Monday, July 29, 2013

Brown is the New Green

The Climate Crusader is flaunting her brown grass. No, really.

The dog days of summer have definitely come to my corner of the Pacific Northwest. It looks like we may have the driest July on record this year, if the rain can hold off for a couple more days. It's unusual for us to go a whole month without precipitation here in Vancouver - a city that locals often call 'Raincouver'. We're all welcoming this uncharacteristically beautiful summer.

My garden is loving the warm, dry weather. I've had an early bumper crop of raspberries, blueberries, broccoli and cauliflower, and my corn, beans and tomatoes are going strong. I water it every couple of days, in the morning or evening when the water is less prone to evaporation. As long as they plants have plenty to drink, they flourish in the sunshine.

My lawn, on the other hand, is less happy. The grass is brown and dead, and we haven't had to mow it for weeks. While some of my neighbours are still sporting lush, green, golf-course-quality grass in front of their houses, my yard is decidedly lackluster. Add in the healthy sprinkling of weeds that take up residence and you definitely wouldn't see my home in any magazines.

My local region imposes lawn-sprinkling restrictions during the summer months, but the truth is that I don't water my lawn at all. While I can justify watering food plants, spraying drinking water on grass feels wasteful. In fact, while my region does allow homeowners to water up to twice a week, they actually suggest that it's better to just allow your lawn to go dormant and dead over the summer months. Other greenies agree.

When it comes to summertime lawns, brown is the new green.

Of course, there's another option when it comes to dealing with your yard, and that's to forgo grass altogether. Some eco-minded folks plant drought-resistant plants, with an eye to reducing their water consumption and creating wildlife habitats. Native plants are an especially good choice, because they evolved to thrive in the conditions found where you live. Here in the Pacific Northwest that means they can handle months on end of rain, followed by drier summer weather. They also don't require much care in terms of weeding, fertilizing and so on.

One final option is to rip out the grass and plant food crops. That's not a great option for my front yard, because it's shady and overly damp most of the year. If you can do it, though, it's a great way to reduce your food miles and reduce the amount of lawn you have to care for. Groups like Food Not Lawns have sprung up to spread the word on this growing movement.

Whatever way you go, if your lawn looks like mine right now, I say you wear it with pride. It might not be much to look at, but living lightly on the earth is more beautiful than grass in my book, by far.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Arbonne: The Misdirection and Smoke & Mirrors Approach

EcoYogini shares some thoughts on Arbonne and their smoke and mirrors approach....

Recently Arbonne has taken Canada by storm. No really, suddenly I have three to four facebook friends messaging me, urging me to host an Arbonne party... all because I share my "EcoYogini" blog posts and fit the perfect demographic.

I've been continuously, politely, declining parties and invitations based solely on the fact that Arbonne does not disclose their ingredients. I will say, that Arbonne consultants feel *extremely* strongly about their products. To the point of my discomfort at the level of their passion.

The kicker, was when my mother attended an Arbonne party, purchased some products and proudly called me so I could be proud that she was using "natural and pure" beauty products.
"About Our Products"
At Arbonne, beauty begins with premium botanical ingredients, innovative scientific discovery, and an unwavering commitment to pure, safe and beneficial products. Arbonne creates personal care and wellness products that preserve and enhance the skin, body and mind for an integrative approach to beauty. Working closely with scientists around the world and our Arbonne Institute of Research and Development (AIRD®) facility in Switzerland, we continually explore and develop scientifically advanced, botanically based proprietary formulas that meet our exacting standards for quality, safety and sustainability (Arbonne About our Products 2013)
"Arbonne Ingredient Policy"
"The Arbonne Promise: To deliver pure, safe, and beneficial products in line with our botanical tradition"
Arbonne is committed to the development of unparalleled products free of harmful ingredients, using a combination of botanical principles and scientific discovery. Our commitment begins with research and testing to ensure that each of our ingredients meets or exceeds industry standards for purity. (Arbonne About our Products 2013)
One quick look at Arbonne's ingredient policy, and you can see that they make some fairly strong statements about ingredient purity. However, a lot of these statements are purely "fillers": as virtually everything in our world (even plastic- originally petroleum originally oil which comes from organic matter like zooplankton) can be 'botanically based'.

These statements make you think: 100% natural. I mean, the word "PURE" used superfluously throughout their website, implies no synthetic chemicals. However, what Arbonne is actually saying is: "some natural products with our definition of safe synthetic chemicals that are tested for safety in our own labs".

Since all of my polite refusals were met with insistent answers, I finally asked if I could see a list of ingredients to make an informed decision. One consultant provided me with four pdfs listing ingredients to four products. (which, after some searching, is pretty rare. Arbonne ingredients are hard to come by).

After her lengthy spiel promoting the 'natural' and healthy benefits of Arbonne as a 'pure' and clean product, I was shocked to see some of the ingredients on that list. Even more shocking was that the consultant, who claimed to have chosen to be an Arbonne consultant based solely on supporting a healthy, natural product, didn't think to even check some of the ingredients herself.

The ingredient list for each product is LONG (I mean over 30 ingredients) and most list the source as "plant"... which for reasons listed above is extremely misleading.

The following ingredients were listed in one product:
- (4th) PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate: Rated 5 on Skin Deep.
- (5th) Cocamidopropyl Betaine: Rated 4 on Skin Deep
- (18th) Retinyl Palmitate: Rated 8 on Skin Deep
There are another 4-5 ingredients that rate a 3 or 4 on Skin Deep.

Sure, many ingredients were rated "in the green" or low on Skin Deep, but you can easily see a combination of one third that rate higher. What science is beginning to realize is it's not simply the safety of each individual ingredient or product, but the synergy (or how ingredients interact) that has the potential for upping the toxicity level. The scientific community is only beginning to understand how chemicals interact together, exponentially increasing our body burden.

Despite their claims of safety policies and abiding by various difference regulatory body standards: The FDA and Health Canada do not in fact have to test ingredient interaction. It's a ridiculous claim really, because most standards are actually considered frighteningly low (David Suzuki's "Dirty Dozen" Ingredients Investigated In the David Suzuki Foundation Survey of Chemicals in Cosmetics, 2010).

My grief with Arbonne is the sheer level of misdirection and "greenwashing" involved in promoting their products. It irks me to no end when companies take advantage of people (like my mom) without allowing them to make a fully informed decision. Unlike other companies that aren't 100% green but make "eco" claims (such as Lush), Arbonne appears to purposefully mislead customers, withholding ingredient information and using vague, faux scientific-speak to sell a product that doesn't live up to their "PURE" manifesto.

(For another fantastic review of Arbonne, check out "Is Arbonne Really as Safe and Pure as you Think?" by Meghan Telpner).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Getting Cooped Up

Mindful Echo is psyched for urban chickens

Halifax is getting urban chickens! This might be old hat for some cities but for Halifax, it's been an issue oft raised since 2008 when a woman's three chickens were seized following neighbourhood complaints.

The exciting news just surfaced the other day:

While backyard chickens may not be worth the investment for many families - and sadly, it's not feasible where I live at the moment - there are an handful of great benefits to be had for those who choose to keep these foul companions.

First, and perhaps most obviously, EGGS. I currently get my eggs from a CSA  so I can attest to the difference in quality and taste compared to the grocery store variety. Although they aren't always perfectly uniform in size and colour, the glowing golden yolks are so vibrant and delicious it's plain to see the difference next to their pale counterparts.

Aside from eating them, egg shells do great things for the compost both enriching the soil and discouraging creepy crawlies from nibbling at your lettuce.

The chickens themselves also contribute to your compost with a high-nitrogen content that can eliminate the need for additional fertilizer. They also eat bugs, which I love because as much as I love being outdoors I am not a fan anything that will bite me (well, except this).

You can hear about more benefits here:

I'm looking forward to when I'll live in a place that will accommodate this kind of undertaking. For now, I'll just be on the hunt for some new neighbourhood friends who will have me over for an omelet.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Perfectionism Detox

Queen Composter reflects upon the impact being green has had upon her life.

Following a green path has led me to realize that perfectionism is not possible when being eco-conscious, or at least perfectionism as society sees it.

There’s a product for every little problem in life and companies say these products will make life easier, faster, more organized, cleaner. Commercials promise perfection, often with a “money back guarantee.”  I cannot count the number of times in my life that I have been duped into buying something because of the promise of perfection – the promise that something will transform my life.

Being green means letting go of perfectionism. The way I do things may not be quick and easy, look the best, or even look like the way other people do things, and that is ok. I am making changes to improve the health of our planet and all the plants and animals that live here, including myself.

Being green also means letting go of convenience. If I am short on time and a product makes my life a little easier, my life is a little more “perfect” because I do not have to compromise anything. But being green means making compromises, prioritizing what is important and letting go of that which is not.

Some random ways I have moved away from perfectionism in my life:

  • Except for toilet paper, we have eliminated single use disposable products from our home and from our life as much as we can, which means more washing and laundry.
  • My garden isn’t picture perfect because I use organic and homemade pesticides that don’t always work as well as commercial chemical ones.
If I'm not vigilant the aphids start to take over.

  • I am a very sweaty person and this causes me anxiety, thereby increasing the problem, but I am working on accepting that and going antiperspirant free.
  • My lawn is ugly and brown through the hot summer months because I don’t waste water on it.
    Other homes in my neighbourhood have beautiful
    green grass. Not mine.
  • Aside from the fact that we can’t afford it right now, we are not replacing our old sectional couch because it is still useable. It may not look the best but it will do.
  • My carpet is covered in polka dot stains from kids and cats, and while I am able to remove the smell in environmentally safe ways, I have yet to find an eco way to completely remove the mark.
    This stain, and many others like it, will
    not come out of my carpet.
  • In the cooler rainy months my laundry hangs to dry all over my home, which looks interesting.

We strive to be the best we can be and we feel the need to apologize when things aren’t perfect. Recently someone said to me that she admires how I don’t feel the need to have a perfect house or yard, because when she was raising her now grown children she felt like she spent too much time worrying about what people thought and keeping everything together. I must admit that at the time I took it as a backhanded compliment and I felt slightly judged because she was commenting on the fact that I  wasn’t perfect.

I have spent a great deal of time in my backyard this spring and summer working on my garden, and I have been making mental notes of things I want to improve. One of the many areas that I do not like is a space under a magnolia tree in the back corner. It looks like a big dirt pit with buckets and boards strewn about. In my mind I can see a calming area with lush plants and restful stones.
This photo actually makes the dirt pit look nicer than it is in person.

But I decided to look at the space with new eyes, and now I see it as a place where my children are free to explore, climb, dig, create and play. Because it isn’t perfect I have no fear of them “ruining” it. The fence is falling down, but for now the broken boards are a fort. An old dirty birdhouse has become the beginning of their fairy garden. When they come in at the end of the day their feet are black with dirt, their clothes are stained and they are happy.

Being green requires a change in thinking almost more than a change of habit. Yes, it is important to make change easy so that people will do it and make it a part of their everyday life. But if they are still attempting to achieve perfectionism they will never make being more green a way of life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Recovering from Climate Change

From Julia at Color Me Green

Like many people, I spent my Memorial Weekend at the beach - specifically, my parents's beach house on Long Beach Island along the Jersey shore. During Hurricane Sandy, whole sections of the island were flooded. My parents' street was under three feet of water, but their house is up five feet, so it was okay. The dunes eroded right underneath the waterfront homes and sand had to be shoveled out of the streets like snow.

After Sandy, I wondered what summer beaching would be like. Well, six months later, business is relatively back to normal on LBI. I was truly surprised by how many businesses that had been completely flooded were already gutted, repaired and opened back up. There was a lot of Sandy damage in New York City too, but it makes more sense to me that a major business center would have the need and resources to recover quickly. However, the Jersey shore is for most residents a secondary home, and I was surprised to see how much money and attention it was able to get.

Extreme weather that seems linked to climate change is happening now, but we are currently resilient and can afford to repair the damage. Sandy cost $50 billion in damage. Maybe if natural disasters like tornadoes and droughts, hurricanes and earthquakes keep happening, we won't be able to bounce back so quickly. Maybe large scale government funding and resources will be drained and dry up. Apocolyptic scenarios conjure images of sudden cataclysmic events that will alter our lives. But maybe it's going to be more gradual than that.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Reusable Menstrual Products: Finding What Works

The Climate Crusader is talking reusable menstrual products.

Earlier this year Julia from Color Me Green shared her love for cloth pads, and Lunapads, specifically. The company is located here in Vancouver where I live, and I have had the privilege of meeting co-founders Madeleine Shaw and Suzanne Siemens on multiple occasions. I've even interviewed Madeleine for my podcast on my personal blog.

Like many people, when I first heard about reusable menstrual products I was somewhat baffled. I remember my mother talking about how, before the invention of disposable pads and tampons, women used rags. I remember feeling nothing but glad that I would never have to do that. However, after having babies and using cloth diapers, the idea of trying cloth pads didn't seem so strange. In fact, compared to toddler blowouts, cloth menstrual pads are downright tame.

I've tried a few different solutions when it comes to reusable menstrual products. What I've discovered is that there really isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. In the same way that people opt for different disposable solutions, you may find that one kind of reusable option works better for you than another. If you find that one option doesn't work, it's worth keeping an open mind and trying something else.

I've recently settled on a reusable menstrual solution that I love - the Diva Cup and Lunapanties. The Diva Cup is a reusable silicone menstrual cup, which is worn internally. If you want to know more about it, our own Eco Yogini has written a very informative post to explain more about how it works and dispel some common fears.

While I don't experience leaking with my Diva Cup, the truth is that there is often some spotting when I insert and remove it. There are also lighter days when a Diva Cup feels like overkill. That's where my beloved Lunapanties come in. Made by Luna Pads, the Lunapanties are underwear with a cloth pad lining sewn right in. Because they're all one piece, there's no slipping, twisting or bunching. They come in lots of different styles, too, so that you can rock a thong or hipster as you prefer. I'll admit to being more of a hipster girl myself, but whatever floats your boat.

I realize I sound a bit like an ad, here, but I'm not being compensated in any way for this post. I just really love my Diva Cup and Lunapanties!

Sometimes something that seems strange at first actually isn't that bad in practice. I've discovered and re-discovered this truth many times in my green journey. Just as I've gotten used to composting, shopping for products with less packaging and walking my kids to school, I've gotten used to using reusable menstrual products. I've also found that what works for my friend and what works for me may not be the same thing. Whether you love cloth pads, adore your menstrual cup, or go for something entirely different, by choosing reusable over disposable, you're making a difference every month, and that's what counts.

Do you use reusable menstrual products? Which ones? I'd love to hear!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Turn Off Technology and Play Some Cards

EcoYogini shares some non technology summer activities...

(The living area at my parents cottage. I remember when dad was nailing the cedar wall planks up when I was little! It took until I was in university before we had proper closed in stairs- I have since learned that building stairs by hand can be tricky)

When I was five years old my parents built a camp. Ok, it was more like, "started the 25 year process of building a summer cottage that was originally supposed to be a hunting camp and turned out to have plumbing, electricity, laundry and in the past 5 yrs satellite tv and cell phone signal".  hah. But, after the initial help of friends, every part of my parents summer cottage was carefully constructed and lovingly built by my father (with my mother as important assistant). We were never rich, what you see is the result of 25 years of by hand carpentry and hard work.
(My parents cottage built mostly by dad and his friends. The "scarecrow" was my parents' solution to stopping the geese from pooping on the lawn... lol And yes, dad made the adirondack chairs as well :) )

Every summer, after lobster fishing ended the last week of May, we began the process of moving up to "the camp" for the summer. I spent my summer years without tv (the satellite, like I said, came MUCH later), laptops, internet or any other technological device.

Instead, I grew up playing in the forest, climbing trees, capturing frogs and lightning bugs (fyi they don't actually survive the night in a jar as "nightlights"), swimming and playing kick the can and 'twice around the camp' with other camp kids.

(me a few years ago getting a marshmallow ready for s'mores. This was the firepit I grew up with, by my parents finally made a beautiful space with stones dad brought in himself)
In the evenings we often had campfires, made s'mores and spider wieners and would all move inside to play cards. My first memories are playing "Janitor" (the parent friendly name for a**hole), Bid Whist, War, Crazy Eight, Uno, Skip-boo, Gin and regular Rummy, Hearts... the list goes on.

(My mom took this gorgeous photo a few years back- the lake in front of our cottage)

Just recently I can say with certainty that I have turned into my parents. As us kids played cards, crokinole and board games, they played Cribbage. Andrew and I played last night (I whupped his butt).

(We even spent a few winters there- homemade icecream, ice skating and sledding! This is a photo my mom took of her clothesline covered in snow during a weekend trip up to the camp in January)

What card games teach kids:

  • Teamwork and cooperation (if you play a partner game like Bid Whist)
  • Losing is ok (it happens!)
  • Winning is ok (also, this happens!)
  • Addition (yay math!)
  • Strategy (most card games are about strategy)
  • How to be competitive without alienating friends
  • That you can have fun with something as simple as a deck of cards

So instead of turning on the tv, laptop, Ipad or other piece of technology over these summer evenings, buy a deck of cards, a board game, a Cribbage board OR if you're feeling adventurous a Crokinole board!

(My dad fishing off the warf- that he has to rebuild every few years)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Community Gardening

Mindful Echo gets involved in her community garden.

There's been a lot on gardening here lately but I think that it just goes with the season! My own gardening experience is limited- primarily because I've never owned adequate space for more than a few houseplants or a small herb garden. This year, I'm working to do a little bit more...but I really did not inherit a green thumb.

Luckily, there have been plenty of opportunities for me to learn and observe the garden craft this summer. In fact, once such opportunity presented itself yesterday in the form of a workshop hosted by my workplace's community garden.

Community Garden Plots

The instructors arrived with all the gardening essentials.
Participants selected between a "Pickle Pot" of cucumbers and dill or a "Pizza Pot" of tomatoes and basil. It was no contest for me; I went with the pizza option and was delighted to select, from a variety of options, a Wentzell heirloom tomato plant. The seeds of the Wentzell heirloom tomato have been culled and grown for generations in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.

Participants were given some latex gloves before embarking on plant surgery.

Pizza Pot ready for home.

I brought my finished pot home to hang but I'm considering replanting the tomatoes into something larger so that they really have a chance to thrive. My main challenge is an extremely shady yard so I'm nervous about the sunlight factor.

We shall see but fingers crossed for some delicious, juicy tomatoes in a few weeks!

Monday, July 8, 2013

More Than Fish in the Sea

From the bean of Green Bean.

Earlier this summer, I was lucky enough to spend a week at a resort south of the border.  We basked in the sun, drank margaritas and wiggled our toes in the sand . . . and plastic.

My attempts to enjoy quiet walks on the beach morphed into a plastic picking extravaganza.  I filled my hands with bottle caps, Polly Pocket shoes and straws.  I stuffed my pockets with food wrappers, snorkels and beads.  I jammed my beach bag with broken milk jugs, disposable cups and spoons and sea plastic (broken bits of plastic, their ends worn down by the waves).

Buzz kill!

I've spent the last 5 years of my life trying to minimize my family's plastic consumption.  Here, however, staring me in the face on a far-flung beach was evidence that my personal efforts were nowhere near enough to make a dent in our planet's plastic problem.

That is not to say that we should not all do what we can to use less plastic.  We definitely should! (For inspiration and ideas, check out Beth Terry's blog and book).  But, but, but . . . what else?

Here is my to-do list:

1) Revitalize my efforts to minimize plastic use at home.

2) Write a letter to the resort asking them to use less plastic in their pool and beach-side service.  Instead of plastic cups, try reusable or at least paper.  Instead of plastic spoons, wooden spears or spoons.

3) Write a letter to the company that makes my kids' school lunches.  We only order those a couple of times a week but I know that each lunch comes complete with at least one or two plastic bags.

4) Share this YouTube video far and wide.  If you've not see it, please watch it and share.  It shows where all of our plastic ends up.  You'll never look at single use plastic the same after watching this.

5) My city and county have already passed plastic bag bills but I will work toward a state-wide bill. ities Has your city passed a plastic bag bill yet?  Follow (and be inspired by) grass roots efforts to institute a common sense ban in Philadelphia here.

6) Ask: "Are we ready for bans or taxes on single use, single serving water bottles?"

7) Educate others on alternatives to single use plastics.

8) Join a local beach or creek clean up and help remove other people's plastic.

These ideas still seem as small as the plastic pieces littering our beaches but they are a place to start.  What more can we do?  What are you doing to address the plastic problem?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Small Space Gardening Methods

Queen Composter shares methods for increasing yields when gardening when space is limited. 

As a society we are too dependent upon food grown far away, and many communities are not food secure. In my own area many of the local farms, despite being protected by an agricultural land reserve, are being gradually developed, making even the small amount of locally grown organic food even harder to find. Planting a garden, even a small garden, is important for the environment and more people are turning to backyard gardens in the same way our grandparents and great grandparents did with their victory gardens in the Second World War.

Most people do not have the space for a large vegetable garden. For those of us living in urban areas with little outside space it can feel impossible. However, there are ways to maximize what is available and grow enough food to supplement the produce we buy.

I am lucky to have a fairly large backyard but my garden plot is currently small and I have to maximize how I grow my food. So far this growing season I have been able to cut down on the amount of fresh produce I buy because we have been able to eat several meals each week from my garden.

Container Gardening

The easiest way to grow food in a small space is to use containers. Before moving to our single family home we lived in an apartment and a townhouse and this was the only option available to us. This can be very effective as most vegetables can be grown in containers. I currently increase the amount of plants I am able to grow using containers for tomatoes, herbs, horseradish, strawberries and some greens to supplement what I have growing in my raised beds. The main issue I have found with container gardening is that they require daily watering and require more fertilizing than garden beds.
Look at all those strawberry flowers! My kids
pick the berries before I get a chance to have any.

Grow Up

I don’t have a lot of space for plants to grow out so instead I have my plants grow up. Some plants naturally grow up easily, like peas and beans. Other plants, like pumpkins and cucumbers, are vines and will grow up with some training.
The cucumbers are beginning to vine up the trellis nicely.
I tend to be overzealous with planting, not allowing my squash enough room to grow. This year I am trying an idea I saw on Pinterest: I am using tomato cages to keep the leaves growing up to help give the zucchini more space.
My zucchinis growing up in tomato cages.

Staggering Planting and Growing Rates

To increase the variety of food I can grow, I plant early maturing plants in the same bed as later varieties. For example, I planted beets down the middle of the bed where I planted my summer squash. The beets are now ready for harvest just as the squash is exploding. Brussels sprouts, which are a Thanksgiving dinner tradition in my family, are very slow growing so I planted them in the same bed as my peas, beans and potatoes. Right now the latter are filling the bed, but as they finish for the season my Brussels sprouts will take over.
The beets are growing down the middle of the squash. 
In between my rows of garlic I planted carrots and onions. I pulled up the garlic yesterday, just in time for the carrots to fill out. I hope the onions fill out soon.
This photo was taken a few weeks ago, before the carrots
 filled out and I harvested the garlic. The onions are still quite small.

Square Foot Gardening

Another way to maximize the amount of food grown in a small space is to fill an area rather than plant in rows. I sow seeds liberally and don’t thin out the seedlings as they grow. I use this for growing greens because I want to grow as much as I can before they bolt in the summer heat.
Salad bowl lettuce and Amish deer tongue lettuce
completely filling the area.

Even though I have an outdoor space large enough for four raised beds, all of these techniques can be used for container gardening on an apartment deck or townhouse patio. The most important thing is to just start growing. It is the best way to make sure we have organic, locally grown food instead of food shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Five Tips for Food Gardening with a Toddler

Guest poster Juliet Kemp of Twisting Vines shares her tips for gardening with a toddler.

My son is 15 months old, and he's been out in the garden or allotment with me since he was a few weeks old. Now he's both mobile and super-inquisitive, however, it's a different kettle of beans from when he was a baby I could put down on a blanket; or put up on my back without constant demands for MAMA DOWN MAMA. Here are my top five tips for managing your food garden with your toddler.

1. Chill out!

Firstly, and most importantly, take a deep breath, and do your best to chill out. There's two main issues here: the tendency of some children to eat handfuls of dirt, and the tendency of almost all children to pull up plants, dig around in the earth, and create a terrible mess. With the first one, every time I turn round to catch Leon with sand or soil around his mouth, I take a deep breath and remind myself about the proverbial peck of dirt. Anyway, a little grub is good for the immune system. Then, when you're trying not to freak out about them wrecking your garden, remember the long view. If they have fun now (and making a mess is irresistible fun for most toddlers), they're busy building positive memories of the garden. Keep that up, and in a couple of years you might just have a willing helper. Yell now, and they'll be skulking inside in future. Not only that, but messy play is hugely valuable for children's development, and what's better messy play than grubbing around in the earth and examining plants?

2. Check for anything dangerous

It's easier to chill out and let them have if you're confident that they can't hurt themselves. In a food garden there shouldn't be many poisonous plants, but some medicinal herbs might need to be moved well out of reach (or given up altogether for a while), and if you have flowers, check that they too are safe. Here's a couple of useful lists: California Garden Web poisonous plants list; UK Royal Horticultural Society list; UK Real Gardeners list. Many of the plants in there will grow in other temperate zones (not just California or the UK), but you might also want to check for a list for your local area.

A more likely risk is that you have bamboo canes around. If they're anywhere near toddler height, either put caps on them, or get rid of them for now (caps at toddler height can also be pulled off, unfortunately). You might normally use short pea-sticks for your peas, but maybe for a couple of years you'll be better off using a bean wigwam setup, even if it is far too tall, or finding another way of supporting them such as growing them by a fence or next to sweetcorn if the timing works out.

3. Identify what's really valuable

Most of us gardeners have the odd plant that isn't robust, but is very precious to us. Sit down and have a good hard think about what you really care about, but which isn't robust enough to be yanked around. Then take steps to protect it. A fence? Moving the pot well out of the way? If you've identified what you can't stand to lose, by definition anything else is replaceable, which can help you maintain your inner zen calm when you turn round to see half a bed of plants ripped up. And the nice thing about food gardening is that hey, maybe this is an opportunity to make today Rocket Salad Day, or Baby Carrots Day.

4. Involve them

This is a bit age-dependent, but even Leon at 15 months can "help" given a little bit (OK, a lot) of encouragement. Filling holes or pots with earth or sprinkling seeds can be great fun, but far and away the best job has to be watering. A child-sized watering can means either "help" with the watering, or a deeply occupied toddler watering everything else they can get the watering can to.

5. Give them their own little space

It doesn't have to be a bed of their own, if they're too small to make use of it. For example, I've put a 'sensory play' area on our balcony to keep Leon busy while I'm out there, pottering with the plants or just having a sit down with a mug of tea. It has a small polystyrene tub, with some stones and scoops, which I can fill with water; a pot of earth (which, of course, goes nicely with the water to generate mud); and a pot of mint which he loves yanking at, smelling, and eating. Mint's tough, and I have plenty of mint elsewhere anyway. I've also got a pot of thyme and dill seedlings ready to move in for more sensory experiences.

Once he's walking independently this summer, I plan to clear a half-bed for him in the back garden, get him some child-sized tools, and get him to plant a few seeds with me. Then encourage him to 'garden' in his own bed. This year I expect that just to be another excuse for messy play, but next year and the year after it'll already be "his" space to experiment with. If your kids are anything like old enough to "copy Mama/Daddy", then a small bed of their own is well worth the space given up to it.

Gardening with kids can be great fun, and it's a fabulous opportunity for them to really get hands-on and find out where food comes from. Grab the chance to get them happy and involved now; and the equally valuable opportunity to practice that parenting zen calm in the face of occasional adversity.

Juliet Kemp lives in London, UK, with her partners, baby Leon, and dog Sidney. She works from home as a freelance writer, and balances that with parenting, gardening, crafting, and a great many other things that catch her interest. She blogs at Twisting Vines about making things and growing things, and is passionate about sustainability, environmental issues, and respectful parenting.


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