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EcoReality Co-op Newsletter

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Dam, WWOOFers Highlight EcoReality News

It's been an interesting couple of months at EcoReality. (Sorry we haven't had a proper newsletter since December, 2006!)

How our pond looked before the dam breached.

Some beavers got in our neighbor's pond and tried to dam up the outflow. Our neighbor broke up the beaver dam, which flowed downhill into (you guessed it) our pond, plugging up our outflow. The water then raised up to the dam spillway, which was improperly constructed, and the dam washed out.

James discovered it: "Hey, do you know the pond is empty?" he asked. "Oops," I thought to myself. The neighbor had told me what he did to the beaver dam, but he neglected to mention that perhaps the debris might affect our dam, and I hadn't given it adequate thought.

So now we have a dam pond with a trickle of water in it, and a poorly-constructed dam that needs to be repaired.

The original earthen dam was reinforced with some poorly-cemented rocks, and a culvert at the outflow level. When that dam culvert blocked, the water raised up above the outflow, and began to attack the dam spillway, causing the dam earth to erode and eventually wash out.

So the proper way to fix it is with an outflow that is fed from nearer the center of the pond, with some pipe coming up to the surface. If we use something that can be extended, we can adjust the water level at will. We also want to put in a second outflow of six-inch PVC pipe, which can eventually be hooked up to a low-head micro-hydropower system.

But first things first -- the most important thing is the geometry of the dam pond, and re-constructing the dam spillway. The inside slope should be set at 1:2 (rise over run), but it was much steeper than that at the breach, causing dam material to migrate down the inside of the dam. The spillway needs to be fairly impervious to outflow, but the failed spillway was just a concrete pour on the top of the dam, allowing water to eat away at the weakened earth below the spillway. The outside of the dam should be sloped at 1:3, but it was way too steep at the spillway, contributing to the breach. The inside of the spillway should be lined with rocks, not just the outside, which is how the original dam spillway was constructed.

Blame the blackberries

The biggest issue with the dam repair project -- and a big reason why the beaver-dam debris problem wasn't readily detected -- is that the place is totally overrun with dam blackberries -- a special, insidious variety that only grows where you need to work. If you don't know much about blackberries, you should at least understand that a two-meter (six foot) thick patch of blackberries is a powerful deterrent to exploration, and I plead guilty to not having closely inspected the dam. If you don't understand how something works, it will eventually fool you.

So this is where the WWOOFers come in. Anyone who has battled blackberries knows it is a tedious, labour-intensive process. Dave Atkins, our very first WWOOFer (and we were his very first WWOOF site!) and I got a good start on fighting back the dam blackberries, and Candice Duchesse and Galaad Perrier, our second and third WWOOFers, continue to make steady progress against the dam blackberries. I must say that, we are totally pleased with our dam WWOOFers so far!

Once we've gotten rid of the blackberries and repaired the dam, we will plant a multi-story, edible guild of plants, from reeds at the water's edge, to an under story of fruit and nut bearing plants, to an overstory of willows that will keep the pond shaded and reduce evaporative loss. With a multi-story complementary planting in place, the blackberries should be out-competed, and easily controlled. And all those different roots will help keep the dam in place better than the dam blackberries did.

If any of this sounds interesting, come on down to help us repair the dam! Remember to bring your wellies!

More good news this month: we've qualified for an energy efficiency grant with City Green, and will be getting over half the cost of insulating our floor back. I estimate the pay-back time on the insulation to be about three years.

--Communication Steward, Jan Steinman

Biofuel Blast

Workshop instructor Kelly O'Toole explains the construction of a biodiesel processor.

How are biofuels really performing when net energy is considered?

Researchers studying the energy it takes to process virgin plant fuels into usable forms for automobiles and other engines have found that on balance, it takes 29% more fossil fuel to create ethanol, a biofuel from corn, than the net energy produced when the ethanol is combusted in engines.

Similarly, the biodiesel from soy takes 27% more energy to harvest and process than the energy it can produce when burned. Other non-conventional sources for plant-based biofuels such as switchgrass, wood biomass and sunflowers require 45%, 57% and more than 50% more energy, respectively, to produce than the amount of energy in the resulting biofuel itself. These results, from a Cornell-Berkeley study by Pimentel and Patzek that was released in July 2005, show that there is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel. A Harvard environmental scientist, McElroy agrees.

Oh, but wait, there are several opportunities to get waste, or "already used" oils and transform them into biofuels. Is there an energy benefit in using recycled oil for biofuels?

Yes! Especially when waste fuels from restaurants/crop wastes etc. are sourced locally and transformed in a bioreactor for use on site, such as what we are in the process of building at EcoReality.

Locally, biofuels from waste oil streams make sense. But as a solution to long-term energy needs on a national or international scale, the costs appear to far outweigh the benefits.

The social side of ecology is a big area that we must all consider when weighing the pros and cons of a consumer purchase, a landowner decision, or even how to ensure that the water needs of our farms and forests are met in the age of climate change. Let's be proactive, and work together to get to the bottom of the so-called "ecological" or "environmental" political moves of big industry. When you listen to media reports, always wear your critical thinking cap, and if you have questions, ask them!

Ecologically yours and all the best for a sustainable 2007!

-- Shan, Ecology Steward 21:10, 12 February 2007 (PST)

Garden plan

Farm Steward Carol Wagner prepares a raised bed for planting.

The plan for the main garden across the driveway from the main house has been put into SketchUp. and shows that the existing raised beds will be removed. The two smaller beds are running east west when they should be north south and the large bed is too big to access the interior of the bed. We want to make raised beds without wood sides running in a north/south direction. Starting two feet from the northern fence edge and two feet from the eastern fence edge, beds will be constructed that measure 4 feet wide and between 8 and 12 feet long. The beds will continue across with two feet between each bed so that there would be 6 beds across. If the beds are 8 feet long, there will be 3 rows of 6 beds and if the beds are 12 feet long, there will be 2 of 6 beds.

We're planning a chicken coop, built on the west side of the garden, between the big gate and the pear tree next to the kiwi arbor. A chicken wire fence would be run between the coop and the east side of the garden to keep the chickens out of the raised beds. Access to the chicken roost to collect eggs would be from outside the garden, next to the cottage carport.

There is a great need to deal with the water problem in the northeast area of the garden. Water is coming across the road and a ditch needs to be dug to divert the water around the outside of the fence on the north side.

I hope you'll all join me in the garden!

-- Farm Steward, Carol Wagner

As of November 2007, the main garden has begun a process of expansion into the hayfield located at the Northeastern corner of the property. A new year-round farm care schedule will include the new design and planning for this garden area. Please check it out and join in! Ecology StewardShan 10:24, 4 December 2007 (PST)

We welcome visitors!

Visitors at one of our weekly potlucks.
We are WWOOF hosts (WWOOF is a worldwide organic farm volunteer labour organization), we have monthly meetings and weekly potlucks, and we generally like to share with others and gather inspiration.

Specifically, we welcome any visitors whose primary purpose for coming is to experience/participate in life at EcoReality, or as an invited guest of a member. Other types of visitors would do well to seek alternate accommodations on the island. If this is the case for you, please do contact EcoReality to arrange a non-overnight visit that works with our schedule. Thank for your understanding that we are not a purveyor of meals and lodging for tourists, etc.

Please contact us in advance of your visit. There are rare times when we may be unavailable, or there may be so many people on the farm already that it's bursting at the seams.

We are located at 2152-2172 Fulford-Ganges Road on Salt Spring Island. We are about 3km west of Fulford Harbour. (How to get to EcoReality.)

If arranged in advance, we can probably pick you up from the ferry in one of our biodiesel vehicles. We encourage carpooling, hitch-hiking, walking, and cycling (be very visible and very careful- the roads are NOT cycle friendly).

If you work at EcoReality for 6 hours a day, (i.e. you WWOOF or help with one or more of a number of different activities that have been agreed upon by members or listed by the farm steward), you receive a night's lodging and 3 meals in exchange for your work.

If you are not a working guest, we suggest a voluntary contribution to help us defray costs: overnight accommodation contribution suggestions are $25/night per person indoors and $5/night per person camping. Meal donation suggestions are $7 breakfast, $9 lunch, $9 dinner, per person.

Please refer to the welcome letter for more information on what to expect when you arrive. Note: We prefer if WWOOFers and visitors bring their own sheets and pillowcases/pillows or sleeping bags unless pre-arranged with Carol, thanks!

For more details on working on the farm, please see work parties.

Also see our WWOOF FAQ. We request that people coming primarily as WWOOFers (work-echangers) complete our WWOOF application, so we have emergency contact info, etc.

If you would like to visit, wwoof or join us in a work party, please contact us or call 250-653-2024.

Recent Happenings

Here are some highlights of recent meetings and events. Click any entry for details.

Saturday, 6 January 2006: members' meeting 
insulation purchase authorized, planning for Diana Leafe Christian workshop, newsletter planning, Elizabeth May's visit, program and garden plans
Tuesday, 23 January 
Green Party leader Elizabeth May visits EcoReality.
Saturday, 3 February members' meeting 
Additional Class A shares authorized, WWOOFers discussion and agreements, ING meeting planning, securing the premises, biodiesel price set
Wednesday, 7 February 
Island Natural Growers (ING) meet at EcoReality.
Sunday, 18 February members' email meeting 
Agreement on WWOOFers gift budget.

March 2007 Events

For details, please go to the meetings page on our website. All activities are at EcoReality, 160 Sharp Road, Salt Spring Island, unless otherwise noted.

Saturday, 3rd, 10AM, Members Meeting 
This is a meeting for financial stakeholders, the members of EcoReality Coop. Anyone is welcome to attend and observe, but please let us know you're coming. This month: program planning, dam repair, misc proposals (listed on agenda).
Saturday, 3rd, 2PM, Advisory Council Meeting 
This is a meeting for the Advisory Council, to keep abreast of what's going on and to provide input. We typically have a group activity or brainstorming session.
Saturday, 3rd, 6PM, Potluck 
After the Advisory Council meeting, we get together for a shared meal. You don't have to come to the meeting to come to the potluck! Can't bring a dish? Call in advance to see if we expect to have extras.
Sunday-Tuesday, 4th-6th, 10AM-5PM, Work party 
Work parties typically start with a farm tour. This month, we'll be working on garden prep and facilities maintenance. Wear old clothes! Meals and lodging supplied for workers; non-workers are asked for a nominal fee for meals and lodging, as outlined in our welcome letter.

Thank you for supporting EcoReality with your interest, ideas, and good thoughts!

Want to write for this newsletter? Or want to see something written about? Contact the Communication Steward with your story ideas!

EcoReality Coop (directions)
2152 Fulford-Ganges Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1Z7, Canada
+1 250.653.2024
Info AT EcoReality DOT org

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