Natural Lawn Care

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a little while, but just haven’t sat down to do it.  A while back I talked about some common herbicides (Glyphosate, 2,4-D) and why you should steer clear of them.

Well…steering clear of them pretty much eliminates almost all common weed killers that most people have sitting in their garage. It also eliminates most lawn care service providers.  Most of them won’t publish what they use…of course they will let you know it is their “exclusive” product, but really…it’s chock full of chemicals.

I even tried calling TruGreen not that long ago.  A number of people in my small subdivision use TruGreen (including my neighbor…and every time I see them spraying I make sure my windows are closed and we are inside…and then I avoid coming close to their lawn for a couple days).  I asked the representative what the name of the chemicals they use are – he told me they were exclusive to TruGreen, but he didn’t know the names.  So I asked what the active ingredients in the products are.  I was put on hold…for a while.  Finally he came back saying he didn’t know and maybe I should try to call the local franchise (since the number online just goes to the national headquarters or call center or whatever it is) and maybe they could tell me.

Online research didn’t turn up much – apparently they keep things pretty tight lipped.  However I did find the name of one herbicide they use – at least in some parts of the country as it can differ.  This one is called Quincept – you can see the product information label here.   It includes 2,4-D (13.24%!!) and Dicamba (another herbicide shown to cause acute toxicity in humans, chromosomal abnormalities and in test animals it has caused reproductive problems along with dead and abnormal cells in the liver ).  If this is used some places, it makes sense that something similar is likely used all over.

You should really read the user safety information – handling and the laundering of the clothing a person wears and such that is on the label…and we put this on our lawns?

So what is a person to do?

Full disclosure and honesty here: I’m a complete newbie when it comes to natural lawn care.  We have only owned a lawn for two years and I was pretty ignorant to lawn care issues for a while.

The good news – in all my reading I found a FANTASTIC article on natural/organic lawn care and maintenance.  So I’ll let someone who is far more knowledgeable that I give you the 4-1-1 on how to care for your lawn.  He titles the article “Organic Lawn Care for the Cheap and Lazy” – that’s my kind of lawn care!

Seriously…it is so full of awesome information.  I’m looking forward to working on a lot of the things he suggests.

I know my lawn will be massively helped when my other neighbor eliminates his dandelion field.  He just bought the house in the fall and is planning on completely starting from scratch.  However, if you find your lawn overrun with dandelions…you can make good use of them!  You can make dandelion jelly!!  Seriously…and it is good!  I should have done it before all of them went to seed next door.  Here is a site that give you instructions on how…I’m not sure if it is the way we made it growing up, but it must be pretty similar.  I do remember it being a consistency between honey and jelly.  But oh so delicious.  And remember that fancy or crunchy restaurants will throw dandelion greens in your salad…so pick ’em and eat ’em!  Might as well make the best of the situation until you can remedy it.

GMO’s, Glyphosate, & Other Chemicals

A reason to buy organic…and a reason I despise Monsanto: Glyphosate

Let me backtrack for a moment here.  I grew up in a rural area – we had a garden every year (and not just your small 4×6 raised bed, but a BIG garden), my dad has tractors, cows, we had chickens at one point…my high school even had a barn and greenhouse that offered agriculture classes hands on experiences.  I even slaughtered chickens as part of a field trip and I was a member of the FFA.

Yes, the FFA, with those highly attractive blue corduroy jackets.  I loved being in FFA – and I still have a lot of respect and love for the organization.  If there were any schools around me with active chapters I would probably volunteer to help, but most schools around me have long since cut their agriculture programs.  I was given a lot of opportunities, learning experiences and leadership development moments.

However, during my time competing in extemporaneous public speaking competitions I was led to believe the biotechnology and GMOs were the thing that was going to end poverty and save the world.  Well…maybe it wasn’t THAT extreme, but not too far off.  I had to research the broad topic of global agriculture and ag marketing and then when I got to the competition I drew a topic blindly out of an envelope, had a few short minutes to write a speech and then had to give it, followed by questioning from the judges.  Many of the topics centered around the question of biotechnology.

Granted, back ten-ish years ago when I was competing, Bt and GMOs hadn’t been as extensively written about, and I could have given a speech with a dissenting opinion toward them, but I can tell you that I would have been in minority and likely questioned for questioning the “good news” that was Bt/GMO.  Many of the sponsors of the competitions and even the judges had ties to companies actively pursuing these areas, and much of the information I found in my research was put out by big ag.  So my speeches extolled the virtues of Bt/GMOs.  If only I could give them again.

We know…I know…so. much. more. now.

Glyphosate: the active ingredient in Roundup.  You know, that stuff (an herbicide) that you spray on your lawns to kill broadleaf weeds and such (Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000 so you can now find the stuff under other names in addition to Roundup).  It turns out it does a good job of killing things.  Which is why Roundup Ready (RR) corn and soybeans were introduced – so you could spray roundup on the crops without killing them, but instead killing the weeds.

I could write a novel on the toxicity of glyphosate and what it does – even though Monsanto and and other chemical companies (and why should chemical companies be dabbling with our food) would like you to believe it is completely safe.  It has been linked to endocrine (hormonal) disruption, neurological disorders, birth defects, DNA damage and cancer. Here is a great article from 2011 that shows the link between glyphosate and birth defects:

It is rather long, but so worth the read.  Here is a great quote from page 7 that explains what happens when Roundup is applied to the crops:

“It is important to note that GM RR soy and other crops are tolerant rather than resistant to Roundup and glyphosate: that is, they absorb the herbicide and survive.  As a result GM RR crops are a reservoir of potentially high levels of glyphosate, which will then be ingested by animals or people who eat the crops.”

Cornbread with a side of glyphosate…no thank you.

As if glyphosate wasn’t enough now Dow AgroSciences are poised to challenge Monsanto, entering the GMO scene with 2,4-D tolerant crops that the USDA and EPA seem poised to grant approvals for by the end of the year, meaning that 2015 could see the introduction of corn and soybeans, closely followed by cotton.

What is 2,4-D?  It is an herbicide also found in many lawn care products…maybe you should go check what you have laying around before spring fully hits and you start applying these to your lawns…especially if you have kids.  Anyway, 2,4-D exposure risks include: cancer (particularly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), ALS (aka Lou Gherig’s disease), and male reproductive problems.

GMO crops were once touted as the next greatest thing – higher yields, less loss to weeds and a surefire way to end hunger.  We still have hunger problems – its not a matter of production, rather distribution.  We now have superweeds resistant to glyphosate (and resistance to 2,4-D will likely come quickly)…so we apply more and more herbicide.  And the higher yields, they have decreased year after year.

Soil quality has plummeted as it is stripped of  nutrients.  Food quality decreases.  Traditional, proven and good farming practices are vanishing.  Instead of piling on more and more chemicals, we need to return to basic farming practices.  Crop rotation, letting fields rest, proper fertilization (compost anyone?), and complimentary planting (or whatever you actually call that).

I know…our modern system of farming doesn’t support such practices, but our system is broken and as consumers we suffer.  This is a reason I grow my own garden with heirloom and organic seeds.  I like to try new varieties – many seed varieties have been lost in the last few decades.  I want to eat quality food, and you CAN taste the difference!

I may have gone on long enough now…thoughts?

Oh…and random thought since having a baby:

– Baby fingernails should only grow as their hands grow…because it is NOT easy to clip a squirming baby’s fingernails…and you don’t want your kiddo to shred his face with them

My Cloth Diaper System

Long before the little mister showed up on the scene, I knew I wanted to cloth diaper…for a number of reasons. Seeing as how I am somewhat crunchy and try to buy organic, natural, chemical free stuff I couldn’t stomach the thought of paying through the nose for those kind of disposables…or any disposables to be honest. I like saving money and it seemed like a pretty easy way to bank some serious coin…especially since we hope to have more than one child. Save money, no yucky chemicals…two reasons down. I also try to reduce my waste…I recycle and get after hubby when he throws recyclables in the trash and such…I try to steward resources as best as I can. I like that I am saving thousands of diapers from the landfill. Finally, cloth diapers are just so darn cute! Seriously.

Hubby was pretty easy to convince especially with modern cloth diapers…so easy to use! The first 6 weeks of little mister’s life we did use disposables – aka “sposies” – since he was in a pavlik harness for hip dysplasia. It was much easier to use them as opposed to the bulkier cloth…as soon as the harness came off, out came my cloth diapers!

We decided to go with BumGenius diapers and we registered for them, getting 16 of them to start…12 of the 4.0s and 4 Freetimes.  After a whole lot more reading now on CD sites and blogs it seems that it was a risky move since most recommend buying a one or two of a couple different brands and then deciding from there which ones you like most and want to invest in.  Ooops!  Good thing we loved them from the get go!

I did buy a few organic pre-folds and two covers from Green Mountain Diapers because it was a cheap way to add a few diapers to my stash for those times I don’t get the laundry done quick enough. BG diapers start at 18 apiece for the 4.0 and then go up for the Freetime or Elementals.  The organic prefolds were 3 a piece (non organic are $2).  I bought a Flip cover (same parent company as BG) and a Thirsties Duo Wrap. I like the Flip more…maybe because of its familiarity. You can get special Flip inserts, I just use my prefolds in it…I dont even pin them or use a snappi.  One note – outside of the Elementals the BG diapers aren’t natural fibers – they are stay dry liners and microfiber inserts so for those who are looking for all natural fibers, they won’t be your diaper of choice.  The Elementals are natural fibers (cotton).

I go back and forth whether I like the 4.0 diapers (pockets) or the Freetimes (an AIO that has two “flaps” sewn in) more.  Lately, Freetimes have been my diaper of choice for nighttime.  I seem to have fewer leaks in them…they do have a slightly different fit than the 4.0s.  However, I like the 4.0 pocket diapers more overall.  I really don’t mind stuffing and unstuffing – even five-ish months later of using them.  I like them more for two reasons:

1. The flaps on the Freetimes are sometimes hard to keep in place when you have a super squirmy baby.  Little mister has now entered the stage of rolling over on my when I try to change him.

2. Now that we are entering the stage of introducing solid foods I can no longer just throw the poopy diaper into the wetbag to wait until wash day…I had my first “need to dunk and swish” diaper today.  I really don’t want to have to figure out how to hold the flaps on the freetime for dunking and swishing…although I am sure I will have to sometime soon!  The single flat surface of the 4.0 lends itself to a much easier time for cleaning off poopy diapers before throwing them in the bag.

I did buy a diaper sprayer today – but will be taking it back.  While we could make it work via a trip to Home Depot and a lot of prayers that we wouldn’t mess something up and cause a leak we decided that we would just go with the old school (and free) dunk and swish method of cleaning diapers for the time being.  If we feel that we “need” a diaper sprayer later we can always pick it up again and visit my good friend Home Depot!

I started with 16 diapers and after a visit to a local natural baby store I added 3 more for a total of 19 diapers which got me through two full days before having to wash at that point.  Since then I have only added one more diaper (today!) to my stash.  I imagine I will slowly add a diaper here and there as new colors/prints come out or I see sales.  Since we plan on having more than one baby and hopefully not too far apart it is likely that we could have more than one in diapers at once so adding gradually would help so I can keep laundering every other day. Sometimes it is tempting to buy some other brands of diapers just to try…but some of them are even more expensive and really…what purpose would it serve?  What we have works, I like them, and I really don’t want to become one of those people who are crazy obsessive about cloth diapers and prints…no matter how cute they are.  I just don’t need to.  Besides, I thought part of this was about saving money, right?!

Currently, I have 20 diapers and I wash every other night for the most part…occasionally I won’t get to it in time, but I am pretty good at staying on top of it.  I am usually down to five or so when I wash which gets me through until they are done drying.  While you can put the liners in the dryer (not the covers) I usually hang dry them to save on energy costs.  I do use the BumGenius diaper detergent.

I know a lot about cloth and the various types, but I am no expert.  I haven’t tried them all…I don’t plan on it.  There were a number of people who told me when I was pregnant that I would try cloth for a week or two and then give in and use disposables…I LOVE cloth.  Really, I do.  I have had ONE blowout to date in a cloth diaper – and I don’t think anything in the world would have contained that one.  In disposables we had a blowout every. single. time.  I do probably have more leaks at night while we are figuring out what works the best, but I have had him leak out of disposables at night too.  All in all…they are great and even hubby likes them.  Despite him saying he wanted to use sposies while we were out of the house he has not balked once at using the cloth while we are out and about.  I have a fabulous little wet/dry bag that we throw in the diaper bag and we are good to go!

I think that is it – so for all of my pregnant or new mama friends that have asked about cloth diapers and what I use…there you go!

The way we eat

My facebook is blowing up y’all.  With statuses about nutrition, food, supplements – I don’t think I can make it a day without seeing a post of at least half a dozen people’s dinners.  From the looks of it – it seems to be something people care about.  After all, I do.

The biggest talk I see going on via facebook and in a lot of the fitness circles I run in as a personal trainer is centered around “eating clean.”  Maybe you’ve seen t-shirts repping the “eat clean” phrase (maybe coupled with “train dirty”).  I read and hear comments on a regular basis along the lines of

“It is so hard to try to eat clean…”

“I just eat really clean…”

“Do you have any ideas for clean meals?”

“___ is a great restaurant with a lot of clean options.”

Can I be honest…every time I hear “clean eating” or one of its forms I think: “hey, I eat clean too…I wash all my fruits and veggies…all clean!”

In all seriousness though, what in the world does clean eating mean?  Really…there is no ONE definition of clean eating.  You can google search it and come up with a number of different interpretations and takes on the topic and methodologies.  It is avoiding everything artificial?  Is it avoiding all processed foods?  Is it avoiding any kind of “treat” or sweet?  Does it include food combination principles?  Nutrient timing? Paying attention to macros and micros?  No wonder people break out into a cold sweat when they start entering the nutrition world.  I’m not surprised by people who try to follow strict rules that they found and then get so overwhelmed that they give up.  Now, I’m not saying that “clean eating” – however you define it – is bad, wrong, silly or whatnot.  I just think sometimes we spend way too much energy on trying to be perfect and get everything right.

I read somewhere…I don’t know where…but there is some blog out there I once happened upon and the author said something to the tune of “I follow an 80/20 rule.  I eat 80% of the time in my home where I control what I buy, eat and I take great care to do it well.  That means the other 20% I don’t worry about when I am out an about.”  That doesn’t mean binging on sliders and supersized meals when out and about…but it means we can cut ourselves a little slack and not beat ourselves up for not being perfect all the time.

Here’s my little secret – I eat whatever I want.  But here’s the thing – my wants have changed dramatically over time.  I really, truly, honestly, don’t desire fast food, or sheet cake, or a number of other things that we encounter every day.  Because I want my health and my fitness more.  However…when it comes to ice cream; I almost always want that more 😉  I evaluate my food choices and I eat what I want…and what I want is my food to line up with my desire to be healthy, fit, and active.  I want my food to fuel my body, to give me energy to play with my son, to allow me to run races or pay attention in an all day meeting.  My want for those things overrides my want for junk…usually.  I don’t stress about the “20%” that might not align so well.

I don’t pay attention to calories.  I don’t look at nutrients.  I don’t do much supplementation – I take a multivitamin, and when I was pregnant I took extra iron.  I eat real food.  Here’s my loose food philosophy:

– I pay extra for organic produce, meat and dairy when it is available…so mostly everything.  I know too much about GMOs, glyphosate (the active ingredient in round-up), and other chemical use to not try.  That said – a box of organic mac and cheese is still mac and cheese – it doesn’t make it magically “healthy” – so organic is NOT an excuse to eat whatever you want (though I do enjoy some mac and cheese now and then 😉

– I eat my fruits and veggies

– I eat meat (I only buy organic chicken from the store…no organic, no chicken; wild caught fish; I love it when the hubby gets a deer in the fall and we get our beef from the family), but not everyday…I LOVE beans for protein too – great northern beans, I’m looking at you!

– I don’t eat HFCS, colored dyes (except in sprinkles and an occasional gatorade), or trans fats (they still sneak in there if you read ingredients!).

– I pay more for cane sugar since beet sugar is most likely GMO.  I use real sugar, never artificial substitutes or honey.

– Whole grains for everything – I even bake with all whole wheat flour.

– And I eat ice cream almost every night…I will probably have to stop after I’m done nursing (or I’ll just have to have another baby) – you need extra calories (200ish) when pregnant and while nursing (500ish) – that’s my ice cream.

That’s about it.  Is it perfect?  No.  Is it doable? Yes.  Oh yeah…I love good chocolate.  And in the summers I get a cookie every Tuesday when I bake for the hubby’s softball team – the guys eat the rest.  I also drink whole milk – if raw delivery was convenient for me, I’d probably make the switch…hubby drinks 1%.  I currently love peas.  I grow a garden each summer…and try to prevent the deer from getting it all.  I love canning.  I make jam – it has too much sugar in it, but it is amazing.

That’s really about it now.  I try not to stress too much – fruits and veggies, good protein, whole grains, and ice cream.  That’s my eating philosophy.  What’s yours?

What being a campus minister taught me about gardening…

Last year, my humble garden went crazy.  I had bounty aplenty from my three tomato plants, handful of peppers, and basil.  True to his word, since the garden went well my hubby made no objection to me expanding our gardening efforts.  One 5×8 bed became three.  Three tomato plants became five, accompanied by peppers, green beans, strawberries, cucumbers, carrots, peas, parsley, basil, oregano, romaine and spinach.  I wish I could say the season has gone just as well.

Early on I had some trouble with the cucumbers taking off – I may have planted them too early, but two of the three survived.  Then one morning I woke up to all my peas having been eaten to the ground along with one of my romaine lettuce plants.  Rabbits.  Up went rabbit fencing around two of the beds sans the tomato & green bean garden bed.  Then the basil suddenly died after having more than I knew what to do with last year.  I thought that stuff was “easy to grow.”  And then my second planting of peas died.  What was going on around here?

However the rest of my hard work seemed to be doing okay.  The tomatoes were growing…a little more slowly this year, the cucumbers were making progress (along with the additional 3 plants I added) The parsley and oregano took off like crazy and the romaine was doing well – but my green beans…they were the pride and joy of my garden.  They looked GOOD!

There is nothing quite as satisfying as fresh green beans from the garden.  I watched as the little buds turned into little beans and finally the day arrived where I could pick my first harvest.  I can’t explain the joy that welled up as I served up these green beans for dinner.  After all the frustrations with other veggies…these made up for them.  Two days later, I picked again…and two days after that.  And then it happened.

Overnight they were gone.

Savagely taken down to the stems.

The crown jewel of all of my hard work, gone.

To say that I was furious would be an understatement.  I was ready to break every village/township/subdivision law and ordinance that there was and go on a legit rabbit hunt.  I had noticed a couple clipped leaves a several days prior, but thought it was the deer since they clipped a couple high tomato branches too.  However, it wasn’t the deer.

It was the rabbits…Dan saw them.

I was quite angry, frustrated and depressed.  I spent all this time and energy, not to mention money on building the beds and such for nothing.  But I still held out hope…because I saw this beautiful brandywine tomato growing…about a week out from eating and I couldn’t wait.  Every morning I would look out my bedroom window to check it’s progress and anticipate biting into that juicy tomato.  The ones from the store don’t even come close to being as good.

And then it happened.

One morning, it too was gone.

Not only was the big green-but-ripening tomato gone, HALF of all my roma tomatoes were gone too.  This time by those destructively awful deer.  How to I know…because it looked like they had a party in my garden overnight by all their tracks.  The tomatoes were too high up to have been anything else.  All my hard work, being stolen away by a thief in the night.

At this point I was depressed.  No green beans, very few tomatoes and the ones left were disappearing nightly (we even spotted a deer one night as Dan shined his flashlight out the window about 11pm).  My bell peppers seemed to have stunted growth – they weren’t fully developing, my basil had died, my second planting of peas mysteriously shriveled up and died after starting to bud, I wasn’t sure anything was happening with the cucumbers.

I gave up.

My oldest garden bed started to become overrun by weeds.  I didn’t care.  My romaine lettuce started to bolt without me using it’s beautiful leaves.  I was too blinded by my perceived failure at gardening to care.  Have I mentioned that the rabbits and deer didn’t even touch my neighbor’s garden that they put in after seeing mine last year?  They are harvesting a bunch of delicious looking tomatoes…the deer ignored them, but showed no mercy on me.

BUT today was a turning point.  You see I just spend four days with a hundred-ish InterVarsity staff at our regional staff conference.  We talked about the ways the Holy Spirit worked among us this past year – even in times of grief and disappointment.  I reflected on some hard places in this past year – and how it seemed that all my work planting the InterVarsity chapter was being attacked and destroyed at the very beginning of the year.  I thought about how I let those set back distract me and blind me from what God was doing in other areas.  And then I remembered what God did do.  Theoretically I could have thrown in the towel after those first few frustrating weeks last year, but if I did I wouldn’t have experienced and seen all that God DID do throughout the year.  I would have thrown away the rest of the harvest along with was seemed to be stolen and destroyed the first couple weeks.  I had to keep my eyes open and still tend the chapter despite the challenges to reap the rest of the harvest.

I thought about that as I looked at my overrun garden bed today – in its deplorable state of neglect…and I got up.  I weeded, I pruned back and I tended.  The deer may still nab a few more of the tomatoes that have begun to grow and the romaine lettuce may taste a bit more bitter than I anticipated, but I still have food to harvest.  My carrots are looking great…not quite ready, but getting there.  I’m picking a handful of small strawberries every couple of days.  My little pickling cucumbers have taken off and have started to grow.  I have enough parsley to make a couple batches of tabbouleh.  I might try my hand at drying some oregano and there still may be some romaine lettuce to be eaten.  Not all is lost.  But instead of throwing away what good is left I have to choose to keep tending and working to reap the rest of the harvest…and it sure is a lot less depressing to look at a garden bed that no longer looks like an abandoned city lot.