Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Harvest

Small garden in September

My garden is neglected. What else would you expect from a wild garden tended by two busy parents. We don’t really tend it. We ignore it. This is fine, though.

This is payoff time.

We were very excited about the garden early in the year, and that’s when the garden needed a little time, money, and attention. Now, we go to the garden when it’s time to eat. That’s perfect!

September Garden Harvest

We know you are busy. If you are like Nature Mom and like me, you feel too busy to garden. We wanted to prove (mostly to ourselves) that it doesn’t take a lot of time to garden. Here is your proof that careful, daily tending is not necessary for an abundant harvest.

If my family and I were more conscious gardeners with more time, we would have cultivated the plants to control growth and promote fruit. We didn’t, and the garden is fine anyway. Maybe the ease of gardening will embolden us to be more ambitious about caring for the garden year after year. This year, the garden is wild.

Total Cost So Far

Total for September – $3.00 (stakes)
Total for August – $0 (nada!)
Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
Total for the year – $74.50

Total Time So Far

This past month, we’ve spent little time with the garden other than harvesting. We’re over the gazing, though it is fun to see how green has taken over our house. We did stake the tomatoes to prevent them from creeping across the lawn and to prevent the snails from finding them easily.

Harvest – 10 minutes
Staking – 10 minutes
Pest patrol – 20 minutes
Building supports – 10 minutes
Shopping – 1 hour
Digging & planting – 30 minutes
Previous time spent (research, prep, building raised bed, digging) – 9 hours
Total so far = 11 hours 20 minutes

You could certainly spend your allotted 30 minutes this month pruning, guiding, and generally keeping the garden to the designated spaces. Or, you could just skip it and spend more time over your homegrown meal.

Your 30 minutes for September:
Pest control – 10 minutes
Staking – 10 minutes
Harvest – 10 minutes

Hops Cones

Remember how this was meant to be a raised bed for three hops plants? They are in there if you look hard enough, but grapes, berries, and tomatoes have taken over. The hops are taking shelter under the grapes.

The hop plant grows cones, the hops. These are used to flavor beer—in this case, my husband’s homebrew beer. The cones grew this month, and they are close to harvest.

Cones of the Hop Plant

Wall of Green Garden

My usual progress image showing how the garden has changed month by month doesn’t show the full height and the full impact of the changes in the past couple of months, so I’m including two views this month.

Garden month by month

I planted my garden in a spot that had been, for about 30 years, an evergreen bush with large, flat leaves. My mother cultivated it; I was neglectful. I let it die. It became an eyesore, so we tore it out this past spring and replaced it with a raised bed that matches our house. I’ll miss the green through the winter, but I love what we’ve replaced it with. Over time, I want to replace more of the decorative trees and plants my mother planted with food.

I love the wild green wall that now lines my front walkway. Rather than 3 feet of tidy green, I have a 12-foot wall of green reaching out in every direction.

Garden from spring to fall

Back-to-school Eco Baby Steps

Mother and daughter walking to school

For those of us who are trying to lower our overall social and environmental impact, every new situation is an opportunity to find new ways to improve.

Greening back-to-school time is not just about replacing high-impact products with other products. Sure, we can help you with school supplies if you need tree-free pencils or if you want a backpack that is ethically made.

To truly lower your impact, though, you need to think differently. You might want to ask whether you even need that stuff at all. Don’t just accept the models you are given and consume just as much stuff bought from a different shelf in the store. Do you need that stuff?

Where can you go deeper to rethink back to school?

Where You Might Take Baby Steps

Lunch. Waste-free lunch is a good example of greening a situation that can generate a lot of garbage: wasted bags, plastic utensils, plastic cups, sandwich wraps, and even wasted food when we send lunches that our children don’t like. It can take some training to help both you and your child embrace new habits, but lunch doesn’t have to generate waste. It helps if the whole school supports waste-free lunch, but you can make the choice as a family.

Clothes. School clothes don’t have to be a huge expense if you don’t mind used clothes. You can buy used at a consignment or thrift store, but you could also just pass clothes around. I was at a friend’s house last month. As I looked at her son, I suddenly said, “Hey, those pants look familiar! I think those used to belong to my son.” My son hadn’t worn the pants for 10 years, but here they were still circulating around town among my friends. Clothes sharing and buying used clothing isn’t just about saving money. It helps your family avoid the waste of new clothes worn for only a few months before your child grows out of them.

Transportation. We usually think of the stuff of school because that is the focus in the relentless advertising we see this time of year, but consider the other new situations you face with school. You need to get your child to and from the school building. If you live close to the school, how about walking. If you aren’t close enough to walk, are you close enough to ride a bike? Walking or riding a bike will give you exercise as well as sharpening your child’s focus at school. Getting to and from school could be a time when you and your child chat about the day without too many other distractions. Even riding the bus takes much less energy than driving your own car.

As you go through these first few weeks of the new school year, help yourself become aware of the choices you are making. Take steps to lower your environmental impact as you go. Greening your choices isn’t about being perfect. It’s about taking steps as you become aware of them.

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Snack-sized Reading to Improve Nutrition

Food Rules Illustrated Michael Pollan

 

You want to eat better and ensure that your children are healthy, but how do you figure out which information about food is reliable? One book summarizes all of the basic food rules you need to know.

Having children often brings on one of those shocking moments of realization that what you eat and what your children eat really matters. For a lot of us, babies are the trigger to clean up our eating habits. Unfortunately, this is also the time in your life when you have the least time to spend and when you are most tired. Fortunately, if you do manage to squeeze out some time to improve your family’s nutrition, you will improve how you feel overall.

Simple Rules for Eating

Start with simple rules and take simple steps.

“If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t”
~Michael Pollan

Did you notice when we posted the quotation above on Facebook last month? This is rule #19 from his book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (published 2010).

Michael Pollan is a science journalist who has written several books on food. You might have heard of The Omnivore’s Dilemma or In Defense of Food. His earlier books are more complex, and his more recent books are simpler. That makes sense to me. He isn’t engaging in an academic exercise. He genuinely wants to help people understand food and make better choices. People need the information delivered simply not because they can’t understand the complex but because, like most of us, they don’t have the time and energy to dive deeply into the subject.

Michael Pollan got the idea for food rules when a doctor told him, “What I would love is a pamphlet I could hand to my patients with some rules for eating wisely.” So, the next book summarized those rules in a way that anyone can understand

To gain some clarity about the general rules you should follow to improve your food choices, start with Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: Illustrated Edition. I suggest the illustrated edition because I assume you will want to share what you learn with your children, as I did. Also, this edition adds 19 more rules to the 64 in the original.

Find an indie bookstore selling Food Rules.

It will take you about a minute and a half to read each rule. You could read it in one sitting, but you might find it easier to integrate the lessons if you read one every morning and think about it as you go about your busy day. Give yourself permission to go slowly if you need to.

If you get into the illustrated edition and want to share more with your children, you will find Michael Pollan reading the rules and the artist talking about her illustrations on Michael Pollan’s website.

Over the years, I have written about my children, the food activists, and how we have integrated learning about food into our homeschool curriculum. We read together Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Young Readers Edition, and we watched quite a few food documentaries (which I list for you). With every step we take, we find more to learn. That’s OK! The journey isn’t about arriving but about improvising your beautiful life along the way.

Take your own eco baby steps. You don’t have to (and you CAN’T) do everything at once. Just start where you feel the strongest itch, and make your own changes.

Green Your Child’s School Supplies

Child in the rain with water bottle

Does your child’s school give you a list of supplies for the first day of school? We can help you choose non-toxic, low-impact school and lunch supplies—and the bag to carry them in.

If you are working to avoid toxics at home, the last thing you want to do it give your child a bag full of toxic supplies to spend the day with at school. We have carefully built up our supply of school essentials with the lowest impact products we can find from ethical companies. Our children use these same products.

Kids Green Lunch Supplies

Our goal is to get good, healthy food to school safely without leaving a wad of garbage to throw away at the end of lunch hour. Waste-free lunch adds up.

Lunchbots Bento Box
Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box

We have a big selection of lunch bags and boxes. One of my favorites is the Lunchbots Bento Lunch Box. I like that it is stainless steel, and I don’t have to send partially plastic containers to school.

Sling Sisters Snack Bags

Reusable snack bags

For snacks and sandwiches, forget the plastic baggies. Sling Sisters reusable, zippered bags can be wiped out at the end of the day or tossed in the wash on cold.

Klean Kanteen Water Bottle
Kids Reusable Water BottleTo keep children from reaching for sugary drinks at school, we need to give them an easy alternative. A small, reusable water bottle is easy to carry around and to refill. The kid-sized bottle has a top that is easy to sip—without being a sippy cup.

Kids Green Classroom Supplies

Recycled Pencils
Recycled Newspaper Pencils

Kids go through a lot of pencils, so you want an option that is low impact without being terribly expensive. We like the Earthzone recycled pencils. They are tree-free, made with recycled newspaper. You can see the newsprint change as you sharpen the pencil. This will be a kid talking point as they figure out exactly how a newspaper was used to make a pencil.

Non-toxic Glue
Non-toxic school glue

Glue is one of those supplies that sneaks in some nasty plastic. It gets on the kids’ fingers; the fingers go in the mouth. You know how it goes. No worries with this glue. This is a safe, odorless, water-based adhesive that holds fast once dry but can easily be removed with water.

Natural Hand Sanitizer
Mint natural hand sanitizer

What do you do to clean up from all of those germy activities? Send your child to the restroom to use the synthetic hand sanitizer with Triclosan and Benzalkonium Chloride? No! This mixture of essential oils and natural materials gives your child a natural way to clean hands. It smells really nice, too.
Backpack

Dabbawalla Backpacks
Cute kids backpack Dabbawalla

To carry everything, you need a backpack that is easy to clean, because you know it is going to get dirty and sticky every single day. Dabbawalla backpacks and lunch bags are a favorite every year. Kids and parents love these cute bags. Dabbawalla backpacks can be machine washed. The material is insulated as well, so they will keep the cold lunch colder longer and the hot lunch hotter longer. Durable as well as adorable.

Sugar: 7 Reasons to Break the Addiction

Baby eating a sugar lollipop

Several articles and studies in the past week give even more reason to consciously and relentlessly reduce sugar in your family’s diet, especially in the diet of your children as they grow and develop.

Sugar consumption is high, probably higher than you realize. Sugar isn’t just in cookies, ice cream, and sodas. Sugar sneaks into places you wouldn’t expect to find it: canned soup, mass-produced bread, processed meats, Kraft dinner, ketchup.

Statistics Canada reports that the average Canadian consumes 110 grams (or 26 teaspoons) of sugar a day. That’s over half a cup of sugar a day. Why not just wake up to a glass of water and pour in half a cup of sugar. Mmm. Sounds, well, terrible. Even if the number is half that, as the Canadian Sugar Institute claims, it seems high when you translate that into 44-88 lbs or 20-40 kg a year.

Just pause to visualize that much sugar. Not so appetizing all at once.

That fact is, the average North American is eating a lot of sugar.

This past week, National Geographic and TIME magazine published features on sugar, and a new study from the University of Utah suggests that the effects of sugar are far more than just weight gain.

What Is the Effect of Sugar?

1. Sugar leads to disease. Sugar overload can lead to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and higher risk of heart attack. The process of metabolic disease is clear.

2. Sugar leaves you without enough energy to exercise away the extra calories it leaves. Double whammy.

3. Sugar’s effect on your body is addictive. Sure, the immediate effect is pleasurable, as is the effect of cocaine or heroin, but most of us know enough not to slide down that slippery slope.

4. Sugar is toxic to you. To quote TIME on a new study published this week, “even safe levels of sugar could have serious negative effects on people’s health.”

5. Sugar shortens your life, at least it may have subtle biological effects that lead to shorter lives. Research is ongoing in this area, but findings point to higher mortality.

One of the researchers on the Utah study released this week said in the Salt Lake Tribune,

“I think the big takeaway is the level of sugar we readily eat and think is safe causes major health declines in mice. . . . We’re not just talking about some minor metabolic thing. We’re taking about increased rates of death and [lower rates] of reproduction.”

6. Sugar or marry your cousin? A diet high in sugar has similar effects to inbreeding—at least in a recent study with mice. To quote my local paper on this local study: “Would you rather be on the American diet … or have parents be full cousins?’ said senior author Wayne Potts, a biology professor. ‘This data is telling us it’s a toss up.’”

7. Sugar can even make you stupid, or so it appears from a different rat study. National Geographic quoted the study researcher: “‘I was very shocked to see how strong an effect these diets could have on the brain—I have high concern that the foods people eat can really affect mood and cognition,’ Gomez-Pinilla said.”

How I’ve Handled Sugar with My Children

My solution when my children were very young was not to forbid sugar, since I didn’t want it to become the desired thing they binged on away from home, but to give them no refined sugar at home and allow some away from home. I had to have grandparents’ cooperation in this, since they were the sugar pushers.

Now that my children are older and more logical, we can talk through the consequences of lack of nutritional control. We even took a college class together on nutrition to keep our discussions science based. They know how they feel when they overeat junk food or super-sweet food, and they don’t like it. I don’t have to exert MY control as a parent because they are exercising their own self control.

This is not to say that we don’t still have trouble. Having read the recent articles in National Geographic and TIME magazines, I know we have to push our sugar consumption even lower. What we think of as moderation is not moderate. It’s exceedingly high consumption of sugar, and our bodies did not evolve to handle this onslaught.

Don’t just replace refined-sugar sweets with other sweets. Get past the sugar addiction yourself and don’t let it grow in your children. I know that just makes it sound easy, and I know that it isn’t actually easy if you are stuck on sugar. But, your health and your children’s health and normal development depend on it.

Even though it can be difficult, just do it.

Recent articles on the effects of sugar

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