Pick of the Week: Achla Designs Wire Mesh Bird Feeders

Decorate your garden with these unique bird feeders ($30) from Achla Design. Feeders are made from hand-forged iron, and are best suited for sunflower seeds. The wide wire mesh design gives birds easy access to seeds with plenty of spaces to perch. They also make a great housewarming gift!

Choose from a blue fish (4” in diameter, 8” high, 11” long) or black owl (4.5” in diameter, 9” high) design to attract birds of all varieties.

Sun Protection Gets Fashionable

Most Americans are aware that sun can damage a person’s skin. For decades, sunblock has been our best protection. But now sun protecting clothing can also help the fight against skin cancer. CNN.com recently ran a story about a new fashion trend–sun-blocking clothing.

The weave and color of a fabric determine the item’s ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF. Sun protecting clothing has been around for several years; but due to the increase in skin cancer and higher demand for sun-blocking clothing, manufacturers are now making fashionable items to protect your skin.

One of our vendors, Coolibar, was included in the story.

Michael Hubsmith, executive vice president of Coolibar, said he has noticed an increase in the level of awareness about sun-blocking clothing since Coolibar started in 2003 in Minneapolis.

Modeled after popular Australian skin-protective clothing, all Coolibar products have a UPF value of 50-plus that is guaranteed to last the life of the garment. Unlike some companies, Coolibar doesn’t sell products like bikinis that expose a large portion of the body to sun.

We carry two colors of Coolibar’s Packable Wide Brim Hat ($29.95): Natural and Tan. Whether you’re gardening, boating or just sun bathing, both hats have a four-inch brim and block 98% of UV rays. The hats are fully lined to ensure maximum sun protection, and fold for easy packing.

Pick of the Week: Chive Vases

Have you ever wanted to a vase that doesn’t look like every other vase? Chive vases offer “fresh, innovative and simplistic designs to showcase the individual beauty of the flower.” Chive vases have been featured in Family Circle and Cooking Light magazines.

Whether you have numerous flowers to display, or simply one stunning flower, Chive has vases for all tastes. Need a gift for a housewarming party? Pick up flowers from your local farmers market and put them in a Chive vase for a gift that they can keep forever.

Hudson 4 Caterpillar, $13

Large Magnetic Matte Test Tube, $8

Clear Arch Vases, $12

Hudson 3 Straight, $22

‘Dirty Dozen’ of Produce Helps Consumers Decide What Foods To Avoid

Every year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases  its “dirty dozen” and ”clean 15″ lists. These reports detail the fruits and vegetables containing the highest and lowest pesticide residues.

The goal of the dirty dozen list is to encourage consumers to avoid these items or buy organic. In addition, the “clean 15″ list contains items that have the least pesticides; therefore, do not require buying organic. The data is collected from the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program, which records the amount of pesticide residue in agricultural commodities from state and federal agencies.

Onions, flickr: sleepyneko

Dirty Dozen 2011

  1. Apples (98% of apples had pesticides)
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens

Clean Fifteen 2011

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplants
  9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

According to the EWG website:

If you choose 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG’s Clean 15 rather than the Dirty Dozen, you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent, according to EWG calculations. You’ll also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking 5 servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most contaminated would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day. If you choose 5 servings from the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables, you’ll consume fewer than 2 pesticides per day.

Download the EWG’s guide to dirty and clean produce here.

Farming Apprenticeships Offer Free Training with Nice Perks

In recent years, Americans have been getting more in-touch with nature through farmstays, or vacations on working farmers. Now there’s a new type of agritourism called farming apprenticeships. Here’s how it works: you volunteer at a farm in exchange for free room, board and education.

Farming apprenticeships are quickly becoming even more popular than farmstays. Some farms seek paid help, while others are looking for seasonal interns. Whether you’re doing it to start your own farm, or just want to experience something different, there’s a farm apprenticeship available for just about any preference.

A quick search on the Grow Food website returns seven farms in South Carolina (where Charleston Naturally is based) offering apprenticeships. The description for Red Fern Farm reads:

Located 30 miles south of Greenville, SC, Red Fern Farm is a small, family-owned and -operated farm comprised of 100 acres. We are chemical-free and focused on long-term sustainability and permaculture; we are not certified organic and have no plans to be. We produce heirloom vegetables and fruits; culinary, aromatic, and medicinal herbs; transplants; grass-fed lamb; and wool goods. We direct market our products through the Carolina First Saturday Market in Greenville, SC and other seasonal markets around the Upstate.

Redfern expects a minimum of 30 hours of work during the week (Monday through Friday) and approximately 4-5 hours of market work on most Saturday mornings between May 1st and October 31st. Sundays are always free days. Work on weekdays begins no later than 9 a.m.

Interns are required to keep an activity log. The vast majority of work centers around the garden and greenhouse, so a potential intern should have a strong interest in organic gardening including seed starting, planting, weeding, pest control, harvest, and preservation. Other tasks include livestock management, construction projects, market prep, farm planning, and producing value-added products from our vegetables and herbs.

We’d love to hear feed back from anyone who has completed a farming apprenticeship, so please post those in the comments section!

How to Make Your Own Compost

If you have plans for a spring or summer garden, then you might want to consider making your own compost. Compost is a great alternative to fertilizers, and it reuses materials that might otherwise be waste.

Why use compost?

According to compostguide.com, “Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil’s water-holding capacity. Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms, so few if any soil amendments will need to be added.”

Compost bin

Making compost

You’ll first need to select where you’ll house your compost pile or bin. The area must be shady and near a water source. A shovel and/or pitchfork will come in handy.

The EPA has a great beginners guide to composting, which focuses on both passive and active composting. All composting begins with water, green material (grass clipping, food and vegetable waste, coffee grounds) and brown material (dead leaves, branches and twigs). Drainage, air flow, insulation and a good mix of various ingredients are key to composting.

Passive composting steps:

  1. Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin.
  2. Add your brown and green materials as you collect them, making sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded.
  3. Moisten dry materials as they are added.
  4. Once your compost pile is established, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material.
  5. Optional: Cover top of compost with a tarp to keep it moist.
  6. When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use (this is usually occurs in two months to two years).

Active composting steps:

  1. Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin.
  2. Before you add your brown and green materials, make sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded.
  3. Cover your composting area with a 6-inch layer of brown materials.
  4. Add a 3-inch layer of green materials and a little soil or finished compost.
  5. Lightly mix the two layers above.
  6. Top with a 3-inch layer of brown materials, adding water until moist.
  7. Turn your compost pile every week or two with a pitchfork to distribute air and moisture. Move the dry materials from the edges into the middle of the pile. Continue this practice until the pile does not re-heat much after turning.
  8. Your compost will be ready in one to four months, but let the pile sit for two weeks before using.

Check out these basic and advanced tips on composting. If you want to understand the science behind composting, read this.

Good luck! Please share any composting tips you have in our comments section.

Pick of the Week: Amazon Cones

Tired of a buggy backyard and want to find a natural insect repellant that actually works? Whether you’re hosting an outdoor event, or just want to garden enjoy a meal outside with bugs, Amazon Lights cones are just what the doctor ordered!

Cones are ideal for tabletops and don’t have a strong smell like other citronella natural insect repellents. You can also place several cones around a perimeter to repel insects in a large area.

Amazon Lights cones

Amazon Lights cones are made from 100% sustainable bamboo with 10% essential oils of Brazilian andiroba, citronella, rosemary and thyme.  Plus, the essential oil percentage of 10% is 100–400% higher than most comparable products!

The Andiroba oil found in Amazon Lights products comes from the Andiroba tree in South America. According to the Amazon Lights website, ”Extracts from its bark, flowers and fruits have been used for centuries by the Amazonian people as a source of prevention and treatment for a variety of ailments: arthritis, inflammation, skin disorders, fevers, flu and depression – just to name a few. Andiroba oil is extracted from the round chestnut-like fruits bearing seeds which contain the rich, yellow oil. Though the method is primitive – the seeds are boiled and later squeezed in a wood press known as a tipiti – one Andiroba tree can produce nearly a quarter of a ton of seeds annually. The Andiroba seeds are composed of 50% oil, making this one of Brazil’s most sustainable rainforest products.” The oil is acquired by these tribes through The Amazon Co-op, a Community Trade program which seeks to improve sanitation, dental care, education and more. Andiroba oil makes insects lose their appetite, which safely deters them from biting.

Amazon Lights cones are available for $12 and contain 50 cones, which each burn up to 25 minutes. Also, check out Amazon Lights incense sticks ($13.95) and candles ($12).

Pick of the Week- Bloembox Veggie & Herb Gardens + Mother’s Day SALE

Bloembox Veggie & Herb Gardens

These charming, hand-wrapped paper boxes were designed by a botanist, are printed with soy ink and contain premium, ready-to-plant seeds. Each box comes with a poetic reference to the flower and planting instructions. And they make wonderful gifts!

BloemBox Veggie & Herb Gardens contain premium vegetable and herb seeds embedded in biodegradable tissue paper. Bloembox’s California seedhouse tests all seeds for quality each season.

These gardens are perfect for Mother’s Day, as well as hostess and housewarming gifts. Each garden also comes with a gift tag that reads, “Nourish the soul — plant a seed and let it grow” and includes a poetic reference to the garden.

To learn more the founder of Bloembox, Laura Quatrochi, check out our interview with her.

Bloembox Veggie & Herbs gardens are priced at $16.95. Choose from the following varieties:

  • Nantes Carrot, Cilantro, Italian Parsley
  • Eggplant, Basil, Cilantro
  • Lettuce, Arugula, Dill
  • Sweet Pepper, Basil, Cilantro
  • Radish, Cilantro, Italian Parsley
  • Tomato, Basil, Italian Parsley

We also carry Originals (flowers), Specialty Gardens, Habitat Gardens (hummingbird and butterfly) and Sachets.

We’re running a sale on Bloembox Gardens through May 8. Buy 2 Bloembox Gardens and get 50% off a third garden. Limit one per customer, valid in-store and online. If shopping online, enter the coupon code “MD” at checkout.

Pick of the Week- Bambu All Occasion Veneerware Plates + SPECIAL OFFER

Bambu Vaneerware Plates & Utensils

Whether you’re hosting a dinner party or outdoor get-together or looking for the ultimate housewarming gift, Bambu All Occasion Veneerware Plates are the contemporary alternative to plastic dinner plates and paper plates.

Through low-impact materials and processes, these 100% bamboo, certified organic veneerware plates are designed with the well-being of your family and the earth’s limited natural resources in mind. Plus, Veneerware will biodegrade when tossed into your compost!

The bamboo we use is grown without fertilizers, cured and then hand cut and selected for peeling.

  • Certified Organic
  • FDA approved food-safe – No bleaches or dyes
  • After disposal, biodegrades in 4-6 months
  • Not recommended for the microwave
  • Intended for single use, or can be rinsed and reused

Veneerware plates come in three different sizes (7”, 9” and 11”) in sets of eight, and are priced from $7.95-13.95.

To celebrate Earth Day, Charleston Naturally will give you a free gift! Order a set of Bambu Vaneerware plates, and we’ll throw in a package of Bambu All Occasion Veneerware Utensils. Eight forks, knives and spoons are in each pack.

Sale ends at 11:59 p.m. on April 22. Utensils will be added to your order when packaging, so no need to put it in the shopping cart.

Kids in the Kitchen – A Healthy way to Keep Kids Busy

Similar to the famous shower scene from “Psycho”, the three little words which send shivers down parents’ spine are “I’m so bored!” usually followed by a chilling “there’s nothing to do!” It can drive anyone bonkers when, regardless of their mountains of toys and gadgets, children constantly complain that they have absolutely nothing to do.  A great way to keep them entertained for a good amount of time is to get them involved in the kitchen.  It is an ideal activity which can involve many children at a time, in a controlled environment.  Most kids are very interested in cooking and find it really fun and fascinating.  They enjoy the tactile hands-on experience of cutting, mixing, rolling and best of all eating the fruits of their labour. Cooking is a perfect way for mums, dads or even grandparents to spend some quality time with their children/grandchildren, doing something constructive and educational.  Here are some great tips to get them motivated and successfully engage their enthusiasm:

External distractions – Turn off the television, the video games, the ipods etc. to direct all their attention to the task at hand.

Good hygiene – Food poisoning can be a nasty consequence of bad hygiene/sanitation in the kitchen, so please ensure that you have:

  • A clean workspace, clean utensils, washed hands, tied long hair, clean towels

Safety is paramount – Teaching children the value of safety in the kitchen early is a life-long asset to their health and safety. Here are some precautions to consider:

  • Stable chair or stool for the little ones to stand on.
  • Avoid glass bowls, they can be heavy to handle and if dropped can shatter into dangerous shards.  A safer option is to use unbreakables such as the Bambu Coconut Bowls for mashing or mixing.  They come in a delicious range of natural colours of Mango, Basil, Cayenne and Spearmint and add a splash of colour to your kitchen.   The full range of wooden bowls, plates, cooking utensils and cutlery from Bambu are ideal for little hands to handle  easily and safely.
  • Keep children away from sharp objects, electrical appliances such as blenders, liquidisers etc…and anything heat-related – steamers, open flames, hot ovens etc.  These appliances should only be used by the supervising adult.
  • An apron/smock will keep their clothes clean and provide some protection in case of a hot spill.

Kids love to be involved and with proper direction, they can become quite the little master-chefs.  Give them age-appropriate tasks, such as sifting the flour, mixing the batter, whisking the eggs, rolling out the dough, even chopping if they are old enough.  Involve them to make them feel a valued part of the cooking process.  It is simply delightful to see their little faces light up with pride when you congratulate them on a job well done.

With practice, children will enjoy helping out in the kitchen on a regular basis.  Baking a cake or making cookies occasionally is a nice treat, but taking them through the steps of making a healthy lunch or nutritious snack is even better.  Here is a great fresh recipe from www.fruitandveggieguru.com that kids can enjoy at any time of the day.  This recipe is perfect for young children to prepare as there is no cutting required.

Layered Blueberry Breakfast Parfaits – Serves 4

  • 4 champagne glasses or small, clear juice glasses
  • 2 cups Cheerios cereal
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 2 8-ounce containers blueberry yogurt (low-fat if possible)
  1. Rinse and dry blueberries.
  2. Spoon ¼ cup yogurt into bottom of each glass.
  3. Add ¼ cup blueberries and top with ¼ cup cereal in each.
  4. Repeat layers.
  5. Serve immediately.

**Tip: Use sliced strawberries with strawberry yogurt or sliced peaches with peach yogurt for variation.

For older children who can handle a little more responsibility, the following recipe from www.kidshealth.org makes for a satisfying snack anytime.

Berry Tasty Muffins – Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup blueberries, washed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • Non-stick cooking spray/muffin liners

Utensils:

  • oven (requires adult supervision)
  • mixing spoon
  • 2 large bowls
  • fork
  • muffin/cupcake tin
  • paper muffin/cupcake liners
  • wire rack for cooling muffins
  • measuring cups and spoons

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, oatmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
  3. Mix in blueberries.
  4. In another bowl, break the egg and use a fork to beat it just a little bit. Then add the milk and vegetable oil, and mix.
  5. Add egg mixture to the dry ingredients in the large bowl.
  6. Using a mixing spoon, mix about 25 or 30 times. Don’t mix too much! Your muffin mixture should be lumpy, not smooth.
  7. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or lightly spray with non-stick spray. Spoon in the muffin mix. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 of the way up.
  8. Bake for about 18 minutes.
  9. When muffins are finished baking, remove from muffin tin and cool them on a wire rack.

Encouraging kids to cook is an easy feat when there are scrumptious delights to enjoy at the end.  Go shopping together and let them choose fresh ingredients, adding new taste sensations to their repertoire each time.  Keep an open mind and they will too – even if you are not keen on certain fresh fruits or vegetables, allow your children the chance to experience them for themselves.  Give them ownership of cooking for themselves by providing them their own apron and utensils, oven mitts, their own children’s cookbook and so on.

Let’s put a fresh spin on the old adage and say “A family who cooks healthily, eats healthily and lives healthily happily”.