‘Independence Day’ for Sobeys Franchisees

July 14, 2009

I just caught a very interesting (and inspiring) article on the CBC.ca website relating to the ‘buy local’ craze that seems to be sweeping the nation these days.

Apparently, nine Sobey’s store owners recently decided to (partially) cut their ties with the franchise so that they’d be able to start offering a lot more local products – a practice that was previously a major challenge due to Sobey’s corporate policies. The nine stores joined forces, becoming what is known as the Hometown Grocers Co-Op.

Here are a couple of blurbs from the article:

“We feel that local food, local presence is huge in our market and we wanted to take advantage of that,” [Dale Kropf – owner of four of the nine stores in the co-op] says.

Canadians are increasingly subscribing to the “buy local” and “100 mile diet” philosophies due to concerns over imported food, Kropf adds. “The pressure was always mounting — the more recalls, the more bad press from China or wherever the product was coming from. I know that in our case, our private label pickles are made in Indonesia. I couldn’t believe that.”

As a franchisee for a large grocery chain, Kropf says, corporate policies stipulating that he only buy federally inspected meat prevented him from stocking local products. Most federally inspected meat in Canada comes from large corporations such as Maple Leaf, Cargill and Tyson.

The nine stores have retained their wholesale relationship with Sobeys for items such as dog food, spices and breakfast cereals, but the chilled meat section of Kropf’s store in Elora, Ont., is now stacked high with fresh pork, chicken and beef that comes from no farther than 60 kilometres away.

The stores are located in southern Ontario communities such as Arthur, Durham, Lucknow and Palmerston.

Be sure to check out the full article here >> Buy-local push prompts Ontario grocers to go independent<<

I think it is fantastic that these store owners are taking such a major (undoubtedly scary) step in an effort to support local producers, and of course provide customers with more local produce options.

I’ve definitely been disappointed with the lack of truly local goods in big grocery stores in Waterloo region myself, and certainly hope that this is just the beginning of a new trend!

Anyway – just wanted to share that!

[tags]buy local, sobeys, factory farms, 100 mile diet, local produce, maple leaf, tyson, cargill, pork, beef, poultry[/tags]

Gardening With Red Worms

July 14, 2009

Bean Garden & Red Worm Habitat
These may look like your average straw-mulched gardens, but…

…they’re NOT! 😆

During the several years of writing about vermicomposting online I’ve been asked quite a few times about adding worms to gardens/lawns to help improve soil quality, plant vigor etc. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to have the notion in their heads that if they simply add worms to their barren soil miracles will happen.

Add to that the fact that the composting species (the worms I write about and sell) typically don’t do all that well in soil – being adapted for life in rich, organic materials – and the outlook becomes pretty bleak. The really sad part is that some unscrupulous (or perhaps overly optimistic?) compost worm dealers will actually still sell worms to people wanting to introduce them to their soil…[sigh]…but that is an entire subject unto itself!

Of course, what people should actually be focusing on is improving their soil so that more worms move into the area (obviously if you live in an area completely devoid of earthworms you may in fact need to introduce some – but you definitely need to create a good habitat first!) – and the key to success??


I’m sure everyone remembers that famous line from ‘Field of Dreams’ – “If you build it, they will come”! Well, the same holds true for your soil – build it up with lots of organic matter, and native earthworms will gravitate towards it (again, unless of course there are none within miles of your location). Common sources of organic matter include grass clippings & fall leaves, but there are countless other possibilities such as manure, peat moss, straw etc.

OK – so that is basically how you get your regular ‘garden variety’ of soil worms to increase in numbers and improve your soil. But what about composting worms? Is it AT ALL possible to add them to your gardens – and more importantly, KEEP them in your gardens?

I’m happy to report that the answer is indeed yes…with a little bit of extra work and care on your part, that is!

I’ve written previously (here and elsewhere) about my ‘vermicomposting trenches‘. This is certainly a prime example of how you can basically introduce composting worms into your garden. I love this approach because it’s not only great for your plants but it also represents an excellent approach for keeping populations of Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) outdoors. Unlike keeping worms outside in plastic ‘worm bins’ (a definitely ‘no no’ unless in the shade, and brought in for the winter), a trench is the ultimate protective habitat. In the summer it will stay fairly cool and moist, and in the winter (with a little extra protection) it will keep your worms alive during subzero weather.

Are trenches (and the closely related pits) the only option for gardening with Red Worms?

This is a question I’ve set out to answer this year, and I am optimistic that the answer will be a resounding “NO”!

There are a couple of main approaches I am in the process of testing out. The first involves what I like to think of as a ‘living mulch’ system. The image above shows a bean garden that has been set up in this manner. Essentially, the idea is that you not only mix lots of rich organic matter (in my case, horse manure and grass clippings) into the soil, but you also then add a layer of Red Worm habitat over top of the soil. This is then covered with straw to help keep moisture in (and the worms alive/active).

This so-called ‘habitat’ is the material I refer to as ‘compost ecosystem‘ – basically bedding/food material that most of the larger worms have been removed from. It is typically loaded with cocoons and baby worms, and usually has quite a lot of good vermicompost in it as well. Apart from the relatively thin Red Worm ‘biosphere’ on the soil surface, I’ve also been adding the ecosystem material to the planting holes, thus providing the worms with sheltered retreats during hot/dry spells (not to mention providing the young plants with a great environment in-which to kickstart their growth).

So far I have been REALLY impressed with the results! In all honesty I have never been able to grow good bean plants – they always seem to be stunted or distorted, and end up producing a pitiful crop (same goes with peas). This year I vowed to become ‘master of the legumes’ (haha), and while I don’t think I’ll quite live up to the title, I do look like I’m on my way to having a bountiful crop of beans and peas. Obviously, I can’t say for sure how much of my success is due to my Red Worm gardening methods, and how much is simply due to better gardening techniques in general – but my hunch is that the worms are definitely helping!

How exactly?

Red Worms are an asset to your plants because they greatly help to speed up the break down of organic matter into humus and plant-available nutrients. Microbes of course are doing their lion’s share of the work, but without the worms mechanical fragmentation abilities, and unique gut environment it just wouldn’t happen nearly as quickly, or result in a material quite a special as worm castings.

Moving on to my second (new) Red Worm gardening approach…

Another method I am trying essentially involves growing plants in open vermicomposting systems. I was inspired to start doing this on purpose after several years of watching healthy plants grow out of my wooden backyard worm bin on their own (to read more about this be sure to check out these posts on the Red Worm Composting blog: Compost Bin Potatoes & Compost Bin Tomatoes).

I’ve written already about my ‘Worm Bed Potato Gardens‘ over at RWC as well. Initially, I wasn’t all that optimistic about my chances of success with this approach. I assumed that the continual settling of material in the bins, coupled with the constant worm movement down below would make for a very unstable (and thus unfriendly) growing zone for the roots/tubers of the beans and potatoes planted in the systems.

Worm Bin Potato Box
Young potato and bean plants seem to be enjoying the compost-rich habitat provided by this worm box

On the vermicomposting side of the equation, I also worried that the boxes would get too hot sitting in directly sunlight during the summer.

I must say that I am definitely feeling a lot more optimistic about this approach now, several weeks after getting started. In fact, I’ve come to realize that this may very well be a downright excellent approach for growing potatoes. As a few people have pointed out, a great way to stimulate more tuber growth is to continue heaping up organic matter and soil against the stem of the plant. Well as it turns out, in the case of my worm bin potato boxes, this is exactly what is going to be happening. As the worms lower the level of organic matter in the bin, I will be continuing to add ‘food’ (in this case bedded horse manure) on top, so all the plants in the boxes will end up with pretty long stems, mostly buried in organic matter. I’m not sure this will be quite so favourable for the beans, but they do seem to be doing reasonably well, so we’ll see how it pans out.

Speaking of beans…

Laundry Line Bean Planter

Another set of these planter-worm-bins are sitting at the base of my laundry line posts, and are being used to test the growth of pole beans. My hope is that I’ll end up with a massive overhanging growth of various runner beans. Apart from the laundry lines themselves, I’ll be adding some lines of twine between the two posts as well, so as to provide the beans with more growing space.

I’ve often felt guilty about not using the laundry lines for their intended use a lot more often, but at least this way they are being used for SOMETHING!

I should mention that the set-up of these bean boxes was somewhat different from the potato boxes. All I did in the case of the potato systems was fill wooden boxes with partially composted horse manure containing loads of Red Worms. With the bean planters I first added a thick layer of aged horse manure, then added peat moss and coffee grounds (with crushed egg shells to help offset the acidity of these materials), and finally topped everything with the ‘compost ecosystem’ material I talked about earlier. Aside from not having enough ecosystem material to fill both planters, I also wanted to make sure that the systems didn’t settle too much, thus behaving a little more like a normal planting box.

As mentioned, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about my chances of success with the crops in my various ‘Red Worm gardens’, but we shall see how everything pans out over the long haul!

Stay tuned – I’ll definitely be providing updates!

[tags]gardening, potatoes, beans, legumes, red worms, vermicomposting, worm composting, worm bin, compost bin, composting, compost, vermicompost, worm castings, organic gardening, worm bed, raised beds, planters[/tags]

Worm Inn Pro – COMING SOON!

July 8, 2009

Worm Inn Pro

I’ve been sold out of ‘Worm Inns’ for quite some time now, and have decided to discontinue selling my ‘mini’ worm bin system/kits (apologies for not updating the page until today!), but I am very happy to announce that my second batch of Worm Inns are on there way to me now, and will hopefully be here by the end of next week (July 17, 2009).

I’ve decided to no longer carry the regular Worm Inns, opting instead for the new ‘Worm Inn Pro’. This model is similar to the ‘regular’ version in every way except for the lid design. The original screen simply attached via velcro in four spots – in the Worm Inn Pro the screen is attached via a continuous zipper. In my opinion this is a huge improvement since it will greatly improve the chances of keeping pesky flying bugs (like fruit flies and fungus gnats) out of the system. Should you happen to develop an infestion, it will also help to keep it contained a lot more easily.

I should mention that this system does NOT come with a stand, but I’ve found that an inexpensive laundry hamper stand can work very well to support the Inn. Alternatively, you may opt to simply hang the system using bungy cords or something similar.

I currently have a couple of the older versions up and running in my basement, and have been really pleased with the results. I harvested beautiful vermicompost from my original Worm Inn several months ago, and will be doing so again very soon.

I plan to write more about my experiences with the Worm Inn and will be making a video about the system as well. If you would like to learn more, or reserve a Worm Inn Pro (or make reservations for your worms at the Inn? haha) be sure to fire me an email. Just so you know, I’ll only have 10 units (5 colours) in my first batch, so they will likely go pretty fast.

To learn more, and to see what colours are available, be sure to check out the ‘bins and kits‘ page.

Harvest Ontario

July 6, 2009

Harvest Ontario

I was recently doing some shopping at our local (Elmira) Home Hardware store when the word “Harvest” caught my attention on the cover of a small magazine sitting in a stack near the check-out.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a stack of ‘Harvest Ontario 2009’ guides – a complimentary listing of many of the small ‘local’ farms, markets, fairs/exhibitions, B&Bs, Wineries, and Meat/Deli businesses from across Ontario.

As I mentioned in my recent ‘100 Foot Diet‘ post, I seem to have caught the ‘buy local’ bug this year, so I was certainly more than happy to grab a copy on my way out of the store. As the name implies (and as mentioned above), the guide isn’t focused only on businesses that are ‘local’ for us here in Waterloo Region, but there certainly are quite a few listings from our area.

I think it’s also great to have a guide like this if you are planning to do some travelling this summer – no matter where you end up (in Ontario) you’ll be able to find some great local attractions.

You can find lots of great information (and listings) on the Harvest Canada website as well, so I recommend you check that out if you can’t track down a copy of the guide.

In my next post I will share another great guide/website that IS geared specifically to businesses in our region.

Stay tuned!

The Toronto Garbage Strike

July 3, 2009

I’ve always found it intriguing that the Chinese symbols for crisis are the equivalent of danger + opportunity.

Humans are interesting to watch in times of crisis, or even impending crises. I’m sure everyone remembers the craziness that ensued once the ‘Y2K bug’ was announced. All the books, TV shows, food stockpiling etc etc – it ended up being almost a disappointment when nothing happened.

I was certainly reminded of this again last week as I waited in line at my local LCBO – with my modest three bottles of wine in hand – on the eve of the impending strike.

Some of us panic in these situations (I enjoy vino with dinner on occasion – sue me! haha), while others seem to really embrace the inherent ‘opportunity’ being presented to them. Take the case of LCBO strike for example – if there HAD been a strike (can you imagine the headlines? “The Ontario Booze Crisis!”), I’m sure the more enterprising drinkers among us would have explored other options – like drinking more beer, or homebrewing, or perhaps complete abstinence (ok, maybe not)?

The current garbage strike (or ‘garbage crisis’ if you prefer) in Toronto is another prime example of a golden opportunity for people – an opportunity to at least spend more time truly thinking about the ‘garbage’ they produce. As I’ve seen first hand, a lot of people seem to be doing more than that.

It warms my heart to learn that a lot more people are starting to take matters into their own hands (NO, I don’t mean taking their garbage and dumping it elsewhere! haha) – making an effort to learn more about composting and other waste management options.

A number of Toronto area people have emailed me about getting into vermicomposting, and I think that’s awesome.

As cool as the ‘green bag/cart’ program is, and as much as I approve of the idea (primarily for the countless people that will never, ever try composting), I’ve always felt that it makes way more sense to do it yourself and enjoy all the rewards (such as the feeling of independence, and of course the beautiful compost).

Vermicomposting in particular offers real benefits for those living in densely populated urban areas, like the GTA. You don’t need a lot of space or fancy equipment to get started – a tiny Rubbermaid bin the size of a shoebox would get you moving in the right direction. You may not be able to use ALL your compostable waste materials initially if you only have room for a tiny bin – but at least it’s a start.

Anyway – just some random thoughts rattling around my brain on a dreary Friday.