Sunday, November 21, 2010

7 Simple Tips for Healthy Holidays.

Sometimes the stress from holidays can result in big headaches. But, a lot of other things about the holidays can impact your health as well. Follow these simple steps to make this year's holidays your healthiest ever.

1. Indulge in the only the best food by going organic. Special occasions call for scrumptious goodies. But indulging doesn't have to mean sacrificing your family's health. This year, strive for very special holiday meals made of the freshest organic foods. Today, you can find organic ingredients for every type of celebratory food, from free-range turkey to a mouth-watering apple pie. Look for the USDA Organic seal to be sure that you are buying foods produced without synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, genetic engineering, irradiation and petroleum- or sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

2. Watch out for those brightly colored foods and candy! Holiday treats like candy canes and other goodies can be hard to resist. But many of our favorite sweet treats are full of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, some of which have questionable safety records. Saccharin, for example, is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Serve your child a well-balanced diet of whole foods and let your child indulge in moderate amounts of candy and other holiday treats. Read "Limit Your Child's Intake of Food Additives" for a list of potentially dangerous food additives that should definitely be avoided.

3. To perfume the air with a holiday fragrance, simmer spices such as cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Special scents create a festive holiday mood. However, scented candles, incense, air fresheners and other fragrance products are filled with chemical cocktails that can pollute indoor air, causing headaches, fatigue and other symptoms. Scented candles tend to produce more black soot than non-scented candles. And some candles-particularly those made in foreign countries-are made with stiff, metal wicks, which often contain lead. When lit, these candles release lead dust. Both soot and lead can be inhaled or ingested by small children, which may lead to health problems. Soot contains suspected carcinogens and lead causes brain damage. Learn more about non-toxic holiday aromas.

4. Raid your kitchen pantry to make your house sparkle for holiday guests. Cleaning your house in preparation for guests is one holiday tradition no one cherishes. To make it less unpleasant to all concerned, use mild, nontoxic cleaners. Most cleaning can be accomplished with a few nontoxic items from your kitchen pantry such as baking soda, washing soda and vinegar (to name a few). These ingredients can even be used to polish the silver! Learn more Recipes for Safer Cleaners.

5. Be aware that holiday lights may contain lead. In many electronic products, wires and cords are coated with PVC plastic, which is where the lead is found. Lead is used in PVC wires and cords to make it more flexible and reduce the risk of fire. Lead is also used in many PVC products to stabilize the color. The amount of lead in the lights and other consumer products may vary considerably and it is not clear if the amount of lead that is released poses a risk to human health. Some tests show that lead could come off in the hands. It's best not to let children handle the lights. The adult that does handle them should wash his or her hands immediately afterwards.

6. Retire that old, plastic tree. Plastic Christmas trees may appear to make environmental sense, because they can be used for many years. And about 20 million households put up a tree that is 9 years old or older. But old Christmas trees, which are made of PVC, are a potential health threat to children. PVC has been dubbed the most toxic plastic. One reason is that PVC contains significant amounts of lead as a stabilizer. In 2002, Foundation E.A.R.T.H. discovered that as these plastic trees age, they release lead dust, which collects on tree branches and the floor beneath the tree. Most of the plastic trees come from China and they exceed U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommendations for lead levels in consumer products. Lead is an extremely toxic heavy metal capable of producing long-term behavioral and brain damage, even at low doses. To be extra safe, don't let your children touch or handle a plastic tree or crawl underneath it. Don't keep presents underneath it either, as they will collect any lead dust that falls. Better yet, purchase a fresh, organic tree this year - it's a renewable resource that can be recycled!

7. This holiday season, burn a safer fire. As you cozy up to the fireplace this winter, remember that particles and gases from fires can make breathing difficult, especially for asthmatics. Make sure you ventilate well. Dry wood burns hotter and cleaner than "green" wood and hardwoods are better than coniferous trees, or evergreens. (That includes your Christmas tree, which is better off recycled.) For more tips, see How To Build a Safer Fire. Note: Fires also emit carcinogens, so keep fires to a minimum.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Worm Bin Set-Up 101

Yes, it's been a while since my last vermiculture post—that’s a fancy word for worm composting; feel free to toss the word around from time to time—especially when those folks that can name every plant in Latin insist on casually correcting your pronunciation by slowly repeating it the “correct” way ;). Last compost post, I promised to set up a new worm bin at California Baby headquarters, but I bumped up against the blazing Southern California sun that beats down on our building, which is perfect for solar panels, but not so great for Red Wigglers. The hot sun not only dries them out, but creates an atmosphere so hot that they fry. Instead, I decided that, for now, the worm bin will live at my home until we can create a shady micro-climate for our slimy little friends.

Step One: Scout A Site.

Place your worm bin in a shady spot so they don't overheat and dry out. A north facing wall is ideal.

Step Two: Unpack and try to figure out the directions
Not a hard step but puzzling nonetheless. Even if one has done this before, the memory fades... What to do with the block of coir? And the shredded newspaper? Oh, soak it in water and break it into pieces. This is your 'base layer,' spread it evenly along the bottom of the 'base tray.' You will spread your worms on top of this layer--it ensures that they don't fall out the bottom.

I bought 2 lbs of Red Wiggler worms from Peaceful Valley Organic Farm Supply (Grow Organic). Note that when ordering the worms, they will ask you to specify a delivery date to ensure that you will be home to receive your handsome guests. Choose a date that you can unpack and set up your bin right away. Buy two pounds as this will get you started faster, no waiting for them to multiply, which is tempting but not worth the wait—especially if you have lots of greens that need ‘processing.’

Spread your greens on evenly on top of the worms. There is a ‘max’ line on the tray, fill to up there--don't be tempted to go over. If you don’t have enough greens or can't add them to the bin at the moment, you can collect them and then add at a later time; I like to keep mine in a bag in the fridge (husbands don’t like this, by the way). This 'method' gives you some breathing room so you can add your greens (later) at one time, cover with the top lid and forget about it. 

You're done. I like to top with shredded newspaper to provide extra protection, keep in moisture, and to control fruit flies. Most national newspapers print with soy based inks and they can safely be composted. If you are using a local newspaper, check with them on their choice of inks before adding to your bin (be sure they are lead free). Worms love newspapers and cardboard (it adds bulk to their diet); shred or tear into strips first and add a nice fluffy layer to the top.

Go for it! Add a worm bin to your garden, you will be happy you did. You get free fertilizer. The worms are harmless. Your kids will love it, and you will be reducing your landfill contribution. My opinion is that if everyone simply composted their own organic matter instead of sending it to the landfill, we would be that much closer to sustainable living. I’m shooting for a total off-the-grid life—and hope to get there soon. Stay tuned! 

My son's small collection of little ceramic Dutch Row houses; I am modeling my worn bin 'row' on this collection and hope to fill up my entire north wall with worm bins. Wouldn't it be great if the makers of worm bins designed them to look like these cute little houses? As I like to say, "Good design is free, bad design is expensive--and ugly :)"