100 foot diet

Cold Room

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 Last summer’s garden potatoes and garlic.

The Mill Creek Net Zero Home has a cold room built under the front porch.

The cold room, or root cellar, has long been a friend to those living in northern climates. It takes advantage of the fact that the temperature six feet underground remains a relatively constant temperature year-round.  Therefore, it keeps the room cool in summer, and warm enough not to freeze in winter.

Our cold room has been working perfectly since it was built. During the winter it is about as cold as a fridge. Our potatoes and garlic are still in perfect condition four months after harvest! Plus I only need to buy beer a couple of times a year.

The room is about 6’ x 10’. It is thermally separated from the rest of the house, and we don’t actively heat or cool it. Its concrete floor was poured directly onto the earth because we actually want the heat/cold from the earth to enter the room.

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Cold room, Mill Creek Net Zero Home

We insulated the interior of the walls with two inches of polyisocyanurate board (about R7 per inch), and added R28 worth of pink insulation in the ceiling. There are also two vents to the space (see above picture), but we’ve kept them plugged with rags so far. The idea is that we could attach a fan to one of them that runs during the Fall and Spring nights to further cool the space. The concrete floor acts as a heater (in winter) or a heat sink (in summer).

Some construction details: when you are standing on the front porch, there is 5” concrete on a reinforced 8” grid, a layer of plywood, 7.25” of pink insulation, and then another finishing layer of plywood under you.

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The room is thermally separated from the heated space.

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A reused interior door was insulated by gluing a spare piece of foam to it.

Our cold room provides us with a free way to store food from the garden long-term. It would easily act as a fridge for milk and such during the winter if we ever needed it to.

It saves us energy in today's world, and it provides us a hedge against future disruptions to our energy supply. I suspect that we will be very grateful for this cold room at some point along the way.

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:

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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:

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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!

Garlic

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I used to think that garlic was an exotic food. I thought it was like the mango - something so full of flavour couldn't possibly come from nearby, could it?

I couldn't have been more wrong. Garlic is in fact easy to grow in Edmonton and impossible to grow in the tropics. Ha! Suck on that year-round-luscious-food-having tropical countries!

Since it also stores very well, Edmonton could be self-sufficient in the stinking herb if it wanted to be.

It's time to plant your garlic for next year. Here's how:  read more... »

Local Organic Tomatoes - Not Just for the Rich and Famous Anymore

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An Edmontonian's backyard tomato crop, 2010

The term elitist has been popping up more and more in the media when describing local organic food. I think that using the term displays a lack of imagination and out-of-the-box thinking (to use a tired term).

We just hauled in this year’s tomato crop (I described starting the tomatoes from seed earlier in the year). We transplanted them in late May in 30-40 square feet of garden space. I picked a few weeds along the way (like, 50), but we hardly paid them any mind until today.

With fewer hot days in late summer than usual, it was a bad year for tomatoes in Edmonton. Late blight took all of a neighbour’s tomatoes, and we lost most of our crop at the community garden to blight as well (seems that the cool wet weather is what causes it). Also, usually by this time at least half of our tomatoes are red, but we've only picked three red ones to date. No matter - covering them with newspaper will enable them to ripen on their own, and I for one can’t tell the difference between on ripened inside and one ripened outside.

So in a bad year we grew 10 gallons of local organic tomatoes with minimal effort, for $5-10 worth of seed. And, for those without a yard there are a plethora of community gardens in this city.

What exactly is elitist about local organic food again?