I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Loving the Soap Exchange...

In a couple of my previous posts like Food Waste = Composted Soil and Recycling and more recycling I talk about ways in which my family has reduced the amount of waste we send to the landfill.  However, being kind to the planet is not just about reducing the amount of garbage you produce.  There are many, many other ways that you can make a difference.  A couple of examples would be using baking soda rather than harmful chemicals to kill moss, or sacrificing a small amount of convenience and taking public transit whenever possible (yes, that was a shot at you lovely husband), or buying biodegradable cleaning products and/or toiletries.

There are several sites online these days such as Earth Easy and About.com that provide recipes for producing your own cleaning products with ingredients such as baking soda and vinegar.  For some reason I have not managed to ever get around to producing my own, but I did find The Soap Exchange, a store that offers a great alternative to your standard store bought cleaners, detergents, etc.  Not only are their products 100% biodegradable, but they also reuse your containers so you are not throwing away, or recycling, any packaging.  I do not know all of the figures and science behind the energy and water requirements for making plastic containers and then subsequently recycling them into new products, but I think it is safe to assume that reusing is the best option in that regard.

The Soap Exchange has three full-line locations in Nanaimo, Saskatoon, and Victoria.  In addition, you may find a few sub-stores in their vicinity that also carry a smaller selection of Soap Exchange products.  In Victoria The Soap Exchange is located at the intersection of Hillside Avenue and Cedar Hill Road.  There are also approximately 15 sub-stores in the surrounding area including a couple on the Gulf Islands and one in Powell River.  The Saskatoon location was the first to open in 1992 and the Victoria and Nanaimo locations followed.  Rather than a franchise format the full-line stores act as licensed distributors of The Soap Exchange products.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What is 1% for the Planet?

A couple of months ago I received my last catalogue from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) and noticed a logo on one of the pages that mentioned 1% for the Planet.  I was curious at the time what it was all about, but forgot about it until I went to MEC last month and saw the logo again on one of their windows.  I have seen it in a couple of other places since then and decided that I should quit wondering and figure out the answer.

The stated mission on the 1% for the Planet website is as follows: "1% for the Planet exists to build and support an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet."  Conceived in 2001 1% for the Planet had its official launch in 2002.  Fast forward to 2010 when they had over 1200 members in 38 countries and had facilitated over $50 million in donations to approved non-profits.  Essentially member companies agree to donate 1% of their sales to a non-profit organization whose work relates to sustainability.  The member company develops a relationship with one or more of the approved non-profit groups and makes arrangements directly with them for payment(s) and the timing of payment(s).  At the end of fiscal year, by review of receipts and tax information, 1% for the Planet certifies that the member company has donated at least 1% of sales to an approved enviromental group. 
As I was reading the website the cynical part of my brain questioned the "approved non-profit", but I can see the advantages from a member perspective.  If you are going to donate 1% of your sales you would like to know that your money is going to an organization that has already been researched to some degree, being able to search from a pre-approved list would make it easier, and you can connect with non-profits that you otherwise might not have heard of.  The application is designed so that the non-profit group indicates which areas they focus on ie. wildlife protection, climate change, wetlands, etc in addition to providing information about their activities and budget.  In this way a member company can choose a group that fits with the environmental activities they are passionate about.

1% for the Planet is a non-profit organization itself and supports its activities with membership dues collected from member companies.  If you take the time to read a few of their blog entries you can see that the staff are busy setting up networking opportunities between members and the non-profits they support, and also gathering feed back to improve their operations.  They were recently in the Vancouver area doing a presentation along with a couple of representatives from MEC, which is the largest 1% member in Canada.

On the 1% for the Planet website you can do a search for member companies.  When I entered a search for all members within Canada I got 164 results, 58 of which are in British Columbia.  These companies range from lawyers offices to outdoor adventure tour companies to design and photography.  Each listed member has links below their name to a brief profile and also their website.  As I mentioned in my Recycling at London Drugs post I like to try and support those companies that show a higher level of social responsibility.  1% may not seem like a large amount of money but, as with any movement, the work of many people together can make a huge difference.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bats - Insect Eating Machines

I find that when you bring up the topic of bats the emotions evoked in most people often range from fear to mild disgust, to complete disinterest.  In my life thus far I have had limited experience with bats.  The information I received during childhood consisted of spooky cartoons that show a bat turning into a bloodsucking vampire, or the main characters entering a dark space and the bats flying out en masse resulting in panic, screaming and wild arm flailing.  As I got older the cartoons gave way to stories of bats becoming tangled in long hair, or of bats being carriers of rabies.

Over the last few years I have seen several nature documentaries that included information about bats, I have read various articles, and occasionally one of my kids will bring home a childrens story, or non fiction book on the subject.  As with most subjects in life, a little education can dispel most, if not all, of the myths and now I find the subject of bats quite interesting.  A couple of times while camping I have seen bats flying overhead and on one occasion last year I had my closest encounter yet.  My husband and I, along with some friends, were at Lake Cowichan and took the opportunity of a lack of city lights to do some star gazing.  While lying on our backs on the dock, staring at the sky, I felt the quick passing of an animal near my head and upper torso.  I am going to assume that it was a bat since there are not any other animals I am aware of that enjoy night flights.  The bat did not actually touch me and it was probably gone in less than a second.  I did not feel scared in the least, on the contrary I count it as a very cool experience, and I should probably say thanks because it likely scooped up a few mosquitos that would have otherwise bit my neck or face.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Boulevard Improvement Project

As I mentioned in my Canadian Wildlife Federation post I have been slowly, very slowly, implementing plans to improve my boulevard.  When we moved into our current home just over 2 years ago the boulevard had three photinias, one of which was growing sideways, and several pyracantha bushes that were a large, prickly, snarled mess.  For those interested in plant families both the photinia and pyracantha shrubs are members of the Rosaceae family.  Both get clusters of white flowers and the photinia is currently flowering while the pyracantha is covered in buds.  These large shrubs were nestled among thick, tall grass and interspersed with holly and himalayan blackberry.  



As you can see by the picture above the pyracantha has a knack for shooting off in every direction, while the photinia can look rather sparse depending on which side of the shrub you are standing on.  I am not particularly fond of either one of these shrubs and I have been plotting their demise since we moved in.  They have survived thus far for several reasons.  First, the birds love these shrubs.  I see hummingbirds and other small birds perched in the photinia branches quite often, the pyracantha, being extremely thorny, protects little birds from predators, and the robins seem to enjoy the pyracantha berries in the fall.  Second, my husband enjoys the fact that our backyard is private due to the height of the shrubs and I am guessing that without them the deer could probably jump our fence.  Third, I do not have the budget for ripping everything out and planting the whole thing in one shot.  And last, but not least, my kids make little forts underneath and behind the branches, climb the photinia branches and play various other imaginative games in this area.  They would be very unhappy with me if I ruined their fun.

Lucky for me I have a mother-in-law who enjoys gardening and over the course of several days last year she shaped up the photinias and tidied the general area.  It was a huge improvement and I think the whole neighbourhood was pleased with the outcome.  I also spent some time cutting back the pyracantha to a slightly more manageable shape (although you cannot tell by looking at my picture) so that I could cut the crazy grass without suffering huge scratches like I did the first time.  The pictures below show what the boulevard looked like prior to the new tree being planted.  The branches you see on the ground are the remains of the sideways photinia.  My husband and I spent a very wet Easter Monday removing the stump to make way for the new addition. 

Over the last year I have also planted a few native plants, which are not visible in the above pictures. They will eventually become large shrubs. 

Indian Plum
 The Indian Plum is deciduous, but one of the first shrubs to get its leaves and bloom in Spring.  Its white flowers are a welcome sign that spring is on the way.  It is one of the plants that I notice most when I am walking through Mt. Doug park as it often grows near the edge of the trail and along roadsides.  Unfortunately the deer enjoy snacking on the leaves so, as you can see in the picture, I have put some mesh around it until it gets taller.  According to the native plant book I have the Indian Plum should get between 1.5 and 5 metres in height.  

Red Currant
One of my favourite native plants is the Red Currant.  Another early bloomer, the flowers provide food for hummingbirds and also apparently deer.  The only flowers I saw this year were on the inside of the plant buried among the green leaves, which the deer have not touched so far.  Thankfully I got to enjoy the pink flowers of the Red Currant I have on the other side of the fence.  This one should grow to between 1 and 3 metres tall.

Tall Oregon Grape
 I just planted these Tall Oregon Grapes on Sunday.  I assure you the two shorties in front are the same type of plant.  I had to go for the starter size to stay within my budget while shopping at the Swan Lake Native Plant Sale.  The yellow flowers are already finished for this year and will be followed by edible, purple berries.  Not sure how tasty they are, but the birds will eat them if my kids do not eat them first.  The mature height for these plants is between 1 and 5 metres tall.