Our Veggie Van

our veggie van

1982 veggie Westy

It has been nine years now since we transformed our Volkswagon Westfalia diesel to run on straight vegetable oil.  Back in 2004, Colin and I acquired the 1982 westy from his relatives in California, and we converted it to run on veggie oil in 2005.  Volkswagon made this diesel model for the North American market only for one year, and shipped them to California in response to the gas crisis of the late 70’s.  Hence, these diesel Westfalia’s are rather hard to find.

German engineer Rudolph Diesel patented the diesel engine in 1892.  He experimented with vegetable oils and successfully used peanut oil. Ultimately, Diesel settled on a stable byproduct of the petroleum refinement process that would come to be known as “diesel fuel.”  In contrast to the other steam engines of the era, which wasted more than 90 percent of their fuel energy, Diesel calculated that his could be as much as 75 percent efficient.

In our quest to move away from being dependent on the petroleum industry,  we saw a useful endeavor in feeding our diesel engine used vegetable oil from the local restaurants.  As long as the oil is non-hydrogenated and filtered, we have had no problems while driving around for free.   A secondary fuel tank to hold the vegetable is the first step.  Vegetable oil is very thick (more viscus) compared to diesel, and thickens at cooler temperatures, so it needs to be heated up before it is sent to the engine.   The vehicle is started on diesel (or biodiesel) in the original fuel tank, and then switched over to veggie oil after the vehicle has been running a minute or two and has heated up.  We used the coolant lines from the radiator to heat the veggie tank with a hotstick (which is a metal rod that the coolant runs down and back up and out of and sticks down into our veggie tank) and a heated fuel filter/water separator system which the coolant lines run through as well.  In this manner the veggie oil is heated first in the tank, then again as it passes through the fuel filter.  Both fuel tanks send the fuel through a 6 port valve before the engine.  This is how you switch between tanks as there are 4 ports on the incoming side (a fuel line from each tank and a return line for each, carrying any fuel not used in the engine) and 2 ports on the engine side (again a line to the engine and the return line to the tanks).  We have a toggle switch on the dash board to switch between tanks.  Just before the veggie oil reaches the engine it goes through a small inline instantaneous electric heater about 8″ before the injector.  This is only turned on when we are driving on the veggie tank.  This is very helpful in our colder winter weather, but not as necessary further south.  Colin also looped the return line from the veggie side of the 6 port valve so that any unused veggie oil coming out of the engine (which is already hot) just goes right back into the feed line to the engine, again helping keep the veggie oil nice and hot.  We did our research and bought a conversion kit locally in BC from a company called Plantdrive.com which included the hotstick, fuel filter/water separator, 6 port valve, relays, toggle switch, inline heater and some wire, clamps and other necessities.  I think it cost us around $900 at the time.  Colin and our friend Dan both converted their vehicles together over a couple days.  We had a custom tank made out of 3/8″ hard plastic that is mounted in the space under the sliding door entrance to the van.  The tank sticks up at the rear end into the storage area under the rear seats.  This is where the hotstick, and fuel filter/water separator are also mounted.  The fuel lines run from there straight into the engine compartment and into the 6 port valve.  The conversion was fairly straight forward and Colin and Dan figured it all out and completed it about 8-10 hours (for both vehicles).  We have collected used veggie oil from most of the restaurants on Pender over the years, but now collect from one restaurant, The Hope Bay Cafe, because they change their oil regularly and prefilter as they put it back into the 16L totes that we collect it in (and they are close by and are nice people!)

We did what is commonly called a ‘veggie conversion’, but this doesn’t alter the engine in any way.  To get most diesel vehicles to run on vegetable you don’t actually change the existing fuel system, but add a second tank that will hold the vegetable oil.  Biodiesel is vegetable oil that has undergone a chemical process, giving it more viscosity even at lower temperatures, and so it can be directly mixed with and put into a regular diesel engine.

pump

our home pumping station

We have made long trips each summer, in which we carried with us the veggie oil we would need along the way.  We have often pulled into gas stations, only to fill up our veggie tank with our own little pump that runs off the car battery.  We use water from the gas station to clean the filter that we place inside the veggie oil container which is attached to the pump hose.  It feels pretty good to be one more step away from being reliant on the oil industry.  Recycling used cooking oils from local restaurants has been a huge benefit also for the restaurant owners, who normally have to pay to have it taken away, and for the multi-use availability of the veggie oil itself.  And we are happy driving around for free.

Rose Hip Delight

happy harvestersAutumn here is always so colourfully punctuated by the brilliant red orbs of the rose hips as they hang themselves out for the picking.  In the early summer, we spent an afternoon with Ange delicately lifting off the fragrant petals of the roses, being careful to leave the centers, which now have plumped up with seeds on the almost leafless brambles.  On the west coast, we get far more rain than frosts, and so collecting rose hips before they get too soaked and rotten is a better bet than waiting for a first frost.  With the seven of us, we collected almost ten cups in an hour, and then came back to our house to cook them into a syrup for use during the winter.  Cedar particularly liked the thorns, and we discussed the energies of protection that surround the rose and it’s ability to defend us from illness and disease.

The hips of the rose (rosa canina and related species… here we have the nootka rose or rosa nutkana) are loaded primarily with vitamin C, many times the amount found in citrus fruit when measured gram for gram.  Vitamin C is a noted antioxidant with disease fighting abilities.

“The astringency of rose hips can help relieve dysentery and diarrhoea. In addition, the various flavonoids, coupled with the Vitamin C, have potent antioxidant action and help protect the body from numerous internal and external stresses. The high vitamin C content of rose hips will therefore be extremely useful in preventing and fighting infections, colds, flu, and pneumonia, (syrup is the classic way to preserve hips).

Vitamin C and bio-flavonoid molecules are always combined together in nature. This is how our bodies experience Vitamin C when eating fruits. Rose hips are rich in this vital chemical complex, known to strengthen body tissues and help to build and maintain a healthy vascular system, preventing damage to fragile capillaries.”  Christopher Hope

Rose hip syrup was exactly our plan for the day.  We simmered 4 cups of hips in 8 cups of water for a few hours, until the hips were soft enough to mash and the water quantity had diminished by a few cups.  After mashing everything in the pot, we then poured the contents through cheese cloth, collecting the liquid in a bowl, and then we squeezed every precious drop out of the pulp.  It was a beautiful deep red with a tinge of orange.  We then added about a cup of honey to sweeten it to our liking, which helps to preserve the syrup while adding the medicinal benefits of the honey to the elixir.

Traditionally, before the invention of the fridge, a lot more honey would be added as a preservative, making it more of a thick syrup.  Our syrup is more like a decoction that will last three months in the fridge.  We have enjoyed it by the spoonful, mixed in with our smoothies, or added to warmed up spiced apple cider.  We did try to cut some of the hip open and scrape out the seeds and the fine hairs inside so we could dry the outside part for making tea.  The hairs can be irritating to the throat, (and to the bottom end on their way out), so it is especially important to remove the seeds and hairs before drying.  We found the task to be time consuming and tedious, so we didn’t do too much of it.  I think the syrup will be a more widely used and appreciated preparation of this years’ rose hips.  Thanks again, Ange, for leading us through this simple and warming process of preparing the beautiful rose hips!

Summer Pondside

lilliesThis summer we have really been experiencing the abundance of our pond as it grows into it’s own beautiful and unique habitat.  Dragonflies and damselflies helicopter over our heads catching bugs on the move, and water boatmen navigate around our ankles and legs.  We have watched the progression of native tree frogs from egg sacs to tadpole to tiny green gems snuggling into the folds of the water plantain and the tall flat stems of the cattails.  We have seen the brief orange flash of a rough skinned newt, and watched puddling ducks and diving grebes, all within the close gaze from the living room window or the pond side lounge.

The pond was dug four years ago as an integral part of our lands’ water system.  It is 50 feet across both ways, 12 feet deep in the middle, and captures 50,000 gallons of spring water, holding it entirely by the natural solid clay that makes up our lower field.  The spring that emerges on our property at the base of the bedrock slope has been registered since the 1950’s and flows all year round, decreasing in the summer months when the rain stops.  Previous land owners dug down and placed a gravel bed with perforated drain pipe in the spring, which we connected to a 1175 gallon below ground concrete cistern for our domestic water.  A pump delivers this water up to the house, and the overflow from the continuous spring water pours into the pond.  In the winter, the overflow from the pond creates a small stream that we have directed towards the garden, which we plan to utilize more effectively in the next few years’ of landscaping.

Right now, being July and without rain for a month, the overflow from the cistern stops while the tank recharges from the spring whenever we use the water, taking up to several hours to trickle out once again, and the level of the pond has dropped 8 inches below the outflow to the garden.  It will most likely drop another foot before the autumn rains begin once again.

Besides water catchment and creating natural habitat, the pond is a fabulous swimming spot.  We had the excavator build two ledges at either end, one being for plants and the other for a small beach.  The beach area goes out about 10 feet before a small rock wall marks the place where it drops off into the full depth, and at one end of the beach is a large rock placed far enough out so that we can jump off into the middle of the pond.  This June we got around to building a wooden deck over the lid of the concrete cistern, which will later have a four post arbor and shade providing vines growing over top as an intimate and relaxing space.  Colin put in a small stone patio connecting the deck to a rock near the outflow pipe, and we formed the beach by building a low rock wall that separates the grass from the sand that slopes down to the entrance to the pond beside the small deck.

These small improvements, with the growing in of the water plants, have created a little oasis for us and many of our neighbours during these hot months of summer.  Almost everyday we have some friends stopping by for a late afternoon cool off, giving the pond a community feel.  All that we ask of everyone is to have respect for the life that is abundant in the natural eco-system, and to have an awareness of safety and responsibility for each other.

On the topic of maintenance, the pond has proven to be not for the faint of heart.  It is a lot of hard work as we navigate the various needs for a healthy water habitat.  We have had various years of algae blooms and have considered different aeration systems to keep the water circulating and fresh.  Really we wanted the pond to create a natural system that self regulates with filtering plants, oxygenating plants, and algae eating critters.  For a few years we left a barley bale floating around in the water, as decomposition of barley straw in water produces and releases many compounds, one of which apparently controls algae populations. The chemical compound does not eliminate existing algae cells but interferes with and prevents the growth of new algae cells. As “old” algae cells naturally die off, few new algae cells are produced and the algae population is controlled as long as the compound is being produced.  We also introduced snails, which feed on the algae growing on rocks and plants.  One year we added a large jug of microbes.  It is difficult to know if any one of these methods really worked or not, since there are so many other natural variants from year to year, and really, the pond is still very young and adapting.  This year the water is clear and clean as the plants and animals settle in.

We planted a dozen water lily plants that we acquired from a friend who was moving, and a few water iris’s and a dwarf water bamboo plant.  All other plants have naturalized, probably from ducks visiting from other ponds.  We have a growing stand of cattails, a fringe of water plantain, sedges and rushes on the edge of the water, narrow-leaved bur-reed, and an aggressive buttercup- like lily.  Now that things are filling in, I am spending more time trying to pull much of it out so that we can still swim in the pond, and so that we can control the alien invaders of the American Bullfrog, which has made itself comfortably at home on Pender in the last few years.  Two years ago we caught two males quite easily, but this year we have a huge male and a female that are quick and elusive.  All this plant matter for them to hide in doesn’t make for easy eradication.  They eat the native tree frogs, as well as dragonflies, hummingbirds, and baby goslings.  No natural predators in this area make them the top of the fresh water food chain.  So besides spending many hours ripping out the deep roots of the water buttercup (I have yet to make an actual identification of this plant), Colin and I have made nightly journeys down to the pond to hunt out the bullfrogs.  I head out in the hand crank paddle boat that my father made for us, with a high powered head lamp, and look for glowing eyes.  Colin sneaks around the pond edge with a net and tries to move faster than they can jump.  At this point, the frogs are winning, and we are increasingly concerned that they are laying masses of egg sacs which will hatch into tadpoles next spring.

Mostly though, the pond has been an important central feature in our increasingly developed vision of our gardens.  It has brought us together with our community through birthday celebrations,  musical concerts, summer picnic potlucks, work party dips, Summer Solstice ceremonies, and casual cool down hang outs.  It has also provided the opportunity for Cedar and Taeven to become stronger swimmers, and made restful and intimate memories for us as a family.  The pond is a constant reminder of the sacred abundance and presence of the spring water that we rely on as our water source.  I imagine that as we all grow, the pond will provide many more years of beautiful memories as we work to create a sanctuary of connection between us, the land and water, and our community.

Learning the Medicine of the Forest

mahonia tincture

mahonia tincture

As late winter gave its final nod to the delicacies of spring and the plants in the forest around us began to put on their greenery,  it seemed the perfect time to learn about the medicines that the natural world offers.  Our friend and neighbor has been studying and using herbs and wild plants for medicine for a number of years, and so another home schooling family and I asked if she would be willing to meet with us every few weeks and teach us about the qualities of wild medicines during this season, working with whatever plants are ready for collecting as the spring progresses into summer.

 digging mahoniaThe first plant we learned about, one that is prolific in these pacific northwest forests, is oregon grape root, or Mahonia Nervosa.  In the late winter (or in the fall) the brilliantly yellow roots of mahonia can be dug up, cleaned, chopped, and soaked in alcohol to make a very strong tincture.  It didn’t take long for our four enthusiastic children to get their hands into the dirt and gently coax up the long sections of root.  They cleaned it, tasted it, smelled it, chopped it, and covered it with alcohol.  Each step was accompanied by many observations about how the plant affected our senses, and sometimes these sensations were different for each of us.  After labeling the tincture clearly we each had a turn swishing the jar, and sending our own thoughts of love and healing into the mixture.  chopped mahonia rootWe learned about the quality of bitter as we tasted the roots, as well as when we collected the earliest spring greens that we can eat, one of which is the common dandelion.  Bitter flavours have the effect of instantly sending a message to our brains, which then send a message to our stomaches to release certain digestive juices which stimulate easier digestion.  We don’t eat very much bitter food in our diets these days, and often our bodies do not get the opportunity to use this system of response.  The root is also blood cleansing (minerals/ detoxifying), astringent (tightens and tones), anti bacterial, anti fungal, and anti parasitic. It expels heat type conditions, urinary tract infections and has long been used for skin disorders such as eczema and psoriases. This is largely due to the action that mahonia has on the blood system.

wild saladBesides dandelion leaves and flowers, we also collected chickweed, plantain, sheep sorrel and it’s garden cousin lemon sorrel, lemon balm, miners’ lettuce, peppercress, and cleavers, all of which were growing in a small area around our house and in our garden.  Because of the small size of our group, we were able to engage in rather intimate conversations about our individual observations of smell, tangy or mild flavour, and dryness or juiciness.  Our kids are all quite familiar with the practice of eating wild greens, and their openness to explore more options and use their intuitive senses is quite real.  So is their caution, however, and on a few occasions they found look alike plants that they were able to discern as being different and so unknown in safety.  We all went off in scavenger hunt fashion, to find and collect  a handful of each plant.  After mixing in some kale and early lettuce, and adding a light balsamic dressing, we sat and munched on an incredibly fresh and nourishing salad.  Ange served up lemon balm iced tea to refresh the senses even more.

straining tinctureA few weeks later we met to strain out the chopped pieces of the mahonia tincture and bottle the medicinal liquid.  We all found that it smelled horrible, and even tasted horrible, but it was evident that strong medicine was present.  Everyone took turns in the pouring, bottling, and labeling, and we learned that to evaporate the alcohol for children, we could pour boiling water over the dosage needed and mix it with honey or licorace to sweeten it up.  Mahonia heads

Then Ange turned our attention to the Douglas Fir tree that was growing right above our heads and the picnic table we were working on.  We noted the needles lying flat on either side of the stem they grew on, rather than circling in a directions like other kinds of fir.  At the very ends there was the lighter green flush of new needles.  As each of us each chewed on a few needles,  an incredible interchange of flavour and texture ensued with different observations about sensation being expressed by us all.  douglas fir needlesWe were going to make a fir vinegar.  After clipping the new growth off the branches we could reach, the stems were plucked and the luscious needles placed into a large mason jar.  Then we poured apple cider vinegar to cover it, and labeled it.  Joanne took the fir needle vinegar home to let it sit until we meet again to strain it.  I wasn’t familiar with the idea of tree medicine, and I am so grateful to learn more.  The trees hold so much for us, and I am always astounded at our forgetfulness.  fir needlesAll of the medicines we have made follow the folk method of measurement, which means approximate amounts and intuitive reasoning.  Whether adding alcohol or vinegar as the medicinal carrier, we have used just enough to completely cover the plant material without leaving too much extra liquid. If the plant material swells a little, a bit more liquid can be added to keep it covered.   The vinegar or tincture is kept in a dark place for about a month before being strained.

“A plant is always much more than it’s constituents. The action or energetics of the plant can be felt through our unique sensory organs, which can be a very personal experience. This is the foundation of herbal medicine and how we can reconnect to a beautiful wisdom.”  Thanks so much to Ange for her insightful words, and the opportunities that she has brought to us through her own journey.

Christmas Gifts of Connection

a green star of Christmas

a green star of Christmas

Just as the winter season of Christmas begins to draw nearer and nearer and my conflicted heart starts to get all knotted up about the dualities of this holiday and what it has become in our world today, our homeschool facilitator sent out her ideas about education and the role we can take in bringing our next generation into a different understanding of the impacts of the mass consumeristic element that threatens to dismantle the magic that Christmas ultimately desires to stand for.  Instead of bringing peace,  light and joy to everyone, the time of Christmas triggers so much sadness, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and anger in too many people… a trend that I seek to change for myself and for my family in the hopes that establishing new ways of celebrating the season of love and birth will help alter the emphasis of what this holiday means.

being clear with ourselves and respectful with our earth

being clear with ourselves and respectful with our earth

I do not intend to point fingers to the one issue sorrounding consumerism and the dualities of rich and poor, as I understand that there are so many other factors in the social soup of discord that becomes many peoples’ main flavour around this time of year. Also I do not intend to say that all gifts bought from a store and given at this time are contributing to the negative cycle, as long as those who are buying things do so with love in their hearts and without feelings of obligations that work against what is personally affordable, and consideration is given to the integrity of the gift chosen.  I think it is important that we pay attention to what we are doing, and make it clear for ourselves and for our children, (to whom Christmas media is hugely targeting), that we can create new choices for the ways in which we celebrate and give to each other that do not come with economic, environmental, and emotional stresses.  I would like to reprint Julie’s article about some ideas for education around the issue of consumerism, as inspiration for untangling the heart strings.

Greenheart Education- Julie Johnston

http://www.greenhearted.org/greening-the-holidays-at-school.html

Below are some ideas for teaching sustainability in transformative ways by “greening” the holidays along with your students (or children at home). And I’m not just talking about colouring the holidays green — I’m talking about dipping the holidays into a vat of natural dye until they are drenched in green!

Life Cycle Analysis of Christmas (and Other) Presents

Take time to discuss or reinforce the concept of needs versus wants. Many people forget the difference at “giving” times of the year. Help children see the connections between what they receive (and quickly discard) and the living conditions of their brothers and sisters — of all species — around the world.


How can we get our children to be satisfied with fewer and less expensive gifts when their friends are getting lots of (sometimes expensive) gifts?

You can’t expect kids to go cold turkey. I have found that kids are somewhat open to the understanding that this is somebody else’s birthday that we’re celebrating. If you can make the holiday joyful enough with enough points of real pleasure, parties, hikes, special activities, spending time together… if you can do enough of those things, then the focus won’t be so single-mindedly on how big the pile under the tree is.
— Bill McKibben, Hundred Dollar Holidays

This is also a great time of year to teach about life cycle analysis! As many children in different parts of the world ask for and receive lots of new “stuff” for Christmas (or other holidays), help them become aware of the environmental, social and economic impacts of their gifts.

Talk to children about where their gifts (those they give as well as those they receive) come from and go to. Extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal (the “materials economy”) all have their costs and benefits. But this is a linear system in a finite world (“cradle to grave”), and hence unsustainable.

Introduce the cradle-to-cradle life cycle, where waste = food for the next product, and Nature is regenerated by our “industrial” processes. (Visit this short primer to learn more about the cradle-to-cradle concept.)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a series of three posters (click the link to download), showing the life cycle of

CellphoneWaste

Several other life cycle analysis resources are listed at Greening Schools.

Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute movie that teaches where things come from — and end up. Leonard is an American sustainability scholar, and the film was created from an American perspective (translations into several languages are in the works). If you haven’t yet seen this film, be prepared to have your view of the world rattled somewhat. (Suitable for secondary school students, and perhaps those a bit younger.)

StoryofStuffBanner

For older students, check out Consume This! Buying That Matters.

A learningful way to teach the concept of sustainable development during this time is to have each student bring a gift from home, perhaps the favourite one they received last Christmas or sometime during the previous year for a birthday or another holiday. (Let’s ignore, for now, Annie Leonard’s statistic about how many new purchases are thrown out within a few months!) If the gift is too big to bring to school or was a service gift, they can bring a photograph or illustration of it, or simply tell a story about it.

BestVennSmall

Have each child draw a triple Venn diagram with three large overlapping circles, on their own piece of paper or on the board. Label one circle Environment, one Social Equity, and one Economy.

Next, as students start trying to picture where their gift came from, and where it will end up, have them write the answers to questions that arise in the appropriate circles or intersections. For example,

  • What natural resources were used to produce this gift?
  • Are they renewable or recyclable?
  • How far did this gift travel? Was it locally made?
  • What is its “carbon footprint”?
  • Who made this gift? Who transported it? Who sold it?
  • Were they paid a fair living wage?
  • How much did this gift cost?
  • Was that a fair price for the buyer (or Santa)? What is its cost-per-use?
  • What will happen to this gift when it’s no longer needed/wanted?
  • Is there a price to pay for getting rid of it? If so, who will pay that price?
  • How much did this gift truly cost?

(Encourage students to watch Ed Burtynsky’s Manufactured Landscapes if they don’t know the answers to these last questions.)

Answers that require research could turn this into a longer-term project.

A similar activity is written up in the Grade 5-8 Education for Sustainability Concepts section of National Sustainability Education Standards – Version 2, from the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, under 3.2 Collective Action: “Designing a Sustainable System – Using a Venn diagram, students log environmental, social, and economic impacts of a service or system that they use (e.g., transportation of food product). Then students brainstorm a more effective “cradle to cradle” life cycle for the system or product that is effective in terms of reusing or recycling technical nutrients and returning biological nutrients to nature.”

Discuss Gifting Alternatives

Take the time to discuss questions, feelings, needs and concerns that arise. For example, this might be the first time some students have discovered their “social conscience” — and it can be disconcerting, especially if these glimmers of the Golden Rule at the global level contrast with their families’ values and holiday traditions.

Discuss ideas the children have for making their celebrations and gift-giving kinder to the planet, and to others around the world and in the future.

  • Service coupons
  • Charitable donations in the recipient’s name
  • Homemade gifts
  • Fair trade gifts
  • Handmade reuseable wrapping “paper” or gift bags
  • Plants or homecooked foods

Share your students’ ideas in a school e-newsletter.

I wish you, your students and your family a simple holiday season filled with love, peace, fun and kindness — for all.

 

 

Pear Extravaganza

pear ginger jam, quartered pears, and pear/apple sauce

My favorite time of year…pears, pears, pears and a few more pears.  While the battle between tent caterpillars and apple trees raged on this summer, the pear trees stood by and quietly unfurled their blossoms and strengthened their leaves.  Orchard stewards who took care to hold back the migrating caterpillar population as they crawled towards anything green and leafy were later filling buckets and bags with luscious fruit.

My family and I, along with a few other neighborhood families, were offered the apples and pears from an orchard in our neighborhood.  The owners leave the island for the winter, but didn’t want to see the fruit of their trees go to waste.  We brought home boxes of ripening pears and huge apples, some of which we made into juice with another neighbors small hand press.  We brought in our home made dehydrator and began coring and slicing apples and pears to fill up the trays.  My father built the dehydrator when I was a teenager, and I am very thankful that we still have it to use.

home made dehydrator

Pears and apples are the the very basics of what is possible with a dehydrator- we have made crackers, fruit leather, and dried herbs, and the possibilities are endless for vegetables, too.  Now that we have some kitchen space I hope that we can expand on our uses. It is a very simple design- a plywood box with 6 trays made with window screen stapled to a 2×2 frame that slide in to place in the box, and a hinged door on one side.  It sits above a low-heat boat/RV space heater, the kind that is meant to keep damp spaces dry.  By moving the trays down as the lower fruit dries, I can load the top trays and rotate the trays continually.

My mom and I also got the canner out and made 12 jars of pear ginger jam, a winter favorite that we alternate with the many jars of blackberry jam we made earlier in the season.  We canned pear/apple sauce for baking and eating, and we also filled a few large jars of quartered pears to preserve the luscious juiciness of the pears over the winter.

Cedar’s favorite snack

Books and references that are integral for recipes and how-to tips on canning, freezing and drying…..

Keeping The Harvest, by Nancy Chioff and Gretchen Mead (1991) covers just about every method of preserving anything.  Includes plans for a home made dehydrator, although it is more complicated than the one my dad built.  Plans for that one are in Dry It, You’ll Like It! by Gen MacManiman (1973, a classic…might be hard to find).  We also have a new book called Independence Days, A Guide To Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation, by Sharon Astyk (2009).

using the apple press to make fresh juice

Independence Days lays out the how-to’s of food preservation, as well as connecting a host of broader issues tied to the creation of local diets.

It includes information on buying in bulk, techniques of canning and drying, and what tools are and are not needed.  The author also focuses on how to live on a pantry diet year-round, how to preserve food on a community scale, and how to reduce reliance on industrial agriculture by creating vibrant local economies.

Sharon Astyk is a former academic who farms in upstate New York with her family. She is the author of Depletion and Abundance, the co-author of A Nation of Farmers, and she blogs at www.sharonastyk.com.

Goldstream Gem

Goldstream Provincial Park on Vancouver Island is nestled at the end of the narrow inlet of Finlayson Arm, encompassing a beautiful estuary that connects the mouth of the river from it’s journey through thick moss, dripping ferns, giant black cottonwoods, and old growth cedar trees.  The river hosts the spawning grounds for thousands of chum, coho, and chinook salmon each year, which also attracts bald eagles and supports a complex and diverse web of wild life that extends deep into the forest itself.  Three to four years previously, these same salmon were born here before traveling to the sea to grow and mature. Their return to spawn and die in their ancestral spawning beds is fascinating and the Freeman King Visitor Centre features special programs to help visitors appreciate this miraculous event.  The 388 hectare park also includes hiking trails that explore the valley floor to the ridges of Mt. Finlayson, with waterfalls along the way, an abandoned gold mine from the gold rush of the mid 19th century, and incredible views.

I have been visiting Goldstream and it’s rushing, cool waters ever since I was a child.  It was a common place for our family to stop, as it is only 17 km from Victoria and lies directly alongside the highway that takes traffic further north up Vancouver Island. Picnicking amoung the vibrant orange of the fall maple leaves mixed with the bright green of the carpeting moss lumbering over the solidity of the ancient cedar trees, or in the cool shade on a summers day, is a familiar memory.  Goldstream has become an annual visit now for our Spring Leaves home schooling group.  Each year we have visited at different times to take in the various appearances of the flora and fauna that cycle in seasonal changes, accentuated by the returning of the salmon.  The programs and park interpreters that have guided our own diverse group of children and adults have been enthusiastic, fun, informative, engaging, and respectful.  We have learned about the salmon’s cycle of life and how they have influenced the culture of the First People’s of this coastline, and watched their red bodies make the journey against the flow of the river, knowing that they will die and then become nourishment for a cascade of life.  This year we signed up for an afternoon of learning about the owls that live their lives within the park and in the southern BC areas.  We learned of the amazing adaptions that owls have developed to make their way through the night, like the silencing effect of their ruffled feather edges and lopsided ears so as to hear sounds from above and below. We also learned how to properly hoot like our local owls, and we meandered along the river looking for potential tree cavities that owls might nest in.  We also noticed all sorts of other things as we looked and observed, like woodpeckers and mushrooms and the beginnings of spring at the tips of the bare brambles.  We had a blue sky that sparkled with sun and rain together, glittering the moss in the branches of the old trees and sending us a rainbow or two.

What we also noticed was flagged markers sticking out of the river bed at intervals.  These turned out to be places for biologists to test for the residue of an oil spill that put 42,000 litres of gasoline into the river last April, 2011.  The spill happened when a Columbia Fuels truck smashed into a rock face beside the highway and rolled, damaging the tanks it was pulling and sending it’s cargo into the nearby park.  Gasoline is more toxic to wildlife than other types of oil- the only positive is that being lighter, it evaporates quickly and breaks up. Crude oil is more persistent and difficult to cleanse from the environment.  However, gasoline travels and kills quickly in water, and most of the newly emerging fry from last winter’s spawn were suffocated instantly.  Just hours before the crash, Goldstream hatchery volunteers and Tsawout First Nations members had released 8,000 coho salmon into the river. Earlier last week the hatchery had released an additional 20,000 salmon.  Thankfully, the numbers of salmon returning six months later to their ancestral homes was encouraging.  The negative effects of this contamination may be more significant in four years from now, when the 2011 hatchlings would have been returning. Of course, contamination beyond the immediate visuals available to us humans is difficult to determine, and expands into those smaller, and often highly dependent upon, micro-organisms.  I am grateful to all those who have been working to help clean, restore, and maintain this beautiful and integral habitat of Vancouver Island rain forest.  I encourage everyone to take the time to drink in the sanctuary of Goldstream, nestled amidst the growing developments of houses and highways.

The Nature House receives NO government funding!!! We Need Your Help!

     RLC Park Services, your Park Facility Operator, believes in the importance of environmental education.

 The Nature House needs park naturalists available to offer nature Programming and operate the Nature House.

Fundraising efforts and partnerships have helped us to this point. BUT…

  • No government support means we need the public to help us in the future.
  • Help us to continue offering low cost programming for school children, and free summer programs for everyone.
  • We thank each and every visitor who considers making a donation or purchases an item from our bookstore. Each one of you is helping to make a future for the Goldstream Nature House.

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