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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

When it was time to have our cracked and dripping gutters repaired, I piped up with, “Hey, let’s set up a rain barrel!” I was thinking about those tomato seedlings I had just ordered: they were going to need water, and we didn’t even have a working outdoor faucet. A rain barrel seemed like the perfect, enviro-friendly solution.

“A rain barrel is an easy way to reduce tap water consumption,” says Janis Crawford, co-owner of Alter Eco, a local company that makes rain barrels from recycled materials. You can use rainwater to water your plants and lawn, clean your entranceway or fill a pool. Her company estimates that you can collect about 800 litres of rainwater per month from April to October, with just one barrel.

Founded in 2001 by Jean-Martial Bonis, Alter Eco is “a Quebec business with a positive view of environmental change.” Crawford says interest in rain barrels has really grown in the last three to four years. Last year, they made 7,000 rain barrels. Many were sold to municipalities that have set up programs to promote rain barrel use.

Happy tomato plants

Restoring the natural cycle of water

Not only are costs for producing drinking water astronomical, but Crawford points out that, with some cities experiencing tap water shortages or placing restrictions on water use, collecting rainwater is becoming a necessity.

There is also a global water management aspect. “Because we’ve paved over everything, and because of the way our houses are built, rainwater goes from our gutters straight into the sewer system, rather than into green space, where it can filter through the ground down into our aquifers,” says Crawford. “This is one of the reasons that the aquifers of some cities are emptying. We’ve sealed off a whole part of the natural cycle of water.”

Choosing a rain barrel

There’s a wide choice of rain barrels at home renovation and hardware stores, but I like Alter Eco’s Rain Saver because it is made here in Quebec from recycled, food-grade plastic.

“We’re giving a second life to an olive or pickle barrel,” Crawford explains. “So it’s not just that we haven’t produced new plastic, and all the pollution that comes with that, but it means the barrels are very solid compared to many of the other barrels out there. They were made to carry olives and pickles in cargo ships, so it’s a very thick plastic that doesn’t get altered by sun and rain.”

Her company adapts the cover, adding a double screen to keep out mosquitoes, insects and leaves. They install a tap at the bottom, for filling a watering can or attaching a hose, and an overflow valve at the top, so that you can direct excess water away from your house’s foundation.

Installing the barrel

Happy kids

Alter Eco will deliver the rain barrel to your door, but you have to install it yourself. I’ll admit that in our case, my husband did all the dirty work: he levelled out the ground with a shovel and set up a base, composed of two concrete bricks topped by a square patio stone, which he had picked up at one of the major home renovation stores (“pick up” being the operative phrase, because those stones are very heavy).

Now, we are all enjoying the benefits of our new rain barrel. Not just me, as I fill up my watering can to quench my garden’s thirst, but my children too: on hot days, watering the plants has become their favourite activity!

Facts and tips on water usage

According to Environment Canada, during the growing season water use can increase by as much as 50%. “While lawns require a lot of water, much of this water is wasted — lost due to over-watering and evaporation,” their website notes. For some interesting facts and useful suggestions, see Wise Water Use.

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When I started dating my husband-to-be, he served me lunch with fresh cherry tomatoes and homemade mint tea, picked moments earlier from his backyard. I was impressed.

Then we moved, he got a full-time job, and we had a baby. Somehow the mint and tomatoes got left behind. For the past three years I’ve been saying, “I must plant some vegetables in our yard.” It hasn’t happened.

But this is the year. As of a few minutes ago, I am committed: I have just pre-ordered two different varieties of organic, cherry tomato seedlings from the Coop la Maison Verte, through its annual Big Vegetable Seedling Sale.

For the 6th consecutive year, Coop la Maison Verte is teaming up with Ferme du Zephyr to offer a large variety of organically grown heritage tomato, vegetable and herb seedlings. Some 150 different varieties will be available at the Coop’s NDG store from May 7 to mid-July. But you can place your order now, either online at boutique.cooplamaisonverte.com, or in person at the store.

Stéphanie Guico, the Coop’s marketing coordinator, says the seedlings are organically germinated from heirloom seeds in the greenhouses of Ferme du Zephyr, a certified organic farm located in Senneville on the island of Montreal. “It’s a good compromise between sprouting your own seeds at home and picking up ‘whatever’ at the hardware store,” she says.

Heirloom or heritage plants are open-pollinated varieties that grow from rare seeds that have been preserved for generations. “By growing these plants, gardeners take part in preserving biodiversity by cultivating unusual varieties that are not offered by mainstream producers and are at risk of being lost completely,” the Coop’s press release states.

Ten years and 8,000 members strong

If you need help choosing what to order (I was a bit overwhelmed by the 70 different varieties of tomato plants), staff at the Coop are happy to help. Is it for a balcony or a backyard? Do you want your tomatoes for cooking or for salads? There’s also broccoli, cucumbers, squash, melons, sweet and hot peppers, lettuce, Swiss Chard and more. If you order online, you can opt for one of four delivery locations: Coop la Maison Verte (NDG), Coop du Grand Orme (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue), Cabaret des Bons voisins (Pointe Claire village), or Terre à Soi (Hochelaga-Maisonneuve).

Workshops related to the seedling sale will be offered in April and May, on topics such as food security, food sovereignty, permaculture and gardening. Stay tune via the Coop website or Facebook.

Much more than just a store

Coop La Maison Verte was founded 10 years ago, following Montreal’s infamous 1998 ice storm.  “Community organizers working with people in the weeks following the storm were astonished by the level of isolation in the community,” Guico explains. “They wanted to create a place, a community hub, where people could meet. They also wanted to do something about climate change, through people’s daily actions, starting at home.” (For the full story, see History on their website.)

Buy your laundry detergent (and lots more) in bulk

In keeping with this mandate, the Coop runs a store and café in the Montréal borough of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG), where it offers ecologically sound, sustainable products — school and office, personal care, home cleaning and home renovation — and whole foods. “Our policy is that food should be as local as possible, and organic if possible; if not local, then within North America; if not within North America, then Fair Trade,” Guico says.

La Maison Verte also hosts workshops on a variety of topics, from composting to bee-keeping.  In the summer, the Coop offers organic food baskets through Equiterre’s Community Supported Agriculture project, and it hosts a farmer’s market run by Ferme du Zephyr on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Guico says an important part of the Coop’s philosophy is to keep things accessible, realistic and within people’s means. “We provide information, we suggest, we propose, but we will never push or make people feel like they are not doing enough. We don’t want to belittle anyone’s actions because they are not ‘green’ enough; we want to build on what people are doing.”

Drop in for a coffee at Coop la Maison Verte, 5785 Sherbrooke Street West, corner Melrose (bus 105 from Vendôme metro).

Marketing coordinator Stéphanie Guico (front right) with co-workers Jacqueline Tremino, barista, and Kurt Houghton, store coordinator

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