Category Archives: Sustainability

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 Air Fresheners Bad For You?

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Spring is in the air and so is the thought of Spring Cleaning and generally freshening up our indoor spaces, as well as the outdoor ones. One item that many people will use in the Winter to freshen up their spaces are air fresheners. Unfortunately they are quite hazardous, as they are full of some nasty chemicals, such as phthalates, which are used to make the scents last longer. Believe it or not, some fresheners labelled “all-natural” or “unscented” had the highest levels of phthalates!
The problem with phthalates are that they are part of a group of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, which affect the hormones in your body and may, in time, lead to illness. Other endocrine disruptors are some pesticides like DDT and (now well known) BPA used as a plastic softener in water bottles as well as PCB’s and dioxin which are industrial chemicals. Endocrine disruptors affect our bodies by either binding with our own hormone receptors, or by blocking the binding of our natural hormones or by affecting the metabolism of our hormones. Either way, the end result is that our hormone levels become screwed up, leading to, among other symptoms – acne, hot flashes, headaches, PMS and mood swings. Phthalates themselves affect our reproductive systems and are especially hazardous for pregnant women and babies where they have been shown (in test mammals) to have anti-androgen activity which may cause feminization in boys.
So, why bother with air fresheners at all? The simplest thing to do is open the windows and allow fresh air to circulate. In areas with persistent odours, such as closets and areas where sports equipment is kept, try keeping an open box of baking soda to absorb odours. For a quick refresh, you can put a couple of drops of essential oil on a light bulb and switch it on for a couple of hours to add a pleasant, all-natural scent to the air. Do yourself and your family a favour and throw out those air fresheners!

Check out this article on phthalates in many commercial air fresheners.

 

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.

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!

Image of Leftover Beef 'n' Barley Soup in Slow Cooker

Waste Not, Want Not!

Frugal Living – Don’t waste so much food!

If we were to live more frugally, like our Grandparents did, we would be richer, healthier, less stressed and happier. Of course that generation had other challenges and issues – wars, disease, etc. but some of those old-fashioned habits might serve us well today.
One of the easiest habits that we seem to have forgotten is not wasting food by using up leftovers. I find it quite shocking that Canadians waste $27 million per year in food which is thrown out in the garbage. Check out this CBC story that has some helpful tips on reducing this waste.
Planning your food shopping to optimize both your food budget and your time budget just makes sense in these crazy-busy and way more stressful times than our Grandparents ever had.
Setting aside one morning or evening of a weekend to plan, shop, pre-prepare, pre-package and even pre-cut some items seems to me a fair exchange for the stress of not having a clue what’s for dinner tonight, and, sadly, all too often just going the easier but unhealthier way of eating out or take-away.
Try it for a week and see.
Send me comments – positive and negative, on your experiences with meal planning/ creative leftovers.

Now here’s one of my favourite yummy Fall recipes to use up leftovers. The smell when you get home from work is unbelievable!

Image of ingredients for Leftover Beef 'n' Barley Soup

Basic ingredients for leftover Beef ‘n’ Barley soup

Image of Leftover Beef 'n' Barley Soup in Slow Cooker

Such delicious soup – from leftovers!

Beef ‘n’ Barley Soup from leftovers
Ingredients:
Leftover beef rib bones from prime rib roast (previously gnawed upon is fine)
Beef marrow bones (optional) I get them with my freezer beef order. They add richness to the soup.
Onion, celery, carrot, garlic, green pepper, sweet potato (can be wilted or gnarly, doesn’t matter)
1/2 cup pot or pearl barley
Leftover vegetables – I used leftover squash and leftover baked potatoes
Tomato passata (puréed tomatoes) or you can use a couple of fresh tomatoes that are mushy or not attractive anymore. Just chop ‘em up and throw them in.
Beef bouillon cube
Paprika, Bay Leaf, Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce ( preferably dark mushroom soy sauce)
Boiling water to fill slow cooker
Method:
Put everything in the slow cooker. Cook on high 4 hours or 6 hours on low.
At this time of year – be grateful for what you have! So many, many people have nothing, so please consider donating a bag of groceries to your local food bank when you go to the grocery store or give generously to a charity that feeds poverty or war-stricken people such as the Red Cross. And have a Happy Thanksgiving!