Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Winter Sleep

I trimmed back my wild garden

Think you don’t have time for a garden? You and other busy parents have time for a wild, unruly garden. See how my garden grew from March through December in the progress photos at the bottom of this post.

I am no gardener. If I can do it, you can, too.

December Harvest

Last week, we finally made our now-ripened green tomatoes into a lovely putanesca sauce. Out of frame, we also had a stray pumpkin grow where we carved the pumpkin last year, so we had pumpkin soup from our garden for U.S. Thanksgiving this week. My husband has also been drinking the beer he brewed from our own hops. This morning I chewed on mint and fennel that is still growing. We did have a December harvest.

As we trimmed back the vines, we found a lone hop cone that had escaped harvest. Remember the hops? My brilliant plan was to plant something my husband really cared about so that he would do the gardening. It worked! He definitely cared about the garden, and he certainly did most of the work.

Lone Hop Cone

Total Cost for the Year

Total for November – $0
Total for October – $0
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 cost for the year = $74.50

Total Time for the Year

This month we did have to spend some time trimming the garden back. I put it off and put it off (in the spirit of wild gardening, of course). Finally, after two snows, I did it this morning because I knew I needed to photograph it.

The hops are cut back to the base; raspberries and blackberries cut back to the main stems; grapes were trimmed just a little, since next year’s crop will grow on this year’s vines; tomato monsters tamed (with a few stray tomatoes left in their place to see if they will grow next year); and the kale left where it was. It was green still, so I couldn’t bring myself to cut it down. We also have mint still growing as well as some confused fennel and flower bulbs peeking out to see if it’s spring.

Total for December – 30 minutes
Total for November – seconds
Total for October - 10 minutes
Total for September – 20 minutes
Total for August – 30 minutes
Total for July – 10 minutes
Total for June – 90 minutes
Total for May – 2 hours 20 minutes
Total for April – 6 hours 20 minutes
Total for March – 45 minutes
Total time for the year = 12.5 hours

We wanted to spend no more than 30 minutes per month on the garden. We had to put in a full Saturday up front to get rid of an old dying bush and build a raised bed, then we spent a morning shopping and planting. With that out of the way, we averaged less than 30 minutes per month, including harvest but not including gazing in awe.

You Can Garden!

I have learned a few lessons in this experiment.

Nurture at least a little. The line between wild gardening and failure due to neglect is thin. We played on that line, but our garden still grew beautifully.

Stay accountable. Feeling attached to the long-term growth of the hops was the motivating factor for us (along with me knowing I needed to photograph progress each month). If the garden itself isn’t enough, see if your children will keep you focused on the garden or commit to photograph and share it like I did.

Take baby steps. Most of the parents Nature Mom and I know aspire to grow food in their own gardens, but they believe they don’t have time. I just want you to know that you can grow a garden with very little time. Take baby steps toward that big, gorgeous garden. Plant one plant; add another plant the next year. Your garden will grow in time, and you really can create that big, beautiful garden you dream of. I started this way, and this year we had almost two dozen fruits, herbs, greens, squashes, and other plants we harvested from 3-foot deep beds lining our house and sidewalk. We have a very small yard, but it has been easier every year to make it bloom.

Good luck. Spend the next few months dreaming of the plants you will grow.

Our Wall of Green

My garden through the year

Progress in the Cultivated Raised Bed

Full year of our raised bed

The Real Cost of Cheap Imports

Cheap products at what cost

Last year, in answer to a lot of questions we received about why we focus so much on products made in North America, we outlined the issues with cheap imports. The real cost goes a lot deeper than price. Low price usually means that some of the real costs of materials, production, and transportation are externalized—meaning others pay the short-term and the long-term cost of the low price.

We want you to understand the basic issues that concern us with production away from home, away from the consistent scrutiny of regulations intended to uphold basic standards of labour, safety, quality, and environmental responsibility. We want you to understand how we see these issues as connected to genuine sustainability.

Cheap Products at What Cost?

Cheaper products sometimes carry hidden costs to labour, safety, quality, environment, and sustainability of your community.

We set high basic standards for every product we carry. We start by looking close to home, then across Canada, across North America, and only then do we consider looking overseas for products to meet your needs.

In “Cheap Products at What Cost?” we share with you the actual questions we ask before we consider a new supplier.

Imports at What Cost? Labour

The cost of cheap products is unfair labour

Outsourcing labour and importing cheap goods can mean that workers who produce those goods are not fairly paid. Those workers pay the real cost of cheap imports.

When we reach for cheap products, they don’t cost any less than the expensive products. They just externalize costs—that is, someone else pays the true cost of the product. When the factor that allows the cost to stay low is labour, the person who works in the field or in the factory for less than a fair wage is the one who pays. The real cost of goods includes the consequences of unpaid labor.

Organizations throughout the world investigate slave labour and child labour so you can choose products with some confidence that you know how they were made.

In “Imports at What Cost? Labour,” we look at the consequences of unpaid and underpaid labour.

Imports at What Cost? Safety

Baby chewing on plastic ring

Buying cheap imports that use inferior materials, shortcuts in assembly, or even badly copied designs to keep costs low can be a safety risk for your child.

When that product is inexpensive at the cost of safety, though, it is your baby who can pay. Injury or worse because of an unsafe baby product is part of the real cost of products that are made not to meet the needs of babies.

We take seriously standards of safety, quality of materials, and quality of work. We work with companies that understand the products they make and make they well.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Safety” to learn more about how you can be confident the products you buy meet high safety standards.

Imports at What Cost? Quality

At What Cost Quality

When you buy low-quality imports, you pay in safety and durability—and sometimes you pay at the store twice when you replace cheap products.

Quality isn’t necessarily your primary concern when you are looking for low-cost toys, diapers, clothing, and other children’s products. Many companies outsource production to keep costs low, which allows importers to sell to North American markets at lower prices than products Made in Canada or Made in USA. Often quality suffers for cost.

Quality and safety issues overlap. Quality can also mean an issue of durability when toys break as soon as children play with them.

Read “Imports at What Cost? Quality” to learn more about the toy recalls of 2007 that sparked a new wave of children’s product safety laws in Canada and the United States.

Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

In “Imports at What Cost? Environment,” read about the environmental impact in first Mexico and now China of production for export the North American market.

Imports at What Cost? Sustainability

Sometimes the cost of cheap imports is sustainability both local and global

Truly sustainable products don’t pass on real costs to others but accept and embrace the real costs, redesigning the product and the supply chain not to externalize the costs but to internalize the benefits.

Cheap imports are cheap precisely because they cut costs by cutting corners—pay less for labour, think less about quality, design less for safety, and don’t worry about the environment. Good business? Only in the moment. In the long term, these short-term savings leave us with big bills to pay.

Learn what sustainability looks like in “Imports at What Cost? Sustainability.”

What is the solution? Buy local. Local businesses are better at understanding your needs, and local businesses contribute to your community in ways that help you, them, and all of your neighbors.

Visit us at bynature.ca in Orillia, Ontario.

Buy Local for Big Benefits

Parenting by Nature in Orillia Ontario

 

You don’t want the same old stuff. Your needs aren’t filled by conventional parenting products. We know that at bynature.ca because those products didn’t fill our needs either. It isn’t just that one size doesn’t fit all or that not everyone wants the same color. We know that whole categories of products don’t relate to your parenting. That is why we listen to you when you come to our store. We need to know what you need before we can make a recommendation.

A personal recommendation from a trained expert is just one of the benefits you get when you buy local at an independently owned store.

Both short-term and long-term, shopping local comes back to you. Short-term, you get what you want and need because you build trusting relationships with people you know. Longer-term you help build a sustainable community. Improvements feed improvements. A stronger local economy feeds into an even stronger local economy.

Your dollars spent locally continue to build your local economy. This local multiplier effect happens because of where the money goes after you spend it. For every dollar you spend locally, an average of 45 cents is reinvested locally. For every dollar you spend at a corporate chain owned and operated at a distance, only 15 cents is reinvested locally. Your money works harder for you and your neighbors when you spend it closer to home.

Another aspect of long-term sustainability for your local community is environmental. Environmental improvements—or sometimes just a slowing of environmental losses—means your children are more likely to be able to live rich, full lives in the same community where you are raising them.

Shopping locally is energy efficient. Walkable towns reduce driving and sprawl and the pollution that comes with both. Buying locally from a store that deliberately sources goods as close to home as possible also means the stuff you buy hasn’t been transported around the world just to get to you. Both the stuff and you as the shopper are more energy efficient when you shop at a local store that focuses on local goods.

As the benefits build up, you start to see bigger benefits for yourself and your family over time.

Shopping locally boosts the value of your house. American Express OPEN found that houses in neighborhoods near successful, locally owned businesses gained 50% more in value when compared to the broader housing markets in those cities. That is real value for you and your family. (Data over 14-year period from American Express OPEN through Independent We Stand.)

bynature.ca in Orillia, Ontario, is an independent natural parenting store owned by a local family. We help build a strong community, and we help you find the products you need to support your parenting choices.

10 Benefits When You Shop Locally

Buying from a local, independent retailer does a lot of good in your community. We invite you to read more about the benefits from the Institute for Local Self-reliance.

  1. Local character and prosperity
  2. Community well-being
  3. Local decision-making
  4. Keeping dollars in the local economy
  5. Jobs and wages
  6. Entrepreneurship
  7. Public benefits and costs
  8. Environmental sustainability
  9. Competition
  10. Product diversity

Why Choose Natural Toys

Natural wooden marble run toy

 

You anticipate toy shopping soon—as do I. I just want to give you a few reasons to look for toys made from natural materials like wool, cotton, wood, and rubber.

The Negative Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Choose toys made from natural materials because they aren’t made from plastic. It isn’t just that plastic is unsustainable, being made from oil and gas that are in limited supply. Plastics, especially soft plastics, can be health hazards.

With the passage of the CPSIA in the U.S., six plastic softeners (phthalates) were banned in children’s products that could be used for eating or sleeping because of the risk that a young child will suck on the products. These plastic softeners were’t banned in every product, though, and they can still pose a hazard through off-gassing. You know that new plastic smell? That is the toxic off-gassing, the hormone disruptors that can cause developmental problems for children (as well as high rates of miscarriages among women and erectile dysfunction among men).

You are less likely to find some of the worst chemicals in children’s toys now, but that doesn’t mean all plastic toys are safe. Avoid soft, vinyl plastics (phthalates) and polycarbonates (Bisphenol A or BPA).

The U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is still warning against toys made with PVC plastic. Even they are recommending that parents “choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead.”

For more details on the reasons to avoid plastics in toys, see “Why No Soft Plastics.”

For sustainability and for health, just avoid plastic toys. Choose natural toys instead.

The Positive Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Natural materials are sustainable. They grow in nature, and they can grow again after they are harvested to make your child’s toys. That is what is meant by renewable materials (in contrast to petrochemicals used to make plastic, which do not replace themselves—or, more accurately, only replace themselves over millions of years).

  • Cotton grows as a protective fiber (a boll) around seeds in a cotton plant in a field
  • Hemp is grown as the stem of a hemp plant in a field
  • Wool is the hair of a sheep, sheared annually
  • Silk is the coccoon of a silkworm
  • Rubber is the milk of a rubber tree
  • Wood, of course, is the body of a tree

Natural materials generally require less processing before they can be used to make toys. Pick up a stick, it’s already a toy. Sheer a sheep, and you just have to wash the oils out of the wool in order to use it for stuffing. The milk of a rubber tree coagulates easily into the kind of rubber we know as Sophie the Giraffe or a rubber duck. Natural materials are renewable in the long term but they are also lower impact in their processing in the short term.

In addition to sustainability, consider the sensory experience of natural materials. They feel warm, smell nice, and look soft. Natural materials feel good in the hands of a child. Read more about the sensory experience of natural materials in last week’s post “What Are Waldorf Toys?”

It’s tough for me to come up with rational reasons to choose natural toys because I usually just stop with “why wouldn’t I choose natural toys?” They are the obvious choice unless I’m buying into the nonsensical stories that mass marketing tells me about the superiority of plastic toys over nature.

But there are rational reasons: choose natural toys for the short-term and long-term good of the environment and because of the sensory experience your child will get with natural materials.

Choose Natural Toys

We know that most of our customers are deliberately seeking more natural ways of parenting. Choosing carefully when you buy toys that your child will play with every day is an important step in creating a natural environment for your family.

Read more about natural toys in “Toy Monday: Why Natural Toys.”

To buy natural toys, see our Holiday Gifts Guide at bynature.ca.