Sunday, April 20, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#2 Ornamental Trees Ornamental trees have a high value when there is a housing boom, because so many new homeowners need to plant landscape trees and shrubs around their property. Under these conditions, savvy nursery operators can make upwards of $20,000 per acre growing nursery stock. Unfortunately, like many commodity-based industries, once the housing bubble bursts, the tree’s resale value diminishes rapidly. The advantage that mixed farming operations have over straight nursery operations, is the trees can have great value as alternative crops producing sap, nuts, fruit and shelter for fields and buildings.

For people interested in growing nursery stock, the best place to start planting is right around the homestead. If the trees cannot be sold to the landscape industry or if the business plan changes, the ornamental trees will provide a never ending source of food for both the landowners and the wildlife, a place of beauty for the residents, and add thousands of dollars of value to the property.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#3 Fruit Trees Although many people dream of one day owning and operating an orchard or vineyard in the Okanogan Valley in southern B.C or on the Niagara peninsula in southern Ontario, with land prices approaching $100,000 an acre for good orchard land, it may be difficult to convince the spouse and the kids to make the big jump. What may be come as a shock to some, is that the western provinces can grow a wide variety of fruit trees, shrubs and vines that are commonly associated with warmer climates to the south.

While small fruits such as saskatoons, cherries and raspberries have been the mainstay of rural U-picks for decades, the prospects for apples, plums pears and even apricots are becoming more prevalent on the market gardening scene. The main reason for this shift is the consumer demand for fresh locally grown product. With prairie U-pick apples going for as much as $2.00 a pound on the tree while beef and pork are often languishing below the $1.00 a pound on the hoof, it small wonder why many livestock producers are considering switching sides.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#4 Nut Trees It may come as a revelation to some, but years of global warming is not required before establishing a nut grove on the farm. Some of the trees that can be grown on the prairies that produce edible nuts include the Black Walnut, Bur Oak, Butternut, and Hazelnut.

If you are looking for an RRSP for your children and grandchildren, can’t do any better than planting black walnut trees on your farm or acreage. These majestic trees add mucho dineros to the value of the property when they are growing, produce copious volumes of tasty, edible nuts throughout their life and have an enormous value when the tree matures. The wood is highly prized as a cabinetry veneer and in the manufacture of gunstocks that has resulted in astronomical prices with some trees fetching upwards of $10,000 each.

Nut production can begin after as little as 5 years after planting but the production of veneer wood is a generation or so down the road. As an added bonus the black walnut roots produces it own herbicide called “juglone” that keeps the ground around the base of the tree relatively weed free.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

#5 Sap Trees. Although maple sugaring is usually associated with eastern Canada, it is now possible to grow newly developed sugar maple varieties in sheltered locations throughout much of the Prairie Provinces. The major problem is that it takes up to 40 years for the sugar maples to become big enough to initiate sap production. The solution for many would-be sugar shackers is to harvest sap from alternative species.

Sap from Manitoba maples has about half the sugar content (about 3%) of sugar maples but there are millions of mature Manitoba maples throughout the western Canadian agricultural belt. Originally planted in the 1930s as part of the PFRA shelterbelt program, these trees are not only ready for tapping, but are in long straight rows close to county roads. The sap from Manitoba maples can be gathered and processed in exactly the same way as sugar maples.

Surprising as it may seem, but birch trees also produce a sugar sap that can be more valuable than maple sap. Since the sugar content of birch sap (1-2%) is much lower than maple sap, it is rarely boiled down into syrup but is actually bottled almost straight from the tree as a medicinal drink or distilled and combined with carbonated water to make “Birch Beer”. Birch beer is popular in the northeastern United States and in Atlantic Canada, while medicinal birch sap is a multi-million dollar industry in European Baltic countries.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Agroforestry As An Agricultural Alternative

Monday, March 3, 2008

With the price of feed grains skyrocketing, many grain farmers are laughing all the way to the bank while numerous livestock producers are finding difficulties making it from year to year. Regardless which situation your farm is currently experiencing, it is a perfect time to think about diversification as a hedge against future market reversal. One of the simplest ways to fancy up an every day cash flow is through agroforestry

Although planting trees as a long term investment has been known for years, what may come as a surprise to many landowners, is that the most valuable aspect of trees are rarely found in the back of a logging truck. The long, medium and short term return generated from small acreages of trees is often nothing short of spectacular. Listed in the next 5 weeks in order of importance are 5 types of plantations that can reap some big rewards

Monday, February 25, 2008

Building and Energy Efficient Home for Less - Tip 1

#1 Shelterbelts Surrounding the House Properly positioning trees shrubs and perennials around the house is cheapest, most effective method of achieving energy efficiency in the home. The plants and trees not only help keep the house warm in the winter by blocking the northwest wind, but help keep it cool in the summer by blocking the hot summer sun.

The most important rule of thumb to follow is never plant evergreen trees (including spruce, pine, fir and cedar) on the south or east side of the house. While evergreens in these locations are effective in shading the building against the blistering July sun, they also prevent the solar radiation in the winter from doing its part to mitigate heating costs. In fact the shade produced by a mature spruce tree growing on the south side of the house can increase the homeowner’s heating bill to the tune of $250 or more per year.

Instead of using evergreens to grace the southern exposures leaf trees or vines should be used. The leaves provide a barrier to the incoming solar radiation in the summer, while in the winter, the bare branches allow the sun’s rays to reach the home unabated. The other advantage of using trees and vines extensively around the house is that they provide a seamless transition from the house to the landscape.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less, Tip 2

Have the Main Windows Facing South.

Sunlight shining through a square foot of glass will produce 400 Btu’s per hour of heat in the winter. In fact 200 square feet of glass facing south has the potential to completely silence that 80,000 Btu per hour furnace even on the coldest days. As luck would have it, prairie farmers live in the sunniest part of all of Canada, so to not use it to help reduce the gas bills would be a travesty.

The trouble with windows is that since they have a low R-value, when the sun is not shining at night or on cloudy days, they will lose a lot of heat. Fortunately installing lined or quilted curtains easily solves the window’s low insulation problem. By simply closing the curtains when the sun sets or the clouds build up it is possible to increase the R value of the window by a factor of five or more instantly..

Not only does the additional sunlight in the winter months help reduce the energy bills but it can also make you feel happier. Many people on the prairies suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short) that is attributed to a lack of sunlight in the northern latitudes. The symptoms of the “Midwinter Blues” such as lethargy and irritability can be alleviated by addition of full spectrum sunlight as any one who vacations in tropical climates can attest.

Another trouble with south facing windows is that they let in daylight all year long. Those same windows that saved you from bankruptcy in winter have the potential to turn your whole house into a shake and bake oven in the summer. Providentially, with the correct the placement of shade producing nature of trees and shrubs, all is well again.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less, Tip 3

February 11, 2008

No Windows and Doors on the North Wall.

The north wall is the coldest wall on the house and since both windows and doors typically have the low R values, installing them on a north wall makes absolutely no sense from an energy efficiency point of view.

The north wall is the coldest wall on the house for a couple of reasons. From the Autumnal equinox on September 21 to the Vernal equinox on March 21, the sun is always in the southern sky and therefore the north wall never receives direct sunlight and is in perpetual shade for these 6 months. The low insulation values of doors and windows on this side allow copious amounts of heat to leave without receiving any solar gain in return. In fact homeowners can receive the biggest bang for their insulation dollar by adding some to the north-facing wall.

Compounding the lack of sunlight on the north-facing wall is the cooling effect of the northwest winds. Windows and doors are notorious for letting in drafts because due the process of linear expansion. What this two-bit phrase means, is that materials expand when it is hot and contract when it is cold. Since both windows and doors are each made of several different materials that expand and contract at different rates, it means that when the temperature changes, gaps are created between the materials and these gaps let in the cold outside air.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less, Tip 4

#4 No Hallways. Strange as it may seem, it is likely that the most comfortable room in your house will be the hallway, for the simple reason that in most houses, that’s where thermostat is located. All the other rooms will be colder or warmer depending on the apparent temperature immediately outside.

The apparent temperature is the actual thermometer temperature plus the solar gain when the sun is shining (it feels warmer facing the sun) minus the windchill factor (It feels colder facing the wind). In many houses the hallway separates the warm and the cold side of the house making the south facing rooms extremely hot when the sun is shining, and the north facing room extremely cold when the wind is blowing.

By eliminating the hallways air is able to move from both the warm and cold sides of the house and mix at comfortable temperature in the middle and as added bonus, the amount of usable floor space increases by as much as 10% while reducing construction costs.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tips for Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less

#5 Square house. Houses lose heat through the exterior doors walls and ceilings (and through the floors in the case of mobile homes), so it only makes sense that by reducing the surface area of the building that heating costs will be reduced as well. Although a geodesic dome offers the least amount of surface area per square foot of usable floor space, square building are much cheaper to build and are generally more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

The trouble with square buildings is they often look plain and boxlike. Often house designers will add bay windows, turrets and dormers to give a home an individual touch. Not only do these attributes cost big money to install but these also add large amounts of surface area without significantly increasing the amount of usable interior floor space. The best way to fancy up an everyday is to attach unheated structures such as porches, decks and vestibules.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Building an Energy Efficient Home for Less

Energy efficiency is a “hot” topic these days from the global warming alarmists predicting major catastrophes unless we can control fossil emissions to the consistently elevated cost of natural gas and electricity that seem to squeeze the last penny of our monthly paychecks. Although the solution seems easy enough: start building energy efficient homes, the reality is that many conservation techniques such a solar panels, geothermal and hyper insulation seem to add enormous expenditures to the already sky rocketing price of constructing a new home. Fortunately there is an answer to not only simultaneously reducing the cost of house construction and home heating bills, but actually increase the quality of life for those living in these new buildings.

The house in the featured in this article is located 120 km north of Edmonton, is 5500 square feet in size, uses less than $250 of natural gas per year to heat (averaged over the last 8 years) yet only cost $186,000 ($35 per square foot) to build. What may be surprising to some, is that each design feature used to improve energy efficiency, also reduced the cost of construction. Although there are approximately 35 design elements that make this particular house so energy efficient; listed over the next couple of weeks are the five aspects that were the biggest contributors to energy efficiency.

If you are interested in seeing all 35 design features, you can purchase my book "Designing and Landscaping the Family Home" or attend my course "Building an Energy Efficient for Less" held at the University of Alberta Extension at the Devonian Botanic Gardens. Details on both at my website.