Q: I feel bad about giving out artificial candy at Halloween. Any suggestions?
A: We all want to placate the masked goblins and witches banging on our doors on All Hallows Eve, but a lot of the candy we hand out is just plain scary.
Besides all the artificial flavours and synthetic colours that enable lollipops and candies to come in green, black and, of course, orange, a lot of the basics are bad, too. Big Sugar, a new doc written and directed by Brian McKenna, captures the squalor of living conditions on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic, where workers are fed once a day and paid a poverty wage to cut 1 tonne of sugarcane by hand daily.
Eco-wise, the World Wildlife Fund says the loss of natural habitat to sugar plantations and their intensive use of water and chemical pesticides are harming wildlife and ecosystems.
Cocoa's story is pretty much identical. Just stir in some troubling controversy involving rampant child labour abuses in West Africa's cocoa trade (where 70 per cent of the world's crop is grown).
So what are your options?
Indianapolis-based Endangered Species makes certified fair trade organic mini-treats. Bug Bites are small chocolate squares that come with an endangered species trading card (10 per cent of profits go to animal and conservation causes). Endangered Species also makes Chimp Mints, from which all profits go to saving chimps and gorillas in the wild (both from 59 cents at Noah's Natural Foods on Yonge, Bloor and Bathurst, Organics on Bloor and Karma Co-op on Palmerston). Europe's Green & Black's organic mini-chocolates are a little cheaper (29 cents at Big Carrot on Danforth), as are organic lollipops (19 cents each).
For fair trade organic treats made closer to home, T.O.-based How Sweet makes delicious mini-bars and fun chocolate vampire- and pumpkin- shaped lollipops. (For full list of stores, including Organics on Bloor, check out www.lesssweet-chocoland.ca.)
Get a Fair Trade is Boo-tiful trick or treating kit at www.gxonlinestore.org.
Q: I hear I shouldn't bother raking my leaves. Is this true?
A: Yes, leave your poor leaves alone! Your garden will appreciate them much more than the city's yard waste collectors do. Why? Because leaves decompose into beautiful, nourishing mulch. You can rake 'em into piles under your trees or put 2 or 3 inches of the fallen fertilizer around plants. One of my co-workers swears that her tangle of native front-lawn plants comes out lush and green weeks before her neighbours' do, thanks to her refusal to rake. Even the city suggests you keep your leaves.
By the way, it also requests on its website (www.toronto.ca/compost) that leftover pumpkins be put out for pickup on yard waste collection days, not in your green bin. Pumpkins take up too much space in the bins and could make them too heavy for collectors to lift. But either way, your pumpkin creations will be composted.
Q: The cold weather's coming. Is there anything I have to do to make sure my garden springs up native and pesticide- free next year?
A: Before I get into the do's, let's cover the don'ts. For one, there's no need to kill off a perfectly happy annual just because it's almost winter. Bring 'em all in (if buggy, spray leaves with natural soap and water solution). Some won't make it, but those that do can be replanted outside come spring. Geraniums should be put in paper bags and stored in a cool place.
Needless plant crimes are committed against evergreens every fall. We start ignoring them as soon as the temperature drops, but they should still be watered once or twice a week until everything's frozen over - or you'll be digging up evergreen corpses in the spring. All sorts of shrubs may be planted now. You can pick up native varieties like chokeberry and dogwood from Ontario Native Plants (order online at www. nativeplants.ca). Their roots will grow right through November as long as you loosen up plenty of soil around them and protect them with a layer of mulch. Now's also a prime time to plant perennials. A lot of garden centres recommend drizzling some synthetic root stimulators in the soil when planting perennials, but why fake it? All-natural fish fertilizers are available, like Fox Farm Marine Cuisine, with fish, crab meal, shrimp meal, bat guano and earthworm castings ($33/7 lbs at Bustan Urban Gardening on Harbord). Sea Spray natural organic liquid kelp is another root-nourishing (and vegetarian) option (now $2.99 at Grassroots on Danforth or Bloor West during their fall sale). Again, throw a little home-grown leaf mulch around the base of the plant.
Bulbs are buried in big numbers at this time of year, but the majority are not exactly local in origin. Ontario Native Plants has native lily bulbs, and trillium is also an option, but it's harder to find. Seeds of Diversity's members offer seeds and bulbs of heirloom and rare or endangered plants (check out www.seeds.ca). FYI, garlic bulbs are pefect for fall planting.
While it's still warm enough to work outside, you should probably overseed your lawn if you have one (it strengthens your lawn's roots, naturally keeping grubs at bay). But skip the water-and-chem-thirsty Kentucky Bluegrass and plant perennial rye or fine fescue grasses instead (now from $4/kg at Grassroots).
You can also give your lawn a final fertilizing session before the winter. But swap the synthetics for something like Activit certified organic plant food pellets made from the fermented manure of free-range hens ($18/5 lb at Bustan) or corn-based AlfaMaize (now $17.50/18 kg bag at Grassroots) and prep it for a lush chem-free life next spring.
Actually, all of your soil could use some pre-winter fertilizing. Nature's Needs Living Humus (certified organic, $12 at Bustan), Urban Harvest Wormcastings Plant Tea (now $2.99/10 units at Grassroots) or organic Carbonitite (now $2.99/1 kg at Grassroots) are all excellent choices.
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