Friday, May 24, 2013

The Last Stop for Bees

From the bean of Green Bean.

A bumble bee enjoying wild blackberry blossoms in our backyard

Bees pollinate about 1/3 of the crops we eat and drink.  Without enough bees or other pollinators, there wouldn't be enough food.  Not enough almonds or apples.  Far fewer blueberries and oranges.

Most of the conversation surrounds honeybees but it is not just those insects which are in trouble.  Our native bees and other pollinators, including wasps, hummingbirds, flies, butterflies and moths) "are also in great trouble due to habitat loss, pesticides and other actions by humans."

A pollination disaster and resulting food shortage will affect all of us - not just gardeners or farmers.  Everyone who likes to eat will be impacted by shortage of certain crops and/or sky high prices.  So what is a food-eating person supposed to do?

The sign at the entrance to our back garden.

1) Don't Use Pesticides: Pesticides are a trigger for the dramatic demise of pollinators.  One class of pesticides - neonicotinoids - have been in the news lately as being particularly deadly to bees, other pollinators, birds and aquatic life.  This class of pesticides is so deadly that the American Bird Conservancy ("ABC") claims it has the potential to impact entire food chains.  ABC commissioned a study which found that a single kernel of corn coated with neonicotinoids can kill a songbird and are water sources are already beyond the threshold found to kill many aquatic invertebrates.   Moreover, this pesticide was responsible for the death of 50,000 bumblebees in an Oregon Target parking lot.

The bad news on neonics just keeps on coming though:  A study recently found that  58% of Home Depot, Orchard Supply and Lowe's "bee-friendly" plants are pre-treated with neonicotinoids.  That's right!  The plants you put in your garden to protect and nurture pollinators may actually be killing them.  YES! This is a What The Heck moment!  These plants are sold with no warning or label for the consumer and can contaminate your garden, harming pollinators for months or even years to come.

Unfortunately, it is not simply neonicotinoids that are killing our pollinators.  "There are hundreds of other chemicals used in conventional agriculture that are also responsible for poisoning bees."   Herbicides and fungicides are responsible for negatively impacting bees and other pollinators as well as "regular" pesticides.

The best thing to do is to stop using ALL pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.  Research organic alternatives.  Grow from seed or propagate, go to the small local nursery and buy organic plants.  Get the beer out for the slugs.  Employ white vinegar, boiling water, baking soda.  And accept less than perfection in the garden.

California poppy and blanket flower make for happy pollinators.

2) Buy Organic: In addition to not using pesticides at home, it is important to support those farmers who eschew pesticides when they grow our food.  If you go to the farmers' market, ask if the farm uses pesticides. Many farms do not use pesticides but either cannot afford organic certification or are in the process of becoming "organic."  While you are buying from your favorite farmer, buy flowers - if they offer them.  The best farmers load their fields with flowers for healthy soil, pollinators and wildlife.  Support their efforts and beautify your home.

3) Plant for Pollinators:  Habitat destruction is another primary cause of the pollinator demise.  What was once fields of wild flowers are now rows of neatly mowed lawns.  Dead branches and entire trees used to stand - or fall - where they may.  Now, we lop off branches, cut down trees, and grind them in to mulch.  Most yards - including mine! - are filled with non-native and sometimes invasive species. I recently read, though, that "our wildlife gardens are the one of the last lines of defense to protect . . . native pollinators."

Nasturtium, borage and other pollinator friendly flowers in between raised beds increase pollination of your veggies and provide forage for pollinators.

With that in mind, I decided to roll out the welcome mat to pollinators and other wildlife.  Pollinators need three things: food, a place to live and water.  

Plant flowers and flowering plants to provide pollinators with the food they need.  Natives are best - though times are desperate for pollinators and habitat is limited.  In light of the pesticide treated plants sold at Lowe's, Home Depot and Orchard Supply, I'd recommend growing from organic seed/propagating your own plants, exchanging plants with friends, buying starts at the farmers' market and either looking for organic plants or buying from a nursery that can assure you its plants are not pre-treated with pesticides.  Also, look for plants that bloom in spring, summer and fall and go for a mix of perennials and annuals so that pollinators can forage almost year round.

Native California poppies reseed themselves throughout our garden - to the delight of pollinators.

Make a home for pollinators.  A popular way is to build or buy a mason bee house.  I haven't had much luck with my bee house but this site has some very promising - and fun - ideas.  Create a brush pile and leave some ground bare (no mulch, no plastic!) for ground dwelling bees.  Last, put up birdhouses.

My wall of birdhouses.  Some have been occupied by birds.  Two are currently occupied by bumble bee colonies.

You read that right!  I've bought up every birdhouse I come across at garage and estate sales.  Mostly because I like the look.  Unfortunately, you cannot clean out a bird nest from of some birdhouses.  No worries!  Bumble bees will thank you for it.  I currently have three birdhouses that are host to three different bumble bee colonies.  I know I'm not alone. Check out this an article about a colony of bumbles in another birdhouse.

A birdhouse with an abandoned bird's nest becomes home to a bumble bee colony and my veggie garden and fruit trees get pollination galore!

Even pollinators get thirsty.  I have a small container water garden that has hosted many a bee on its lily pads but I'd like to put in a larger water garden later this year.  Another option is to fill a saucer with wine corks or pebbles and water.    

     My mini container water garden - the easiest garden I ever planted. 

4)  Speak Up for Our Food Supply: The European Union recently banned neonicotinoids, the deadly pesticide discussed above.  In the United States, however, the EPA has decided on a wait and see approach - even though the USDA says that we do not have enough bees to pollinate America's crops.  If you don't think wait and see is going to cut it, tell the EPA to immediately suspend the use of pesticides suspected to be responsible for large bee die-offs which scientists study the matter further.

You can tell Congress to stand up for bees and other pollinators by supporting the Save America's Pollinators Act.

Finally, let Home Depot and Lowe's, the nation's two biggest home care retailers, know that they need to stop selling neonicotinoids on their shelves and in their plants.

Now that you know what to do, go forth and bee happy.  Because pollinators and food are awesome!

Don't forget to check out the bee carnival which goes live on September 9th.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Introducing Mindful Echo

 Introducing new member, Mindful Echo. 

Oh hi. Allow me to introduce myself; I'm Mindful Echo and I'm thrilled to be joining the Green Phone Booth as a regular poster.

Though I'm currently a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and thus will be blogging from that perspective, I've hopped around three provinces in my twenty "something" years and lived in cities big and small - sometimes surrounded by like-minded people, and other times....not so much.

I'm still working on my identity, which continues to evolve with each new endeavour and the influences of the individuals I meet, but in an effort to provide a worthwhile introduction to you, Green Phone Booth readers, I'd say I fall somewhere amongst the feminist-environmentalists. While I'm not nearly an expert on living Green and still have tonnes to learn about eco-friendly decisions, I care deeply about our planet and strive to live gently upon it.

I subscribe to the belief that if you want to be a feminist, you are one. I would like to declare that the same can be said about environmentalists. If you want to make mindful decisions regarding what you consume, produce, purchase, and promote, then you're on the right track. Regardless of what the title may be, if you're making the *effort* to be eco-friendly, green, conscientious, low-emission, low-impact, carbon footprint-less, or an environmentalist, then that's what counts. It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing - though kudos to those who are!

Speaking of titles, I'm the Mindful Echo because it reflects my state of being and actions. I spend a lot of time (perhaps too much) inside my head. Thinking and re-thinking decisions and their impacts. How can I live a life in balance with nature without it becoming an all-consuming life focus? I strive to be mindful of the environment; of what it provides me, and how I can respect and repay its contributions to my life.

You can look forward to me elaborating on some of these issues in future posts. I'll also be providing my perspectives on Canadian and local issues and how I work to live Green at a household level with my partner, two cats and a dog, including travel, crafting, and locally-sourced delicious food.

When I'm not posting here, you can read my other thoughts at or follow me on Twitter @echoesofmymind

Thank you for having me as a part of this community!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Three Small-Space Gardening Solutions

The Climate Crusader is digging in the dirt today.

Today is Victoria Day here in Canada, a holiday held in celebration of the late Queen Victoria's birthday. It's considered the unofficial kick-off to summer, much like Memorial Day in the United States. With warmer days ahead, this weekend is also often viewed as the time to get your garden going. It seemed like the perfect time to post about growing food.

I live in a house with a good-sized backyard, which includes several gardening beds. While I have ample space for all of my plants on the surface, the truth is I always want more. Like many gardeners, I'm excited by the prospect of growing things, and I'm eager to try new crops. As a result, even in my relatively large space, I use some small-space gardening solutions into my suburban homestead. Today, I'll share three with you.

Three Small-Space Gardening Solutions

1. Potato Planters

This year I purchased some potato patio planters from my local seed and gardening supplier. These three sturdy plastic bags hold about 40 liters of dirt each, and I've planted six potato plants in each. They're relatively light, so they can be moved if you need to re-arrange your small space. when you're ready to harvest, you can just dump the bags out and you've got potatoes. I've found that they work really well, and since potatoes store well you can enjoy the fruits of your labour well into the fall and winter.

2. Re-purposed Greens Planter

Living in the Pacific Northwest, as I do, slugs and wood bugs (or pill bugs, or potato bugs) are always a problem. After a few years of planting tender baby greens only to find them eaten in their infancy, I've learned that I get better results if I put my lettuce in planters rather than directly into my garden, at least until they're big enough to not be eaten in a single bite. For my baby greens, I use old plastic strawberry containers as planters. Lettuce doesn't put down very deep roots, and this is a great way to reuse something I already have on hand.

3. Herbs Grow Anywhere

Many herbs grow like weeds. For example, I first purchased my peppermint plant in 1999, and for the first years of its life it grew in a planter on my apartment balcony. When I moved into this house in 2003, it made the transition to a corner of my garden. It grows almost anywhere, it smells lovely, it's edible, and when it flowers it attracts beneficial insects, providing fabulous natural pest control. Whether you have a small clay pot or a small corner in your garden, herbs are a great small-space plant choice.

What small-space solutions do you use, to get the most out of your garden?

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Ethics of Sponsored Posts

EcoYogini shares a few thoughts on being paid to promote a product....

When I first started blogging I was excited to hear from a few companies wanting to give me "free stuff". My "bribes" have decreased significantly over the past two years (ie non existant), but over the course of my blogging career I have received a beautiful prAna revolution mat at 50% off, a gorgeous Tonic yoga top, a recycled content yogoco yoga mat bag, some makeup samples and a yoga book to review.

I'm not going to lie, getting free stuff rocks, especially if it's products that I would endorse without bribery and can't normally afford (the prAna mat is a great example). Although it felt a little weird to get bribes from "the man"... no matter how awesome the company.

More frequently in the blogging community, sponsorships and endorsement posts are the norm and an fabulous way to make a bit of money while doing something you love (blogging). However, when it comes to critical blogging, it becomes a balance to strive for unbiased reviews or reporting of information and essentially being "paid" to promote a certain product.

This topic is an important one for the blogging community and although the environmental blogging community has discussed this on several occasions (please feel free to link in comments below- my memory is fuzzy this morning), other blogging spheres still have some work to be done hammering out what is ethical for your readers.

Many blogs have product endorsement and sponsorship policies and guidelines publicly posted on their blog for potential sponsors and readers. Environmental blogs typically have strict guidelines regarding what companies and products they will endorse and often will state in some manner in the post a disclosure on sponsorship.

Personally, I made a decision some time ago that I wouldn't accept an active, ongoing product endorsement and any "freebies" for review would only be accepted with the clear statement to the company that I would be critical and honest (even if I don't like the product). This doesn't mean I disagree with bloggers accepting endorsements, I just didn't want the pressure or hassle myself, personally.

Recently, a blogger friend commented that they felt uncomfortable and disappointed when reading a sponsored post that was not clearly advertised in the post title. They felt misled that they were reading an unbiased review of a product only to discover at the very end of the post that it was sponsored.

I will admit that I do take sponsored posts with a grain of salt. It's hard not to when the writer is essentially paid to promote a product and as a result is not unbiased. It's the reality of accepting a sponsorship role in blogging. That said, I do appreciate when bloggers are honest about the origins of the review and potential bias, and I also feel very confident in certain bloggers' strict sponsorship and endorsement policies.

What are your thoughts on blogging sponsorship? Do you have companies that you are confident promoting? Do you struggle advertising the fact that the post is sponsored?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Navigating the Eco-Beauty Products World

EcoYogini shares her secrets to figuring out beauty and baby products...

Ever find yourself in the beauty-baby-makeup section of a natural/health foods store feeling like you just want, for once, companies to be HONEST about what the eff they put in their products?

These days being a green consumer in the beauty product/baby product industry means you have to be super label, greenwashing, ingredient and company practices savvy. It can be overwhelming.

In order to avoid random screaming in public and ranting to whomever will listen, I use several strategies and tips to make informed decisions about my product purchases. After a few questions on twitter and from a colleague on facebook, I thought maybe I'd share it with my Booth Peeps!

First things first: just because the product is in the "Natural" section or in a Health/Natural Foods store (or farmer's market) does not automatically mean that the product is free from chemicals or toxins. There are shades of "green" in the eco-beauty world with some products being cleaner than others.

Also, it's important to recognize that some claims and labels have virtually NO policing or standardization and are basically meaningless. Companies can actually MAKE UP fake, or almost meaningless labels (I know! crazy eh?)

For beauty-baby products there really are only a few labels that are of high quality and that matter: The Leaping Bunny (cruelty free), USDA Organic, EcoLogo and Canadian Organic (Bio).

All other claims such as "Natural/Organic" simply stated on the product have absolutely no meaning- you should still peruse the ingredients closely. Even "Not Tested on Animals/Cruelty-Free" with any sort of image other than the leaping bunny don't have any standard testing or ways of proving it.

A good tip would be to download this handy dandy Eco-label guide (Canadian based) via David Suzuki OR check out Adria Vasil's phenomenal book Ecoholic Body for more resources and product/ingredient/logo explanations.

For myself, the quickest way to finding a company or brand that I could trust was to just go through the work of checking the ingredients on the labels. Eventually, I recognized which companies were "cleaner" (ie less synthetic chemicals) than others. One way to familiarize yourself with ingredients is to read books... and since my eco-book preference is body product books this was not "work" for me. My two favourite eco-product books are:

1. Ecoholic Body by Adria Vasil (fantastic ratings, resources and reviews!)
2. There's Lead in Your Lipstick by Gillian Deacon

Another way I navigated through the ingredient searching was to memorize a few key, AVOID, ingredients:

  • Parabens: anything ending with "paraben" should automatically be a "no buy"
  • SLS: sodium laureth sulfate (foaming agent)
  • "urea": I use this word as a cue to stay away (I only ever manage to remember that the full term starts with a "d": diazolidinyl urea
  • Parfum/Fragrance: this ingredient often hides phthalates and hormone disruptors (unless specifically stated that it is from essential oils)
  • PEGs (they typically have longer scientific names, but I just remember the PEG part)
  • Phthalates 
OR you could download and print this handy "Mean 15" pocket guide from Ecoholic and refer to it while out and about.

There's also the David Suzuki Queen of Green "Dirty Dozen" printable list AND a really fantastic mobile guide!

OR you could simply avoid any ingredients with long scary sounding names. This is tricky as some natural and safe ingredients may be listed by their scientific name, but for the most part companies will put their generic name in brackets afterwards.

Whenever I found a product I was unsure about, or an ingredient I wondered about, I would go home, type in the product or ingredient in Skin Deep Database and go from there.

Although some companies have my trust, I feel like the ingredient checking really is a BIG part of figuring out what products are the "cleanest" and what you can feel like you can live with. I rarely rely on company claims and am a habitual ingredient checker.

Although it's a bit more awkward, I even check ingredients at craft fairs and farmer's markets. Lots of people use palm oil in their products (a no-no unless it's from certified sustainable sources!) and sometimes I will comment on an ingredient (often it's around soap- it's possible to make soap without palm oil so I'll gently decline buying the soap by saying I'm avoiding palm oil).

Finally... I just started making my own body products. Like beet blushsoapsugar scrubs, body lotions, body barshair pommade (for the hubby), bath melts, face wash and face exfoliant. Check out Crunchy Betty for fantastic DIY recipes.

How do you manage the stress and work of choosing beauty or baby products?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Moving Beyond Disposable Fashion

The Climate Crusader is taking aim on fast fashion, with its unethical labour practices and wasteful ways.

Over 600 Workers Dead

More than a week ago, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 600 workers. If you follow the news, you've likely seen the story. Unfortunately, it appears not to be an isolated incident. A fire in a Bangladeshi garment factory in November killed more than 100 people, and a smaller fire in January killed seven.

Here in Canada, news came out that clothing from the popular Joe Fresh line was manufactured at the plant. The company's CEO has been forthcoming and apologetic; they've promised to establish a relief fund and implement new standards around product manufacture. I'm glad to see that they're taking some degree of responsibility for the situation. However, I believe that we need more than one (or two, or three) companies to make a change. We all need to re-examine the way that we approach fashion.

The Price of Fast Fashion

"Disposable fashion" or "fast fashion" refers to the practice of moving fashion trends quickly and cheaply from the catwalk to your local store. The system relies on responsive supply chains and cheap manufacturing. As with nearly all manufacturing, this means going overseas to countries like Bangladesh, where wages are low and employment standards far less stringent. If you're paying $9.99 for a shirt, you can be sure that the person who sewed it is making very little.

Our fashion system doesn't only pose ethical problems, which reveal themselves in collapsing buildings and dead workers. It's also tremendously wasteful and harmful to the environment. Those cheap clothes typically aren't all that well-made. If you only wear that $9.99 shirt a few times before it falls apart, then you need to buy another to replace it. And another. And another.

All of those shirts carry an environmental footprint, from growing the cotton (which likely isn't organic, and therefore is treated with a lot of pesticides), to manufacture, to shipping, to heating and lighting the store, right down until you get in your car, head to the mall, and cart it home in a plastic bag. Even if you carry a reusable bag and cycle, you're still looking at a significant environmental impact. And then, at the end of the day, all the shirts that don't sell have to go somewhere, too.

Moving Beyond Disposable Fashion

This is all pretty depressing, but the good news is that as a consumer you have the power to vote with your wallet. Every time you spend money on clothing, you're making a statement about the kind of fashion you want. Here are a few ways to reduce your own reliance on disposable fashion:

  1. Shop second-hand.  It takes a little more work, but thrift stores can be treasure troves or barely-worn (or even never-worn) clothing. All those designer brands that go out of style after a couple of months often find their way to second-hand or consignment shops. Not only is the clothing cheaper, but you're saving it from the landfill and often supporting charitable causes at the same time.
  2. Look for ethical fashion. Ethical fashion may be more expensive, but it's often better-made. If you invest in quality clothing items and take care of them, in the long run you may find that you spend far less on fashion.
  3. Buy less. This is the biggest and easiest step you can take. Every time you don't buy something, you're saving money and the planet. If you consider your purchases more carefully, you can avoid finding yourself in the situation of coming home with a bag of clothes that you don't actually even really like all that much. You're also stepping outside of that fast fashion system, that relies heavily on all of us buying more clothing than we really need.
How are you reducing your reliance on disposable fashion?

Friday, May 3, 2013

New Loves Discovered on the Green Path

Eco-novice reflects on what she's gained by going green.

This week, as I wrote my umpteenth post about how much I love the farmers market, I realized how many wonderful things I have discovered only because of my permanent detour onto a greener path.

Farmers Markets

For me, one of the greatest benefits of living greener has been becoming connected to my local food economy and developing a greater appreciation for where our food comes from. Since I don't really garden, the farmers market for me is the shortest path of production available. Food has such far-reaching implications for our family's health, how land is used and the health of the planet. It is also a large and recurring expense. I view changing how I buy my food as one of the most important green changes I have made. In addition to feeling great about giving my family the healthiest and tastiest produce available, I feel good about consciously choosing to support small local sustainable farming. I like handing my money straight to the farmer. I have always said that I don't like shopping, but I have discovered that what I actually don't like is shopping in conventional grocery stores and mega-stores and especially malls. Thanks to our local farmers markets, now I often go more than a month without setting foot in a regular grocery store, which means no cheapy toys or salacious magazines at my kids' eye levels, no wandering through a dozen aisles to find the one thing I actually want, no processed foods beckoning, no checkout line. Love that.


Although being a conscious shopper is sometimes a drag, when you make an effort to support businesses and people (like farmers!) that you respect and admire, you get an extra burst of happiness from making a purchase. I first found my way to Etsy while searching for inexpensive wooden toy vehicles for my son. Since then I have purchased reusable food bags, cloth bibs, party favors, stainless steel straws, shampoo and shaving bars, lots of wooden toys for all ages, baby gifts and more. It's one of my favorite places to buy gifts for my kids with birthday money.


I feel a strong sense of satisfaction every single time I make my whole wheat honey bread. It's still like a little miracle every time. Also, it smells amazing and tastes delicious. As one of my friends said, "After eating homemade bread, you can't go back." When I had my last baby, a lot of baking and cooking from scratch got put on hold, but I never stopped making bread. I appreciate the DIY self-sufficient ethic that comes with green living. As a SAHM, there is no final product at the end of the month for which I will receive accolades or a bonus. But going green has nudged me into cooking and baking more from scratch. It made me want to learn to sew in order to be able to mend and make things just the way I wanted them. And I have found that I really enjoy being able to make something, whether that's a loaf of bread or reusable gift bags, especially since as a SAHM, I often don't have much tangible evidence of what I've accomplished any given day. I still don't like to clean.

Cloth Diapers

I'm quite sure I never would have tried cloth diapers if I hadn't become concerned about the ingredients in disposable diapers. But switch I did, and you know what? Cloth diapers are better. They smell less, leak less, wipe better, and feel better (which would you rather wear: cotton or plastic underwear?). They are cuter and more versatile. And they will save you oodles of money. For months after switching from disposables my husband loved to calculate the money we were saving not buying them. Cloth diapering and having to deal with poop (note to disposable diaper users: you are supposed to deal with the poop too) also motivated me to give early potty training a try. And having tried it both ways, I can tell you that putting a baby on the potty is a lot more fun than convincing a 2.5-year-old to use one.

What wonderful things have you discovered on your green journey?



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