Blanc de Gris, or how to have a mushroom farm in the city

Last summer I had the chance to visit the urban farm Blanc de Gris which specializes in growing mushrooms. After being a little bit confused by the very urban setting (the farm is in fact situated in an old warehouse), Dominique, one of the co-founder took us around a tour of the “farm”. One word: wow! I was really impressed by the installations, the ingenuity of their project (they up-cycle coffee grinds and beer grains) , their technique, and their fresh enthusiasm for a really original and awesome project.

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Lysiane, the other co-founder in one of their growing chambers. Look at those mushrooms!

Today however, I was even more excited because their farm was open to the public (hey, that’s me!) since their oyster mushroom production just exploded! We got to buy some fresh mushrooms. Will you just look at them? They are so perfect!

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We were really happy to meet with Lysiane, who is the other co-founder of Blanc de Gris. She was very friendly and gave us amazing mushrooms to bring back home. Her passion for her job was palpable and so refreshing. She told us that they were really happy with their production and that things were really starting to grow. While they are still working with high-end restaurants of the city, they are now looking into creating their own line of transformed mushrooms products.

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This is a really fun new venture for this young farm as it would make their production shine outside of its current clientele, while also making the entire production of mushrooms valuable. I am very curious to see what products they will be working on, but I’m quite sure that it will be done with the same care, integrity and excellence that you can witness when visiting Blanc de Gris. Their business is truly an asset for the city of Montreal, as well as for the foodies and urban farmers alike.

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I really can’t wait to cook these amazing mushrooms; there’s also a little bit of pressure on my shoulders! I really encourage you to like their Facebook page as they announce when they organize flash sales or visits. You wouldn’t want to miss that, right? Also stay tuned for a mushroom-filled recipe!

 

Tour: Lufa Farms

Last Saturday, Montreal was under a really cold spell. It was freezing enough that when you went outside, your nose hair (yes, we are at this point in our relationship) froze up!

It was the perfect day to go visit the Lufa Farms, and be reminded that someday, the sun would be back and that we would be able to garden again.

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Cute basil!

In the meantime, it was great to visit these urban farms. They use hydroponics on a large scale and grow different vegetables, herbs and greens that are sold in the Montreal area in the form of subscription baskets.

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Gorgeous cucumbers

What makes these baskets different from other forms of CSA baskets, is that the member can choose the contents of his or her basket online. This makes for a more flexible basket that will really meet your needs, but also reduces waste as they only harvest what has been bought. Clever!

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CEO and founder, Mohamed Hage giving us information on his greenhouses.

The tour was given by Mohamed Hage, the young and dynamic CEO and founder of the Lufa Farms. I thought is was pretty nice of him to directly give the tours, as I imagine his schedule to be quite busy. Meeting him was great, but it also made us a little jealous as the greenhouse we got to see was quite amazing and impressive.

This farm uses hydroponics systems and grows on coconut fiber as it is a neutral growth medium.

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Water from the rooftop is recuperated and conditioned on the spot to provide with clean and readily available hydration for all these lovely plants. I thought this was quite clever too as it really takes advantage of the accessible resources.

A lot of greens are cultivated, but not only. As you have seen, cucumbers and bell peppers are also produced. If you have been following the narrative carefully, you will now ask yourself the following question: how are fruits produced in the dead of winter when no insect is there to pollinate? Glad you asked.

A little army of bees are normally installed on the rooftops during the summer. During the winter, bumblebees are used instead and live in these little yellow boxes. They are not the only insects populating the Lufa oasis. Indeed, the farms use biocontrol in the form of various insects (ladybug, anyone?) to hunt and protect the precious produce from pest.

If you were wondering, the distribution center is in the same building. In fact, night workers harvest and build the baskets that are then scattered around the city. This means that the produce is harvested in the morning, delivered and available to eat on the same day. Wow!

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So, is this all worth it? Well, it is undeniable that the farm is impressive, the system well organized and the produce amazingly fresh. It is also a great way to eat locally all year round. We had tried one Lufa basket a few years back, but thought that even though the quality of the produce was quite extraordinary, the price-quantity ratio was to our disadvantage. As vegans, the quantity of fresh produce we consume is not supported through these baskets. However, it is such a well organized farm, with astounding principles and practices that it is worth giving it a try.

Let us know if you have a CSA basket or if you tried Lufa’s.

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!

Garden Update!

It has been a while since I wrote anything here! Well, I guess it was something that I could have foreseen: I am now done with my bachelor’s!!! The last few weeks have been quite busy between work and school and just plain life! I am so happy to be done! I still have to give in my last paper, but really, no more work for at least … a few months!

Yes, indeed, a dew months because I have enrolled in a long distance certificate in horticulture! I am really excited. I know it might sound weird to learn about plants in a long distance course, but I thought it would be the best way for me to start my teaching career while still learning about a topic I am really interested in. The truth is I cannot wait to start!

Our balcony garden has been really growing! We are completely attacked by our tomato plants! They have grown so much we had to invest in a few smart pots to keep them happy. It is very exciting to see the little tomatoes grow. I cannot wait to see them ripen and to taste them!

Aren't beauties gorgeous?

Aren’t beauties gorgeous?

Our calendulas are in their second full bloom, and we have been enjoying a few flowers in our salads. As to our kale, I had to move it to a shadier spot because it was starting to be overwhelmed by direct sunlight.

This will be a white eggplant variety. I hope the other flowers also turn to fruit!

This will be a white eggplant variety. I hope the other flowers also turn to fruit!

We are also checking on our pepper and eggplant plants as they are also working on their fruits. It is so exciting!

 

A different cultivar I wanted to try this year! It makes me think of Aladin's shoes!

A different cultivar I wanted to try this year! It makes me think of Aladin’s shoes!

As to the mushrooms we had out first harvest of oyster mushroom yesterday! These little guys took a while to come out, but once out, they grew so fast! In four days they were big enough to harvest! They were really tasty too. I hope we will get another, and maybe bigger, harvest because these mushrooms were really tasty!

Look how cute they are!

Look how cute they are!

Our first Harvest!

Our first Harvest!

As you can see, our balcony garden has kept us quite busy between frequent watering, tutoring and happy enjoyment. We are so excited to go observe it every morning: we are like little kids on Christmas morning. I’ll keep you updated when the first fruits start to ripen!

Our happy garden!

Our happy garden!

Happy Gardening!

Balcony Garden Update!

Hello!

What a week! While I was busy with work and school projects, my little plants have been busy growing and becoming quite charming.

Growing!

Growing!

A few weeks back, there was the Great Gardening Week-End at the Montreal’s Botanical Garden. As I work there for the summer, I was really excited. This event is really nice if you enjoy plants and gardening: different horticulturist share their knowledge and growers come to sell their plants/seeds. It is a lot of fun to see all the variety that is available and to meet passionate people.

Last year, I had spotted Violon et Champignon, which is a small company specialized in mushrooms. I really wanted to try it out, but I was a bit suspicious and afraid that it would be an epic fail. So I let it go for a year. However, during the winter, I thought back on those planters and decided that I would try them out. The week-end finally came and I went straight to that stand and bought a smart-pot filled with mycelium for oyster mushrooms! We are so excited!

 

Cat enjoying the plants and sun.

Cat enjoying the plants and sun.

 

Here is how it works: the pot is made with geo-textile and comes filled with about 10 cm high of straw mixed with mycelium. You bring that home (on a very busy and warm afternoon in the subway if you are me…) and fill it in with soil onto which you put plants! The plants help you keep track of the humidity of the whole thing as you want it to be fairly humid but not drowned. You have to keep the pot in a fresh and not to sunny place to help with the humidity. I had to create a micro-climate by putting some pots all around it so that it stayed fresh.

 

We planted a mix of herbs and herbal teas to have a dense foliage to help with the humidity level. So far, so good.

We planted a mix of herbs and herbal teas to have a dense foliage to help with the humidity level. So far, so good.

 

We are so excited to see what comes out of this puppy! How exciting!

We also harvested some kale, fresh herbs and herbal teas. Our beans are also growing; some beets and carrots are also peeking out. Besides that, out mints and tomato plants are going crazy. It is so much fun to wake up each morning and to go see what changed! I feel like the kids I’m teaching…

 

Difficult to take an accurate picture of our balcony... there's always a part missing!

Difficult to take an accurate picture of our balcony… there’s always a part missing!

 

Right now, I am investigating micro-greens because I would love to continue to grow things during the winter besides our interior plants. Any tips?

 

Magic beans!

Magic beans!

Balcony garden

Yesterday was me and my boyfriend’s birthdays! Exciting!

Marche_Jean-Talon_13After a long day at work, I wanted to go buy some ice cream because summer has finally caught up with Montreal! From 11C to almost 30C in a week, spring has come and gone. One of the best ice cream places in Montreal is situated in the Marché Jean-Talon: the Havre aux Glaces.

Once I got to this outdoor market, I found myself surrounded with flowers, fruits, noises, smells, colors and people from all countries and ages. I had forgotten how much I liked strolling between the stands and looking for more plants to put on our balcony.

I am so happy with how it is turning out! We found two types of eggplants, a sunflower, kale, and fine herbs. We also installed our tomatoes and calendulas out. Now all we need it some sun, water and patience. I can’t wait for all those little plants to grow! 🙂

I really enjoyed going to the market as it proved to be the perfect place to find the last plants we needed up here.

Our balcony garden is turning out great! :)

Our balcony garden is turning out great! 🙂

So next time you get yourself in a market, take the time to steal a few smells by softly rubbing your fingers on fine herbs, soak your eyes in colours and listen to lively people’s friendly arguments. You might find some new happy plants to keep you company!