Growing Food, And Other Radical Acts


It’s time for a tour of my garden, as promised. I should preface this by saying there’s a reason that I’m attracted to the randomness/wildness of the “hugel kultur” raised bed garden. (“Hugel” means hill in German – thanks Mom Polle – so saying hugel kultur – pronounced “hoogel kultoor“-  raised bed is redundant; but it is kind of fun.) As you will be able to tell by the pictures, my HK piles are not very lovely – I’ll leave the aesthetics to my husband who likes symmetry and orderliness in his well-tended garden beds. My good friend Suzanne, a sister Citizens Climate Lobby volunteer and avid local foodie, introduced me to the idea of hugel kultur piles early in the gardening season. This spring, Suzanne made an in-ground hugel kultur pile where she planted a “Three Sisters” garden, based on the traditional indigenous way of gardening, planting corn, beans, and squash together. This inspired me to get to work on my own hugel kultur raised bed, which grew into two (with two more in development for next year), as I discussed a few weeks ago. Hugel kultur raised beds, for those who missed my earlier posts, are made by piling logs and branches together and covering them with soil, to make a garden bed that needs little watering (because wood absorbs water as it decomposes) and also improves as it ages, as the decomposing tree matter adds nutrients. In our part of the world, it also saves money because here in the Canadian Shield we have lots of trees, rocks and lakes, but little rich garden soil. And speaking of rocks, hugel kultur piles can be built up right on top of rock, which is clearly a benefit in northern Ontario (see Wendell Ferguson’s “Tree and Rocks” song below).

Here are some pictures of my hugel kultur beds. I transplanted several squash seedlings a few weeks ago (thanks Donna!), and most of them survived. A week ago, I planted corn and scarlet runner bean seeds in pile #1, which gets much more full sun than pile #2.

My three sisters hugel kultur garden


The second pile was an after thought, and after all the work of piling the trees and branches for both of the piles, as well as covering each of them with well composted wood shavings  (obtained from a local logging company for free), I wasn’t going to go to the trouble and expense of the last step, covering the second pile with soil. But in the end, I couldn’t resist completely. Rather than covering the entire pile with soil, I did some “skin grafts” onto strategic places. The result isn’t beautiful, as I said earlier, but it is surprisingly good at growing things. I planted cucumber seeds there last Monday, and they started coming up this weekend. I also transplanted an extra tomato seedling and a squash seedling, and they seem to be doing alright.

Cukes up in 5 days


It ain’t beautiful but it works

More garden updates will happen over the summer. In the meantime, here’s some other interesting things growing in our one and a quarter acre Canadian Shield garden:

Mark is the real avid gardener in our family, and he’s recently developed an interest in grafting fruit trees in interesting combinations. Here is a hybrid cherry-plum branch that is flourishing on a native pin cherry tree:

hybrid cherry-plum grafted onto a pin cherry tree


This spring has been good to our grape vines as well; they are well ahead of schedule, and have started to put out abundant bunches already:

Look hard, you can see the bunches already formed


Grape vines need to be well trimmed every spring. This year, Mark took the cuttings and, after sharing them with friends, had enough left over to plant in various places around the yard, including on the edge of the bush. Grape cuttings seem to be quite hardy and will grow in many kinds of soil, as long as they are kept well watered in the first few months. Here’s some flourishing on the edge of our bush:

grape cuttings planted on edge of the bush

Now that you’ve had a tour of our Canadian Shield garden, here’s Canadian singer/songwriter Wendell Ferguson singing about his visits to northern Ontario (“…rocks and trees, trees and rocks, by the time you hit Kenora, you don’t wanna see any more of, rocks and trees, trees and rocks…”).



And speaking of radical acts, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, just ruled against Elizabeth May’s Point of Order regarding the Harper government’s horrible omnibus budget bill, C-38 .  In doing so, Scheer has ruled against a century of parliamentary tradition, clearly for partisan reasons. Canadian democracy is being killed not incrementally by this government, but swiftly and surely as they stomp all over Canadian values and democratic tradition. If you are a Canadian and you care about our freedom, please call Andrew Scheer’s office, 619-992-4593, and let him know how appalled you are by this ruling. For more information about May’s Point of Order, and its importance, see these links: To Allow C-38 to Masquerade As A Legitimate Omnibus Bill Will Bring Our Institutions Into Greater Disrepute For The Record: House of Commons Speaker Rules Against Elizabeth May’s Point Of Order

A Fiery Summer Continues

I can hear the Ministry of Natural Resources helicopter up in the sky early on this hazy Red Lake morning. The smoke from nearby forest fires continues to drift  into town, getting better or worse depending on the wind direction. This morning it’s heavier than it has been in a few weeks. The fire situation in the region is  keeping  the fire fighters extremely busy as our dry and sunny weather continues. Our family is planning another canoe camping trip this week, but where we go will be determined by the fire conditions when we leave on Wednesday. Currently there are three fires burning in Woodland Caribou Park, and the access point that we generally use is closed.

As the global climate changes from our carbon pollution in the atmosphere, scientists say we can expect more and more severe weather. This year in northern Ontario we are more fortunate than the folks in Texas, who haven’t had rain since last fall and whose farmers are now slated to get emergency relief from the government due to the conditions of “drought, excessive heat, high winds, and wildfires”. Those people who say that addressing climate change is too expensive, haven’t considered the big picture. Governments aren’t going to be able to afford to compensate everybody who faces calamity because of increasingly severe weather conditions. Former World Bank Chief Economist Lord Stern has said that climate inaction will cost one third of the world’s wealth. The Texas drought relief is just one small example of how we will all start to pay for our government’s reluctance to address this issue. How could they start? Carbon fee & dividend, which collects a fee at the source of the carbon pollution – mine, well, etc – and passes the money collected back to citizens and/or households (dividend) would allow the market place and human ingenuity to develop newer, cleaner ways of running our economy and producing goods. Want to learn more? Check out this great resource, Building a Green Economy, by Citizens Climate Lobby member Joseph Robertson.

smokey sunrise over Howey Bay. July 2011

Shape Up Or Ship Out: A Northern Perspective On Global Warming

Xavier Kataquapit, columnist and author

Xavier Kataquapit is originally from Attawapiskat, Ontario on the James Bay coast. In his popular newspaper column, Under the Northern Sky, he writes about his experiences as a First Nation Cree person. In April he wrote this column, Shape Up Or Ship Out, about how global warming is already affecting the north. Here is an excerpt; to read the whole article, go to Wawatay News.

Everywhere I travel these days, I feel the effects of global warming. Weather patterns are changing, ice caps are melting, glaciers are receding and it is all becoming very obvious.

I first started hearing about a change in climate from some of the Elders from up the James Bay coast about 20 years ago. More recently, I have learned through news from the worldwide scientific community that a phenomenon such as global warming is upon us.

Although there is a debate happening with opposition to this concept being fuelled by big corporations, most reasonable people have accepted that global warming is the result of human-caused pollution.

There are so many ramifications of global warming.

Changes in weather and temperatures, even though they don’t seem critical, can have great effect on wildlife. This means that my people the Cree and the Aboriginal people of northern Canada will be facing changes in our traditions and culture as it relates to our relationship to the land and animals.

Already, we see the polar bear populations being affected as well as changes in the annual goose migration. The shorter winter freeze is also affecting my people’s ability to travel in the North.

In colder months, we make great use of the frozen landscape to move about and a winter road connects communities up the James Bay coast. With the change in climate the winter road is going in later and thawing sooner every year.

Many in the corporate world and some in government are doing their best to discredit the scientists, writers and educators who are trying to alert us to this crisis of global warming. That sounds like a nasty thing to do but it is not the first time this form of denial has been encouraged.

…It is easy to feel helpless with such enormous issues like global warming but we can have a voice...Our future depends on it.

More links:

Under The Northern Sky

Wawatay Xavier Kataquapit

Eating Local, Eating Well: Meals From A Northern Garden

We woke up this morning to a hazy world, like many of the other communities in northwestern Ontario. Our corner of the province has 100 forest fires burning, and two First Nation communities north of us, Keewaywin and Sandy Lake, are being evacuated today. So far this year 178,514 hectares have been burned, compared to last year (a slow fire summer) in which 13,863 hectares were destroyed by fire. The average is 61,479 hectares, so we’re well over that this year, and it’s not even the end of July. A friend who lives in downtown Red Lake took this photo of this morning’s sunrise over Howey Bay:

The view of Howey Bay from downtown Red Lake this morning. Photo by Kathy Tetlock

Eating local is part of moving away from oil dependency to local resilience. The good news is, it’s also healthier and tastier than the pre-packaged fast food and junk food that makes up the average North American diet these days. As rates of diet-related disorders such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease soar, eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed food laced with sugar and/or salt becomes a way to live longer and happier, not just live more lightly on the planet.

Today is “Meatless Monday“, where people are encouraged to cut out meat as a way to eat healthier and combat climate change. In our household these days, every day is meatless because our two university-aged daughters are home for the summer, and they are both vegetarians. Luckily, they are both good cooks, too, so Mark and I haven’t missed eating meat. And both girls make an exception in their vegetarian diet for fresh,local fish, so that has been a delicious supplement to our mainly meatless diet.

Last night Emma, our youngest, took charge of making supper. The result was a delicious, mostly local meal of homemade pasta, fresh pesto made with basil from our garden, and a strawberry lettuce salad also made with garden-fresh ingredients. What a blast for the taste buds that was!

fresh pesto
Homemade fettucini with fresh pesto
Lettuce salad with strawberries

Here’s the link to the pesto recipe that Emma used (although she used 4 cups of basil, and decreased the olive oil to 1/2 cup): Basil Pesto Recipe.

As I was preparing to post this, I got another reminder, besides the smoke, that I live in northern Ontario. I heard our dog barking madly, and looked up to see a black bear in our backyard, not 10 feet from my office window. I would have loved to have snapped a picture, but our dog chased it off promptly. My oldest daughter arrived home on her bicycle five minutes later, taking in stride the fact that she had met up with the same black bear on the road!

More links and Resources:

Northern Ontario battles 92 Wildfires As More Loom

MNR Photos of Red Lake Fire #59

Climate change 2 : Forests soak up third of fossil fuel emissions : ‘Science’ study

Gardening In a Short Growing Season by Graham Saunders

Eating Local Is Delicious With Rhubarb Kuchen

Here in northern Ontario where I live, rhubarb is the first harvest from the garden that we  look forward to.  In anticipation of a meal of homemade pasta and grilled eggplant that’s planned for tonight (thanks to Michael who is willing to share his expertise in Italian cooking gained in the kitchens of his mother and grandmother) I picked some rhubarb from the garden for a very Canadian dessert.  Here’s the result, adapted from a Peach Kuchen recipe from the More With Less cookbook (fyi – I doubled it):

Red Lake Rhubarb Kuchen

Combine in bowl:

1 1/3 cup sifted flour (I used a combination of unbleached white and whole wheat flour)

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 T sugar

Then, cut in 1/3 butter (I used half butter and half light olive oil) and then pat mixture over bottom and sides of a 9″ pie pan or skillet.


Arrange in pastry:

2 cups fresh diced rhubarb

Then sprinkle rhubarb with:

1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon (I used honey)

Bake 15 minutes.


1 egg, beaten

1 cup sour cream, sour milk, yogurt, or combination

Pour over rhubarb and bake 30 minutes longer.

Rhubarb Kuchen

Okay, now it’s confession time – as I was typing up this recipe, I realized that I had baked the crust without the rhubarb (I have no excuse, I guess I wasn’t as wide awake as I thought)!  Since I realized this, I’ve had a small taste of it, and the rhubarb is slightly under baked but still tasty.  I also decreased the amount of honey by a bit, so it is a little tart.  It will still be dessert for tonight, but with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side to balance the tartness.  And next time, the rhubarb definitely will be baked for the right length of time.

Leap In the Lake For Climate Action

I’ve been rather busy lately, and one of the reasons is that I’m helping to organize an event to focus some attention on the urgent need to address climate change, while there is still a window for action.  So, this Saturday at 11:00 a.m., a hardy group of souls, including me, will be jumping into our local lake and raising money  for a good cause – our local Emergency Shelter’s local food initiative – at the same time.

For those of you who don’t live in northern Ontario, this may not sound like a foolhardy thing to do at the end of April.  However, when we committed to doing this back in March the odds were not good that the ice would be gone on the lake, although the average ice break-up day has been trending earlier over recent decades.  Last year, the ice was gone on April 20th, but the average ice-free day is May 7th.  This year it’s been a cool spring, and the ice is still quite solid.  This is what the dock looked like on April 12:

Town docks, April 12.2011

If the weather had stayed spring-like, we would probably be jumping into open water.  However, that wasn’t the case.  This is what the lake looked like 8 days later:

Town docks. April 20th.2011

There’s actually less open water!

So today I have a dedicated crew (thanks Perry, Chris, and Jordan!) who are going to get out on the ice and cut us a hole to jump into.  Then on Saturday, a local scuba diver trained in ice diving is going to be on hand, along with the local gold mine’s ice rescue team, just in case there’s an unexpected problem (thanks Ed and Mo!).

We are also going to have some guest “Celebrity Leapers”.  Graham Saunders, a meteorologist and lecturer at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay as well as author of “Gardening in a Short Growing Season” is making the 7-hour drive up to Red Lake to participate in the Leap in Red Lake as well as the local Earth Festival that is happening on this weekend.  Graham, who is also the President of Environment North, has been a guest blogger on 350orbust in the past.  Also making the trip from Thunder Bay is Peter Rosenbluth, the Northern Connections Coordinator for Ontario Nature.

I extended the invitation to participate in this local event to each of the candidates running in the federal election – Greg Rickford is the incumbent CONServative MP, Roger Valley is the Liberal candidate, Tania Cameron is running for the NDP, and Mike Schwindt is the Green Party candidate.  I haven’t heard anything back from Rickford’s office, despite several emails.  Mr. Valley declined the invitation but is supposed to be sending a delegate from his campaign team.  Ms. Cameron’s campaign manager told me she had another commitment that day, although I see that on the Facebook event page she is now signed up as “attending”.  And Mike Schwindt, the courageous Green Party candidate, has been an enthusiastic supporter, and willing “leaper”, since he first heard about it.

So, wish us luck on Saturday!  And even more important, consider creative and fun ways to raise the issue of taking action on climate change in your community.  Together, we can do this!

Thanks to Dimitris, Marlene, Suzanne, Perry, Catherine, Kaaren, Eleanor, Kelly and Donna who have stepped up to the plate in an amazing way to help make this event happen.  As well, Miigweech to the Red Lake Indian Friendship Centre for offering their space, and hot chocolate, on Saturday morning.  And, of course, a big shout out to all the “Leapers” who are crazy enough – and committed enough – to take a leap for a really good cause!