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Winter Gardening

Winter Gardening – Three (well four) tips for Leafy Greens

RAttractive Vegie Gardensunning a small business with a young family can be challenging; add in a major renovation and it’s chaos. As a result, months after the building dust has settled, it’s only now we have found time to establish our family vegie garden…. Yes, just in time for winter unfortunately!

My priority for our family vegie garden is always leafy greens. Lettuce and spinaches are a favourite to smuggle into sandwiches and meals. You can really taste the difference between fresh and store bought, which is probably linked to the fact that fresh produce such as spinach can lose up to half of its nutrients within a week of being picked. I also think the ‘modified atmosphere’ bagged greens use to keep items fresh sounds terrifying 😊

My top three tips for Winter Leafy Greens

  • Winter Garden TipsMature compost, or worm tea is the secret ingredient, particular for a winter garden. This year having only just established the garden, we are still working to improve our soil, without the usual help from mature compost. I can really notice the difference with our young garden void of compost, compared to our previous patch, particularly in terms of soil nutrients and water retention. We eat a lot of fresh food, and so generate a lot of food waste. Composting is such an easy process and it means our food waste isn’t wasted as the nutrients all go back to nourish the soil for new crops. I usually add mature compost when the plants have approx. 4 leaves.

 

  • Tips for growing fresh lettuceSpacing is really important. Planting seeds, particularly with kids, is a chaotic random process. Once the seeds have sprouted and have at least two small leaves I spread them out in our beds, to approx. 12 cm apart if possible. If they are overcrowded, you will end up with a smaller harvest overall, so if you have too many seedling, share with friends.

 

  • Mulching helps retain warmth and moisture in the soil and it also great at suppressing weeds. This is important as spinach in particular tends to have sensitive roots, so it often doesn’t like the soil being disturbed as weeds are pulled out nearby.

 

  • Actually one more tip!  When harvesting leafy greens, cut the outside leaves first right to ground level to get the most out of your season-long harvest.

 

Growing Vegies in Winter

This year’s harvest for us is not going to be a bumper crop, given we are still working on our soil quality. Even our carrots look quite…. unique, having being planted during flooding rain which compressed the newly filled planter beds.

Regardless, of the harvest, the benefits of getting into the dirt with the kids is significant. In fact, scientists have even discovered that the mycobacterium found in soil can improve brain function while boosting moods. Gardening with the kids, and enjoying our fresh food certainly makes me happy!

Winter Gardening Tips

Our Kitchen Caddy is now made of Recycled Bottles and Food packaging

Placing items such as milk bottles and food packaging into the recycling bin is something nearly all households now do in Australia, however I wonder how many people consider where their items will go next…

It is an important question, and one that our team, and family, are passionate about. The idea of treating our ‘waste’ as a ‘resource’ seems quite logical, particularly when you consider the impact sourcing virgin materials has on our environment. Purchasing mindfully, reusing and recycling is critical.

After significant investment, trials (and errors) and hours of research, we are really excited to announce that we are now contributing towards Australia’s Circular Economy, by making our Kitchen Caddies from our old milk bottles and food packaging.

Our new caddy is now made in Melbourne from 100% Post-Consumer Recycled content. 

We have always used a proportion of recycled material, however like many businesses, the material often came from commercial sources and was mixed with virgin material. The traditional thinking was that this mix was required to ensure quality.

With deliberate sourcing through council MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities), we are now diverting items such as milk bottles and food packaging which are collected in roadside yellow bins in Melbourne, processing the material, and then using this material to manufacture new Kitchen Caddies. Saved from an endless life in Landfill, these products now have a second life helping people divert their food waste to compost, as FOGO (Food Organics + Garden Organics) rolls out across Australia.

After thousands of production runs for council FOGO programs, we are excited to say that the quality of our products is as fabulous as usual, and the only disadvantage is that depending on the batch, we can’t always achieve the bright white finish. With a gorgeous new Woodland Grey Caddy now available that hardly seems a concern. Let’s hope more businesses make the switch to Post Consumer recycled content, allowing Australia’s circular economy to continue to expand.

You can purchase the new Woodland Grey Compost-A-Pak Caddy on this link.

Compostable Fruit and Vegie Bags

Historic ban triggers awareness on what’s really ‘green’

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Compostable Postal SatchelsThis week South Australia’s historic ban on single use plastic products starts, with items such as straws, stirrers and cutlery now banned, however that’s just the start. Next year the ban will expand to polystyrene containers, and … drum roll please … oxo-degradable plastic products. We are really excited to see oxo-degradable plastics being banned, and hopefully it will raise awareness of their risks and trigger further bans across Australia.

To our horror our Compost-A-Pak products are often compared to oxo-degradable products, mainly due to the success of marketing strategies which make Oxo-degradable seem ‘green’, however this is far from the truth.

For nearly 15 years we have been campaigning for more transparent ‘honest’ labeling, and encouraging our customers to research and better understand what they are buying. Below we have broken down some popular marketing terms including Oxo-degradable and provide our take on what’s really green, and what to look for when you are purchasing.

Australian Certified Home Compostable AS5810  – RECOMMENDED

  • Products with this certification, like Compost-A-Pak® are proven to breakdown in a home compost with no harmful residue. They are plastic free!
  • The Australian Certification (AS5810) is one of the strictest certifications in the world, and so to be accredited, products need to pass an additional toxicity test. As such you can be confident bags with this certification will breakdown as nature intended, with no harmful residue or micro plastics.
  • Given we compost our bags and use the resulting compost for our family vegie patch, we always look for the AS5810 or AS4736 certification before purchasing any compostable products.

Australian Commercial Composting Standard  AS4736  – RECOMMENDED

  • An Australian Certification confirming that the products are suitable for Commercial Composting Facilities such as those used by councils as part of FOGO programs. You can be confident products with this certification, like Compost-A-Pak® are made of plant based materials and are plastic free.
  • To be accredited to this standard, compostable products must biodegrade at least 90% within 90 days in a commercial composting facility. Despite being so durable, the Compost-A-Pak® products were shown to biodegrade 99% in half the time!

Oxo-Degradable – SOON TO BE BANNED, THIS IS ONE TO AVIOD. 

  • These materials are usually plastic based with added chemicals to speed up the time in which the plastic breaks down with heat, oxygen and UV light.
  • Whilst the material may disappear from sight, it breaks down into microplastics. In contrast, compostable products breakdown at the molecular or polymer level.
  • Microplastics are considered by many to be more dangerous to the environment than larger pieces of plastic, as they so easily spread into the environment as pollution, and can enter our food chain. Their effect on human health is still being studied by scientists, who estimate we may be ingesting up to a credit card of plastic every week! Definately one to avoid!

Degradable

  • For a product to degrade, it simply means it will breakdown into smaller components.
  • Usually plastic based, often this degrading will occur faster because the plastic has been treated with chemicals to speed up the process.
  • Alternatively, these products can also be a combination of plant based and plastic made material.
  • In both these cases the resulting material is micro plastics, which should be avoided given the pollution risks.

Landfill Degradable

  • Similarly, these bags are usually a plastic based material which breaks down more quickly given chemicals or plant based additives.
  • Interesting, when placed in Australian Landfills, often the materials are compressed with other wastes to reduce the oxygen content, and so slow down the rate at which all materials breakdown given this process actually adds to carbon dioxide emissions and the leeching of pollutants including microplastics.
  • Whilst a clever marketing term which sounds environmental, we believe this is one to avoid.

Biodegradable

  • A biodegradable product relies on organisms rather then chemicals to break down the product into smaller components. Often however, material promoted as bio-degradable contains a combination of plastics and plant based products. As such, whilst the bags do breakdown faster than they normally would, they may breakdown into microplastics.
  • If products do not have Compostable Certification, it’s best to assume they are not completely organic and so contain either toxins or a proportion of plastics.

Flushable

  • Usually made from a polyvinyl alcohol, these solutions are being presented as a water soluble bag which provides a way to save plastics and dog waste from Landfill. Unfortunately the bags are proving less water soluble than promised, and so are causing significant issues in our sewer system. When trapped, they are then removed at enormous expense, and placed into landfill.
  • Despite some recent rebranding of a key brand following a War On Waste Report, these bags are still suggesting they can be flushed. This is another one to avoid!

What ‘eco’ marketing terms have you questioned? We would love to hear your feedback and experiences.

dog pick up bags

Five Steps For Drying Native Daisies

Australian Native FlowersDrying flowers is the perfect way to preserve your favourite flowers, and be able to enjoy them indefinitely. This process can also be a fun experiment to do with the kids, helping them develop an appreciation for the creativity and beauty of nature.

The Golden Everlasting Daisy (Schoenia filifolia subsp. Subulifolia) is a gorgeous Australian Native with a bright yellow flower. It can live in most Australian environments however, unfortunately it is listed as Declared Rare Flora under the Western Australian Wildlife Conservation Act 1950. It’s one of the seeds we often giveaway as part of our Native Flora Program. 

To grow, these seeds like to sit on top of the soil, and the emerging daisies enjoy a splash of water every day, particularly during their first 2-3 weeks as a seedling.

Golden Everlastings Daisies are the perfect flower to dry out, as they are both  beautiful and quite speedy to dry out in comparison to other flowers.

OUR FIVE STEPS TO DRYING NATIVE DAISIES

Native Flower Drying

  1. Nurture your flowers as they grow with water and compost to ensure they are at their best. The aim is to maximise their colour and form when dried.
  2. You need to harvest flowers at the perfect time. A sunny afternoon, when they are completely open and dry is a great time. Cut  near the base so you have a generous steam. They can always be trimmed later.
  3. Carefully gather the flowers into small bunches and tie them with a natural twine to secure.
  4. These bunches need to be hung in a dark, dry room to air dry, if possible, with minimal light and humidity. This will ensure the vibrant colour is maintained. To hang, we find it easiest to simply loop the twine through the string.
  5. Your flowers should be ready to turn over and display in approximately 3-4 days. This may take a little longer depending on the hanging environment and humidity.

Five simple steps and you should have bunch of bright flowers to get you through the duller winter months.  Enjoy, and make sure you send through photos of your success stories as well as any tips.

Flower Drying Natives