Introducing myself

Hello all,

I'm not really big on introductions, especially not on the internet, but as a courtesy to the group and out of respect for our host and all of you who have put this together, I thought I should say hi and at least sketch out why I'm here and what I hope to be doing alongside you.

I live in eastern Canada. Currently I'm in a tiny apartment in a densely populated urban area with almost no access to land, no yard (only wooden balconies that, due to the building angle, see less than half a day of rather shaded sunlight at most), and no car. I bike or walk everywhere I need to go, currently. Obviously this is not really a sustainable way to live, but the land prices here are absolutely outrageous.

At the time I'm writing this, also, I have become recently unemployed by the startup I used to work for.

I work in a rather niche aspect of high technology, writing embedded software for a particular type of microcontroller (the type that are unobtanium right now and partially responsible for the auto chip shortages, etc). Interestingly enough, the same chips are also widely used in such products as solar power MPPT trackers/converters, grid-tie inverters, battery management systems, and other so-called "green" tech.

I'm not so sure I want to keep doing this, at least not for the industrial clients/employers I typically have, but there are so few jobs (it seems to me) available for things that actually help the earth or are compatible with a slower pace of life. I'm studying biodynamics as I look at some of the local farming practices (it strikes me as the most sane comprehensive foundational perspective for agriculture that we have currently at our disposal), but I know nobody in the industry here and you kind of need a car to go visit these places - they're hours outside the city in most cases.

I should say, I'm not remotely new to the idea of living simply - I've lived fully off-grid for several years before, though not far from city resources at most times. I'm definitely struggling with not having property I can modify to my own needs and not having any place to really grow plants - between the lack of sunlight and the harsh winters even the hardier outdoor plants don't grow well on the balcony.

So, I'm here to glean what I can, get ideas, look for inspiration, try to understand what is working for others, and hopefully through the synthesis and conversation I'll find some direction that I might be able to actually head to truly "collapse early" myself, in a more useful and long-term workable sense than just getting by in such cramped urban spaces.

Looking forward to getting to "know" a lot of you more as my time here on the forum continues. And thanks David for your efforts to keep this place running!


Glad you could join the fray. I might suggest that your living arrangement might be improved if you could find a room to rent or even something like a mother-in-law apartment in a house with a larger yard the homeowner would let you garden in. Live in care giving to some elderly person might also be an option, but that kind of work isn't for everyone. Maybe long term house sitting could be an option.

Glad to have you with us.
Are you familiar with postage stamp gardening? It's surprising what you can get to grow in a container.
Light levels are your limiting factor, as you already know.

Since you live in a city, you might be able to double your available light via salvaged mirrors.
Most of my mirrors were picked up from the neighbors' trash although some are thrift shop finds.

Arrange mirrors under and in back of plants to reflect available sunlight back onto the plants.
This *might* be enough added free light to make the difference.
Since your sunlight is so limited, you probably won't fry the plants by arranging the mirrors around them.

You may be able to paint your balcony bright white (concrete paint) which will also give you a touch more light for your plants.

For your difficult situation, I suggest you consider the techniques of soil-based sprouts inside and shade-tolerant herbs outside. These techniques do not take up a lot of room and do not need a lot of sunlight. The worth of the produce is high in comparison to the weight. You can trial the procdures to enrich your own diet and when you are comfortable with the routine, you can make it into a decent earner or basis for a gift economy.
Soil-based sprouting requires seeds, a sack or two of good rich soil, liquid seaweed (or other concentrated source of mineral amendment, such as compost), many little containers that fit on a windowsill, old newspapers, a dark cupboard, and of course, water. Seeds can be of many kinds and flavors: radish, broccoli, alfalfa, etc.
The more exotic and flavorful ones will be pleasing and nutritious fresh green additions to a bland winter diet. Herbs such as dill, mint, thyme, etc. also make a lively spark of flavor to add to salads, salsas, sauces, or sweet shortbreads, biscuits, and scones. In fact, learrning how to bake rich, not-too-sweet items such as crackers and hot quick-breads using real butter and freshly ground herbs could also become a steady source of good will offerings, maybe later as income potential.
Medicinal herbs are also a possibility, but will require learning how to dry or preserve them in tinctures, salves and infusions.
Soil-based sprouting technique puts about 5-7cm of soil into the container, with a little bit of liquid seaweed added for richness, and just enough water to moisten the soil. Seeds are spread thickly on top of the soil. Then cover them with a 8-fold layer of newspaper that has been soaked in water to saturation point. The cover is pressed down to be in contact with the seeds and molds to the top of the container so all light is excluded for the first four days. Put the containers in a dark cupboard for four days. They should shove their coverpaper up as they grow in the dark.Then take them out and put them into the windowsill. It does not matter if the window gets full sun. Any light at all will make the sprouts green up and grow. Water them once a day for three days or so. Then cut them off at the level of the rim of the container, rinse and eat. Crisp, green, delicious, and nutritious.
Put the used soil and matted roots into the compost with your kitchen scraps and get even more use out of the the used dirt!
The guy who wrote the book I learned this from built a rolling shelf unit so he could put more containers into the light than just one row on the windowsill. If you can do some basic carpentry or find a rolling rack for kitchen use, you can do the same.
His rack has a built-in dark cabinet with several shelves beneath the level of the windowsill, so he does not have to carry the sprouting pots very far. He maintains a rhythm of some pots in the dark, some in the sun and some being harvested so there are fresh greens to eat every day. Or you can let the herbs share the racks with the sprouts. Your herbs can benefit from the minimal direct sunlight on the balcony, then put them back near the windows inside.
The nutritional worth of fresh herbs for adding to eggs, enjoying with cheese, or in cooked dishes is lately shown to be at least equal to the pleasure of their taste. The market value of sprouts and herbs can be well above the weight of the produce. The experience you gain on a small apartment scale can support market-level production later on. Or you could go into the business of providing ‘kits’ for home-growers to try the method themselves or to teach children in schools.
Gutter-hanging gardens are a similar technique. You cut vinyl or metal gutters into sections and fill them with dirt, then plants, veggies that need no more than 15cm of soil to grow normally. Drill the ends so that they can be linked together by stout rope or cord, separated by knots. These racks can be supported on poles, leaned up against the side of a building to catch sun, hooked over the top of fences, etc. You could repurpose sets of old Venetian blinds to create indoor hanging racks.

Welcome! What part of eastern Canada are you located in? I'm in the south-west of Nova Scotia.

David Trammel's picture

I'm appreciative you took the time, thanks.

One of the focuses I've always tried to keep here, is ways that those of us stuck in urban or apartment living can be green too. As Gale (gkb) pointed out, living in a sunless apartment doesn't mean you have to be un-green. Sprouts, and micro greens are a great way to go. The new led grow lamps don't pull any where the electricity the old ones do, and a big standing rack of plants and green stuff in a corner of your home, makes you very sexy to the one's you're interested in when they come over. Or so someone told me, lol.

Thanks all for your kind thoughts!

I do, actually, sprout, so you're all definitely on to something there. Finding an affordable source of sprouting seeds has been a challenge, though, so if anybody knows a good source of organic seeds for the leafy green sprouts local to Canada I'd be very appreciative. Also a source of rosemary and thyme, organic as well and preferably heirloom. (See below for more questions on growing herbs.)

Kay: I'm considering a wide variety of relocation options, but that will all come in due time. Thanks for the good menu of possibilities!

Teresa: Wow, I never thought about using mirrors like that. The floorplan won't permit freestanding ones to redirect light, but I can definitely see about putting some *around* and *under* the plants. I never thought about that. Hmm! Painting the balcony is right out, though.

jbucks, I'd love to say where I am exactly but I'm not terribly fond of posting that on a forum of any kind. It would not be super convenient to try to meet up with you in person, however. I'd need a car and more than a full day's drive. Are you, however, anywhere near Bear River farms? I'm deeply interested in what they've got going on in terms of biodynamic agriculture and they're in the Annapolis Valley.

gkb: very good ideas. I'm *extremely* limited in indoor space near the windows (my oven opens directly in front of one window, and the other (on the opposite end of the apartment) is required to be completely unobstructed for ventilation (it sustains 35+C indoors here during the summers). These restrictions do cause me all sorts of problems in trying to use the space efficiently, but I'm going to ponder the ideas and see if I can't reframe the problem more creatively after further reflection. As for soil-sprouting, I actually sprout in jars for vertical space utilization and it works finest kind. I have excellent, tasty sprouts from that process and they can all hang out wherever I've got room for them in the kitchen.

You mentioned also herbs: "Herbs such as dill, mint, thyme, etc. also make a lively spark of flavor to add to salads, salsas, sauces, or sweet shortbreads, biscuits, and scones. In fact, learrning how to bake rich, not-too-sweet items such as crackers and hot quick-breads using real butter and freshly ground herbs could also become a steady source of good will offerings, maybe later as income potential." Hm, I love to bake, when I have the time for it. Do you have some favourite recipes for these aforementioned quick-breads and crackers that I might start trying out? I'm mostly a yeast bread type person and that's time and labour intensive. Quick breads that don't taste terrible and aren't bland lumps of sugary white flour would be excellent! I've googled the subject time and again but never found any that made me go "wow", so some personal recommendations here might be the ticket.

And, how to start growing these herbs in small containers indoors? I'd love to have fresh rosemary and thyme to work with, but aren't you supposed to plant/start those in tiny pots in the late winter/early spring? Is it possible to try to start growing some now, this late in the summer? I've never really "started" a plant (except for the sprouts, which just soak and get drained), so I've got no clue what to do for them. All my other plants (which are not edible) came as offcuts from other living ones or were bought.

David: Thank you as well - that's a very good idea. In my case, there's yet another twist: I have an extreme aversion to the colour of light produced by grow lamps as well as to bright light sources in general (I have all of my light bulbs at 3700K or warmer), so they're a great idea (some of my friends are successfully growing pepper plants fully indoors!) but not for me. I have considered them though - it was experiencing my friend's setup that convinced me not to, though. I could only stand near his plants for a few minutes before the headachy auras started to threaten.

The end result is that this place is really just a temporary situation. I don't intend to remain here more than another year or so, and since significantly efficient use of the space is likely to require highly custom solutions due to the baffling number of surprisingly unusual restrictions, I'm not so sure it's worth it for a summer to summer year's stay. That said, there's a lot here I can ponder to see if I can significantly improve my current situation without resorting to new furniture.


Jobs are another thing. I'm in between them at the moment, and it's given me a chance to reflect a little bit on where we all are and where we're going as a planet. As much as I love the global connection the Internet has given us, and the ability to do things like share all these great ideas on a forum such as this one, I also feel very strongly that humans don't scale well socially and that our current frenetic pace of life, communications styles and technologies, and arrangement of work (along with denial of the results of labour in many ways) is beyond inhumane and is actively harmful, full stop. In a "the Internet is genuinely worse for humans than it is good" sort of way. Naturally, this conflicts with my skills and the possibilities of earning money.

I'm very interested in ways that we can make "jobs" more humane and still keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.

If you're not allowed to paint your balcony walls, another alternative is to use a white, free-standing screen behind the plants. Since it's pushed up against the wall, it can be relatively flat.
Or, using that peelable, strippable adhesive mounting tape, attach a white sheet to the wall.

As for baking, you have to try various recipes to see what you like.
Start at the library: they'll have 1,000's of cookbooks so you can easily try before you buy. If you find one good recipe, make a copy of it rather than keep the entire book of recipes you don't use.

I like King Arthur's baking book. Good recipes.
The Joy of Cooking is another winner but you want an older version: pre-1990's as the recipes don't use expensive, weird spices AND they tend to be much less sweet.
James Beard on Bread is another winner.
Ethnic bread books can be wonderful.
Make notes because you'll often need to adjust the salt and sugar down and the spices upward; this is AFTER you've made the recipe exactly as directed.

The advantages of soil-based sprouting are: 1) the sprouts naturally shed their outer coats (arils) and require much less rinsing and turning; 2) by taking up soil nutrients, the flavor and nutrient load are increased. But if you have your method in place and are only going to be there for a year, it may be best not to adopt a new method that hinders your work habits. On the baking front, I am still learning myself, and have a bad habit of altering the recipes in books to fit whatever the ingredients I happen to have on hand—so experiments happen, and sometimes one has to eat them. Or the crows do, as happened the last time my quiche-like object developed an unpalatble crust. The birds are kind critics of my rejected food offerings. Crackers are very difficult, requiring a lot of fat and high temps and careful watching over. My Southern-style biscuits are kind of heavy, probably because I do not the knead the dough with the right touch.
Most of the time when I make quiches, I just use flour tortillas with spinach from the store: two of three of them, layered with butter. They brown nice and crisp.
However, lately, I made a pretty dern good banana-nut bread with King Arthur whole wheat flour. I had nearly one pint of cream, partly used that went sour when there was a temporary power outage, so I used it to make the banana bread.
2 cups of flour, sifted after levelling off the measuring cup; 1 cup of sugar (white or brown); 1 cup chopped nuts; 2 Tsp Baking powder; 1 Tsp Baking soda;1 Tsp salt; a dash or two each of these spices: ginger, cinnamon, cocoa, & a small pinch of cloves; two overripe bananas, 1.5 TABLEspoons cold butter; one egg, one cup slightly sour heavy cream; just enough sweet milk to moisten all the dry ingredients once the batter is mixed. With the milk, the end result was more viscous and fluid than a stiff folding dough but not quite as liquidy as pancake batter. I added a dash of lemonade at the last second before pushing the batter into the pan with a spatula. I thought it would help activate the baking soda and make the bread rise more.
This amount of batter was too big for a square pan, so I lined a granite-ware roasting pan (big enough to hold a whole chicken and veggies) with parchment paper and baked the loaves at 350F (don’t know the gas mark or C temp equivalent. Maybe 162?) Could add a cup of raisins if you like, or an extra cup of chopped nuts.
I actually made two batches and baked both at the same time side by side for one hour and 12 minutes, but I turned off the oven at the one hour mark and let the oven cool down for the last quarter of an hour. When I poked the bread with a bamboo skewer, the skewer came out clean, so it was done right through.
Shortbread is SUPPOSED to be a lot of sugary white flour and fat, so I “cain’t hep that.” But it am good eatin’ anyhow. A little thyme or lavender makes it taste exotic. I have only grown herbs from starts, except for one batch of basil started from soaked seeds in February for planting out of doors in May. Oh, and one tiny comfrey start that I nurtured till it was ready to be put in a big garden pot.

You are probably using a too-high protein content flour for *real* southern biscuits.
Southern (in the U.S.) flours tend to have a much lower protein content than northern grown flours do.

Two what look like virtually identical all-purpose flours will bake VERY differently, even when you don't change anything else.
A case in point is White Lily vs. King Arthur. They're both all-purpose but White Lily is so soft, you can use it for cake flour.

Shirley Corrihir in Cookwise has a long discussion about flours and the differences thereof.
So, I think does Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking.

David Trammel's picture

I wasn't able to find a reference from Shirley Corrihir, but this article has a nice explanation about the different types. They are of the opinion that "all purpose" flour really has no purpose at all, lol.

"Baking bloopers: Or was it the wrong flour?"

Sorry about not being clear.
Shirley Corriher is a cookbook author, biochemist, and cooking teacher.
She wrote a book called Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking

Here's the amazon link:

Every library probably has a copy of this book. It's worth reading for the flour chapter alone.

David Trammel's picture

I know of Shirley, I meant I couldn't find a article or post BY her, to post a link to.

Hi Retrotopian,

I'm in Canada too (on the west coast, but considering moving east). I'm also trying to figure out the puzzle of doing work that is beneficial to the world rather than destructive. I think more collaboration and networking between people on a similar page is key for this. Would you be interested in having a conversation about it some time?

I'm not crazy about using internet forums either; I made an email for the purpose of hopefully connecting with people in this community if you'd like to drop me a line: bewildrness [at ] protonmail [dot] com (note the dropped e!).

(All the other Canadians around, are welcome to connect, too. I'd really like to get to know more green wizardly folk and ecosophians. Maybe we could even create some kind of private email list or other mode of communication.)


David Trammel's picture

Several of us here in St Louis, do a Saturday morning meet-up once every three months. We paused it during the pandemic but we've meet several times, either at a local coffee shop or recently at someone's home. Its a great way to get to know people in your neighborhood and to just chat with people who are into this whole "We're all going to collapse!!!!" thing, lol.

If you want, we have a forum where you can post advertising your meeting.
Local Events and GW Meet Ups
I also post to the main page, each month, the events that are happening. That's been paused too because of the pandemic.

I've restarted the Main page blog, and hope we'll be getting more visits, more new members and more interest.

I *love* how enthusiastic you all are here, thanks for all the great ideas! GKB et al., thanks for the flour and baking notes. Being Canadian, nearly all the flour up here unless you go hunting is northern wheat, and most often a red wheat varietal if you're going organic (not sure why, but that tends to be the main wheat used in the locally milled stuff). I use exclusively whole wheat flour when I can, and if I *must* cut it, it won't go higher than half and half white. For various reasons, I avoid simple carbs that are not fully fibre-balanced as much as possible, no matter how good they taste. Yes, there are exceptions, but I won't bake them for myself, which is why I can afford to let a few-times-a-year fast-carb treat in the door.

Bewilderness, let's hang out here for a bit. I have far too many points of spectrum contact as it is, adding more emails would not be healthy for me. I prefer forums for general interest communications anyway, and there's nothing more I would divulge over email anyway.

David, a local meet up is a great idea; getting one started is the trick! I would happily attend if I knew of one in my area though. The local ham meetups are back in swing, and I'm going to suss out if there are other groups that might be suitable to join. Not being on social media, I really miss bulletin boards for such things. I did a walk by everything in a 1-2km radius that I could think of that might have a bulletin board (and wasn't a church) and of the few scraggly ones I did find, none had anything much beyond adverts for various alternative healthcare and pet sitting services that seemed to have been there for quite some time. I doubt anybody reads or even maintains the boards.

So that's another interesting topic: how to find and get local people involved when there are no longer any in-person common places to message (or at least, not any that people still actually frequent)? Is that something that can be bootstrapped again? How might one go about it?

Ask the librarian who arranges for use of the meeting rooms.
They're public (or they are in PA).

Hershey Public Library hosts a wide variety of groups. That said, the ones listed in the online calendar are sponsored by the library. They've got plenty of other groups like my local environmental committee who also use the meeting room regularly but we are NOT on the calendar.

Only your scheduling librarian will know for sure.

The library is also the place to arrange a local meetup group because they're free, usually have decent hours, have meeting space available, and you get a wide cross-section of the community showing up at the library.

Great idea Teresa. I'm not *too* worried about finding a location, though. More about finding / reaching the right crowd. Do you remember when there was always a shop or two that had a bulletin board of real quality in town - at least in your subject interests? When you could just wander by and find something interesting on it? Well, people neither wander by anymore nor are there any bulletin boards that are active that I've found. So, I'm interested in non-online ideas for how to put the call out for this sort of thing in today's age - if you were, say, going about your daily business in town, where should somebody post something (and what sort of something should be posted there?) that you'd actually notice and even more actually take seriously? That's the question I'm really getting at.

The only bulletin board I see in Hershey that's at all any good is at the library.
They do NOT allow anyone to pin up notices. You have to submit your notice to the librarian. This cuts down on pyramid marketing schemes.

My library bulletin board does change regularly and people do seem to pay attention to it.

The only other possibility in Hershey is Pronio's supermarket. They are locally owned and operated, in the same location for 75 years. They are embedded in the village with a large customer base that's walk-in. They are a single storefront, not a chain of even two stores.

If you've got a similar store where you are (like a hardware store) you might have some success with their bulletin board.

Otherwise, that method of reaching the public is gone. For now.

bobmcc's picture

I live rural and the bulletin boards are at markets - the smaller the store, the more likely there will be a bulletin board. That's where the foot traffic is. Our locally-owned bookstores occasionally have them.

David Trammel's picture

We had our dryer shut off due to problems with our electrical breaker box, the 100amp breaker had melted to the buss bar, lol, so we had to go to a coin laundry to dry our clothing. There was a large and will stocked bulletin board there. I remember a few years back when I had a dryer that died and went to a laundry to do my wash. At that time, I remember there was a bulletin board there as well. I wonder if bulletin boards serve for people without the internet as a way to network services? You certainly meet the most interesting people at one.

You know. I checked the Library bulletin boards, but I never thought to look at coin-op laundromats. There are several within 1km of me. I'll go see if they have anything!