Hi kind krafters,
The other day I had a weird visceral reaction. I was listening to a guest lecturer with a Bostonian accent and I realized that I felt completely at ease. It was that moment where you’re cuddled in blankets and the warmth starts to set in. It was an accent I had only heard of in movies, but it felt completely familiar to me. My thoughts were that, through all the movies I’d watched, I now associated that accent with the African American Venacular English (AAVE) and other dialects I had grown up with. Essentially, working-class dialects.
What got me thinking was that I had come to the realization that, yes, the studies were right: you are more likely to achieve in higher level learning if you identify with the person teaching you. There’s a consensus and a literature on the need to increase diversity in universities and colleges—although, unsurprisingly, not much action relative to the knowledge out there. But that moment during the lecture showed me how important it is that diversity is as intersectional as possible. In all this focus on skin color alone, diversity schemes miss out on factors that may be just as important.
This is a difficult subject to talk out because it is easy to veer into accusations of respectability. But my bone to pick is with diversity schemes. I term them that way because they’re well-intentioned, perhaps, but it’s one month from 2020 and universities still address the issue of diversity superficially. Race doesn’t just interact on the level of skin color alone. To be black and from Nova Scotia will mean something different to someone black and from Toronto. Yet, hearing that guest lecturer speak with that accent brought both me and my Torontonian friend together. It wasn’t just the accent, the lecturer joked or code-switched lightly after they answered questions.
When people switch between different dialects or varieties of language, they are code-switching. The lecturer was eloquent and clearly knowledgeable on their topic, and even better, they were not afraid to use that language in front of their older academic peers. Outside of a few black professors, my friend and I had never seen someone dip in and out of that kind of language in a formal setting. When our professors did use that language, it was often privately. In that sense, the lecturer’s whiteness gave them the privilege to use it in that context, but even as we acknowledged that, we felt like their presence was something like a promise.
How we talk is as important as what we talk. The lecturer not only used words that bridged this gap between us, but they also seemed to code-switch their body language. They used wide and welcoming gestures that seemed effortless. If how professors and other academics talk can bridge a certain gap to a marginalized group, imagine how it eases students to pick on these familiar cues– and how much more open the world might seem as a result of seeing someone like them fill a lecture hall. To me, that's the diversity scheme we need. My blackness is one of my primary facets, and the fact that I am or was working class is the other. The lecturer represented that side for me in an academic forum. As I go higher in academia, that lecturer, just like my other professors, will remind me that that I don’t have to let that side of me go.
Until next time,
Hi kind krafters,
Thanksgiving in the U.S. is over and now all of North America is into the holiday (and exam!) season, but I wanted to talk about gratitude. First, I’d like to acknowledge the history of Thanksgiving. The date itself was a celebration of the harvest, but most of us have this idea that Thanksgiving started with the British colonials thanking the indigenous peoples in Plymouth for food provisions. Indigenous peoples all over North America were critical to the survival of colonialists in the harsher North American climate, but the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving is far more doubtful. In both the U.S. and Canada, Thanksgiving is a cultural institution that affirms our national identity. But by doing so, indigenous peoples are Othered and framed as outsiders to Canada — even as this very celebration highlights that the colonialists were the outsiders. There’s still something telling, however, that early Americans and Canadians selected an institution that promotes gratitude to pass down, and that gratitude is central to the spirituality of many indigenous cultures.
We can’t talk about gratitude without talking about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of mind where you think about your thoughts – so a bit like meditation. I know mindfulness gets associated with wellness gurus on Instagram and stuff considered woo-woo. Did you know that the concept is actually a technique in clinical psychology? Around the early 2010s the technique gained ground in certain practices. To be mindful is to be aware that your thoughts are just thoughts and don’t actually determine your actions.
For instance, you think something like “Why is it always cold?” If you’re practicing mindfulness to stay away from these thoughts, you would follow it up with “I can’t wait to Christmas,” or “I love winter clothes.” Sounds a lot like practicing positivity, right? But mindfulness is not about invalidating negative thoughts, because they have a time and place. You just acknowledge the negative, and then you move on. Because that thought about the cold is your first thought. What matters is not your first thought, but your second thought, or what you think in reaction to the first. Mindfulness is like a tool box full of different ways to acknowledge and move beyond your first thoughts. Tucked into that toolbox is gratitude.
I only recently started practicing gratitude. I’m prone to excessive ‘Sorrys’ and ‘Thank yous’ like any other Canadian. When I practice gratitude, I do it deliberately. One of my New Year Resolutions this year, and onward, is to be kind. Gratitude reminds me of that goal and lets me practice mindfulness – that’s two birds with one stone! And it’s pretty easy. I keep in mind to thank someone if they do something that makes me appreciative of them. That falls under friends who message me to ask me how I’m doing, professors who go out of their way to give me feedback on papers, colleagues who suffer my rants and my small talk with a smile, the bus drivers who wait for you at the stop or who greet you with a great good morning at 6:30AM, etc. That appreciation is some powerful stuff. Even if you aren’t saying it directly to the person you feel grateful for, studies strongly suggest that happier people tend to practice that gratitude. Part of that reason is because gratitude keeps you in the present.
This is where gratitude ties in with mindfulness. When we appreciate what some is doing right now, we’re living in the present. And then there’s what I think might be the best part of being grateful: appreciating the little things that other people do confirms that, contrary to the newsfeed, people aren’t as terrible as we think they are. It’s a bit like that placebo trick with the smile. Pushing your mouth upward into a smile, even if you don’t feel happy, can encourage your thoughts to a positive place. Doing that can help, at times, but gratitude, and mindfulness, is a lot less forceful. What it does encourage is also nicer responses from others. We don’t just react to what we see; we also react to how we think others feel. Being appreciative to others influences how we think, and it can influence how others react to us.
So what are some ways we can practice gratitude?
1. Keep a journal. This might not be the first time you’ve seen this advice, but it can help. It doesn’t have to directed questions or be super fancy. In fact, if you get inspired at work and scribble down on a napkin what happened to make you feel appreciative, adding that napkin to a notebook is the start of a great scrapbook!
2. Write thank you cards. It’s not the best option for everyone, but I wanted to include it for the holiday season. Sometimes the cards with heartfelt messages make the presents the best in the world. One end-of-the-year practice could be to pick one person from the year that you feel grateful for. Then you end the year on a great note!
3. Practice morning or evening thoughts. This one is self-explanatory, and you can do it from the comfort of your bed! Think about three things you feel grateful for. (If you’re having a hard time, I default to shelter, heat, food, and my friends and family.) Whether you’re the type who likes ending or starting your day on a good note, this is a great every-day practice.
Is there anything you feel grateful for, kind krafters?
Until the next one,
I want to talk about sleep. About a year ago, I was seeing a lot of newsbites about the benefits of waking up early. Some of my friends would compete to see who could wake up the earliest—one of them said they were up at 4:30AM just to meditate. There’s nothing wrong with carving out your time in the day, especially if you’re constantly busy. But even some time later, I still see this idealization of the early riser, and it’s come to the point where sometimes I feel guilty for sleeping in until 9AM. This past month, due to my over-booking my schedule, I spent a week waking up at 5:30AM to fit in my schoolwork with my commitments. Terrible time management skills aside, I kinda confirmed what I had learned previously in a course on sleep: waking up early means nothing if you're not sleeping enough.
My anecdote begins with the fact that I drank about two to three shots of espresso within the first hour I was awake. Not many of us drink that much caffeine at once. I did wonder if I should cut back to see if I could stay at optimal functionality, but the pressing nature of my schoolwork left me too worried to chance it. So I kept drinking coffee. But coffee isn’t giving you energy or keeping you awake. It’s just turning off your body’s sleep alarm. Coffee represses the receptors in your brain that tell you when you’re sleepy. Your body still needs that sleep. The only way to get energy is with food. As a result, I started snacking and grazing. After I returned to my normal sleeping schedule, those habits continued.
This is partly because the effects of sleep deprivation don’t go away when you go back to sleeping a regular six to eight hours. When you start sleeping a few hours every day, you start collecting a sleep debt. You can’t just cash it in at the end with a good twelve hours of sleep. Your brain needs sleep to recalibrate and heal every night. Every person needs different amounts but dipping under that individual amount means your brain lost its opportunity to heal. I repeatedly deprived my brain of that chance to rest and heal. My optimal amount of sleep is seven and a half. Even after I crashed and slept nine hours, I was still fuzzy-headed, irritable, and inarticulate in class the next day. I was still constantly hungry because I had yet to feel completely rested. Not to mention my willpower was at nil for a good few days even after the fact.
Of course, not everyone reacts this way to having little sleep. Some people can even thrive on it. That’s just it. We’re all built differently. If we all have varying optimal hours of sleep, then it makes sense that we also have varying optimal times to wake up. Some are late sleepers, even years after leaving university. Others prefer waking with the dawn. I’m an in-betweener, probably the most common. I prefer sleeping around 11 and waking around 8. But, even that isn’t set in stone. Sleeping patterns change with daylight savings time, and even more so the more north we go, where daylight hours shrink in the winter.
Our environment, our caffeine of choice, and our screen time all affects our sleep pattern, but by the time we’re in our final years of university, these optimal times and hours are set. So why should we mess with them? Waking up early to be more productive is an useful tool, debilitating or not. But, if we want to push ourselves to be more productive, I think our bodies will tell us, if we just listen. Instead of pushing yourself for a week like I did.
If you're interested in reading more, kind krafters, I recommend Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.
Have you ever tried to wake up early, not for work or school, but just to achieve that productive ‘image’?
Let me know what you think.
Living in Halifax means the fishing industry is everywhere. Because we're so close to the coast, our fish (and shellfish) can be quite fresh. Fish is also a nutritious alternative for those who are considering limiting their meat intake. This is inspired by a recent post on eating fish sustainably in Canada by Jenny Weitzman (https://www.dal.ca/news/2019/10/28/confusion-at-the-fish-counter--how-to-eat-fish-responsibly.html). I wanted to reflect on their great post. In my last post, I gave some options for tinned fish, so I’ll dive into my fresh fish choices here.
Personally, salmon is a treat. Everyone knows it’s one of the healthiest fishes, chockful of those all-important, balancing Omega-3s. Almost all the salmon we find in Halifax are farmed. Nova Scotia has salmon farms, but the most descriptive label we get on salmon is “Atlantic salmon.” As a result, we don’t know if salmon we buy is from Nova Scotia or from Argentina. Buying from local stores, like Evan’s Seafood, Afishionado, or Hooked at the Brewery Market, lets you control where your fish is coming from.
No matter where it’s coming from, however, Salmon is expensive. Outside of shellfish we pick up fish from the grocery stores in clean fillets. Pete’s Frootique, and sometimes the fish section at Sobeys, do offer cheaper rough cuts. These rough cuts are the trimmings from the fillets, often lined with the very fat that Omega-3s come from. So not only are they cheaper per pound, but also more nutritious per pound. It won't make for a picturesque fillet, but maybe for a picturesque, colorful stir-fry. And if there’s none left, don’t be afraid to ask the fish counterperson if they have any trimmings left!
Haddock is one of my favorites. It's a bit more affordable than salmon and super quick to cook. All grocery stores with a fish section will carry haddock. Whether it’s farm-raised like salmon or wild caught is not clear. Like salmon, if that's a big concern, one way to mitigate that is to choose where you shop carefully. While haddock isn’t overfished to the point that Atlantic cod is, it’s best to eat it as a treat and buy it from as close to the source as possible. I think that on the spectrum of sustainability, haddock is the better choice compared to salmon.
Growing up I never liked haddock because I thought I could always taste its fishiness. I know now that that fishiness means it’s been a long time since the fish was caught and packaged. Buying from straight from a fisherman and buying from somewhere with consistent deliveries, like Evan’s Seafood, is a sure way to avoid that. I like to dust the fillets with some flour and do a quick fry. With a side of some extra lemony broccoli and curry tartare sauce for dipping, nothing is tastier.
I say shellfish, but my true love is mussels. There’s plenty of others to choose from, but fresh, salty mussels are where it’s at for me. Not only are shellfish like mussels and oysters the most sustainable kinds of fish, they’re also multi-use. Mussel and oyster shells are a great addition to a fish broth. Crushed up, they also function as fertilizer. Toss the crushed shells in your compost or your window herb plant—or even that patch of brown grass across the street.
Mussels, like haddock, can be found in most grocery stores with a fish section. Like the other fish, the freshest option will mean sourcing the mussels as close to the fishermen as possible. If I’m getting it at the grocery store, I’ll go for the mussels on display instead of the ones netted or boxed, but that’s personal preference. When I’m cooking mussels, I like strong flavors: lots of extra virgin olive oil and tons of garlic and some broth is all I need. The sweetness of mussels also go well with tomato sauce.
What about you, kind krafters? To fish or not to fish? Is curry tartare sauce as much of a niche prefence as my friends make it out to be?
Until next time,
Hello, kind krafters,
I’d like to share with you some winter month tips for cooking when you’re on a budget with a taste for takeout and you're a student with twenty readings a week.
The defining taste of takeout for me is umami, or savoriness. Pizza? It has cheese and tomatoes – both the ultimate in savory taste. One way I replicate that umami-ness outside of takeout is with anchovies. Personally, I buy the anchovy paste in a tube because convenience, but the anchovies in a can are a dollar less and work just as well. Make sure to decant the anchovies into an air-tight jar and use within a week, or freeze in ice trays for longer storage. Another option is fish sauce. Certain Thai brands only use anchovies and salt, and these last forever in the fridge. The price does vary. For vegans, miso, dried and ground mushrooms, and yeast products (Vegemite, Marmite, and nutritional yeast) work similarly. Another important umami factor is salt. I love eating summer/fall tomatoes with just salt sprinkled on top. Salt brings out savoriness intensely. Under-salting is not an option if you want that flavour profile. Tomatoes themselves are full of umami. Cooking them down or roasting them brings out the sweetness as well as that savoriness I’m always looking for.
A commenter on my farmer’s market post brought up that canned food is often the only choice for many people. I agree that it is, and in fact, it's a better choice in the winter over much of the “fresh” produce we have in Halifax. By February, the beefsteak tomatoes or green peppers in the supermarket are tasteless and lacking in nutrition. You are better off – taste-wise and nutrition-wise – with canned tomatoes. I would go for unsalted, peeled, and a processing origin within North America. I’ve found canned tomatoes made closer to their selling destination taste fresher. I also advocate for seasonal eating, but having an informed choice is important for those who have limitations on theirs. If you’re cooking beans, adding in a few chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (my favorite canned food) is the only way to do it.
In terms of canned fish, if you’re thinking of health, I would choose mackerel over tuna. However, when it comes to fish during the winter in Nova Scotia, a whole mackerel can go for 2$ in certain fish markets and supermarkets. I have also seen mussels for as low as 2$ a pound in supermarkets. Both foods are easy to cook. Baked and broiled over some veg or marinated in vinegar and pan-fried, mackerel is a source of Omega 3s comparable to salmon – plus it’s wild, more sustainable than farmed salmon and carries less heavy metals. (Canned mackerel also makes the best fish cakes.) Mussels are another great source of Omega 3s, zinc, iodine and other essential minerals. Farmed mussels are easy to clean and need only a dash of butter/oil, water, and a ton of garlic cloves to be fantastic.
I know it’s popular to tout the virtue of how fresh frozen vegetables are, but I’m skeptical. For these vegetables to be processed frozen, they are trucked off to a specific processing plant. I don’t know many farmers who have vegetable processing plants in their backyard. Just something to keep in mind. It's an alternative to canned food, although not necessary. But, come winter, frozen veg is on sale for six months! Like frozen fruit in the summer months, supermarkets regularly mark frozen veg down to 2.99$ and 1.99$ during the winter. The variety included are broccoli, squash, brussel sprouts, corn, beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower, etc. I would focus on buying vegetables that you won’t or tend not to use up quickly. Squash is a fresh and locally available produce during the winter, and can be cut up, roasted and eaten throughout the week. Use is another consideration. Most frozen veg don’t do well outside of stews, stir-frys and braises, but you can get away with roasting a few like green beans.
This is another item that supermarkets price down in the winter. Mushrooms have tons of umami. Some are turned off by how mushy they get when cooking. Because mushrooms retain so much water, they should be cooked on a hot, dry pan. Adding spices while the mushrooms are drying out gives them a milder, toasted flavour. You can also add the spices towards the end for a stronger profile. In my opinion, mushrooms and cauliflower are the best bulking agents after onions. While onions (just bulk) and cauliflower (creamy bulk) have their benefits, mushrooms add a heftier, meat-like bulk. Whether you’re vegan or testing out Meatless Monday, you could do worse than try a ground mushroom or marinated Portobello mushroom burger or a mushroom Bolognese, like the one below.
Here’s something you can cook while you’re in the kitchen, finishing up the last of your readings.
Twenty Readings Tomato Sauce
2 tbsp of oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 anchovies*, OR a tsp of Marmite/Vegemite OR 1/3 cup of nutritional yeast
1 package of white button mushrooms, diced OR half a frozen packet of broccoli, roughly chopped
1 28oz can of peeled tomatoes, unsalted if possible
1 tbsp + 1 tsp of salt, divided
Hi, kind krafters,
Today's topic is one we’ve all heard of, either on the news or from word of mouth: the fires burning in the Amazon. For some, the pictures of the devastation alone can strike deeply. I could understand the devastation intellectually, in terms of our delicate climate, but it was only when I remembered my experience with the Alberta fires last summer that the horror sank in.
The forest fires in Alberta had been burning long and far, but the smoke from one fire grew incredibly. I was in Calgary and happened to look outside. The sky had gone from blue to gray, and the sun had turned red. I had had no idea of the cause at the time, only that the phenomenon was worth photographing – like the true millennial I am. While the photo was lost amidst my move to Halifax, I can still see the picture clearly. After, when yellow smoke blanketed Calgary, the news reports put what I had seen in context. Another picture from that moment stays in mind as well. One news article reported that the haze from this fire reached even the Maritime sky. That was the moment I realized how irrelevant our concept of distance was against natural distance, from which disasters emerge. My friends in Halifax could see the very smoke through which I ran every morning. I believe that eureka! moment contextualized the horror occurring in the Amazon, like a corrective lens, sharpening something many people around me could see that I didn’t.
I’m lucky to have had that experience. I can also see the irony in calling myself a Millenial and then discussing an ongoing crisis like the Amazon through my personal enlightenment. It’s an issue on a lot of social media and op-eds; your thoughts are valued insofar as they reflect an undefinable purity. But I think asking that is a super-human task. We all process events through our perspective, shaped by our unique experiences. Divorcing ourselves from our bias, as many a science student knows, is never truly attainable - though noble a drive, it is! There are not many lens through which I can definitively, or even speculatively, discuss the crisis in the Amazon, but I think there’s more gained by opening the discussion to everyone than there is limiting the discussion to experts.
We don't know what consequences the clearing of the Amazon will have within the next few years, but factually, the Amazon is integral to the global ecosystem. Climate change has accelerated over the past century. The public has come to acknowledge its impact in the past few years. We’ve seen this growing awareness in a number of public forums, from mainstream media, talks and treaties amongst global economies, climate change becoming an electoral subject (if not issue), and large scale protests around the world. To an extent, it can be argued that the Amazon fires capture attention because most people innately react with horror to such massive fires. However, I see this rising awareness as similar to my experience contextualizing the Amazon fires against those in Alberta. Natural disasters that happened every few generations now happen every few years. While the cause of the Amazon fires is not known, it is hard to believe a natural fire would spark in such a lush landscape – and yet, lack of rainfall and humidity, the very consequence of climate change, could plainly and unfortunately explain it all.
There is a silver lining to this, kind krafters! This crisis has brought everyone together. People I’ve never heard mention climate change, now discuss the fires using those terms. World leaders are united in taming the fires, under the banner of climate change. Some may see this new awareness as a continuation of self-perservation of a hyper capitalist society. In my books, a public commitment to prevent destruction and protect preservation is a step in the right direction, and a glimpse to a brighter future. Yes, climate change may be inevitable, but if so, I think we should do our best to return all that we’ve taken, whether it’s in acknowledging our mistakes or concentrating our energy into reversing them.
Until next time,
how does your garden grow?
kind krafts supports Prescott's gardening program for adults with intellectual challenge in Halifax.
by: hannah baillie, prescott summer student
Prescott’s “We can, I can” motto was on full display this summer as we enhanced our partnership with the Prescott Street Community Garden Society.
This partnership has also inspired Prescott’s work with kind krafts. As kind kraft’s current cause, Prescott will receive funds they raise to support our community garden programming.
Here at Prescott, we support 160+ adults with an intellectual challenge through the development of work and life skills. We also manage four social enterprises (businesses for a social good): Prescott Bakery, Prescott Custom Bags, Prescott Mailing Services and Prescott Online Auction.
The newest skill we’ve added to our repertoire is gardening!
The idea came about last winter. Life Skills program instructor, Sarah Nartiss, immediately jumped on the opportunity to become a part of the Prescott Street Community Garden Society.
“I liked the idea of gardening because it was accessible to everyone,” said Sarah. “We started from seeds, so even those who couldn’t work outside were able to take part.” She also noted that it was a good continuation from other Life Skills sessions on healthy eating and food prep. “I wanted to show the clients where food comes from and how it’s grown. They were more willing to eat fruits and vegetables if they grew them themselves.”
In addition to Sarah’s gardening sessions, various community members have also volunteered to teach our clients new skills. “It reflects our values of community engagement” said Sarah, recalling sessions where other gardeners stepped in to demonstrate how potatoes, carrots and tomatoes are grown.
Prescott clients Martin, Trevor and Shawn watering the garden
This year’s harvest includes over 14 different varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. “I learned about tomatoes, chives, potatoes, and cabbage,” said Jessica Watson, a client at Prescott Bakery.
In addition to being a fun activity, gardening has furthered the discussion around healthy eating – especially in Prescott Bakery. After harvesting an abundance of beans, beets, and zucchini, our bakery has been able to incorporate these vegetables into their products.
“I grated zucchini to make muffins and loaves,” said Jessica, adding “I like using garden stuff in the bakery.” In addition to baked goods, the bakery has been pickling vegetables like beets and beans for Prescott’s 18th Annual Christmas Tea and Sale coming up on November 16, 2019.
Even though there are many vegetables still to be harvested from our plot this fall, one thing is certain: this will not be the end of our partnership with the Prescott Street Community Garden Society. Thanks to generous donations of microgreens and terrariums from fellow gardeners, our project will continue throughout the winter and into the next season, with new varieties of fruits and vegetables to grow and taste – we can’t wait!
Pictured above: some of our harvest, client Jessica, client Shawn grating zucchini for delicious muffins in Prescott Bakery
composting at home: a complete beginner's guide
As one realizes how composting can be a relatively simple and effective way to improve their gardens and reduce waste, they may wonder why they did not start doing it sooner. About one in three homeowners in the United States compost at least occasionally, with nearly one in five doing it on a regular basis. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans throw away over 250 million tons of trash per year. At present, around a third of this refuse is recycled or composted.
As much as 30 percent of residential waste can be turned into compost. This effort could dramatically cut back on an individual's waste production. If they compost in the house or yard (make sure to check that it is allowed in your community), homeowners who are worried that the items they recycle will end up in a landfill can look for replacements they can decompose instead. People may be surprised with just how much they can toss into a compost pile. Composting can also save money by reducing the need to purchase expensive potting soil or fertilizers to promote healthy plant growth. It may also reduce irrigation needs, cutting down on water usage and utility bills. Composting is growing in popularity across the world. The Town of Collierville, for example, looks to increase the amount of yard waste taken to compost sites by 10%.
Here's how you can get started.
Useful Tools to Have for Composting
Most of the tools homeowners use for composting relate to adding to the pile, mixing it, or moving it when it is ready for use. Compost can be fairly densely packed, but it requires aeration to decompose. Shifting dense soil can be a physically demanding activity. The kinds of tools people need to have for this purpose depends on the composting setup—its size in particular. Fortunately, implements do not need to cost a lot of money or take up a great deal of space. A small compost bin for a modest property works best with smaller tools.
People who are just getting into the idea of composting may want to start with hand tools. This helps to minimize their investment while they figure out what they prefer to use. Popular tools include:
Some implements may not be appropriate, depending on the way people keep the compost. For example, a large pitchfork or shovel might not be necessary or practical for a small bin. Homeowners should select tool sizes that allow them to manage the compost with relative ease.
For larger projects, people may want to add a few pieces of equipment to their collection. A wood chipper or shredder will make short work of clearing out a lot of yard waste. A mulching lawn mower can collect lawn clippings or distribute it back to the lawn. Finally, a wheelbarrow allows homeowners to move a lot more compost at once.
The right setup can make a big difference when composting. Many people choose to buy or build a product that will help them easily contain and aerate the compost before it is ready for use. The time required to get the compost going necessitates solid research into the first purchase or build. Few would want to have to get a new setup after less than a year. A wise choice at the beginning will make the whole process easier and prevent extra work or purchases later on.
Common Compost Bin Materials
As composting grows in popularity and accessibility, people can choose containers in an increasing variety of materials and styles.People should consider their budget and the space available before selecting any particular style. The material for the bin can affect and be affected by the makeup of the pile, so it helps to understand the basics. Manufacturers may sell products made of the following components:
Before narrowing down available options, aspiring composting households should think about the size they need and its placement on the property. People who do not enjoy the scent of earth may want to position a bin away from the home's exterior doors and windows. Plastic, ceramic, or stainless steel may be ideal for people who want to compost indoors, since they would not need to worry about weather resistance. Materials like metal, wire, or wood should typically be kept away from excessive moisture to keep them in better condition longer. Larger bins are often made out of pre-molded materials like resin or polyethylene, and can be placed almost anywhere.
Types of Composting Bins & Bin Alternatives
There are a few types of compost systems that people can buy. Most current products on the market tend to fall into three categories: bin, tumbler, or bag.Homeowners typically need to dedicate about 4-6 square feet for the system. A compost bin is a stationary object of varying sizes and materials. A tumbler has a base that supports a drum homeowners can spin to turn and aerate the compost. Tumblers tend to have a smaller range of sizes, because the system has to support the entire weight of the compost. Large sizes may be physically difficult to turn, especially if they are full. People who need a more compact size, or who only plan to compost a few months a year, might consider a bag. Compost bags are ideal for easy setup and removal for storage.
Each option may have different features that homeowners can choose to improve their use or convenience. Common aspects might include:
People should identify the specific features of each product during their research to make comparison easier.
At times, aspects of a compost bin or tumbler can create problems while they solve others. For example, people might opt to buy a pest-proof container that seals fairly completely. However, this makes regular air circulation more difficult, and may demand more attention. Homeowners who buy products with larger holes for aeration could have a higher likelihood of rodent infestation. People should consider how they intend to manage either of these common issues before buying any particular system.
Easy DIY Compost Setups
Buying something that is designed for composting may be an ideal, quick solution for many, but others might prefer something custom-made. Building a compost bin allows homeowners to get the exact size and shape that they need, with a temporary or permanent placement that they can build right on their property. DIY compost bins are not necessarily cheaper than buying a manufactured option. They can be as simple or complex as the creator wants. With the right tools and equipment, handy homeowners may find that this option to be a rewarding experience.
Wire Bin Composting
Wire bins are one of the quickest and easiest homemade bin styles. This bin weighs very little and does not need a lot of material to set up. It can be made from chicken wire or wire fencing. Since this style does not allow for much movement, homeowners should confirm that they will be able to access the compost from above. People interested in this option can take the following steps to put it together:
Homeowners who wish to keep the compost tightly contained may want to choose wire with smaller holes. This will also help to reduce pest access—although covering the bin with a tarp can accomplish this as well.
Homeowners who are looking for the simplest, low-technology composting options may prefer to dig a trench. This approach is one of the most basic and can be done in almost any outdoor space where gardening is allowed. This is a great option for people in communities or neighborhoods in which composting bins or piles may not be allowed. Trench composting involves digging a long trench right into the garden space. This cuts down on the square footage needed to manage the compost, because it is not kept separate from the garden. Deeper trenches with at least 12” of soil on top will serve as effective pest prevention, as well. Homeowners can do these tasks:
People like trenching because they do not need to maintain the compost or wait until it is ready to use. Given its position inside the garden, the plants will access the nutrients as soon as they are available. It will require some patience, however, as one may need to wait a while before they can plant directly on top of the trench.
Trash Can Composting
People who have an empty garbage can made out of plastic or resin might wonder if they could use it as a composting bin. With a few slight modifications, trash cans may be a viable choice for a contained composting setup. There are a couple of choices people need to make before they begin. Every can needs holes for aeration. Larger holes will promote better air circulation, but need protection against mice or rats. To accomplish this, owners may follow these steps:
Those who need a lot of compost may want to set up more than one can, rather than using one big one. Bins made out of plastic may not be strong enough to support the weight of the soil inside, especially if it is full, so that will have to be kept in mind.
Finding the Right Spot to Compost
The ideal place for composting depends on weather, moisture level, access to the gardening space, and proximity to the home. Compost needs plenty of warmth to rot, especially during the colder months. Homeowners should track the sunlight in their yards and choose a spot that will help them get what they need. Areas in full sun will break down the scraps more quickly, but may dry out faster. Shady spaces usually call for less water, but take longer to compost.
Although compost needs water for the process, moisture control is important. This aspect may be more complicated for people choosing an open environment for composting, rather than an enclosed bin or tumbler. Too much water will increase odors. A dry compost pile will slow the decomposition process. Once users get the setup working, they may only need to add water to moisten dry additions.
Additionally, one may want to select a location that offers extra convenience for them. Composting near the garden minimizes lugging heavy compost from one place to another. People could also opt to set the bin a few dozen feet from the home, to avoid odors traveling indoors. A well-kept compost pile should not smell like rotting waste, but it can attract pests people want to keep away from their house.
How to Compost
Every composting setup needs the following aspects to thrive:
The way people can achieve these depends on the system they prefer to use. Some bins are designed to make aeration easy, and provide an extra layer of insulation in the winter. People should consult manufacturer recommendations for their particular setup, to confirm they can use it properly.
To get started, homeowners need a selection of ingredients that they can layer one on top of the other. Using layers in the right way will promote an ideal environment for decomposition. When first building the pile, homeowners should aim for thin layers of a wide variety of materials. The more variety, the better. Compost needs a fair bit of waste in order for the design to work well, usually at least a few cubic feet. People should look to add carbon-producing waste and nitrogen-producing waste each time they contribute to the pile, along with water for the new materials.
There are a few reasons that composting takes a variable rate of time to create compost ready for use, and the size of the waste plays a big role. Even the best composting materials may fail to work as expected if they are not broken up appropriately before placement in the bin. The bigger it is, the longer it takes to decompose, typically. A huge mat of lawn clippings will stick together. A whole piece of fruit will take longer to break down than a few peels or slices.
The pile needs plenty of aeration to promote healthy microbe growth. One can achieve this through mixing the heap regularly. Tumblers are easy to turn or rotate to aerate quickly. Stationary bins may need people to mix manually using a trowel. People may wish to add materials that help to preserve air circulation. Something bulky and lightweight but fairly small, like bark mulch, can create air pockets.
The last component is time. Some homeowners put in a compost activator to help them get started. It can take months to get a healthy system of microbes living in the compost, especially if people begin toward the end of summer or fall. Regular attention to the pile can give people a better sense of how the compost is working, and whether they need to make any adjustments to their routine.
What to Put in Compost
Putting the right ingredients into the compost is an important aspect of its success. Experts recommend using a combination of what they call “browns and greens.” Browns involve waste from trees and bushes, like leaves or twigs. They create carbon for the soil. Greens cover everything else, such as:
Greens provide nitrogen that plants need for healthy growth. In many cases, households may also be able to use other waste from the home, such as shredded newspaper and cardboard, hair combings and (sometimes) dryer lint. Note: Dryer lint is only compostable if clothing is 100% cotton, linen, or wool — drying commonly-used plastic materials such as nylon, polyester, etc will accumulate microplastics in lint, rendering it unusable. Although animal waste is usually not considered good for composting, eggshells may be a useful addition. In order to work appropriately, the compost pile needs layers of materials that receive plenty of aeration. People should avoid putting in too much of any one thing at a time. Balance is key.
What NOT to put in Compost
Households may be able to put much of their waste into the compost bin, but a number of items should typically be left out. Some waste materials are less likely to break down over time, or may create odors that attract animals or insects. Others could affect the soil and damage the plants grown out of the compost. As a general rule, people should avoid using:
At first, households may want to be more selective about what they choose to put in. If people are not sure about the condition of certain yard waste, they might prefer to leave it out. Over time, users will get a better understanding of how composting works and feel more comfortable making choices.
How to use Compost
Homeowners should make sure that they know when the compost is ready and how to use it correctly, for greatest efficacy.The compost pile or contents of the bin changes appearance as it breaks down. It will deepen in color until it is brown or black. Like soil, it will be relatively smooth in consistency, with the scent of fresh earth. These conditions indicate that it is at the right state for use in the garden.
For many people, compost may have several states in the same pile or bin. Households that contribute to the setup regularly should make sure they can separate ready compost from parts that are not quite finished. Pre-built bins often have a door at the bottom to bring out finished compost without unsettling the pile. Otherwise, a lot of people decide to buy or set up a compost screen to filter out larger materials, as well as rocks and other things that may not work well in the garden.
Once people have separated the compost from the pile, they can use it in a few different ways. The most common is to apply it as mulch on top of soil for planting seeds or seedlings. The compost helps the soil retain more moisture and provides food for the growing plants. This process may be repeated a few times throughout the season.
Compost can be overly strong in nutrients and chemical makeup, so people should use it somewhat sparingly. Households may choose to combine it with soil and sand to create the perfect potting mix for indoor or outdoor plants. In this case, they want to use mostly soil, some sand and a little compost. People can also soak the compost in water for a day, then use the liquid called “compost tea” as part of their irrigation routine.
Regular Compost Upkeep/Maintenance Tips
After households start a compost pile, they have to keep an eye on it regularly to make sure that it is working well. In many cases, good maintenance can help complete the process faster and more effectively. The microbes that break down the food scraps and yard waste need a regular supply of food, water, and heat.With proper care, a fresh pile should naturally develop these microbes. However, some people prefer to use a compost starter with the microbes needed to start or speed up the process.
Homeowners may have an easier time understanding the importance of maintaining a “hot pile” if they think about how they manage other kinds of bacteria, beneficial or otherwise. Water usually needs to be heated to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit to kill most kinds of harmful bacteria. Temperatures below about 100-110 degrees tend to slow down the culturing process for beneficial microbes. As such, people typically want to keep their compost piles around 130-150 degrees (Fahrenheit) for optimal decomposition.
Temperature maintenance relies on a mix of activity and rest periods. When people turn the pile after adding new material or as part of a maintenance plan, they could help or hinder the breakdown. Experts recommend shifting aside the top few inches of the pile every few days to take the internal temperature, especially at first. Leaving a pile to sit while it is still increasing in temperature will promote microbe development. Once the pile cools down, turning can restart the heating. People may not need to turn the heap more than once every few days.
The amount of moisture in the pile can alter the rate of heat accumulation. Dry piles tend to be cooler. Piles that get too much water and inadequate aeration will promote growth of bacteria that can cause odors or slow the breakdown of plant matter. Areas with heavy rainfall may need to be covered with a tarp to help maintain the right humidity. Given how long compost takes to make, people can take the early weeks and months to learn the right balance for their individual heap. The experience of doing it can be an excellent informer, sometimes as much as the initial research.
There are a few things that can go wrong in the composting process. Thankfully, most of them are fairly easy to correct and should not permanently damage the pile. As a general rule, most issues relate to the progress and composition of the setup. Although homeowners do not need to attend to the pile daily, they should invest the time to look at it at least a couple times a week.
Usually, people know something is off when they can smell the heap at a distance. Good compost should smell earthy. Although not everyone loves this scent, it is much better than the strong odors of ammonia or rotting garbage. When homeowners notice this, they should inspect the pile and get some information:
Wet piles are prone to odors, as are heaps with too much nitrogen. This is why experts suggest mixing more carbon (brown) matter than nitrogen (green) into the pile, and always putting them in together. Adding straw or shredded newspaper can help to re-establish a good balance. It is important to keep contributions as small as possible. The larger an item is, the longer it takes to break down and the more likely it could contribute to problems. People should keep in mind that messing with a pile too often can be as problematic as neglect. A pile that is not progressing properly may be turned too often. This disrupts the microbe development.
When the heap is not developing as expected, households should consider the moisture and the kinds of waste they add. They may need to add water more frequently, especially if it is in an area of the yard with a lot of sun. Prompt attention to these issues can help get the pile back in working order, and shorten the amount of time needed to complete the compost.
Hazards to Avoid - Health and Safety
Although compost is a necessary and useful component of any garden, it has a number of components that homeowners need to treat with care. Regular upkeep should prevent or minimize most concerns about the spread of mold spores or harmful bacteria. This is more likely in piles that contain animal waste. To ensure that they protect themselves first, people should:
Keeping a pile of a moderate size, about one cubic yard, can help achieve the right temperature range without increasing the heat too much. Fire from compost is rare but not impossible. People should monitor and turn the contents before the temperature reaches over 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Households may have to deal with periodic infestations of the pile, but there are ways to prevent this issue. Mammals like rats and raccoons are attracted to fresh food scraps just put into the pile. They will also come for fats or animal products, which is partly why many generally recommend against these additions.
People should try to keep the heap as contained as possible. If they do not use a specially-designed bin or tumbler, they should cover an open pile with tarp or build a fence. Once animals find the waste, it can be much more difficult to keep them out. Insects can be benign or harmful to the decomposition process. Typically, insect infestation inside the pile indicates that the temperature is not hot enough. Adding water, increasing the nitrogen content, and turning the pile may raise the temperature sufficiently to force the pests out.
Composting is a great activity for households of various ages and abilities, and nearly any property. From a sprawling 10-acre lot to a home with only a tiny yard, compost has the potential to cut down on waste production and put scraps to good use in gardening. Expert gardeners know that this addition to their efforts can increase produce output and quality. People do not need a lot of knowledge or practice to get started. They only need to get a grasp for the basics, devote a proper amount of space, and have the tools and equipment to make it a success. The biggest contribution is time and patience to let the ingredients do their work. Compost heaps can begin at almost any time of year, depending on the region and the investment homeowners are willing to make. People who are interested in learning how compost could change their gardens for the better can start as soon as today.
A big thank you to John Quinn from REMAX Experts for sharing this composting blog post with us! A link to the original blog post can be found by clicking below!
Hello, kind krafters,
We Haligonians are a lucky bunch. Not only do we have three large farmers’ markets to choose from across our municipality, but the Halifax Seaport Market will be celebrating its 270th birthday next year. This makes Halifax, Nova Scotia, home to the oldest farmers’ market in North America. Our somewhat mild seasons sustain many long-established farms and their farmers in Nova Scotia, especially along the fertile Annapolis Valley.
Over the years, like many of us, I visited the market. These markets seemed like ivory towers: inaccessible and expensive for a student. I saw these visits as a treat and wandered around wistfully. But in 2018, I became engaged in sustainability efforts. The further I delved into the subject of community sustainability, the further I began to realize how deep and misinformed our cultural perceptions of farmers’ markets are. That’s how my New Years’ resolution came to be: I challenged myself to shop exclusively at farmers’ markets from January 1, 2019 to April 30, 2019. So, today, I wanted to share a couple of things I’ve learned and unlearned.
1. Fresh produce at farmers’ markets is expensive.
I agree – no matter what someone on the internet argues, for most people, food prices at markets match supermarket prices or are much higher. During this challenge, I had the privileged opportunity to not think about food vs. rent, and so I was able to dedicate my monthly budget to food purchases. If you’re purchasing food from a vendor at a farmer’s market or an independent store, you will not be seeing sales on onions or cucumbers or the same prices a corporation can set with their buying power. That said, a lot of this has come down to how we view food and our ability to purchase it. We all expect food not to take up too much of our budget. This expectation has only grown with the amount of convenience food and the globalization of mono-cropped produce. It’s also grown due to rising housing costs and expenses. We now pay for cell phones, wifi, transportation, and frequent social outings. As students, many of us leave school burdened with tens of thousands of debt. We all want to eat well, but when you’re stressed over bills or over life in general, stopping by the supermarket sale can take a little bit off your plate. In fact, that brings me to my next point.
2. There’s nothing fresh at the farmers’ market between December and May.
I don’t agree with this. There may not be the same selection as the summer months, but there’s still plenty, just not what we think of as ‘plenty’. I think part of this stems from how globalization has transformed our perception of food. When we walk into the supermarket, we expect to see plenty. That’s part of the consumer psychology that corporations spend millions to get us to keep going back – which I did! (More on that in my next point.) Seeing tomatoes, blueberries and corn in store all year round can disconnect us from understanding what food is. Yes, it may be disappointing to see that all that’s in season is leeks, cabbage, and carrots, but it makes seeing the first new vegetables of spring that much more exciting. Importantly, that excitement can be a grounding experience. Just as establishing relationships with farmers and vendors at markets can strengthen our sense of community, an awareness of the seasonality of food can ground us in the present and create a future we can look forward to. Here’s a handy guide to Nova Scotian seasonality: https://www.selectnovascotia.ca/seasonal-availability
3. If you shop at a farmers market, you’re cheating if you drop by the supermarket.
I don’t agree with this either. Because a few weeks into my challenge to eat exclusively from the market, I failed. I hadn’t had any fruit for weeks. A few friends of mine had brought fruit for lunch. The supermarket was having a sale. And so, I bought some strawberries at the beginning of February. I spent my time at the market the following weekend anxious and paranoid, like the strawberries had stained my hands berry red for all to see. There’s a certain cultural cache to being a farmers’ market frequenter: you care about the environment, sustainability, and ethics. For some, being a frequenter signals that you want everyone to know that you care. I’ll admit I felt like I was finally doing something for sustainability by eating asparagus only come late April, when it’s one of my favourite vegetables. That was a victory! But that fleeting moment of moral superiority was nothing compared to the guilt I felt over a few strawberries. My friends influenced me into buying them. It was a moment we bonded over food that would look similar to how a few friends might have bonded over the first strawberries of spring a hundred years ago. We’re social creatures. We don’t want to pay more for our food, but it’s still a massive aspect of our social life. My challenge never felt as though I had deprived myself, but it was restrictive at times, in that sense. What’s more relatable than bonding over super sales while miserably grocery shopping? Not to mention, I bought strawberries for cheaper than I have from the market in July. Even at that price they were a treat, as strawberries are now. So, I froze them, and they kept me going through that long winter.
When possible, when able, I believe shopping at farmers market should be first on everyone’s list. It’s still a far off world for me. In an ideal world, there would be no massive corporations running supermarkets. Our food system would be one with our growing seasons, and our new scale of relatability revolves around over upcoming produce – the first Valley peaches! The tomatoes, sun-grown vs. hothouse! Winter greens vs. spring greens! But for now, and as always, we work with what we’ve got.
What are your thoughts on accessibility and farmers markets, Kind Krafters?
Hello, Kind Krafters,
I’m your new Ambassador! You can call me H.T. I am currently in between my undergrad and masters courses at Dalhousie University. My interest spans a lot of areas, but I’m passionate about community and sustainability. A few more short things:
* I love painting and reading. I just finished Vita Nostra by Sergey & Marina Dyachenko.
* My favourite season is fall.
* I also love to cook. I'm trying to recreate a dish from my favourite restaurant. I perfected the liver pate and the jelly. All that's left is the pickles - the best part!
* At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to shop primarily at Halifax farmer’s markets and independent shops as opposed to the larger supermarkets. I’m happy to report that I have yet to fail that challenge. I’ll tell you all about the challenge in my upcoming post.
One fun fact
I can make coffee from scratch. Being from the birthplace of coffee, Ethiopia, I grew up roasting green beans and making fresh coffee. While most people are familiar with the process coffee shops use with electronic devices, Ethiopians traditionally roast their beans on a wide and thin clay pan. My family likes dark roast, which makes for a lot of smoke – and a lot of fire alarms set off over the years. Some of us may not have liked standing over the smoking pan as much as others, but the smell was worth it. Even in the summer heat!
How did you get involved?
Kind Krafts is a great place to volunteer. I have also volunteered with the PETA and with the IWK for gift-wrapping during Christmas time. To be completely honest, gift-wrapping is my one true hobby. Nothing beats the rush and excitement of the gift-wrapping table at Christmas, and I love catching up with everyone every year. Last summer, I worked remotely with a non-profit organization, but I found their scope to be challenging personally. When a friend of mine brought me along to one of the many events set up by Kind Krafts, I decided to commit myself for the length of the event. Kind Krafts organizes projects that reach a variety of people. Their community involvement inspired me to commit myself even further after their event ended.
What does community mean for you?
Community represents health. If I go into a pharmacy or a supermarket, I meet the same pharmacist or cashier and we begin to establish a connection. This connection is fundamental to how we live as human beings, even if it isn't the same ties to our friends and family. Knowing that we can all share something, whether it's a food, commiseration over the rain, or a certain colour of yarn, helps to keep us grounded, secure and healthy.
I look forward to discussing how we can foster kindness and community ties!
Until we meet again,