This is the year

Archive for March, 2012

Week 13: Planning a garden

The toddler 'helping' in the container garden his first summer.

Is anyone else on the prairie getting insanely excited about spring? I know I am. With spring excitement comes garden planning in this home. We first started growing food in our home the summer I was pregnant with my son. Our apartment has a small balcony and we started with just a few tomato plants which produced flats upon flats of large juicy flavorful tomatoes. Since then we have gotten more ambitious by the year adding herbs, peppers, cucumbers, carrots,  peas and strawberries to the mix, this year we’re even adding a pumpkin plant the toddler picked out and attempting to grow okra (the husband needs it for a recipe and hasn’t had any luck finding it in stores, I am not convinced it will work but he is determined).

There are many great benefits to growing your own food:

  • There is nothing more local and fresh than eating fruit and vegetables out of your own back yard, this saves the environmental cost of shipping food to stores and you going out to buy them.
  • Harvesting your own food saves packaging.
  • Growing your own food gives you more control over where the seeds come from and how they are grown.
  • Fresh food is healthier! The moment fruits and vegitables are picked they start to break down, the faster you eat them the more nutrients are transferred from the plant to your body.
  • Flowering plants attract and support local pollinators like bees and butterflies, this is a GOOD thing!
  • Growing vegetables is a great way for kids to learn about nature, responsibility, and nutrition.
  • The effort that goes into your crop is a huge motivation to reduce waste. There is nothing more heartbreaking than having to toss produce you spent weeks and months nurturing. The good news is that because it’s so fresh, your produce will last and extra long time if stored correctly.
  • Having living plants around can help battle depression and nature deprivation.

Not only is growing your own food rewarding but it’s also pretty easy to get started and my family is proof that no matter how small your living space, you can grow just about anything with a little determination and ingenuity. Container gardening, square foot gardening, vertical gardening, window farms ,frugal gardening , Community space. Whatever your situation there is usually a way to make gardening work for you. Forget about green thumbs and plant whisperers, anyone can grow vegetables!

If you are totally new to vegetable gardening or caring for plants of any kind the challenge this week is really simple, just examine your living space, your routines, and your lifestyle to figure out where you can make room to grow something. Even if it’s a small plant on your desk at work, everyone’s got to start somewhere.

If you’re already an avid gardener, the challenge is to look at your current gardening plans for the spring and see if there is anything you can do to maximize your harvest. Try some of the links I posted above to really use the space available to you, or if you have any secrets, tips, or ideas for other gardeners please share them!

You can also focus on planning your garden with sustainability in mind. As I talked about last week small changes can save water, composting can enrich your soil while reusing waste from your home or last year’s garden, companion plants can help keep pests at bay without the use of chemicals. There are dozens of options out there.

There will be further challenges for gardeners as the weather gets warmer, but for now, lets get to planning!


Week 12: March 22nd is World Water Day!

Lately I’ve been depressing the heck out of myself with articles and documentaries about water. Water issues have been kind of on my radar for quite some time. By which I mean I knew that there were environmental and social issues surrounding the earth’s water but I hadn’t actually looked too far into them, so I had yet to make any real changes in my life to reduce my water footprint. Maybe because my carbon footprint still seems like such a mammoth task, or maybe because this stuff is so terrifying to me that I’ve been trying my damnedest not to think about it. It’s hard to say.

Whatever the reason, water isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s a human rights issue, and it’s one I need to stop ignoring, putting off, downplaying, or forgetting.

I had actually planned to use this paragraph to list some of the scary things about water scarcity and purity I have learned lately. But I feel like I was kind of harsh in the plastic post last week so if you would like to know all the reasons why water issues are so very incredibly hugely important, you may start on the World Water Day website and go from there.

When you’re done that and are feeling kind of hopeless, you can read through some of the things I am doing to conserve water this week. If you prefer to just take my word for it also know that conserving water can save you money, so there’s your motivation.

Watch the water you eat: This year the focus of World Water Day is food. Honestly, until I was researching this post I only had a tiny idea of just how much water it takes to produce the food on my table. has a neat little game that helps you find out what kind of water footprint your menu has and I was SHOCKED by my result. My light Sunday evening meal of blackened chicken on Caesar salad took nearly 1000 liters of water to produce.  After playing with the game for a little while and doing some more research around the website I got a pretty good idea of where all that water consumption was coming from. Take a look for yourself!
Ditch the bottled and canned beverages: not just bottled water; pop, juice, coffee drinks, anything that comes in a bottle and contains water from a source outside of your local water system has to go. When companies package water from one water system and ship it to others all over the world there are devastating effects on the environment.  One way to avoid doing this is to remember to bring a reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go, and if you absolutely must drink pop try getting a fountain drink where the flavor syrups and carbonation have been added to local water, it’s still not great but it helps.

Short showers: This week I will be using a kitchen timer to time my showers. As the mostly-stay-at-home mother of a toddler there are days where the only time I get to be alone and not talk about fire trucks and puppies is when I am in the shower, and even that isn’t guaranteed… so I tend to linger. Not this week. this week I am going to try and keep my showers down to about 5 minutes. A friend recently linked me to this article which figures the average shower head uses about 2.5 gallons of water per minute. So by cutting my shower time from 15 minutes to 5 minutes, I am saving about 25 gallons per shower. That’s kind of mind blowing.

Double check the plumbing in your home: This may be a good time to check your home for hidden water leaks that may be wasting valuable water resources. As well as doing maintenance, you could make changes like adding weights to your toilet tank, installing low-flow faucets,  or minimizing your use of garburators, dishwashers, and other convenience appliances that use a lot of water.

Landscaping: If you’re a gardener, or just want to make some improvements to your yard this spring and summer, you are likely in the planning stages of your projects so this is a great time to think about water conservation! Group plants according to their watering needs, plant water retaining plants along sloped areas to reduce run-off, choose native species suited to the natural precipitation in your area, choose lawns or grasses that are drought resistant to reduce the need to water, and plan to water only when needed and in the early hours of the day to avoid evaporation before your plants have had their fill.

Collect rain water: Last summer we had planned to collect rain water to use for watering our houseplants and small container garden. For a few reasons the idea was soon forgotten and we never did get around to it but I am going to focus my efforts here this week. Because we do live in an apartment I am not sure that we could collect even enough to water the plants, but I figure there’s no harm, in trying. I am finding a lot of interesting information and DIY projects online that can help you collect rain water, treat it, and use it around your home to save on the drinking water your family consumes.


The things I’ve listed here are by no means the only ways to conserve water. There are literally hundreds of things big and small that each of us can do to conserve and protect water. I have only listed a few of the items I will be choosing to focus on but as always, I encourage you to find something that will suit you and your family the best. And don’t forget to let the rest of us know about it!

Week 11: Plastic

A plastic Barbie head I found on the beach in Victoria, BC.

I recently read a blog post written by a biologist about a beached gray whale who’s stomach, upon necropsy, was found to contain gallons of plastic and other waste. The article went on to talk about the extent of plastic pollution in our oceans and how every other species on the planet is suffering because of it. Talk about depressing.

When you combine stories of where discarded plastics end up when we’re done with them with the story of where they come from and what they’re made of (petrochemicals), its hard not to feel a little overwhelmed. Especially when you start hearing about all the ways petrochemical companies are throwing their financial weight around to prevent lawmakers from regulating the production or disposal of plastic products.

Plastics are bad for us, they are bad for the environment, but these companies just go right on making them and marketing them, and when lawmakers step in to protect people and the environment from them lobbyists are sent in, followed by marketers and spin doctors and next thing you know industry funded studies are released to media about bacteria growth in unwashed reusable shopping bags, law makers are convinced  BPA bans would cause infant formula shortages, and there are mass labelings of consumer goods as ‘BPA free!’ to try and convince us that plastics without this one component are still safe.

There is no ‘safe plastic’; even products labeled ‘BPA free’ are not guaranteed to be safe as the chemicals used to replace BPAs in plastic consumer goods have not been tested for safety long term any more then BPA was before it was used. In fact, there is nothing anywhere that says these things need to be tested for long term safety at all. Scary stuff to think about.

The most terrifying part of all of this is the plastic byproducts and toxins we can’t see. It’s the broken down chemical bits of it contaminating our water systems and food chains. It’s the hidden petrochemical plastic byproduct lining our tin cans, and even the chemical residue on cashier receipts, It’s the fact that some of these toxic plastic byproducts have been found in quite high concentrations in human breast milk.*

So I read about the poor beached gray whale, and I thought about the chemicals and the oil and the cost that a few people’s profit is having on our health. And I decided it would be cathartic to completely purge my home of plastic. Or as completely as I can, starting with the items we are in direct contact with the most like dishes and food packaging.

Here are a few more ways you can limit consumption of plastic for your own health and the health of the planet:

Bring your own water bottle. If you have a reusable water bottle made of glass or stainless steel with you when you’re out of the house the urge to buy beverages in plastic containers from lunch counters or vending machines is curbed dramatically. If you absolutely must drink soft drinks, you can always fill your plastic free drink container from a soda fountain. You can check out week 4 for ideas on reducing other food and beverage packaging as well.

Remember your bags! That whale I mentioned earlier had over 20 plastic bags in its digestive track at the time of his death. While there are a few clever ideas out there for reusing them and plastic bag recycling programs are popping up all over the place, the best way to avoid these bags ending up floating around our natural ecosystems is to stop using them all together.

Seek out non-plastic alternatives. If there is an item you are looking to purchase, think about the plastic components of it and seek out alternatives. This is not always easy these days. Just the other week we were looking for a step stool to give the toddler a bit of kitchen and bathroom independence. When we looked for new items at a certain big blue box store we couldn’t find a single non-plastic option. We searched several other stores to no avail and were about to settle for a plastic one when we ended up finding an old wooden stool a family member was willing to give us. With a little less patience on our part it would have been tough to come away without a cheap plastic one.

Reduce over all consumption with simplicity. Again, the best way to curb the amount of plastics in our environment is to stop using plastic, and since plastics are so prevalent in consumer goods these days, the easiest way to avoid plastic is to avoid buying things we don’t need by living simply. If you weren’t around for week 1, check out that challenge to see what I mean by living simply.

The purge. This is what I am doing. Many of the plastics in our home actually did find there way out the door when we were doing the big de-clutter back in week one, I was very sure to make sure most if not all of the plastic toys the toddler plays with made it into the give-away bin, and I got rid of a lot of old plastic Tupperware. There are still a lot of products around that we can either find or make non-plastic alternatives for, or that we could do without.  The plastic items that we are getting rid of will be either recycled (where possible) or given away to people who may want them. I will be doing my best to make sure they will be out of my home, but hopefully not sitting in a landfill. After that, sheer determination to simply not allow plastics into my home in the first place will hopefully keep our plastic consumption and waste to a minimum.

What are your thoughts on plastics? Do you have any tips or tricks for avoiding them?

*Before anyone takes my head off. I am by no means suggesting we not breast feed our babies, the risks of using breast milk alternatives still outweigh the risk of possible toxins in breast milk. Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way for children to be fed and steps need to be taken to protect it including regulating and banning toxins that affect the health of all people.

Week 10: Mulligan

You may have noticed that its wednesday already and I haven’t posted a new challenge. There is a new challenge ready to post, but I just can’t bring myself to post it. Why? Because I totally failed last week’s challenge so hard that it just doesn’t feel right to move on to the next thing.

My husband had the last week or so off and since we only had a few days notice of this little vacation, we had nothing really planned for this time. The first few days were really great, we walked to the library, we walked to get groceries, we walked for fun. Though husband doesn’t like the idea of the bus we managed to get around to where we needed just fine without the use of his car.

Then we got bored. With two adults around full-time there is surprisingly little to do around the house after a while. No projects to finish, nothing to clean, the toddler happily playing alone after the novelty of Dad wears off. We puttered, we twiddled our thumbs, we contemplated breaking our current television ban, we read a bit, listened to music, played music, and after all that there were still 5 days left to fill with family fun.

It started with just a little break of the car-free rules. My husband had made no real commitment to being car-free for the week and after two days with virtually no time alone I was all too happy to suggest he take the toddler for a drive.  The next day we wanted to check out an indoor play area across town that we’d heard good things about, and I had every intention of taking the bus there until I missed it and my husband, who was not so hot on the idea of taking the bus in the first place simply got in the car and told me he’d happily meet me there in an hour if I wanted to be stubborn. I got in the car, and did again when we left because I had a meeting to be at and I’d already written off the day as a total fail. Then a few days later, for the real nail in the coffin of my goal, we drove 45 minutes to Moose Jaw to go to the Western Development Museum, a shrine to all things car-culture, only to find that it was closed that day and we’d made the trip for nothing.

After all of this I strengthened my resolve to live car-free this week now that my husband (AKA the enabler) is back at work and my routine can go back to normal. But I feel like I need to address the dynamics a circumstances that made last week such a fail. The circumstance being that we had a week away from our usual routine, the dynamic being that while I am perfectly happy to live car-free, my husband like many people out there, doesn’t see a car as just a way to get around but as an enjoyable activity.

I feel like the challenge I wrote last week was a little dismissive of how hard it may actually be for people who do drive, who enjoy driving, and who are in the habit of driving, to suddenly change their routine in just one week. Or, if they did change the routine for one week (or two days) and found it enjoyable that still doesn’t mean that they are ready to embrace a car-free lifestyle with open arms.  I had secretly hoped that I could change my husband’s ways with a week car-free where he wasn’t away at work all day anyways, but instead he pulled me further into car culture.

So this week I call Mulligan.

If you tried to go car-free last week and didn’t quite make it, try again, if you did make it and it went well, keep up the good work! If it didn’t go well and you can identify the reasons why take some time to meditate on those reasons and see if you can’t make any changes to make the car-free lifestyle easier for you. Or just stay tuned for next week, and we’ll move onto something different!

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