Sunday, 31 March 2013

Start your EARLY veggie garden now!

This is the perfect time to get your early vegetable garden going. While the last frost day of May 9th (Toronto) is still more than a month away there are some vegetables that tolerate cold better and can be planted now.

We spent the whole day in the garden today. It was great to get my hands dirty again and smell the rich aroma of the freshly tilled earth. The weather was great. It was mild, overcast and rain was forecast for later in the day; exactly what newly planted veggies love.

Misha started out preparing the soil in our back garden....

...and I took charge of our kitchen garden which is conveniently located near our back door. It's great for a quick veggie run while cooking. Cinnamon, as usual, was keeping an eye on us. It was the kittens first day outside and they absolutely loved it.

Once the earth got tilled Misha put down some wood planks to walk on. He loves doing that. It's supposed to help avoid getting the earth compacted as you are seeding.

We planted onions in a row. They are fun to plant as they are large and easy to see where you plant.

We also planted them in a square foot planting style. Misha suggested trying this type of planting as well this year. It is more dense planting and great for small garden where every inch of growing space matters.

We continued planting lettuce, collard greens, beets (Misha's favourite), kale (my absolute favourite), peas and more; I have included the complete list at the end. It was so much fun to be out in the garden again.

I can't wait for some more veggie planting in the next couple of months. Drop us a line and let us know how your veggie garden planning is coming along. Are you thinking of growing your own vegetables this year?


For those interested in more planting details I am posting a 'how to' below.

How to start an EARLY VEGGIE GARDEN:

  • Today we planted: dinosaur kale, red russian kale, lettuce, radish, beets, yellow, white and red onions, parsnips, collard greens, snow peas and snap peas. These vegetables tend to tolerate cold better and are suitable for planting as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring (and well before the last frost day).  We will plant more of these every two weeks to extend the harvest of each variety.
  • Check the back of the seed packages for planting instructions. They are easy to follow.
  • You can plant in a single row or with the square foot planting method. We are trying our version of the square foot planting this year for some of the crops and see how it works out. Basically, you divide your garden into one foot squares and plant densely. We will let you know how we like this method.
  • Add black top soil if needed. We added quite a lot last year and feel the earth in our garden is still rich enough, so we are not going to add anymore for now.
  • Make sure to water well after you plant the seeds. Planting right before rain is a bonus.
  • Keep an eye out for your growing veggies and thin as needed. We will provide a veggie progress update and let you know how and when they are to be thinned.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Getting rid of stuff! - How we did the unthinkable

We have a lot of STUFF. I bet some of you can relate to that. When we moved in two years ago we piled up all our boxes in the basement and forgot about them. Since then we have only been adding to the pile and not sorting through anything. It got to the point where we couldn't even walk into our basement, never mind find something we were looking for. Here is the poor state of our basement.

As a basement clean up is not fun, we needed some inspiration to get started and a solid deadline by which to finish. We scheduled a family gathering for Easter, that includes Easter egg painting in the basement. This way we knew the basement had to be cleaned on time. We also made a plan to get rid of anything we hadn't used in the past year. We tried to keep to the " if we don't use it we lose it" idea. 

We started out slow and steady and as the boxes got emptied a little pathway appeared. Seeing the path we knew we were making progress.

 We opened up boxes, revisited memories and made decisions about what to keep and what to let go.

Some of it felt good to let go; some of it was a challenge. Things reminding us of family traditions were a tough decision.

Cinnamon kept a close eye on our progress.

We spent about 8 hours sorting, moving boxes, arguing what to keep or not to keep, laughing and rescuing the kittens from falling off things. Doing it while there was snow on the ground made us feel better; we weren't missing out on sunny garden days.

After a few weekends working on this project, we finally finished.  The basement got emptied, swept...

...and we reduced the number of our boxes to about one third. Yay!

It felt good getting rid of stuff. It makes you feel lighter. It also makes our small house more livable and feel more spatious. We will be holding a garage sale in the spring to sell some of the stuff and donate the rest.  If you need some inspiration to get started, here again is the before and after:

BEFORE the clean-up
AFTER the clean-up

Have a good "getting rid of stuff" day!


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Cement board or drywall? - Searching for green alternatives

I thought that designing a green bathroom would be easy. All I had to worry about was to pick out the tiles, low flush toilet, bathtub.... Well, it turns out that it is not that simple. Just replacing the drywall in the bathroom creates a big green dilemma for us.  There are a lot of products with a lot of different ingredients and to try and find one that is non-toxic, made by a reputable company and does not have a misleading name is very difficult.  

Our contractor suggested using cement board around the shower area and green drywall in the rest of the bathroom. Our problem is that green drywall is not really "green".  It has toxic chemicals in it to prevent mold and fungus growth and is only called green because of its colour; not its sustainable qualities. We are not comfortable using it for our bathroom. 

During my search for a drywall alternative for bathrooms I came across DensArmor gypsum wall board made with fiberglass mats on both sides. It is  naturally water/mold resistant and recommended for wet/humid areas. I thought that I had found a solution until I learned that it is made by Georgia-Pacific Gypsum, which has been fighting law suites for manufacturing toxic drywall. At this point I don't trust them so DensArmor is out.

We are still searching for drywall alternatives, but leaning towards using cement board instead of green drywall. Cement board is water resistant and used in areas where there is direct contact with water. It is also used as a tile backer. 

Cement board 

We will need to apply a drywall compound on the cement board to finish it off and to make it smooth and ready for paint. It will be more work, more sanding and more money than using drywall, but worth the effort for us. Our contractor doesn’t know about our plan yet but hopefully he will be on board.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

How green is our toilet?

We are still undecided about which toilet to get. At times I even question whether we need to replace our toilet at all. I checked the date it was made and it is only 2 years old. You can find the date imprinted on the inside of the tank near the top. It works well and we haven't had any clogs. The only good reason for us to replace it would be if it uses too much water. It's snowing outside, so why not spend my time getting to know my toilet better and finding out how much water it uses.

All I need to gather is a marker and a large size bottle. I find one of Misha' empty sparkling water bottles; it's perfect for my experiment.

I remove the top of the toilet tank and prepare to mark the water level. I see a line there already so no need to mark it. So far so good.

I turn the water off...

...and flush the toilet.

This is the fun part. I start filling up the tank with water. The 1 littre bottle I am using is perfect as it makes counting much easier. Not even the kittens standing up on the toilet rim can confuse me.

I am amazed to find out that our toilet uses 8 litres of water per flush. All the models sold in the stores use 6 litres or less. Done! We are replacing our toilet for sure. I like the idea of using less water per flush. 


Monday, 18 March 2013

Bathtub dilemma – Ping pong table or a soaking tub?

I like deep tubs. I like tubs in which you can just soak yourself comfortably and forget about the world around you. I grew up with a deep tub and I miss having one. The tub we have right now is a 15” one that is 27" wide and I don’t even attempt to take a bath in it.

We only have space for a standard size, 30X60 recessed bathtub. We looked at standard size tubs that are deeper but there are not very many on the market. If they are deeper, they are also wider and we can’t afford to lose any more space.

We are set on getting an enamelled steel tub. A cast iron tub would be nice but we are not prepared to spend the extra money on it at this time. Acrylic tubs are everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes but we are trying to reduce plastic in our house and not add to it, so acrylic tubs are out.

Given our limited space, our tub hunt was quick and easy. We are going with a standard 30X60X15 ¾” enamelled steel bathtub. We like it; it’s simple and durable. We were told that the porcelain finish on it lasts longer than the shine of the acrylic tubs. The bonus is the price; it’s $145 at Lowe's.

Tub of our choice-Cadet American Standard enamelled steel tub from Lowe's

 I am still not giving up on the soaking tub though. I am working on Misha on putting in a second bath in the basement with my dream tub. He resists this as he wants to have space for a ping pong table. Soaking tub vs. ping pong table - the battle is on!  Which one would you vote for?


Monday, 11 March 2013

Easter egg painting with natural dyes - Any left over cabbage or beets?

I decided to take a break from reno planning and have some fun dyeing Easter eggs. I crave bright, spring-like colours at this time of year and what could be more cheerful than colourful eggs? I got a short shopping list ready for Misha that included: two dozen eggs, paprika, red cabbage, turmeric, beets and coffee. I have also been saving some onions skins throughout the week so I could use them as well.

We hard boiled the eggs and started getting the dyes ready. We chopped up the beets and cabbage, boiled the onion skins and diluted the paprika and turmeric. In half an hour our vegetable based dyes were ready for the eggs.

Natural Easter egg dyes:  (from left) onion skin, turmeric, red onion skin, paprika, red cabbage, coffee, beets

We slowly dipped the eggs in the dyes.

We let them sit in the dyes for about 2 hours. The exciting part was taking the eggs out and seeing the colours.  The beet dye created this beautiful light pink egg and is one our favourites.

Another great one was the purple cabbage which created this gorgeous blue.

Oh...and let's not forget the coffee. It created a very consistent, lovely light brown colour.

Once we took them out of the dye we let them dry for 10 minutes. The colours seem to intensify once they dried.

The best part of these dyes are that they make each egg look unique as no two colours are the same.

Naturally dyed Easter eggs

We love the pop of colour on our dining room table. Our favourite thing to do during breakfast is to point out the colours we love the most.

Naturally dyed Easter eggs

Posting the 'how to' below. Have fun with it!



How to:

Yellow onion skin – Peel the skin of 4-5 onions (the dry outer skin only). Boil them for 15 minutes in 2 cups of water. Add 2 tsp. of vinegar. Let it cool off.
(Bright orange)

Red onion skin – Peel the skin of 4-5 onions. Boil them for 15 minutes in 2 cups of water. Add 2 tsp. of vinegar. Let it cool off.
(Dark orange)

Turmeric – Add 2 tbsp. of turmeric to one cup of boiling water. Add a teaspoon of vinegar. Let it cool off. – MY FAVOURITE!
(Bright yellow)

Paprika - Add 2 tbsp. of paprika to one cup of boiling water. Add a teaspoon of vinegar. Let it cool off.

Beets – Chop two medium size beets. Add to 2 cups of boiling water. Add 2 tsp. of vinegar. Let it cool off.
(Light pink)

Red Cabbage – Chop a quarter of red cabbage into small squares. Add to 3 cups of boiling water. Add 2 tsp. of vinegar. Let it cool off. – MISHA'S FAVOURITE!

Coffee – Add one teaspoon of instant coffee to one cup of hot water. Add a teaspoon of vinegar. Let it cool off. – BEST OVERALL CONSISTENT COLOUR!
(Light brown)


·         You can create your own colours by dipping the egg into several dyes. We dipped an egg into the red cabbage dye to get a light blue colour and then we dipped the same egg into the beet dye to create a beautiful purple egg.

·         The longer you keep the eggs in the dyes the stronger and more consistent the colours will be. If you like pastel colours, keep the eggs in the dyes for 10 min; for stronger colours, keep them in longer.

·         Use containers slightly wider than the eggs for the dyes so the eggs don't touch the sides. This will help avoid white spots on the egg. Small mason jars work the best.

··       To get even colour coverage on the egg, dye it first in the coffee then put it into the colour              
      you want.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Apple tree pruning - The official start of our garden work

Pruning our apple trees is our first official gardening day of the season.  Last year I did it myself, but this year Mia insisted on helping. She felt I had been too extreme and not provided her enough shade to lay under the apple tree. I did most of the lopping with the shears and Mia followed up by trimming the smaller twigs with the secateurs.  We're getting better at this; it took us half the time this year; only 2 hours for both trees.  Looking forward to lots of delicious apples this year.

Pruning our 50 year old summer apple tree
This is my yearly ritual; throwing my hat through the Granny Smith tree.  When I first researched how to prune an apple tree I found a video of a crazy English farmer that said you should be able to throw your hat through the tree once you are finished.  Mission accomplished!

Granny Smith apple tree pruned in bowl style and the hat goes through!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Home made soda bread - Quick, easy and delicious!

I've been really missing eating bread since I found that both yeast and sourdough don't agree with me.  I was relegated to eating plain rice crackers or the occasional homemade pancake because of that.  

The other day, while making a batch of pancakes that used baking powder, I was reminded of making cornbread a while back.  That recipe called for baking soda and baking soda made me think of soda bread.  I looked up soda bread on the web and was led to Irish Soda Bread.  I chose a vegan recipe and got right to it.  Here are the ingredients I used. I list them at the end as well.

I put two cups of All Purpose Spelt Flour and 2 cups of Whole Spelt Flour into a mixing bowl with one teaspoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of salt.

You can add a quarter to half cup of your favourite seeds or seed flours.  I like adding flax seeds, flax flour and sunflower seeds.

I measured two cups of hemp milk although you can use any milk substitute or real milk.  Real Irish Soda Bread calls for buttermilk.  Whatever liquid you use, add 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar and let it sit for 5 minutes to "sour" it.

I created a bowl with the flour then started pouring in liquid in small amounts and mixing it with a wooden spoon (the wooden spoon is key, apparently).

Once the flour was thoroughly mixed I patted it into a ball.  I found that a slightly wetter, but not gooey or sloppy consistency works the best.  It should be damp but not too sticky on your hands.  I don't usually use the full two cups of liquid.

Place the dough into a lightly greased baking pan (I used a bit of coconut oil) and score the top with a knife making a cross.  I am not sure why you score it but it gives it that nice rustic soda bread look in the end.

Place in a preheated 425 degree oven, uncovered for 35 minutes.......... and voila!

It's delicious steaming hot right out of the oven.  Not sure how well it keeps yet as it does not last more than a day right now.

Here are the basic ingredients. 
  • 2 cups nut, rice or hemp milk, real milk or buttermilk
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 cups flour (usually whole wheat pastry flour but I used spelt flour)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Optional: 2 tbsp sweetener and/or 1/4 seeds, raisin, dried berries of choice.

I don't put in raisins; they feel like biting into a slug to me.  I stuck to the basics of the recipe and ad-libbed after that. Enjoy!


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Subway tiles in bathrooms - Here we go again!

Subway tiles are timeless. We used them for our kitchen backsplash and I knew I wanted to use them again in our bathroom. I like to have consistency and a similar look/feel throughout the house. My favourite thing about subway tiles is that there are many accent pieces to choose from: chair rails, shelf rails, flat liners, bull noses, sanitary coves….It takes a while to get familiar with all the names and options but this board at the Tile Store was helpful for us to get started. 

 After a couple of days of consideration and a few visits to the Tile Store we came up with our subway tile order. We purchased Daltile’s Rittenhouse Square 3X6 subway tiles from Home Depot and matching 2X6 bullnose. We will be tiling halfway up the bathroom wall, so we also ordered 2X6 chair rails from the Tile Store to finish off the edges. I love chair rails; they are so charming. 

I also like the look of a baseboard in bathrooms so we picked up the larger 6X6 subway tiles and will top them off with 1/2X6 flat liners to create an illusion of a baseboard. Before our purchase I did a mock up by taping a couple of the subway tiles to the wall. It is still missing the flat liner between the tiles but we got a good idea of how it will look and we like it.


Monday, 4 March 2013

Bathroom floor tile - Dark grey or light?

I love the look of grey floor tiles in bathrooms. I was set on getting a dark grey tile and we brought home a sample porcelain tile from Home Depot. I liked the tile, but after living with it for a couple of days, I realized that it just didn’t work in our small bathroom. The dark colour shrank our bathroom and made the floor look much smaller. See what I mean? 

(Cinnamon loves to hang out with me while I am doing my reno planning).

I realized that I had to keep searching and look for a lighter shade of grey. We went to the The Tile Store and I absolutely fell in love with it. The selection of tiles is incredible. There is a large room packed with porcelain tiles that look absolutely identical to stone tiles. I love porcelain tiles because they require no sealing/maintenance, come in beautiful colours, are affordable and are a more sustainable choice. 

It didn’t take us long to find our tile. Actually, Misha pointed it out as soon as we walked in the store. When I first saw it, I loved it but I thought a darker shade might be closer to my vision. We searched through the whole tile selection but kept going back to it.  We ended up ordering it and I know we made the right decision. It’s a beautiful semi-polished light grey porcelain tile. It is on the pricier side at $7.16/sq feet, but luckily we only need a few to cover our small bathroom floor.  We can afford to splurge this time.

Our final choice - the top tile on the right