Raccoons, Rabbits And Pets In Your Garden…Oh My!

If it’s like Wild Kingdom in your garden, you can take steps to protect your green space, and the animals who use it!

A beautiful garden filled with lovely plants and flowers is basically an open invitation to the animal world to pay you a visit. That might be a daunting thought but you can create an inviting outdoor space that is safe for the animals you love and less interesting for those that you don’t.

What’s Dangerous To Your Pets

There are a variety of plants and flowers that are toxic for pets so if you plan to have them as part of your garden plan, you might want to consider keeping them in raised beds or away from bed borders, or install some cute picket or lattice fencing, to minimize the chances of your pet coming into contact with them.

Here’s a short but by no means complete list of common plants that can harm your pets:

  • Lily of the valley—they contain cardiac glycosides, which are used in human heart medication!
  • Daisey
  • Tulips
  • Holly—Christmas can be a dangerous time of year!
  • Azaleas
  • Birds of Paradise
  • Fall Crocuses—while the Spring crocus might cause an upset stomach if ingested, the Fall version is highly toxic
  • Daffodils
  • Amaryllis
  • Lavender
  • Lilies—cats are in danger with tiger, easter or day lilies, among others. Even a small amount of pollen or a petal or two can cause liver failure.

In addition to plants and flowers, there could be other things in your garden, which could harm Fido. Mulch, for example. Some types of mulch are made from cocoa bean by-products. The result is that they have a chocolate odour that attracts your pets but, as anyone with a dog knows, chocolate is toxic. Dogs don’t have the enzymes necessary in their bodies to process theobromine and caffeine, both of which are found in cocoa bean.

A good alternative mulch is hemp mulch. It’s effective as a mulch in keeping the soil moist, avoiding erosion, keeping weeds down and promoting seed germination BUT it is completely pet friendly!

Other concerns?

  • Fertilizers—any fertilizer that contains blood or bone meal can be both attractive to and dangerous for pets as the iron levels they contain, if ingested in sufficient quantities, could be harmful.
  • Pesticides—pesticides generally can be harmful but you particularly want to watch any that contain organophosphates, as many products produced for the care of roses do. Even small doses of these can seriously harm your pet.
  • Compost—yes, that earthy goodness can be dangerous if consumed by your pet directly from the compost heap or container. Why? One word: mould. As the compost breaks down, some mould does naturally develop. It will eventually break down as well but during the composting process, it can still be active and make your pet quite sick! Keep your compost area fenced off and away from your pets.

It goes without saying that if you do have chemical based products for your lawn and garden around, they need to be out of reach of not only children, but pets too!

 

Damage By Pets

The most common kind of damage in the garden caused by pets, aside from the digging of holes where you didn’t want them, is patches of burnt lawn, where the animal has urinated and the grass has died.

You can solve these in specific areas of your lawn by either seeding or sodding. How? Check out another of our posts, on this very topic!

If you’re just planning your landscaping, another way to avoid the problem is to work in more hardscaping! Yes, your doggo will love a good patch of lawn, but if you replace some of your planned lawn with stone, brick or flagstone, it’s that much less that you have to worry about patches on!

 

Damage By Other Animals

As cities expand, we humans are coming into closer contact with a wide range of wild animals and our gardens provide some great feeding grounds!

Raccoons and skunks—These are grub diggers! Your lawn might get dug up in parts as these two animals search for grubs underground. Your best bet for dealing with this issue is to minimize the grub population, utilizing a non-toxic, enviro friendly pesticide designed for that purpose! As for vegetable gardens, covers will stop most of their activities. Either cover individual plants or use netting to protect a larger grouping of plants.

Rabbits—How do you know if rabbits are eating you out of lawn and garden? Check the ends of the greenery that has been eaten. If they are neatly clipped, odds are it’s rabbits! You can also look for tell tale small round droppings. The only real solution for rabbits—and deer, if you’re farther out in the countryside—is fencing. You’ll have to dig down a few inches to avoid them going under and chicken wire won’t do the trick. You’ll need a stronger wire fencing to get the job done!

Squirrels—Squirrels LOVE to dig holes in lawns, as well as dig up and eat bulbs in flower beds. The only protection is a wire mesh cover. But here’s a tip: squirrels don’t like daffodil bulbs, so an investment in a few more of those will mean more flowers next year!

Whether your animal filled yard is by choice or by force, you can live peaceably with four legged creatures by taking the time to plan your landscape and hardscape so that everyone can enjoy the space, safely!

5 Things You Should Do To Choose The Perfect Christmas Tree

‘Tis the season for decorations and delights, just so long as you choose… right?

Okay, that was a little awkward: rhyming is not our forte. Trees, however, are definitely in  our wheelhouse! This year, if you’ve decided to eschew the plastic tree that you’ve had stuffed in the basement these last few seasons, we’ve got you covered on the whys and wherefores of a real Christmas tree.

Types Of Christmas Trees

There are a couple of species of tree that make the best holiday decor for any home or office, each with their own merits.

  • Fraser fir — Well watered, a Fraser fir can last up to eight weeks in your home and has that most distinctive of Christmas-sy scents. The silvery tint to their needles and less dense branches are the perfect complement to your ornaments.
  • Balsam fir — These very popular trees will typically last six to seven weeks and have good fullness, needle retention and that classic pine scent that screams: “Pass the eggnog!” Their more slender look with dark green needles make these the perfect tree for smaller spaces.
  • Scotch pine — With needles that vary from bright green to blue/green, these bushy trees have strong branches and excellent needle retention, which is important if you have heavy or simply many ornaments AND hate vacuuming the needles!
  • White spruce — The full, dark green branches are just part of the appeal. These trees are some of the most symmetrical, with very consistent shape all around. These are great trees if you are using them as a central decoration in a room, rather than placing it in a corner, as it will look beautiful from every angle. The downside? Their needles are VERY prickly, which can be unpleasant for wee ones, when decorating!

Before Buying A Tree

Measure your ceiling height, taking into account the tree stand AND any top of tree ornaments, like a star. You don’t want to end up with a National Lampoon Christmas tree, bending at the top!

Also, take a look at the area where you plan to place the tree: you need enough width, as well as height, and if you are getting a tall tree, you might want to consider whether you will be able to anchor it to the wall, for safety. In addition, you want to make sure to place it far from heat sources, which can be a fire hazard. If you are using lights, make sure there is an easily accessible plug or switch on a power bar so that you can be sure to turn off the lights when you aren’t home and before you go to bed. Again, this is in case of a short or overheating.

Don’t forget to dig out your tree stand and make sure all the parts are in good working order or your decorated tree could topple like Uncle Art after a couple of hot toddies!

What To Look For In Your Tree

Whether you are buying your tree at a garden centre, a tree lot or going to a farm to cut your own, there are a couple of things you should look for when selecting your tree:

  • Check for broken branches, bare spots and dead branches to assess the health of the tree and how well it survived transportation (if you’re not at the farm yourself).
  • Look for a fairly even colouring of the needles. Dull or brown / rusty needles may speak to the freshness of the tree.
  • Check for pests and insects: you don’t want to be bringing these into your home!
  • Run your hands over the needles by grasping a branch about six inches in and pulling forward gently: the needles should stay put and be flexible. A few may drop off but if a lot of the needles are dry and come off in your hand, the tree might not be fresh.
  • Check the branches to see that they are strong enough to hold up ornaments and lights and flexible, which is another sign of a fresh tree.

Setting Up Your Tree

First, cut about an 1-1.5” off the bottom of the stump: the fresh cut will allow your tree to soak up water more easily.

Second, place a plastic tree bag or garbage bag IN the water compartment of your stand and lay it open—don’t worry, you can cover it with a tree skirt so no one has to see the bag, but it will make disposal at the end of the holidays a little easier, with a lot less needle dropping on the carpet. It can also help to prevent water spills soaking up into your carpet or staining your hardwood, in case the stand gets overfilled a little.

Third, leave your tree in the tree stand a full 24 hours before decorating it. Some of the branches will fall naturally as the tree acclimates to the room temperature, so premature decorating can end up looking a whole lot different a day later! Don’t forget to water it! A tree will go through a lot of water, particularly in the first day it is in your home, so make sure you keep an eye on the water line in your stand.

Disposing Of Your Tree

Sadly, the holidays WILL come to an end and it will be time to dispose of your tree. Most areas across the GTA have curbside pick up service in January so check your local recycling schedule and see when yours is. Too often, we’ll see trees with sad bits of tinsel on them, stuck in a snow bank in February.

When it’s time to move the tree, make sure someone is holding by the trunk, towards the top, while someone else undoes the tree stand clamps or retention mechanism. Then pull up the bag that we mentioned earlier, up and around the tree, so you can move it out the front door with a minimum of needles dropping everywhere. Remove the bag and keep it for next year, as most recycling trucks will not pick up a tree that is in plastic.

If you miss the collection dates, you can hold onto your tree and put it out with the yard waste in the Spring, in lengths of about four feet.

Now that you’re ready to bring home your tree, armed with all the information you need, we at Toemar want to remind you that with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s important to take a step back, smell the Christmas tree, and enjoy the moment. Have safe and happy holidays!

 

 

4 Things You Should Know Before Using Your Fireplace

The first step is making sure you have the right wood

While most homes no longer use wood burning fires as their primary heat source, there’s nothing like an old wood stove or fireplace glowing bright and flickering through the cold winter weather. Just the smell of woodsmoke puts one in the frame of mind of hot cider and warm toes.

Whether you’re new to the world of wood fireplaces or an old hand at stacking logs, we’ve got a few good tips about firewood that are worth reviewing.

What Characteristics Of Wood Give The Best Results?

First off, aged wood—at least two years—is best. Even better if it has been cut, split and stacked outside, exposed to the elements of nature.

Like a fine champagne (drank in front of a glowing fireplace of course!), good wood has been rotated in the stack to ensure an even and consistent aging, with decent exposure to sunlight and air flow to help dry it out and lower the moisture level to less than 20%. Less seasoned wood has as much as 50% moisture, which will smoke when lit.

Why is aged wood better?

Aged wood burns hotter and more slowly, giving you a better result in the fireplace and requiring you to add wood less often. The slow burn gives a more consistent temperature and heat, rather than a fast flare up that dies out quickly. There is also little to no smoke with well-aged wood.

There are three characteristics you are looking for beyond aging:

  1. Density of the wood, which gives you more heat per cubic foot volume of wood.
  2. BTU (British Thermal Unit) of the wood, which gives you more heat per piece of wood.
  3. This refers to the ability of the wood to form coals after the initial burn, extending the fire life.

Overall, a well-aged quality hardwood will have more density, BTUs and coaling ability, giving you a better burn, with consistent and even heat.

Examples?

White birch, which is a hardwood, has a density of 42 lbs per cu. ft. , 20.8 million BTUs / cord and is good at coaling.

In contrast, pine, which is a softwood, has a density of 22 to 31 lbs per cu. Ft., 15 million BTUs / cord and is poor at coaling. In addition, it has a strong smell and can leave an oily residue in your chimney.

Pieces that are cut from 12” to 16” are ideal to fit in most fireplaces so be sure to ask your provider what you are getting before you take delivery.

What Types Of Wood Are Available?

Hardwoods—maple, oak, ash, birch, and fruit trees—burn hotter and longer but are more expensive and harder to split. However, with a longer burn, you’re using less of it so it probably comes down to an even split for the recreational fireplace user.

Softwoods—pine, balsam, spruce, alder, and poplar—these are much easier to split and light, but they burn out quickly and are prone to creating creosote buildup in the chimney, which can cause a chimney fire.

TIP: Avoid FREE firewood sales! Very often, ‘free firewood’ is made up of wood pallets that have been broken down. Pallet wood is a major fire risk. They catch fire very easily and burn at such a high temperature that the fire could easily spread to nearby objects. They break down into wood dust, which can combine and ignite into a fireball! In addition, most wood pallets are treated with harmful chemicals that act as pesticides, such as Methyl Bromide or fungicides: when burned, the toxins are released into the air and can pose a serious health risk.

How Should Wood Be Stored?

When you’re checking out a seller, beware of those who simply pile the wood out of doors. This means that there is little to no airflow for the pieces underneath, resulting in wet, even mouldy wood that won’t burn well. You’re looking for nicely stacked wood that has plenty of airflow and a seasoned appearance.

unstacked-firewood

It should go without saying but it’s best not to store your firewood in the house. Split logs should be stacked with the ends facing prevailing winds, off the ground with only the top covered and bark facing up. This helps to ensure that sunlight and air can still reach the split logs but the bark protects them from rain and snow.

It’s best to get this done within two weeks of delivery from your firewood provider, so best to plan your location before you order! The goal is to prevent moisture from building up in your wood pile, which will make the wood too wet to burn properly.

How can you tell if your wood is too wet? If you try burning it and it hisses or steam bubbles appear at the ends, your wood is too wet to burn.

Well seasoned, dry wood is darker towards the ends, with cracks and splits in it; it’s also relatively light weight.

Before you get your first roaring fire going this season, check out our Fireplace and Chimney Checklist! Toemar has been in the business of selling firewood for more than thirty-five years, so if you’re looking for a source of wood that you can trust, give us a call.

Snow Shoveling Safety Tips

Surprisingly or not, the task of shoveling snow can be a safety concern for both adults and children. A recent 17 year student published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine shows that this seemingly simple task sends, on average 11,000 adults and children to the hospital each year. That’s a lot of people!

Even if you use a snowblower, the amount of exertion required to clear a large amount of snow can be taxing to your body, especially if you do not regularly exercise.

We looked to the experts in occupational health to get some expert advice on how to safely shovel snow.

Safe Snow Removal Tips

  • Clear snow early and often – Shovel through a snowfall so that it is lighter and easier to move.
  • Pace yourself – Give yourself lots of time. Start slow and maintain a steady pace to reduce physical stress. Lift smaller amounts and give yourself a break every 15 minutes.
  • Breathe while lifting – Breathe in while lifting and blow out while throwing.
  • Steady footing – Keep your feet hip width apart for balance and don’t over extend yourself.
  • Push rather than lift – One of the best techniques is to push the snow from the center of the driveway to the sides and lift from there.
  • Use your legs – Fill no more than half of your shovel when lifting snow. Bend your knees, keep your back straight and lift with your legs.
  • Avoid twisting – Always face the snow that you are shoveling to avoid throwing out your back.

If you are one of the fortunate ones to have a snow blower, then you should also consider the following tips:

  • Maintain control – operate it at a speed that allows you to have a good body position behind it as you walk..
  • Posture – make sure that you are standing upright with a neutral back posture and let the snow blower do the work.
  • Setting the pace – Let the machine set the pace and do the hard work of throwing the snow. Don’t force it as it is way heavier than a shovel.

Once you are finished clearing the snow, consider throwing down some salt to melt the last remnants of snow and to prevent high traffic areas from turning into sheets of black ice.

Click here to download the guide on a clearing snow safely at home.

Be safe!

Image: http://www.activehealthinstitute.com/

Practical Tips to Burning Firewood

Did you know that one cord of wood burned as firewood provides the heat equivalent to that produced by burning 200 to 250 gallons of heating oil, depending on the type of hardwood you are using?

If you are burning firewood or thinking about burning firewood here are some great tips that you can apply to your own experience:

  • Freshly cut wood contains up to 50 percent moisture and must be seasoned (approximately 2 years) to 20 to 25 percent moisture content before burning. Wood containing more than 25 percent moisture is wet, or green, and should never be burned in a fireplace or wood stove.
  • Wood must be split into pieces and stacked out of the rain for at least six months to season properly. If you see a place where firewood is just thrown into pile, you are not getting what you pay for.
  • If steam bubbles and hisses out of the end grain as the firewood heats up on the fire, the wood is wet, or green, and needs to be seasoned longer before burning. Do not burn!
  • Well-seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with visible cracks or splits. It is relatively lightweight and makes a sharp, distinctive “clink” when two pieces strike each other.
  • To maintain proper airflow, regularly remove ashes from your wood-burning appliance into a metal container with a cover and store outdoors.
  • Build hot fires. A smoldering fire is not a safe or efficient fire.
  • Start fires only with newspaper, dry kindling and all natural or organic fire starters. Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene, or charcoal starter.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Contact us if you have any questions on how to burn your firewood efficiently and effectively. Be safe and stay warm!

Source: Farmer’s Alamanac, US EPA

Free Firewood Sales – Is Burning Pallets OK?

You are tempted and it is hard to resist.

On your drive home, you see companies posting signs saying Free Firewood on their property. You decide to stop at one of them to check it out. You drive around back and you see a large stack of pallets and realize that you really could save money this winter. Someone comes out to meet you and tells it is fine to use as firewood and there have been no reported problems. When he says “reported problems”, it should be cause for you to stop and ask yourself why he would say that?

Here are some reasons why you should NOT burn pallets as firewood:

  • Low flashpoint – wooden pallets catch fire very easily
  • Extremely high temperature – this makes the potential for a fire spreading to nearby objects increase drastically
  • Explosive wood dust – under the right conditions, the accumulation of wood dust can ignite into a fireball which is extremely dangerous
  • Chemical use or exposure – many pallets are treated with toxic chemicals such as Methyl bromide (MB) or a fungicide to increase its life span. It is a pesticide used in the control of pest insects, nematodes, weeds, pathogens, and rodents
  • Releasing harmful toxins – as a pallet is burning, these toxins are released which is a serious health risk. In addition, you have no idea what type of chemicals or particulates have soaked into the wood which can significantly increase the temperature and/or create hot sparks which could lead to an explosion.

Simply put, wood pallets are known to be a major fire risk. Wood pallets need to be properly disposed of. Burning them as firewood is not a proper solution.

Here are some reasons why you should use “log or natural” firewood:

  • Cut to length – firewood is typically cut to length so that it can fit properly in your fireplace (12 inches) or woodstove (16 inches)
  • Free from toxins – the only processing that a “log” firewood goes through is the cutting and the removal of the branches. There are no pesticides and/or fungicides used
  • Eliminate waste – sometimes firewood is harvested strictly for burning. For the most part, firewood comes from felled trees that either do not meet specification for building materials (e.g. too thin) or is a byproduct of off cuts
  • Minimal smoke – properly aged or seasoned firewood will burn with very little to no smoke. This makes your firewood experience more enjoyable
  • Consistent temperature – log firewood has a high flashpoint and provides constant and even heat which makes it more comfortable in your home

Come and see how we age or season our firewood for two years to give you the perfect burning experience. We look forward to supplying you quality firewood this coming winter.

Burn Safe: Fireplace and Chimney Important Checklist

Burn Safe: Fireplace and Chimney Checklist

Now that November is here and December is just around the corner, I’m getting ready to dust off the fireplace and chimney so I can enjoy that warm cozy fire and the crackling sound of the fire in the comfort of my home (and even possibly save on my heating bill). However, I’m also aware that home fires are a bit too common during the winter and it would be foolish of me to not take the necessary steps to protect my family and my home.

Basic Fire Statistics in Canada

Here is a recent excerpt from the COUNCIL OF CANADIAN FIRE MARSHALS AND FIRE COMMISSIONERS 2007 report on fire statistics in Canada.

“On average, home fires accounted for 30% of all fires and 73% of all fire deaths in the jurisdictions that contributed data. Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries, while smoking materials are the leading cause of home fire deaths. One-third (33%) of all home fire deaths were caused by fires that started in the living room; 20% resulted from fires originating in the bedroom; and 11% were caused by fires starting in the kitchen. Fire causes in Canadian homes were very similar to those reported for homes in the United States.”

It is not surprising that the 33% of ALL home fire deaths start in the living room which is typically where most fireplaces are located in a home. Maybe not all of these deaths are fireplace related, but even if it is fraction of this number, you can take steps to protect you and your family by taking the time to inspect your fireplace and chimney.

Your Fireplace and Chimney Basics

Before you even begin to light the firewood, it is always smart and wise to inspect your fireplace to make sure that it is safe to use. Check out this video as it gives you a rundown of the key components of your fireplace so that when you speak to professional chimney professional, you completely understand all the jargon that is being thrown at you.

Key Terms:
Spark arrestor or chimney cap – located on top of the chimney, prevents sparks from hitting roof
Flue – vertical column where the smoke leaves the home
Damper – allows access to the flue, open and close mechanism near the bottom of the flue
Firebox – where the fire takes place
Hearth – located just in front of the firebox
Facade – the front area above the firebox

Once you’ve mastered these terms, you can start the process of inspecting the chimney and fireplace. See the video below on some basic tips on checking your fireplace before using.

 

After all this, it is better to call in the professionals.

For more information, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help you out.