Urban Agriculture Summer School

Last week, I had the chance to participate to ‘L’école d’été d’agriculture urbaine‘ that is organized every year by the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), the most rebellious of Montreal’s universities. If you are interested in gardening, changing the world, growing your own mushrooms, or taking care of bees, this week is perfect for you. For an entire week, you are visiting urban farms, listening to passionate guest speakers, and participate in some really fun and interesting workshops. Just to give you an idea of what my week was, here is a glimpse at my favourite activities from last week’s urban agriculture school.

  1. Favourite visit: The Hospitalières’ Garden Tour: I really enjoyed visiting the nun’s gardens that are situated behind the Hôtel-Dieum hospital in Montreal because it has had such an important role in the city’s history. I was really surprised to see how involved and dynamic this community of cloistered nun was. It was also great to stumble upon such a big garden right in the middle of really busy neighbourhoods. It was particularly interesting to learn that the nuns used to have a big medicinal plant patch and used the gardens as part of their patients’ therapy. How very modern! urban-agricultureurban-agriculture2urban-agriculture3
  2. Favourite workshop: Mycelium propagation by Champignons Maison: I loved how Geoffroy Renaud was so enthusiastic and passionate about mycelium and mushrooms! It was really inspiring to listen to him explaining how to take care of mycelium because he does not have a formal training in biology or agriculture. Now, this may seem weird, but it really was encouraging to meet someone who has built an entire successful business and created his job by being passionate and persistent. He also had a more relaxed approach to growing mushrooms which made everyone in the workshop just want to start right away. urban-agriculture4
  3. Favourite guest speaker: Serge Mongeau: Writer and simple living advocate, Serge Mongeau’s closing speech was very inspirational and reassuring. He talked about the necessity of changing our perspective on our consumption of goods. He supports the idea that by really thinking about what makes us happy and fulfilled, we can identify our real needs and adjust our relationship to money and work in consequence. This particular speech touched a delicate string in my heart because I have lived through two really intense years work-wise, and I feel like I’m a little off-balanced and disconnected. Hearing the particular guest speaker gave my ideas and inspiration.
  4. Unexpected fascinating workshop: Beekeeping 101: I really didn’t think I would find bees so fascinating! It was incredible to learn about how they live and work. I still don’t know if I’m completely comfortable with the way we use bees in modern farming, but it was really interesting to learn more about these hard workers.

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Of course this is just a glimpse of all the acitivities and learning that took place along the week. If you are in the Montreal area, and speak French, I would really recommend checking it out for next year because it is such a dense, inspiring and enjoyable week.  Cheers!

 

 

Presenting Aquaponix! (our home aquaponics system)

During the summer, I attended Montréal’s Urban Agriculture School held at UQAM. During a week, I had the chance to participate in workshops, visit urban farms and meet fun and inspiring people.

On the last day of the week, we were presented with four different “house farms”. The teams had to come up with a concept to help urban people produce their own foods. Now, this is a great idea for so many reasons: making food accessible, encouraging people to eat more fresh vegetables and greens, having people think outside the box, and more. After listening to all four presentations, I have to say that I was sold to the idea. Among the four kitchen-farms, two of them were aquaponics systems (one named BioUnit, and the second, Yaku) and they were really inspiring.

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So, when I came back home, I shared the idea with my boyfriend, and he was intrigued and hooked. We worked on it for a couple of months and made our very own kitchen-farm!

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If you are observant, you will see that some of the plants are growing in clay pebbles (red) and other in small rocks (gray): invest in clay pebbles. They really make plants grow faster and healthier.

The most tedious part was to gather all the required material. We made a few trips to Ikea, home hardware stores and the Botanical Garden before we had the shelves, water pump, air pumps, tubing, clay beads and lights. Luckily, we already had an aquarium, so that reduced to costs a lot. We were also able to keep our parsley, strawberry, and thyme plants for our urban garden patch.

We also added some timers so that the lighting and watering would be automatic. The lights come on in the morning, and turn themselves off after 14 hours. As to the water, it circulates 10 minutes every 90 minutes. We have nothing to do! This is perfect for the lazy gardener (you do have to feed the fish however!).

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The idea behind any aquaponics system is to have plants live on water-dissolved nutrients. However, unlike hydroponics systems where you have to keep adding nutrients to the water in liquid form that you buy, an aquaponics systems counts on fish poo to feed the plants.

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The Five Poopers and their haunted castle!

The tricky part is to find a balance between what the plants’ needs and what the system can filter: as the water is “dirtied” by fish dejection, it is circulated through pumps to the plant baskets. The plants clean the water by absorbing the fish waste as their food. Finally, the water comes back into the aquarium by gravity. It is therefore important to make sure that the number of fish is not too high for what the plants can clean to avoid having them live in a toxic environment. To make sure that this was not the case, we bought a water testing kit. So far, our five fish have lived in a perfectly balanced environment and are quite lively.

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For the last few months, we have had success with leafy greens and herbs. We are being adventurous now and trying out some tomato plants. We also have had some success with edamame beans, but our 3 plants produced 3 bean pods. Not the best outcome!

However, the best thing about this is that we can enjoy fresh greens and witness their growth from seeds, in the dead of winter (which also makes it difficult to harvest…). We are still working on this: we would like to grow our own fish food to avoid relying on store-bought fish food, but we are still figuring this out. We also like to experiment with different seeds and plants to see what works best.

Let us know if you have such a system at home and what you think of it! Also feel free to ask any questions, and I’ll try to answer them!