Category Archives: Green Living

Gardening On A Budget

By Sana Athar

gardening on a budget

Spring has nearly sprung and with it brings the question: to plant or not to plant. Oftentimes people think of gardening as an expensive hobby but I have found it to be a relaxing activity that makes me feel good. It’s exciting to watch your plants grow and when it starts to fruit, it’s almost the same joy as holding a newborn in your arms.

We follow up on our gardening series with tips and tricks for gardening on a budget to help save money while keeping plants in perfect condition.

Recycle

There are many ways to use recycled containers in garden; as watering can, for growing seed or as planter. Here are some things you can use in gardening.

Milk jugs: as a planter or watering can

Plastic food container with lid: as green house or for seed starting

Paper or plastic cups: really good to start seed in. Just make sure to make some holes through a pin or pencil for drainage.

Egg Cartons: A personal favourite. I tear up both sides then line one side with plastic wrap and put the other one on it and fill it with my compost and seed starter. It can be planted directly in garden because of being compost friendly.

Egg shells: I haven’t used this as of yet but people use egg shell as seed starter pot.

Shredded paper, toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes: all can be crushed up and its pulp can be used as seedling starter.

Yogurt cups: as seed pot

Seed trays: sold at dollar stores

Plastic watering bottle: cut in half and use as pot

Aluminum containers: use as planters

Aluminum tray: I use it as seed pot tray. Cases of soda and canned products can also be used as tray to hold all seed pots

Mulch

Instead of overspending on mulch, we can use recycled paper, cardboard boards, and newspaper as mulch. Grass clipping are excellent mulch as well. You can also save on mulch and potting soil by getting discount bags that have tears in them. Don’t miss any sale.

Harvest seeds

Although seed are sold at dollar stores as well, you can try harvesting your own to save some more money.

For fleshy vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and melons, pick them when they are fully ripe. Scoop out the seeds, along with the gel surrounding them. Put the seeds and gel in a glass jar with some water. Stir or swirl the mixture twice a day. The mixture will ferment and the seeds should sink to the bottom within five days. Pour off the liquid, rinse the seeds and spread them out to dry on paper towels.

Saving pepper seeds is even easier. Allow some fruits to stay on the plants until they become fully ripe and start to wrinkle. Remove the seeds from the peppers and spread them out to dry.

Beans and peas need to be left on the vine until the pods are dry and crackly.

Corn should also be left to dry on the stalk until the kernels dent.

Potatoes (with eyes) can be half dipped in water held by tooth picks just above water. It grows its roots in a month.

Onion and garlic can be grown from their bulb. Some are grown in water until they grow new greens and some are harvested for their seed and re-grown again.

Not every avocado pit will produce roots, so your best bet is to try two or three pits at once. Leaves will appear in few weeks.

For cabbage, place leftover base and leaves in a bowl and add a small amount of water in the bottom. When roots and new leaves begin to appear, transplant the cabbage into a garden.

The next option is to trade plants and seeds or share with neighbours.

Buy Perennials

Buying perennials will save money in long run. Because it will grow by itself year after year.  Although they cost more in beginning but with proper care it will be ease of mind to see them grow every year. Examples of some of such plants are tulips, lilies, roses, daisy, hydrangea, cornflower and lavender among others.

DIY

Weed and Bug Killer

DIY weed or bug killer use safe ingredients and there are many ideas you can find online. Some people use sugar mixed with cinnamon and chili powder which feeds your soil and kills weeds.  This mix also keeps bugs at bay. People also use eggshells around the base of the plants and edge of the garden to keep snails and slugs away.

Vinegar can also kill weeds be careful though, it kills grass too.

Boiling water and bleach can also be used as an effective weed killer.

Fertilizer 

DY fertilizers are easy to make at home.

Banana peel is excellent fertilizers just chop into small pieces and voila! Put in your pot. It provides Potassium.

Coffee and tea grounds: Acid-loving plants such as tomatoes, blueberries, roses and azaleas love them due to its high nitrogen content.

Dead leaves, glass clippings and weed are high in nitrogen and an excellent fertilizer.

Epsom salt are rich in magnesium .

Egg shells are great for providing calcium to plants. Wash them first, and then crush. Work the shell pieces into the soil near tomatoes and peppers.

Remember, gardening is a labour of love, it takes time and patience but the results are truly worth the wait.

About the author:

Sana Athar is a stay at home mom to her three little angels. She lives in Milton, Ontario where she works on her passions: gardening and cooking for family and friends. An MBBS from Karachi, Pakistan, Sana is currently working on obtaining her license to be able to practice medicine in Canada.

Grow Your Own Vegetable – II

By Sana Athar

Grow your own vegetables

Continuing our gardening series, today we will focus on five more veggies and herbs that you can grow in your backyard.

Lettuce

This is a half-hardy vegetable that you can keep growing all season long by planting one small crop at a time. Days to maturity tend to be short. Lettuce is a cool-season crop that grows well in the spring and fall in most areas. Lettuce seedlings will even tolerate a light frost. Start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost date for earliest crop. Harden off seedlings for about one week, and transplant outside between 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after last spring frost.

Lettuce will tell you when it needs water. Just look at it. If the leaves are wilting, sprinkle them anytime—even in the heat of the day—to cool them off and slow down the transpiration rate. Planning your garden so that lettuce will be in the shade of taller plants, such as tomatoes or sweet corn, in the heat of the summer, may reduce bolting.

Lettuce should be harvested when full size, but just before maturity. You want it young and tender.Before maturity, you can harvest leaf lettuce by simply removing outer leaves so that the centre leaves can continue to grow. Mature lettuce gets bitter and woody and it will go bad quickly, so check your garden everyday. As time passes, you will want to cut the whole plant from the ground. It’s best to harvest in the morning before leaves have been exposed to sun.

Grow Your Own Lettuce

Mint

Mint is a perennial with very fragrant, toothed leaves and tiny purple, pink, or white flowers. It has a fruity, aromatic taste. The mint family has many varieties, but it will take over your garden,so be careful where you plant it.For growing outdoors, plant one or two purchased plants (or one or two cuttings from a friend) about 2 feet apart in moist soil. One or two plants will easily cover the ground. Mint should grow to be 1 or 2 feet tall. In the garden, plant mint near cabbage and tomatoes.If you don’t want an entire bed of mint, buy some plants or take some cuttings from a friend and plant them in containers filled with potting mix enriched with compost. Remember to keep the plants in a sunny spot.

Minimal care is needed for mint. For outdoor plants, use a light mulch. This will help keep the soil moist and keep the leaves clean. For indoor plants, be sure to water them regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. Right before flowering, cut the stems 1 inch from the ground. You can harvest one mint plant 2-3 times in one growing season. You can also just pick the leaves as you need them. You can also grow the plants indoors for fresh leaves throughout the winter.

Onion

Onions are a cold-season crop, easy to grow because of their hardiness.Onions grow well on raised beds or raised rows at least 4 inches high. Select a location with full sun where your onions won’t be shaded by other plants.Onion seeds are short-lived. If planting seeds indoors, start with fresh seeds each year. Start seeds indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting.

Generally, onions do not need consistent watering if mulch is used. About one inch of water per week (including rain water) is sufficient. If you want sweeter onions, water more. Cut or pull any onions that send up flower stalks; this means that the onions have “bolted” and are done. Be sure to harvest in late summer, before cool weather. Mature onions may spoil in fall weather.

Grow your own peas

Peas

Peas are a cool-season crop, and come in three separate varieties : Sweet peas, Snow peas and Snap peas. To get the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds in the fall, add manure to the soil,and mulch well. Sow seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost, when soil temperatures reach 45 degrees F (7 degree C). Peas are best grown in temperatures below 70 degrees F (21 degrees C). Water sparsely unless the plants are wilting. Do not let plants dry out, or no pods will be produced. Keep your peas well picked to encourage more pods to develop.

Pick peas in the morning after the dew has dried. They are crispiest then. Always use two hands when you pick peas. Secure the vine with one hand and pull the peas off with your other hand.

Grow your own bell pepper

Pepper

Peppers are a tender, warm-season crop. Start seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last spring frost date. After the danger of frost has passed, transplant seedlings outdoors.

Water one to two inches per week, but remember peppers are extremely heat sensitive. If you live in a warm or desert climate, watering everyday may be necessary. For larger fruit, spray the plants with a solution of one tablespoon of Epsom salts in a gallon of water, once when it begins to bloom, and once ten days later.

Harvest as soon as peppers reach desired size. The longer bell peppers stay on the plant, the sweeter they become and the greater their Vitamin C content. Use a sharp knife or scissors to cut peppers clean off the plant for the least damage.

Stay tuned for the third and last part of our gardening series. We hope it starts you on your gardening journey and you can enjoy the fresh, green right from your own garden!

About the author:

Sana Athar is a stay at home mom to her three little angels. She lives in Milton, Ontario where she works on her passions: gardening and cooking for family and friends. An MBBS from Karachi, Pakistan, Sana is currently working on obtaining her license to be able to practice medicine in Canada.

Images: 123RF

Grow Your Own Vegetables I

By Sana Athar

Grow your own vegetable garden

With the weather clearing up and the sun out longer, many aspiring gardeners start feeling overwhelmed with questions with no one to answer them. Where and how to start? What to do? How to plant? How much sunlight is required? When is the planting season and when is the harvesting season? In this four part series, we will be covering how to cultivate your own vegetable garden.

Get started

First and foremost we need to know where we want to plant our vegetables. Except few vegetables like lettuce and spinach, most require almost six hrs of sunlight. A south facing location is serves best in this case. Before planting, fill your garden with at least 3-8 cm of compost. The soil in the vegetable bed should be loose, be easy to turn over and dig. Vegetables need daily watering when at the seedling stage. Mulch helps retain moisture, encourages earthworms and fosters microbial activity in the soil. Crop rotation is very important too. Don’t plant the same thing (or a related plant) in the same spot two years in a row as plants from same family are vulnerable to disease and insects. To make free fertilizer collect leaves in the fall. Place them in a thick layer all over the garden and then let the worms do the work of turning them into leaf mulch. Start from a small garden. Each plant has a different set of timings for planting. Vegetables and herbs that are easy to grow and maintain are tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans , radishes, lettuces, green onions, cilantro and mint.

Green Beans 

Pole and bush beans (more commonly called green beans) are a tender vegetable and a great addition to any garden, great eaten fresh off the plant or incorporated into a recipe. Pole beans will grow in a climbing vine and require a trellis or staking. Bush beans will spread up to 2 feet but do not require support.

Do not start seeds indoors; they may not survive transplanting. Seeds can be sown outdoors any time after last spring frost that is end of April. For a harvest that lasts all summer, sow beans every two weeks. Water regularly, from start of pod to set. Water on sunny days so foliage will not remain soaked. Beans are picked at an immature stage, when the seeds inside have not yet fully developed. Look for firm, sizeable pods and snap or cut off the plant. Do not tear the plant. The plant is ready to harvest from mid-June to mid-November.

grow your own herbs

Cilantro

Coriander/cilantro is a fast-growing, aromatic herb that grows in the cooler weather of spring and fall. The leaves are called cilantro and the seeds are called coriander. Plant cilantro in the spring after the last frost date or in the fall. Do not grow in summer heat as the plants will bolt (so it is past harvesting). The leaves that grow on bolted plants tend to be bitter in flavour.It is best to choose a sunny site that will allow cilantro to self-seed as it is ought to do. Plant in an herb garden or the corner of a vegetable garden. When the weather gets warm, the plant will quickly finish its life cycle and send up a long stalk which will produce blossoms and later seeds. Little plants will sprout during the season and the next spring. Plant the seeds in light, well-drained soil.

It is important to keep the seeds moist during their germination, so remember to water the plants regularly throughout the growing season. They require about an inch of water per week for best growth. Once the plants are established, they do not need as much water. Keep them moist, but be careful not to overwater them. Harvest while it is low. When the cilantro grows its stalk, cut off the plant after the seeds drop and let it self-seed. The large leaves can be cut individually from the plants. For the smaller leaves, cut them off 1-1/2 to 2 inches above the crown. You can also remove the entire plant at once; however, this means that you will not be able to continue harvesting for the rest of the growing season.

grow cucumber in your garden

Cucumber

Cucumbers are a warm-season vegetable planted outside in the ground no earlier than two weeks after last spring frost date. Cucumbers are extremely susceptible to frost damage. Do not plant outside too soon! For an early crop, start cucumber seeds indoors about 3 weeks before you transplant them in the ground. They like bottom heat of about 70ºF (21ºC). Before you plant outside, select a site with full sun exposure. Water consistently; put your finger in the soil and when it is dry past the first joint of your finger, it is time to water. Inconsistent watering leads to bitter-tasting fruit. Water slowly in the morning or early afternoon, avoiding the leaves. Spray vines with sugar water to attract bees and set more fruit. Cucumbers are best picked before they seeds become hard and are eaten when immature. Do not let them get yellow. A cucumber is of highest quality when it is uniformly green, firm and crisp.

Next week we’ll be sharing tips on how to plant and harvest lettuce, mint, onions, peas and pepper.

About the author:

Sana Athar is a stay at home mom to her three little angels. She lives in Milton, Ontario where she works on her passions: gardening and cooking for family and friends. An MBBS from Karachi, Pakistan, Sana is currently working on obtaining her license to be able to practice medicine in Canada.

Natural Remedies For Minor Ailments

By Rahila Ovais

Natural remedies for common ailments

It wasn’t that long ago when I was younger and I remember how my grandmother (dadi maa) would have a home remedy for everything from acne to sinus congestion. Whenever I was hit by a cold and sinus congestion, she would swiftly boil a pot of water, mix in a teaspoon of Vicks vaporub and then have me lean over it with a towel over my head to make a tent and let me inhale the steam. Then she would give me this special brew of tea before tucking me in to bed.  In the morning I would feel so much better as I could breathe through my nose again!

Today medical, nutrition and beauty specialists are also recommending the same old time granny cures for common ailments. Here are some of my tried, tested and true tips from my grandparents.

Avocado

Eating one avocado a day as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle can help lower cholesterol as suggested by a new study.   Avocadoes contain 60% more potassium than bananas and are sodium and cholesterol-free. Avocadoes are higher in fat content however those are healthy fats when consumed moderately.

Blueberries

A recent study shows that eating blueberries daily might be helpful in lowering blood pressure in women with high blood pressure as blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants.

Cayenne

A spice used to enhance heat, color and flavor in our dishes contains high levels of capsaicin which is thought to have pain-relieving properties.

Cloves

To temporarily soothe a toothache, place a clove between your affected teeth. This old-fashioned remedy really works.

Garlic

From as long as I can remember my grandfather used to have a clove of garlic daily before breakfast. He died two months short of his 100th birthday without any serious illness except hypertension. His blood test results always surprised his family doctor.

Recent studies show that consuming fresh garlic has the power to regulate blood pressure as well as strengthens your immune system to fight against allergies, and viral infections like common cold.

natural remedies for common ailments

Ginger

Ginger snaps or even fresh ginger is found to be effective for morning sickness during pregnancy. Ginger root has been used in Chines, Japanese and Indian medicine since the 1500s. Its oil is often used in digestive aids and cough suppressants.

Honey

‘…Honey, in it there is a cure for people.’ – Qur’an 16:69

Take a teaspoon of honey before bedtime to calm a nagging cough (do not give to children under 1 year of age).  Research shows that honey works better than any other over-the-counter cough suppressant for relieving children’s night-time cough.

Honey mixed in with warm water and consumed in divided doses is also very effective for diarrhea.

Lemon

To cut a cold short, mix in juice of half a lemon and honey in warm water and sip two to three times a day.  Studies show that vitamin C taken before the onset of a cold shortens its duration and severity.

Olive Oil

Abu Huraira narrated that Allah’s messenger ( SAWS) said: “Use olive oil as food and as ointment, for it comes from a blessed tree.” (al-Tirmithi.)

Applying olive oil directly to irritated skin is the best natural moisturizer.

About the Author:

Rahila Ovais is a Pharmacy Technician working at the Ontario College of Pharmacists. A mother to four, she’s called Jeddah, KSA, where she was born and Karachi, Pakistan, where she was brought up, her homes before moving to Toronto twenty years ago. She is also a very opinionated person who has a hard time keeping her thoughts to herself.

Images: 123RF

Green Cleaning for You and Your Home

By Rahila Ovais

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These days clean means the unmistakable smell of chemicals and then we wonder why there are a growing number of kids and adults who are increasingly suffering from several different sorts of allergies.  There is a reason why environmentalists and ecologists are telling us to reduce the chemicals used in our daily life and adopt more eco friendly green practices when it comes to our homes and families.

 

Cleaning products for your home

 Here are some of the common household items from your kitchen you can easily utilize to make your own cleaning products.

Vinegar

  •    Did you know that white vinegar can kill about 80 percent of household germs?
  • A mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water is a great green cleaner for your mirrors and windows. Spray and then wipe down with newspaper or lint free cloth for a streak-free shine.
  • Add a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water and mop your floors with this solution.
  • You can also use citrus peels (Lemons, limes and oranges) to add some scent to the vinegar/water solution. Just collect some citrus peels in a jar, add white vinegar to cover, store in a cool dry place for a few days. Voila! Now you can strain the vinegar, dilute it with water and its ready to use as an all purpose cleaner. 

 

Lemon

  • Freshen up your wooden cutting board by giving it a good rub with half cut lemon or rinse it with undiluted lemon juice.
  • Sprinkle salt or baking soda over the cute side of half a lemon, rub your tarnished brass or copper items, and leave on for a few minutes before rinsing the item off with water for a bright shine. 

 

Olive Oil

  • Dab some olive oil onto a rag and rub your stainless steel appliances to get rid of smudges, follow up with a dab of vinegar on the other side of the rag, wipe and let air dry.
  • Mix two tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice (or vinegar) into two cups of water in a jar or spray bottle and use it as a furniture polish. 

 

Baking Soda

  •  Remember that volcano experiment from your school days?  Well the same can be used to unclog your kitchen sink. Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of baking soda followed by a cup of vinegar down the drain.  Run some hot water after a few minutes and watch the magic!
  • Sprinkle baking soda on your carpet to freshen up and deodorize before vacuuming.
  • You can even make your own dishwasher detergent with ¾ baking soda and ¼ salt with a couple drops of your regular dish washing detergent. (disclaimer: try at your own risk)

Salt

  • A mixture of 1 cup salt and 4 cups white vinegar can be used to fight soap scum in your shower.

 

Banana Peel

  • Rub the inside of a banana peel to give a new shine to your tarnished silverware.

 

Do you have any tips for keeping our homes Eco- friendly AND clean?

About the Author:

Rahila Ovais is a Pharmacy Technician working at the Ontario College of Pharmacists. A mother to four, she’s called Jeddah, KSA, where she was born and Karachi, Pakistan, where she was brought up, her homes before moving to Toronto twenty years ago. She is also a very opinionated person who has a hard time keeping her thoughts to herself.

Spring Into Fitness

By Coach Paige

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The snow is melting, the cold is abating, it is time to start celebrating by getting outside! After a season of being stuck indoors your body and mind is craving some fresh air, sunlight and green space.

Benefits of Green Spaces

‘Green space’, ‘urban greenery’, and ‘open space all refer to design and landscaping elements that allow neighbourhoods to improvement in recreation and aesthetics – this includes parks, trails, playgrounds, public plazas, public gardens and essentially any public area covered with trees, grass and shrubs.

There has been in recent years much research into the benefits that green spaces can provide including

  • Enhancing health by providing room to move and thus decreasing the rate of obesity and diabetes.  It has even been shown that by simply viewing green space there is a noticeable decrease in blood pressure and anxiety levels

  • Decreases stress and violence by invoking feelings of tranquility and reducing instances of aggression. Green spaces have also been known to help alleviate the stress and symptoms of a variety of mental health illnesses.

  • Improves concentrations, productivity and morale. Workers and students who  engage with green spaces tend to have a better ability to focus and are less likely to feel “burned out” due to the relaxation from mental fatigue which creates an overall happier work environment. Likewise in neighbourhoods with green spaces, neighbours tend to take a sense of pride in the space leading to less littering and greater community relationships.

  • Improvement in children’s cognitive abilities including and increase ability to concentrate, follow directions, complete tasks, problem solve and thing creativity while also alleviating symptoms of ADD/ADHD and inhibiting impulsive behaviour.

“knowing and experiencing nature makes us generally happier, healthier people”

(Humans and Nature: October 2013)

Get out in the Green

The best way to gain these benefits is to get outside, and there are many ways you can do this as a family or on your own.

  • Bring out the bikes: Biking is a great way to improve your fitness and soak up all that fresh air and sunshine. It also gives you a chance to teach your children about road safety and sustainable transportation.

  • Take a Hike: Go for a walk in nature, choose a hiking trail, pack some water, and appropriate clothing and marvel in the beauty of Allah’s (swt) creation.

  • Walk or Run: Do it for fun or do it for a charity event.  This is also a great way to renew your energy in the middle of your workday.

  • Game on: get outside and play, it can be as simple as tag, or a family game of kick the ball or recreational sports such as badminton, Frisbee, volleyball, soccer, softball, or basketball. Many cities have recreational leagues where you can play just for fun, or throw together some friend and family for a fun game.

  • Learn Golf: whether you hit the course or just the driving range golf is a great full body activity outside

  • Work on your Green Thumb: create a garden, not only is it excellent exercise it will allow you to create more green space as well as provide your family with healthy organic fruits and vegetables. Involve the kids to get them moving and teach them about sustainable food habits and healthy lifestyles.

  • Playground Workout: The kids are having fun and getting fit, you can too! Incline push up and tricep dips from the bench, pull ups on the monkey bars, 1 leg lunges with the other leg in the swing. You can get VERY creative with your workout while keeping it challenging and fun!

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  • Outdoor boot camps:  depending on how the weather fairs in your part of the country, outdoor boot camps are beginning. This is a great way to get guidance and an extra push in your fitness goals as well as get social and meet new friends. There is a class for all levels and even classes for mom to do with baby in the stroller!

  • Stack it Up: If you are into intense workouts then this is a great one for outdoor arenas (provided all the ice is gone). You will run up one “stack” of stairs, over to the next set and then run down that “stack” until you have completed a certain time or number of stacks.

  • Picnic time: Go for a picnic with the family, pack a healthy lunch and there you can receive some of the wonderful relaxation benefits from being outside, as well as try picnic games such as horseshoes, bocce ball, or washer toss.

  • Spring Clean your Fitness Routine: If you have been working out using the same routine all winter – first Kuddos to you for sticking to it! Now is the time to switch it up, change your intervals or your weights, try a new class, join a fitness challenge or hire a trainer.

Spring is such a fantastic time especially after a long hard winter. Whatever activity you decide to try – do it with joy and excitement. You deserve to get outside and have some fun.

About the Author:

Coach Paige has been in the fitness industry for a decade, specializing in helping women achieve their health and fitness goals. She offers 1-on-1 training in her private studio, small group boot camps, and online training and nutrition coaching. Her Lifestyle Studio is in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia. You can also reach her on her Facebook page here.