Adventures in Growing Food

I'm pretty excited as this is our first year with a proper vegetable garden.  This time last year we had just moved to our new home in small town Southern Ontario and even though our new yard was perfect for planting, we just didn't have the time.  But this year I was on a mission!

A mission to grow food for my family!

My husband and I decided on a perfect spot for the garden that would allow us to enclose it (read: keep dogs & rabbits out) and still have some big open spaces for romping.  We decided that some raised beds would work best given we live on a giant sand dune and I really didn't want to spend days tilling and trying to make our dirt suitable for veggies.  And then it was on to finding materials to build our beds.  We definitely didn't want pressure treated wood given all the toxic chemicals that would leach into our homegrown veggies and cedar was super expensive.  So what then?

But as luck would have it we managed to find a much more environmentally friendly and frugal solution.  We had a dead tree taken down a few weeks before and the guys that did the work live on a farm right around the corner.  Their property is gorgeous and littered with piles of lumber and boards!  So hubby headed over to ask them if they had any planks for sale.  Talk about perfect...not only did that have wood, but gorgeous 12 ft aged ash boards that they would deliver for us!.  I don't even remember how much wood they brought, but it was way more than we needed and it was only $50!  And even cooler was the fact that these brothers also have a small sawmill so that had made the planks themselves from other trees that had taken down in the area.  So cool!

So then we built the beds, or rather my handy husband did.  We decided on four 12x5 beds with walk-ways in between. We lined the area with heavy duty landscape fabric and installed the beds.  And then it was shovelling and more shovelling.  We ordered 4 yards of triple mix soil and had to lug it all from the front yard to the back.  And then wood chips to fill in the paths and make our garden area complete.  All I really remember from that week was shovels, calluses and sore arms.

raisedgardenbeds.jpg

But wow, did they ever look good.  We then needed to protect the area from rabbits, and our dogs who would tromp through all my seedlings. Talk about good karma, our neighbour had 2 large rolls of chicken wire she didn't need and happily donated it to the cause.  And my crafty husband then found some awesome metal trellis/fencing that someone was getting rid of and that's how we crafted our enclosure.

Then of course it was on to planting.  I had started all kinds of seeds inside in the early Spring and couldn't wait to get them in the ground.  I had everything just about planted the weekend before Victoria Day.  In hindsight, it was way to early, but I was just sooo excited!  So after having to cover up all my plants multiple times over the following 2 weeks due to frost I was home free!  Let the garden grow!

Everyday we take a tour through our new little plot.  The kids love checking out whats popping up and all the veggies that are getting bigger each second.  We've already started picking some of our veggies including kale, lettuce, spinach and radishes.

I remember being sweaty and cranky and in the thick of building and filling the boxes and my husband saying "wouldn't it be easier to just go to the grocery store?"  And initially, there were times when I definitely thought so, but now, watching my plants grow and seeing my kids get excited about picking food for supper I know that growing our own food may not be easier, but it sure is way more fulfilling AND delicious!

Have you got a garden this year? What are your favourite things to grow?

10 Reasons Why You Should Get Dirty

The past couple weeks have been a fury of raking, shovelling, digging and planting around here.  I LOVE Spring and all the outdoor work that comes with it.  Cleaning up the yard and gardens, getting rid of all the winter messes and prepping for all the growing and blooming makes me happy!

Did you know that there's actually some pretty good reasons to get outside and get dirty? Yup, all those days as a kid making mud pies weren't for nothing!  Check out these amazing and healthy reasons why you should get your dirt on!

Whyyoushouldgetdirty.jpg

10 Reasons Why You Should Get Dirty

  1. Fresh Air - after months of being cooped up over the winter, nothing feels nicer that that clean, crisp air in your lungs.  A few deep breaths and you can already start to feel energized.
  2. Sunshine - gotta love some natural Vitamin D!  Just be careful as your skin is probably not used to those rays and can burn quickly.
  3. Physical Activity - playing in the dirt can be a great work out.  Whether is digging holes for new plants, weeding or cutting the grass you can work up a good sweat with some yard work.
  4. Immune Building - yup, playing in the dirt is great for your immune system.  See... kids knew it all along.  Ditch the antibacterial soaps and sterile environment and make mud pies instead.  Kids who play in the dirt are less likely to develop allergies and develop stronger immune systems from exposure to all those little microbes and bacteria compared to those kids who aren't allowed to play in the mud and dirt.
  5. Stress Relief - playing in the yard is a simple way to de-stress.  Combine a little exercise, fresh air and stepping away from whatever is bugging you and you'll start to relax in no time.
  6. Self-Esteem Boost - talk about feeling good...how about that feeling of pride and accomplishment from nurturing a plant from a little seed to your very own fruit or vegetable?!
  7. Connect with the Earth - digging in the dirt is a wonderful way for adults and kids to connect with Mother Earth.  It reminds us how interconnected we are and that in order for us to live and flourish we need to love and respect our planet.
  8. Grow Your Own Food - one of my favourite parts about gardening is that I can actually provide nourishing foods that I selected, planted and nurtured to my family.  I know exactly what went into them and what we will then be eating.  It's all about planting love!
  9. Get Happier - did you know that getting dirty makes you happy? For real! Mycobacterium vaccae is a beneficial bacterial naturally found in soil.  And it's been found to trigger the release of Serotonin which boosts your mood!
  10. Why not?!

Do you love playing in your yard or garden?  Hands up if you have dirt under your fingernails!

7 Reasons Why You Should Grow Sprouts

I'm sure you've all seen sprouts at the supermarket or had some on top of a salad at one time or another.  But have you ever thought about growing them? Well, I'm here to tell you that YES you should, and here's why:

sprouts

7 Reasons Why You Should Grow Sprouts

  • Sprouts are delicious! if for no other reason they are fabulous on salads, sandwiches and as a topping for just about any meal.

  • Sprouts are cheap. aside from some water, a mason jar or sprout bag and seeds, you don't really need anything fancy to grow your own food. And a little bit of seeds or beans goes a long way!

  • They are the ultimate home-grown food! These easy-to-grow super foods can be grown just about anywhere in your house in just a couple days.

  • Sprouts have super powers! Maybe not like Spider-man, but sprouts pack a powerful punch. Not only are they full of fiber, but when you sprout beans, nuts or seeds their vitamin content goes through the roof! This is especially true for Vitamin A, B-Complex and C. Plus, the quality of protein improves when those beans, seeds & nuts get soaked and sprouted.

  • Enzymes & EFA's oh my! The sprouting process also increases EFA's (Essential Fatty Acids) something that most of us are lacking. Plus, sprouts contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and veggies! Remember, enzymes are special proteins that act as catalysts to all body functions so we want to make sure we've got the best enzymes to ensure we're functioning optimally.

  • They are alkalizing. Adding sprouts to your diet is a great way to decrease acidity in the body. And since many illnesses and cancers are linked to acidity, sprouts are a great way to stay healthy.

  • Growing food is fun! Even if you're not a green thumb, sprouting is so easy your kids can do it. Plus, they'll love watching them sprout and change. I swear you can almost see them growing!

6 Surprising Sources of BPA

What the heck is BPA anyway?  Bisphenol A is a chemical found in hard plastics and plastic coatings. It's used to make all kinds of products including water bottles, baby bottles, DVDs & CDs, household electronics, medical devices, dental fillings and sealants and even eye glass lenses.  So what's the big deal?

Well, Bisphenol A is considered an endocrine disruptor, which means it interferes with the production, secretion, transport, action and elimination of your natural hormones , especially estrogen.  What does this mean?  For many years, BPA has been associated with cancer, insulin resistance, birth defects and can interfere with nervous and reproductive system development. There have also been many animal studies showing that even low doses of BPA can be toxic and produce effects such as damaged DNA, miscarriages, early puberty and the production of breast cancer and prostate cancer precursor cells.

So just avoid BPA then, right?!  Absolutely, but it can be trickier than you think.  Check out these shocking sources that you might not be aware of.

IMG_0729.JPEG

6 Surprising Sources of BPA

  1. Canned Foods - Beans, tomatoes, juices, soups - yup all those canned goods in your cupboard are likely contaminated with BPA because of the lovely plastic liner. Best bets are to avoid canned goods all together or look for brands that don't use BPA.  Here's a good list from BPA Free Canned Food. Or why not just make your own soups, beans and juices?
  2. Pop Cans - luckily, I don't drink pop very often, but if you're someone who must always have a can of Coke in their hand, you might just think again.  Aside from all the artificial colours and sweeteners, BPA is found in almost all pop.
  3. Beer & Wine - I was pretty shocked when I found this out.  Wine brewed in epoxy-lined plastic vats may contain BPA, but aside from giving up wine all together you couldn't avoid it for sure. As far as beer goes, you guessed it - those cans contain BPA, so opt for bottles instead especially since BPA is highly-soluble in alcohol.
  4. Receipts - you know those nice little thermal paper receipts you get from every store and restaurant. Well, they contain BPA , and a pretty significant amount too!  The worst part is BPA is highly absorbed through your skin. This one was pretty frightening for me as I work part-time in a shop with one of those machines.  Thankfully, my boss insists on BPA-free receipt rolls! So skip the receipts next time you're out shopping.  Or if you work in the industry, talk to your boss and find out what's in those rolls you are handling all day.
  5. Toilet Paper - oh man this is nasty! So you're doing the right thing - buying recycled paper products, but guess what that green paper is made out of?  Recycled receipts! Yup, so not only are you wiping your private bits with BPA filled paper, but then once it's flushed it releases more BPA into our water and ground water. Ugh.
  6. Children's Toys - so most of us with kids have been aware of companies changing to BPA-Free bottles and soothers etc.  But what about the toys? All those plastic birthday & Christmas presents that go in their mouths and little hands likely contain BPA. Look for items that say BPA-free and thanks to the Internet, a quick Google search can point you in the right direction for safer toys. Check out this great list from Mommy Goes Green.

20 Amazing Uses for Tea Tree Oil

One of my favourite, multi-purpose items in my house is Tea Tree Oil.  And if you don't have a bottle in your cupboard, I highly recommend getting some ASAP.  This essential oil is not only great to diffuse in your home, but it has so many other amazing uses! It's anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and the list goes on and on.

Don't think you would ever use it? After you see my top 20 list, you might think again!

IMG_0732.JPEG

20 Amazing Uses for Tea Tree Oil

  1. Soothes and heals Sunburns - add 8-10 drops to some coconut oil and gently rub onto to your sunburn.
  2. Heals skin infections - bed sores, cysts, boils - apply a couple drops daily to the affected area.
  3. Treats Acne - rub a drop or 2 onto that nasty pimple and watch it disappear.
  4. Prevents Lice - add a few drops to your kids bath water or your shampoo to help keep those nasty bugs away.
  5. Removes Ticks - drop pure oil onto the tick, wait to minutes and remove.  Make sure to apply some oil to the puncture too.
  6. Antiseptic - use on small cuts or abrasions 
  7. Treats Ringworm
  8. Soothes Insect Bites
  9. Warts - soak a cotton ball with Tea Tree Oil and secure it with duct tape to the wart before bed. Remove in the morning and repeat nightly until the wart turns black.
  10. Toenail Fungus/ Athlete's Foot - apply daily for 1-2 months
  11. All-Purpose Cleaner - add 1-2 tsp of oil to a spray bottle and fill the rest with water.  Use to clean counters, yoga mats, desks, high chairs, car seats etc.
  12. Canker Sores - add 1-2 drops to a cotton swab and place on sore twice daily
  13. Dandruff - add 20-30 drops to any shampoo or add a few drops directly to scalp and massage after washing.
  14. Laundry Boost - add 1/2 tsp to washing machine when doing a load of towels or other mold prone fabrics.
  15. Ingrown Hairs
  16. Colds - add 10 drops of Tea Tree oil to a warm vapourizer and place in your room overnight.
  17. Skin Tags
  18. Insect Repellent - 15 drops added to a quart of water can work as an effective bug spray.
  19. Control Mold - add 2 tsp to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle and shake well. Spray on problem areas and do not rinse.
  20. Pest Control - ants and other pests don't like Tea Tree Oil, so place a few drops at the point of entry or try wiping out kitchen cupboards with a Tea Tree Oil/water solution to keeps ants away.

 And remember, all essential oils can be quite potent. Undiluted Tea Tree Oil can cause itchiness, irritation, and redness on sensitive skin. So, if you have sensitive skin, it is always safer to dilute the oil in another base oil such as coconut oil or olive oil.

What's your favourite Tea Tree Oil use?

Disclaimer: Although I am passionate about natural health care, I am not a medical professional.  This post is for educational and entertainment purposes only.

I Lost My Soap Making Virginity

Well, I can't go back now.  Just a few days ago something amazing happened....I lost it...my soap making virginity that is!  I don't know if it was the super moon or just some wonderfully good karma, but on Saturday I learned I was the winner of a spot in the Soap Making Workshop by Hummingbird Homestead Soaps!

I've always wanted to make my own soap, but the thought of using lye and the fear of messing up the recipe and ending up with a tub of slop kept me from attempting it on my own.  So what fabulous luck when my name got picked for the workshop!

The Soap Making class was held at this adorably eclectic vintage & DIY shop/studio called Operation Magpie in downtown London, ON.  It was the perfect setting for this small class.

IMG_0782.JPEG

Danielle from Hummingbird Homestead Soaps brought in all the oils, butters, scents and equipment and guided us through the process.

IMG_0783.JPEG

Our bars were made from Olive Oil, Castor Oil, Sunflower Oil, Coconut Oil, Palm Oil and Shea Butter.  We learned the Cold Process way to create soap and I couldn't believe how straight forward it was.  The only thing that was a little nerve wracking was mixing up the Lye & water, but once I got over my fear of causing a huge explosion, I discovered it actually wasn't bad at all.  You just need good ventilation and a mask, goggles and gloves.  All the chemical excitement was over in about a minute.

The workshop allowed each participant to make 2 - 1lb loaves of soap.  I opted for a tropical citrus scent for my first bar; Sweet Orange, Lime & Lemongrass essential oils mixed perfectly to create an uplifting and energizing scent.  For my second loaf I changed it up a bit and went for something a little spicier.  Cinnamon, Sweet Orange, Clove & Pine essential oils create a lovely fragrance that smells like autumn without being overpowering.

From start to finish the whole process took about 2.5 hrs.  We enjoyed learning about soap making and each other.  And of course we all had to ooh and aah over each others creations!

IMG_0784.JPEG

Hummingbird Homestead Soaps will be doing another workshop in the Fall and if you are the least bit curious about creating your own suds, I highly recommend signing up for it. Operation Magpie also offers various DIY classes so check out her site to learn more and I'm sure you'll be hooked on her amazing creations!

Disclaimer: A huge thank you to Hummingbird Homestead Soaps & Operation Magpie for the fabulous class.  I was not compensated for this post and as always, all opinions expressed are my own.

3 Natural Ways to Keep Your Yard Mosquito Free

IMG_0794.JPEG

So our bitterly cold and long winter didn't seem to affect our mosquito population here in Ontario.  In fact, they seem to be worse than ever.  Our new yard is full of beautiful cedars and evergreens and lots of other favorite hangouts for mosquitos.  We even have drain that runs through our property that I'm sure is like the neighbourhood gathering spot for those tiny blood suckers.

Even in broad daylight they have been eating us alive.  So much so that we haven't been able to spend time in our new backyard.  So I began my mission to find some natural ways to get rid of those bloody pests.

3 Natural Ways to Keep Your Yard Mosquito Free

Dry Things Out - Mosquitoes like to breed in standing water.  So keep your yard nice and dry to they don't have a spot to get jiggy with it.  Keep an eye out for kids toys, buckets and pots that are full of water.

IMG_0795.JPEG

Get Lemony - those little vampires don't seem to care for Citronella and Lemon Balm.  So stock your yard full of these yummy scented plants.  Keep them in planters or put them directly in your gardens.  I just planted a line in front of our cedars and have some giant ones in pots on the deck.  You can even rub the leaves to get some of the fragrant oil  to help keep those biters away.

IMG_0796.JPEG

Just Like Vampires - our last resort is Garlic Oil. Yup, just like how Vampires don't like garlic, apparently neither do mosquitoes.  I've purchased some pure Garlic Oil (99.3%) from our local feed store to treat our yard. You spray the perimeter, trees and bushes and the mosquitoes will hit the road.  And yes, your property may smell incredibly delicious, but the garlic smell disappears in a couple hours but it's repellent properties last much longer.  You'll have to stay tuned for my review, but I can tell you there were quite a few people in the feed store picking it up.

Have you got a favourite natural way to keep from getting eaten alive? Please share!

A Wonderfully Warm Welcome

IMG_0803.JPEG

Yesterday we popped out in the morning to run a few errands and grab a few groceries.  When we returned we were surprised to find a giant bag of goodies on our doorstep! What could it be? Who was it from?

The tag said Building Brydges and what a perfect tagline!  I guess this bag is our town's welcoming committee and it was so thoughtful.

IMG_0804.JPEG

Stella was chomping at the bit to see what was in this giant goodie bag!  This tote was filled with goodies from local businesses welcoming us to the neighbourhood.  There were mugs and pens, car car stuff and pet goodies and fabulous coupons for the local businesses.  We even got a quart of fresh tomatoes!

I have to say this simple gesture totally made my day.  I have been exploring the local merchants, but now with the full business directory and some great coupons I will definitely be doing more shopping in town.

IMG_0805.JPEG

So to who ever takes care of Building Brydges, I can honestly say Well Done and Thank You!  I've never in ANY of my previous homes received such a warm community welcome.

So thanks again!

Getting Ready for Gardening

With Spring just a day away, I started to get excited about digging in the dirt and getting my garden going.  This year will be a little different than usual as it looks like we'll be moving in May.  So for now, it will be wishful thinking until things firm up with the sale of our house and hopefully a purchase in the near future of a new home .

I really want to grow some veggies this year. I had plans for turning my front yard into a vegetable garden but not sure the new owners would be so keen.  I'm thinking I'll start some seeds and then transplant them to our new home.  But I can't go overboard as we're looking at downsizing and I know I won't have a giant yard.

Here's a great info graphic for starting seeds and when to transplant them.  I need to check out my seed stash and see what I've got so far.  Anything in particular you want to grow and eat this year?

Sow What?

Since our living arrangements are uncertain at the moment I've been looking for creative ways to garden with limited space.

  I love the look of pallets and I have my fingers crossed I can make this in the Spring - small yard or not, I just love it!

Pallet Garden in 7 Easy Steps

And this would be perfect for my Herb Garden!

Vertical Gardening, Clever!

DIY Vertical Planter

And don't forget a little pop of colour too!

Unusual Vertical Garden

Vertical Garden

I can totally see this hanging on the front porch!

Love this

DIY Hanging Planter

Have you started dreaming about Spring?  What's on your To-Do list for your garden this year?  If you're looking for more ideas, check out my Gardening Board on Pinterest!