Carre Rouge copy

The participants in the Quebec student’s movement against the university tuition hike are not just selfishly concerned with their own pockets but are part of the global sustainability and social justice movement that is sweeping the world. What keeps them motivated is their larger vision for a more humane and equalitarian society.  The students themselves acknowledge this fact in speeches and actions.

Big Red Cube 1 edit

The first video below is a brilliant, art piece drawing its inspiration from an excerpt from a speech given by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois the spokesperson for the largest student union “Classe”.  Below it is the video of  Nadeau-Dubois’ full speech (in two parts) translated into English.

Many demonstrations are organized as general demonstrations of protest against the policies of Jean Charest’s liberal government with grandparents, parents and neighbors participating.  Welcomed amongst the student’s red squares are: placards against unfettered resource extraction of shale gas and natural resources of all sorts without regard to environmental impact,  signs against attempts to privatize health care and support for clean food among others.

The students are not wasting their time.  They are getting a real life degree in political science.  During the strike most are educating themselves on the important issues of our time.  As one young protestor told me.  One day it was like everyone in her school suddenly woke up.  This strike is creating a generation of individuals schooled in political action capable and willing to work together.

The students are mobilizing in order to create a better world not only for themselves but for us too.

Posted in Social Justice, Videos, Working Together | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Small Scale Maple Syrup Making

This is how we spent many of our days in late winter and early spring this year.

Posted in Permaculture, Uncategorized, Videos, Working Together | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Working Together and Learning Sustainable Living Skills

The Green Life Farm belongs to the wwoof network.  Wwoof is an acronym for “world wide opportunities on organic farms”.  It  is a worldwide network of volunteers and farm hosts in more than 30 countries.  The web site for the Canadian division is www.wwoof.ca
We have wwoofed on a few farms and have been hosts on our own land.  It has always been a great experience one way or another.  Wwoofing is a way to experience sharing a space and values with other people.  With some people it only goes so far, while with others it flows like time spent with old friends.  Wwoofing is a good way to look into an alternative way of life.  It is a experience of self discovery since it is a leap into the unknown.  It may not be exactly what you’re looking for but it is always a learning experience.
This year we’ve had four wwoofers.  Three from Montreal and one from Maine

James and bread

James and the "no knead" bread he learned to make. We make our daily bread at The Green Life Farm.

Williamharvesting Camomille

William harvesting camomille in one of the medicinal herb gardens

Meagan and Roses

Meagan and the rose petals she harvested used to make rose oil.

James using hand saw

James using a handsaw to cut wood while helping to clear the area around the composting toilet cabin.

Composting Toilet Structure

The composting toilet cabin. The roof is used as a catchment for rain water.

Meagan and Drill Press

Meagan using the drill press to repair and recycle

William and Pea sign

William and the panel he hand lettered for the road side sign.

Meagan and Sylvain working the soil

Meagan and Sylvain working the soil in the new garden in the back meadow.

William moving Cabin

Working together to move a little cabin to the farm.

Little Cabin in the back meadow

The Little cabin in its new home.

Meagan and Ukulele

Meagan jamming

William and Moon

William being

Posted in Composting Toilet, Forest Work, Plant Medicine, Uncategorized, Working Together | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Identify Edible and Medicinal Plants

It is always a challenge to initially identify which plants can be eaten or used medicinally.  It is especially hard when they are seedlings and you are wondering whether you should pull or not pull from your seed bed.  I  eat the weeds and wild craft plants for medicinal purposes so I am always wondering when looking at a young plant “who are you?”.  The best reference for identifying plants is yourself.  Nothing like personal experience.  I often will mark the position of plants and come back over the course of time to take photographs until they flower and are more easily identified using a field guide.  Watching the plants progression over time and the experience of looking at them closely through a camera lens, or even better yet drawing them, really helps to me to remember them the following year.  The Photos below is one of the plants I have labeled in the garden this year to identify.  I believe it is Canadian Mint (mentha canadensis) or one of the other downy kinds of mint.  She smells like mint and has the typical square stem of a mint but only when she flowers will her true identity be revealed.

Myster Plant 1

Mystery Mint in the garden

Mystery Plant 1 second photo

After marking. A few weeks later. I am waiting for this mysterious, garden, denizen to flower and reveal its idenity

  I find using hard copy, field guides far more practical than electronic devices for identification while outside.  I could go on and on about how the digital world and nature are essential incompatible but, for now, I’ll leave it at that water, weather, grit and rocks don’t merge mix well with chips, ports, touch screens and electricity.  I use these five books together and do not rely on one source for identification.  There are lots of other books out there but I have found none as helpful as these five for my biosphere

A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs: Northeastern and north-central United States and southeastern and south-central Canada  This guide walks you through identification in the field using shape and arrangements of leaves, height, color,bark texture, flowering season and fruit. It has clear, drawings, extensive descriptions and an excellent flow chart for winter identification, put no photographs .
A Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America  Again, excellent drawings and descriptions, some color photographs.  It is based on the color of the flowers so the plant needs to be in bloom in order for you to identify it.
A Field guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America  Excellent color photographs, although sometimes a bit small.  Again organized by flower color so that the plant needs to be in bloom.
A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America Excellent drawings with some color photographs arranged by flower bloom color.  A list of the plants by season which is helpful
Ontario Weeds- Publication 505  I use this government publication by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food a lot.  It approaches the plants through a mindset of “evil plant” but has truly excellent photographs that are easy to leaf through with masterful illustrations and descriptions that examine the plant in minute detail.  It is also one of the only references I’ve seen that has illustrations of both the early stages and later stages of growth.

Another way to speed up the process of identifying and growing your garden is to buy seeds or plants from a business that identifies their plants with the Latin names as well as the common names.  That way you can study them as they grow and know what you are looking at.  If you are serious about plants, sooner or later you realize that everything becomes easier if you start learning the Latin names.  Relationship between plants of the same family become more obvious and specific cultivars easier to find.  Our European ancestors spent a lot of time and effort to come up with the system and it does work.  Sooner than you think, you will be able to look down at a volunteer sprout and think to yourself  “hmmm brasilica….I wonder what kind?”  Then wait a week or so until the true leaves appear to make a positive id.

Cabbage Start

The cotyledons of a cabbage. All members of the brasilica family look very similiar.


For plants that are edible or medicinal I use a number of books to cross reference. A series of books that I find very useful in my studies are Eulle Gibbon’s books that were written in the 1970’s.  Gibbon’s writes from personal experience and includes recipes that he has tried with each plant which is very refreshing approach because so many books today have recipes that the author has gleaned from the web but hasn’t tried themselves.  Gibbons has a fascinating life story.  He was born in Texas in 1911.  Starting as a young boy, He and his mother would gather wild food to eat.  He pursued his interest in wild food and herbs for his whole life.  Even though he only had a sixth grade education he became an excellent writer.  His books are a pleasure to read for their entertaining, personal and insightful tone.  In the 1960’s he became famous and even did a commercial for Grape Nuts cereal as well as appearing on the Tonight Show among others.  His books are:    

  • Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962)
  • Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop (1964)
  • Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1966)
  • Stalking the Good Life (1966)
  • Beachcomber’s Handbook (1967)
  • A Wild Way To Eat (1967) 
  • Stalking the Faraway Places (1973)
  • Feast on a Diabetic Diet (unknown publication date)


Posted in Permaculture, Plant Medicine, Uncategorized, Wild Harvest - Eat The Weeds | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to identify and eat Chickweed (stellaria media) recipe

Chickweed appears in the weed section of garden guides and government publications.  It is often one of the first plants that gardeners attempt to drive out of their garden.  But wait!  Don’t toss that chickweed on the weed pile.  Rather bring it to the kitchen and toss it in the skillet.  Chickweed is not only one of the tastiest garden weeds, it is one of the earliest, making it’s appearance in early spring when you crave green the most.  Not only is it edible but it is an excellent medicinal plant.   I will write about the magic potions made with chickweed when I brew them later this year..

The sprawling chickweed pant shows up ealy in the garden. A welcome and tasty site of green.

Chickweed flowers early and it is a good way to identify it. The five, white, petals are deeply split


The taste of chickweed is okay raw but where it really shines is lightly braised.  I swear it taste just like spinach.  I tried it in an omelet but I bet it would taste great too as a pot herb or soup green.  I am still rich in greens that have over wintered in the garden like kale, claytonia and leeks.  They also play a big part in my early spring diet.


serves 2
Big handful of chickweed
5 eggs fresh from the chickens
1/4 cup milk
1 leek pulled from the overwintered garden or an onion finely diced
1 cup of claytonia (miner’s lettuce-Montia perfoliata) from the over wintered garden
Oil or butter for frying


Chop the leek using all parts except the roots and the wilted tips (or slice the onion fine).  Heat the oil on low and stir in the leeks/onions.  Fry for a few minutes.  Chop the chickweed into 2 inch pieces and add to the leeks.  Beat the eggs and milk together.    Combine with leeks and chickweed.  Cover and cook until just firm.  Place on a plate and garnish heavily with the claytonia


Chickweed on the cutting board

Chickweed on the cutting board


Chickweed braised

Lightly braising it with after infusing the oil with the leeks


Chickweed omelet on plate

On the plate-a chickweed omelet-garnished with claytonia

Posted in Recipes, Wild Harvest - Eat The Weeds | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Temporary Root Cellar Update

After a long, snowy, Canadian, winter it is early April and I have a report on how our temporary root cellar  worked out…. FANTASTIC!  We constructed our temporary root cellar in the drainage ditch of our unfinished, permanent, root cellar.  The temporary root cellar worked even better than I thought it would.  I was fully prepared to share some of our root cellared produce with hungry creatures like mice and chipmunks since the back and front walls and the ceiling are made of hay bales.  During the winter, the root cellar was visited by moles that didn’t eat anything and just a few days ago by a creature that ate a carrot.  That’s it!  Just a carrot…
We still have stored apples, beets, carrots and turnips.  Everything remains nice and crisp.  All winter the temperature was between 40-45F with 95% humidity.  We never had a problem with freezing or it getting too warm in late autumn or early spring.
Our experience with the temporary root cellar is a fine example of how if you can stick to your vision and look for creative solutions to the challenges that living alternatively brings, you don’t have to throw money at it to make it work.  We paid $200 for the hay bales that we used for the roof and the walls of the root cellar.   We will use the hay bales this spring as mulch, compost and for weed suppression in the garden.  We tarped the bales with a tarp that we already had and weighted it down with rocks and a metal head board that we scavenged by the side of the road in the fall cleanup. It never crossed  our mind that we should buy a freezer and hook it up to the grid to preserve all the food that we had grown for eating during the winter and early spring. There is an alternative to buying all the time and every time, everything we think we need.  People have lived for thousands of years without a store across the street…   We are very lucky be able to live close to nature and be able to mindfully use, free of  charge, the cold, the moisture and the darkness of the root cellar to keep what we stored in a state of hibernation, while insulating them from the freezing cold and the heat and light from the sun.

Root Cellar Ditch

The hay bale support structure in the drainage ditch. You can see the form for the foundation of our permanent root cellar in the foreground


Hay Bales

All the hay bales in place except for the door. It all looks very ancient civilization....


Hay bales tarped from the weather and ready to show off

Root Cellar Covered With Snow

The temporary root cellar under a blanket of snow.

Posted in Energy, Permaculture, Root Cellar Videos, Root Cellars, Storing the Harvest, Tutorials, Videos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How To Make A Wattle Fence or Finally A Use For Those Alders

Completed Fence

I am rich in alders.  In my ignorance, I use to curse them but no more.  Not only are they a sustainable, quick growing, firewood but alders are strong and flexible enough to build a woven, wattle, fence.  I also find natural wood fences very pleasing aesthetically as compared to wire fencing.  Wattle fences have been used, at least since medieval times, as a popular, easy-to-construct, low-cost alternative to stone, timber or metal wire. Wattle material consists of readily available, fast growing plants like willow and alder that produce long straight branches. Historically, these fences enclosed animals, orchards, and gardens.

Scavenging Chickens

The feathered scavengers


Fencing is always an issue if you share your farm with animals.  I can’t abide the idea of keeping my animals confined in a small area. I don’t like to be on a short chain and I can’t imagine that any living creature does.  I free range my small flock of chickens but I have a neighbor with a very suburban mindset even though we live rurally.  I was told in no uncertain terms that there is to be none of that chicken shit gold gracing their lawn despite the fact that their primitive sewage system discharge on our land.! Last year I spent a good deal of time fencing between the neighbors and the feathered fiends.  Not only did fencing take time but it gets expensive.  The stuff actually sold as chicken wire is so thin that it ‘s basically biodegradable.  We found old chicken wire buried some places on our land and if wasn’t so tangled, crumpled and hard to dig out, could still be used after all these years.  So, after we spent a portion of the winter cutting alders to clear a pasture, I decided to see if I could reinforce the fence line using the alders as fencing.

Acres of Alders

Akders in all their glory

Alders Sex bits

Alder sex bits

First, I gathered about thirty thick alders and cut them five feet long to make the uprights for the fence.  I easily pointed them with my Japanese axe which is lightweight and very sharp.  Of course these stakes will biodegrade (rot) over time but I am trying to get over the idea that everything I make has to last forever, nothing last forever.  Besides, eternal life in the material world is a bad idea that is causing all sorts of environmental degradation and mountains of garbage.  Planned obsolesce is another thing, but I won’t go into that here……

Stakes without points

The gathered stakes to be pointed

making points

Making Points

Next, I pounded the stakes into the ground spaced no farther apart than two feet. This is an optimal spacing for both strength and ease of weaving.

Stakes in ground

The beginning-stakes placed in the ground

I worked the fence as a whole starting from the bottom and weaving the alders between the stakes just as you would weave on a loom.  This is the result of my first fence.  The chickens could fly over this fence but I find that chickens, like water, take the path of least resistance and they do not go over the fence as long as it is about three to four feet  high.  I have observed that as they are foraging, the chickens flow along the fence line not trying to break through but will rather wandering along and if there is a break in the fence they will go through it.

Completed Fence First One

First fence finished

I started a second section of fence.  I was looking to improve my technique and here are some of the things I came up with.  I am in no way a wattle fence expert but the more you wattle the better you get.

Start low and work entire fence

Start low and tight

1.  Start low and work the entire fence all at once

Start Behind were you left off weaving Whattle Weaving copy

2.  When you finish one length of alder start the next length one or two stakes where you left behind

Step on alders

Don't be afraid to apply pressure

3.  Press down or even step on the alders you are weaving to get the weave tight

Weave in the spaces

Mind the gaps

4.  Go back and weave short pieces in or force down small verticals to fill in the space

Posted in Fencing, Forest Work, Permaculture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments