Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Find the Spot

Future wild garden

It’s time to think about seeds and seedlings. Too busy to think about a garden plan? When you feel guilty that you don’t plant your dream garden or a fully sustainable one-acre farm year after year, scale down your plan. I declare this the year of wild gardens for busy parents.

Every year Naturemom and I get ambitious about planting gardens, hers in south central Ontario and mine in the U.S. mountain west. Every year we plant something, but no year—not one year since we starting writing about it—have we met our ambitious goals. When we talked about what kind of garden posts you might want to read this year, we decided that you might be like we are: too busy to keep up with your big plans.

Somewhere in that gap between the dream self-sufficient garden and going outside once a week for 5 minutes to stare at a patch of brown is the disappointment. Every year I plant something, but I worry and feel a little guilty that it isn’t as much as I had hoped. My garden is wild, going where it wants to go and growing what it wants to grow.

There is too much worry and guilt already, so I propose that we all revise our goals to fit our busy lifestyles. I’m closing that gap by bringing my expectations closer to my capacity.


Wild Gardens for Busy Parents

Once a month I am going to check in with you and suggest actions that will take no more than 30 minutes that will get you closer to that garden you aren’t quite ready to plant.

Here are some simple rules:

  • Start small
  • Share planning
  • Have a goal in mind

Start small. If you have tried and not quite reached your gardening goals in the past, I want you to have a guaranteed win this year. So, start with a commitment no bigger than you can keep. I really do want to be an urban farmer, but I have to be honest about the time I’m willing and able to spend. I stare out the window at my garden a lot (since I can see it from my work space), but I don’t actually go out and get dirty very often. Trying to be realistic about how I don’t tend my garden, I think 30 minutes a month is realistic—yes, probably pathetic, but realistic.
Goal: 30 minutes a month

Share your plan. I want you to share not just in the sense of telling others about your plans but in sharing responsibility for the plans and the planning. When I plan a garden alone then just tell my husband what to do on the weekends, he isn’t quite motivated. You can see the problem: he doesn’t share my vision for a lush paradise. Make sure that you share not just the to-do list but the decisions about what you will do. Share with husband, kids, or neighbor. Just find someone who also cares about your micro garden patch and stay accountable to them.
Goal: share your garden

Have a goal in mind. Don’t go shopping for seeds or digging in the dirt until you know your intentions. My 30-minute plan doesn’t have room for a dozen types of seedlings in multiple raised beds. I figure I can plant one new plant a year and keep it alive along with previous years’ plants. Since I’m keeping my goal very small, I want a plant that is an investment.
Goal: add one new plant


This is what I did.

I’m starting small. I have one bare spot where I recently started (but didn’t quite finish) ripping out an ugly bush next to my front door. This leaves the entrance to my house less than inviting. It was easy to decide where to focus.

I shared the planning. I told my husband I was finally tired of the bare patch, and he said he might have an idea. He has been brewing his own beer, and he is interested in growing his own hops as well. His brew store sent him an offer on hops the very week I mentioned the bare ground. In busy gardener style, we stared at the bare spot together and decided hops could climb up the wire ladder we made for our grapes. We’re taking advantage of our simple infrastructure.

We have a goal in mind. We specifically did not want plants that need a lot of tending, but I suspect my husband will be a doting farmer. He wants to brew these hops, so he’s invested in helping them survive—and thrive.

Total time so far, maybe 1 minute deciding on the spot, 2 minutes talking about it, and another 2 minutes ordering the hops plants at the beer store. Five minutes. That leaves about 25 minutes to finish clearing out the bush, dig in compost, and still keep it all under 30 minutes for the month.

Total cost so far: $18 for 3 hops plants to arrive next month.

Hops join the plants I’ve managed to keep alive from previous years: grapes, blackberries, fennel, a volunteer pumpkin, and a thriving bed of mint. That’s not so bad. That sounds almost like a garden.


Your March List: Find the Spot

You can do it! Spend 30 minutes on your garden in March.

  • Find your spot (2 minutes)
  • Plan planting (3 minutes)
  • Prepare the ground (15 minutes)
  • Start the plants (order the seeds or whatever it takes to put planting in motion) (10 minutes)

If you are already doing better than I am, planting a lush, diverse garden every year, I’m truly happy for you. I hope to get there soon, but I’m not there yet. This is where I will start, and maybe hearing about your garden will inspire me to up my game to 60 minutes a month or even commit to a tomato.

Wool with Kids: Teaching through Story

Child with black sheep finger puppet

When you want to teach a young child big ideas about the world, little stories are often the most effective way. Pelle’s New Suit tells how a growing boy uses the wool of his lamb for a new suit.

Last week, in my post about basic weaving with children, I mentioned the book Pelle’s New Suit. I love this book so much for children that I want to come back to it and tell you more. We’ve been celebrating lambing season this month with wool crafts for children: felted wool ball, spool knitting, and basic weaving. I want to make that connection between the life of a sheep and the natural materials we use in our lives. Reading the story of Pelle’s New Suit to my children was one of the ways I helped them understand where wool comes from and why we value sheep so much.

Before I had children, I recall a friend telling me a story about his daughter’s dawning realization of her connections with the world around her. Like many very young children, she had story books that told about animals and she had visited animals. One of her favorite animals was the chicken. One night, when she asked what they were eating for dinner, her father said, “Chicken.” “Oh,” she said, “’Chicken’ sounds just like ‘chicken!’” As he told me, I waited for the lesson when he told her the rest of the story. He didn’t. “You didn’t tell her at all?” I asked. No, he didn’t. He didn’t want to upset her. Maybe not now, but imagine her upset when she realized the truth.

I considered this a lesson is parenting. I decided that I would always make an effort to help my children understand the connections among things—like fluffy chickens in a petting zoo and dinner on a plate. The right time to talk about connections is when the child brings it up. In my family, we talk about the origins of different foods, fibers, and the other stuff around us. I have always wanted my children to have, in their own developmentally appropriate way, the tools to make their own decisions about their actions.

When I first read Pelle’s New Suit, when my first child was not quite one year old, I knew this would be one of the books that would help me make those connections for her. Both of my children know the story well. We read it often. Even now, as they are older, they love this book. When I asked my 12-year old where the book was so I could reread it for today, he pulled it off the shelf next to his bed.


Pelle’s Suit Grows Shorter

Pelle takes care of his lamb all by himself. His lamb’s hair grows longer as his own suit grows shorter. Step by step Pelle makes his new suit happen, through sheering to carding to spinning to dying to weaving to tailoring. Pelle trades his help for that of the adults who have the skills to create his suit. In the end, we see the bigger boy in the bigger suit with his bigger lamb.

Simply and clearly the process of creating clothing unfolds. This is such a sweet story of an independent child as part of his community.

Pelle’s New Suit is 101 years old. It was originally published in Sweden in 1912 by Elsa Beskow. For over 50 years she created beautifully gentle illustrations of adventurous and strong children. Her books are still quite popular in Waldorf education, and they are still in print in many languages. I’m not the only parent for whom these stories resonate.


Little Black Sheep Puppet

With a family favorite story, it’s fun to have props. When my children were very young, we often gathered up particular toys to listen to or act out stories. The moose joined us for Mooses Come Walking and the mouse joined us for Sugar Mouse Cake.

At bynature.ca we carry puppets of all sizes because children use characters like these to tell the stories that help them understand their world as their world grows. In case you want to invite Pelle and his lamb into your library, you might be interested in the little black sheep puppet as well.

Happy storytelling.

Natural Deodorant That Works

Woman applying deodorant

Have you heard that some deodorants have ingredients that put your long-term health at risk? It’s easy to avoid nasty side effects and choose a natural deodorant that works well when you understand how sweat and odor work.

Your underarms have a large concentration of sweat glands. When you work hard or get stressed, you sweat all over, but you probably notice it first under your arms. Sweating cools and detoxifies the body. Blocking the pores with antiperspirants so we don’t sweat robs our body of this natural process.

Then there is the smell. We begin to smell when bacteria feed on sweat. To avoid body odor, kill the bacteria before fermentation begins. A deodorant prevents the smell only.

Go natural for natural’s sake. Go natural because the alternatives can harm us. Or, go natural because it works. Whatever your reasons, you need to know the desired result, ingredients to avoid, and ingredients to accept.


Ingredients to Avoid

As with far too many mainstream cosmetics, there are ingredients in many antiperspirants and deodorants that can harm us.

  • Aluminum is a metal used to block the pores to prevent sweating, and it is absorbed through the skin, contributing to your chemical body burden. This is the active ingredient in many antiperspirants. Unfortunately, it has been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Paraben is a synthetic preservative that is absorbed into the body and acts as a hormone disruptor.
  • Propylene glycol is a petroleum product used for consistency. It makes a product glide onto the skin, but it is suspected to cause damage to the central nervous system.
  • Phthalates are plastic softeners, another petroleum product used for consistency. You may remember that all children’s products in the U.S. must now be certified phthalate-free, but adult products—including cosmetics and medical products—can still contain phthalates.
  • Triclosan is a pesticide and probable carcinogen that kills odor. This is the same ingredient as in antibacterial soaps and gels. Because of the known issues, many companies have removed this ingredient from antiperspirants and deodorants.
  • Synthetic fragrances can be hormone disruptors.

Beyond the harmful ingredients you should also look out for irritating and allergenic ingredients.

Ingredients to Accept

Once you know exactly what the job is that needs to be done, it’s not so difficult to find natural ingredients that will help. Look for natural bacteria inhibitors, bacteria killers, and skin soothers.

  • Mineral salts in crystal deodorants keep bacteria from growing on your skin, so they prevent smell.
  • Some essential oils have antibacterial properties. Kill the bacteria, and you avoid the smell.
  • Witch hazel is a soothing substitute if you are sensitive to alcohol. Both witch hazel and alcohol are astringents that shrink the pores.
  • Aloe vera is another skin soothing ingredient for those with sensitive skin.


Choose a Deodorant

Your current deodorant. Start by evaluating the product you are currently using. Look it up in the Skin Deep cosmetics database. Zero marks the cleanest of clean, and 10 marks the highest hazard products. I looked up my deodorant, and I was relieved to find that it is considered low hazard with an ingredient score of 2.

Natural deodorant. At bynature.ca we carry Lafes Natural Organic Deodorant Spray in lavender scent. This gets a rating of 1 in the Skin Deep database. There are many products in the low hazard range, including several with a rating of 0.

Nothing at all! Another alternative is just to go bare. You don’t need a database to tell you that the lowest exposure to hazards is no exposure at all. My husband has never used deodorant or antiperspirant. He’s fortunate to be a fairly dry person, so he just showers every 2-3 days. Not everyone can get away with this in a society where extreme cleanliness is expected, but it is an option.

There are many natural deodorants that work well. You can find one at a price within your budget that doesn’t put you and your health at risk.

Image © Irina Brinza | Dreamstime.com

Wool Crafts with Kids: Weaving

Child weaving on a wooden loom

Kids love making things, exploring and transforming stuff with their hands. I like giving my children crafts with growth potential, so there is another step to take if they want it. Start with a small woven mat, and your child may want to keep weaving until you have a blanket, a wall hanging, and a whole set of mats.

Weaving, moving one thread up and down through another thread, can help a child learn basic mathematical skills, fine motor control, dexterity, and concentration. And, creating a beautiful product from quality materials builds self-confidence and gives your child a sense of accomplishment.

It’s lambing season. We’re celebrating by focusing on the wool that lambs and sheep give us. We often talk about wool as a useful fiber for cloth diapering, but we love wool for many other household uses. Wool feels good in the hands. As children develop their skills, we like knowing that they are doing so using natural fibers. If you would like to go back and try other crafts with your children, we’ve shared ideas for felting wool balls and spool knitting over the past couple of weeks.


Start with a Loom

You can build a simple tapestry loom with a frame and pegs at the top and bottom. You can make it any size and shape your materials allow. That might be a future project, though. For those just starting out, we sell a basic 12-peg wooden loom that both children and adults will enjoy using.

Need

  • Loom
  • Wool yarn
  • String for warp
  • Needle or shuttle

Wooden Weaving Loom Kit for a Child


How Weaving Works

Basic weaving has warp and weft. You use string up and down between the top and bottom pegs of the loom to create the warp. This provides the basic structure of your woven piece. You can weave so the warp is covered or so that it shows. The main yarn that gives your weaving color and weight is the weft. Weft means woven (weaved > wef-ed > weft). This is the thread or yarn that is woven through the strings of the warp.

The simplest way to start weaving is to use a needle. Using a fine point helps your child navigate up over one string and down under the next while the fine needle is small enough that they can easily see their progress as they weave.

At the end of each row, you can press down the yarn you’ve just woven through the strings (called beating the weft), or you can leave the fabric less dense and let the warp show. With a child, I like to create one piece by the simplest method then add a new technique for the next piece. I recommend starting with a looser woven piece. This is also much quicker to make, and an easy win can be motivation to put in more time for the next piece.

When your child is finished weaving on the basic loom, the piece should hold together when you take it off the pegs. You may need to push the weft around a bit to even out the rows.


How Many Doll Blankets Do You Need?

If your child comes to enjoy weaving, you may end up with a lot of doll blankets, purses, and coasters. As my children started producing more and more little pieces of work, I steered them toward using those small pieces to produce bigger pieces.

Make a Pillow. If your child weaves six pieces on the small wooden loom, each approximately 6.5″ x 10″ (depending on how tight they pull as they are weaving), you can sew those together to create one 20″ x 20″ piece, which is perfect for a throw pillow. If you either sew that piece to the front of an existing pillow or make a new pillow with some sturdy fabric on the back then fill it with a 20″ x 20″ pillow form, you have a beautiful object that you can use around the house. You give your child the experience of creating a complete object. What a great gift that would be for grandma. My family still uses pillows made by my children years ago. I love that constant reminder.

Make a Blanket. If your child loves weaving even after you have plenty of pillows, move on to making blankets. My daughter kept making new projects until she found her level at the size of baby blankets. Just be open to using all of the little pieces of weaving in a bigger project of some kind.

Very Basic Weaving. Did you weave potholders as a child? I did. I learned weaving with cotton loops on a square potholder loom. The difference between the wooden peg loom and the potholder loom is in the weft. For potholders, single loops are the weft for each separate row; for the small tapestry loom, one continuous piece of yarn is your weft row after row. We carry the traditional potholder loom and extra cotton weaving loops because we think your child might enjoy basic weaving as a confidence-building experience.

More Advanced Weaving. If you have kids who like to experiment, and who doesn’t, increase the challenge as they learn weaving.

  • Weave with thread. Try doing the same kind of piece on a tiny loom.
  • Build a giant loom. See how big you can go. Weave a whole blanket all at once rather than creating a patchwork of smaller pieces.
  • Draw with yarn. Learn how to use the weft and the warp to create geometric shapes then organic shapes then images.
  • Learn about weaving. This would be a great opportunity to look at weaving in a museum or gallery. Read storybooks about weaving. I love Elsa Beskow’s Pelle’s New Suit, in which a young shepherd uses his lamb’s wool to have a new suit made, and Charles Blood’s The Goat in the Rug, which tells the story of Navajo weaving from a goat’s point of view. Both books tell stories that engage a child in process from animal through to the final product.

The more your child connects what they are learning with the world around them, the better. Weaving holds a world of such potential expression, whether they weave a story in tapestry or just make a potholder.

Freeze It! Ingredients in Small Portions

Spent Grain Frozen in Cubes

Do you ever just need a small amount of some ingredient that takes a long time to make (like homemade broth) or that you get in larger amounts than you can use before it spoils (like the annual zucchini harvest)? No problem. Make it now and freeze it in small portions so you can easily add a tablespoon here or a cup there when you are cooking later. You’re still cooking from scratch without doing all of the cooking at the same time.

What ingredients do you use for a lot of dishes? Stock, puree, and shredded vegetables freeze well. In my family, we save finished chickens and turkeys in our freezer until we have enough for our largest stock pot. Then, we make amazingly intense and tasty reduced stock in cubes for use in a lot of the other foods we make. We don’t need to buy those dried granules or cans of stock because our freezer is well stocked.

Growing up, there were a few weeks in late summer when it was just inevitable that everyone in the neighborhood would find giant zucchini on their doorstep. it was an adult version of the game “Dink Dong Ditch.” Everyone grew it, and no one could use it all. It was the local joke, but we really did reach our limits very quickly. When those overwhelming weeks of giant zucchini come along next summer, just shred them raw into 1-cup portions and freeze. The frozen texture doesn’t make a lot of difference for baking zucchini bread, cookies, or sauces.

Freeze in amounts appropriate for the particular ingredient. I freeze in an ice cube tray then transfer to my regular freezer containers. If you freeze in cubes, you can drop multiple different vegetable puree cubes into sauce for spaghetti or lasagna, and no child need ever know how many vegetables they are eating. Cubes are perfect for smoothies, baby food, or toddler snacks.

Start Small. Try a small amount at first. You might not like the taste or texture of certain foods when they have been frozen. If you freeze a gallon of banana mush only to find that you don’t like the texture of frozen banana mush, you’re just stuck. I have never managed to freeze strawberries in a way that they were the least bit appealing to me afterward. Just go slowly since your tastes for frozen foods might not match your tastes for fresh foods.

Buy in Bulk. Once you know you do like an ingredient, you might be able to save money when you buy it in bulk. Any food that you love, that freezes well, and that you can also get less expensive in bulk is a perfect candidate for freezing.


My Special Case: Spent Grain

Spent Grain

My husband has been making his own beer for the past year. Every few weeks, he ends up with a giant bag of spent grain. The grain is still usable and it smells nice (usually), but I don’t have any recipes that call for 50 cups of wet grain. The first few times, I just couldn’t let him discard any grain. I made granola. It turns out that the spent grain is really not the best primary ingredient in anything. After a couple of bowls of that granola, I was finished. As I’ve tried various recipes, I’ve learned that a small amount of spent grain adds a nice chewy texture to cookies and bread, but I never need more than a cup at a time.

Most spent grain recipes (yes, surprise! There are many great collections of spent grain recipes) recommend drying the grain, and I have done that. I’ve also frozen a lot in cubes. Now, when I know I’ll be making any recipe that will work well with rough, chewy grain, I get out a few frozen cubes to thaw in advance.

There is no chance I will ever be able to use all of the spent grain, so a lot of it goes to feed the deer—to encourage them not to snack on my bushes. But, I am really glad that I’ve finally figured out how to use a lot of the grain in recipes that are improved by it. Freezing is a perfect way for me to keep it moist and fresh until I need it. Now that I have a mostly empty chest freezer, I have room to freeze as much grain as I can use.

Look at the way your family eats, and figure out what you need only in small amounts. It’s a big time and money saver to freeze ingredients that you can use in cooking later.