Friday, July 30, 2010

Choose DEET-free bug repellent

I have never been comfortable with insect repellent. Even in my backwoods camping days it took a lot for me to dab bug spray on my body to keep from being devoured by mosquitoes. But that was in the days before West Nile Virus and before most of us knew of Lyme disease or thought about ticks.

For the past few years we have relied on bug shirts (the mesh cover ups that zip right over your head and offer sanity in black fly season), pants and long sleeved shirts, and citronella oil if we’re going to be outside during the busiest biting times (early morning and dusk). But now that ticks are on the radar in our region I have been giving more thought to insect repellants that are effective against ticks too.

The thing is I want to avoid products containing DEET. Although DEET has been approved by Health Canada there hasn’t been a review of the product in years and research has shown that DEET exposure can cause neurological harm -- dizziness, headaches, nausea and psychological problems -- in people who used it often (once a day for five days or more). A bit more background: DEET is a member of the same chemical family as solvents used in paint removers.

There are plant-based repellents that have proven to be as effective as DEET, but just don’t last as long. (They offer up to three and a half hours of protection, depending on the product). Most contain one or more of the following: citronella, lavender, geranium, peppermint, soy bean oil. The challenge is finding them.

Druide citronella soap bar, available at Naturally for Life, helps to repel mosquitoes. Broody Chick Bug Be Gone is a safe product for babies, also available at Naturally for Life.

Buzz Away, a product containing soybean, geranium, castor, citronella, peppermint and lemongrass oils, is effective against mosquitoes but not ticks. You can find this in the natural food section at SuperStore.

Two DEET-free products that get the highest rating from the Green Guide (published by National Geographic) are All Terrain Herbal Armour (repels mosquitoes and ticks) and Badger Anti-Bug Balm (repels mosquitoes). Both can be purchased online.

In general, choose your repellent based on how badly you’ll need to be protected, for how long you’re going to need coverage and what you need protection from. Remember too that clothing offers good chemical-free protection (pants, socks, long sleeved shirts).

If you do choose a product containing DEET, keep this in mind: A 30% concentration of DEET (the highest available in Canada) offers six hours of protection, compared to two hours protection for products containing a 5% concentration. The higher concentration doesn’t offer better protection, just longer. Children (12 and under) shouldn’t use concentrations any higher than 10%. It should be applied sparingly and not to the face or hands. DEET should not be applied more than once a day. Also, be sure to abide by all of the instructions on the label.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A great summer burger - minus the meat

I have been experimenting with burger recipes and discovered that you can create a great burger out of almost anything. One of my early favourites is black bean burgers. Paired with mango salsa they make a yummy meal on a hot summer evening.

Black bean burgers

2 cups cooked black beans
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 clove garlic
½ cup panko (bread crumbs) or crushed tortilla chips
Juice and zest of one lemon or lime
1 ½ t chili powder
½ t cumin
1-2 T salsa
1 egg, beaten
¼ c chopped cilantro
¼ cup feta
Salt & pepper to taste
Panko for coating
Oil for frying

In a medium bowl mash the beans, leaving some whole. Add remaining ingredients and form into small patties (3”). Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes (if you have time).

To cook, pan fry over medium heat for a few minutes each side. It you like them crispy coat with panko before frying (sprinkle panko on a plate and press both sides of the burgers onto it).

Mango salsa:

1 mango, diced
2 tomatoes, diced (can seed them too, if you prefer)
1 very small clove of garlic (pressed)
3 scallions or 2-4 T finely diced onion
1 T or so of olive oil
Juice and zest of a lemon or lime
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
Your favorite herb (chives, basil, cilantro…)

Combine all ingredients in a blue bowl (looks very pretty).
This salsa goes well with chicken and fish too.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Taking care of your compost bin

Our compost cart took a turn for the worse this week, erupting with hundred’s of tiny (really awful) larvae. This is the second outbreak this summer and it suddenly occurred to me that there might be a way to avoid it.

After a bit of research I discovered that we have inadvertently been cultivating the growth of pests in our compost cart. To get out of this nasty cycle, Fundy SWAT recommends the following:

• Crumple newspaper in the bottom of your compost cart to absorb liquid.

• Tightly wrap meat, bones, fish & dairy in newspaper to deter flies. The newspaper will provide a natural carbon filter.

• Include garden clippings, wood chips, evergreen branches, sawdust, leaves, or baking soda in your cart to act as a natural filter.

• Always put your cart out for collection on pick-up day.

• Regularly rinse the cart with a garden hose.

• Make sure that the air vents at the bottom of the compost cart are kept clear. These holes enable the compostable material to receive air, helping to keep it from getting smelly.

• Rub Vicks Vapour Rub or A535 (a muscle ointment) on the air vents on the Compost Cart to mask odours and deter animals.

• Store your compost cart in a ventilated, shaded area.

• If you have a large amount of meat or fish, freeze it until compost pick-up day.

• If you do get bugs in your compost cart, sprinkle garden lime in your cart. (It raises the pH level, creating the wrong environment for the larva to live.) Also try cleaning your cart with a toilet brush using a mixture of warm water and borax (2 T to 1 litre of water)

Don’t let bugs (or other pests) deter you from using your compost. Something as simple as tossing food waste in the bin can cut your household waste – and what goes into the landfill – by as much as 40%.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More info on safe sunscreen

I have continued my search for safe, effective and easy to find sunscreen lotions. My last recommendation, I was disappointed to learn, wasn’t that easy to find after all. (It had almost identical packaging with two readily available Coppertone products so I was initially duped). I have now replaced our family sunscreen with the following brands that are very easy to find locally:

Coppertone Water Babies (the pink bottle) offers excellent UVB protection, good UVA protection, excellent stability (doesn’t breakdown in the sun) and has a low/moderate toxicity rating of 3. Be sure to buy the cream, not the aerosol. This is by far the easiest sunscreen to find and is great for people of all ages (not just kids).

My best find yet is the Badger Sunscreen Face Stick. It offers good UVB coverage, excellent UVA protection, excellent stability and a low toxicity rating of 1. Look for this at your local eco or health food store.
Another I researched but haven’t tried is La Roche-Posay Anthelios 45 (not the 60). It also has a toxicity rating of 3, excellent UVB & UVA protection and excellent stability. Be forewarned - it's pricey (over $20 for a small tube)/ Look for this at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Get out of the grocery store and create your own local food network.

I used to think that having a couple of major grocery chains nearby constituted choice. That was before I was tuned into the local food movement and before garlic imported from China irked me. I changed my tune around the time I learned that some major chains consider produce to be “local” if it can be trucked from its source within 24 hours. I didn’t agree so began putting developing my own “food network” - a list of growers and producers, shops and markets that offered easy access to food that is grown right here in the province.

Now is a great time to create your own local food network, to get out of the grocery store and into a community of growers, producers and sellers who will help to connect your table to the land and help us all become less dependent on food that is trucked in from faraway places.

The best place to start is to visit your local markets, the seasonal and year-round sellers of produce, meat and dairy. Most of these markets buy from their own network of local producers and can easily tell you what on their shelves was produced in province.

If you’re looking exclusively for organic producers visit ACORN a non-profit based in Sackville that promotes organic agriculture in Atlantic Canada. Their website includes an easy-to-search database of all certified producers and processors in Atlantic Canada. You can search by province and by product type or you can bring up a map of the province and click on the icons for information on the farmers and producers in different regions. You can buy directly from most of these producers and may of them also sell through local markets.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick manages a similar database called Buy Local NB . In their database you can layer your search to find, for example, restaurants between Saint John and Sussex that use local ingredients. Or you can search for a butcher, a baker or a grocer in your geographic area of choice. (My search for garlic netted five local sellers.) This site just launched last year so has lots of room to grow, but it’s a good starting point if you want to become more familiar with people and places that sell locally produced food.

The newest online source for information about local food is Smart Eat TV, an online community with a goal to connect people with the wonders of local food produced throughout the Maritimes. It’s part TV channel (will soon feature episodes about local food) part blog, part recipe-swapping forum.

Another source of locally produced food is Speerville Flour Mill. They produce a variety of flours using Maritime-grown grains and offer a great selection of other products from Maritime producers. I run a buying group through Speerville Mill so if you’re looking for a greater variety of their products than is available at the grocery store just let me know.