One step at a time…

Action Proposal project for Geography 316 at Capilano University

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Really the last post of October

I walked to school this morning and remembered a couple of things that i wanted to tell y’all.

The last two times i have walked i have done so in my fancy new running shoes.  The first couple days of new running shoes is like walking on pillows.  Awesome.  I haven’t bought new running shoes in like 5 years.  It really is a difficult decision.  You want something that looks good (everything is bright and shiny and says “look at me” these days), you want something that works for you and fits your needs (and you don’t want twenty pairs of shoes), you don’t want to pay a ton of money, and you care about where and how it was made.  These shoes are from Vietnam.  They are really nice.  I am afraid to dig too deep to find out about them though.

Walking over the bridge this morning i saw a couple new cargo ships.  It really is amazing knowing that they are coming from so far away (over the open ocean).  I have recognized ships from Australia, Venezuela, The Philippines and Holland.  There could have been other countries too, but i didn’t see the markings on them.  The funniest marking i saw was this huge sign painted on one that said something like “NO SMOKING – POLLUTION IS BAD, DO YOUR PART”….. It seemed quite ironic (especially because the sign was real big).

Today i also saw a seal from the bridge which was pretty neat.  Even cooler was that a couple of weeks ago on a nice sunny day i could see a school of big big fish swimming in the water.  I don’t know what kind they were, there was probably about 20.  It was really cool being able to see them from so far up.  One time in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia i looked down from a big cliff over the ocean and saw Minke whale come up and breach and then go back down into the water.  The view looking down into the water is really an amazing one – somehow it is as if you can see deeper into the water the higher you are above it (maybe this is way off…..).  I don’t know how far it is from the top of the bridge to the water, but i dropped a small rock a few times and timed it – about 8 seconds till splash.


Finally i thought i would add that the leaves that i collected and mulched up and added to the garden have an important role in keeping carbon from getting into the troposphere.  As you know, the leaves, through the process of photosynthesis, absorb carbon, water and light and release oxygen while turning the absorbed substances into sugar for the plant to grow.  Some of that carbon is stored in the leaves.  When they fall, they often break up and the carbon goes into the ground.  Sometimes it is burned, and released into the atmosphere, and without proper composting of the material it can be released into the atmosphere in other ways as well.  The plants appreciate the carbon in the soil, and the soil organisms need the carbon in order to compost properly.  Finally there are apparently lots of beneficial micro-organisms in the leaves that promote healthy soil and the combat of plant diseases.


ok now really i am out.



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The Last October post

Much has happened since my last post.  Last Friday the clothing sale came and gone.  There were about 7 guys who were there all night and about 13 guys stopped by at some point to drop off some clothes or take something home.  I made some popcorn, coffee, and set up a bunch of tables.  I came home with a pair of shorts and two t-shirts.  I think everybody left with at least 1 clothing article.  I have 2 big garbage bags of left over clothes to go drop off at salvation army.

Lots has also happened in the garden.  This week we planted about 60 cloves of garlic.  For each one, we dug a whole, put a little compost in, layed in the clove (with skin on), covered it with dirt and poured a little diluted fish fertilizer over it.  We harvested the rest of the broccoli and even ate all the flowers.  We got some berry bushes in the ground for the winter as well.   We added two saskatoons, a blueberry and three haskap berries (honey berries).  I put all the gardens to bed.  Raked up all of our neighbours leaves, mulched them up, tossed up on the beds, mixed them in, spread a layer of our compost on top and then cast a fall legume’s cover crop mix on top.  We added mulch around a bunch of plants, did some pruning, harvested the beans for drying, and used some straw and landscaping fabric to create a layer of insulation around a potted dwarf pear tree that we have.  We spread up all of the compost that has been sitting for a long time and was like crumbly dirt.  Unfortunately i found two chip bags in the compost, (those don’t break down too well) and the roots of the nearby lilac bush had grown way up into the compost.  I am going to lay a piece of plywood down underneath it this time to try and stop that.  We finished this all before the rains come.  I am not sure if today was the first frost but it was the first time i have recognized it.  All we have left for harvesting are some carrots, beats, chard, kale (tons of kale) and like 5 or 6 boc choi plants.   I had some cabbage today from our friends farm and it tasted really quite sweet.  Apparently after frost leafy greens start tasting sweeter.

This has been the good news about the garden.  The bad news is that the bees are suffering.   I am concerned about if they are going to make it through the winter.  It was a depressing day on saturday when i looked in the hive to see that i have laying workers.  This means that my queen died and no new queens emerged (or else they were never fertilized).  The result is that I just have male drone bees being born – and they are really not good for much except mating with the queen (and subsequently dying) or eating stores of honey.  The numbers in the hive are not too bad but not having a queen is bad – even for the winter.  I am going to call the local beekeeping guru at strathcona gardens to see if he can give me some advice.  I could try and introduce a new queen if i can find one – or i could give my bees to another hive (someone else’s) for the winter and ask for a split (nuc colony) in the early summer of next year.   I have to e-mail him tonight.  Bees are responsible for pollinating, that is causing the plant to produce fruit or vegetables, for so much of the food we eat.  Some food is pollinated by wind, but it would be super detrimental to our economies and our livelihood if we lost pollinating insects (particularly honey bees).  Unfortunately this is not recognized by people who make big decisions.  A particular insecticide (chemical herbicide) made by beyers is now proven to be the culprit of millions of bees dying.  Whole hives are collapsing in what is called “colony collapse disorder”.  YET Canada and the US are not banning this chemical.  (some european countries have done so with great results)

I know that my neighbours also appreciate the bees.   A couple of them have told me that they have noticed much more bees and much better pollination.  I really hope something can be done to save them.  I really do consider them a big part of contributing to the health of the local food movement.

The sauerkraut is coming along.  I had some with eggs and cheese and garden tomatoes on the weekend.  It tasted better than last time.  I think i will jar it and give some away next week.  After i put it in the fridge, the live culture doesn’t grow as much and as fast – so if you want it strong let it sit for a long time before putting it in the fridge or canning it (which kills all the cultures/bacteria’s in the sauerkraut and seals it up).

As for walking I have done better than my goal of once a week.  I still have to walk once this week.  Yesterday i biked but today i drove.  I was really busy and it seemed like a good idea (i was too tired to bike).  On the way home i was reacquainted with what traffic looks like….. boring.  It really makes you want to speed when you get out of traffic, and you know you are in a fast vehicle but that if you were biking or on foot you would arrive at a similar time….ahh!

I had said i would put up some pictures so i will try to do that now.  Thanks for reading.  Hope you enjoyed my bloggery of my october action projects.

Also the picture that makes up the background for the post is of the community garden at our church parking lot.  We used to garden there a couple of years ago.  They are planning on building social housing on the spot next year. (don’t worry there will still be lots of garden space!)

this one is of a volunteer hazelnut plant that we have since planted – it is a pollinator variety for another local hazelnut that we hope to plant one day. ImageImage These are some shots of the garden earlier this summer – 32 tomato plants in that garden bed.ImageImageImage

ImageHere are the last harvest of tomatoes…. Almost all of the green ones are now red.Imagehere is one of me with the bees on a happier day this summer.Image Some shots from the bridgeImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage An early morning sunrise at Templeton schoolImage A slab of holly from the tree i cut down in the summer to make space for some more garden beds.Image The tree is the tall one at the back in the middle of the frame.

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October 16th

A couple of updates.


Been on a walking binge!  Walked to and from school last Wednesday and Thursday and am planning on walking home today.  This morning it was very foggy.  Walking over the bridge was kinda cool.  You couldn’t see the water below and you couldn’t see very far ahead.  When you don’t see the water so far below, it isn’t so spooky when the big trucks make the bridge shake.  

The bees haven’t been dying on the front porch anymore.  I think it was the light that was the issue.  I don’t know if they respond to particular types of light differently.  This one is an L.E.D.  They have been out in full force because of the gorgeous weather we have had.  I won’t check inside the hive for another week or two because i don’t think there will be many signs of a new queen laying until then.  Despite seeing lots of bees out and about, i think there numbers are down because when i watch the hive entrance there are wasps flying in and out.  When the hive is stronger they can protect against this better… pesky wasps.  I put an entrance reducer on the hive so that it is easier to defend.

We got a couple of things done in the garden this last weekend.  I built the lattice for the fall peas but unfortunately i don’t think we will get any this fall because they aren’t far enough along.   We spread some compost and cover crops on some of the beds (clover rye and other legumes).  The cover crops help pull nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil, plus their use of photosynthesis acts as a mini sink for carbon dioxide.  They also protect the organic soil from drying up and releasing methane into the atmosphere.  When you compost you are also helping with this, because if vegetation rots instead of compost it releases methane. We still have more plants to pull, manure to spread and cover crops to grow.  We have some beans ready for harvest (dried) too.  We still have some tomatillos that need to be made into salsa.  Really, harvesting is the best part but you can almost forget about it.  A pretty cool garden related thing happened this week.  One of my friends was surfing the internet and found a blog that had a picture of a trellis that i made out of some old bike wheels and used in our garden for growing beans this past year.  Here is the link:

I am enjoying reading through the fermentation book that came along with my friends fermenting crock.  The name of this great book is “wild fermentation”.  It has an incredibly interesting history of fermented foods.  Of particular interest to this blog is how the original big 3 globally traded commodities: cacao, tea, coffee, were very much catalysts for the industrial revolution because they are essentially drugs that help you work the long hard hours that were common in the industrial revolution.  As you know the industrial revolution really leads to a lot of climate change related issues (increased population, increased reliance on fossil fuels, increased demand for exotic goods and foods, etc etc…)  Those three commodities and so many other things that we eat are fermented (bread, wine, beer, yogurt, cheese etc).  There are so many cool things about fermented food (and so many benefits), one in particular is that it takes very few fossil fuels to preserve fermented food.  You don’t heat anything.  You don’t even always add water.  Sometimes you just add salt and other times just water.  

Anyhow our sauerkraut is rocking it.  It will have been a week tomorrow that it has been fermenting.  I tried it out yesterday and it tastes great.  I mostly made up my own recipe.  12 pounds of veggies and 6 tablespoons of sea salt.I managed to use a couple things from the garden as well.  From the garden there are 2 cabbages, 3 beets (for colour), 4 cloves of garlic and two small onions.  From the local grocer there are three more cabbages, and two apples.

It really is amazing.  You just chop the veggies up, throw in some salt, squish them down a couple times, put a weight on them and leave the lid on.  24 hours later and there is an inch of water above your veggies. one week later and they have passed the first stage of fermenting.  After the third week the bacteria is supposed to have turned into the super healthy one (named something like lactobilia or something like that – same one as in yogurt).

 I need to make some hot sauce with the peppers that i recently harvested – maybe i will make a fermented hot sauce.   I almost added them to the sauerkraut but i am glad i didn’t because it already has a good kick to it.  In related news, i planted that horse radish plant in a big planter that i used this past season for a squash.  I am curious to taste what fresh horseradish tastes like next year.  Apparently it is really strong.  Also the green tomatoes that we pulled off last week are quickly turning red – i’ll post some pics, next time i get a chance.  

So the date of our clothing swap has changed – Friday October 25th 7 pm is the date set in stone.  Here is the announcement i wrote for putting in the upcoming bulletin at my church:

 Attention Men:  We know that despite the fact that you may wear your clothes to shreds, you have some real nice clothes that you are saving for when you get old and shrink or when you finally fill out.  Instead of storing those perfectly great clothes deep in your closet, bring them out to our first clothing swap for MEN.  In the past, women in our community have benefited from such community-building clothes swaps, now us boys are going to have a try at it.  Friday night October the 25th we will be meeting to organize clothes at 7 pm in the lower hall.  Swap starts at 7:15.  Come even if you don’t have any clothes to share but hope to snag some of your buddies sweaters, and come even if you don’t want any more clothes but have some to offer.  While they say one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure…. please do not bring any garbage – Please bring freshly washed and dried clothes.



 – thomas


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October 9th

Well, i walked home from school yesterday.  It took longer than usual but i had a couple of stops.  One at a plant nursery in north van where i scouted out some new berry plants that we are going to add to the garden.  Now i am just waiting for their fall sale (sometime in mid October).   I am hoping to get a couple saskatoon berry bushes, a red currant, possibly a huckleberry and finally another variety of haskap (honeyberry) in order to pollinate the variety that we currently have.  Planting those may just be a part of our food gardening adventures this month.


We also need to plant our garlic for next summers harvest.  WE are not entirely sure where to put it.  We have a share in a CSA (community shared agriculture) that our friends farm in Surrey, and the garlic that we get from them are huge and delicious compared to the ones we have grown the last couple of years.   So, i called my friend Paul and asked him what secret tips he has for growing garlic.  He recommended a book and mentioned that garlic likes really healthy soil full of lots of compost, lots of sun, and that in the spring he often gives his some fish fertilizer.  This summer Emily (my wife) and I picked up different heads of organic garlic from different towns between Vancouver and Edmonton, where we were visiting family.   We picked out the biggest best looking heads we could find.  Most of them are of the “red Russian” variety.  We hope to plant them this month as well.  (wow this gardening list is getting long….)  the difficulty is finding a good space to grow them.  Right now i am leaning to building small garden boxes on the boulevard and planting them out there.  It gets good sun.  It wouldn’t cost too much to build them; some 2×6’s or 2x8s and a 20$ load of dirt from the city transfer station.  We are legally allowed to do so as long as they are within a certain dimension and location.


This morning i also walked to school.  Walking in regular running shoes and without a raincoat is much nicer.  The sunrise was gorgeous.  I like being up early in the morning to see that.  As the sun comes up it really feels natural to get up and go yourself.  Unfortunately i left a couple minutes too late and had to take the bus up the hill from phibbs exchange in order to make it to class on time.   Early in the morning more people say hello to you.  It’s kinda nice.

back to studying – mid term coming up later today.

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October 7th


October 7th

So October 1st has come and gone.  That Tuesday afternoon I pulled out my hiking boots and started the first of my action proposals – I walked to school.  I prepared for the rain that was coming down that morning, but by the time I was on the road, the sun was coming out and I actually ended up taking off a sweater and putting it in my pack.  I walked 8.9 kilometers to school that day.  Motivated by the ways I would benefit; health/fitness, alertness at class, sense of achievement, integrity, grades etc…  I am also motivated by a desire to think outwardly, to recognize the impact of climate change on so many people in our world and then recognize my contribution to systems that rely on burning fossil fuels and the releasing carbon into the atmosphere thus inflating the greenhouse effect.   If I didn’t have enough motivation before starting this project,  September 30th I lost my October bus pass and cap card.  My hope is that this ends up helping me achieve my goal of walking to school at least once a week.  The temptation will be to drive more often, which will negate part of the value of walking.   I had hoped to walk to school today but was having some breathing issues from having a cold so I opted with driving (I was running too late to bus).   I have got three more days of class this week to come through on my commitment.   From a time perspective biking is the most efficient use of my time.  While I get tired out, it takes between 30 and 45 minutes depending on conditions and how hard I push.   The difference between walking and bussing is the most surprising.  Bussing takes me about an hour to an hour 15 if I miss a connection.  Walking takes about 1 hour and 35 to 1 hour and 50 minutes. 

I tend to get a little nostalgic about particular aspects of times gone by.  I appreciate that many peoples and cultures throughout history have used walking as their primary means of transportation.   My wife’s grandfather, who recently passed away, is one of my inspirations.  He was a man of the mountains.   At his funeral there were many legendary stories of the life of this man known as “Cougar Dan”.    When I walk towards the mountains from my house just off Commercial drive in East Van, I feel somewhat like Cougar Dan, walking off into the mountains.  I wouldn’t call them “my mountains” as he would, but I hope that one day I might know them somewhat better.   By moving slower between destinations and by physically engaging your body in transportation, there is so much more opportunity to become curious and even fascinated by your surroundings.   Along the way there are many great views of the mountains that really define this geographic area.  Great historical and place markers, I realize that I couldn’t recognize or name most of the mountains that surround the land that I have lived in my whole life.  The view from the bridge is a particularly good one, but unfortunately as beautiful as it is up there it is hard to breath because of all the pollution from the big trucks on the bridge (could be just catching ones breath after climbing as well…)

October 1st I stuck around at school to hear a panel of speakers talk about local food movements.  To my surprise my friend Brent Mansfield was one of the panelists.   The speakers were interesting and a couple of them also had quite entertaining personalities.   Two discussions stuck with me.  The consideration of what “local” food means and why it is important to ask this.  It made me think about a comedic sign in our school cafeteria:  “some of our produce is from Canadian farms, support local!” – advertising that begs a lot of questions and details.   I was also really intrigued by the idea of integrating and using the dynamics of food to teach all kinds of curriculum at all levels of education.   I am in favour of this because I think that food should be central to our lives.  For so many generations before us it was an incredible focus of the lives of individuals, families, villages etc…  A result of an industrialized food system, we aren’t focused on food and instead are not dependent on our community but on great big companies that have more interest in profit and markets than in individuals.  We can also become enslaved to these companies allowing them to determine what we eat.  Furthermore, I like this approach because in my experience learning by making concepts applicable to everyday life has always helped me learn in the past, and food is applicable to everyone’s lives.   I was inspired to continue to take up growing my own food and eating responsibly – that is being aware of where my food comes from and trying to eat healthy food and support local produce in order to contribute to the economy of my region, personally interact with those that support me and my diet as well as cut down on food transportation and the need for chemical preservative contamination.   I was glad Brent was speaking that night because he gave me a ride home which meant I didn’t have to walk home in the dark.   The next couple of days I was actually somewhat sore from walking with such big hiking boots on my feet.  Those things must be like ten times as heavy as the super light running shoes that they sell now. 

This weekend I called the Vancouver compost hotline in order to sign up for another worm composting seminar.  The deal that the city offers is pretty great.  A composter, ½ a pound of red wiggler worms, a book/manual and a class on how to reap the benefits of vermicomposting – all for 25 dollars.  Unfortunately it turns out that the next course won’t be until next spring. I found a couple good designs for building a worm composter and found a good deal on craigslist for red wiggler worms.  I signed up anyway but I might have to adapt my action proposal.  This weekend my wife and I also did some prep in our garden for fall.  We took out a bunch of plants that were done for the season (peppers, some beans, some broccoli that went to seed, basil, tomatoes, sweet peas etc….)  We harvested some carrots, cabbage, squash and got a bit more basil and a ton of green tomatoes.   I had wanted to get the worm compost going because our garden compost was in mid cycle and we weren’t ready to spread it out on the garden, but it turns out not to be an urgent issue because our garden compost  is now ready to be spread and started up again.

  I might still do the worm compost but I might include our fall gardening as part of my action project.   We have a bunch of planter boxes and two of them have green houses on them.  We are going to spread the compost and then spread grow some cover crops on most of the beds but plan on planting some more greens/lettuces in the smaller greenhouse.   We have a little starter box with a grow light in it that I made a couple of years ago (made of windows, the box is on wheels and has multiple trays and seed blocks inside).  We might use it to start our greens.  We have many other garden/food projects to do this month.   The list is long but we will do our best.  We love apple sauce and so are planning to find time to do our annual apple sauce making and canning session sometime this month.  We also have a ton of beets to harvest.  We are planning on making beet burgers (rice, beets, carrots, cheese, onions etc…) and then freezing them.  In the garden I have to finish building another trellis for our fall peas that are searching hard for something to grow up.  I also received a horseradish plant from a friend this week and I need to put it into a big pot (it spreads like crazy).   This weekend I borrowed a fermenting crock pot from a friend who is a farmer in the neighbourhood and at UBC farms.  I am going to use the cabbage that we harvested along with some carrots to make some sauerkraut.   Finally I recently treated my honeybees with formic acid (to kill varroa mites) and unfortunately the queen died.  I had a check in the hive this weekend and excitedly found two newly emerging queens and a couple other queen cells.  Near the end of the month I am going to need to check on the bees to make sure that a queen has taken charge, been fertilized and is laying eggs so that numbers can be fortified going into the winter.  I also need to figure out why for the last two mornings there have been 20 dead bees on my parents front porch in the suite below (could be that they left the L.E.D.  Light on and the bees took exception to it and attacked all night).   


As for my third action project of organizing a men’s clothing swap, things are coming along.  I have been talking to friends and telling them to set aside October 26th (the Saturday).  I have temporarily reserved a big room at my church for setting up the swap.  I still plan on making a community announcement at the church as well as putting something in the weekly bulletin for the next couple of weeks.   Next I have to go through my clothes and start pulling out stuff that I don’t wear that could benefit someone else.  Reduce Reuse Recycle.  Maybe that will be the name of the swap.   I also need to find an organization to bring the clothes to that nobody wants to take home.