Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Plant It and They Will Come: A Success Story!

From the bean of Green Bean.

I was enjoying a warm Tuesday afternoon.  Ogling the size of my birdhouse gourds and fretting over the lack of flowers near the pumpkin patch when something orange caught my eye.  A monarch butterfly soared over the fence and into my little garden.  It darted past the cosmos, over the Indian blanket flowers, lingered around the Queen Anne's lace, past the native mallow and buckwheat and then . . . over the other fence and into my neighbor's yard.

What the heck?  I've planted four - no five - patches of milkweed this year.  Granted, the plants in two of those patches are pretty small.  Meager pickings but still!?  I was sure that my neighbor didn't have much more to offer.  Or her neighbor.

If you have been reading this blog for the past six months or following me on Twitter, you've read about the plummet in monarch butterfly population.  You've read my pleas to plant milkweed.  You have learned how I visited a 4H group and girl scout troop, sharing milkweed seeds and teaching them how to grow the plants from seed.

Was it all for naught, I wondered.  Am I naive to think that little old me can make a difference?  That the plant I grow here, in my half acre surrounded by suburbia, can have an impact on floundering wildlife populations?  How in the heck would a monarch butterfly even find my lowly clusters of milkweed?

At 7pm that evening, though, my questions were answered.


My milkweed patch was not for nothing. After a long day of searching, a monarch butterfly found one of my clusters.


She sipped the nectar.


She laid some eggs!! (Ignore the photobombing ladybug.  She is just getting rid of some aphids.)

Fall is the ideal time in many places to grow milkweed from seed.  If you want to be part of something big, if you want to help save an iconic, breathtakingly beautiful species, if you want to make a difference, plant some milkweed!

To learn more about how to help monarch butterflies or where to get milkweed native to your area, visit Monarch Watch and Bring Back the Monarchs


Friday, July 25, 2014

Glowing: Soulful Skincare- A Paradigm Shifting Book

EcoYogini uncovers some truths about her skin's health...

Like many women in our westernized culture, I have an unhealthy triangular Bella-Edward-HotWereWolfGuy relationship with my skin-selfesteem-cosmeticindustry.  (Yes, I read all terrible six Twilight books, yes I am horribly regretful that I can't get those hours back, ever).

As a teenager, I was lucky that I didn't have awful acne. I was surprised, however, when pimples just kept coming in my twenties and now early thirties. Didn't I survive the hell that is adolescence to be deserving of a phoenix-butterflyfromacocoon metamorphosis of perfect skin?

Concurrently to this non-adolescent pimple skin mystery I was living, my naturalistic Eco self journey started along with reading some fabulous eco blogs. One of my favourites is Yancy Lael. I feel like I know her (which is kinda creepy, I know), I've been reading variations of her blogging self, loving her skin care product line (which I was devastated but happy for her choice when she moved on) and generally kinda "there" on the sidelines for her journey.

When I found out Yancy was publishing a book all about her skincare journey, I was pumped. I vowed to buy it RIGHT AWAY. You know, cuz she's awesome and as solidarity.

Interestingly, it took several months for me to actually get off my butt and buy her book. One reason- I hate ordering things online. But the true reason I've realized after completing her (paradigm shifting) book: I wasn't ready.

Glowing: Soulful Skincare (The ultimate guide to radically transforming your complexion) really is unlike any "beauty" skincare guide I have ever read. This past year I have let go a lot of my eco-skin regime as well as my spiritual/yoga practice. I've been sucked into purchasing more and more Lush products. Mostly because of the packaging and pretty smells. Hey- advertising totally works on me. It's only in the past month that I've felt the emotional space make room for accepting self care and going from survive mode to nourish mode.


by Yancy Lael

There are so many things about this book that I love. Firstly, the general tone of the book: the underlying theme that is repeated throughout is to listen to yourself and take what suggestions she gives that work for YOU. There are no cookie cutter approaches; instead the only true "do this" is to listen to what your body is telling you. In an age where we have so many health and beauty "experts" giving definitive advice (green and non green alike) and in a culture so focused outward, it's refreshing and empowering to have someone say "You know what, you should really truly get to know your body in order to make the best decisions for YOU".

Yancy's voice in this book truly places 100% of the responsibility and ownership for our skincare (and overall health) in our own, very capable, hands. And it's wonderful.

A surprise in my reading was the importance placed on spiritual and emotional health. I'm not sure why, but I never connected emotional well being and the steps needed to keep me in that space as part of my skincare routine. It was exactly what I needed to "hear". On top of that truth, she's right of course. We spend so much time believing that our Self and Body are made of disparate, unconnected parts that have no influence over each other. Which is ridiculous. Anyone with IBS (moi) should intimately know better.

It was also unbelievably powerful to read about Yancy's own (intense) journey with her skin. It opened beautifully into topics that otherwise I may have had a harder time lending legitimacy and I feel as though I've been given a beautiful gift in the sharing of an obviously painful part of her life.

Beyond the surprises, I most certainly was not let down with her knowledgeable yet balanced approach to natural skincare options/products/routines. I took away some amazing tips, new ideas and natural approaches to try and some pretty fantastic recipes to give a go. But then, I knew she has some mad natural product skillz, I had been a huge fan of her (discontinued) skincare line.

Only one uncomfortable moment- and it's tempered with the knowledge that Yancy herself is such a open and spiritually accepting individual: the mentions of God (capital G) and prayer. I have such an automatic reaction to "God" (as a pagan and goddessian) that it did hamper a bit of my experience. I will say though, that Yancy writes about these aspects in such an honest and open way that it was fairly brief and I was easily able to move on. Part of my own journey is to accept when Christians are being open and loving as opposed to reacting similarly to all.

A few immediate changes since I've started Glowing: Soulful Skincare? Reintroduction of Honey and the Oil Cleansing Method into my daily skincare routine, revisiting my spiritual practice and upping my yoga practice. This book has forever changed how I view my skin and skincare practices and I will be unpacking the contents for months to come!

Definitely a big "Recommend!"

(Disclaimer: I was NOT paid to write this review, NOR did I receive a discounted nor free copy of this book. I purchased the book at full price and the review above reflects my honest and true feelings/thoughts: Yancy rocks!)


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Seeing the Forest for the Cars

Mindful Echo takes a hike.

Hiking is one of my favourite pastimes. I love being able to escape into the trees for a while and just exist amongst the leaves, and dirt, and rocks, and water, and wind, and ... decomposing cars?



It's so confusing to me when I see this type of thing on a trail in the middle of nowhere. I have so many questions: Where did it come from? How long has it been there? And perhaps most importantly, how long is it going to be there?

I think it's a bit of a jolt back to reality to remember just how long all our human-made, manufactured items stay with us. Although by the same token, it's also a testament to the power of nature; how it can overtake and object and totally reclaim it. It's amazing.

Still, I'm sure we can all agree, it's much nicer to leave the cars behind so we can spend our hikes enjoying more of this:


What's the weirdest, most unnatural thing you've ever spotted on a hike?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Easy Food Preservation

The Climate Crusader shares her tips for storing the summer bounty without breaking a sweat.

Local eating is pretty mainstream these days - so mainstream, in fact, that many big corporations are trying to cash in. In spite of the greenwashing out there (I saw a McDonald's truck boasting that their potatoes were "grown right here in Canada"), reducing your food miles is a great way to go green. When you eat locally you're reducing your carbon footprint and supporting local farmers. You're also enjoying fresher food, which is more nutritious and tastier to boot.

At this time of year it's easy to eat local, but if you want to keep eating local all year long you'll need to do a little planning. One great way to do that is to buy fruit and veggies in bulk while they're in season and preserve them. To help you get started, I recommend stopping by the National Center for Home Food Preservation. They have a comprehensive online guide to canning, freezing, drying, pickling and curing your food for storage, from what equipment you need, to recipes and more. If you're new to home preserving, here are three easy foods to start with.

 

Three Easy Foods to Preserve

1. Blueberries

Blueberries are my absolute favourite food to preserve for a whole lot of reasons. The first is that frozen blueberries - and especially frozen organic blueberries - from the grocery store are so expensive. The second is that frozen blueberries make a great snack as-is, no need to defrost. But the biggest of all is that preserving these delicious little berries is just so easy. Don't wash the berries before freezing, because that damages the skin - you can wash them after you defrost instead. All you have to do is place the blueberries straight in a container, leaving some headspace, and freeze. Voila! (Instructions online.)

2. Herbs

You're going to save a lot of money if you preserve your own herbs - especially if they come from your own garden. Once again, this is easy-peasy. Hang your herbs in a bundle and allow them to air-dry. Make sure your bunch isn't too big, so that they don't mold, and make sure they're in a warm and dry location. You can even speed up the process by drying certain herbs in an oven or microwave. (Instructions online.)

3. Pickles

Canning can be intimidating, but I promise it's not rocket science. I suggest starting with fresh-pack dill pickles. Because you're processing them for 10 minutes you don't have to sterilize the jars, and because you're using fresh, whole pickling cucumbers the preparation is minimal. There's something immensely satisfying about pulling your finished pickles out of the hot water bath and hearing the little 'pop' as the jars self-seal. It sounds like victory. (Instructions online.)

What about you - what are your favorite low-stress foods to preserve?

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Benefits of Bolting

Queen Composter shares reasons to leave edible plants go to seed.

We are approaching the dog days of summer and in the heat many vegetables are starting to flower. I am always surprised when I see people pulling up all their plants that have bolted, to make way for new plants. Of course once some plants have bolted their greens are bitter to taste and we need to remove them so that we can have a continuous supply of plants to eat. But those plants that have flowered are great for the garden. I would like to make an argument for intentionally letting some vegetables flower and go to seed.

Seed Saving

Leaving plants to go to seed, and then collecting the seeds, may not be on the list for novice gardeners, but I believe that it is important. It provides free seeds for subsequent years' gardens, which is always a good thing. It also preserves a diverse living history of plants so that we can maintain and grow plants that we do not typically see in the grocery store. There are many other benefits to seed saving, but an important one is that it takes the control of seeds out of the hands of corporations such as Monsanto and their terminator seeds.

Kale seed pods drying.



Encouraging Pollinators

Having flowers dotted throughout my garden is a boon for pollinators, which is also great for my mid summer garden. I have lots of squash and cucumbers that still require pollination to be productive, so I am thrilled to see all the native bees, honey bees and bumble bees flitting from plant to plant. I can also feel good for providing a good habitat for pollinators.

Honey bee on my cilantro, which was a volunteer in
this location amongst my squash.


Encouraging Good Garden Predators

The more I have growing in my garden, including flowers, the more chance I have of attracting good garden predators to my garden, which is wonderful natural pest control. My carrot flowers are teeming with soldier beetles, a ferocious feeder of aphids, and every day I find ladybugs throughout my garden, usually near flowering plants.

Not only are there native bees all over my carrot flowers,
but the soldier beetles enjoy hanging out here too.


Edible Flowers

Unbeknownst to many people, there are numerous flowers that are edible. My personal favourites are marigolds and nasturtiums, but cilantro flowers and arugula flowers are also quite delicious with a flavour similar to the plant. I always get oohs and ahhs when I include edible flowers in my salads.

I'm cheating with this photo: the petals are marigolds,
but I do enjoy using other edible flowers such as cilantro.


Providing Shade

Vegetables that have gone to seed benefit the plants around them because they become more full and thereby give shade to less sun tolerant plants such as leafy greens, which will prevent them from bolting if we want them to continue to provide food for us.

This bolted bok choy is providing cooling
shade for my leafy lettuce growing underneath.


They Look Pretty

If none of the above are strong enough reasons to let some plants bolt, then the simple reason that they are pretty should be enough. It makes me happy to see plants come full circle and end as they should.

The bok choy flowers in bloom.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

5 Steps to Natural Pest Control

From the bean, and dirty hands, of Green Bean.

1) Healthy Soil

Two years ago, a friend and I attended an edible garden tour.  Each garden we visited so lush, so healthy and each had the same underlying theme - long time gardeners, amending the soil year after year.  We have only been in our current yard for four years but got a jump start the first year with sheet mulch.  (Learn about sheet mulching here.)

In addition, I have always composted but last year, I got serious.  We built a three bin compost system and celebrated one year later with this black gold!


Finally, mulch is nature's method of building healthy soil.  In the fall, we let leaves lie - or haul them from neighbor's trees.  If the summer, we add leaves, straw or grass clippings to reduce the amount of water needed.  All those organic materials break down over time, enriching and enlivening the soil.

I have no doubt that 30 - nay 5 years - from now, my soil will be just as healthful, my garden just as fertile as those yards on the edible garden tour.

2) Mix Up Your Plants


I do not to have companion planting down but I do always intermix flowers and edibles.  Flowers bring in the pollinators and deter pests.  Plus, many flowers - calendula, nasturtium, borage - are edible.

In my old garden, we successfully protected young seedlings from roaming deer just by adding flowers.  At our current home, flowers interplanted with edibles have helped deter insect pests.  Above is a typical raised bed in our garden - it contains peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers, nasturtium and marigolds.  I also have planted perennial pollinator-plants amongst my raised beds.

3) Rotate Crops

Crop rotation involves growing different crops in different locations from year to year.  While I have tried to follow a three year rotation, the best I have been able to do is one year on, one year off.  For instance, I plant tomatoes in these two beds this year and those two beds next year.  I feel like it is better than nothing but I'm still working on this.  Maybe I need more raised beds!? ;-)

4) Know When to Throw in the Towel

Sometimes, I just decide that enough is enough.  For instance, by the time the aphids take over the kale, collards or chard, those greens are usually on their last legs.  They are getting ready to bolt.  Their leaves are getting tougher.  At that point in time, I usually just yank the plant and let the chickens feast on it - bugs and all.

5) Hired Help


Sure, this Phoebe looks sweet but, have no doubt.  It is a stone cold killer.  This fellow has been a resident since we moved in four years ago but this year, he attracted a mate.  Between the two of them, they have rid the chicken coop of flies.  This is the first summer since we have had chickens - 5 years - where I've not had to put out some sort of fly trap.

We invited birds into our yard by making our garden more wildlife friendly.  (Here is how we did that or check out these 10 helpful tips).  The birds and beneficial insects we have attracted have repaid us ten-fold.  For instance, I found harlequin bugs on some squash earlier this year.  I hand picked two and then hit the internet in a full-fledged panic attack.  When I resurfaced that evening, I spotted a pair of wrens busily flitting amongst the squash plants.  I've not seen a harlequin bug since.

While our garden is not pest-free (ahem, I'm looking at you squirrels!), we have yet to suffer any real losses from pests and done it all without using a single pesticide.


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

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dealing with Mosquitos: I Need Some Help!

Our first summer in our gorgeous new (to us) yard, with a babbling brook, trees, flowers and birds.... and mosquitos. Lots and lots of mosquitos.

Two weeks ago I discovered that I am allergic to mosquito bites. Not just, oh they swell a bit or look a bit more red and itch, but like each bite swells the diameter of two to three twonies (or a baseball for non-Canadians ;) ), hurts like I don't know what, leaves bruising for weeks afterwards and looks disgusting.
(The bite the day after being bitten. It's like an extra head is trying to grow out of my arm...)

I've always been sensitive to mosquito and black fly bites. Growing up with a cottage, it's not like I'm not used to living with flies. I have pictures of me as a pre-teen playing badminton on a wrigged up net decked out in full fly netting gear. I did my fair share growing up of spraying DEET liberally all over my body. It makes me shudder to think I spent summers inhaling that stuff.

I am not really a city girl at heart.

But those bites.

I refuse to buy fly repellent filled with toxic chemicals. But I really don't want to spend my entire summer stuck inside, nor do I want to get bitten on my face and have a huge swollen monstrosity on MY FACE. So what are my options?

A few months ago we were gifted a citronella plant. Yay! I managed *not* to kill it (bonus!) and will be propagating the plant to have many all around our deck. Woo! So that was step one. So far though, sitting next to the plant doesn't seem to really do anything. I'm still swarmed with flies.

We also bought a bat house months ago and put it up. Sadly, I haven't seen anything around it... so I'm unsure if there is a family there this year. Maybe it takes a few years for the bats to find the houses? Anything else I can do to attract bats?

I'd also like to build swallow bird houses. I happen to have a friend who is doing her PhD on the environmental impacts of swallow nesting... so I should ask her. I have to make the birdhouse squirrel and crow/raven proof though- so it may need reinforcement around the entry hole.

Ok, so those are nature's remedies to mosquitos. Following are some extra product ideas for mosquitos:

Wearing covering clothing doesn't really work. My first few bites were THROUGH JEANS. Mosquitos are crazy suckers who will bite through anything.

A few months back I made citronella, peppermint and lavender soap. It smells AWFUL. Oh it stinks so bad. Just mixing it was making me gag. Something about the citronella essential oil. Barf. Sadly, the terrible smell has only decreased slightly with curing. AND I realized there was NO WAY I was going to wash myself in the morning with that soap and smell like that all day. Ew.

I did try soaping up my arms, next, ears and hands right before going outside to see if that would be enough to deter mosquitos.... and no. Got TWO bites that night.

My latest strategy was melting down a bar of soap (cuz the essential oils were expensive and I really didn't want to buy more), adding almond oil and then slathering that all over myself before going outside. Tentative results: positive. There were still some mosquitos buzzing around, but instead of biting me they seemed to prefer Andrew (which is typically NEVER the case). I smell disgusting and have to wash my body before bed, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Last strategy: Avoid going outside during peak mosquito/black fly hours: dawn and dusk.

Do you have any other strategies that I haven't mentioned here? I would love to hear them!

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