Friday, October 17, 2014

Overcoming Nature Anxiety

Queen Composter needs your help.

I am passionate about gardening as a way to connect us to our food, and I enjoy spending time in the outdoors, connecting with the plants and animals that live amongst us. I believe that this may be the only way to have people truly care about protecting the environment and see that our well being is tied to a healthy planet. I also believe in the power of modelling and education to shape children's perceptions and behaviours. The best way to desensitize children to the "ick" factor and sensitize them to the diversity of life around us is to spend time in nature.

My daughter mistakes any flying insect for the stinging
variety, even harmless flies. 

However, I am also aware that children often come out with their own fully developed personalities and temperaments, and this has been one of the most challenging aspects of parenting for me.

This past summer I struggled with a daughter who does not want to spend time outdoors; "I've had enough fresh air, can I go inside now please?" She has always preferred indoor pursuits, but in the past has been willing to engage in outdoor play with some encouragement (usually because her sisters are outdoors and she wants to be with them). She is a sensitive person who can have strong sensory reactions to situations. This past summer a series of events occurred that affected her deeply (multiple insect bites and stings), and she refuses to go outdoors. When she does, she constantly scans the air and ground for insects, and imagines insects crawling on her when she feels an itch or breeze on her skin. While her anxieties are understandable, it presents many challenges.

The dreaded wasps. This variety is especially aggressive.

I have continued to encourage her to spend time outside in our backyard and at parks. Together we read information in books and on the internet about insects, animals and plants that we see in our backyard garden. We have talked about the important role that each insect plays in the ecosystem. I make sure to limit her exposure to situations where I know she will be stressed (and made the decision to cancel a camping trip because of her extreme anxieties). We have also limited eating food outdoors because of the insects that food attracts.
Many insects are hibernating or dwindling
for the colder seasons, but the sight of this
sends my daughter into fits.

When we find insects in the house I make sure to remove them in humane ways. For example, despite pleading on her part to squish any spider we find, I use a glass to capture them and put them outside. As I do this I take the opportunity to make observations about the spider with my girls (all while squelching my inner desire to scream and run away). Already I have seen spin-off benefits from this; my oldest daughter has taken on the role of spider whisperer when I am not available, and I am so proud of her. Incidentally, overcoming my fear of spiders began when I had children.

You know a spider is big when you can see the stripes
on its back. We find these inside all the time.

My fearful daughter has made some growth and occasionally will join me in my garden for very brief periods of time, but I fear that if I don't help her, next spring and summer will continue to be torturous for both her and me.

So I turn to you now for some suggestions to help me help my daughter overcome her fears and begin to enjoy time outdoors again.

Have you overcome a fear of creepy crawlies? What has helped you? Do you have any suggestions to help me?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Service Projects for Kids?

From the bean of Green Bean.

It was a cool and foggy September morning.  I knew which day it was.  Saturday, the 20th.   I had had this date marked on my calendar for months, even a year.

Still, I ignored the calendar entry.  There were so many other things I could do on a quiet Saturday morning.  The kids could be sucked in by screen time, forbidden during the week.  I could work in the garden, plant seeds for fall, lay down sheet mulch for spring.  Hit the Saturday farmers market instead of the Sunday one.  The possibilities were endless.  And yet, I had wanted to do this since last year.  Or at least thought we should try it.

Pick up other people's trash.

I loaded the kids and hubs into the car and headed West, to the beach, to join in our first ever California Coastal Cleanup Day.  When we arrived, the parking lot was an empty.  A single gentleman surrounded by empty trash bags and paperwork waved us over, set us up and we were off.

Creeping over invasive ice plant and down along the kelp washed up on the shore, we scoured and picked, like a treasure hunt.  One son proudly found a Starbucks cup and straw.  The other, not to be outdone, located a full beer bottle amongst the seaweed.  "I saved a sea turtle, " shouted one, waving a deflated balloon.  "I saved some fish," bragged the other, holding a straw overhead.

By the time we had reached the end of the beach - our bags full of Styrofoam and plastic, we turned to head back.  Apparently, we were just the first of many volunteering that morning.  The shore crawled with a boy scout troop, twenty-somethings on a "girls day out", a 4H group, and a number of others aiming to make the world - or at least our little sandy corner of it - a better place.

We left invigorated, excited about the prospect of having made a difference and without having found a single plastic bag - thanks to our county-wide bag ban that went into effect over a year ago.  My family cannot wait until next year to pick up more trash.  (In fact, we may not wait).

But in the meantime, what our service projects would you recommend for children?  How, as the holidays of overindulgence come roaring around the corner, can we keep that sense of giving alive?  What service projects have you done and how have you liked them?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Do Carbon Taxes Work?

The Climate Crusader looks into the results of a carbon tax in British Columbia, Canada.

I live in British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada. Much like the US, Canada's west coast is associated with left-leaning liberal hippies. Here in Vancouver you'll find an abundance of vegan bakeries, food trucks, craft breweries and community gardens. This city was the birthplace of Greenpeace, and it is the home of David Suzuki. We're far from perfect, but it's fair to say that the number of environmentalists per capita who live here is at least a little higher than average.

Here in British Columbia we've had a carbon tax since July 1, 2008. The rates started out low but increased to their maximum in 2012. When it was introduced prices for gas, heating and so on rose. There was also a lot of public debate. Some people argued that it would create an unreasonable burden on businesses, who would pass those costs along to families. Some people argued that it wasn't significant enough to change behaviour. Others argued for different systems.

Six years on, though, you don't hear too much about it. We've gotten used to paying it - and I'm happy to report that I haven't noticed that my cost of living has skyrocketed as a result. But did it work? Has it made a difference? I recently went online to find out. Here are some highlights from a 2012 progress report:
  • Sales of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, coal and oil decreased by more than the Canadian average after introducing the tax.
  • This decrease happened at the same time as the population grew by five per cent, which was also above the Canadian average. 
  • The province's GDP growth was above the Canadian average, including during the global recession. And the Canadian economy performed better during the recession than the US economy.
  • There was a 48% increase in sales in the clean technology sector.
  • The tax was designed to be revenue neutral, so increases in the carbon tax were offset by decreases in other taxes.
Something else that is worth noting is that British Columbia has a large resource sector, including coal. We mine billions of dollars in coal every year in this province. This is not a place where we all grow organic kale for a living.

Given all of that, it was with interest that I read an article in The New York Times about President Obama's failed bid for a carbon tax in the US. Senator Mitch McConnell is quoted as saying:
President Obama’s war on coal won’t have any meaningful impact on global carbon emissions. What it will do is ship American jobs overseas, raise the cost of living substantially for middle and working-class families and throw thousands more Kentuckians out of work.
Of course, the experience in one place is not necessarily going to be repeated in other places. However, it is a good starting point. Given what's happened here where I live, I can say that the carbon tax fear-mongering hasn't played out. The cost of living hasn't skyrocketed. People in the resource sector haven't been thrown out of work. And carbon emissions have gone down. It seems that carbon taxes can work, and that the downsides can be mitigated.

It is my fervent hope that the world does put a price on carbon. It's past time to act. We're all in this together, and we need to pull together to create real change. And based on what's happened here, real change can happen. That's the good part. Now the only question is whether or not we'll rise to the challenge.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Kitchen Scraps Garden Part Two: Carrot Seeds

Queen Composter has been doing some gardening experiments.

Most kitchen gardeners grow carrots, and I am no exception. My daughters love eating them, and generally I find them easy to grow. While seeds are not overly expensive, I find I go through a great deal of them each year because of having to sow so many then thinning the seedlings to allow for adequate growth.

I have been experimenting with growing food from kitchen scraps, and I saw a post somewhere about planting the tops of carrots to produce seeds. As a novice gardener I am delving into seed saving, which has so many benefits. This seemed like a perfect fit.

In the early fall last year I did just that and I was excited to see what would happen in the spring. Carrots require several weeks of exposure to cold, or vernalization, for the flowers to produce later in the year, and planting them at this time was one way to do it.

Carrot flowers: Image source

Carrots are biennial plants, meaning that their life cycle is over two years. In the first year the carrot root grows, which is the part that is the most familiar to us. In the second year, if left to continue to grow, the carrot flowers and produces seeds. 

In the spring I forgot about the carrots and when I was tilling my garden beds I pulled up many of the carrots, which had started to regrow. In the end this might have been a good thing as I had an entire area overgrown with flowering carrot plants.

The carrot flower buds are fascinating close up.

Over the summer I was impressed with how many pollinators my carrot flowers encouraged, and I spent many happy hours watching the insects and taking macro photos with my Olloclip lens and iPhone. 
A soldier beetle hunting for food and pollinating my flowers.

By early September the flowering tops had dried sufficiently enough to cut and save. This is the part that I found the most interesting. Using gardening gloves, I rubbed the dried tops between my palms to release the seeds. What I found resembled an alien insect more than a seed because I wasn't expecting the spiky chaff surrounding the individual seeds.

A quick google search informed me that commercial seed companies remove this for packaging purposes, but it was fine if I left it on them.

The seeds are now stored in a paper bag in a glass jar in my refrigerator (to control for humidity). 

Another thing that I learned about carrot seeds is that if they are planted near Queen Anne's Lace they will cross pollinate and not produce true carrots. Also, if the seeds are from hybrids they will not produce carrots either. I planted a variety of hybrid and heirloom carrots last year and because I did not know that hybrid seeds will not produce and I do not know which kind of carrot tops I planted last fall, I do not know if my seeds will produce carrots next growing season. In the coming weeks I will be sure to only plant my heirloom carrot tops.

So the carrot seed experiment will continue.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

5 Fall Garden Tasks To Save Money in the Spring

From the bean of Green Bean.

Cosmos seeds just begging to be saved for next year!

As the sun wanes and the vines die, most of us turn our attention away from the garden.  Pumpkins beg to be made into pies, apples to be dried or sauced.  I typically think of the garden again come New Years, with the rush of the holidays behind me and seed catalogs piling up.

This year, however, I want to make sure I hit a few important garden tasks that will bring big yields in spring.

A California native sunflower that I planted for the first time this year. Loved it and am saving the seeds for next year.  Left several seed heads up for the birds and squirrels to enjoy.

1) Collect Seeds from Flowering Annuals and Vegetables.  Many flowers tapering off now - their seeds drying on the stem, begging to be saved for next year.  I often leave quite a bit for the wildlife to make it through winter but now is the time I start collecting seeds for next year.  Some, I admit, I haphazardly toss about the garden to self seed while others are stored in glass jars to await spring.  Still others can be given as gifts for the holidays.  Beans and squash are among the easiest seeds to save amongst the edibles.  Cosmos, sunflowers, scabiosa, blanket flower and other annual seeds can just be gathered off the stem.

2) Divide Perennials.  Think of it as free plants!  Most perennials need to be divided every 3-4 years but a few like yarrow benefit from being divided every 2-3 years.  Rather than buying more plants to fill in bare spots, this fall, I will just divide up what I have.  Here is a great resource of dividing perennials. 

3) Relocate or Add Perennials.  Looking around my garden this year, I have noted that a few plants are not happy.  This one needs better drainage, that one more moisture and this one less water.  In years past, I might have simply yanked the poor plants and tossed them in the compost pile. This year, I plan to save some resources by playing musical plants.

4) Mulch, mulch, mulch.  Adding organic material to the soil increases its ability to hold water.  For folks who live in drought-stricken regions - like myself - this means it is a perfect time to add more mulch.  Moreover, mulch will help protect plants where it snows and keep plants from drowning in too much rain.  Fallen leaves, straw, cardboard, newspaper, grass clippings and so on make great free or low cost mulch.  Bonus - insects and the birds they attract will thank you for the extra leaf litter.

5) Plant Cover Crops.  Finally, fall is the perfect time to add some extra nutrients to your soil by planting cover crops - which also help keep weeds at bay, provide food or forage for people and animals and a nice overwintering spot for beneficial insects.  Peas and fava beans are great cover crops that can be eaten.  Clover is wonderful for pollinators.  I consistently see better vegetable production in beds that had cover crop the previous winter.

This post is part of the Homestead Barn HopBackyard Farming ConnectionMaple Hill HopGreen Thumb Thursday and Tuesday Garden Party.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How My Parents Buying a Hybrid Is a Sign Of Hope

Eco-Yogini reflects on hope...

The last few years I've found it so difficult to have hope when it comes to... well... most things. I suspect it's something to do with why it's always a certain demographic each generation that protests and speaks out and rages against the machine. It's true that as I've gotten older I've become more cynical and I feel a bit smaller in my ability to affect change.

I think some of this perspective and knowledge is important. There's only so much you can take on for so long before it becomes overwhelming and exhausting. But it's also a bit sad. To lose that piece of rebel.

And then. There are moments where I think: "Holy Goddess, we ARE changing after all". There IS hope.

One such moment happened a few days ago when I got a text from my mom with a picture of a black car. With the word "HYBRID" clearly written on the front windshield. And in case I didn't get that, she sent another picture of the "hybrid" fuel label of the actual car itself.

My parents bought a Toyota Camry Hybrid. Before we did.

You might think: "Why is this a big deal? I know lots of people who own hybrids".

Yes, but do you know a lot of rural, fishermen families who still occasionally burn their garbage, traditional, left-conservative voting families who own a hybrid?

I love my parents. They are the most loving, kind, giving and selfless people I know. I am thankful each and everyday for being fortunate enough to have them as parents. They have taught me so very much and made me who I am today.

But they are most certainly not environmentalists. Oh I think they mostly believe in climate change and pollution. It's just that it doesn't really affect them. They don't have the greatest things to say about local "treehuggers" come from the city to protect natural reserves from local use ("What do those damn hippies know about anything anyway?"). I've accepted long ago that they are proud of me, respect my choices and smile and shake their heads at their strong independent daughter's crazy hippy actions.

The fact that they purchased a hybrid vehicle made me stop and reconsider. I think maybe they have quietly been changing... while I wasn't looking.

After some further thought here are all the things my parents now do:

  • My mom now uses vinegar and water to clean as well as a "green" cleaning supply brand.
  • All of their light bulbs are CFL (including LED Christmas lights)
  • My mom hangs all her clothes on the line (although this isn't new... she's always done this. Even during the winter months when there's snow on the ground.)
  • My mom uses my home made soap and body lotion
  • My parents each homemade preserves instead of buying them pre-made and for the most part they pick the fruit and vegetables themselves, locally.
  • My parents have started purchasing food from local sources and have started to visit local farmer's markets.
  • My parents recycle all plastic and paper AND compost (this is mandated by law in our province, but still- considering most of the capital city struggle with compliance in this, it's a huge accomplishment).
  • When repainting their house and kitchen cabinets this year they purchased low VOC paint.
  • My parents bought a hybrid vehicle.

What we truly need as a society is to make polluting and wastefulness not socially acceptable. David Suzuki wrote "A Sacred Balance" how he remembers that only 50 years ago it was socially acceptable to spit in public on the street, in stores and in public transit. He wrote that we need a complete social shift on what we value as a society in order to necessitate the amount of change in attitudes and perspectives with regards to the environment and our planet. And his spitting example was how such a radical paradigm shift IS possible.

I always believed it would be generational change- with those current elders staying in their ways.

My parents are quietly and most certainly already on that path of environmental change. And that gives me enormous hope.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wanted: Tips for Happy & Healthy Family Dinner

Eco-novice wants your help turning a picky eater into an enthusiastic one.

In my house, we have some picky eaters. Probably my fault, but let's move past that. The point is, a little while ago I decided I was tired of preparing multiple meals (the real meal, plus what my 7yo and 5yo would actually eat) each night. I made my kids a deal: one meal each night, and they had to try it, but then on Fridays I would make them anything they wanted.

This sort of works, except that trying whatever I make often involves eating a microscopic amount preceded by many minutes of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. I think I would be OK with my kids only trying a little bit of what I made, and then filling up on fruit and grains or going to bed hungry, if I didn't have to listen to all the whining and complaining about the meal I just spent close to an hour preparing.

So here is my question for you, oh wise Booth readers. How does family dinner work at your house? Do you make kid-friendly meals that you know your kids will like? Make whatever you want and expect your kids to try it? Do you make meals you know certain of your kids will not eat, and if so, do you let them eat an alternative?

And here is perhaps the even more important question: how do I transition my picky eaters to adventurous eaters? I can find plenty of information about how important it is that I not be a short order cook and prepare one (not kiddy) meal that the entire family can enjoy together. But how do I get there from here? And live to tell about it. Because, seriously, the whining is really getting to me.

If your family dinner time is a happy experience, or if you have successfully transitioned a picky eater to a not picky one, I feel it is your duty to share your experience below. Thank you in advance.


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