Monthly Archives: March 2012

Eco-Activism For Everyone


 “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”  ~Betty Reese


“Citizen science – is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Formally, citizen science has been defined as “the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis” ~ Wikipedia


The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.  ~Nelson Henderson


 PlantWatch is a volunteer monitoring program designed to identify and record ecological changes in our environment. The program is run by Nature Canada and Environment Canada, and takes place in each Canadian province and territory. Participants are given a list of focus species for their geographical area, and a handbook containing basic training and asked to record data such as flowering times for the species. Volunteers can choose to focus on one or all species, and submit their findings through the website.



FrogWatch is one of the most popular citizen science programs currently running in Canada. Frogs are very vulnerable to changes in the environment. This makes them a good indicator of the health of marsh and wetland areas. Participants are given some basic training on identifying the species that are found in their geographical area and a rough estimate of the days of day and year when they can expect to hear frog calls. Equipped with data collection sheets, volunteers use their eyes and ears to locate and record when and where they hear frogs, and where possible to identify which species are present. Information is then entered through the website.



WormWatch is an important program designed to collect information on the species, volume and location of earthworms. Currently 25 different species have been identified in Canada. Being extremely sensitive to the environment and soil disturbance, earthworms are a very good indicator of soil health. Participants are provided with data sheets and asked to use national sampling protocols to collect information which is then entered through the website to become part of the database.



IceWatch is a program which makes use of citizen scientists who volunteer to record information on the freeze and thaw status of our lakes and rivers. IceWatch helps scientists to identify how the environmental changes are affecting different regions of Canada. Participants are asked to choose a body of water and an observation point which they will be able to use for subsequent visits and in future years. Volunteers are specifically looking for the spring date when all ice finally leaves their body of water, and the fall date when ice finally covers the surface and stays intact for the winter. The water may fully or partially freeze and thaw several times before finally remaining frozen, or thawing completely.



NestWatch is a North American nest-monitoring project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and Bird Studies Canada, and funded by the National Science Foundation. Participants place nesting boxes, and/or survey for natural nests and monitor their progress. The goal is to observe bird breeding, species and nesting as indicators of the environment and bird populations.



How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.  ~Anne Frank



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Po-tion – n; A liquid or liquid mixture, especially one that is medicinal, poisonous, or magical.

Kombucha is a fermented beverage that is made with tea, sugar and the kombucha culture.

The kombucha culture itself is a colony of yeasts and bacteria living in a cellulose structure. It is sometimes referred to by the acronym “Scoby”, meaning symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The scoby resembles a pancake, and varies in color from white to beige, depending on the type of tea it has been living in. It feels rubbery to the touch, and varies in thickness from paper thin to a couple of inches. During each batch of kombucha, a new scoby is created and grows on the top of the brew. These extras can be tossed into the next batch, used to create a batch of their own, or passed along to friends who wish to brew their own kombucha.



Kombucha has been around for a very long time, some say thousands of years. It is believed to have originated in China, and then made its way to Russia, India, Japan and further through trade routes. It has been touted as a miracle cure for a very wide variety of illnesses and conditions, though most of the proof seems to be anecdotal. Panacea or not, kombucha is delicious, and easy to make at home.

Kombucha is made in glass or lead free ceramic vessels. It is acidic and will leach chemicals from plastics and metals. To begin, boiling water and tea bags are combined with sugar, in various quantities depending on the size of the vessel. The sugar dissolves and the tea steeps. After a few minutes the tea bags are removed and the resulting sweet tea is left to cool to room temperature.

It is very important that the mixture cools completely before the kombucha culture, or scoby, is introduced. Heat will kill the yeasts and bacteria. Once cool, the scoby is placed in the sweet tea and a cup or two of kombucha from the previous batch is added. This helps to create an acidic environment which discourages molds.



The jar or bowl is then covered with a coffee filter, paper towel or dish towel with a tight weave. These are secured with an elastic or string, tightly to prevent contamination of the brew by fruit flies, ants or dust. The jar is placed in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight where it can rest undisturbed for approximately 7-14 days. The brew will begin to produce a new scoby on the surface within a day or two. The scoby will appear first as a thin film, and gradually thicken. The new scoby is always formed on the surface, but the mother culture may be found at the bottom of the mixture or floating near the top.

It is best to begin taste testing before you think the kombucha will be ready. When the scoby has consumed most of the sugar in the sweet tea, kombucha is created. It can range in taste from apple cider to champagne. Some describe the flavour as being similar to iced tea. Kombucha may be flat or carbonated. The brew can be tested with ph strips or taste buds, and will be ready when it has reached a ph of 3.0 or a pleasant taste that is not too sweet, but not yet vinegary. If left too long, kombucha turns to vinegar, which can be used the same way apple cider vinegar is used.


Once finished, the scoby is removed, and placed in a separate container with a cup or two of kombucha and the kombucha is bottled. It can be placed in wine bottles, grolsch bottles, mason jars or nearly any other glass or ceramic container you choose. It should then be refrigerated. As kombucha is often carbonated, the contents can become pressurized and eventually break the bottles if left in a warm place. Grolsch bottles and corked wine bottles are often favoured for this reason, as they can let the excess pressure out with less chance of breaking. Flavouring can be added to kombucha during the bottling process, by placing a few blueberries or some ginger or other preferred flavoring substances into the bottle. I prefer the natural taste of kombucha, so I do not add any flavouring to it. I prefer wine bottles for storing it, though when necessary, I store it in ball jars.


Kombucha takes a while to brew, but it is well worth the wait. It literally costs pennies per gallon. Each batch produces a new scoby, and so, I generally have lots of them kicking around. I often keep them viable by placing more than one scoby in a batch. Extras can also be flash frozen, dried, composted or stored at room temperature in sweet tea.

If you are interested in giving kombucha a try, or looking for a scoby of your own, email me at


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Milk Kefir, My Cup Runneth Over


Po-tion – n; A liquid or liquid mixture, especially one that is medicinal, poisonous, or magical.

Milk kefir is a cultured milk product.  While kefir is consumed worldwide, it is generally agreed to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains. The name kefir is believed to come from the Turkish language. With the growing interest in probiotic bacteria, there has been a surge in the popularity of this beverage in North America.

Kefir grains are live cultures of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts, living in a matrix of proteins, lipids and sugars. There are more than two dozen separate species of micro flora at work in the grains, which resemble cauliflower.  Much research has been conducted on the health benefits of kefir, which has been found to contain beneficial bacteria and yeasts, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins B2, B12, K, A and D.

Finished kefir is similar to thin yogurt, but slightly carbonated. It’s creamy, fizzy texture and thickness, make it ideal for smoothies, salad dressings, creamy dessert toppings and just about anything else you can dream up. It tastes somewhat like plain yogurt, and can be substituted in place of buttermilk in recipes.

Kefir is made by placing kefir grains in milk (cow, goat, coconut, soy etc) and leaving the mixture at room temperature until it ferments. Depending on the temperature of the room and the amount of milk and grains used, this can take 24-48 hours. When the milk thickens and just begins to separate, the mixture is poured through a strainer and the grains are placed into the next jar of milk to do their work. The strained kefir is placed in the fridge where it will thicken even further, or consumed right away. It may be left out on the counter if cold storage is not available, but it will continue to ferment.


Kefir grains grow as they work, and so I usually have to divide them and remove some after every couple of batches. These extra grains can be dried, repurposed for making water kefir, passed on to friends, or placed in a cup or two of milk and stored in the fridge, for a week or so. After a week, they have slowly turned the milk to kefir, and must be strained and placed in fresh milk.

Some people, who are lactose intolerant, or sensitive to milk, find that they are able to consume kefir with no difficulty. Experts say that the fermentation process reduces the lactose content, and the probiotic bacteria present in the finished kefir aid digestion.


I was introduced to kefir over a year ago, by a friend who makes her own at home. I managed to get my first grains from a lady who has been making and enjoying kefir for several years.

These days I am nearly overrun. I have two jars of “back up” grains waiting to find new homes or be preserved and stored, as well as a set of grains in constant production on my kitchen counter.  Like many of the people I have met who also brew their own, I have become a tremendous fan, and kefir has become an important part of my daily routine.


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Joining The Nestwatch Project


I spent my morning making nesting boxes for the NestWatch project.

NestWatch is a nest monitoring program developed by the Cornell lab of Ornithology. The goal is to monitor populations and reproduction of North American breeding birds. Cornell uses what they refer to as “citizen science” to get the public involved at a volunteer level and gather data. They have a variety of different “citizen science” based programs that run throughout the year, and are suitable for any skill or education level.

Participants in the NestWatch program may choose to monitor natural nests they find in any location, or they may place and monitor nesting boxes. They are encouraged to do both. The data collected is then entered through the website where it joins thousands of other entries from the past 40 years. In fact, this program was originally run offline, with participants filling out data cards, and the data was stored manually, but for this reason was not widely accessible.


Nestboxes are made from natural untreated wood, preferably pine, cedar or fir. There are a variety of building plans available through the website that are designed to attract different species. For the fist six, we decided to build boxes that would be suitable to chickadees and other similar size birds.

Once built, complete with one opening side for nest monitoring and appropriate ventilation and drainage holes, a handful of wood shavings is used to line the bottom of each box. The boxes are placed in areas where they can be checked 1-2 times per week. For each box there is a data sheet to record the findings, which are then entered on the website. A number is assigned to the box, which will help to organize data sheets and keep track of locations.


With six nest boxes built and hung, I am looking forward to checking them. My birdfeeders attract a good variety of birds to the yard, and I am hoping some of our visitors will move in and raise families.

If you are interested in getting involved, visit for further information, instructions and to sign up.



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