7 Tips for a Successful Picnic with Kids

Mother and baby on a picnic

With holidays coming up, many of us are planning picnics. To help your children, especially very young children, have a good time, it helps to think ahead and anticipate what they will need during the day. We have a few tips for successful picnics with kids.


1. Eat Slow-burn Foods for Breakfast

If your picnic happens after a hike or a parade or some other event, make sure your children are well-feed in the morning so you don’t hear too many choruses of “I’m hungry.” Oatmeal or bean soup are day-out favorites for my children. You’ll still hear “I’m hungry,” so have a snack in your pocket.


2. Bring Sun Protection

Sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hats, long-sleeved but lightweight shirts, even a picnic umbrella (a parasol, which means “for the sun”). Bring a variety of solutions for sun protection. Prepare for the sun because it won’t take as long as you think to burn the tips of your ears, the line down the part in your hair, or the backs of your knees.


3. Bring Water

Bring water bottles with ice, and remind your children to drink in order to keep them hydrated. Bring frozen water bottles in the cooler or picnic basket to keep your food cold until you eat. Once it melts, the ice cold water will feel great after a day of being outdoors.


4. Pack Food in Bento Boxes

Make your packing container your eating container. Use a bento box or another reusable container that is wider than it is deep. This saves space and allows you to plan for any allergies or preferences for individual family members.


5. Make Finger Foods

If you want to share family style rather than having individual plates, make finger foods. Since these are easy to pick up and eat without extra plates and utensils, you will save yourself room and lost utensils. My family spreads out fruit, bread, and cheese, and calls it “The Abundant Table,” as in “Do you want the abundant table for dinner tonight?” To satisfy different likes and preferences, you could make several different kinds of dips with vegetables and pita bread for dipping.


6. Plan Games

Keep the games simple. Last weekend, we went to a family reunion that my daughter declared, “The best family reunion I’ve ever been to.” What made it so great? The games. These were games that were completely new to my children: potato sack race, egg and spoon race, wheel barrow race, one-legged race. Every game was a race involving yelling, hopping, screaming, and a lot of energetic kids. Every game was old. These were the games I played at family reunions when I was their age. And, they loved them.


7. Prepare to Clean Up

  • Bring water and a few hand towels to clean up hands before and after you eat finger foods.
  • A little natural hand cleaner can help if you have particularly dirty activities planned, though, really, what does planning have to do with it? You children’s hands and faces will be dirty, so prepare to clean them.
  • Wet wipes aren’t just for bottoms. Pack a couple dozen wet baby wipes in a bag with a few drops of essential oil.
  • Be sure to bring a reusable bag to carry home the dirties. Have a wet bag to carry the really dirties.

If you plan the picnic right, it will all go so smoothly that no one will notice the planning at all. Be prepared for your own quirky family, and have a great holiday.

Image © Ivan Mikhaylov | Dreamstime.com

Cheap, Natural Mulch

Mulching a garden

Mulch, a cover over the surface of your garden, keeps the soil moist, moderates temperature, lessens weed growth, and adds nutrients to soils as it decays. Best of all, you probably have something around your house or yard that you can use as mulch. Mulch can be free.


A Few Mulch Choices

I like the idea of using what you have for mulch. We have pine cones, so we use pine cones. You might also try:

  • Fall leaves
  • Grass clippings (ours stay in the lawn)
  • Chicken manure (so many of my friends seem to be keeping chickens now)
  • Compost with straw
  • Cardboard covered with another layer of mulch
  • Wool (such as that you might use to make diaper covers) covered with another layer of mulch
  • Cedar (if you happen to have cedar around and don’t have a better use for it, cedar can also deter pests—plus it smells great)

Pine cones, cardboard, and especially wool will all decompose very slowly. If you have an abundance of choices, ask yourself what you want the soil to do that it isn’t doing yet. Is the soil drying out? Then choose something that gives you solid coverage like cardboard with another layer on top. Do you want a consistent color to your ground? Our pine cone mulch doesn’t change color, and it blends in with the color of the soil.

As with your compost, you need to strike a balance with your mulch between green and brown. Green mulch could be grass clippings, which will add nitrogen to the soil as they decompose; brown mulch could be fall leaves, which will all carbon to the soil. Be mindful of where you are putting the mulch and what type of soil nearby plants need. Mix different materials in your mulch to get a balance.

Put down 2-4″ inches of mulch. I just make my pine cones one layer, which sometimes leaves it at the shallow end of useful.


Pinecone Mulch

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I send my kids out to collect pine cones for mulch. We have a variety of pine trees to choose from, and they produce a variety of sizes. We use different pine cones in each section of the garden so I can keep the areas consistent because I keep the cones whole.

I’m not such a serious gardener that I have a wood chipper around the back yard. I’m not sure I would want to put my pine cones through a chipper anyway, but this is what some backyard gardeners do. I like the look of whole cones.

Pinecone (or pine needle or pine bark) mulch will tend to make your soil more acidic over time, which is fine if you have plants that love acidic soil, like blueberries. If you have Hydrangeas that you are trying to grow blue, keep mulching with pine cones. If you are frustrated that your pink Hydrangeas are growing blue, it’s time to stop using pine cones. (Hydrangeas in the blue to pink range have the very cool property of growing different colors depending on the soil.)


My Crush on Glass Mulch

I really do have a crush on glass mulch. A friend of mine has a gorgeous swirl of colors in her garden. If I were to choose multiple colors of glass mulch, I can see myself sitting in the garden separating out the colors at the end of the season.

If you aren’t necessarily looking for free mulch, using recycled glass is an option—though you might even find it free from a recycling center if you aren’t set on the effect created by solid, gorgeous colors. Glass mulch is not sharp, since it is tumbled before you get it. It comes in a lot of colors and sizes. It won’t maintain soil moisture like other mulches will, so consider your climate and plants carefully, but it does create a beautiful rock garden effect.

Glass mulch keeps the ground a bit warmer, as it magnifies the heat of the sun, so keep that in mind when you are deciding whether to try class mulch. If you plants are already suffering the heat, don’t use glass. If you have a nasty slug problem, glass mulch will deter them (since they don’t want to slime over anything rough). If you just can’t help but add big swirls of red, yellow, and blue to your green garden, glass is your mulch.

You have quite a few cheap and natural choices for mulch. It’s easy to cover the surface of your garden, and your garden will grow better if you do.

Image © Alisonh29 | Dreamstime.com

Take a Snail out with a Beer

Family of snails getting ready to snack on my garden

If you grow lettuce or other greens, you may have noticed that your leaves have been nibbled. You may even have caught the culprits on your plants. Snails and slugs love leaves.

What do you do?

Salt them? NO! Salt will certainly make them shrivel up and die, but it won’t help your soil.

Poison them? NO! Some slug bait will harm the creatures you want in your garden as well as those you don’t.

Remove the mulch where they like to hide? NO! That mulch helps deter weeds and keep soil moist naturally.


Take the snails (and slugs) out for a beer

Make your own beer traps. Early one evening, divert yogurt cups or jar lids from the recycling, dig a spot in your garden where the container edge will be just about level with the ground, and bury your traps. Then, add beer. (My husband says you should buy cheap beer on sale for this, but the slugs actually prefer rich, yeasty beer.)

In the morning, empty your traps. That evening, repeat. You should get fewer slugs or snails every evening.

Once you have managed to get the numbers down, you can use some of the alternatives below to deter more slimy creates from moving back in to your garden.


Alternatives to Beer Traps for Slugs

Make it SWEET with yeast or sugar water. The slugs and snails are attracted to the yeast. You can give it to them without beer.

Make it SPIKY with lava rock or egg shells. Snails and slugs do not want to ooze over anything quite this abrasive, so create a barrier around your plants.

Make it FLUFFY with hair. If you groom your own dog, just arrange the hair around the plants you want to protect. This method has to be renewed after rain. Don’t bother removing the hair, since hair will decompose and makes a good addition to compost.

Make it DRY by watering early in the morning. Slugs and snails come out at night, but they like damp areas. If you water in the morning, you create a (slightly) less hospitable environment for them.


But, I Don’t Kill Our Snails

When I lived in an area where I had slugs rather than snails, I used beer traps. I was growing food, and slugs were killing everything faster than it could grow. Now, I have snails—a lot of snails in all sizes. They don’t kill so many plants, and they don’t hang out where I grow food, so I let them eat the leaves of my flowers and a bush that I’ve just been looking for an excuse to replace anyway. I’m not really out for revenge on all of the slimy population, and I find them fascinating. They don’t hurt me or anything I’m protecting, so I leave them alone and make the whole family carefully step around them at night.

The snails in the photo above are still alive and well in our flower garden, snacking on Iris leaves. I can see the holes in the leaves out the window from where I sit (meaning, they are significantly large holes), but I still leave them alone.

Wimp? Maybe. Live and let slime.

Healthy Dirt: Importance of a Non-Sterile Environment for Children

Child playing in dirt

Asthma, food allergies, and environmental allergies are on the rise in developed countries. Allergies have gone from 10% of the Western population in 1980 to 30% today. Why?

The Hygiene Hypothesis offers us an answer. This medical hypothesis states that a lack of early childhood exposure to germs has meant a rise in allergies and suppressed immune function. Zealous hygiene and overuse of antibacterial products, which are more common in the industrialized world, are well intentioned but actually have the effect of making us weaker. Put simply, children need germs to develop a healthy immune system. For children to develop their full potential immunity, they need a non-sterile environment.

Should each of us as parents be concerned about maintaining our children’s health? Absolutely. That includes nutrition, activity, a stress-free environment, and even natural exposure to dirt and good bacteria. That doesn’t need to include filters and antibacterial hand goo unless the child is already in a compromised state. A sterile environment is not a healthy environment. Quite the contrary.

When we talk about reducing toxins in your home, we aren’t talking about the good bacteria that we have evolved relationships with. Remove the chemical toxins that make you sick, and embrace the bacteria that keep you healthy. Gut flora have enzymes that help us digest foods. If the balance of good bacteria is changed (through overuse of antibiotics, for example), that can interrupt our ability to get the nutrition we need from the same amount of food. As our internal bacteria change, our digestion and waste processes try to adjust. Killing our gut flora can make us sick.

We need microorganisms. We are full of microorganisms that help us maintain our health. There are plenty of situations when we need to embrace microorganisms, dig our hands in the dirt, and let our bodies function naturally.


Help Your Children Maintain Healthy Microorganisms

Encourage children to eat fermented foods and priobotic foods. Your children will follow your lead in the foods that they love. These foods have beneficial bacteria that help digestion. This might be a taste acquired at a bit older age, but introduce more over time as their tastes develop. Just make it a habit to eat cheese, dark chocolate, pickles, vinegar, kimchi and sauerkraut, bread, yoghurt, sour cream, soy sauce and miso, and many other flavorful foods from around the world.

Use only natural antibacterials like essential oils and vinegar. We carry Clean George hand purifier for those situations when you need to get rid of bad bacteria, such as after a diaper change while travelling.

Ask a holistic pediatrician for help in supporting your child’s normal immune development.

Image © Susan Leggett | Dreamstime.com

Composting Basics for the Beginner Gardener

Compost with food and yard waste

If you collect your food and yard waste, you can divert it from landfill, save yourself money, and help even the most basic garden by making your own compost.

I am not the most advanced gardener. Both of my parents grew up on farms, and I just wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the garden as a child. I didn’t learn what to do and why, but I still noticed some of what my mother did to keep our garden producing food and flowers. My mother always composted food waste, so I do, too. What to do with it sometimes confuses me, though.

For a beginner gardener, the easy (lazy) way to create compost is just to put food scraps and yard trimmings in a bin and let it all decompose for a year. This is cold compost, and this is what I do. This works well for the busy, young family. As you find that you have more time and interest, you can investigate how to make hot compost, watering and turning the pile to help it decompose more quickly.

For now, we’re taking eco baby steps in composting.


Compost Basics

Even if you are going to mostly ignore your compost for a year, it helps to know that healthy compost needs carbon-rich materials and nitrogen-rich materials. Most of your kitchen and yard waste is green and nitrogen-rich, though it has carbon as well. Your compost needs more carbon than nitrogen, so it is important to add paper, fall leaves, sawdust, and other carbon-rich materials. If you notice that your compost has an ammonia smell, you need more of the brown, carbon-rich materials. If you don’t have enough nitrogen (just a pile of fall leaves), the decomposition process will be very slow. So, don’t ignore it completely. Make sure you add both green and brown waste.

Add:

  • Fruit and vegetable waste
  • Hair (!)
  • Grass clippings
  • Egg shells
  • Dryer lint
  • Tea bags
  • Cotton rags (like really old, post-cleaning-rag diapers)
  • Clean paper or cardboard rolls

Do not add:

  • Oil and fat (attracts pests)
  • Dairy and eggs (attracts pests)
  • Meat, bone, or scraps (attracts pests)
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds or grass gone to seed (unless you really want to spread those seeds throughout your garden)
  • Chemically treated weed, sawdust, or plants

Now, just wait for a year.


Then, After a Year

If you did this last year and wonder what to do next, go turn that pile over and see what’s on the bottom. If it looks and smells like rich, brown dirt, you have succeeded. Compost encourages beneficial micro-organisms that break down organic matter. When you do it right, you have humus filled with nutrients and able to help soil retain moisture.

Spread it around.

  • Spread compost on your lawn to replenish nutrients naturally.
  • Turn into your plant beds to condition the soil.
  • Use as a protective mulch around trees.
  • Add to soil for house plants.

Composting just adds a little bit of human activity to a natural cycle. You divert waste from landfill, an environment where it would eventually but only slowly decompose. You save money, since you won’t need to buy commercial fertilizers. You keep your garden growing well with moist, nutrient-rich soil.

Image © Rainer | Dreamstime.com