ChocoSoil Blog #2: Let’s Talk About Worms, Baby

Access to proper space, water, sunlight, fresh air and healthy soil can make growing food in cities very challenging. Urban farmers must therefore use innovative ways to maximize a city’s growing potential. Healthy soil plays a vital role in this issue, but is increasingly under threat from degradation, pollution and development. Container rooftop gardens have become a popular way to grow in the city, but requires the proper soil mix.

This blog focuses on the soil building practices that we use to grow some of our ingredients at ChocoSol. 2015 has been declared “Year of the Soils” by the United Nations so it’s a great opportunity to highlight how we are composting our kitchen scraps into high quality “ChocoSoil” with help from our worms!

red wigglers

Red wigglers “the engine” of our composting system

We process the food and garden scraps, paper towel, cacao shells and coffee grinds using red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida). This “vermicomposting” process produces nutrient dense worm castings. All compost is considered humus, a crucial ingredient for any soil mix. Not only does humus help with water retention for our soil, it provides our plants with nutrients and essential soil microbes, plus protects them from pathogens and harmful bacteria.

Vermicomposting fits under the “cradle to cradle” approach of handling waste at our facility. Cradle to cradle mimics nature’s efficient and waste free cycles, whereby our organics are not wasted but are processed back into compost and returned into our garden soil. We believe that this approach is essential to tackling Toronto’s waste issues. In 2014 alone our city produced 380,552 tonnes of waste, approximately half of which is organic material. Once landfilled the organics breakdown and produce methane, a significant greenhouse gas.

composted food scraps=castings

Beautiful worm castings!

To set up a vermicomposting unit at home, remember that it is important to create a comfortable environment for your worms. Our system consists of 6 large plastic tubs with holes drilled into the sides and tops to ensure air flow. The bins are also kept in the shade to avoid overheating and drying out. According to Mary Applehof, self-described “Worm Woman” and author of Worms Eat My Garbage(1982), the ideal temperature for your bin is anywhere between 15-25°C., but they can survive in temperatures as low as 0°C and as high as 30°C. Make room inside and outside to enjoy composting year round!

IMG_20150626_133638

moist paper towel layer on top of bin

Moist paper towel layer on top of bin

Your bins must also have a balanced carbon and nitrogen ratio. Our carbon sources are paper towels, coffee cups and corn stalks, which also acts as an essential bedding layer to block light and fruit flies. Our nitrogen sources are the kitchen scraps and coffee grinds.

Ensure the worms stay happy by checking the temperature, moisture, acidity (pH levels), amount of food and airflow within your bin on a weekly basis.  Managing our project takes a small dedicated team (hi!), but most single-family vermicomposting systems take little maintenance since food can be added on a semi-regular basis.

Worm bins are just one of MANY great composting options – it works best for us because it’s relatively quick and doesn’t take up a lot of space. We process approximately 15 pounds of organic waste each week and since April we have harvested over 130 pounds of castings!

Please tweet us your pics and stories of your own composting adventures (@chocosoltraders) with the hashtag #worms4all.  If you have any questions about starting your own worm composting unit please email us! We can direct you to some great resources or give you some pointers from our own experiences.

Welcome to the ChocoSoil blog

Hello and welcome to the ChocoSoil blog!

This is your destination to find out the latest on ChocoSol’s rooftop garden and worm composting research project, ChocoSoil! We will be sharing with you the ingredients that we are growing for our cacao and maize kitchens. Plus, get an up close and personal look at the worms – the engine of our soil-making operation! For now, let’s meet the team- our lead animator Byron and interns the ‘ChocoSoil Sistas’ :)

image-4

image-2Byron: I love the challenge of composting and container gardening here at our St. Clair West facility. Transforming neglected urban areas into high density food gardens is an active and fun way to address our modern environmental challenges. ChocoSol has a unique opportunity to provide community based research on urban agriculture, and to demonstrate our potential in growing food and healthy soil. I’m excited to share this research with you!

photo-3

Madison: I had my first experience with Toronto based urban agriculture projects last year as an intern with Cultivate Toronto. I had an awesome growing season on a rooftop container garden in Regent Park and wasable to make valuable connections within the Regent Park Farmers Market. I loved the experience of growing and connecting with others in the community. I was inspired to deepen my knowledge and completed the Master Organic Gardener course at The Stop through Gaia College. I learned about permaculture principles and holistic soil making practices. I was on the lookout for an environment where I could garden with similar values and feel that this is what I found and more at Chocosoil. I am happy to be a part of this project and to share it with you! My true loves are dill and parsley.

photo-4Sarah: Growing up in BC, I always had a natural connection to nature. I looked up to mountains, lived by the sea, and helped my parents in their gardens. I moved to Toronto to learn how to protect and sustain those vital components to my happiness and well-being. Although I was studying the environment, I felt a lost of connection. It didn’t take me long to notice the momentum of the urban ag movement in Toronto and I knew that I had to get involved. I took the Gaia College Organic Master Gardener course, started volunteering at community garden days, and visited the farmers markets. These opportunities took place in amazing communities and through these experiences and my studies I gained a deeper knowledge and respect for community-based projects that are sustaining the Earth. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work on the ChocoSoil research project and am looking forward to keeping our blog updated with our challenges and success!

Check back throughout the season to see what’s growing! For more info on ChocoSoil check out our website chocosoltraders.com/chocosoil. Reach out to Madison (madison@chocosoltraders.com) and Sarah (sarah@chocosoltraders.com) with any questions or fun and interesting things that you want to share with us! 

photo-2

May 9: Mother Earth Chocolate Tasting

Saturday, May 9th

12:30-1:30pm, 2:00-3:00pm, and 3:30-4:30pm

Tickets: www.universe.com/chocosol-mother-earth-chocolate-tasting

This month’s workshop theme:

In honour of Mother’s Day and Mother Earth, we will be focusing on ChocoSoil — our urban agriculture project. Here at ChocoSol, we recognize that in order to have the food of the gods you must begin with the soil of the gods. Join us on our rooftop garden, check out our seedlings, and take a peek at our worm composting. We will also be launching our specialty “Mom, I love you like cherries & chocolate” bar, made with stone ground dark chocolate and dried sour cherries. Bring your Mom to this event and we’ll gift her with a special treat to take home!

Get to know ChocoSol through the 3 T’s:

TASTING: Let an expert Chocosolista guide you through a tasting of our various cacao and chocolate foods, including beans, Mayan-style xocolatl (drinking chocolate), and artisanal dark eating chocolates.

TALK: Engage in an in-depth bean-to-bar chocolate talk (including discussions on the history and cultural teachings of cacao, chocolate making techniques, horizontal trade, and forest garden permaculture). Learn about ChocoSol as a social enterprise/learning community that embraces ethical practices, ecological sustainability, and the slow food movement.

TOUR: Take a tour through our production facility and get a behind-the-scenes look at how we make our award-winning chocolate food (NOT chocolate candy).

$20 per person in advance / $25 at the door (CASH only, subject to availability)
Buy Tickets
Attendees will also have the opportunity to purchase ChocoSol products at a reduced price.

Apr 23 Workshop: ChocoSol Chocolate

ChocoSol Chocolate Workshop

Thursday, April 23, 6:30 – 9:00 PM
Tickets available fromwww.universe.com/chocosol-chocolate-workshops

Cacao is the “food of the gods,” but somehow chocolate has been turned into “candy of the masses.” Join us for an interactive chocolate workshop where we explore how sugars have been used to dilute chocolate into sugar-filled candy. We will provide chocolate food alternatives through a variety of creative, delicious, and nutritious treats that are free of cane sugar.

This 2½ hour chocolate workshop provides interactive bean-to-bar chocolate education (including discussions on the history and cultural teachings of cacao, chocolate making techniques, horizontal trade and forest garden permaculture), a tour of the kitchen, hands-on ingredient preparation, and chocolate tastings.

$35 per person
Buy Tickets
A minimum of 12 people are needed. Maximum 18. Attendees will also have the opportunity to purchase ChocoSol products at a reduced price.

Sat April 25: ChocoSol Tasting, Talk, & Tour – An Exploration of Sweetness

Saturday, April 25th

12:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:30pm

Tickets: www.universe.com/chocosol-chocolate-tastings

Get to know ChocoSol through the 3 T’s:

TASTING: Let an expert Chocosolista guide you through a tasting of our various cacao and chocolate foods, including beans, Mayan-style xocolatl (drinking chocolate), and artisanal dark eating chocolates.

TALK: Engage in an in-depth bean-to-bar chocolate talk (including discussions on the history and cultural teachings of cacao, chocolate making techniques, horizontal trade, and forest garden permaculture). Learn about ChocoSol as a social enterprise/learning community that embraces ethical practices, ecological sustainability, and the slow food movement.

TOUR: Take a tour through our production facility and see how we make our award-winning chocolate food (NOT chocolate candy).

This month’s workshop theme: We will explore sweeteners and sweetness, including the lack thereof, in our various creations. Sweetness is a luxury to be seriously considered! It is important to be conscious on how various sweeteners and sugars affect your health. Your health is not all encompassing though! Think of the roots of foods, the people who grow it and the traditions in which it is prepared. There are very real issues with sugar and exploitation on both ends of the spectrum. That’s why ChocoSol keeps our chocolate dark and pure! Our chocolate foods can be enjoyed with joy in moderation with a full heart, knowing all ingredients are sourced for their quality and ethical and ecological connection to people, communities, and soil.

3 start times available: 12:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:30pm
$20 per person in advance / $25 at the door (CASH only, subject to availability)
Buy Tickets
Minimum 5 people needed per event. Maximum of 10. Attendees also have the opportunity to purchase ChocoSol products at a reduced price.

Easter Weekend Hours

For the Easter weekend, our kitchen location (1131 St. Clair West) will be:

  • Closed on Friday, April 3

  • Open on Saturday, April 4 from 12 to 5

  • Closed on Sunday, April 5

  • Closed on Monday, April 6 (but we’ll still be at Sorauren Farmers’ Market)

Plus, we’ll be at our usual farmers’ markets (Wychwood + Evergreen Brick Works) on Saturday the 4th!

ChocoSol Mega Chocolate Bunny 2015 600grams