Category Archives: Environment

Strawberry Picking in August? Yes!

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Well I bet you’ve never seen this before? I know I haven’t. Farmer Larry Pegg of Homestead Orchards in Georgina saw this type of hydroponic strawberry set-up in England and decided to try it 3 years ago. This year is his first viable crop and it’s a bumper one. As with anything brand new there are bound to be hiccups and this year it was an earwig infestation. Farmer Larry devised a very creative pesticide-free method of dealing with the pesky bugs – tuna tins with a little of the tuna left in the bottom and covered with a half inch of oil. The earwigs fall in and can’t get out!
The type of strawberry planted in these greenhouses is an everbearing strawberry, which means we’ll be able to pick strawberries right through to November. They are very easy to pick as they hang at waist level. You just have to be very careful and use a pair of snippers (provided). The taste is astonishing. Probably the most flavourful strawberry I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve eaten quite a few!
If you’re in Georgina you must give them a try, as well as their u-pick apples which start in September. (note to Islanders – Homestead Orchards is off Woodbine just 5 km East on Old Homestead – worth the detour!)

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you have to snip the strawberries carefully from the stem

 

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and in no time flat you have 2 quarts of super delicious berries

 

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Before and After

In the last week I have had so many requests for before and after pictures of my cottage bedroom and dresser that I thought I should comply.
These photos were joined together using an iPhone app called Pic Jointer which is super easy to use. The Before and After text was added using an app called Overgram, which has, as you can see, a watermark. There’s another app called Over which doesn’t leave a watermark.

This first set of pictures are of my potted tomato plant that I planted on May 22, and the After picture was taken on July 30, so about two months later. The After picture does not really show how enormous this tomato plant is. It is well over 5′ tall and has roughly 50 tomatoes on it!
My secret, you ask? Well, if I told this to my parent’s or grandparent’s generation no doubt they would chuckle at my ignorance in terms of reducing, re-using and recycling. You see, for the past couple of months, since living in our little cottage, by necessity I have been watering my outdoor plants using my kitchen sink “slops” – the rinse water from i.e. my blender after making my morning smoothie, rinsing fruit and vegetables and from hand washing dishes. This is because I have no outdoor spigot or hose so rather than use watering can after watering can of tap water, I thought I would just recycle some waste water that would just be going down the drain. The plants absolutely LOVE it. I have never had such a good crop. This can partly be explained by the fact that tomatoes, more than other plants, really require a steady moisture level in the soil. They don’t like to dry out completely, nor be flooded all the time, so a daily “slops” regimen at approximately the same times every day is just the sort of routine that allows for their optimal growth. I have not used any other fertilizer at all, just the kitchen waste water. Amazing! I will definitely be doing this again next summer and I recommend you to try it too. It’s just one of those old-fashioned practices that have fallen out of favour but which makes a whole lot of sense in terms of recycling.
And, of course, here also are the much requested before and after pictures of my cottage bedroom and dresser:

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Are you looking for a new Yoga Mat?

image of tpe yoga mats

Are you in the market for a new yoga mat? I needed a new one last year and did some research on some of the typical materials used to produce yoga mats. I found some better and worse choices out on the marketplace.
For around $15 you can get a PVC yoga mat, but this is probably your worst choice in terms of both your health and the environment. The ‘plastic’ or ‘chemical’ smell released from your new yoga mat is due to the off-gassing of chemicals from the vinyl product. Toxic chemical off-gassing from PVC products are said to contribute to respiratory irritation, damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys, nausea, headaches and loss of coordination. Phthalates, a group of chemicals which are endocrine disruptors, are added to the PVC to make it soft and flexible. Also, over time, it breaks down, releasing dioxin, which is very toxic. To add insult to injury, after you throw it out, it sits in the landfill for about 500 years. Do you really want your yoga mat choice to make such an impact on the environment?
The other choices out on the market are latex, also called rubber, which is a natural material harvested from rubber trees. This is a great choice, environmentally speaking. However, if you have a latex allergy, as I do, then it’s not a good personal choice. There is also a smell associated with rubber mats that can take a while to dissipate, and they are the most expensive mats on the marketplace as well. Rubber mats are available at sporting goods stores, such as Mountain Equipment Co-Op or Lululemon.
TPE or thermoplastic elastomer is a good option for a couple of reasons. It breaks down in the landfill after you’re done with it, doesn’t smell at all after about a week, is nice and “grippy” which is great for any type of ashtanga or vinyasa yoga, and is almost as inexpensive as the PVC mats.
This was the choice that I went with about a year ago, and I am very pleased with it. I paid $20 at Winners (a TJX store like TJMaxx in the States or TKMaxx in England). It has performed extremely well over the last year, with no signs of degradation. I do, however, always use a yoga towel on top of it, which I find much more hygienic as I can easily wash the towel whereas the mat itself is tricky to wash and dry. If you do wash your mat, make sure NOT to dry it in the sun, as this will cause some degradation to start.
So do yourself and the environment a favour and choose a yoga mat which degrades in the landfill.

 

image of pvc mats

PVC mats at Winners – nearly the same price, but a lot harder on the environment.

 

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yoga towel

 

Which Countertop to choose? It’s so confusing!

We are spoiled for choice when it comes to counter tops, that’s for sure. There are so many different products on the market and it becomes confusing if you are trying to figure out which way to go because it’s such a major decision. A counter top is not something that is easily changed when you get tired of it.

Image of lots of different colour choices for Difiniti Quartz

Lots of Colour and Texture choices from Difiniti Quartz

Also, which choices are better for the environment?
Here is a listing of some of the major choices and their environmental impact:
Concrete: the “greenest” choice by far, if it’s produced properly with less Portland cement and more recycled glass content. This choice has come a long way since the days when if you wanted concrete counters, you pretty much had to do it yourself. It is warm to the touch. Similar pricing to high-end granite, depending on complexity of design. Locally manufactured.
Cons: counter edges, especially fancy designs, are prone to chipping and can be repaired, but not invisibly. You do have to reseal, but only every 3 years, depending on usage.
Granite: very popular because it provides that natural, stone look. Extremely durable – it is stone, after all! Easy maintenance – contrary to popular belief, it does not stain, nor do you have to seal it every year. I have had mine for 15 years, never sealed it, nor do I do anything other than wipe it down with a natural cleaning product and I use Method “the daily granite” spray once a week.
Cons: it comes from overseas so the impact on the environment because of shipping it is huge.
Quartz: Brand names are Zodiaq, Cambria, Silestone, Caesarstone, Difiniti.
All quartzes are basically recycled glass/minerals held together by resins of some type. Zero maintenance, does not stain, comes in a great variety of colours, and is warmer than granite to the touch. Manufactured fairly locally and re-uses glass. Difiniti quartz uses up to 43% recycled glass (in the Evolve line), and is 40% less expensive than Cambria.
Paperstone: fabulous, truly “Green” product made of 100% recycled paper. It is extremely tough and durable but the major “con” is it’s so prohibitively expensive that most people are not using it yet. It likely will come down in price eventually.
Laminate: Brand names are Formica, Wilsonart. Price-wise, it is the cheapest choice of all and is very durable if taken care of properly. Not heat-proof so you cannot set a hot pot down on it, and the surface wears off with time and cleaning. Comes in the largest variety of colours and finishes with Formica180FX looking so much like granite you have to touch it to believe it.
Major con: the substrate beneath the laminate is almost always either particleboard or MDF, which off-gasses for years. However, it’s really easy to avoid this off-gassing by using a zero-VOC sealer, available at any paint or hardware store, all over the bottom of the countertop, preferably before it’s installed, but I have heard of people getting into their kitchen cabinets and doing it after the fact too.
Soapstone and Slate: both are natural, locally mined products that look quite similar, with the major difference being that soapstone is extremely durable, does not stain and requires no sealing (Chemistry lab counters are made of soapstone) while slate scratches, dents and stains easily and is the most expensive countertop material.
Cons: more expensive than granite, comes in two colours: grey and grey.
Corian: My least favourite. It’s expensive, stains, scratches easily so you are forever sanding it. I don’t know why people are still using it with all the newer quartz products on the market.
Marble: not a good choice for kitchens as it stains very easily and looks very grungy around the sink in less than a year. Better for use in a bathroom instead, although you do have to seal it periodically. Also a huge environmental impact due to shipping it.
Whichever countertop you decide on, make sure your contractor uses zero-VOC adhesive, to install it. These types of adhesives can be used in all countertop installations and make a big difference to your comfort and health after the product is installed.

Natural Cleaners

Isn’t it wonderful that four times a year – Spring and Summer, Fall and Winter, our bodies follow a natural circannual rhythm to prepare us for the season ahead. In the Fall it causes us to want to eat more carb and fat-laden foods and to want to clean up our “nests” to prepare for hibernation.
This rhythm is regulated primarily by the amount of sunlight hitting the retina, so if you are experiencing sleep abnormalities at this time of year, you might want to take an early morning walk without wearing sunglasses. I’ve tried doing that for a week and it has certainly helped.

This is the second great clean-up time of the year. The first being Spring, when we really want to clean up from the Winter’s excesses, and the second in the Fall, when we want to clean up from Summer’s excesses.
The garden has pretty much died and needs to be cleaned up.
The house is looking pretty grimy and needs more attention than a weekly “going over”. Windows need washing, closets need going through, with summer clothes cleaned properly, stored and exchanged for winter ones.
Furnace filters and smoke alarm batteries need changing.
When it comes to cleaners – buyer beware! There are a lot of cleaners out on the market today that purport to be “all natural”, “green”, “phosphate free”, “biodegradable”, etc. etc. Sometimes, they just have a picture of flowers on the packaging, but they’re not “green” at all.
Like with anything else, you must use your common sense and read the labels. Considering that phosphates have been banned for more than 20 years, the value of the term “Phosphate Free” on advertising is nil.
What you really need to look for on the package is:
Third party certification: look for logos such as the Ecologo or Ecocert.
Biodegradable OECD 301 E or D in 28 days or less
Recyclable packaging, also made from recyclable materials.
Phthalate free, petrochemical free.
A list of all the ingredients. This is not mandatory yet, but some companies disclose them.
Some odd but effective cleaning materials I have found to work well:

Image of soapnuts

Don’t try to eat these soapnuts!

Image of Himalayan Soapnuts

Himalayan Soapnuts for Laundry

                                                                                                                                                                                 Ecoideas Himalayan Soap Nuts. They are the outside part of the seed of the Sapindus Mukorossi tree, a relative of the Lychee nut native to India.
You put 4-6 of these dried soapnuts in with your load of washing in cold water. They work well in an HE machine, as well as a regular machine and are great for preserving the colours of clothes. They come with a little cotton bag to put them in but I have found through experience that a piece of old panythose works much better at keeping them contained.

Image of pantyhose with soapnuts inside

soapnuts in pantyhose, ready for the washer

You can dry and re-use the nuts (right in the pantyhose) another 4 times. Then you just cut open the pantyhose and dispose of them with your kitchen compost. This product is also available as a liquid if you don’t like the idea of putting soapnuts in your washer.
Another product that I think is really great, for many reasons, is Ecoideas BioGreen crystals. Along with being very effective cleaners, they are completely non-toxic, hypo-allergenic and come in a small package. You drop the concentrated crystals into an empty spray bottle, top up with water and you have a whole bottle of cleaner, or stain remover or window washer or what have you.
Both these products are available at Goodness MeImage of  Biogreen crystals

If you’re ready to give up using dryer fabric softener sheets (which aren’t that good for you, or the environment), try Natura fabric softener cloths. They are available at Home Hardware. You just leave them in your dryer permanently, and they last for years and years.
No, I don’t work for or get endorsements from Ecoideas, or Natura, I just like their products.
Or – Make Your Own!
Since you may have already cut up some panythose to put your soapnuts in, you might want to try making your own dryer balls. I have not tried this yet, but I intend to as, apparently, using 3 of these recycled wool balls with your dryer load allows you to consume 30% less electricity. And you know what an electricity miser I am!
Check out this website as well for tips and tricks on making your own natural cleaners. It seems simple enough, and I like the idea of having a spray bottle of (safe) cleaner on my counter all-purpose spraycleaner recipe. For a recipe for homemade, natural liquid laundry detergent that seems very simple to make, check out this link
I haven’t tried these recipes yet, but I intend to, just to see how effective they are.

What is a Quality Sofa?

How much does a sofa cost? What makes this sofa better than that one? Why does it cost more?

Image of the showroom at Gresham House furniture

These are questions I hear from my clients all the time. It’s confusing for consumers when it’s time to purchase new furniture. Not only do they have to pick a frame style and size, but then the covering fabric options can be almost limitless. Add to that the seating options – firm, soft, polyester, latex, feathers, down. It can become really daunting.

Firstly the Frame:

It’s really important, when considering sustainability and health, to go with a solid kiln-dried hardwood frame. There are a lot of other choices out on the market today, including solid plastic frames, but none has stood the test of time like hardwood. Furniture in museums from hundreds of years ago was built with hardwood frames. A hardwood frame will allow you to have the piece re-upholstered when the fabric wears out. Plastic or MDF frames do not have this option.

Image of upholstering a frame at Gresham House Furniture
Attention to every little detail is the hallmark of Gresham House

Seating:

For both health and sustainability, latex and feathers/down are the best options. Low quality polyester foam is extremely hazardous in terms of flammability and toxic fumes when in a fire. It also off-gasses toxic fumes for years when new. These fumes have been linked to various cancers, especially Breast cancer, and may also cause endocrine disruptions to you and future generations. Latex and high quality soy foam, feathers/down as well as wool, cotton and kapok are natural materials and are safer for you and your family.

picture of soy foam
High quality soy foam
Image of cotton batting
Cotton batting is used for cushioning

Fabrics:

A typical sofa requires 20 yards of covering fabric, 20 yards of lining, 15 yards of muslin and 10 yards of burlap. That’s over 65 yards of fabric! The lining, cushioning, muslin and burlap are normally natural fabrics but the covering fabric can be anything. The healthiest options are definitely the natural fabrics such as hemp, linen, wool, cotton and silk, listed in order of strength of the fabric fibre. All of these natural fibres also wick away moisture, regulate body heat, are durable and beautiful, and will decompose in the landfill, unlike synthetic fibres such as polyester and acrylic. Both polyester and acrylic fibres, while they may have a lot of strength, can off-gas for many years. Toxic monomer molecules may be trapped between the fibres that, even in very small quantities, are highly toxic when absorbed into the skin during contact.

Image of furniture on the showroom floor at Gresham House
So many beautiful styles at Gresham House

Manufacture: Local vs. Big Brand name

Canadian custom-made sofa manufacturers produce limited amounts of furniture in a craftsman-like way, where every piece of wood in the frame, every piece of fabric which is cut to cover the sofa has YOUR name on it. It’s made for you, and customized for you, using top quality materials and employing people locally. Yes, it’s going to cost more money than furniture from a big-box store which often comes from the tropics where the wood, foam and fabrics may have questionable origins and where the labour force may not make a living wage.

Is it worth it? Well, that all depends on your budget and priorities. If your budget is very small, then often the cheap and cheerful Ikea piece may be your only option, and that is perfectly fine. We ALL started with Ikea, I’m sure. But if you are looking for excellent quality, investment pieces that will last you a lifetime, and last through many children and grand-children jumping all over it, custom-made is the way to go. A custom sofa can be nearly the same price as a production one because it all depends on the fabric, but you normally need to consider spending twice to three times as much and also whether you are at a stage in your life that you can afford and appreciate it. A warning though: ask lots of questions about where your sofa is coming from and what the frame actually is. In recent years, due to the tough economic climate, some Big Brand manufacturers have converted to offshore production and plastic frames, but have kept the high prices as if they were still custom manufacturing. In this case, you’re only paying for the big name. Remember, a plastic frame can never be re-upholstered. This is where a qualified professional – interior designer or decorator can prove invaluable – navigating you through your many choices so you end up with a quality piece of furniture that fits your space, your style and your budget and can be healthier too!

What is a Quality Sofa?

How much does a sofa cost? What makes this sofa better than that one? Why does it cost more?

Image of the showroom at Gresham House furniture

Gorgeous furniture at Gresham House Furniture in Mississauga

These are questions I hear from my clients all the time. It’s confusing for consumers when it’s time to purchase new furniture. Not only do they have to pick a frame style and size, but then the covering fabric options can be almost limitless. Add to that the seating options – firm, soft, polyester, latex, feathers, down. It can become really daunting.

Firstly the Frame:

It’s really important, when considering sustainability and health, to go with a solid kiln-dried hardwood frame. There are a lot of other choices out on the market today, including solid plastic frames, but none has stood the test of time like hardwood. Furniture in museums from hundreds of years ago was built with hardwood frames. A hardwood frame will allow you to have the piece re-upholstered when the fabric wears out. Plastic or MDF frames do not have this option.

Image of upholstering a frame at Gresham House Furniture

Attention to every little detail is the hallmark of Gresham House

Seating:

For both health and sustainability, latex and feathers/down are the best options. Low quality polyester foam is extremely hazardous in terms of flammability and toxic fumes when in a fire. It also off-gasses toxic fumes for years when new. These fumes have been linked to various cancers, especially Breast cancer, and may also cause endocrine disruptions to you and future generations. Latex and high quality soy foam, feathers/down as well as wool, cotton and kapok are natural materials and are safer for you and your family.

picture of soy foam

High quality soy foam

Image of cotton batting

Cotton batting is used for cushioning

Fabrics:

A typical sofa requires 20 yards of covering fabric, 20 yards of lining, 15 yards of muslin and 10 yards of burlap. That’s over 65 yards of fabric! The lining, cushioning, muslin and burlap are normally natural fabrics but the covering fabric can be anything. The healthiest options are definitely the natural fabrics such as hemp, linen, wool, cotton and silk, listed in order of strength of the fabric fibre. All of these natural fibres also wick away moisture, regulate body heat, are durable and beautiful, and will decompose in the landfill, unlike synthetic fibres such as polyester and acrylic. Both polyester and acrylic fibres, while they may have a lot of strength, can off-gas for many years. Toxic monomer molecules may be trapped between the fibres that, even in very small quantities, are highly toxic when absorbed into the skin during contact.

Image of furniture on the showroom floor at Gresham House

So many beautiful styles at Gresham House

Manufacture: Local vs. Big Brand name

Canadian custom-made sofa manufacturers produce limited amounts of furniture in a craftsman-like way, where every piece of wood in the frame, every piece of fabric which is cut to cover the sofa has YOUR name on it. It’s made for you, and customized for you, using top quality materials and employing people locally. Yes, it’s going to cost more money than furniture from a big-box store which often comes from the tropics where the wood, foam and fabrics may have questionable origins and where the labour force may not make a living wage.

Is it worth it? Well, that all depends on your budget and priorities. If your budget is very small, then often the cheap and cheerful Ikea piece may be your only option, and that is perfectly fine. We ALL started with Ikea, I’m sure. But if you are looking for excellent quality, investment pieces that will last you a lifetime, and last through many children and grand-children jumping all over it, custom-made is the way to go. A custom sofa can be nearly the same price as a production one because it all depends on the fabric, but you normally need to consider spending twice to three times as much and also whether you are at a stage in your life that you can afford and appreciate it. A warning though: ask lots of questions about where your sofa is coming from and what the frame actually is. In recent years, due to the tough economic climate, some Big Brand manufacturers have converted to offshore production and plastic frames, but have kept the high prices as if they were still custom manufacturing. In this case, you’re only paying for the big name. Remember, a plastic frame can never be re-upholstered. This is where a qualified professional – interior designer or decorator can prove invaluable – navigating you through your many choices so you end up with a quality piece of furniture that fits your space, your style and your budget and can be healthier too!