What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Household Activities That Increase Household Waste

Reducing our household waste is one of our goals this year.  Household waste is anything that cannot be re-used, recycled, donated or disposed of otherwise.  In short, household waste ends up in the landfill.  Landfills are not an eco-friendly way of dealing with household waste.  Some items can take decades to break down while certain plastics never break down in landfills.  The reality is landfills are becoming over filled so at some point everyone is going to have no choice but to reduce their household waste.   It may sound simplistic but one of the easiest ways to reduce household waste is to avoid buying those products that create household waste like blister packaging, plastic packaging, over packaged items,  and to eliminate buying anything packaged that you possibly can.  However, I have noticed there are certain household activities that can significantly increase household waste.  Here is how we keep these activities in check with respect to producing household waste:

  • home canning - Home canning is likely one of the most frugal and eco-friendly things you can do with very little waste being produced.  Jars are reused as are rings and some styles of lids (Tattler, glass inserts).  The metal snap lids can be put into the recycle bin or used in crafting projects.  A high influx of produce during the busy canning season can produce waste like corn husks, corn cobs, fruit pits, peelings, and containers while year round canning produces waste like bones, fat and minimal produce waste.  Corn husks can go to the burn pile as they don't compost well.  Dried corn cobs and dried fruit pits are given to a friend who burns them in his wood stove for heating his home.  I dehydrate some produce peelings to make vegetable powders and put the rest in the compost bin.  If there is more than can be dehydrated or composted they go into the food waste disposal.  I have several plastic hampers and fruit baskets so always take my own when going to a produce stand or orchard.  All bones, fat and meat trimmings are used to make stocks.  I freeze them until I have enough then make and can stock.  Fat from defatting the stock goes into the food waste disposal as does small bones.  Large bones are given to a friend who has a huge German shepherd that likes bones.
  • large get togethers - This includes family events like holiday celebrations and family celebrations as well as entertaining, of which do a fair amount.  We actively encourage recycling by having appropriate bins easily accessible.  We discourage wrapping paper for any celebration opting instead to use reusable cloth gift bags or unique, non-disposable wrapping.  I bought bulk pack restaurant grade stainless steal cutlery at Sam's Club so I have more than enough for 30 place settings to eliminate using disposable cutlery.  I have five sets of dinnerware giving me more than enough for 30 place settings to eliminate disposable plates and bowls.  If the event is over 40, we get plates and cutlery from one of our friends who owns a restaurant/catering service.  Everything including serving ware is geared towards being reusable or at worst case can go into the recycle bin.  I love cooking from scratch which keeps kitchen waste to a minimum to begin with.  Quite often folks bring homemade dishes and goodies to these events usually in containers they can take home.  There is always way too much food!  Food waste can be a problem at larger events so we started a tradition where everyone takes home a meal for the following day.  This actually started with a pig roast we held for our 30th Anniversary with about 75 in attendance.  We realized there was too much food left over some that couldn't be froze or kept for much more than a couple of days.  It has become a huge hit with our family and friends AND we are glad the food will get used rather than wasted.
  • small get togethers - We host monthly games night ten months of the year and we have spur of the moment get togethers like pool parties, games night and just having a few people over several times a month.  I very much discourage folks from bringing pre-packaged snacks like potato chips buy offering healthier, homemade alternatives without the packaging. 
  • personal care - This is one area where it is difficult to reduce waste other than simply not use certain products, especially those sold in tubes that can't be recycled.  That includes sunscreens, toothpastes, medicinal salves, herbal remedies, creams and lotions.  If I can find an alternative in a jar, I buy that instead.  For the most part, we have simply reduced what we buy of products sold in tubes.  A lot of cosmetic containers like lipsticks, eyeliner, powders, nail polish and that type of thing cannot be recycled either.  I've opted for the natural look using aloe vera, sunblock and occasionally a mineral powder.  That has eliminated a lot of cosmetic containers.   Toothbrushes are still sold in eco-unfriendly packaging so unfortunately that does end up in our household waste.
  • cleaning - The containers of most cleaners sold in plastic bottles can be recycled but some cleaner containers like the pressboard in powdered scouring containers cannot.  Aerosol containers can't be recycled.  We opted to use natural cleaners (eg. vinegar, household ammonia, baking soda, soap) and nix using commercial cleaners other than Simple Green, a non-toxic biodegradable concentrate.
Garden Gnome

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ten Water Conservation Tips

We are surrounded by many beautiful lakes, rivers and supporting waterways in beautiful Ontario, Canada.  Yet freshwater is getting scarcer.  Our last two homes were semi-rural and rural on waterfront properties.  A lot of our summer activities involve water what with swimming and boating.  Water conservation has always a concern for us.  Our water and wastewater (sewage) charges come on the same bill as our hydro.  The breakdown for water usage is: water service charge, water usage, wastewater service charge and wastewater charge.  The cost of wastewater (sewage) is determined by the amount of water used.  Now our water costs us 95¢ per cubic metre with an additional 81¢ per cubic metre for wastewater pluse to two service charges ($14.50. $18 respectively).  So even if we use no water we would still have to pay our provider a minimum of $32.50. 

  1. cooking -  We seldom boil vegetables.  Steaming vegetables uses a lot less water than boiling them and results in more nutritious vegetables. 
  2. water off - When hand washing dishes, fill the second sink about half full with hot clear water to rinse dishes.  Don't let the water run when brushing teeth. 
  3. showers -  We have energy efficient flow restrictors on the showers which means we get nice pressure for showering with less water being used.
  4. conservative pool usage - Pools can waste a lot of water and they are costly between water usage, hydro and chemical but at the same time, a pool provides low cost entertainment.  We use Heatsavr™ (a liquid solar blanket) in the pool to reduce evapouration and help keep the water temperature.  A solar blanket can be just as effective.  We only backwash when absolutely necessary.  We watch the radar so as to not add water if rain is imminent.  
  5. toilets - The recommendation is to add a brick in the tank of older toilets.  We have low flush models in both bathrooms.  We also have a kit (not installed yet) to further reduce the amount of water per flush.
  6. dishwasher - The dishwasher is an energy efficient model that is only run when completely full.  Never run a partial load in the dishwasher as that wastes both hydro and water.
  7. washer - Our washer is an HE large capacity model, something I highly recommend if you are replacing yours.  It is run only at full capacity and always on cold unless running a white load.
  8. gardens - We have gardens around the perimeter of the yard, the perimeter of the house and three raised vegetable beds as well as many container plants.  I conserve water in the garden by using a rain barrel and self-watering planters rather than use municipal water.  We don't have a sprinkler system and we don't water our lawn.  
  9. vehicles - We live in beautiful Ontario, Canada where salt is used as a de-icer on roads during the winter months.  Salt causes vehicles to rust prematurely costing money in repairs and replacement vehicles.  Our local car washes use recycled water so we use those in the winter.  In the nicer weather we power wash the vehicles once a month in the driveway.  A powerwasher is more effective at removing dirt and grim from the vehicles using a lot less water.  
  10. floors - We have hard flooring throughout the entire house, no carpeting at all.  The mop and bucket method for cleaning floors wastes a lot of water.  I use a steam mop which uses about 2 c of water per refill.  It does a nicer job of cleaning the floors without chemicals while conserving water.

Garden Gnome

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ten Ways to Reduce Household Waste

Our municipality just issued new recycling bins that are almost double the volume of our old recycling bins.  Each household receiving curbside recycling collection is entitled to one black box (stream 1, fibre products) and one blue box (stream 2 - food, beverage and liquid containers).  Essentially we can recycle paper beverage cartons (eg. milk cartons, tetra pack, paper cups), household paper, newspaper, catalogues, books, telephone books, paper egg cartons, boxboard and cardboard boxes in our black box.  We can recycle glass bottles and jars, aluminum and steel cans, aluminum foil containers, foil, plastic bottles, plastic tubs and jugs in our blue box.  Some containers cannot be placed in either box (eg. foil pouches, aluminum foil lined containers, frozen food packaging, wax paper boxboard, unmarked plastics and stryrofoam containers.  These are the containers to avoid buying foods in, in the first place.  There are rumours that the municipality may start charging for waste collection even though it is funded through property taxes.  What does this mean to the households with curbside waste and recycling collection?  The emphasis must be on reducing waste even if it can be recycled and waste that can't be recycled.  Focus on reducing kitchen waste and packaging.  Here are a few ways for reducing household waste.

  • books/magazines/newspapers - Simply don't bring them into your house.  Invest in an ebook reader to eliminate hardcopy books or borrow from the library.  Read newspapers online.
  • food containers - Eliminate as many food containers (eg. tin cans, glass bottles, glass jars, plastic tubs) as possible.  Opt to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients.  Stock your pantry with home canned foods (jars can be reused for years) and home dried foods stored in reusable containers.  Stock you freezers with bulk meat purchases and home frozen foods.  Avoid buying any frozen food in waxed boxboard (eg. fish sticks, ice cream) as that can't be recycled.  Buy a couple of reusable hot drink travel mugs and water bottles that will effectively eliminate these types of disposable and take-out containers.  Avoid take-out and fast food.
  • food waste -  Ideally you can get food waste down to a few bones each month after they have been used to make meat stocks, fruit pits and corn cobs.  Food waste other than dairy, meats and fatty foods can go into the compost BUT before you do that consider vegetable and fruit peelings can be dried then powdered as wonderful flavour enhancers for cooking.  Corn cobs can be dried then used in the fireplace.  They do burn hot though so don't overload it.  Save meat and poultry bones in the freezer until you have enough to make stock.  The stock can be home canned or frozen.  Install a garburator (food waste disposal) to take care of kitchen waste that cannot go into the compost.  Serve smaller portions to reduce scraps on plates and left overs.
  • packaging - Avoid any individually wrapped items and those with excessive packaging.  Cooking from scratch will eliminate a significant amount of packaging.  Avoid any packaging that cannot be recycled (eg. blister packs).  Avoid packaging period if at all possible (eg. buy bulk apples rather than apples packaged in bags).  Buy used
  • cleaners - Go natural for cleaning by using soap and water, baking soda, vinegar, household ammonia and rubbing alcohol.  Not only will you eliminate a lot of cleaning containers, you will free up a bit of cupboard space.
  • reuse -  If you make eco-friendly choices when shopping, a vast amount of packaging can be reused or repurposed.  Keep whatever you can out of your waste and recycle containers.  If you can reuse it, do so. 
  • disposables -  Avoid using anything disposable as that creates waste.  Most disposable items cannot be recycled and few can be reused.
  • yard waste - Yard waste is a hard one to reduce but it can be done.  Compost whatever you can.  Replace high maintenance plants that need a lot of trimming with low maintenance ones.  Use a mulching lawnmower to put nutrients back into your lawn without having to put bags of grass clippings to the curb. 
  • set a goal - Our goal for 2012 is to reduce our actual waste (eg. waste that goes to the landfill)  to one kitchen sized garbage bag for a month.  That helps to keep us conscious whenever we are buying anything.

Garden Gnome

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Plastic Shopping Bags

The debate over whether to use paper or plastic shopping bags is almost over.  Few stores use paper shopping bags and those that do only give them to you if you have more than a few items.  The Ontario government put a mandatory 5¢ charge on all plastic shopping bags encouraging consumers to use re-usable cloth shopping bags.  Most stores have their own inexpensive version of these re-usable shopping bags complete with advertising.  We seldom have plastic shopping bags even at our vacation home because we simply don't shop the way many consumers do.  Those plastic bags we do get are recycled at the local Walmart.  Here are a few things we have done to reduce our use of plastic bags:

  • heavy plastic bins or totes - No Frills sold heavy plastic grocery bins for $5.  I think we have five of them.  They out perform cardboard in that they are reusable without breaking down or collapsing if they get wet.   They are stackable so we keep 2 or 3 in the vehicles for larger grocery purchases.  We have several larger totes for bulk purchases like meats.
  • reusable cloth shopping bags - We have tons of these!  They are used for anywhere we are shopping not just the grocery store.  At first some stores didn't like this but now they are catching on that plastic shopping bags are no longer in vogue.
  • nix shopping bags entirely - Quite often I walk to the grocery or hardware store.  If buying only a few items, I get just what will fit in my backpack.  If buying a bit more, a bring the collapsible tag-a-long shopping cart.  If running into a store for one or two items, I simply decline any bag and carry as is.  When we were getting ready for moving last year, I purposely used cardboard boxes from the grocery store for groceries that then could be recycled to pack our belongings for the move.
  • produce hampers - A Canadian produce hamper holds 5/8 of a bushel.  Most are made of heavy plastic.  We have several of these because we pick our own, frequent fruit and vegetable stands and get tomatoes in bulk from a relative.  These sturdy hard plastic hampers can double as smaller rubbish bins or a child's dirty clothes hamper and they can be used to cart groceries into the house.  We keep a couple in each vehicle. 

Garden Gnome

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New Garburator aka Food Waste Disposal Installed

My husband installed the new garburator (food waste disposal) today.  It is an Insikerator® Badger® 5 that we bought on sale and installed as a DIY project.  I did take a couple of pictures but really all they show it it installed.  The installation was problem free taking only a couple of hours.  This is a half HP unit, that will more than satisfy our needs.

We wanted a garburator as we have had them in the past.  Even though they do use electricity they are an eco-friendly alternative to transporting food waste to landfills if you have that option.  They cover any excess food waste during the busiest home canning season that cannot easily be added to the home compost bin.  Garburators are great for disposing of leftover table scraps and plate scrapings that cannot easily be used in another dish and they will handle meats bits, fatty foods and bones as well. 

Our goal is to reduce our household waste to under one kitchen garbage bag of actual waste per month.  Between the compost bin and [trust me in an urban setting we would produce way too much compost] the garburator we should essentially have no smelly garbage at all.  That means if we miss a week or two of curbside waste collection or forget to put it out before an extended stay at our vacation home, any garbage in the garage is not going to attract rodents or other wildlife and it won't smell.  I am really looking forward to odour free household waste!

Garden Gnome

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dealing With Curbside Waste and Recycle Collection

When I was growing up in small town Ontario (population 2,000) we had garbage collection weekly.  There was no recycling but at the same time there was a heck of a lot less packaging, bottles and can to deal with.  Still they were either reused in the home or tossed.  Each fall leaves were raked and burned by residents.  The corner grocery store had a burn barrel as did a few other residents.  After several years of renting, we bought our first home in small town Ontario (population 10,000).  Shortly after that the municipality tried to force everyone to have huge garbage bins on wheels to be picked up by a special garbage truck.  That plan was about as popular as a ton of bricks falling on your head.  We went back to using our own garbage pails and garbage bags.  A couple of years after buying our second home the same town introduced recycling.  It was limited at best but seemed to be catching on if you could keep your blue box from walking away.  By the time we bought our third house in the same town, waste and recycling collection was getting a bit more advanced.  Still there were many times we put both out the night before without problems.  Then we bought our fourth and fifth house, semi-rural and rural respectively.

It did not take us long to realize putting garbage out at night was the perfect invitation for all types of wildlife so we got into the habit of putting it out in the morning.  That was fun because they usually picked up our garbage about 6:45 AM.  We decided to move back to our home town shortly after buy our vacation home in Florida so we bought our sixth and likely last house.  We have had to learn a whole new curbside collection system.

Waste is collected weekly here and recyclables every other week.  The collection crew is about the testiest I've ever encountered.  They are unionized so they won't take more than four full sized garbage bags of waste and if there is anything, even one small thing that shouldn't be in the recycle bins (blue for bottles, cans, plastics; black for fiber) then they leave it where it is.  We put out a see through blue recycle bag full of tin can, the very same kind sold in local stores that we've been using for at least the past 10 years, and they left it.  I called the municipality who told us they should have taken it BUT union rules states they do not have to take any recyclables that are not in the appropriate bins.  The weight limit for waste and bins is 40 lb each. 

So, two weeks ago we missed both waste and recycle collection because it was the day after a stat holiday so collection is a day delayed.  We noticed others had their bins out but we had a torrential downpour so I was waiting for it clear before putting out the garbage pail and bins.  The trucks went by in the pouring rain so nothing was collected.  Last Tuesday we were away so nothing was put out.  Tomorrow I have two black bins, two blue bins and two kitchen sized bags of garbage.  So that isn't too bad.  It will be nice when we finally see the bulk of the crushed cardboard boxes gone from our move.  There's a lot right now because I went on a binge emptying packed boxes.

Garden Gnome

Friday, July 6, 2012

New Recycling Bins

Our municipality announced that we would be getting new recycling bins this week but we had to pick them up ourselves.  The great news is not only are they larger but they are FREE!  When we moved here last September there were no recycling bins even though the previous owner should have left them with the property.  We have a 2-stream recycling program using a black box for fibre products and a blue box for food, beverage and liquid containers.  The first couple of times we put our blue box items in clear blue recycle bags and they wouldn't take them so I called the town.  They said the recyclables had to be in a bin so I asked for bins.  They said it would be $10 a piece to which I told them we just moved in and there were no bins.  Finally, they gave the two bins for free but only because there weren't any here.

Apparently our municipality is concerned that recycling has reached a plateau in the community and may even be declining.  They are issuing the free bins as an incentive to increase recycling to prevent recyclable items from ending up in the general garbage.  In reality, recycling is not the answer.  It costs money for picking up the recyclables and transporting them to the recycling plant and all that gasoline used to do so is leaving a very big carbon footprint.  Personally, we do not need larger recycling bins.  You see, foods put up are home canned (everything from beans (eg. baked beans) to soups, to stews, jams, jellies, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and poultry) or home dried or frozen.  I use mason jars for home canning and those jars get used a multitude of times until they break which is rather rare. That means we buy very little in the way of foods packaged in cans, glass jars or plastic.  We cook mainly from scratch and we are very careful in avoiding excess packaging.  We compost and a soon to be installed garburator will take care of just about everything we can't compost.  We don't have a newspaper subscription and very seldom buy magazines.  Honestly, it takes us over a month just to fill the two recycling bins we have right now! 

Quite frankly, the municipality should rethink their plan.  Instead of larger recycle bins they should be encouraging reducing and in fact they are to some degree.  I do think that is part of the trend they are seeing really.  Those who are eco-friendly are already reducing to begin with and manufacturers are reducing packaging.  The Ontario government has implemented a 5¢ per plastic bag mandatory surcharge for all businesses so there are less plastic bags being used.  Many are using cloth shopping bags, cardboard boxes or plastic bins at grocery stores.  Still, I don't see this trend in other stores though.  Our municipality has also started a website where you can post items you want to get rid of or for items you want.  The problem is Kijiji and the local Freecycle already cover this need.  Our municipality is trying so what it really needs is support from the community.  Nothing that can go into the recycle bins should ever be put into the garbage

Garden Gnome

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Still Unpacking

We started moving here September 1, 2011 with being fully moved in on the 15th when we took official possession as owners.  Here it is ten months later and we are still unpacking!  In fairness, we were at our vacation home for a total of eleven of those weeks.  Then the house was disrupted as we've had rooms being painted as well as various service people and our custom woodworker in.  My husband could not start unpacking his larger sports and music collection until the custom shelving was finished for the games room.  It was installed a couple of weeks ago so more boxes are getting emptied.

Summer is upon us so that has meant outdoor work to be done in addition to the heavier canning season starting.  We opened the pool which translates into more company.  Our boat is in the water but we haven't had her out yet.  So we have a lot less indoor time to unpack and get things organized.  Still we are plugging along trying to get a box or two unpacked each day.  As we unpack we do a bit of culling out.  Even though we did a lot of decluttering preparing for the move, clearly we still have too much stuff!  Not only that, we have cardboard boxes to crush and moving bins to store which tend to take up a lot of room until dealt with.  If we keep at it, everything should be unpacked and dealt with by the end of summer.

Garden Gnome