What could be more rewarding than spending some time with your children observing life in your garden (or even your balcony or park)? Whether it is planting some seeds and watching them grow into veggies, or watching butterflies visit a flower and roll out their long “straw” to drink nectar, if you just take the time, your garden will give your children a moment of internal quietness while they witness amazing buzzing activity.
Before you start, try to make enough free time in order to enjoy nature’s activities with the family. With a bit of patience and flexibility, you can involve even small kids in the preparation phase and pick and choose your favourite activities:
1. Give your children their own little plot of land or their own plant container. Ownership is important here! No mum/dad or big sibling needs to interfere in the young child’s personal approach when it comes to gardening! A little freedom can create miracles (be prepared to bite your tongue if it does not look pretty or neat)!
2. Find some easy, fast-growing plant seeds which the children can also enjoy, such as giant sunflowers (they grow taller than dad), sweet peas (nice to harvest and eat right away) or the edible nasturtium (the tall growing 3-4m ones). Make it into a routine to check the process daily and talk the waiting time away with stories and riddle games about nature and by looking at nature books...
3. Small-sized garden tools and little gloves can make it into a special moment, working alongside mum or dad!
4. Planting indigenous bushes and flowers which attract butterflies, bumblebees, and bees (see our 4 language-list on our website www.sunbeams.eu) can make your patch of land into a feast for the eyes and nose. You can easily find nature books and websites which can help you and your kids to learn all about local species.
5. Do not forget to leave a patch of land to nature: the host plants for butterfly eggs and larvae are often called “weeds” by humans. Sowing some wild flower seeds in between makes it look very pretty. Leaving some piles of wood and stones will offer shelter for them as well!
6. Making your garden into a haven for birds is very rewarding: shrubs for birds to hide from predators, bushes with berries for their food (go for the local species), a little pond or water area, all of these will make a huge difference. Extra feeding is only necessary in winter time (November-February), but water is always welcome.
7. Hedgehogs and rabbits might visit your garden if you leave a space in and/or under the fence/wall/hedge of your garden for them to pass through.
8. And of course, it is not ideal to use pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides when you have children around. There are many alternatives available: e.g. eco-labelled garden products, homemade potions (internet!), or rediscover some old wisdom by combining the right plants to keep away insects (e.g. permaculture techniques).
9. A little pond with a shallow slope will automatically bring guests and permanent inhabitants: salamanders and frogs will find their way to your garden (do not get eggs from other places as these might bring with them the wrong bacteria for your local amphibians), and all kinds of dragonflies will become regular visitors!
10. Planting a domestic tree is a lovely thing to do with kids (local species can be found on our website in several languages)! Make sure you plant them in the right season (October to March) and that you find the right spot for them to grow big!
11. Last but not least: composting. There is no better educational process to observe with your children: the complete cycle! Involve your children in composting your kitchen waste, putting it into the right bin, bringing it outside in a little bucket, adding the right green and brown layers, maybe some more water or cardboard and watching the worms do all the work. Then, finally to end the cycle, add the compost to their little garden to make their next season seeds grow tall....
If you want to know more about what you can do for biodiversity take a look at the special page on our website www.sunbeams.eu or at the suggested activities with children on this page.
The Sunbeams Team
A few nice addresses:
- Toy shops such as e.g. Nature et Découvertes (www.natureetdecouvertes.be)Woluwe Shopping Centre, City 2 and Esplanade in Louvain-la-Neuve) and Lokilino (Tervuren) offer many ideas for nature activities;
- Webshop of Vivara (www.vivara.be) gives a commission fee to nature organisations like Natuurpunt (www.natuurpunt.be ) and Vogelbescherming (www.vogelbescherming.be );
- Some English bookshops have a good selection of nature books for kids, e.g. Treasure Trove (Tervuren).
Activities with kids:
www.naturalsciences.be: Many activities for the whole family including an exhibition on biodiversity in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.
We humans are not an isolated species. Due to globalization, industrialization, and our number, we have an enormous impact on this planet. All the things we do and those we choose not to, have repercussions on the world we live in.
If we each started practicing a no-impact lifestyle today, without electricity, shops, or technology; if we just picked and ate berries and only used hand-made tools, one can argue that the planet would not be able support the current population. However, the opposite is certainly true. The planet cannot sustain every individual living an average Western lifestyle.
A second life
Do you want to get rid of something and it is still in good shape? Here are some options:
On a beautiful spring day, people of all ages and backgrounds planted the second Sunbeams forest in Belgium. International and Belgian schools, scout groups and girl guides, ambassadors and children, Belgian and expat organisations, all had the same task on that sunny day: to turn a meadow into a forest. Together, they planted 4300 trees in one day in the outskirts of a village called Oetingen (Gooik)!
What does the war in Congo, the chimpanzees, your mobile phone and your daily life have to do with one other? It was this strong and convincing holistic message of inter-connectedness which impressed me the most after hearing Dr. Jane Goodall speak in front of a full auditorium at the Free University of Brussels last 22 November 2010.
Monthly eco-challenge: Eat less meat!
The "eco-foodprint" of eating meat has been underestimated and here are just a few examples:
- Cattle are producing 18% of all green house gases.
- 78% of all agricultural land is used for cattle (fodder and grazing).
- More than 2/3 of all agricultural production in Europe is used for fodder.
- To produce 1 kg of meat, you need 15.000 litres of water, while 1 kg of grain or potatoes only need 1.000 litres.
- Water pollution, deforestation, energy use, air pollution, loss of biodiversity, more waste and antibiotics in our food are but a few other negative effects on the environment (see the FAO document “Livestock’s Long Shadow” for more details).
- The well-being of the animals has often been totally neglected, especially in big farming industries
What can you do?
- Eat organic meat and meat from small-scale farming where the well-being of the animals has been taken into account.
- Eat less meat and replace it with alternatives like fish (see our sustainable fish guides), beans, peas, lentils, tofu, seitan, cheese, eggs or other sources of proteine.
- Alternate between different types of meat (the bigger the animal, the more it pollutes).
- Take smaller portions of meat when you eat it and "beef up" your plate with veggies instead.
- Try out all kinds of vegetarian dishes and be creative when you barbeque.
- Join in with the Donderdag Veggie Dag ("Thursday Veggie Day", introduced in Ghent by the Ethical Vegetarian Alternative)
- Or just go vegetarian!
If you want to know more on the impact of your diet on our planet, read Jane Goodall’s “Harvest for Hope. A Guide to Mindful Eating”. The book is also sold at Sunbeams events.
This article was originally published in the June 2009 edition of the Sunbeams newsletter.
- Hints Classes of American Women's Club Belgium, Rhode-Saint Genese, 2009 and 2010
- 3 at Welcombeek, British military spouses, Sterrebeek, 2009-2010
- 20 at international schools as preparation for our tree planting events in 2010 and 2011
- Wildlife workshop, with our expert, at Savoorke, Tervuren, October 2009 and 2010
- World Water Day, water experiments, for Serve The City – Brussels, March 2010
- Composting, with master composters, private garden, Kraainem, June 2009 and 2010
- 12 workshops on several topics at Savoorke, IMS, Tervuren, 2009-2011
- 2 workshops on recycling at US Tri-Mission, Brussels and Evere, 2011
- Environmental Fair IBGE/BIM, Cinquantenaire Park, Elsene, June 2010 and 2011
- 4 fairs for EC Welcome Day, Berlaymont, Elsene, 2009-2011
- Christmas fairs: 2 at IMS and 2 at BSB , Tervuren, December 2009 and 2010
- Irisfeest, Woluwe Saint-Pierre, May 2010
- Stand at Lester Brown presentation at EP, Brussels, May 2010 and May 2011
- US Embassy volunteers day, Brussels, 2010
- 3 Expatica fairs, Autoworld, Elsene, 2009 and 2010
- 2 days, Welcome Fair, The Bulletin Group, Area 42, Schaarbeek, 2009
- Tree planting events, Neerlinter 2010 and Gooik/Oetingen 2011
- Clean-up the World event, Sint-Stevens-Woluwe, September 2010
- Nature Walk with Biloba forest guide, Watermaal-Bosvoorde, October 2010
- Earth Day celebration, with Lokilino, Tervuren, 2010
- Biodiversity Quiz, in cooperation with Friends of the Earth, Brussels, May 2010
- Car sharing events to Bioplanet, Mechelen 2009-2010
- Peace Day celebration, Giant Peace Dove building of recycled material by kids, for the
- Jane Goodall Institute, Tervuren, September 2009 and 2010
- Organic wine tasting event, with R99, at British Commonwealth Women's Club of Belgium
- Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, February 2010
- Several Energy Saving Events, Elsene, 2009-2010
- Recruiting events (volunteers or interns), team days, planning meetings (including students)
- Preparation and feedback meetings on tree planting event, Helping hands events, packing
- information folders, Board meetings
Cooperation established with
- Vereniging voor Bos in Vlaanderen (forest association)
- Beehive associations (Apis Bruocsella and the beekeepers assocation of Flemish Brabant )
- Natuurpunt (nature organization)
- Embassies of UK and Slovenia
- Jane Goodall Institute Belgium
- Vogelbescherming (bird protection)
- Serve The City Brussels
- Brussels Environmental Institute (IBGE/BIM)
- Universities, several
- UNEP Brussels Office
- MOS, Green School logo
- International schools, several
- Lokilino (eco-toys shop with workshops)
- Turtle Wings
- Transition Towns Tervuren
- Agenda 21 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre and Molenbeek
- Biloba vzw
- Friends of the Earth, Brussels
- Youth movements, JNM and Girl Guides
- Friends of Amma
- Gardener's Club of Brussels
Cooperation with companies
- Levi Strauss Co, since 2011
- Lokilino, since 2010
- Reason2.be, since 2008
- Druk in de Weer, since 2008
- King Baudouin Foundation, BreXpat III, 2009-2010
- Distribution of Info Packs: ca. 800
- Monthly newsletters
- 2 getting started guides
- Mailing list: about 1000 subscribers, including schools and embassies
- Launch of Facebook and Twitter in 2010
- Fairs (see above) and other Networking activities, e.g. at Greenweek
Articles in other magazines
- Expatica, several articles, Award Expatica Belgium Best Blog in 2009-2010
- Away Magazine: 3 main articles + 6 columns with challenge and events 2009-2010
- Small Talk, BCT, monthly article
- Danish Magazine, monthly article
- Brussels Newsletter of 19 communes, 1 article
- Woluwe Saint-Pierre Newsletter, 1 article
- Australian-New Zealand, newsletter, several
- The Bulletin, e.g. the Green issue 2011
- Changemakers in Brussels, by Polly Akhurst of The Hub, 2011
- Newspaper articles related to our tree planting events (2010-2011)
Sales for others
- Jane Goodall Institute, several items
- Vogelbescherming, bird association, several items
- Earth Policy Institute, books by Lester Brown
- Apis Bruoscella , wild flower seeds
Other: Status of non-profit organisation ASBL/VZW since April 2010
Some organic farmers prepare a selection of their vegetables and/or fruit in “baskets” on a weekly basis. The baskets comprise mainly locally grown vegetables and fruit, but sometimes (e.g. in winter time) the local ones are complemented by some bio (often fair trade) ones from abroad. The local ones are harvested and selected by the farmer each week. You don’t always know beforehand which vegetables or fruit you’ll get (Reason2.be will send you an email two days in advance specifying what you'll get), but they’re always in harmony with the seasons and freshly picked – and they taste delicious!
There are various suppliers to choose from in Belgium, each with their own payment method (upfront or after delivery), ordering system (online, by phone, ad hoc, monthly or even via annual membership), and place of delivery (a pick-up place or delivery to your doorstep). We put everything you need to know to get started is in this article.
Children’s parties have become real commercial events. Now this is a touchy topic isn’t it? I think it has to do with the fact we all try to be perfect parents. Today, I will add another challenge to your parties, but maybe it will eventually might make things easier, and at least you might feel much better about it! Each party has quite an impact on the environment. How can you make a difference? Here are some ideas to pick from (both for parents who are creative and those who do not even have the time to think of being creative!) to make these parties at least a bit more eco-friendly. Time to rethink and dare to change some things!