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Stronger La Nina Effect than Predicted

by Rosemary Tayler

The prolonged and extreme cold spell we are currently experiencing across North America and Europe in December 2017 and January 2018 is due to the cooler than normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This cooling effect started more than a year ago and seems to have continued.

Back in June 2016, Earth Haven Learning Centre interviewed Dave Philips, Senior Climatologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada, and at that time, based on several international oceanic temperature monitors,  Philips predicted a weak La Niña effect for the 2016-2017 winter. And that's how it turned out. We experienced a slightly colder winter and a prolonged and very wet spring.

La Niña, which is Spanish for “the girl child” is characterized by the cooling of the equatorial waters in the central Pacific Ocean near the International Dateline. As this water mass cools down to at least 0.5 º Celsius (0.9 º F) below normal, it gradually influences the atmosphere overhead and the resulting movement of weather systems around the world.

Its counterpart, El Niño, which is Spanish for “the boy child,” has generally the opposite effect. A warm pool of water over the Western Pacific Ocean moves eastward to the South American coast. The exceptionally mild winter across Canada in 2015-2016 was consistent with a strong El Nino effect.

Generally La Niña encourages more tropical storms in the North Atlantic. In hindsight, the numerous and extreme hurricanes in the Caribbean from August to October 2017 corroborated La Niña's continued influence.   

While some meteorologists predicted another weaker La Niño effect for our current winter, others predicted a stronger one.  And here we are in early January experiencing much colder than normal temperatures for several weeks. We can draw our own conclusions!

Based on these colder than normal winter temperatures and our understanding of the La Niña effect, we are once again likely to experience a colder than normal spring, possibly even more so than last spring. An increased accumulation of snow will delay farmers getting onto their fields, and the surface melting of this snow into creeks, rivers and watersheds might create increased spring flooding. The extreme flooding last spring across the Great Lakes Basin was due to the larger than normal snowfall accumulation that previous winter.

One consolation for all this cold weather is that the Great Lakes have just about completed freezing up and the “lake effect” snow resulting from unfrozen waters is minimized.  In addition, all this extreme cold weather helps control the exuberant growth of the tick population.

The old saying, “time will tell” is still relevant. Meanwhile, stay warm, keep an eye on the animals and make sure the pipes don't freeze.

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Fermentation, Self Reliance in Food Preparation

by Rosemary Tayler

On September 17, 2017  Earth Haven Farm and Learning Centre hosted a hands-on workshop on fermentation basics presented by Lorraine Schmid. With a background in nutrition, Lorraine owns and operates Thyme Again Gardens, an organic farm and Bed and Breakfast in Prince Edward County. For the past several years she has been experimenting with ferments made from all sorts of veggies.

She began her talk with an introduction to the health benefits of ferments. Not only do probiotics found in fermented vegetables help with digestion in the gut, they also contribute to overall bowel health, increase levels of certain B vitamins and vitamin K and assist in the detoxification of unwanted substances. Those people who eat well balanced meals including daily doses of ferments tend to be less depressed and more mentally alert. She pointed out that pickling veggies in vinegar does not have the same benefits as fermentation.

Lorraine then outlined several key factors one needs to follow when making ferments:

  1. No oxygen. Fermentation takes place in an anaerobic environment. One must press out all the air in the glass container and keep the veggies under the brine.

  2. Prepare the veggies as soon as possible after harvest. This way they have more moisture content than if they were stored for several days after being harvested.

  3. The brine must be at room temperature. The cooler the temperature, the slower the fermentation process.

  4. Tasting the ferment throughout the process helps determine when it is complete. The more sour the better.

  5. Reverse osmosis or filtered water makes a better ferment. Chlorinated water kills the probiotics.

  6. Unrefined sea salt is recommended as it is full of minerals and supports probiotic bacteria.

  7. Organic or biodynamic produce is preferred. Herbicides kill the good bacteria that contribute to the fermentation process. Thin skinned carrots do not need to be peeled.

  8. When fermenting veggies, keep them out of direct sunlight.

After this brief introduction, we then proceeded into the kitchen and started chopping up veggies and placing them (“massaging”) in a room temperature brine at the work stations. This practical hand-on session gave participants the confidence and knowledge needed to make their own ferments at home. Lorraine also demonstrated how to make Kombucha from a starter ferment called “Scoby” and Earl Grey black tea. The word scoby is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.

From a biodynamic perspective, Lorraine Schmid shared how it is better to make ferments when the moon is waning and in a fire sign, both of which occurred on that particular day. She always notes this lunar information on her labels together with the list of ingredients so she can better track the outcomes.  Another suggestion she shared is to undertake fermentation tasks with a happy disposition and not be in a rush. “Putting lots of love in what you do every day helps set the intention for a positive outcome,” she added."

For more information contact Thyme Again Gardens at


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Sacred Stewardship

Book Review by Rosemary Tayler

Published in 2007, the 155-page book, Sacred Stewardship: Regaining our spiritual partnership with the food we eat, by Charles Hubbard and Malki'el McCamis, presents a balanced approach to biodynamic farming. Threaded throughout the text are not only spiritual principles and values but also practical steps to enhance the seen and unseen forces that can improve food vitality.

The eight chapters, or sections, as they are called in this book, are preceded by a list of stewardship elements covered in each section. For example, the section on Food Vitality, which gives an in depth discussion on biodynamics and vibrational food, covers the following elements:

  • Awareness that all things have life force;
  • Our very survival depends upon our recognition of the interconnectedness of all living things;
  • We are spiritual beings first;
  • Vitality is a vibration that can be grown to create spiritual food;
  • Life force is transferable at the cellular level;
  • Everyone can participate in and experience the privilege of creating sacred stewardship.

In section 2, Hubbard shares his account of how he began his career as a conventional farmer, then moved into organics, and finally ended up applying biodynamic principles and practices to his farming methods. I found this protracted timeline particularly valuable given that many of us are often caught up in the minutia of present time circumstances. Hubbard's reflections on the longer-term process of change was especially insightful. In my opinion, his story allows the reader to appreciate how he or she can slowly but surely incorporate some of the many teachings detailed in this book.

Hubbard admits that his efforts to transition to a biodynamic farm were gradual as no one living nearby held that knowledge. Gradually he set up what he calls a “living classroom,” and over time teachers showed up and shared their wisdom. To quote the author:

“It is extradorinary how often a teacher appears just as you are ready to move on your journey to horizons: new thoughts, new ways of doing things, new parameters. This is the joy if it. There are no single answers. Each day can be an experience.”

Throughout this book, the authors bring a deep sense of respect for not only the economic and political aspects of agriculture and how they can be improved, but they also provide a road map to energy awareness and the shift of perspective that is needed by us all to better value the more spiritual aspects of gardening and farming.

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Review of Titia Posthuma's Talk on the Essence of Nutrition in Agriculture

by Rosemary Tayler, March 20, 2017

On Sunday, March 19, Titia Posthuma, a dedicated biodynamic farmer and teacher in Eastern Ontario, shared her insights and understanding on the connections between nutrition and agriculture at the Earth Haven Learning Centre in Thomasburg, Ontario. Ms Posthuma looked at this subject from several perspectives including human, animal, plant and soil nutrition.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting references made during the workshop was the TED Talk by Rob Knight called “How our microbes make us who we are.” During his talk, Knight emphasizes that microbes in and on human beings affect behaviour, health and well being.

I was reminded about how similar the beneficial relationship between humans and microbes is to how plants rely on microbes in the soil for nutrients. In fact this plant/microbe relationship is also mutually beneficial. The plant produces sugars made through photosynthesis in the leaves; these sugars are transported down the stem and into the fine root hairs where the microbes can access them. In exchange, these microbes provide nitrogen-rich organic nutrients which the plant needs for building proteins and other substances. And again I heard that the nitrogen supplied by fertilizers does not have the same biological qualities as nitrogen supplied by these microbes.

Another point I noted in the workshop was the observation that animals such as cows have a cognitive ability to be selective in what they choose to eat. For example, cows can select higher quality grain over lower quality grain. Humans need to be more discerning in their choice of foods.

Ms. Posthuma shared that Rudolf Steiner, who introduced the basic philosophical and practical methods for biodynamic agriculture in the 1920s, claimed that complete digestion includes the full breakdown of ingested foods and the full rebuilding of essential nutrients.

This digestive process in humans is somewhat similar to the annual decomposing and rebuilding processes that go on in topsoil. In summer and fall, the leaves start to decompose and form a nutrient and microbial rich layer called humus. Plants with deeper roots, such as trees, bring minerals up from the subsoil and over time these minerals make their way into the stable humus layer and are passed on into the microbes and surrounding plants, and ultimately into animals and humans.

The workshop closed with this emphasis on building stable humus with lots of organic matter. This stable humus is a way of building microbial housing so to speak and must include a balance of both bacteria and fungi. One of the key messages I took away from this talk was that as farmers and gardeners we need to is grow more soil. The quality and health of our soils and its microbes is directly linked to our own health and well being.

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