Solar Retrofit Part 8: Winter performance

Today (Saturday November 20th) was the first sunny day in a while.  While cleaning up the breakfast dishes I was not surprised to hear the solar pump start.  When I checked I found that my solar tank was down to 20 degrees C, the solar collectors were at 29 degrees C and the outside temperature was minus 17 degrees C.  What did surprise me was that when I left the house to run some errands (around 10:40 AM) I found the collectors were still partially covered in snow! 

Snow covered collectors: Partially obscured flat plate collectors

Snow covered collectors

This mean that my collectors managed to get a 45 degree C differential to the ambient temperature even while partially obscured.  How great is that?

Extending The Season

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Swiss Chard Harvested in Edmonton on November 15, 2010

I enjoyed the book Four-season Harvest a few years back. The author is from a mild-weathered state in the U.S. (I can’t recall it right now), and he has enjoyed tremendous success in extending the harvesting season (not the growing season, mind you) throughout their mild winter. While Edmonton will never be accused of having a mild winter, we can extend our harvest so that it at least touches all four seasons.

There are a few vegetables that are perfect for growing in Northern Alberta. Of that group, my favourite is probably Swiss Chard. This leafy green, found at or near the top of every “most nutritious vegetable” list, thrives in all mild weather. Plus 30 out? No problem, harvest some chard for a mid-summer salad. Hard frost last night? Not an issue, blanch chard leaves and drench in sesame oil and soy sauce for a tasty side dish.

Chard can first be harvested around July 1st. I harvested my last bundle two days ago on November 15. That’s 4.5 months of as much chard as we wanted – it virtually never goes to seed and it requires little water to get the job done.

I did resort to some of the tricks that I learned from my parents and from the aforementioned book. I covered the chard before our first snowfall on October 25:

IMG_3567 (Small)

Think there’s nothing edible in this garden? Think again.

That evening I needed to throw some chard in a soup that I was making:

IMG_3572 (Small)

Swiss Chard is a super-hardy, cold tolerant miracle!!! *raises hands to the sky*

Even though the temperature has been dropping below –5 Celsius most nights recently,  the leafy goodness remained until today, at which point the entire patch is finally frozen solid.

A cold-hardy vegetable isn’t actually growing when it’s freezing every night. Instead, it is being perfectly stored. In its natural environment, with its roots in the ground, the veggie will taste 100% fresh once harvested.

With the use of cold frames in the spring, there is a lot of potential for the harvesting of fresh vegetables much longer than it may seem possible. If cold frame-grown lettuce is ready to eat in April (is this realistic? I  haven’t tried it yet), and tarp-covered chard ready until the middle of November, Edmontonians can eat local, fresh, organic, free vegetables for almost eight months a year!

Cloudless Daytime Skies are Blue. Really.

Editor's Note: Myles Kitagawa's personal blog can be found at

According to a recent Pew Charitable Trust survey, 59% of people do not believe that 97% of scientists agree that anthropogenic climate change is real. Their perception is that the ratio of scientists who confirm climate change to those who deny it is in the range of 50-50.

At a recent conference convened by the Alberta Ecotrust, speaker Dr. Justina Ray explained this grotesque outcome in her session on The Science Policy Gap. Media stories, Dr. Ray said, depend on conflict, and near-consensus situations contain very little of it. Consequently, if a reporter is going to write a conflict-based story about the science of climate change, he or she must escalate the validity of the 3% of deniers so that a story with an air of controversy might be produced. It follows that a public who relies on this distortion would conclude that the climate change is controversial when this is actually not the case.

Among the people who populate my life, there are a few correspondents who believe that climate change is a hoax - that it is a religion-like tenet held by people who have “drunk the ad hominem kool-aid” handed out by charismatic leaders like Al Gore and David Suzuki. Ad Hominem Kool-Aid is the beverage preferred by people who choose their beliefs based on who says what rather than a careful examination of what they are saying.

In contrast to these members of homo ad hominus, there are the Children of the Enlightenment who are described in the Ted Nordhaus/Michael Shellenberger essay, The Death of Environmentalism this way:  read more... »

Green House Builders

In response to this question by Kristina:

“We want to build just West of Edmonton and are having trouble finding someone with knowledge of passive solar and super insulated building practices. Any recommendations?”

I wanted to list the builders that I know who have a track record of building truly energy efficient houses. From what I’ve heard and experienced, any of the following companies could build a house that truly pushes the envelope in energy efficiency and general greenitude.


It’s well known that I’m very happy with my experience with this Habitat Studio and Workshop Ltd. No one has built a greener and more solarized house in Edmonton than these guys!


I’m going strictly from word of mouth on this one. Effect Home Builders is apparently building a net zero project in Belgravia.


My friend Myles built an R-2000 house with Kensington Master Builders, and he loves them. They really know what they’re doing, and they are very professional.


The House Company could build more, greener houses. They definitely know how to though, if the client pushes them on it.

Do you have a green builder to recommend to Green Edmonton readers?