Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Handmade Easter Basket Gift Ideas

As an avid gardener, I am always thrilled to welcome spring! In our household, we tend to focus our Easter celebration on the joys of the season that lie ahead. Farms awaken and buzz with activity to prepare for the upcoming growing season, birds build their nests to nurture new life, and slowly the snow melts away to expose flower bulbs pushing up through the newly warmed soil. By February, I am usually brimming with excitement planning my garden and our Easter celebration. However, despite all the anticipation that the change of seasons brings, I always have a heavy heart when I think of traditional Easter celebrations. More than any other holiday, I think that it is typically the most problematic when it comes to environmental impact. For one brief moment every year, lawns are littered with plastic eggs, and candy is nestled into baskets overflowing with shreds of green plastic. My first Easter blog post offered numerous ideas for dying eggs naturally, filling baskets and many DIY ideas. This time, I wanted to focus strictly on handmade gift ideas. I am always inclined to gift a few quality, heirloom items over disposable ones. I am passionate about supporting artisans and crafters, and I think any of these offerings from these talented artists would make exceptional Easter gifts.

From handmade, small batch chocolate to baskets, these essentials support small businesses and keep plastic out of the environment. Hide small treasures in hand painted wooden eggs, or line your basket with a gorgeous grass green playsilk instead of traditional plastic "grass."  

Top Row: Solid Wooden Eggs by Sunny Sprout; Handmade Baskets by Cole Mama Creations
Middle Row: Grass Green Playsilk by Beneath the Rowan Tree; Personalized Easter Bags by Bigoudibigouda 
Bottom Row: Floppy Earred Chocolate Bunny by Laughing Moon Chocolates; Hollow Wooden Eggs by Simple Gifts Toys

Looking for one special gift to celebrate the start of spring? This barn by Hearthside Toys is just the thing, with plenty of space for all of your child's farm animals. It has roomy, open access from all sides to make it easy for more than one child to play at the same time. As with all of Hearthside Toys buildings, it assembles to a sturdy structure without tools and slips apart to store in a flat pile when not in use.

What child wouldn't love these adorable, handcrafted treasures?  Perfect to nestle into your basket!

Top Row: Easter Bunny Ball by Beneath the Rowan Tree; Felt Goat by Hollys Meadow; Easter Egg Toy by Beneath the Rowan Tree
Bottom Row: Hens and Rooster, Woodland Creatures and Ducklings by Eve's Little Earthlings

Spark your child's imagination with these delightful spring-themed wooden creations.

Top Row: Hiding Easter Rabbit by Brin D'Bois; Bees and Hive by Two Raccoon Hollow
Middle Row: Woodland Creatures by You're Inspired; Woodland Creatures by Two Raccoon Hollow
Bottom Row: Butterfly and Duck Pond by Two Raccoon Hollow

Things don't get much cuter than these cuddly handmade lovies! Another special gift for the child in your life.

Left to Right: Heavy Bunny Baby by Mimi's Designs; Organic Sheep by Pingvini; Baby Snail by Calinette; Felt Easter Bunny by Jenn Sews Felt

I can't think of anything more springlike than being outside. These handmade toys will inspire children get outdoors and enjoy the spring!

Top Row: These Bird ID Rings and many more wonderful springtime goodies can be found at Tanglewood Hollow; Wooden Slingshot with Felt Balls by From Jennifer
Bottom Row: Wooden Bow and Arrow Set by From Jennifer; Bird Whistle by Sue Canizares Ceramics

Friday, January 1, 2016

Snug Organics Sleeper Review

When I set out to do a review of this Snug Organics sleeper, I thought I was just going to be writing about a warm and cozy sleeper that was free of harmful chemicals. I had no idea that this single creation was going to bring me numerous blissful nights of uninterrupted sleep! For the past 2 years that my daughter has been in her own room, she has never stayed there until morning more than 2 nights in a row. Those nights would be incredibly sporadic, and the glorious times when she might do it twice in a row were even fewer and farther between. That is, UNTIL we received this sleeper...this bundle of soft, organic warmth and goodness.

Initially I thought it was merely a coincidence, until she started doing it every...single...time she wore the sleeper to bed, and the very next night if she was not in the sleeper, she would wake up and come into our room. So then I really put it to the test. She wore it 5 nights in a row! And every night, she slept in her bed until we woke her up in the morning. I thought, "Surely she must be going through a new phase in her life and maybe the night waking is over." until I put her in her warmest cotton PJ's the next night, and she was up again. Not once has she gotten up in the night while wearing the sleeper.

Why could this be happening? My only conclusion is that this sleeper is so warm, so snuggly and so incredibly comfy that she stays cozy and blissfully asleep all night long. She has a tendency to kick her covers off while she sleeps, so I usually go in and cover her back up before we head to bed. She typically wakes up about an hour or two before our alarm goes off, so by then she's probably cold from having no covers on all night.

All of this was such an unexpected bonus to what already was an incredible product. Snug Organics is based out of Denver, Colorado, and all of their products are made in the USA - cut and sewn by a women's collaborative. Made of soft, organic cotton fleece, they are free of flame retardants and great for the environment.

Why cotton fleece? "The Invisible Nightmare in Your Fleece" discusses the dangers of synthetic fibers making their way to our waterways, after a 2012 study estimated that laundry water was sending 2 billion microfibers per second into Europe's waters.
"Of course, wool and cotton clothing sheds fibers, too. But those materials biodegrade. Plastics contain potentially harmful additives and can absorb toxins, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's), that they encounter floating in waterways - and then get ingested by small organism, crustceans, and fish. These particles can accumulate in the animals' guts and tissues, potentially weakening immunity or disrupting their endocrine systems. Less is known about how that payload may accumulate up the foodchain." 
We've been using the sleeper for months now, and while I do air dry it, it has remained soft and durable. It has held up through many washes and still looks like new. I'm sure after one season of wear, it could easily be passed along to another child, and probably another after that! They are extremely well made and as I noted above, very warm and comfy. My daughter has been making me hurry it through the wash so she can wear it again. My very tall, 5 year old daughter is wearing a size 6, which is the size of most of her other clothing. Hopefully you will all appreciate how amusing this photo is. I could not get her to loosen up! And the sleeve are cuffed only because she was being fussy about it, they would've been fine unrolled and she wears them unrolled all the time now.

So if you're looking for something to keep your kids extra warm this winter, without chemicals and made of natural materials - look no further. Snug Organics has sleeper sizes all the way up to a size 8! They also sell sherpa overalls and top and bottoms sets in smaller sizes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Eco-Friendly Birthday Party Favors and Crafts

Ever since I embarked on the parental rite of passage of throwing children's birthday parties, I have struggled with what to do about party favors.  There is a growing movement to nix these once obligatory party staples, and I fully support that effort because goody bags often consist of throw away plastic items that are hardly used.  Since I strive to live a plastic-free lifestyle, it's pretty much the last thing I want to send home with people.  However, I still feel that nagging sense of duty to send the guests home with something, and hope that one day I can let go and embrace the party favor-free birthday.

Most recently, I opted to do something that could serve as an activity for the party, and the finished product could be sent home with the guest that made it.  I have organized this post with examples of such activities, as well as store bought items that are nontoxic and eco-friendly.  Some of the store bought favors could definitely be DIY ones as well, if you feel so inclined.

This is an image of the set up for my daughter's last birthday.  I flipped some crates over on the ground, put a sheet of plywood on top, and covered it with some old fabric.  Since the guests were 3-6 years old I had all of this prepared ahead of time, but older kids could certainly fill the pots with soil on their own.  When they were finished, we passed around a few watering cans to give the freshly planted flowers a drink, and the children brought home what they planted.  While it's not exactly a "craft," it was something that served as both an activity and a party favor.

This birdfeeder project from Mommy Gaga is great for kids of all ages, and if a guest has a peanut allergy, you could always substitute sunflower butter.  

Decorating tote bags is an easy and useful project.  You can get a kit complete with markers like the one pictured on the left from GoodsInFabric on Etsy, or go to Ko-Ko-Ko Kids blog and find different ways to make stamps out of fruit.  

Make it Do has a lot of wonderful ideas for throwing a woodland themed birthday party, including painting these birdhouses.  They are very inexpensive at craft stores like Michaels, and make for a sweet take home gift.

I am in love with these little pompom bunnies and cardboard purses, both from the very creative blog ikatbag. I found some additional pompom making tutorial/photos at kraftcroch.

Clockwise from top left:

I LOVE Stubby Pencil Studio!  If you're looking for eco-friendly, cute toys to send home with your guests, this is the place to look.  They also have numerous craft and school supplies.  If you've never checked them out, you definitely are missing out!

You can find Fingermajigs in different designs (including dinosaur and fairy) as well as these adorable animal stamps at Magic Cabin.

These are only available in the UK, but they were too cute not to include!  Plus, I think I have some fans overseas that this may help.  Party Ark has numerous cute little wooden trinkets to include in your party favor bags.

Whatever you choose, hopefully this post will give you some new ways to approach the idea of a traditional goody bag.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Definitive Guide to Safe Seeds: GMO Free Suppliers, Seed Starting Tips and Why There's More Than Monsanto to Avoid

So you're looking to start your own garden, and want to avoid the seedlings sold at just about every retailer out there in the spring that are sprayed with god knows what (like bee killing pesticides). You've heard about Monsanto and GMO's, and would like to avoid those too.  Unfortunately, the seed world is overrun with confusing information.  I even found a largely circulated list of 131 heirloom seed companies that contained many big names - even Burpee!?!  (Just because they sell heirloom seeds doesn't mean they don't also sell things from some of the most awful companies known to man)

I decided to get to the bottom of it all for some more definitive answers.  The further I went down the rabbit hole, the more conflicting the information I found.  For instance, Monsanto is commonly associated with GMO's.  What many do not know is that in 2005 Monsanto purchased a major seed supplier called Seminis.  Many Seminis seeds are GMO free. What this means is that companies can sell seeds that are GMO free, even sign the Safe Seed Pledge, but are still selling Monsanto owned seeds.  Yes, companies like Johnny's Selected Seeds can have all the pages they want on their website with staff photos and info about their employee owned company, and it's true - Monsanto does not technically own them or any other seed retailer.  Regardless of company ownership, the fact of the matter is that they still fill the Monsanto coffers by selling the Seminis seeds that Monsanto owns.  (If you poke around on the Seminis site, you will notice the contact information for many of the people on there have Monsanto email addresses.

Unfortunately, Monsanto is not the only player in the seed game consumers may be interested in avoiding.  Companies like Syngenta and Bayer (and Bayer's subsidiary "HILD") are being largely blamed for the decline of the bee population, when the pesticides they produce, neonicotinoids, were linked to "damaging the nervous system of bees and other pollinators."  They have ignored requests to halt the manufacturing of such chemicals and are challenging an EU ban in court.  More recently, the pesticides were also found that they may be harmful to the developing brains of unborn babies. Syngenta and Bayer are also big international players in the GMO game as well as producing all kinds of fun chemicals for us to consume. In fact, Syngenta is the number one producer of crop chemicals - a fact you hear rarely hear even from those rallying against Monsanto. Not long ago, Bayer was the number one producer.  It is worth mentioning that DuPont is equally nefarious, however, at least as far as I could tell they are not involved in selling any seeds directly to home gardeners.  They prefer to "limit" their poisons to commercial use only, where their products can reach everyone worldwide.

Companies like Park Seed, Burpee, Ferry Morse, Stokes...all the big ones should be avoided if any of this is concerning to you. Just for kicks I emailed Gurney's and was told, "Contractual agreements do not permit us to give the names of our vendors." What I found quite upsetting were the number of companies that have SIGNED the safe seed pledge that are still selling seeds from the companies mentioned above.  Again, because Seminis and Syngenta do produce GMO free seeds, they can get away with this.  I by no means contacted every company on this list, but I did contact just about every one that had a website listed that seemed to have a substantial seed selection, unless it was very clearly defined on their website where their seeds came from (and even some of those I double checked).  I was really disheartened to find that even smaller companies like Osborne Seed sold seeds from all three companies.

I asked each company if any of their seeds were sourced from Seminis, Syngenta or Bayer, and if any of their seeds came from China.

  • Fedco - phased out Seminis in 2009, but via email confirmation, "We do continue to offer seeds from Syngenta.  There are probably 20-25 varieties in our catalog from them them including a number of best-sellers such as Masai bean and Raven hybrid zucchine.  We have a supplier code in our catalog and all the Syngenta varieties are coded as 5, meaning they are from a multinational company that does research in genetic engineering.  We never knowingly offer any GMO varieties of seeds." 
  • Territorial Seeds - I should note that initially I was told they did not carry Syngenta seeds, and when I emailed them a second time to confirm their seeds were not from China, I got this response, "I need to correct the comment made previously about not getting seeds from Syngenta.  We do get about 25 seed varieties from Syngenta."
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds - email confirmation they still sell Seminis varieties and also Syngenta seeds
  • Jung Seed - list their Seminis varieties here
  • A Cook's Garden - not phasing out Seminis and is owned by George Ball, the same owner of Burpee (see notice here)
  • Osborne Seed Company (via email confirmation - Seminis, Syngenta and HILD)
  • Lake Valley Seed (via email confirmation - Syngenta)
  • Harmony Farm Supply and Nursery - sources their seeds from Territorial Seeds (see above) among others
Wouldn't answer yes or no:
  • New England Seed Company - refused to answer yes or no because they said they couldn't say for sure, and also couldn't say for sure whether their suppliers source seeds from China

As I am trying to lay out all the info I found in the least confusing way possible, I will move on to part two of my question for these companies, which was whether or not their seeds were sourced from China. Now, it very well could be that there are perfectly acceptable growers of seeds of all varieties - heirloom, organic, etc... in China, but two things bother me about this.  First, I am uneasy about China's reputation for regulation (or lack thereof).  Second, I am definitely not alright with companies like 
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (rareseeds.com) saying things like

"We work with a network of about 150 small farmers, gardeners and seed growers to bring you the best selection of seeds available!  Many of our varieties we sell were collected by us on our travels abroad."  
Sounds like they really have a hand in selecting everything they sell and are in close contact with their "small" suppliers - doesn't it?  Well, this is the email response I received from them. 

"Today's seed trade is international in nature and China is a major producer of seed on the global market.  It's safe to say, a fair amount of what we purchase from distributors probably was grown in China." 
I'm sure there are people out there who will feel differently than me on this issue and still support them, but I find these two statements (the one from their website and the one they emailed me) a bit contradictory.  To me, this sounds like their distributors are so large that they don't know what is coming from where ("probably" grown...) and they didn't just say it was a few things, they said a "fair amount."  I don't have a problem with what they do, I have major issues with how they are presenting themselves.

GrowOrganic.com (aka Peaceful Valley) also responded that "depending on the seed variety and specific lot, we may have seed that was sourced from China."  It is worth noting though that they have a really great selection of organic heirloom seeds as well as lots of growing and homesteading supplies and tools.

In the interest of brevity, I will defer here to an excellent primer on seed terminology on the High Mowing Seeds site.  The bottom line is that organic heirloom seeds are most desirable, with organic open-pollinated seeds next in line.  If you are interested in saving your seeds, it is key to seek these out over hybrids, because given the proper growing conditions they will "produce seed that is genetically 'true to type,' meaning that the seed will result in a plant similar to the parent."

The good news is, there are LOTS of wonderful companies around to choose from that have excellent seed selections and have no affiliations with any of the above.  I have highlighted some of my favorites, and listed what I could confirm/research below that.  If you are a company that qualifies and would like to be added to this list, please contact me via the email icon on the site.

High Mowing Organic Seeds has an excellent selection of organic, open-pollinated varieties, and also carry organic heirloom seeds.  Over 60 varieties are produced right on their farm in Vermont, with the remaining supplied from other farms in Vermont, across the US and other organic seed producers around the world (but not China).

If you are a lover of growing tomatoes and are unfamiliar with Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest, then I am VERY excited to introduce you!  They grow all of their seeds themselves in California, and ALL are organic and ALL are heirloom!

Sustainable Seed Company grows over 1/3 of their own seeds on their organic farm in California, and the remaining seeds are sourced as local as possible - either within California, Oregon or Washington.  They offer heirloom as well as organic heirloom seeds.  They are part of the Heritage Grains Project, and sell a nice selection of grain seeds as well (including organic grains).
Redwood Seeds is located in California, and according to their site, "We cultivate over 95% of our seed crops here, with the remaining varieties grown by several other local organic farmers.  Seeds are harvested and cleaned by hand using fans, sheets and screens."  Their seeds are organic, open-pollinated and heirloom.

Filaree Garlic Farm is a garlic lovers dream!  They carry more than 100 varieties of garlic as well as some seed potatoes and shallot sets.  Everything is certified organic and grown on their farm in Washington.
Annie's Heirloom Seeds only sells heirloom varieties, and has a nice selection of organic heirloom seeds.  They grow most rare and hard to find varieties themselves on their farm in Michigan, and also buy seeds from small farms around the US, as well as import a few from Europe.

Founded in 1975, the Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization that promotes the preservation and utilization of heirloom varieties.  Membership is not required to purchase from the online catalog, and a number of the selections there are organic. The headquarters are located in Iowa at Heritage Farm, where thousands of heirloom varieties are permanently maintained.

This company was too awesome not to mention.  Scratch and Peck Feeds makes organic, whole grain feed for chickens and livestock.  Their unprocessed feeds are made in Washington, with organic whole grains grown in the Pacific Northwest.  They also have organic grains available in bulk.

All of the following GMO-free seed companies have no ties to any of the biotech firms mentioned above, or seeds sourced from China.  Again, if you would like your company added to this list because you qualify, please contact me via the email icon on my site.  I ask that only the companies themselves contact me (not, "I know of this or that company"), so that I can be sure these facts are verified.

  • Native Seeds - a nonprofit seed conservation organization devoted to preserving aridlands-adapted seeds
  • Terroir Seeds (Underwood Gardens) - All seeds are heirloom or open-pollinated, with some organic heirloom (see product description for organic certification)
  • Westwind Seeds and Gardenscapes - all seeds are grown in the US and are chemically untreated and open-pollinated (not organic), many are heirloom
  • All Good Things Organic Seeds - all seeds are organic, some are organic heirloom with many grown on their own farm
  • Bountiful Gardens - specializing in rare varieties and medicinal herbs, all seeds are untreated, open-pollinated, and some are heirloom or organic heirloom *They do carry some Chinese herb seeds from Richters in Canada which does get them from China, but that is because it is their country of origin
  • Home Farmer - organic and untreated premium seeds
  • The Natural Gardening Company - organic and open-pollinated varieties, with some organic heirloom
  • Seeds of Change - READ FIRST!!  all seeds are organic, some are heirloom and others are open-pollinated or hybrid.  It is worth noting that while they used to be a favorite supplier of mine, they are not highlighted above (and I hesistate to even put them on here) because they were purchased by Mars, and while they have since dropped out of the battle to label GMO's, Mars initially contributed nearly $500K to defeat California's Prop 37 to label GMO's.  You can read more about it here.
  • Botanical Interests - carry nice selection of organic as well as organic heirloom (all seed are untreated, but not all are organic)
  • Eden Organic Nursery Services Inc - organic, open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of not only herbs and vegetable but also medicinal, tropical and houseplant seeds
  • Organic Sanctuary *ALL SEEDS ARE GROWN ON THEIR FARM - all are organic with many heirloom varieties
  • Seeds and Things - all seeds are heirloom (not organic), some grown on their own farm and all are from the US.
  • Seeds from Italy - heirloom varieties from Italy, some organic - they are "the exclusive US distrubutor for Franchi Seeds, Italy's oldest family-owned seed company" (Franchi Seeds was founded in 1783)
  • The Maine Potato Lady - a great source for growing organic potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and shallots
  • Wood Prairie Farm - all organic Maine seed potatoes and vegetable seeds, many of which are grown on their farm
  • White Harvest Seed Company - all seeds are heirloom, with a small amount of organic, and some are grown there but the remaining are sourced from 5 companies (not the large biotech firms)
New Jersey:
New York:
  • Fruition Seeds - all organic and open-pollinated, grown in the Northeast for Northeast gardeners (all listed on their site)
  • Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed Initiative - all seeds are organic, open-pollinated and biodynamic, many are grown on their farm and all are grown by farmers who practice biodynamic methods.
North Carolina:
  • Sow True Seed - some organic heirloom, some heirloom and open-pollinated varieties, plus some "ecologically grown" seed
  • White Oak Valley Farm - all heirloom, not organic *MOST ARE GROWN AND PROCESSED ON THEIR FARM with the remaining varieties sourced from small US growers
  • Cultivariable Seeds - specializes in Andean root crops and other vegetables.  *EVERYTHING IS GROWN, HARVESTED AND PACKAGED BY THEM (they are not certified organic, but do not use pesticides or herbicides)

I must say I'm a little apprehensive about posting this, given the fact that there will probably be some seasoned gardeners and farmers reading this post!  This is what has worked for me with my extremely informal set-up, and the little tips and things I've figured out from doing it year after year.  If you've never grown your own seed before, you may find this section very helpful.  

**Note that I have always lived in the Northeast so when I'm discussing direct seeding that should be taken into consideration**


Grow LightsIt really doesn't matter what lights you use.  I personally have cheapo fluorescent shop lights.  They are the full size 4 foot ones with 2 bulbs and I think they cost me about $8 each back in the day.  I have FULL SPECTRUM bulbs, which have lasted me all these years and many moves.  The bulbs will usually say of they mimic sunlight, and I did not have money for special order ones from grow supply places that cost 4x as much - I just looked for ones that say full spectrum or sunlight where they sell fluorescent bulbs and those have worked out fine.  The most important thing about your lights, whatever you use, is that they have to be able to reach within about 1/2 inch of your seedlings once they emerge!  Otherwise the seedlings will pull to the light, and you will get spindly seedlings that will flop over.  Then you have to mess around with trying to prop them up with tiny devices, and it's a pain.  Best to know off the bat that the closer you can get that light, the better!  Mine are set up on crappy tables in the basement with the shop lights hanging on adjustable chains above them.  I have two lights hanging next to each other (4 bulbs total) and even with a tray centered under each light, the plants on the outer rows will pull towards the center so I rotate the plants sometimes.  You may be able to rig something in a closet or near a window, but the window is not necessary.  You could probably even use a cheap wire shelf/rack or something to hang the lights from the wire shelf above and put the tray on the shelf below if you can't put holes in your ceiling for hooks.  But in our old house we just had those plant hooks that poke through the ceiling and they were strong enough to hold the lights.  I also have cheapo clip on shop lights (big shiny metalic spotlight type ones) with a single full spectrum bulb in them that I clip nearby just to get some extra ambient light for those plants on the outer edge.  You can use the little clear plastic greenhouse cover to keep moisure in until the seedlings emerge, but once they come up, you need to be able to get that light down to them and practically kiss the leaves!

Heat Mats - I had much better results once I started using these to regulate the soil temp and keep the seedlings nice and toasty.  These are a slightly pricier investment, but once I figured something out they've lasted for years. I've had 3 brands, and had the same problem with all.  You MUST plug them into a power strip.  For some reason they are finicky and the fuses blow in them easily, which renders them useless. Once I started using a power strip I never had a problem.  I have never used the fancier ones that you can actually adjust the temp on and whatnot - totally unnecessary in my mind.  A simple mat that stays the same temp at all times is fine. 

Seed starting mix
Hands down the best stuff I've used is the organic seedstarting mix from Gardeners Supply Company.  It makes THAT much of a difference that I'm bothering mentioning it.

Seed markers - As much as I try to avoid plastic, wooden popsicle sticks grow mold and get disgusting and the writing washes away.  On the same topic, those ecofriendly peat pots always grow moldy for me too.  I stopped using them.  A friend gave me stacks of tiny plastic pots so now I just use those over and over and write on them with a silver sharpie to mark what's in them, but before that I would break plastic forks/knives in half and write on them with a thin sharpie (you can use both ends).  NOTE: For some insane reason, writing fades on clear plasticwear.  A lesson I didn't learn until I went to plant and all my markings were gone!  WHITE plasticwear works best if you decide to go this route, and then you can use it year after year.

Spray Bottle - One with a nice and even, fine mist is very helpful for watering before seedlings emerge and when they are tiny.  If you use a mix with a lot of peat, you will see that sometimes the seeds can wash away if you just fill it with water from a watering can, but if you mist it very well, you will prevent this.

  • Plant twice as many of each plant that you want to have.  If you want 2 of a certain variety of tomato plant, try to grow at least 4 so you can choose the best plants.  People are always happy to receive the rejects! :)  
  • Within each pot/cell depending on what you use, I plant 3 seeds in a triangle.  As they emerge, I pinch off the 2 weaker ones (IF all 3 come up).  If you pull them out you may accidentally pull out the one you are trying to save by the roots - best to just pinch it between your nails and cut them off at the base.  Once the first set of true leaves grow, you can pinch off the cotyledons, which are the first leaves that will sprout but look nothing like the true leaves (they are very simple looking leaves)
  • I've never used a fancy seeding tool - just a white dish with a pair of tweezers to pluck the seeds from the dish and put into the soil. 
  • Leave 1/2 inch of space at the top, especially with mixes with a lot of peat.  It makes for much easier watering! 
  • Before filling your pots, get your potting mix evenly moist.  THIS IS HUGE!  I just keep my watering can there and have a big tub filled with all the potting mix and stir in the water a little at a time until it's moist but not soaking.  I also mix in some worm castings at this stage, but not too much - once I put in too much and it surprisingly burned my seedlings and I had to start over!
  •  Like I said, once you've planted your seeds, even immediately after they're planted (even though you've used a moist mix) mist them with a spray bottle. 
  • If you are growing tomatoes and peppers, remember that you will probably need to upgrade to a larger pot after 3-4 weeks.  Keep this in mind when thinking of soil, pots and most importantly.... SPACE UNDER YOUR LIGHTS!  Those tiny little seedlings will not always be so tiny, and you need to make sure that when they're 8 inches tall you will have room for all of them and be able to space them out!  This is not as problematic with tomatoes since even if they get spindly you can bury part of the stem and it will root from there, but depending on how small a container you start with for each plant, you will probably still need to upgrade and repot them at some point before putting outside. 
  • Square pots (whatever size - even the smallest ones) are ideal for helping to prevent your seedlings from getting rootbound.
  • Salad greens can be grown outside - no indoor lights necessary.  I do still start mine in trays so I can control protecting them from the cold if I need to, since I haven't been able to afford row covers or cloches or anything like that.  
  • Carrots should always be direct seeded and grown where they will be growing
  • Cukes and beans and squash grow very quickly, and I almost always just wait until it's warm enough to direct seed them outside.
© The Mindful Home, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kirk's Fragrance Free Coco Castile Bar Soap Review - Non-toxic, Affordable and AMAZING!

Navigating the world of "natural" personal care products can be a tricky one.  Unlike USDA certified organic foods, personal care products can have terms like "organic" on the label and still be full of harmful chemicals.  It can be overwhelming with the selection of handcrafted, non-toxic personal care items available, and while I love supporting small companies and I'm sure they are worth every penny, spending lots of money on such things is not really in our budget.  Therefore, I am always on a search for the most easy to find personal care products that are also affordable.

One of the first changes we made to cut back on our plastic consumption was switching to bar soap throughout the house.  Even for my face, I simply use a small loofah (that ends up in the compost bin) and the same soap I use for my body. When I started delving into the world of bar soaps, I was shocked to see the ratings many of them received on the Skindeep Database by The Envirornmental Working Group.  Some that seemed so natural and harmless had high scores for toxicity.  Others with lower scores would be $4-5 per bar and/or not very effective.  Either they wouldn't lather well, they would dry out my skin or they would virtually dissolve in a soap dish in no time.

I am happy to report that I've finally found a soap that fulfills all of my requirements!  Kirk's Fragrance Free Coco Castile Bar Soap is available in all sorts of stores so it is easy to find, it costs just under $2 per bar (drugstore.com has 3 packs for $1.66 a bar and it's easy to find additional discounts there), it's made in the USA by a family owned and operated business that began in 1839, and it has a ZERO rating for toxicity on the Skindeep Database.  It is also free of animal by-products, not tested on animals, contains no palm oil, is biodegradable and hypoallergenic.

The simple list of ingredients is: coconut soap (saponified coconut oil), water, vegetable glycerin, coconut oil

**Note this review and skindeep toxicity rating are for the FRAGRANCE FREE version of the soap.**

So how did it work?  It is perhaps one of the best soaps we've ever used!  The lather is luscious, plentiful and creamy, and the coconut oil in the bar means it doesn't dry my skin out.  Given how well it lathered I thought for sure it would fail my soap dish test, but it hardens back up quite nicely and is slow to dissolve. I should mention we do not have a traditional soap dish, but this one instead (our bathroom sink is very wide) which helps it dry out quickly.  However, we've had plenty of soaps that performed extremely poorly in this department on the same soap dish.

I could not be happier and more excited about this find!  On my quest to seek out affordable, non-toxic, easy to find personal care products, this one is certainly a winner!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Quality Musical Instruments for Children and Babies (Including Eco Friendly, Made in the USA and Fair Trade)


If you are looking for something sturdy for your child to play, but aren't necessarily concerned about the quality of the sound it produces (which may still be very good), there are plenty of instruments to choose from.  Brands like Plan Toys, Janod, Educo/Hape, Sevi, and Boikido are just some of the companies that make drums, shakers and more for babies and toddlers, and most of them are made from eco friendly materials.  I hope to one day see Djeco's Animambo collection here in the states, because I love it!

Stores with a decent selection of many of these brands are Moolka and Oompa.

I was pretty excited to find this new line of Green Tones instruments made by Hohner.  They are all made in India from sustainable rubberwood, and there is a great selection of drums, shakers, glockenspiels and more.

I'm happy to say that these beautiful instruments are all MADE IN THE USA!  Better yet, they are made of sustainable, North American hardwoods.  Zither Heaven has an unbelievable selection of all kinds of stringed instruments - banjos, ukeleles, mandolins, harps, psalteries and "Rock It Sticks" (a cross between a dulcimer and a guitar).  They also carry thumb pianos, as well as all the accessories you would need from stands to strings to sheet music for children.  Given the materials and craftsmanship, everything is exceptionally priced and when you purchase directly through the website, there is an additional 12% discount when you use the code "Everyday12" at checkout.  

Jamtown's instruments are authentic and all fair trade - you can read about the company's practices for acquiring products here.  Their selection of handcrafted, indigenous instruments include drums, shakers, flutes and much more.  They even have "Rhythm Paks" available that contain a combination of instruments.

Everyone's Drumming makes all kinds of drums like djembes, ashikos, talking drums and more.  Their drums are MADE IN THE USA in Putney, Vermont.  Their selection of children's percussion instruments includes some of their own drums like the mini djembe and the mini ashiko, as well as a number of other instruments imported from all over.  They also carry many adult sized drums.

Down to Earth Toys not only carries many of the brands featured above like Zither Heaven and Jamtown, but they also have a few unique items like the adorable beehive drum pictured above.  All of their offerings including the toys and other products on the rest of the site are either made in the USA or fair trade.  

We were gifted some Playme Pat Bells when my daughter was a year old.  They are incredibly sturdy and the sound is wonderful.  What I love most is that they really grow with the child.  At a year old she could bang on them, and as she grows there are song cards that are color coded.  They are often on sale for a deep discount on places like Zulily.  I have also heard the xylophone in person, and it has a beautiful tone.  This is a xylophone for people who want one that plays music.  For those who may not know, the difference between a xylophone and a glockenspiel is that the xylophones are made of wood and the glockenspiels are made of metal.  These will last years and years and are well worth every penny.

Here are a few great random instruments I wanted to share.  We own the glockenspiel and it is durable, affordable and produces reasonable sound for the money.  It has held up for years since purchasing it for our daughter's first birthday.  Pictured left to right are:

Finally, I would be remiss not to include these exquisite instruments from Sweden.  Auris handcrafted lyres, glockenspiels, xylophones and marimbas are some of the highest quality you can find.  They come in diatonic and pentatonic variations, and you can find a few at Bella Luna Toys, Nova Natural and A Toy Garden.  In Australia, Honeybee Toys has an excellent selection - the largest I've seen anywhere.