Friday, November 21, 2014

Extending the Harvest with Covered Hoops


Queen Composter hopes for cold season gardening success.



Last year I began experimenting with extending the growing season and harvesting fresh food through autumn. In fact, I was able to harvest backyard veggies for the last time on December 1st! After that we had an unseasonal cold snap and early snow (I live in the moderate pacific northwest where we are increasingly finishing winter with little to no snow). Luckily some of my cold resistant veggies bounced back enough by late winter that I could start harvesting them again in February and March.

But one of my faults as a backyard gardener is that I often forget to harvest the veggies before they bolt (go to seed) in the summer or freeze in the winter. I'm always disappointed that I didn't pick something when I thought of it instead of waiting just that one more day or week. Hardy plants like kale did well with limited frosts and bounced back quickly, but my turnips, carrots, and cabbage were turned to mush in the freezing temps and never rebounded.

Through the summer, after doing more reading about fall and winter gardening, and weighing the pros and cons of cold frames versus covered hoops (an excellent discussion here), I decided to try covered hoops this year. Sometimes plastic covered hoops made with flexible tubing are called low tunnels, and the taller variety are called poly tunnels. I guess mine are a hybrid (not low but not tall enough to walk in).

My wonderful neighbour (really, he's amazing) built my covered hoops once I'd cleaned up the fall garden and mulched everything for warmth and moisture retention. Unfortunately we'd already had a frost, so there has been some damage to the lettuce and Asian greens, which I'd hoped to avoid.

With the sides down for full protection.

With the sides up for moisture in warmer temperatures.


So how well do the covered hoops work to protect my plants?

We've had about a week of below freezing temperatures (which came rather suddenly after unseasonably warm temperatures) and today I went outside to raise the sides to allow some rain in now that the forecast says warmer temps for the next while. I was pleased to see that the kale is rebounding nicely (however, the uncovered kale is in the same condition).

The three varieties of kale can be harvested again (one hidden in photo).

As mentioned, the lettuce is pretty much done in, so time to start growing inside with my growing light for some fresh greens. The Asian greens (bok choy and sui choy) looks to be in rough shape but I'm crossing my fingers that they may rebound as it appears to be mostly the outer layers that are damaged.

The lettuce has turned brown.


The swiss chard looks inedible, but there is some new growth in the inner centre of the plant. The broccoli and cabbage looks good (I'm growing for an early spring harvest so I'm pleased they haven't been damaged yet).



I was most happy when I pulled back the layers of mulch to see big, beautiful purple turnips still happily growing.



The real test of the covered tunnels will be when (or if) we get some snow in January and February. My hope is that the tunnels are strong enough to withstand the weight of the wet, slushy snow we get here and protect the kale so that I can harvest fresh greens through the winter.

I'm also hoping to use the covered hoops as protection for an early spring garden. I usually try to have my seeds started indoors by February or March and perhaps next year I can transplant the seedlings outdoors earlier than usual.

More information about cold weather growing with covers:

Are Mini Hoop Tunnels Worth The Effort?

Cheating Winter

Quick Hoops: Use Low Tunnels to Grow Veggies in the Winter



Have you tried covered hoops or cold frames to extend the harvest? Please share your tips.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Green(er) Gifts for the Gardeners on Your List

Green Bean looks toward the holidays with a shovel in hand.

It is that time of year again. While I am all about less gifts, less consumption, more experiences, if you really want to buy me or any other gardener a present this year, here is what people with dirt under their nails appreciate:

1) Sharpened Tools. Every winter, gardeners tuck away their tools - dulled from months worth of snipping and maybe a bit rusted from being left outside in the first rainstorm of the season.  Some gardeners are organized enough to have their tools "winterized" - sharpened and cleaned - or do it themselves.  For the rest of us, this is an ideal gift!  It has no carbon footprint, extends the useful life of our tools and is a service readily available at most locally owned nurseries.  You can also bring clippers to almost any knife sharpening service.

2) Seeds or Plants from Your Own Garden. If you have your own garden, what is more thoughtful than carefully saved seeds or propagated plants.  Bonus: inexpensive and low impact.

3) Coupon for a Project: Last year, my dad rigged up my bat house in the absolute perfect location (not that the bats have appreciated it yet but someday...).  The year before, my husband built me a potato condo. This year, I'm hoping for a raised bed cover for keeping heat in and bugs out. Hint, hint, honey!

My bat house. 

4) Coupon for a Work Day: This is a gift even kids can give.  What gardener wouldn't welcome a willing pair of hands to spread mulch, turn the compost, pull weeds?

5) New Gloves: Unlike tools which can be refreshed year after year, a well worn pair of garden gloves probably will only last a year or two.

6) A New Fruit Tree: Know your gardener well with this one, but if you have someone who has recently moved, expanded their garden or embarked on the hobby, a new fruit tree might be just the thing.  My mother-in-law gave me a lemon tree our first year in our new house.  It was the perfect gift as I had been lamenting leave our old lemon tree behind.

7) A Greenhouse: Yes, I said it. They are big and expensive and this might be many gifts rolled into one.  My husband gave me a greenhouse a few years ago.  It was my birthday present, my Christmas present and our anniversary present and it has changed the way I have gardened every since.

My greenhouse! And one of my many rain barrels.

8) A birdbath: I have recently waxed on and on about the importance of birdbaths for the garden. Homemade or second hand (think estate sales or Craigslist) are fine here.  If you buy new, emphasize quality. A well made cement birdbath can last generations. One that I got new, I have had for eighteen years.

The robins enjoy my eighteen year old birdbath - a gift from my parents for my first garden.

9) A birdhouse: Speaking of birds, who doesn't want more in their garden? They provide beauty and keep pests at bay. Avoid painted birdhouses and look for ones that are plain wood. If you have kids or are crafty, a handmade birdhouse or a birdhouse construction kit is another great option. Birdhouses and birdhouse kits are readily available online, at Home Depot and at birding stores.

A woodpecker checking out a birdhouse I picked up at the local thrift store.

10) A rain barrel: Two years ago, I installed my first rain barrel. I am up to five and I cannot believe all the water I was wasting in years past.  Rain barrels are wonderful ways to reuse oak wine barrels (Beware, the water will smell like wine. Not necessarily a bad thing!) or food-grade plastic shipping containers.  Bonus: in some areas, like my drought-stricken home of California, you can get a rebate for buying a rain barrel.

11) A compost bin: If your gardener does not already have a compost bin set up, I highly recommend one.  You can purchase them (sometimes with a rebate from your local garbage company) or you can build one.  We currently have one that I hired a handyman to build. I get tons and tons of high quality compost every year from what would otherwise go to the landfill.


12) A Garden Bench or Chair: Your gardener may already have plenty of these but most of us don't.  Most of us gardeners are so busy gardening, that we do not take the time to sit down and drink in the beauty and life of our gardens.  I have two benches in my main garden and I am still angling for another seat on the other side.

13) Gift certificates to your gardeners' favorite local nursery, seed store or online garden supply store.  Peaceful Valley Organic Garden Supply is my favorite for all around garden supplies.

What other gifts can you add to the list?  If you garden, what are you hoping for this year?

This post is part of the Homestead Barn HopBackyard Farming ConnectionMaple Hill Hop, and Green Thumb Thursday.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beware the Pod: Why I Opt for Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent

Laundry pods may be pretty, but the Climate Crusader discovers their ugly side.

One of the hard parts of green living is finding replacements for the unsustainable, toxic products you know and love. For instance, it took me years - and taking matters into my own hands - to find a "green" deodorant I like. I faced similar struggles with dish soap, all-purpose cleaner and dishwasher detergent. It was only recently that I found a laundry detergent that both my husband and I agree works well, that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and that I feel good about using.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr
About a year ago someone asked me why I don't just use Tide. The argued that it's cheap and it works. And with those snazzy Pods it's as easy to use as can be. I mumbled something about toxins. But this past week I heard a news story that underscored why I spent all that time and energy looking for a non-toxic laundry detergent.

It seems that laundry pods like Tide Pods pose a serious risk to young children. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 17,230 children under the age of six had unhealthy exposure to laundry pods in 2012-2013 - or about one every hour. About half of those children got sick, some seriously so. In fact, a seven-month-old baby died after eating a laundry pod in 2013. It's no joke.

Of course, laundry detergents in general need to be kept out of reach of children. So what makes laundry pods so unsafe? In the first place, their bright colours and soft textures are very attractive. They even resemble candy. I know my own kids have seen them in the store and suggested I buy them because they thought they looked pretty. However, it's more than that. If a child bites a pod they can receive a concentrated squirt of detergent in their eyes, mouths or throats, which results in more serious injuries than when kids get their hands on traditional laundry powders and liquids.

Yikes.

My own children are six and nine years old, so they're old enough now that I can generally trust them not to eat the laundry detergent. Still, I have to admit that the idea of keeping products around my house that can injure or kill young children makes me uncomfortable. And the idea of washing my clothes with those detergents and then washing them down the drain where they can end up in streams, rivers, lakes and oceans doesn't feel good, either. Certainly these cleaners can't be good for fish and frogs, even if they are diluted.

As I mentioned up front, the journey towards greener cleaning isn't an easy one. I believe it's worthwhile, though. If you need some help getting started, check out the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning. And keep those laundry pods out of reach of children!

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to hang clothes to dry over the Canadian winter months

EcoYogini officially accepts the end of Autumn... but not the end of hanging clothes on the line...

As I sit here typing there is a gorgeous white fluffy blizzard happening outside my window. It's technically the second snow of the season, but the first one was so tiny and brief, a few flakes really, it doesn't even count.

Autumn and Winter are the reasons why I am so glad I live in a place that has four seasons... and a coastal city that actually gets more than rain rain rain (although... we do get out fair share of foggy rain, snain, and slush...) and yellow leaves in the fall (if you haven't experienced Nova Scotia, the gorgeous autumn colours in reds, oranges and yellows are the BEST way).

That said, despite how excited I am for this beautiful softly falling snowflake weather, today was my day off... and we had saved a bunch of laundry in case it might be sunny out. It was our laundry MO for the entire summer and fall- I hoarded our laundry like a crazy lady for weekend sunny days where we could solar dry the crap outta our clothes.

"Hanging clothes on the line" sounds so boring- when really it's SOLAR DRYING. Sigh, very hipster of me, I know.

In any case, today I had to accept that the dryer was inevitable. But I am determined to hang clothes on the line as much as possible throughout our snowy, cold, Canadian winter. Is it possible? My mom says it is... and she knows everything so it must be true. (hah, no really, it's a mom thing right?).

I already have a few tips from recent cold weather solar drying experience but before we get into that maybe you don't really understand the appeal of it in the first place...

Reasons to continue hanging clothes on the line throughout winter:
- Decreasing energy usage for drying: ok this one was obvious. As the dude at Home Depot told us when we bought our energy efficient washer and dryer: "It's not the dryer that makes these machines efficient, it's all about how little energy the washer uses and how well it rinses the clothes out so it takes LESS time to dry in the dryer". In other words- no matter how "efficient" your dryer is, it isn't.

- The clothes smell better: For years we've been hang drying on dry racks our shirts and work clothes. Unfortunately, hanging up two loads of work clothes next to each other in a room with no air circulation has resulted in some icky, mouldy smelling clothes when they get wet. Since we don't have the money to buy a whole new wardrobe, we still wear them. Nothing was working to get that smell out- hot water, fancy detergent, baking soda, vinegar. You know what did work? SOLAR DRYING. No really, after a few afternoons of hanging out in the sun our clothes no longer smell gross. Not even when we hang them inside. It's magical. I am NOT giving that up.

Last weekend we had a gorgeous, albeit a bit cold, sunny day. I managed to hang clothes on the line with (relative) success! So- here are a few tips given to me by my mom and that I figured out on my own...

1. Check the weather... and not the crappy app on your phone but the government weather forecast. In fall and winter months the weather can change... and there's a lot more precipitation than in summer months. It's important that even though it might be cold, that there be sun (and no snow, rain, fog or snain) for the day. When it gets below freezing you don't want clothes that are frozen solid... so a bit of wind (not too much!) will be handy. (Trust me, maritimers are experts when it comes to checking the weather (particularly fishermen daughters), the phone and "weather network" apps suck. The government weather forecasts are where it's at.)

2. Winter drying means considering sunrise and sunset. Currently in Nova Scotia the sun rises around 7am and sets by 5pm (4:47pm today to be exact). The sunsets earlier and earlier right up until the winter solstice. The sunset time is obviously important since it tends to get dewy and misty closer to sunset (or foggy) which is bad, BUT you also need to consider the BEST hours for optimum sun exposure time. For myself, I was averaging on getting the clothes on the line around 10:30-11am (weekends) and even got away with 1pm. Not in the winter. (Quick science blip: in the winter the earth tilts on it's axis away from the sun, meaning it has a lower trajectory across the sky).
- Hang your clothes during the prime, sun zenith  to maximize drying power.

3. Make sure you choose the best spin cycle. Delicate, low spin cycles might not be great for below freezing drying. Think about it... frozen solid shirts...

4. Don't leave your clothes out close to sunset: as previously stated it can get foggy and misty closer to sunset hours. This applied in the summer too, (which I noticed a few times I waited too long to bring them in), but the difference is the earlier sunset time. On the weekends we do stuff in the afternoon. I'm not staying home to babysit my clothes. This means that we just need to either be a) home in time to bring the clothes in or b) be aware that staying later will mean sacrificing dry clothes.

5. Once you bring the clothes in, leave them in the basket for a bit to warm up before making any decisions. The reality is that they will likely still need to go in the dryer, it will just be for a lot less than if you hadn't hung them outside to dry. That said- cold clothes can feel wetter than they actually are. Let them warm up a bit before deciding just how damp they still are.

And there you have it- being all cool and hanging your clothes on the line over the freezing winter months! I'm also accepting that I won't get in as many days as I will over the spring, summer and early fall, but some days will hopefully help with energy and smell issues. (hah).

If you have other tips for winter solar clothes drying- please leave them! (I'll need them!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mindful Consumerism

Mindful Echo is consuming mindfully. 

When I first moved into my flat a couple of years ago, I was thrilled to have made a deal with the previous owner to buy the large German schrank that resided in the dining room.

"Fabulous!" I thought. "Now I'll have some great storage for all my stuff!"

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my 800 sq ft flat accommodates two adults, one dog, and two cats. It's big enough, but we definitely have to make wise decisions about the space and make use of vertical storage and other space-saving tricks.

So, for the first year, I took advantage of the big ugly schrank. I filled it up. It held wine glasses, serving dishes, kitchen appliances, tablecloths, books, boxes of old photos, papers, office supplies, old flyers, coupons, receipts, some cords, odds and ends, and on and on and on.

By year two, I thought that maybe I could hide the fact that it didn't suit my style whatsoever by covering it in something that does: books. So, the shelves were adorned with beautiful old hardcover copies of The Swiss Family Robinson and Anne of Green Gables.




Still, the hulking monstrosity didn't fit. Next I tried removing the front leaded glass door. I painted the centre compartment white. Better, but not great.

"But it's so much storage! I have to make it work." I wrestled with my gut. I mean, yeah, it was taking up a a third of the small dining room. And, yeah, it blocked an entire wall-long heater. But the STORAGE. I needed it for all my STUFF.

Finally, it struck me. My lightbulb moment. The schrank wasn't providing me with storage potential; what it was doing was giving me permission to consume.

As long as I had the hideous unit, I had space to store stuff: important stuff, unimportant stuff, all the stuff. I could buy whatever my heart desired, whether I needed it or not, because I would always have a place to put it.

A couple of weeks ago, in one of my bi-annual purges, I finally cut the cord. I listed the schrank on kijiji and found a buyer willing to pack 'er up and haul 'er away.

I bought a reasonably-sized hutch that covers a third of the wall space. I donated all the unwanted dishes and books and cords. What was left actually fits nicely into the new hutch.

I cut my dining room stuff by a third and, truthfully, there's still room for more stuff if I need it.



By limiting myself, I'm forced to be intentional with my consumerism. I'm not going to buy cute seasonal dishes just because they're on sale. I'm not going to get another teapot for "just in case." These items aren't necessary for my comfort. I already have much more than I need.

At the same time, it's not going to be about denying pleasures. I still love antiquing and thrifting and finding good deals. Who doesn't? The difference now is about being intentional. I have to ask myself, "Do I need it?" and "Do I love it?"

My other strategy is "one-out/one-in." If I find the most perfect pink depression glass serving bowl that I've ever seen and it's a bargain that I just can't resist, well, then I say farewell to one of the three bowls that I already own that fit that description.

I have to say, it's working so far.

What ways are you mindful with your consumerism and consumption?






Monday, November 10, 2014

4 Green Solutions for All Those Autumn Leaves

In which the Parsimonious Princess deals with the not-so-fun part of her favorite season. (Who am I kidding? I kind of even like raking leaves. Hooray for autumn!)



I love every season. Truly, I do. But there is just something about fall that makes my soul happy. The crisp air, the gorgeous colors, the spicy smells of cinnamon and clove, the harvest, canning, Halloween, pumpkin everything. Seriously, I could go on and on.

One drawback to autumn for many people is raking and cleaning up all those fallen leaves. Don't get me wrong, having leaves scattered all over the lawn is fun and the love kids playing in them, but eventually you have to face reality and clean them all up. Often, people will rake, bag up all their leaves, and toss them in the garbage.

I don't know if it's the gardening geek or the eco-friendly part of me that balks the most at the idea of throwing leaves into the trash. Fallen leaves totally have a second life in your yard and garden!

Autumn is still in full swing here (though there is snow in this week's forecast) and we still have plenty of leaves to rake up and still more that have yet to fall. Here are four ways I put all those fallen leaves to work in my yard:

1. Compost, compost, compost. 
Every fall, my compost bin in the backyard is full of brown leaves. Like, overflowing. But by spring, sure enough, the leaves have broken down a lot under the weight of winter snow. Leaves make for great compost because they're full of trace minerals that the trees have drawn up from the deep soil.

Do you have more leaves than you can fit in your compost bin? Save them for your compost bin later. Seriously, stash a couple bags away for the spring. Without getting into too much composting detail, basically the goal with a good compost is to have a balance between green and brown material so it'll break down. In the fall, it's pretty hard to get that green-brown balance; you're just going to have an excess of brown in autumn. However, if you save some of your leaves, all that brown material will be great for spring and summer time when your compost bin is full of green material from weeding and deadheading, especially since brown material is a little hard to come by in spring and summer.

2.  Make leaf mold. 



I learned about making leaf mold earlier this year when I read The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler (a fantastic book -- highly recommend it) and I've been so excited to try it ever since. Leaf mold is a really great soil amendment; it's even been called "nature's substitute for peat". The great thing is that leaf mold is super-easy to make: just bag up your leaves in a black garbage bag, poke some holes in the bag, and leave it alone for a year. The moisture that will get into the bag via the holes will get the leaves to rot. I've got my leaves bagged up and next to my garbage can. You can read an article from Alys Fowler for more information about leaf mold here.

3. Mulch with them. 



In the fall, I cover my garden bed with mulch with straw, cover crops, and leaves to protect the soil from the harsh winter elements. Leaves are a great mulch for frugal gardening --  I have to buy seeds for cover crops and I have to buy bales of straw, but autumn leaves are free. As you can see in the picture above, I've got some green cover crop (annual rye) in my garden bed, but most of the mulch I'm using is leaves. Leaves work really well to insulate and protect my garden beds, plus they break down and help my garden later on.

4. Leave them where they fall. 



This is the easiest solution of all -- no raking, no clean-up! Granted, this doesn't work for the leaves covering your lawn, but it's definitely one you can use for other areas of your yard. The picture above shows what it looks like under the pussywillow tree in a corner of my yard. I've never rake under that tree. I just let the small leaves break down and work their way into the soil. They also mulch some of the perennials that grow around it. I do the same with my lilac bush in one of my flowerbeds and with the quaking aspen in another corner of my yard.

So, yeah, having trees in your yard can mean a mess in the fall, but it's a mess that keeps on giving. Save those leaves from the trash and, instead, put them to work!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lush Charity Pot: Ethical issues with supporting Shock Value Organizations

EcoYogini considers the value of donating through consumerism...

Today I bought a Lush Charity Pot. It won't be my first. I will admit that I am a periodic Lush consumer and have a pretty decent love/hate relationship with Lush. Basically- I love that they are transparent in their ingredients, I love some of their products and I hate that they don't have 100% clean products and some of their Charity campaigns make me uncomfortable.

Alright, so beyond my general ambivalence towards Lush itself, I'm suffering from some hardcore dissonant thinking with their Charity Pot concept.

First things first- I have some firm misgivings about donating to charities via consumerism. I'm a pretty staunch believer of "if you want to donate to a Charity, just do it. Don't purchase more junk and have a non confirmed portion of the proceeds go to said Charity." The Breast Cancer campaigns of pink washing each year completely solidifies this stance as well as charity giving recommendations I've read and heard over the past few years.

How do I really know that the money is going towards what I want? For Lush's Charity Pot, in any case, they have a pretty clear and simple giving paradigm that's used and a quick internet search reveals some reputable companies on the receiving end that provide some clear numbers of how much the Charity Pot raised for their campaign.

So that's good.

I also really like how generally Charity Pot raises money towards local community initiatives chosen by store staff. This is fabulous.

Some of the funds make me uncomfortable. I am definitely weary of PETA and other organizations that use shock-value and (and often misogynistic) protest methods/campaigns. I am anti-animal cruelty, but I'm not anti-animal hunting. Since that statement right there could be a whole other blog post, let's just leave it there and say I really really really don't like animal activists using women's bodies protrayed in a sexualized (and often violent) manner to "sell" their agenda.

Today's Charity Pot is to raise funds to stop the fur-trade, and for myself in Nova Scotia, the mink/fox farming is of particular interest. The girl at the store was delighted to share "Did you know..." facts about mink/fox farms... until I informed her that I grew up in rural Nova Scotia, in the middle of the mink/fox farming "belt" and was all too aware of their environmental impact. Afterwards she proudly informed other staff of my "legit" status... and was in awe that I saw first hand the impact of river run offs, lake pollution, cages and smells and sounds from the road.

I felt it was important to share that most rural Nova Scotians (who aren't mink/fox farmers) are quite against the practice. Now, maybe not necessarily from a "animal cruelty" perspective- most rural Nova Scotians have a more realistic and respectful relationship with animal husbandry and although would acknowledge it's cruel, may not necessary be moved to act for that reason alone... (note "most"). No, it's more the very real and lived impact on their local environment that is of increasing concern. We're not actually rednecks who hate the environment ya know.

So I bought a pot. And, maybe should have waited. I looked up what a previous Sea Shepard/Lush anti-seal hunt campaign supported and saw photos like th
ese: (Lush employees)
(from SeaShepherd)

Ugh, violent mockups of women scantily clad. Yeah, that really has all to do with the seal hunt.... disgusting and extremely disappointing display of using women's bodies (violently) to "sell" something.

The Charity Pot currently supports "The Association for Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals"- which their website doesn't have any shock-value, misogynistic displays/campaigns but reads like it could.

I just don't feel so great anymore about my purchase or confident that by buying a Charity Pot I made the best investment with my money to help stop mink/fox farming in NS in a mature and profound way. The Ecology Action Centre might have been my better bet....

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