Sunday, May 24, 2015

Our First Raised Bed Vegetable Garden!

One of my dreams for the past few years has been growing my own food.

Historically, attempts at growing my own food have led to subpar results (wasps, bugs, not growing, rooftop gardening with scarily precarious fire escape access...).

This Yulemas Andrew surprised me with two raised bed planter boxes he had made himself (with a handsaw at that!) and heirloom organic seeds from Cubit's. OH YEAH.

Today we set up number one of two planter boxes with three of the six food types: Rainbow carrots, Rainbow Swiss Chard and Beets. These three were all "plantable" in mid to late May (for the Maritime provinces). They *should* all be resistant to any frost, as the risk of frost continues in Nova Scotia until after the first full moon in June (which is early June this year). Although today it's up to 20 degrees (Celsius), yesterday it snowed, hailed and rained all in one day. You never know...

After last year's aphid and beetle bug flower disaster I really wanted to make sure we maximized companion flower planting. So we also planted marigolds- which look ugly and smell gross but will hopefully deter bad bugs.

We chose a spot that gets sun for most of the day- on the edge of our sand circle that was left from the pool that used to live there. Perfect since there is no grass or weeds.

(Andrew looking forlorn as he tries to sink the legs into the sand by sitting on the box...)
(That didn't work so we both sat on the edges...)
(which also didn't work so Andrew used a shovel- success!)
(We then lined the box with cardboard. Traditionally with untreated wood people tend to line them with plastic, but an alternative can be cardboard)
(First layer- peat moss to help with drainage etc)
(Then we added compost and organic soil and planted the stinky marigolds in the corners and middle for bug deterrence)
(then we planted: ONE Beet seed)
(ONE Rainbow Swiss Chard- such a weird looking seed)
(A row of rainbow carrots!)

(Finally, we put window screen on top for a  temporary wildlife deterrent. This gives Andrew some time to build something a bit more permanent- with hinges or something. Also, I bought TOO MANY marigolds, so I planted some in temporary plastic containers until we plant our second raised bed).



Our goal? That something edible grows....  :)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What NOT To Do In a Drought

From the bean of Green Bean.

I'll bet when you clicked on this link, you thought it would be full of overly watered lush green lawns, hosed off sidewalks and water sprinting down the gutter.  Here is an obligatory photo.  Please do not do these things in a drought - or at all, ever.


There are a number of measures taken in the name of water conservation, however, that you really really should NOT do either.


1) Turn Off Fountains and Empty Birdbaths: California is recently full of empty birdbaths, idle fountains, and dry watering holes where thirsty wildlife once gathered. If a fountain has a recirculating pump - and most do, it hardly uses any water at all. Birdbaths take just a smidge. The water you capture while warming up your shower or kitchen sink will more than cover it. As we have paved over much of their habitat and drained streams and rivers for human use, certainly we can share a bit with our feathered friends.

Wonder how much birds really use fountains and birdbaths? One woman in urban Southern California created a small recirculating pond that offers migrating and resident birds a much needed respite. Be blown away by the astonishing variety of birds making use of her pond by checking out @terrydavit on Instagram. Or see photos of a Northern California fountain that has become a popular watering hole during the drought. 

Finches whoop it up in the bird bath. 

2) Let Plants and Trees Die: I have heard many people talking about which plants they should let die.  I'm all for letting your lawn die. Most trees, however, we should keep alive for wildlife's sake and because they provide shade, which reduces the need for water of nearby vegetation. Further, native plants and habitat plants (flowers for pollinators, brambles or hedgerows where the birds nest) should be preserved if at all possible. Urbanization and agriculture have destroyed and fragmented much of our natural landscapes. With the drought, wildlife are moving into urban areas in search of water and food. The least we can do is to provide forage and cover for the bees, birds, and small mammals that make it to our gardens.


3) Stop Growing Your Own Vegetables: If I had a carrot for every person who told me that they were not planting a vegetable garden due to the drought... Viscerally, this does not seem to be the right decision and I was pleased to learn that Sunset magazine agrees with me. They reason that we are less likely to waste food we grow ourselves and that it requires far less water to grow vegetables in our own garden than to grow them in a large farm setting and transport them to market.  So grow your own food - just do it smartly by heavily amending the soil, using drip irrigation or ollas, and mulching like mad. (More great tips on growing food in a drought here).

A thickly planted vegetable bed with living mulch, ollas, and micro-sprinklers. 

4) Buy Bottled Water: Did you know that "bottling water ... takes 30 to 50 percent more water than turning on the tap"? Much of that water is bottled right here in drought stricken California. While a bottle of water you buy at the store will not be added to your water bill, it does come from somewhere and wastes a lot of water to get to you.

A butterfly enjoying the dandelions and other weeds that comprise our unwatered lawn.

5)  Install Artificial Turf: Fake grass has become big business in California. It is perpetually green and requires no water.  It also provides no wildlife value whatsoever, is constructed with potentially toxic materials and comes with a myriad of health concerns. Just let your lawn die instead. We did and are left with a patchwork of dandelions and other weeds that work fine for kids playing but require no water.  Better yet, if you do not regularly use your lawn area for recreation, replace it with gravel or native plants. (Update: Please see the comments for a highly recommended technique for replacing your lawn).

Now that you know what NOT to do, what measures should you take to conserve water?  See how I expanded my garden but slashed my water use in half at 8 Ways to Save Water in Your Garden and add your own in the comments.

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden PartyMaple Hill Hop and Green Thumb Thursday.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Green Camping Tips

The Climate Crusader is kicking off the summer by thinking about camping.

I am a little late for my post this week because we just finished the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, which marks the unofficial start of summer. For Americans, Memorial Day is coming up next Monday, which is also about looking forward to warmer days ahead. For many people, summer means camping.

Getting out in the great outdoors is a good way to get in touch with your green side, as you explore the wild places that you want to protect. But how green is camping, really? I have some tips to make sure your trip into nature doesn't end up  harming the very habitats you're enjoying.


Green Camping Tips

  1.  Opt for used camping equipment, or borrow from friends and family. Buying a whole bunch of new stuff means your camping trip has a high carbon footprint. This is even more true if you don't go camping all that often. Buy borrowing or buying used you're not only reducing the environmental impact of your gear, you're saving money.
  2. Reusables, reusables, reusables. It can be tempting to buy a bunch of disposable dishes to take camping with you, but that's obviously not your greenest option. Sturdy reusables, like stainless steel cutlery and dishes, will keep your trip as green as possible. And make sure that any waste you do create is disposed of properly ... or carted home with you.
  3. Go minimal on the gadgets, and think solar-powered and hand-cranked. Don't use a lot of unnecessary gadgets that require electricity or gas to run. Camping is a time to unplug! For those things you really do need, like a cell phone and a flashlight, try to track down a solar-powered or hand-cranked option.
  4. Stay on the trail. Whether you're out enjoying a hike, or choosing where to camp, stick to established trails and sites. When you veer off-track you can disturb sensitive ecosystems and cause damage to plant and animal habitats. If you're a hard-core camper who likes back-country destinations, look for firm, clear ground to set up your tent on.
  5. Avoid the toxic toiletries. This is a good idea anytime, but it's even more important when your'e out in nature. Look for biodegradable, non-toxic soaps and shampoos so that you're not filling pristine environments with petrochemicals like phthalates and artificial colours. For bug repellents, try to go light or steer clear of DEET. And while sunscreen is important, your first line of defense should be covering up.
How do you green your camping trip?

Friday, May 15, 2015

What Does It Mean To Be Present: A Book Review

Queen Composter is sharing a way to be mindful in nature.

As I have mentioned before, picture books are a great way to engage people with ideas about the environment. I am a huge book lover and enjoy sharing favourites and new finds.

What Does It Mean To Be Present, by Rania DiOrio is one such book.

Being present, being in the moment, fully embracing what we are experiencing, is important for our happiness, our self-regulation, and our physical and mental health. We can practice mindfulness at any moment in our day, in any setting. I, however, prefer to be mindful in nature, or at least outdoors. That is one reason I am participating in the David Suzuki Foundation 30 x 30 Challenge again this year.

This book has beautiful illustrations to highlight being present in the moment in a variety of contexts, but particularly in nature. It teaches us to focus on what we are experiencing now, rather than thinking about what is coming up and possible events in the future that may be causing us stress and anxiety.

The author asks us to treat even regular occurrences, and even mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. I love that message and try to practice that in my life.

We can savour every bite of food, enjoy the sensation of sand between our toes, and listen to the sounds and smells around us.


My favourite part of this book is how to slow down and experience our breath going in and out, and I love that most of the images in this book are set outdoors in natural surroundings.

I encourage anyone, big and small, to read this book and reflect upon ways to be present in our lives.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

For the Love of Ginger

When Mindful Echo's tummy hurts...

Anyone else have memories of sick days as a child? Days when the flu knocked you out and you were forced to spend the day in bed missing out on all the fun going on at school and on the playground? I know the only thing that comforted me then was sipping on a small glass of ginger ale (plus pop was a rare treat in my house).

As an adult I still turn to the spicy, soothing ginger root when my stomach gets upset. These days, though, I skip the processed version and go right to the original source. I get to the root of it - the ginger root, that is. (PUN FULLY INTENDED)


Ginger is a surprisingly simple food to work with.

Storing Ginger
I keep a large piece of ginger in the freezer and just snap off a chunk at a time for use.

Peeling Ginger
The simplest way to remove the thin skin is to use the side of a spoon. Just scrape the spoon along the edge of the ginger and the skin will peel off quite easily.

Grating Ginger
Because I generally start with frozen ginger, I like to use a microplane for grating. This has the added benefit of allowing the ginger to be combined into whatever you're cooking almost seamlessly. For people with a sensitive palate, a large chunk of unexpected ginger can be a bit offensive.

Ginger Tea
By far my favourite and most common use for ginger is to make it into a simple tea. The recipe? 1 chunk of ginger and a cup of boiling water. That's it. So easy! Just let the ginger steep and fill the water with the aromatic, slightly spicy flavour and you're good to go.

For me, a nice cup of ginger tea helps to soothe my frequently dissatisfied tummy. It virtually eliminates any nausea and helps with digestion. Personally, I enjoy sipping on some ginger tea after evening meals.

Ginger has interactions with some medications so please consult your doctor before indulging in too much tea!
 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why We Need To Regulate Environmental Issues

From the bean of Green Bean.

It was early Sunday morning.  I had to swing by the ATM to load up on cash for our weekly farmers' market.  The parking lot in my densely populated suburb was eerily empty.  A couple of cars.  Some guy digging through a dumpster.  And some plastic bottles and a paper or two being kicked around by the breeze.  Something was missing.

Not people.  Not cars.  But plastic bags.  When was the last time you have traversed a parking lot and not seen a single plastic bag - alight in the wind, caught in a tree, shoved underneath a shrub.

My city banned plastic bags 21 months ago.  Since then, our population of rambling plastic bags has steadily declined, even though plastic produce bags are still available in the grocery stores and many packaged foods are sold in plastic bags.  There are hardly any floating around our city and last year's coastal clean up yielded far fewer plastic bags than ever.

This is why I was so surprised when a Southern California coastal city, Huntington Beach, recently voted to overturn their plastic bag bag.  A key city council member ran on the platform of overturning that ban and had this to say about it: “What’s most harmful to me is that the choice is taken away from the shoppers. I don’t want to trash the ocean. I don’t want to trash the beach. I just want liberty.”

I have to admit - and I'm sure this will put some of you off - that I do not think we need liberty to pollute.  I do not think we can just hope people will make the right choice.  After all, reusable bags have been an option for eons and yet, it was not until the plastic bag law went into effect (banning plastic bags and charging for paper bags), that use of reusable bags in my county skyrocketed. "The number of shoppers bringing their own bags has increased by 162%. In addition, the number of shoppers hand-carrying their items grew 130%."  Even I, long time proponent of reusable bags, used to bring them home from time to time.  A cashier would bag them up before I could whip out my canvas bags and that would be that.  Or my husband and kids would go to the store and bring home dozens for as many items. Now, plastic shopping bags are simply not available.  Sure, I could opt to pay for a paper bag but like the vast majority of my neighbors, I bring my own bags or carry my purchases out in my arms.

The same holds true for water use.  California's governor, Jerry Brown, knows this.  After pleading with the residents of my state for over a year to "pretty please" conserve water, he called for the first ever mandatory cuts last month. Why force conservation instead of just asking nicely?

Some friends never gave a thought to their water use - even with the drought.  They let the tap water run and run and run while washing dishes.  They overwatered their lawn.  Ran half full loads in the washing machine and dishwasher.  And then water rationing hit their municipality.  Faced with a fine if they exceeded a certain number of gallons per day, these folks cut back dramatically.  They pulled out all kinds of water conservation methods that I had never even thought of - and cut their water use by more than half!

I am all for liberty.  But I am also all for living free from pollution.  Asking politely, modeling and educating are not enough to keep our oceans clean, our rivers flowing and our climate stable.  We need a law for that.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Setting Green Goals

The Climate Crusader is celebrating her birthday, and attempting to use all of the resulting navel-gazing for the planet.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I have reached the stage of life where every passing year causes me to pause and take stock. What have I done with my life so far? Am I where I would like to be? What should I do in the next year? And, on a grander scale, what should I do with the rest of my time on earth? The navel-gazing knows no bounds.

Many people set resolutions on January 1 ... and I've done that, too. But New Year's Day feels a little bit arbitrary to me. My birthday, on the other hand, is like my own personal new year, when my odometer clicks up by one. If I'm going to be suffering from existential angst, I might as well harness it for good, and hence I've started a habit of setting personal goals.

Why Set Green Goals?

When it comes to making lifestyle changes, setting goals can be a great tool. After all, if you don't know where you're going, it's awfully hard to get there. This is true when it comes to going green, as well. By establishing specific objectives, you're in a better position to make a plan and make a difference.

For example, if you're particularly concerned about reducing your family's exposure to toxins, then you will want to set goals around examining and replacing the products you use with healthier alternatives. And if you want to reduce your food miles, you'll want to set goals around finding local food sources and gardening. By setting one goal at a time, and achieving it, you can make a lot of little changes that add up to making a big difference.

How to Set Goals

Not every goal is created equal. When you're setting green goals, here's how to make sure they stick:

  1. Make it about what you're doing, rather than what you're not doing. When we're making changes we often think about those things we want to eliminate. For instance, you might think that you don't want to make as much garbage. However, a goal of "don't through away so much" doesn't give you a lot of clues about how to achieve your desired result. Changing it to "reduce packaging waste" or "set a meal plan and shop the pantry" will put you on a better path.
  2. Make it manageable for you. Big changes are hard, and can leave you feeling discouraged when things don't work out. If you're starting a garden, you'll want to start with a few plants that you're likely to have success with. If you're learning to sew so you can mend and re-purpose your clothing, you'll want to being with an easy project. No matter your green goal, make sure it's manageable.
  3. Break down the steps. Whatever your green goal, identify the steps you need to take to make it happen. If we go back to the gardening example, this might include things like ordering a seed catalog, signing up for a community garden plot, reading a gardening book or buying a watering can. When you know what you need to do, it's easier to do it.
  4. Re-evaluate as you go. Figure out what is and isn't working for you. Decide if you need to switch up your goals, or if it's time to set a new one. It's very easy to become complacent on your green path, because you've made some changes. Without becoming a perfectionist, however, there's always more to do. Think about what's next for you and go back to step one.
As for me, my biggest green goal this year is to clean out my garage sustainably. It's become a collecting place for all sorts of things lately - leftover paint, old furniture, the car seats my kids have grown out of. I want to clean it out so that I can once again park inside, and I want to do it in a way that doesn't just result in a whole lot of junk going to the landfill.

Happy goal setting!


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