Spirit Tree Estate: Growing Green
Our estate property is unique in a variety of ways. Here are a few that might be of interest…
STRAW BALE CONSTRUCTION
With the ever-increasing cost of energy and the increasing awareness of alternative, environmentally friendly building practices, Spirit Tree Estate Cidery has taken an environmental leadership role by being the first winery production facility and agricultural building to utilize straw bale construction methods in Ontario. The facility was built using a post and beam infill method of straw bale construction, which means that the load bearing capacity of the roof is supported by a large post and beam frame. The walls were then in filled with straw bales, secured using a polyvinyl mesh and completely covered with three-quarters of an inch of lime/concrete stucco, which was applied in three coats on both internal and external surfaces.
The result is a modern, environmentally friendly building, resembling the style of centuries-old bank barns in the area. The difference is an insulating value of R-50+ which is nearly twice the current building code minimum standard.
GEOTHERMAL HEATING AND COOLING
To maintain a comfortable temperature within the building while still being environmentally aware, we have installed a geothermal ground-source heat pump. This utilizes the heating and cooling energy of the ground instead of relying on fossil fuels and electricity for our heating and cooling needs.
Two 3,700-foot long loops of pipe have been installed 48” below the parking lot area of our facility. Environmentally friendly ethanol is pumped through these loops, absorbing heat from the earth before returning to the building. where a heat exchanger heats the interior using a forced air system. In the summer, the loop is reversed to cool the interior. Only a small amount of electricity is required to run the ethanol loop pump and the fan motor.
WOOD FIRED STONE OVEN
We are excited to be the first bakery in the GTA and the first farm/winery in Canada to incorporate an Alan Scott designed wood-burning artisan oven into our facility. Using the ancient technique of thermal mass retention, the oven is heated by a wood fire directly in the oven chamber. The oven is fired overnight and the heat is absorbed into the massive stone masonry. In the morning, the ashes are cleaned out, the oven floor is mopped clean, and baking can begin.
At maximum efficiency, the oven can bake 16 loads of bread before requiring a brief reheat. This is possible because the heat stored in the masonry is radiated back into the oven chamber over time, baking the bread an ideal way that cannot be replicated by more conventional gas or electric ovens.
This oven allows us to bake nearly all of our products using a renewable fuel source, with outstanding results.
By using a more traditional fermentation and storage cellar buried beneath our winery facility, we are able to naturally maintain a constant 8-10°C at 75-80% humidity, instead of resorting to electric-powered cooling jackets and humidifiers. The cool, damp clay at our location is perfect for maintaining our cellar at optimal conditions.
An added benefit of the cellar is that by designing the cider mill room directly above it, we are able to move juice from the cider press to the tanks in the cellar by gravity alone. This saves on the use of electric pumps and also minimizes oxygenation of the juice, improving the flavour of our final product.
We have implemented the best available technology to treat our sweet cider products without using considerable amounts of energy. Traditionally, sweet cider is flash pasteurized using a gas-fired boiler to eradicate any possible pathogens in the juice. In this menthod, using a heat exchanger, water from the boiler heats the juice to 180° C for 15 seconds. The problem is that many of the beneficial nutrients and enzymes in the juice are destroyed when heated, and this method also uses a lot of energy to run the boiler.
By utilizing a Cider Sure UV Unit, the juice is passed over a glass pane, which is illuminated using ultraviolet light -- a computer controlled process. Any possible pathogens are eradicated with no heat being used, maintaining the naturally occurring nutrients and enzymes released during pressing of the fruit.
Integrated Pest Management is an in-depth crop management system used to maintain and cultivate a superior crop using organic or soft chemical control. Using AIPM, we are able to continually monitor our apple crop for disease or insect infection. Tools for this include the use of insect lure traps, degree-day modeling, visual inspection and soil and tissue sampling. This allows us to fertilize using only what is required and when it is needed. We can pinpoint localized infections and treat only the infected areas of the orchard, thus allowing us to minimize the use of sprays and to use only those chemicals that are targeted to that particular pest.
WOOD MULCH AND GROUND COVER
All of our apple trees are covered with a heavy wood mulch at their base for the following reasons...
1. It creates a natural humus at the surface of the root zone which allows for microbial activity which benefits the apple trees as they break down the mulch.
2. It improves water retention of the soil by containing rainfall and preventing evaporation, which means that most years, the trees require no irrigation.
3. It maintains cool soil temperatures in the upper root zone during the hottest parts of the summer, therefore protecting the trees from heat stress.
4. The coarse mulch deters rodents from burrowing in the root zone of the trees and possibly chewing on the bark over the winter.
5. The course mulch also provides suppression of weeds.
6. It creates a use for saw mill waste, which is ground into mulch.
The grassy areas between the rows of apple trees have traditionally been an average grass mixture that, once established, is continually mowed throughout the growing season. The purpose of this grass cover is to stabilize the ground against compaction due to the high traffic during certain times of year and also to protect against soil erosion.
Our grass strips are slightly different. In addition to normal grass seed, we have planted some legumes to create a natural source of nitrogen for the trees and also a wildflower mixture. The purpose of the wildflowers is to provide a food source for the native pollinators in and around our farm. To achieve this, we allow the flowers to bloom by alternate row mowing in the orchard. This allows one row to be in full bloom, thus providing food for the bees while the other row is establishing. Once that row has finished blooming, it is mowed down and the other row replaces it. Using this method. we are able to maintain an abundance of pollinators in the orchard. In the spring when the apple trees are in bloom, this army of pollinators will ensure an excellent fruit yield.