Growing Food Indoors in the Winter Without Artificial Lighting

In southern Canada, it is possible to grow food indoors in the winter without artificial light. The amount of natural light the plants receive will be your limiting factor. How well it works will depend on several things:
1) The exact time of year. It’s generally not worth planting indoor veggies in Nov.-Dec. because the days are so short they won’t grow properly. You are better off planting in Aug-mid. Oct. or late January onwards.
1) Your latitude. The closer the poles you are, the shorter the day length and the less intense the sun’s rays. With too little light, your veggies will either long and leggy or will sit there and refuse to grow at all.
2) The type of vegetables you are growing. Sprouts are a special case that isn’t restricted by light. Of normal plants, greens need less light than root vegetables, which in turn need less light than fruiting veggies like tomatoes.
3) Weather during the winter. Sunny weather means more intense light and better growth than clouds and rain. Snow reflects light, increasing that available to your veggies.
5) A reflector. Some cardboard placed behind your plants and covered in tinfoil or painted white will increase the amount of light available to your plants. I’ve tested the tinfoil method against a control and baby salad greens grew noticeably better with the reflector than without it.
6) Size of your window. The bigger the window, the more light it will let in.
7) Which way does the window face: North, South, East or West? You’ll get the best growth in a south-facing window. A north-facing one probably isn’t worth bothering with unless you add supplementary artificial light.

Sprouts

Sprouts are the easiest, fastest vegetables to grow. If you can’t keep houseplants alive and kill anything green, you can still have wonderful success with sprouts.

Moving Outdoor Veggies Indoors

In addition to growing plants exclusively indoors, you can also extend the season for some vegetables by moving them indoors when the weather gets cold. This works well with tomatoes, which are actually perennials when kept warm enough. I find I can reliably get cherry tomatoes into December if I grow them indoors. In one case I even got a few in February. I’m intending to try the same thing with peppers this year, but am not sure what results I’ll get.

Climate Change, Alberta Floods, and Assorted Heatwaves

Between the flooding in Alberta and the heatwave coming up from the south, many people are asking whether they are caused by climate change. While this may seem like a simple question, it doesn’t actually have a yes or no answer.

Climate change is expected to cause extreme weather events to occur more frequently, including ones involving high temperatures or flooding. Over the past 20 years extreme weather events appear to be happening more frequently than early in the 20th century or in the 19th century. There is strong evidence that the CO2 being added to the atmosphere is having an effect on global temperatures and climate patterns.

This means events like the Alberta floods or the heatwaves in the USA are what we’d expect in a world with a changing climate. The combination of a 100 year flood in Alberta in 2005 and an even larger flood now makes me strongly suspect climate change is playing a role in these events. However, it is also true that there have always been extreme weather events.

Whether a given extreme weather event would have happened without climate change is hard to say. The event might have happened, but would likely have been less extreme – perhaps the floodwaters in x flood wouldn’t have been so high, or the winds in y hurricane have been so strong. It is much easier to correctly predict patterns in events rather than a single event.

So what can we say?

  • strong evidence climate change is causing more extreme events
  • climate change makes events like the Alberta floods and the incoming heatwave more likely
  • but generally can’t say outright yes or no on a given event

With Regard to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Plan

Here is an email I sent to Joe Oliver – Canada’s minister of Natural Resources – after his comments where he suggested that much of the opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway plan is foreign-funded and gave the general impression that to oppose the plan is to be unpatriotic. Since then, Prime Minister Harper has made some similar comments, and made it very clear that he intends to try to push the project through no matter what people think.

Dear The Honourable Joe Oliver,

I must say that I disagree with the implied slur against anyone who disagrees with the Gateway project. As it happens, I am not in favor of the Gateway plan. I am a born-in-Canada Canadian who lives in coastal BC. I disagree with the project for several reasons.

One: I am worried about the increase in tanker traffic in a very fragile ecosystem, and the potential for oil spills to harm an area I love.

Two: Oil spills in this area would not only damage one of the world’s most beautiful ecosystems, it would also seriously damage BC’s economy. BC gets a lot of money from fishing, as well as from tourism. A major oil spill would cost BC’s economy many millions of dollars and throw large numbers of people out of work.

Three: To put it bluntly, what does BC get for putting up with the increased risk of oil spills? Once the pipeline is built, I can’t see much in the way of BC jobs coming from this project.

Four: Another pipeline would encourage extraction of Alberta’s ground and river water for the oil sands at a faster rate than water can be replenished by rainfall. This would harm Alberta’s ecology, as well as making it harder for farmers to get irrigation water. This risks damaging Alberta’s economy.

Five: Faster extraction of oil from the oil sands makes Canada’s carbon footprint even worse, and I don’t like seeing my country shamed on this subject. Not to mention that I want to see Canada reduce its emissions because I want to live in a world that humans haven’t wrecked.

I think opposition to the Gateway is perfectly logical for a Canadian living on the BC coast, and would strongly disagree with any shortening of the public consultation process. If there’s that much opposition, it needs to be heard.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth

I played down my concerns with Climate Change a little, and didn’t mention Peak Oil at all since I thought it highly unlikely he would be willing to consider the problem. This is a shame, because one major downside to the Enbridge project is that it liquidates Canada’s oil resources too quickly.

The oil sands are not of uniform quality, and like all resources, Canada is producing the easier and more profitable ones first. Estimates of oil sands EROEI vary with both the source of the information and the source of the oil. Minable oil sands have a higher EROEI than in-situ oil sands. Typical EROEI values for oil sands extracted today are between 8:1 and 3:1 compared to modern conventional oil’s average of 20:1. There are a lot more in-situ oil sands than mineable ones.

Because the easier resources need less processing and other work to extract them, they have a higher EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested), and very likely a lower carbon intensity. This means that the oil sands we’ll be using in 10 years time are going to be lower EROEI and produce more Carbon per barrel produced, making oil from the oil sands even worse for the environment than it is now.

If the EROEI for the oil sands ever drops below 1:1 there is no point in digging any more, even if there is still oil in the ground, because we will be using more energy to get the oil out than we can get out of the oil.

Under such circumstances I would much rather use the oil sands slowly. After all, it is not likely that oil will suddenly become valueless in the future. While renewable energy sources are vital, as a world we are not moving towards them at a fast enough rate that there will be no demand for oil any time in the next few decades.

More detailed information on the Oil Sands and the Northern Gateway proposal can be found here.

Why Canada Has Such A Shortsighted Climate Change Policy

In the past few years, Canada has managed to thoroughly shame itself on Climate Change issues. It has even won a fossil of the year award for obstructionism on international treaties to reduce climate change as well as numerous fossil of the day awards.  The trouble is, when I or others try to get the Canadian government  to change its policy on this issue it is much like speaking to a wall. You can talk till you are blue in the face, but the wall isn’t listening.

Oil Sands Money and Distortion of Democracy

The most obvious reason is the money being made in the Alberta Oil Sands. The oil sands have really taken off over the past decade or so and the Canadian federal and Alberta governments have been putting a lot of energy into promoting them. This can be seen in the way both oil companies and governments have been pushing the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL Pipelines despite the protests seen in the USA and the disagreement of native and environmental groups in BC.

In another sign of how Stephen Harper’s government  views the oil sands, the rules implemented in 2007 for media interviews of Environment  Canada scientists were made a lot stricter, resulting in a drop in media coverage of climate change science of over 80%. There are complaints from the scientists that they are being muzzled.

As you can see from the above, oil money seems to be distorting Canada’s democracy. This is most prominent in Alberta, where it is a long-standing problem. It’s extreme influence on the federal scene is new, and I think there is little doubt the oil sands has a great deal to do with with Canada’s reneging on its Kyoto commitments.

Problems in Ontario

Oil  sands money is especially influential on Canadian government because Canada’s most populous province, is not doing well economically. Ontario  is home to a lot of manufacturing, notably for the auto industry, which was hit hard in the great recession. This means the money friom the Oil Sands is very important to the federal government as well as to Alberta. The current government in power, the Conservatives under Stephen  Harper, is tilted towards Alberta rather than eastern Canada, which does not have much in the way of oil. Stephen Harper himself is from Alberta.

One odd point is that the rise in the Canadian dollar which is due to the oil sands and other resource wealth has been part of why Ontario is having so much trouble with its manufacturing industry. Only one source, others being competition with China and reduced demand in the USA.

An even odder point is that eastern Canada has to import most of its oil since the oil sands oil is more profitable for the oil companies to ship south to the USA.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t fix the problem  that producing a barrel of oil sands oil produces more CO2 than producing regular oil. It doesn’t fix the overuse of water or the damage to Alberta’s countryside. It does absolutely nothing to prepare Canada for Peak Oil.

Preparing for Peak Oil by Living Simply

While Canada may be embarrassingly backwards when it comes to dealing with Climate Change at the national level, there is a lot going on at the local and individual levels. It seems that every time I look around me there are more bicycles and more food gardens. That is not minor. If and when the next oil and food price spike or major economic crisis hits it will be very useful because less money will leave the community and the community will be able to function better.

Food gardens and a bicycle also come in very handy if you lose your job or are stuck in one with an inadequate income. I’ve managed to keep my expenditures low by having a food garden and walking rather than taking a bus whenever possible. If you can live carless, that alone will dramatically lower your expenses and allow you to feel much more detached when oil prices spike.

It is much more possible to live carless than many people in North America realize. Granted, it is harder in Canada because of the winter than in some places around the world, but in cities the transit system will serve you very well. If you live in metropolitan Vancouver or many of the outlying communities, you do not need a car to get where you need to go. Victoria also has a perfectly adequate transit system.

Transit systems in smaller cities and towns are often frustrating when you depend on them as your sole form of long-distance transport. I’ve done it in Powell River before the 2010 improvements, and found it annoying but possible. In towns, buses often don’t run in the evenings or on Sundays. You may be able to get around this by combining cycling with transit, but cycling during the winter is likely to be extremely uncomfortable and unsafe in many Canadian locations. So what to do? You could take your car off the road during summer, saving on gas and insurance, and then reinsure it for the winter. I’ve seen it done.

It is better to reorganize your life now rather than later for a couple of reasons. Gardens take time to grow, and gardening takes time to learn. This doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to garden – it is really not that hard to learn and can be a lot of fun. It just means that you will make some mistakes while learning that it is better to make now rather than when you are depending on your garden to produce half your diet. It also takes time to put in a garden and it is a lot easier to put it in over several years. Building raised beds is hard work, and fruit trees take time to grow to maturity. Carless transportation also gets easier with practice.

There are some things that it only makes sense to do if you own your home or have long-term secure tenancy. Insulating your home can make a big difference to your heating bill if your house has inadequate or non-existent insulation. It is worth checking this, as even in Calgary there are houses built with utterly inadequate insulation. Putting in renewable energy also is something that doesn’t make sense to do as a short-term renter. So is planting an orchard.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat food from your garden if you live in a rented place and don’t know how long you’ll be there. Radishes usually take under a month to grow, and baby greens aren’t much further behind. If you plant  in pots, you may be able to take your garden with you when you move. Weatherstripping may also be worth your while. If you’re there a little longer, changing incandescent lightbulbs  to LEDs could be worthwhile – or you could keep the old lightbulbs, buy new ones and use those, then take the new bulbs with you when you leave and put the old ones back in.

As for a bicycle, that is something I haven’t done due to physical issues but it is something I really want to do. A bicycle expands your area of operations greatly over walking, and isn’t fossil-fueled as buses are. It also doesn’t depend on bus schedules or routes being adequate to your needs.

The  great thing about doing these things to prepare for Peak Oil  is that you are not only preparing yourself for a lower energy future, you are also reducing your CO2 emissions at the same time. Living simply: a simple solution to complex problems. It won’t fix the world by itself, but it is one difference that is absolutely in your power to make.

Climate Change and Peak Oil Impacts On the Canadian Arctic

Climate Change in the Arctic

It is well known that communities in the Canadian Arctic are already being strongly affected by climate change. Melting permafrost means winter roads often open later and close sooner, and this problem will only get worse with time. Melting permafrost also causes damage to houses, pipes and other things built on top of the permafrost. Changing ecology means old hunting patterns for seal and caribou are no longer reliable, and the treeline is moving north. New species arrive from the south, bringing further disruption. Even the earthworms are moving north, with poorly-understood effects on the boreal forest.

Judging from the fossil record, we could have a very different arctic  ahead of us. At the end of the Paleocene, the Arctic Ocean was subtropical and home to alligators 1). It still had those dark winters and brilliant summers, meaning that there is not an equivalent climate anywhere on earth today. Hopefully, we will manage to avoid warming the Earth that much, but it is useful to know this is possible if the Earth warms by five degrees.

Meanwhile, in the Arctic Ocean the Northwest passage is now navigable  far more often and looks likely to become a trade route of importance in the future. Then there is the oil and gas exploration, and international tensions bringing worries about Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic islands…

Adapting to Climate Change in the Canadian North is difficult and is only going to get harder as the magnitude of change becomes greater.

Peak Oil and the Arctic

When Peak Oil is added into the picture, things get even more difficult. One of the main difficulties of doing anything in the Canadian North is the immense distances involved, the lack of infrastructure and the sparse population. This means it takes immense amounts of gas to get from one small community to the next, often by plane when the winter roads aren’t functioning. This is going to get more and more expensive as the real price of oil 2) rises. At the same time, the winter roads are going to be useable for shorter and shorter periods each year.

It seems likely to me that inland northern communities are going to get more and more isolated as time goes by, barring some complete change in our energy infrastructure that looks more and more difficult to accomplish with each passing year. This means that northern communities are going to have to become much more self-reliant since bringing anything in is likely to cost a prohibitive amount. When that happens, it is likely small, high value items like medicines will have to take priority over food or building materials.

Communities on the Arctic Ocean or navigable  rivers are in a rather better situation, since as the winter roads deteriorate they will be able to make more use of the water for travel during the summer.

1) Lynas, Mark. Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet 2007

2) real price of oil. I’m referring to the price of oil compared to what people have the ability to pay. A ride in a plane is cheap to a billionaire and completely out of reach to a poor family in sub-saharan Africa, for example. The price of oil in a recession may be lower than in a boom, but it may be no more affordable to the population.