Seedlings

Starting garden plants from seed is such a great way to get into the gardening mindset. The old Vriends organic market stall (now August Organics) at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market used to hand out these calendars that had a seeding chart at the back.

Representing 40-odd years of Edmonton organic gardening wisdom, the chart indicates when to start which seeds for best results in Edmonton’s short growing season.

This year I remembered that February 25th is the first date on that chart. It indicates that onions, leeks and herbs should be planted indoors for later transplanting.

So a couple of weeks ago I planted, and the results are getting me all jazzed up for gardening.

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I planted oregano, basil, marjoram and dill.

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Onion sprouts.

I hope to get 200 yellow onions into the ground this year for storage over winter.

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The vendors at the farmers’ market still have leeks from last summer, so they must also store well. I’ll figure that out later. In the meantime, I started up 200 leek seedlings as well.

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Can’t wait for the big thaw.

Deconstructing Houses

A question from this comment thread:

Hi there Conrad, I am in the early stages of my Environmental Design (architecture, interior environments, landscape architecture, city planning) degree and I happen to be writing a paper on your project for an ecology class...so I have been reading all about it and I am quite inspired! So much so that just emailed a green design/builder to ask about summer employment :)

I have some questions about demolition. (I have no idea about this stuff yet, but it is the sort of thing I plan to do in practice eventually.) I know you salvaged a lot of stuff from the old house, and I see that it took you a huge amount of time, but I am wondering if more was possible? Not as a criticism, but as a query about just how much potential there is in demolition projects.

In an ideal situation where time/labour/cost were not issues, could this entire house have been salvaged with close to zero waste? Is there reuse/recycle potential in insulation, drywall or plaster, linoleum, nails, siding, window frames,shingles, fascia, soffits, etc.? And I'm even talking stuff that's not necessarily in a condition to just shine up and reuse/reinstall. I'm talking about stuff that may be damaged or completely outdated...is there any productive way at all to prevent these from going to the landfill?

My Answer:

Hi Jolene,

Thanks! More could have been reused and recycled.

The studs in the walls were the most valuable things left when the house was demolished. They could all have been removed and reused by a conscientious framer as lumber. I have envisioned some kind of hydraulic device that could pop walls off of the floor by applying pressure after being jammed between two walls. Or, someone hardier than me could do the job with a sledge hammer.

Old shingles are worthless. They are semi-decomposed asphalt. No value whatsoever that I know of.

We reused all of the windows, and the window frames could have been harvested as above for their lumber.

I believe that drywall scraps do get recycled in Edmonton. Plaster, not so much.

Linoleum is glued on, so it is impossible to remove without ripping it. Plus, there are some very cheap linos out there. Once they've had 20 years of use, they are truly degraded and worthless.

Nails can usually be saved, but the labour to do it is enormous. First you pull the nail out with a crowbar (no small feat), then you need to straighten it. Plus, carpenters don't use hammers and nails anymore! They nail use nail guns, staplers or screw drivers.

Vinyl siding is pretty much worthless garbage once it is removed. I guess if you took it off carefully, and you were willing to put faded siding on some building (a garage?), and there was enough to cover the whole building (you want the same colour on every outer wall, right?), you might find a use for it. If the building wasn’t there though, where would you store the siding in the meantime?

Insulation bats can definitely be reused. Same with the wood chip insulation that was in our attic and walls. The catch is again labour - this would take hours and hours, and then where exactly do you reuse it? I guess as garden mulch.

All of the huge (10 inches high) beautiful solid fir baseboards in our house were painted white. The effort to remove the paint would have been enormous. Plus, some of the baseboards got damaged  while they were being removed. I saved them all, but in the end we had no use for them.

The foundation bricks could have almost all been salvaged (with a huge labour input, I guess). However, the chimney bricks were crumbling due to the temperature fluctuations that they endure. I guess they could have been crushed for use as gravel (aggregate).

The house that I deconstructed was built before asbestos, but there is a huge number of buildings that are full of the stuff.

Conclusion

I hope that I didn’t ramble too much.

In conclusion, besides everything that did get saved, more of the house could have been saved.

These materials could have been saved:

  1. Wood framing and ship lath wood (the latter for firewood).
  2. Wood chip insulation.
  3. Nails.
  4. Some of the PVC drainpipe.

These materials would have been virtually impossible to save;

  1. Plaster (there was and enormous amount in the house).
  2. Linoleum or other plastic fixtures.
  3. Asphalt roofing.
  4. Drywall (for recycling, the drywall needs to be clean, without paint).
  5. Painted wood (like baseboards).
  6. Rotted carpet.

Luckily, the easiest houses from which to salvage building materials are the oldest (and most energy-innefficient) ones. They have the least amount of asbestos, plastics, vinyls and glues in them, and they have higher quality, usually better-finished wood in them.

Apache Seeds

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Apache Seeds Ltd., 10136 - 149 Street, Edmonton, AB

Seeds for food-bearing plants are one of our most precious assets. Bred and tested over the ten thousand years that humanity has been farming, the seeds that we propagate today produce miraculous amounts and varieties of foods. There are entities and organizations in Canada that research and protect these treasures, but we could be doing much more. Specifically, I would like to see Alberta fund a university research centre to further research and preserve knowledge in the area of cold-climate agriculture and gardening. I think that they have a strong program like I’ve described at the University of Saskatchewan (to be honest, we could have something like that in Alberta that I’ve never heard of. Please comment if you can enlighten me).

We do have a burgeoning culture emerging around the issue of seeds. Edmonton’s annual Seedy Sunday event (for those “interested in plant biodiversity, heritage gardening, organic gardening, and seeds”) is happening this year at Alberta Avenue Community Hall (9210 118 Ave NW) on Sunday March 20, 2011 from 11-4.

And we have a local institution, Apache Seeds, Ltd. I went there today since it’s time to plant onions indoors. There’s no other place that I know of that carries garden seeds at this time of year (especially not unusual ones like onion seeds) .

As the old-timey sign implies, Apache Seeds is a long-time Edmonton company. I don’t know much about its history, but its reputation suggests that it is THE place to go if you need anything beyond your run-of-the-mill tomato and corn seeds.

I wasn’t disappointed. Apache has hundreds of different kinds of seed packets from at least seven or eight different companies. They have heirloom and organic seeds. Bulk seeds. Even grass seed (including drought-tolerant grass seed, which I have had problems finding I the past).

I had four or five kinds of onion and leek seeds to choose from, plus I picked up some eggplant and pepper seeds.

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A Net Zero Energy Year : Jan 15, 2011 - Jan 31, 2011

During the last half of January, the MCNZH consumed a whopping 957 kWh and produced a measly 121 kWh.

Here’s were we are so far on the year (starting October 18, 2010):

Consumption

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Electricity Consumption, MCNZH, Oct 18 2010 - Jan 31 2010

We've consumed 4943 out of an estimated 8000 kWh.

Production

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Electricity Production, MCNZH, Oct 18 2010 - Jan 31 2010

We've produced 845 out of an estimated 8000 kWh.

And here is how much of the year we have left:

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Blue is how much of year has passed (Oct 18, 2010 – Jan 31, 2011).

105 days have passed. The warmest and sunniest days are ahead!