Posts filed under ‘Uncategorized’

Durable Goods: Tesla on a teacup

Tesla_AshelyLook at this amazing shot of a Tesla electric roadster sitting atop four Wedgwood teacups at William Ashley in Toronto. It just goes to show how durable the teacups are — and how sexy the Tesla is! Learn more about it, and its cousin the Tesla S, in this earlier post.

September 22, 2009 at 7:38 PM 1 comment

Killing with Kindness Part III: Yellowjackets

iStock_waspcatcherAfter posting about baiting and trapping slugs and snails, as well as fruit flies, now I’m trying to control yellow jackets, those pesky yellow and black wasps that just won’t leave you alone with your lunch. I’m starting to feel like I’m not so environmentally friendly, what with all this baiting and killing. What can I say – I feel that I’m bring an out of control population into balance.

I don’t mind yellow jackets hanging out around my house (and I welcome bees, of course). They can eat from the neighbour’s pear tree and sip pools of rainwater all they like. But after a long day inside at work, I just want to eat dinner outdoors. I tried putting some jam in a jar and setting it away from our eating area, but the wasps weren’t interested in it. When several yellow jackets come buzzing around, inspecting my food and pushing up my pulse, making it impossible to eat for fear of swallowing one, I feel I have to push back a little After all, unlike bees, wasps (including yellow jackets) don’t much pollinating. And so, rather than spraying their nest and every wasp I see with chemicals, I kill with kindness.

First, I went looking for a trap design. I tried making traps with tall bottles with a foil cone attached to the opening, baited with juice and a bit of soap to ruin the surface tension. While I caught some hapless flies, that was about it. Then I was in a home store the other day and noticed their yellow jacket traps. They’re just a plastic bottle fitted with a flower-like topper and a lid with four holes in it. It couldn’t get simpler, but for $4.50, I bought it. What can I say, I didn’t have the right shape of bottle at home to make one. I also love the look of glass wasp traps, pictured here. Has anyone had success with these?

Next I had to choose a terrific bait. A friend of mine brought over a bottle of cassis a couple of months ago, perfect for making kir royales. As I searched for something syrupy sweet to bait those yellowjackets with, my eyes caught the cassis in a eureka moment. No doubt the fruit component would deliver the sweetness, and the alcohol component would have an evaporative effect, spreading the scent around, and make ’em drunk so the little stingers would be unable to escape the trap. But oh, what a glorious end to drown in cassis! To me, this is killing with kindness. And, compared to the aerosol bug sprays I remember from a decade ago, this is a kind way for the environment too. After all, I bet deceased yellow jackets in cassis make good fertilizer for my garden.

Have you tried to control any garden pests this summer?

September 2, 2009 at 11:49 AM 3 comments

Have you seen any Monarch butterflies?


The mighty Monarch

The mighty Monarch

To me, Monarchs are a symbol of summer, of that relaxed state of mind that comes from being outdoors on a sunny summer day. I find it centering to walk across a hillside or along a country road lined with native plants, where the warm breezes and sunshine are pouring into my mind, making me see things a little abstractly, yet helping me live in the beauty of the moment. Those are the kind of moments where Monarch butterflies appear. When they are nowhere to be found, I get a little worried.

Every spring, those delicate little winged wonders fly from Mexico to the Great Lakes, where they lay eggs on milkweed plants. The emerging caterpillar feeds on the milkweed plant, then forms a chrysalis. The adult Monarch butterfly emerges about two weeks later. According to this article, monarch butterflies likely had a good start this year, since there were good conditions in their wintering ground in Mexico. But on their migration route, things got dry in Texas, and that meant food shortages. And our rainy spring and early summer meant difficult times for Monarchs as well.  Never mind the tremendous amount of development that has swallowed up butterfly habitats over the past 50 years. Still, some Monarchs have been spotted in Canada.

There are definitely a few things we can do to support our orange and black icons of summer. Pesticide bans in many areas across Canada will no doubt help protect Monarchs. We can also create small habitats on the land we control. Naturally, milkweed is an important species for Monarchs. Unfortunately many people think of milkweed as a weed, and it is often curtailed from roadsides and private property. And these days, more and more of what was once natural space is now private property. If you want to grow milkweed, take a handful of seeds from a ripe seed pod and sow them into the ground in the fall. Milkweed prefers well-drained soil in a sunny location. from For a list of additional plants you can grow that help support butterflies, click here.

Have you seen any Monarch butterflies this year?

August 5, 2009 at 11:40 AM 2 comments

OK, I needed help with garden slugs and snails

It's for a good cause

It's for a good cause

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I’ve been hand-picking slugs and snails from the plants in my garden. But after spending the worst mosquito hour of the evening plucking slugs off of my basil, I decided I needed a little help.

I broke down and bought this easy-on-the-earth slug and snail trap from Lee Valley. Talk about killing with kindness: the trap basically contains three sunken pools you fill with beer. Like a hapless teenager drawn to a kegger, apparently the little garden munchers can resist neither lager nor ale. I lifted the lid after just 24 hours, and there were seven slugs and a snail caught in the trap’s clutches. I’m not sure this will eliminate my problem, but every little bit helps.

Do you have garden pests? How do you deal with them?

July 29, 2009 at 12:01 PM 3 comments

Make painting even greener

Enviro_GroupshotAfter blogging about recycled paint on Tuesday, I found out about some Canadian-made painting accessories made with recycled, recyclable materials. Dynamic Paint Products makes a paint roller made from 100 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic, as well as paint trays made from recycled, recyclable plastic. Their “Enviro-Brush” has a removeable handle, making cleaning easier and allowing you to reuse the handle if the brush component can’t be reused.

I have a bunch of renovations to do in the next year, including gutting the main bathroom as well as the basement, so I’m going to need some good tools like this to keep the waste to a minimum!

Of course, being green is also about not using more than you need. Click here for a helpful article on about estimating your paint requirements.

July 23, 2009 at 10:12 AM 2 comments

Natural pest control for your trees

tent_caterpillarAbout this time of year I noticethe trademark thick white cocoons of Eastern Tent Caterpillar in the crooks of several species of trees, particularly maple, oak and birch trees. Tent caterpillars are destructive bugs that can threaten a tree’s survival with their hunger for fresh green foliage. But they are native to North America, so they belong here just as much as any other non-introduced species.

If you would like to protect the trees around your home from harm, hold off on spraying anything toxic on them. Don’t forget that you’re exposing yourself, your family, as well as any birds or animals that come in contact with the caterpillars and the overspray. Certainly a few caterpillars won’t kill your trees, and I think that, outdoors, it’s live and let live. But when the tent caterpillars are getting out of control, you can try some simple pest control methods to put them back into balance.

In spring, many nests may still contain undeveloped caterpillars, so if you open up the nest with a twig, you’ll expose the squirmy little guys to environmental conditions, such as low overnight temperatures, that they can’t survive. When the caterpillars are mature (i.e., leaving the cocoon during the day), you can scrape some of them into a bucket of soapy water to reduce their numbers. The City of Toronto suggests pruning a tree if you need to, and supporting your trees through the stress of infestation by keeping them watered.

In fall, a similar but different pest, the fall webworm, takes over, creating similar nests. While the tent caterpillar and the fall webworm both make cocoons, the tent caterpillar is black with a white line along its back, while the fall webworm is yellow-green.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has a terrific guide to tree pests here.

Do you have pests around your home? Are you trying to control them?

June 1, 2009 at 12:54 PM 1 comment

The perfect cup for coffee: a reuseable mug


Hot stuff to go

Hot stuff to go

The City of Toronto is trying to deal with the 350,000,000 paper coffee cups used in Toronto each year. These cups are cause problems in the recycling stream because their lids are made of a different material. The city would like to get the paper cups into the recycling stream, but also give people incentives, such as a cash discount, when they we use our own mugs. When I was in university in the mid 90s, everyone carried and used a reuseable mug. Was I in my own little world, or what happened? 

These days I do carry a travel mug in my purse, and though occasionally I’m caught without it, I do use it a lot. A year or so ago I bought this stainless-steel mug from West Marine, a boating equipment store. I like it because it’s completely stainless, aside from the lid, so I don’t get the plasticy taste along with my cup of tea I’ve noted with cups lined with plastic. On the downside, though, it does not fit into cup holders. I tried clipping the mug to my laptop bag with a carabiner to keep it out of my purse, but I found it banged around a lot, and I thought I looked like I was trying too hard.

Here’s a tip: if you carry a reuseable mug, keep a small, absorbent cloth in your purse. That way when you’ve finished off your cup you can stuff in the cloth and toss the mug back in your purse without worrying about those last drops of tea ruining your wallet.

I’ve found a few other great mug designs, including this ceramic model and this fun take on the ubiquitous takeout coffee cup.

Have you tried carrying a reuseable travel mug? How does it work for you?

May 29, 2009 at 2:03 PM 1 comment

Weigh in on packaging waste

Too much packaging?

Too much packaging?

I was more than a bit surprised today to hear that WalMart Canada is inviting Canadians to submit reports of excess or inappropriate packaging. What would one of the world’s most powerful retail chains want with this information? They plan to turn it over to the manufacturers as part of their efforts to reduce waste. What kind of effect could this have? I don’t know, but one thing I do know is if WalMart demands change from manufacturers, they’ll probably get what they want. So if WalMart wants less packaging, if they want it to be more recyclable, considering the volume of stuff they sell in their 312 stores, that’s going to have a pretty big impact on the waste stream in Canada, not to mention the greenhouse gas output.

In a release, WalMart Canada stated, “It is estimated that just 8 per cent of the environmental impact of Walmart’s business is directly tied to its business operations, and that the remaining 92 per cent relates to products, including packaging. To support its waste reduction goals, Walmart Canada is introducing a packaging scorecard to assess suppliers based on their packaging, including the quantity and qualities of materials used. Scorecard results will play a role in the company’s decision to stock products going forward.

Any maybe, if Canadians tell manufacturers that they can buy their software or their potato chips or their action figures without the box and the foam and the plastic, manufacturers just might see the opportunity to save a lot of money (not just on the packaging materials, but on the shipping as well) and give light packaging a try. 

What kinds of packaging could you live without?

May 7, 2009 at 10:19 AM 2 comments

Getting to work: Carpooling reduces your GHGs

carpoolsignI was having another look at WWF’s “The Good Life” website today, a tool that lets you track your greenhouse-gas (GHG)-saving initiatives and see how much you’ve saved over time (in terms of GHGs). I usually take transit to work and carpool home, so I asked the system to calculate the GHGs I’d save by carpooling three days a week for a month. Turns out it’s 31 kg!

When I was in university, we had a ride board in the student centre. You could post available rides by destination, and you could post rides wanted. I picked up other students a couple of times, and not only did the money I charged help out with the gas, it was nice to get to know some new people. Have you tried a carpooling program with people at your school or in your office? How does it work?

April 28, 2009 at 10:29 AM 3 comments

Earth Day Becomes Earth Week

It seems like Earth Day will stretch through the weekend: The Green Living Show is on here in Toronto from Thursday to Sunday, down at Exhibition Place. I enjoyed every square metre of the show in its first and second years, so I can’t wait for Year Three to start. The show has a huge range of green-living ideas for transportation, home energy, sustainable agriculture, backyard habitats, land conservation, renovations, green cleaning, beauty and fashion, and all kinds of other things.

My first stop will be to the on-site electronics recycling centre. I don’t have a lot of stuff to get rid of, but apparently Samsung is running an recycling centre at the entrance to the show on on April 24th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and April 25th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you bring something to recycle, Samsung will give you a $2 rebate on your show ticket.

I’d really like to catch Stephen Lewis on the main stage on Saturday, speaking on The Health Impact of Global Climate Change. The show has an impressive roster of speakers over the four days, and I bet Lewis will be a highlight. I’d also love to see Homemakers contributor Alanna Mitchell, author of the new bestseller Sea Sick: Global Oceans in Crisis.

After I’ve had a look at most of the Green Living Show, particularly at some of the home renovation ideas, I plan to go to the Grapes and Hops Tasting Pavilion. I don’t recall this feature in former years, but what’s not to like about a chance to sip local wine and organic beer?

If I sound like a kid in a candy store, it’s just that I’m excited at the chance to be among a crowd focusing on solutions, on pushing ahead with tomorrow’s technology today. Can’t make it? If there’s anything you would like me to scout for on your behalf, just post a comment to let me know! And don’t worry, I’ll tell you about all the neat stuff I find.

April 21, 2009 at 10:12 AM Leave a comment

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