and all. Try to avoid harming the root system when doing this. Once your plant is removed from the garden, you can take two pitch (garden) forks back to back in the center of the plant. Make sure they are as far into the soil and plant as they can be. You then pull them apart by keeping the pitch forks in the soil and keeping one handle in your left hand and the other in your right, then by pulling both handles apart, keeping the fork ends in the plants center. You now have two plants and are able to place them in the gardens.
Another important chore to do in the fall is to cut back your perennials. It is good to do this before winter hits because the foliage begins to die anyway and will look cleaner. This will be able to help promote growth for the spring. When cutting back your perennials, be sure to discard diseased leaves or leaves that seem to have a “rotting” appearance. When discarding the leaves, it ensures that they are not near any other plants. This avoids the potential of diseasing other plants. Cut back the perennials as low as you can with hand shears. Be sure the shears are clean and sharp.
A typical chore to do at the end of the season is to keep up with your raking. Raking the fallen leaves in and around your garden is important to do before the winter comes. The leaves can suffocate your lawn when snow begins to fall. When the leaves don’t exist, it helps the water get through and into the root system. Some people use their leaves as mulch. This can be done by shredding the leaves and placing them evenly throughout your garden.
If you want to have beautiful flowers in the spring, another chore to do is to plant spring flowering bulbs. By doing this, the bulbs will have time to grow and start to come out of the ground and flower in the spring. A few types of these bulbs would be Tulips, Daffodils and crocus. Be sure to find out how deep you need to plant these bulbs. Different types of bulbs, need to be certain depths to come out at the right time.
An option for you to do in the fall is to help protect your young trees and shrubs from the harsh winter. You have the option of wrapping the young trees and shrubs in burlap wrap. You can get these supplies at your local garden centers. Just be sure to take them off as soon as spring hits. You don’t want to keep them on for too long, because they may start to decrease growth.
Written By: Stacey Almas (Ecohouse Summer Green Gardener)
Along the pH Scale (which ranges from 1-14) acidic soil is when your soil is ranked below a 7 and a rating of 7 is the ideal pH level for your plants to succeed in. Certain plants will thrive in an acidic garden because when a garden is acidic that means that the phosphorus in the soil (a macro-nutrient all plants need to survive), is able to dissolve into the water in the soil and therefore be soaked up directly by the plants roots.
You can do a simple at home test to see if your soil is acidic or alkaline.
- Take two containers and fill them half way with soil from your garden.
- Put in half a cup of vinegar into the first container, if the soil begins to react and bubble or fizz then it is alkaline.
- In the second container put in half a cup of water into your soil and mix it up to make a muddy paste. Then add in half a cup of baking soda into the mix, if it reacts with bubbling or fizzing then this means that your soil is acidic.
(You only need to complete step 3 if there is no reaction with step 2).
You can also purchase a simple at home soil testing kit at your local hardware store if you want more precise results.
There are three major causes for your soil to become more acidic. The first reason is due to the breakdown of the organic material within your soil, certain materials leach more acid into the soils, such as pine trees or peat. The second reason could be a result of heavy rainfalls or over watering. This could cause certain nutrients such as calcium, potassium or magnesium to be washed out of the soil, and they are responsible for bringing the acidic levels down in soil. The last reason, which is very easy to avoid, is the use of high-nitrogen synthetic fertilizers in your garden.
Although acidic soils can be beneficial, if your gardens acid level is too high there will be negative effects to your garden. Some symptoms of the acid levels being too high in your garden are a higher level of weeds growing, discolored leaves, lack of fruits or vegetables being produced and an overall lower production of crops within your garden. This is a result of shallow roots which are caused by highly acidic soils. A solution to correct acidic soils it to add wood ash or lime evenly throughout your gardens soil.
There are certain plants that prefer acidic soils such as any type of fern or hydrangeas (whose flowers change colour depending on the acid level in the soil). Some vegetables and fruit that also prefer acidic soils are radishes, peppers, potatoes, rhubarb, blueberries and cranberries. As well there are some fruits and vegetables that are able to adapt to acidic soils such as beans, cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, apples, grapes, raspberries and strawberries.
Test out your soil and adapt how to plant and garden to your soils needs.
Written By: Stacey Almas
There’s been a lot of concern and interest in climate change in the City of Hamilton lately with the development of a Community Climate Change Action Plan. Increasing the amount of green space and the number of trees in a dense city area helps to mitigate climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and use this in the process of photosynthesis to grow big and tall! Trees absorbing carbon dioxide is beneficial and planting trees is a very practical approach to combating climate change.
Around the north east end, the Hamilton Industrial Environmental Association (HIEA) has been committed to planting over 120 trees including Maple, Serviceberry, Kentucky Coffeetree, Katsura and more in various locations including:
- St. Christopher’s Park
- RT Steele Park
- Andrew Warburton Memorial Park
- Lake Avenue Park
HIEA is dedicated to improving our local environment. The actions of HIEA will help to lessen the effects of climate change as the trees continue to absorb the carbon dioxide, which they then convert and store in the form of wood. Planting younger trees is also beneficial as they begin to absorb the carbon dioxide at an exponential rate while they begin to grow. Planting trees is a great way to mitigate climate change as they absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and having less greenhouse gases in the atmosphere slows down climate change. This is why it is important not only to plant new trees but to also protect the trees we already have.
Written by: Brittney Massey