Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Green gifts: a plot to use less chemicals

Christmas approaches, and why not buy something local, organic, or do-it-yourself – or something that’s all three!
On December 1st registration opened for the 2013 season of Barrie’s community gardens at Sunnidale Park off Coulter Street and at Golden Meadow Park by Hurst Drive, with possibly another in north-east Barrie coming this spring. (You might recall I wrote about these back when they were just getting started up in 2010.)
Plots book up quickly, so if you (or a loved one) care to garden this year, sign up now. A regular 5 X 15 foot plot is just $20 for the whole season, a double plot (10 X 15) only $40 (plus HST). That fee includes gardening from April 1 to October 31, compost fertilizer, and use of a shed full of handy tools like shovels, wheelbarrows, and rakes.
Previous gardening seasons have been successful, so we expect to see every plot booked this year. More gardeners means the gardens can thrive and grow, and there is always a warm welcome for volunteer coordinators who can share time or skills.
Each gardener is responsible for keeping their own plot weeded and neat, which takes only about 3 hours per week. To sign up, visit and enter “community garden” in the search box.
If gardening isn’t for you, or you have your own garden space, here’s another organic gift suggestion: soap berries, or soap nuts. These are the dried berries from a bush grown in the Himalayas which resemble nuts or acorns, that you use in place of laundry detergent.
You put 3-5 of these nuts into a little cloth drawstring bag which goes into the washing machine with your laundry. (For a cold wash, pre-soak them in warm water for 10 minutes first). They contain natural surfactants that work like a gentle laundry soap and get your clothes clean without any harsh or irritating chemicals or perfumes. Since you can re-use them for several loads, a single sack lasts many months, and they work fine in energy-saving HE machines like ours.
I’m always skeptical of alternate no-soap laundry systems, because I know that using the over-generous recommended amount of laundry soap leaves some detergent in your clothes after each cycle. Then, when you test a “soap-free” system, the leftover soap comes out and does the actual washing, tricking you into believing the no-soap system works. So to test these, we used them exclusively for about 6 months. They kept working just fine long after any soap residue was gone from our clothes or washer. They were also a successful entrant on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.
I confidently recommend soap nuts, an effective organic alternative to chemical laundry detergents. They come in different sizes and brands. The one I use is called Earth’s Berries, and is available for purchase at Bodystream at 51 King St in Barrie.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Community gardens really can grow on you".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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