Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Love in Nature

Mindful Echo captured two loving acts on camera. 

I snapped this picture at the top of Cape Split (a gorgeous hike in Nova Scotia that crescendos with a breathtaking view of the Bay of Fundy). We had hiked the two hours into the cape, had a snack, ohhed and ahhed at the view, and were heading back to the trail. 

I spotted my partner wandering off just slightly and wondered where he was going. I already had my camera ready so when I realized what he was doing, I took a perfect sneaky shot. 

Any guesses?

If you look closely you can see he's got some gross looking trash in his hand. Was it ours? Nope. Do we know how long it had been blowing around out there? Nope. But he just went ahead and scooped it up in an ongoing effort to keep our precious spaces beautiful and clean. 

Originally my plan was to share this picture to give him some well-earned kudos for this gentle act but when I took a second look, I noticed something else: the two lovebirds smooching in the background.

I certainly can't blame them. The sun was shining, the water was glistening, and the view was positively poetic.

So, when I look at this picture now, I see two acts of love - one with our earth, and one with each other - and it highlights the connection between the two acts. If we work to take care of the natural beauty we live amongst, keep it clean and free of litter, then we allow the space to continue to be appreciated by us all.

Let's be mindful of our footprints, particularly in areas of ecological rarity. Treat them with love so that they can be a place that inspires love in others.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Art, Not Ivory

Are you aware that the elephants are predicted to become EXTINCT from the wild within ten years if something doesn’t happen to end poaching? Most people on a site such as this probably are, but if you aren’t you’re likely not alone.  I have loved and been fascinated by elephants all my life; I even have a master’s degree in elephant behavior. And I only recently became aware of the gravity of the situation!  I thought elephant populations had recovered and poaching wasn’t an issue any longer. In fact, it’s worse than ever.  In order to help spread this important message and raise funds to put towards the anti-poaching effort I have started Art Not Ivory, where people can buy “trinkets” and elephant art rather than ever buying ivory (not that any of us would), and 100% of all profit is donated to elephant conservation.  I had to do something to help in the fight to save elephants. Standing by silently and watching is not an option. As a stay-at-home-mom and artist this was the best option I could come up with.

However, it’s just not enough and so many people are unaware that we might lose elephants. Permanently.  This past weekend I went to lunch with my besties, my soul-sisters, women I have known for over 20 years. We studied wildlife management /biology together in university and there are no mysteries between us.  They know how passionate I am about elephants, that I started Art Not Ivory, but still, and much to my surprise, neither of them was aware that elephants are predicted to go extinct.

If my friends didn’t know it’s possible yours don’t either.

How do we make everyone else aware so that we can save elephants? Maybe it’s simple, costs nothing, and only requires copying and pasting this message to share it in your newsfeed, and asking your friends to do the same:

African elephants are predicted to be extinct from the planet within ten years.  They are being killed at alarming rates for their ivory tusks. It’s caused by man; It can be stopped by man. Never buy ivory, and never sell it. If you Care, SHARE.  Copy and repost this message. #if youcareshare #endextinction #SaveElephants

A Guest Post by Carrie Yang

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Becoming Part of the Solution - Rooftop Solar!

From the bean of Green Bean.

For years, I have passed homes with the "We're Going Solar" sign out front.  I have watched friends and neighbors have panels installed on their roofs.  Strolling through town, I have admired sunlight's glint off of residential solar panels.  And this spring, we did it!  We went solar!

Green Collar Jobs! A team installing our panels.
I assumed that solar salesmen would be begging me to throw up panels and that it would happen in a matter of a few weeks. Turns out, though, the solar industry is booming. Indeed, residential solar had its largest quarter ever during the first three months of 2015.

We sought and received bids from three different solar companies - two local and one national solar company.  After choosing the most comprehensive bid, we signed.  And then waited.

A month or so later, a crew showed up and outfitted our back roof with enough solar panels to cover 80% of our electrical needs (including charging my husband's EV).  We had to wait another couple of weeks until our utility company and the city signed off but now ...

We are powered by clean, green energy.

Here is what we have saved in the last month.

Have you thought about joining the rooftop revolution?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Green Lessons from my Father

With Father's Day approaching, the Climate Crusader is reflecting on what her father taught her about the planet.

Father's Day is coming up this weekend. I lost my dad over 20 years ago, in 1993, when he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 43. Even before that, Father's Day was a little bit complicated for me. I came from a broken home, and I had a difficult relationship with my dad.

Looking back on my childhood, however, I can see that my father gave me many gifts. One of the biggest was my love and concern for the natural world.

My father loved to hike and camp and spend time outdoors. As a child I remember spending most weekends out in the forest. At the time, it often felt as if I were being dragged out against my will. I got tired on our hikes. I got bored on the long drives to my dad's favourite spots. I would rather have been at home watching TV or reading.

I may not have been an eager participant, but I learned a lot of things. I learned what it feels like to wade in a cold stream. I learned how to identify edible berries. I learned how to start and tend a fire, and how to roast the perfect marshmallow. I learned how to climb. I learned that the best playgrounds are not made by human hands. I learned how the woods smell in different seasons, and I saw my world in different ways when I viewed it from the top of a mountain.

It wasn't just that my dad took me out into the forest, either. He shared an ecological sensibility in words and actions, whether it was pointing out garbage on a trail, expressing concern as development overtook the wilderness, or working to build community with like-minded individuals. Clearly, some of that rubbed off on me, whether I knew it at the time or not.

Those lessons from my father continue to inform my life, and my environmentalism. I've seen with my own eyes how some of the wild places I frequented as a child have changed over the years and the decades. I am concerned about what those changes mean for my children, my grandchildren, and the planet at large. And so I work to share what I learned with my own children. Whether or not they always enjoy the time we spend together, or agree with what I tell them, I trust that they are listening.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Being Honest on the Internet- Bath Bomb Fail

EcoYogini keeps it honest on the internets...

My "Green Thing" has been DIY Beauty Products. It's like my special green superhero power. I know that's a bit weird, but the boothers all have one. I've made bath melts, body butters, whipped body butters, soap (which is pretty easy actually), face oils cleansers, hair pomade and scrubs.

I've heard that copy cat Lush bath bombs are easy peasy to make, so this week I decided I would make some.

The first recipe I tinkered with and it was kinda a flop. The bombs stayed mushy, I figured it was the result of me substituting epsom salts (which I didn't have) for brown sugar (which has a higher moisture content).

No prob, I can learn from failure.

The second recipe I stuck to. Everything was exactly as it should be. And STILL they are a mushy, somewhat poofy mess. Oh they still foam pretty well. But they look like crap.
(my bath bomb failures...)

My conclusion? One of the (few) drawbacks to living on the coast is that the air has a higher moisture content which is preventing the bombs to dry out properly.

On a whim, since I had the epsom salts out and since it had been a while I decided to whip up a sugar scrub last night. I tried it this morning and am flabbergasted with how soft and smooth my skin is. I didn't even need to put on my typical body butter moisturizer!

I may be crappy at bath bombs, but I sure make a mean sugar scrub.

Sweet Rosemary Mint Sugar Scrub (time- 5min)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup epsom salts
1 tablespoon honey
2.5 tablespoons of sweet almond oil
3 drops orange essential oil
5 drops peppermint eo
5 drops rosemary eo (or whatever oils you want)

Whisk dry ingredients in a ceramic bowl. Add sweet almond oil and honey, whisk. Add essential oils (to scent preference). Store in a small mason jar. In the shower scoop a tablespoon per limb after cleansing. Rub gently and rinse. Done!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Water, Water Everywhere But Not A Drop To Drink

It never ceases to amaze me - the breadth and depth of the stupidity of man. Just when I think that we, as a species, can't possibly get any dumber - POW! We invent something totally idiotic, like a shoe umbrella or goldfish walker. Next thing you know, our global IQ has dropped another ten points. Honestly, I feel dumber for just having looked at those products.

Now, it's one thing to spend money on inane tchotchkes that were probably manufactured by an underpaid, overworked, nine-year-old in a sweatshop in China. Let's admit it, at one time or another we've all bought a stupid solar-powered dancing flower or a bedazzled keychain with our name on it for absolutely no reason. But rarely do we see greater collective stupidity and denial than when we discuss the future of our fresh water supply on planet Earth.

Contrary to what Princess Vespa thinks, there actually are only a precious few things we truly NEED to survive. Chief among these basic human needs are water, food and shelter. Let's forget for a moment what we are doing to our food supply with genetically modified Frankenfoods, bee-killing pesticides, antibiotic-doped meat and giant breasted chickens. Let's also put aside the fact that, in 2005, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights estimated that there are 100 MILLION homeless people in the world. And let's just focus on the most vital of these three needs: clean, fresh, potable water.

Human beings are made up of 60% water (give or take - some days my ratio is more like 55% water, 5% tequila - but that's another story). And while humans can live for almost a month without food, and years, if necessary, without shelter - we would die in less than seven days without water. So, as the most intelligent and compassionate living beings on earth, it's kind of our duty, don't you think, to not totally and knowingly fuck up the planet's drinking water?

Well, funny story.

Recently, the EPA completed a study* on the safety of hydrauling fracturing, or "fracking", as it is more commonly known.  Fracking, for those of you who are unaware, is the process of injecting a water-based chemical slurry deep into the earth to push up the far-reaching reserves of oil and natural gas.  This process took off in 2003 when natural gas exploration really started in earnest in the US.   (Coincidentally, that's when gas prices hit an all time high.)  In 2004, the industry got a boost when the EPA released a study that said, in effect, that fracking posed no threat to the nation's existing drinking water supply**.  But the really big boost for fracking came when the Bush Administration exempted hydraulic fracking from the Safe Water Drinking Act in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 AKA, the "Haliburton Loophole".  I am not making this shit up.


While we're at it, let's exempt Nuclear Plants from radioactivity testing.  And maybe we could exempt pilots from vision testing.  Obviously, we've already exempted politicians from demonstrating any basic human ethics or common sense whatsoever.

And in case you're wondering what fracking has done - and continues to do - to the our fresh water resources, let me slap down some numbers for you, courtesy of Environment America:

Fracking wells nationwide produced an estimated 280 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012.
This toxic wastewater often contains cancer-causing and even radioactive materials, and has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico.
In New Mexico alone, waste pits from all oil and gas drilling have contaminated groundwater on more than 400 occasions. 

Meanwhile, the oil industry continues to blatantly lie about the safety of fracking, while studies have proven that it does, in fact, contaminate drinking water. Take a look at some of the well water collected by Scott Ely of Dimock, PA and tell me that looks like something you'd drink:

Well now, doesn't that look refreshing? And not at all like a toxic sludge fest!

So how the hell do we little crunchy granola folks fight big business? We could protest. Sure, we could do that. After all, there's nothing that scares a giant billion-dollar conglomerate like a dirty hippy carrying around a homemade poster with a catchy slogan. Perhaps we could change the laws in this country so that our water supplies are provided at least as much protection as the Homecoming King carries in his wallet on prom night. It doesn't always work, but we should probably at least try.

Or maybe it's time to finally tie the proverbial albatross around the necks of the politicians in this country. They created, they funded, and they, in turn, are supported by these morally-challenged conglomerates. It's like a giant, circular daisy chain of idiocy and greenbacks. If we can get the money out of Washington, maybe, just maybe, we can get some laws passed that protect the PEOPLE instead of the PROFITS.

Step one: Find out how much YOUR politicians receive in Dirty Energy Money.

Step two: Write a letter to your Congressman or Senator or Governor or whoever else is on the take. I suggest starting your correspondence with something like "Dear Moron", but I'm not one to micromanage - you write what you like.  In this letter, ask them why they are taking this dirty money and then inquire as to what, exactly, are they are giving the oil companies in return. I'm betting it's more than just a nicely-worded thank you note.

Step three: Mail the letter to said politicians, along with a nice bottle of water. Not the cheap shit from Costco - something good, like Evian. After all, you're going toe-to-toe against the big boys - you don't want to look like you can't compete. Of course, if you're reading this blog, you probably kicked the nasty bottle habit long ago, so just go steal one from your neighbor's recycling bin and fill it with water.  I hear Scott Ely has a nice source you could use.

Now in this letter of yours, be sure to let your elected official know that, if they continue to allow themselves to be bought and paid for by the big oil industry, the water in their hands will soon be worth a lot more than the monies they receive in campaign contributions from these Corporations of Doom.

Will it accomplish anything?  I don't know... I guess I'd be kind of sad to find out my politician is cheap enough to be bought by a bottle of Evian.  But it's better than watching from the sidelines as the gas and oil industries continue to flood our earth with chemicals and the polluted waters rise to fill our streets and the sons-of-bitches in Washington float around in their lifeboats made of dirty money.

Although, in a poetic-karmic-justice kind of way, that's when we'll really see if the Devil knows how to row.

*This "study" included dubious science collected from - you guessed it - a number of the large oil and gas companies that currently profit from the practice.  When the EPA asked them for information regarding various aspects of the fracking process, they refused to provide certain information, and cherry-picked the data that they did hand over.  The holes in this report are so big, you could drive an oil rig through them.

**By "no damage", they mean "no widespread and systemic pollution".  They do, in fact, admit that there have been a number of incidents where water supplies have been poisoned and people have been harmed.  It's just not 'systemic' yet.  Tell that to all the people in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, WyomingTexas, Colorado and other areas near fracking sites that have been sickened by the effects of these wells.  Maybe it will make them feel better.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Natural Aphid Control

Queen Composter is dealing with a perennial garden pest. 

Due to an abnormally warm and dry spring, my garden is way ahead of where it would be in a typical year. I have more garden greens, my tomatoes are exploding, and the squash are loving the heat. But the garden pests and problems are ahead of schedule too. Climate change anyone?

I have been battling powdery mildew on my plants (and sadly had to pull up all of the kale), which isn't usually a problem for me until late July or August. Also, the dreaded aphids have been causing me problems since early May. 

There is little that I can do about the powdery mildew (and I've tried the milk spray and the baking soda spray with no luck. It's just something I have to live with; it makes the plants look ugly and slows their growth, but that's about it as far as I can tell.

But there are a few things I can do for the aphid problem. 

Do Nothing

I love lazy gardening and often this is my default plan. This sometimes works because the aphids are a natural food source for ladybugs and other aphid predators, and they take care of the problem for me by attracting them to the plants to eat the aphids. 

Encourage Natural Predators

Sometimes, like this year, laziness does not pay off and the aphids take over and start to kill my plants, so I need to do things to encourage predators, like ladybugs, to the aphid buffet. Ladybugs need pollen as well as aphids as a food source so it is important to plant flowers that they like to eat, like marigolds, carrot, dill, fennel and chives. Don't pull up all your plants; make sure you leave some of your plants go to flower. The bonus is you get seeds for next year!

There are other natural predators that love eating aphids, and many of you probably don't want to hear that the hated wasps love eating aphids. I have seen some wasps this year, but not enough to make a dent in my crazy aphid problem. Hover flies, which come in abundance once my carrot flowers open, also love eating aphids. 

But sometimes, like this year, the ladybugs, wasps and hover flies have not arrived before the aphids have taken over, so I need to find ways to remove them from the plants myself. 

This is my compost bin after pulling up half a dozen plants that were
absolutely encrusted with aphids and dumping them in here. I'm not that
squeamish about bugs, but these make me itchy all over!

Just Spray Away

If the plant is hardy enough I just blast the aphids with a jet stream of water to force them off the plants. This is somewhat labour intensive and doesn't guarantee that they won't return (you are just moving them to a different location, after all). Sometimes, like now, I just want the aphids gone, so I move to the last resort: insecticidal soap.

Garden Soap Spray

There are commercial non-toxic insecticidal soaps you can buy in the garden shops, but it is so easy and cheap to make at home that it isn't worth the trip to the store. 

I am a castille soap addict and use it for all kinds of DIY products, and it is perfect for insecticidal soap. A soap bar works, but I love castle soap in liquid form. 

I'm not a measurer so I don't have a precise recipe (a quick google search will bring up many if you are interested). I add about a tablespoon of soap to a spray bottle and fill it with water. I've begun adding a tablespoon of oil (like olive oil) to it to help it stick. Other recipes talk about adding baking soda or garlic to the spray, but I like to keep it simple. Spray it directly onto the aphids and they should die almost instantly. 

I suppose I should be more precise in my measurements because my last batch of insecticidal soap was a bit strong and it has burnt the leaves a bit. The rest of the plant is fine, so I'm not concerned. 

The yellowed parts were burnt from my spray
and the grey parts have been damaged by
aphids (the holes are from the caterpillars).

Good luck and I wish everyone an aphid free growing season!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How to Coexist with Wildlife in the Edible Garden

From the bean of Green Bean.

Squirrels sure are cute, aren't they?  With their bushy, swishy tails and their little leaps. Until they denude your persimmon tree or eat all the tomatoes ... before they are even ripe!!!

Likewise, deer are awesome. Spotting them while hiking is always a special treat. Ditto for rabbits, raccoons and so on. They are not, however, as welcome in the edible garden. There, wildlife can become pests.

Just because an animal is a pest in your garden does not mean you need to phone the exterminator or bring out the traps. A little patience and forethought can go along way to preserving (most of) your harvest while allowing you to continue enjoying the antics of wildlife in your garden.

Bird netting on my new peach tree.
Bird Netting: I have tried all kinds of things to keep the fruit on my fruit trees. A big scary plastic owl. Nylon stockings over each piece of fruit. Streamers. CDs. You name it. The most success I have had is wrapping the base of the tree, the bottom few branches and any branches that squirrels could jump on with bird netting.  To deter birds, you will need to wrap the entire tree.

Beware that birds and other small mammals can occasionally be caught in bird netting. I have never had this happen but have heard about it from friends. It is best to check your netting regularly to free anyone who gets caught in it.

Barriers: When none of my fava beans or peas came up last fall, I could not figure out what the problem was.  I replanted them a few times but still, nothing happened.  I figured out that some small mammal - squirrel, mouse or rat (less excited about that last one) - was eating the legumes as soon as they sprouted. I covered the planting area with bird netting or other barriers and, viola, I have beans and peas. In all instances, I have been able to remove the netting once the beans are a couple of inches tall.

A plastic net over my scarlet runner beans.
These scarlet runner beans had netting over them until they were a couple of inches tall.  No casualties! 
Similarly, when deer made short work of my young squash seedlings, I crafted some chicken wire cages to cover them until they were bigger.  Probably because the leaves were tougher, the deer then left the squash plants alone.

Plant Extra: The less you have, the more you notice it missing. When my fruit trees have a banner year or I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, I hardly notice those nabbed by squirrels. When things are not going so well, I cherish every cherry tomato and panic over every pecked plums. As a result, I try to plant just a little more. An extra pepper plant (because, yes, those little buggers will eat hot peppers!!) or additional cucumbers can help. In addition, I try to worry less over new trees which are only producing a few fruits. I net them and know that I may lose some this year but next year, the tree will be older, more mature and more bountiful.

Aromatic Distractors: Companion planting is not just effective in deterring insect pests.  Surround young seedlings with heavily scented plants, like garlic, onions, borage, sage, lavender and rosemary to turn away deer and other foragers.

Appetizing Distractors: Line the perimeter of your edible garden with things animals like to eat but about which you are not too concerned. Sunflowers will keep the birds and squirrels occupied. Existing fruit trees of less preferred fruit (Sorry, figs, but I cannot stand you!) can be left for wildlife.  Letting flowers go to seed also distracts wildlife from your bounty. In the worst case scenario, you can put out peanuts at harvest time to keep squirrels out of your raised beds.

Who knew borage was such a wildlife attractor? I have always used it for pollinators but turns out that
squirrels love to eat the small blue flowers and seeds.
Less Appetizing Edibles: If all else fails, invest in edibles that are less attractive to your neighborhood critters. Citrus is generally ignored as are artichokes, rhubarb and leafy greens. Carrots and potatoes are generally safe as well. Garlic, onions and most herbs are not just ignored; they actually repel animals with their strong scent.

For more ideas, check out the book, The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Garden: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature, a beautifully illustrated tale of growing food alongside wildlife.  Likewise, Can Vegetable Gardens Be Wildlife Friendly is a valuable article focusing on pests of the insect variety.

I hope that I have convinced you to not give up your garden and also to give native wildlife a pass.  S plant your edibles and enjoy them too.

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

Making Friends with Cows

The Climate Crusader recently visited an organic dairy.

I grew up in dairy country. While I never lived on a farm, cows were my neighbors and my neighbors had cows. When I was a child I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the different kinds of dairy farms or how the cows were treated. As an adult with a love of local food and a desire to live more sustainably, however, I am very curious to know where all of my food comes from. So when I recently had the chance to visit a local organic dairy farm and yogurt factory, I couldn't pass it up.

Olympic Dairy is located in the Vancouver, Canada area where I live. The company got started in 1979 and is committed to delivering natural and organic yogurt and dairy products. Here in British Columbia, two thirds of all organic yogurt sold comes from their little factory. My own children are big fans - I occasionally suggest trying another brand and they both solidly refuse.

I have some concerns about yogurt. All those plastic containers are recyclable, but it's still less than ideal when it comes to the planet. Also, a lot of yogurt is high in sugar, which is hardly super-healthy. As a snack, though, I feel better about yogurt than a lot of other options, like granola bars that are more chocolate than grain, for example. And I do like buying organic where possible. I was excited to learn more.

I arrived at the Brandsema organic dairy farm at about 10:00am on a sunny morning and met the farm manager Ian. He toured our group around and answered our questions. The farm started in the late 1990s with 30 cows and today their herd has grown to 200 active milking cows and some number of younger cows. Their milk is used in Olympic Dairy's organic products.

As an organic dairy, their cows have access to outdoor pasture year-round and are fed organic feed. They also do not receive any hormones - although here in Canada no dairy cows receive hormones. They avoid antibiotics if at all possible, and in situations where they are required for the health of a cow, the milk is not used for 30 days to ensure that no residual medications end up in the milk. However, Ian emphasized that their priority is doing what they can to make sure cows remain healthy. For example, they receive regular pedicures to keep their hooves in top shape.

The farm grows its own hay to feed the cows, and purchases organic grain that the cows receive as well. Since grass grows eight months of the year here they also graze for most of the year, and then in the months that they can't have fresh grass they eat hay and silage. We saw the cows out grazing in the field, and we saw other cows enjoying the cool air in the barn where the fans were on for circulation.

One of my ethical concerns with dairy products is about the separation of mothers and babies. I have infants and I can't imagine having them removed from me forcibly after birth. On the Brandsema farm newborn calves spend two days with their mothers before they move into the nursery area. They remain there for several months until they are weaned, and then the females are moved until they are old enough to take up their part in the dairy. The males are sold off. Obviously, we didn't see the separation, so I can't comment on that. However, I did see that the farmers care very much about their cows and the babies, and are doing their best to care for them at all stages.

In Canada the main contrast between organic and non-organic dairies seems to boil down to time spent outside, feed and antibiotics. Non-organic dairy farms do not have to offer access to outdoor grazing, and many do not. Non-organic dairy farms do not offer organic feed, which could conceivably contain pesticide residues. And non-organic dairy farms typically only separate milk for three days (instead of 30) when cows are treated with antibiotics.

If you are going to consume dairy products, it makes sense to choose something that you can feel good about eating. After my day on the organic farm I feel better about my choice to consume organic dairy products where possible. I'm not at 100% organic by a long stretch, but I think that small steps can make a big difference, and I will continue to do my best to make them.


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