If a Three Year Old Can Do It…..

I had a proud crunchy mama moment the other day.

My three year old was sweeping the remains of her younger sister’s meal from off the floor and putting them in the dustpan.

She starting picking items out and making two piles.

“One is for the outside compost, the other is for the compost under the sink,” she said.

And sure enough, the fruit and vegetables bits were in one pile while the meat and bread with other.

(We compost vegetable, fruit and leaves for the garden but send all the other compostables to municipal composting heaven.)

The next time someone tells me composting is too complicated, I’ll have my daughter explain how it works.

 

To the garden

Stepping through the doorway towards an abundant garden screaming to be harvested is a moment filled with childlike anticipation.

What treasures await? What has grown ripe in the hours since I last wandered that way? Will there be enough to fill our bellies tonight? 

Greeted by carrots, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers ready to fill my colander, and our plates tonight, I smiled.

The seeds and seedlings have all come to their full potential. 

I’ve waited all spring and summer for these moments. And they’re finally here.

Hate Beets?

I am a reformed beet hater so I know what it’s like to be in the anti-beet camp.

But let’s face it: they’re highly nutritious and really good for us. They’re also very easy to grow.

They contain antioxidants and provide anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties. They’re high in vitamin C, potassium, manganese, vitamin B and fiber.

Not yet convinced to devour the red root vegetable?

Then here’s an idea from a beet-hating friend who wants the benefits but not the taste:

Cut, simmer, mash, strain through a cheese cloth and freeze in ice cube trays. Add the beet ice cubes to smoothies for an extra nutritional punch.

“I bury the taste so I don’t have to suffer,” she said.

So drink your beets!

Super Duper Double Compost Fail

We operate two different compost bins and they were both absolute disasters last week.

I’m only able to write about it now because I’m finally starting to recover from the experience.

Compost bin number one, the city run compost program, gets the dirty compost — the meat, the questionable leftovers and anything that has oil and/or dairy.

It lives in the garage. Between barbecuing, toddler activities in the driveway, gardening and outdoor chores, the garage door is often open. So the flies come visit.

The bin was covered in maggots two weeks ago. Ewwwwwwww. Luckily for me, my partner put himself in charge of cleaning it up. The maggoty compost had to go somewhere so it was stuffed into two, or five, garbage bags. It’s time like these that you give up on composting THAT pile and chuck it to the trash.

With a garbage pick up every two weeks, things just got nasty in the summer heat.

My poor partner had to “deal with it” a couple more times before the garbage was finally picked up.

At the same time, compost bin number two, the outdoor compost, was exploding with fruit flies. This is the one I dealt with.

I thought I had a good ratio down but I needed much more brown material (dry leaves, shredded paper, coffee grinds, wood ash and dirt) for the amount of green material (egg shells, fruit and vegetable scraps) that I was putting in.

The fruit flies loved us.

So I remedied the issue and loaded the bin with much needed brown matter. Balance seems to be restored.

This week’s very steep learning curve made me question why I bother composting. The best answer I came up with was feeding nutritious earth to my garden and that’s only mildly motivating when dealing with two separate bug infestations.

As I heading outside with a bowl of vegetable scraps yesterday, my three year old said, “Are you going to the compost bin? Can I come see?”

And then it came back to me. I compost because I care where my food comes from and where it goes. I want my girls to care too.

****

“And remember not to over think it. Everything rots eventually!”

Pickling Magic

Pickling is pure magic.

Not only does it extend the life of fresh food way longer than nature intended, it brings back my childhood memories of standing in my Memère’s kitchen while she made cucumber pickles.

It reminds me of a simpler time, when people preserved their harvest in anticipation of colder days and when ingredients were more natural.

Sure we live in modern times and buying pre-made items is easy.

But it seems that just about everything in a conventional grocery store is laden with questionable ingredients and made by just a handful of corporations.

The pickles that line the shelves seem so innocent yet they’re made with Polysorbate 80 and Tartrazine.

Polysorbate is also present in influenza vaccines and used as an ingredient to make ice cream melt slower. Makes ice cream melt slower? Yup, there’s a chemical that does that and it’s in your pickles (and ice cream!).

Tartrazine, the artificial yellow food dye also known as Yellow  5, is commonly associated with asthma and hyperactivity in children.

Those are not things needed in pickles!

Since I like real ingredients that are pronounceable and in my pantry, I just make my own pickles now.

I’m mostly always short on time lately so I don’t have a day to dedicate to making pickles for the winter. I can however dedicate ten minutes every couple of months to make refrigerator pickles.

This recipe takes no skill, time or special ingredients. Two large jars can be filled in five minutes — if you’re quick with the cooking knife.

If you’re more patient that I am, you’ll wait four days until the pickles have sat long enough to reach their optimal flavour. I, however, eat half a jar as soon as the pickles are cool enough to pop into my mouth. Of course they’re better after waiting a few days but what’s the fun in that?

I find these pickles are especially satisfying when the garlic, cucumber and onion come from the garden.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups sliced cucumbers
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 4 cloves thinly sliced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Method:

  • Sterilize two large jars and lids
  • Mix cucumbers and onions in a large heat proof bowl
  • Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, celery seeds, turmeric, ground red pepper, ground pepper    and garlic in a small saucepan
  • Stir well, bring to a boil and cook for one minute
  • Pour over cucumber and onion mixture
  • Allow to cool
  • Pour in sterilized jars
  • Let sit in the refrigerator for four days, or not.

Leave the Polysorbate 80 and Tartrazine at the grocery store.

Happy pickling!

Jill

And the garden is (almost) in

It’s been terrible spring to muster gardening inspiration and I feel like I’m terribly behind.

But fear not, dear reader! All is not lost.

Insane temperature fluctuations (we’ve hit 36°C and plunged to 0°C in the span of a week), lack of rain, heavy downpours, strong winds and frost will not keep this gardener down. It’s slowed down the planting process and stunted inspiration, but what’s the rush anyways?

I garden because I love it. Because I love being outside, having my hands (and sometimes feet) in the dirt, watching seeds find their way towards the sun, filling my watering can with the essence of life, harvesting beautiful food and connecting with the earth.

It’s the act of gardening that I love so it’s okay if I’m a little behind. I’m not paying the mortgage with my tomatoes.

And that’s a relief because most of my seeds failed this year. Despite planting seeds in March, only two crops survived the wacky weather: the beets and the lettuce. The poor baby tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, green peppers, red peppers, basil, dill and thyme didn’t make it much past a half inch of growth.

So to make up for the deficit, I had to buy a lot of plants this year. I’ll get over it……and done. I’m over it.

Between kids, a new house and trying to have a just a smidgen of a life, every gardening task seems to have taken a week to complete:

  • The raised bed structured were assembled Mother’s Day weekend.
  • The next weekend, the soil was brought in.
  • The weekend after that the plants were purchased.

And that brings us to today. I, along with my princess dress wearing toddler, managed to level the soil and and install square foot markers.

With my handy square foot gardening plan sheet nearly complete, I’m almost ready to populate my two 4×8 foot beds. I figure that I’ve got plenty of room to fail, experiment and hopefully succeed. It’s my biggest gardening project yet and I realize that I’m a little ambitious….especially for someone who is in a new house, and subsequently new yard, this year.

I’ll be planting corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, butternut squash, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, red onion, spanish onion, leeks, garlic, hot pepper, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and beets. I’m keeping my herbs in containers. And lettuce too — I’ve encountered lettuce loving chipmunks in the past and learned that bringing the container in the house is the sanest way to avoid playing head games with the greedy little vermin. Otherwise, the chipmunk always, always, wins.

I had moderate to low success with the usual suspects, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, leeks, garlic, lettuce and herbs, in my previous raised garden bed. It wasn’t in the optimal location but I had to work with what I had. In my new backyard, the beds are in a super sunny spot and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I’m just unsure what challenges the local wildlife will bring. My lettuce is doing well so it appears that the lettuce loving chipmunks don’t live nearby.

However, the tall raccoons are always around and still trying to figure out how to remove the compost bin lid. Hopefully they prefer the challenge of getting at the rotting stuff over the ease of helping themselves to everything in my garden.

Composting for Dummies

The compost bin has arrived!

I’ve been yearning for a backyard compost bin for years so this is a big thing in my life.

When I lived in an apartment, my friend suggested I put one on my 11th floor concrete balcony. I instead decided to wait until I had my own backyard.

The first house we bought was a cute townhouse with a backyard the size of a large swimming pool. It was in the middle of a suburban neighbourhood that managed to successfully ban clothes lines for a number of years. (That ban was finally overturned in 2008.)

A neighbourhood that fights against line drying isn’t going to be receptive to composting and I didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of the other homeowners.

Plus, we bought this home knowing that it was going to be a short term purchase.

Faced with three options, the choice was easy: move a big pile of rotting food, leave it for whomever buys our home or hold off on backyard composting.

So we waited.

Three years, and two babies, later we sold and moved to our forever home.

We upgraded our pool sized yard to a half acre. We ditched wall to wall neighbours for one neighbour and a farmer’s field. We moved to a place that never disallowed drying linens outside. We moved to a place where I could compost.

But we moved in November so I had to wait until spring.

Thanks in part to having months to scroll through Pinterest, I’d been secretly wanting a rustic DIY compost with two bins made of chicken wire and wood pallets. I could eventually put the chicken coop and bee hive nearby and tether the grass cutting goat on the side yard.

My husband does not share this vision. He’d be happier having nothing to with composting but he humours me.

So I was overjoyed when he went to the hardware store and picked up a compost bin.

It’s not the one from my Pinterest boards but it’s made from one hundred per cent recycled material so it’s okay by me. Compromise.

I assembled it and put it in the most compost friendly spot in the yard. It’s sunny and accessible and far away from our only adjacent neighbours.

I followed the instructions and layered twigs on the bottom to help with aeration. I then put a layer of “brown” or “dry” material, so mostly leaves. Then I layered the “green” or “wet” material, that’s where food stuff comes in.

Alternate green and brown waste. Et voilà. I’m a composting queen.

It’s pretty basic actually. We stick with the basics and only put fruit, vegetables, eggs and coffee grinds in the bin. I’m really good at the coffee grinds. Next year’s tomatoes are going to be coffee flavoured.

It’s surprisingly clean and totally odourless. It doesn’t even smell like coffee.

Despite our new found backyard composting ways, we are continuing with the city run composting program. We’ve been participating for a few years and it’s great. It takes items that are discouraged in our backyard compost: meat, oil, dairy, weeds and questionable leftovers.

We’ve been surprised by the amount of nighttime visitors our backyard receives. The local wildlife, probably raccoons, was getting the lid off the bin. I know that raccoon are clever but are they really able to lift the lid off that’s more than three feet off the ground? We must have really tall raccoons.

An impressive feat no doubt but not one that can be a regular occurrence. What raccoons don’t know is that we have an arsenal of bungee cord so I McGuyvered the lid and haven’t had an issues since.

With the pests at bay and the new routine of two separate compost bins figured out, all I have to do is wait until the old food turns to dirt. And dream about chicken coops and bee hives.

Going Green(er)

Going green isn’t about achieving a destination: it’s a journey on a path.

That path is sometimes so clearly identified and well trodden that anyone can find their way around. What do I mean?

Well, recycling pops into mind:

  • Rinse the can.
  • Drop it in the blue bin.
  • Put the bin at the road.
  • Pick up by recycling truck.
  • Put empty bin in garage.
  • Repeat.

I’ve got that down pat.

Other times, the path breaks off into so many other overgrown paths that the options become muddled. What do I mean?

Well, composting pops into mind:

  • Buy expensive compost bags for the city run program.
  • Use bags (for a number of years).
  • Put allowed items in the bags.
  • Put bags in green bin.
  • Put bin at road.
  • Feel good about effort.
  • Refuse pick up by compost truck.
  • Call the city.
  • Explain to the city that we’ve been using same bags for years.
  • Discover that local stores sell compostable bags that the city doesn’t accept.
  • Feel ashamed that effort has been in vain.
  • Listen patiently as city says only option is to remove all compostable bags from bin.
  • Remove two week old compost from the bags in the bin.
  • Return bin to the road, sans compostable bags.
  • Return of compost truck.
  • Pick up by compost truck.
  • Put empty bin to garage.
  • Vow to never buy compostable bags again.
  • Look into home composting.
  • Become overwhelmed by options: location, bins, worms, winter composting.
  • Scratch head.
  • Buy compost bags sanctioned by the city until another solution is found.
  • Feel somewhat good about effort put in.
  • Wait until spring for new solution.

True story.

What I find interesting about going green, other than watching husband’s face as he rifles through two week old compost bins, are the endless options available.

Back to my example.

There are levels of composting: you can use the city run program or go totally hardcore and start a worm colony. I’m not sure where we’ll end up on the spectrum, probably somewhere in between. I’m not a particular fan of worms.

Nothing is black and white. It’s….well….green. And there are many shades of green.

Although I’ve been treading on a light green path for a number of years, having children made me really reconsider how much more I can do.

Being green(er) is thinking about and putting effort into waste reduction, eliminating household toxins, buying local, gardening, rearing green babies, becoming energy efficient, cooking, re-using, enjoying a conscious way of living and being more natural.

This blog is about my effort, no, my vow, to be more naturally green.

Happy health,

Jill