Year-round food production in our
state-of-the-art geodesic dome
Being sustainable is a 12-month-a-year program. Frustrated with all the produce arriving in plastic clamshells trucked in from thousands of miles away, we came across this dome from Pagosa Springs, Colorado’s Growing Spaces designed to grow vegetables year-round without auxiliary heat.
The 42 x 17-ft solar-heated space is made of triangular multi-layer polycarbonate plastic ceiling panels, and on an overcast day of 10 degrees C outside, it maintains a toasty 22 degrees C inside. A central water tank serves as the thermal mass, heating during the day and giving its heat back at night: a forced-air line runs around perimeter to get that heat moving around dome. The geodesic dome shape uses 25% less energy to heat compared to conventionally shaped structures.
Our latest improvement is adding new technology heat pumps to provide a 3:1 lift on electricity that kicks in when the sun is low in the sky during winter. During winter the dome is lit with 14-ft LED grow lights, using 20% of what incandescent or traditional grow lights require. This huge reduction in the consumption of electrical energy makes it feasible to run our system 18 hours a day, resulting in two days of average summer sunlight in one. In the dead of winter, you can literally watch the spinach grow! By the end of the cycle, we put back in what we take out using cutting edge efficient lighting and heating systems to make it practical.
Our (constantly growing) garden
Add to that our very large terraced kitchen garden adjacent. That operation, too, is 100% organic. We grow a huge amount of produce, perennials, lots of herbs like basil, lemon verbena, shiso, ginger, and turmeric, and edible flowers, such as nasturtium, corn flowers, chamomile, borage, and viola, which has a bubblegum aftertaste. We work with a specialist using natural, biodynamic approaches to manage pests; for example, ladybugs to eat aphids. We don’t use any industrial fertilizers or pesticides.
We plant twice a year (in February and September) and seed succession crops continually throughout the season. We are dabbling in medicinal herbs, especially Holy Basil, or tulasi, from India, which is an amazingly aromatic and an incredible stress reliever, and are creating our own brew blend with Namasthé Teas. We grow tons of salad greens—mezuna, mustard and Asian greens, arugula, Scarlet Frills. And we look at our guest calendar often to grow plots for specific groups, so they are harvestable for their arrival.
Our ultimate aim is to grow as much food as we can, be as sustainable as possible, and produce food for our staff, too. We’re constantly innovating. Next on our list? A root cellar to store all that produce, mushroom cultivation and another green house, perhaps in Earth Ship-style, or an aquaponics operation.
Transforming compost into garden gold
Our “worm factory” as we call it is a 4’ x 8’ shallow box (technically a flow-through system) using red wigglers to turn the composted food waste into worm castings manure and worm “tea,” which aerates soil and adds beneficial essential nutrients, making it ready to spread onto our vegetable beds.
Basically, you add the decomposing food matter to the top of the heap and then scrape the garden-ready compost off the bottom—it’s a year-round composting system and pretty much odor-free. This is called vermicompost. It’s why our homegrown vegetables, fruit and herbs taste so good. The microbial-rich material also works to repel garden pests, such as spider mites and aphids. No wonder some say worms are the new bees! We love them both, of course, but without doubt, our worms do an efficient job quickly transforming raw compost into veggie “gardener’s gold.”
A Swedish-style waste wizard
In Sweden, our industrial-style composter can convert food scraps from a 100-unit apartment complex into compost. Here, we use it to turn all our kitchen and dining plant waste back into nutrients for our soil. This mighty two-chamber machine looks a bit like a small oil tanker and it only takes one month to process food waste raw material. We put scraps into chamber 1—about 30 to 40 litres a day—where the material goes through a shredder.
Then two weeks later, we move that to chamber 2, where rotating blades aerate it. It’s a continuously processing machine. We open the door of chamber 2 after 30 days, and what we get out is what goes to our worm factory for further refinement. The output amounts to a whopping 120 to 160 litres a week.
The food cycle at The Brew Creek Centre tells the story of how we tread lightly on the planet, conserve energy and maximize resources. It all starts with growing highly nutritional produce in an organic, energy-conserving, earth-friendly way. Because it’s all about the details.
Heat recovery is key
We use 30% of typical electricity consumption in our newer buildings, or half of the property. The key is two pieces of equipment: our heat recovery and ventilation systems, or HRV, and air source heat pumps. The HRV addresses heat preservation by exchanging fresh air while preserving the heat from the stale air. This enables full fresh air exchange in a building without the loss of heat associated with open windows.
In parallel, the heat pump extracts heat from the outside air. Current state-of-the-art heat pumps can extract heat from air down to -20 degrees C. At a temperature of 10 degrees C, for instance, you get three times as much heat per unit of electricity compared to conventional radiant baseboard heating.
In the olden days, single pane windows would actually freeze on the inside in winter. And still today, heat loss is huge if you have low-quality windows. Nowadays, the gold standard is triple-glazed windows with fiberglass frames, and that’s what we have: state-of-the-art thermally efficient windows. These massively reduce heat loss, keeping the energy needed to heat a building low.
Our newer buildings are insulated with soy-based spray foam insulation, which is far better than fiberglass batt insulation. (With fiberglass batt insulation, as the building ages, the batts slide down.) Sprayed in between the joists and ceiling rafters, this modern type is sealed and stays in place.
The contrast between incandescent and LED light bulb lifetimes is massive. That’s why we’ve used almost exclusively long-life LED lighting here (98%) since they first came on the market. LEDs use 20% of the electricity that an incandescent bulb needs, and last 20 years for normal usage. And unlike CFLs, they don’t have mercury in them. It’s disconcerting to realize your light bulbs might be around longer than you will!
Heating water from the sun
In the quest to cut down our energy footprint, we put in a German solar domestic hot water system in the kitchen. The result is that 60% of hot water used in any given year is heated by sun. We have an electric backup that kicks in if it’s not sunny.
Well-sealed building envelope
The thermal envelope of our newer buildings exceeds current B.C building code standards. The windows, insulation and HRV units are all intended to improve the thermal envelope so the building can retain its heat, and then in addition, heating with a highly efficient air source heat pump.
Wherever possible, we use only eco-friendly products, such as wood varnish, paints and cleaners. We don’t use pesticides or industrial fertilizers in our food production.
We use creek-fed irrigation for our flower gardens outside of wintertime. Our plan is to ultimately provide irrigation for our vegetable garden, which sits on an elevated plateau. We are currently working on a joint project with the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, BC to create a prototype hydraulic ram pump that uses no electricity to replace our electric pumps. It works with kinetic energy (in other words, the force of the creek) to pump water 30 feet up and has the capacity to store 12,000 litres a day.
Smart wastewater management
BC is a premier North American fishing destination and it’s important to protect our pristine rivers and lakes, and the creatures that depend on them for life. We use the Ecoflow Septic System to treat and manage our wastewater. It’s the only Fisheries and Oceans Canada-approved technology, and it’s a stable, consistent, permanent and passive solution that uses no energy and is designed to safeguard aquatic ecosystems.
We recycle, yes, but what we really do is try to use as little packaging and container waste as we can in first place. This is especially important with our food production and services, and it’s a top priority.
We love EVs
We have three 4WD ATV vehicles we use to service the property and these are all electric vehicles (EVs), made by an American company called Polaris. There’s no noise, no gas fumes, no oil changes and no spark plugs. They do cost 20% more than the gas version, but over the useful life of the EVs there is more than full pay back of the initial extra costs through operating expense reductions compared to gas-powered units.
Getting creative with recycled lumber
We’re always experimenting. For The Halcyon, for example, we milled trees cut down to make way for the building as wood to make furniture.
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