Archive for Home & Garden

Come on, Compost!

“For 200 years we’ve been conquering Nature. Now we’re beating it to death”Tom McMillan

If your lawn or garden has suffered from the summer heat and could use a boost of nutrients, a good way to get some vitality back is to throw some fruits and vegetables, hair, and wood chips on it. But not just any combination of those seemingly random ingredients will do. Instead, a properly maintained compost pile, which can break down those materials and many others, will help replenish plenty of nourishment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains that compost is “organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants.” Natural composting has occurred for hundreds of centuries, as leaves and fruits have fallen from trees and began to biologically decompose. The decay has provided nutrients to plants and other organisms, and it only makes sense to take a lesson from nature and begin composting on our own.

Unlike expensive chemical- and pesticide-laden bags of soil, compost is a much less expensive, yet environmentally friendly option to bring the life back into your lawn or garden. It’s not hard to start composting, and there are several different compost methods you can experiment with.

Sheet Composting

Sheet composting is as close to Earth’s own practice as it gets. While this type of composting takes time to show results, it’s not labor-intensive nor does it require much experience.

To compost this way, you have a couple options: You can trim the plants around the natural borders of your garden and simply leave them to decompose, or you can cover your clippings with corrugated cardboard (or newspaper) and manure. Additionally, you can add vegetable peelings and scraps directly to your soil, as long as you’re careful to keep them at a few feet away from garden plants during growing season.

Compost Bins

Should you decide to opt for a more controlled form of composting, compost bins are a good choice. According to benefits-of-recycling.com, these bins are “structures built to house compost and are designed so as to facilitate the decomposition of organic matter through proper aeration and moisture retention.” Compost bins are made for both indoor and outdoor use, depending on which you feel more comfortable tackling.

Indoor bins can cost as little as $60, or you could spend $400 if you want more amenities. Bins hold varying amounts of food waste, but they all work best if the scraps are in small pieces. Be sure to keep dairy products out (egg shells are fine) to avoid unpleasant odors and flies.

Photo courtesy ecogloballiving.com

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting, or composting with earthworms, is very similar to using a compost bin, though this method requires a bit more work and maintenance.

To compost with worms, you will need a wooden box drilled with air holes on the sides and top. You must include bedding for the worms, which can be made easily by tearing up strips of newspaper and soaking them in water. Finally, you will need the worms themselves; depending on the size of your family, between one and three pounds of earth/redworms are required to help decompose your materials. The Franklin County Solid Waste Management District web page offers more details if you’re interested in giving vermicomposting a try.

With a little patience and even less money, composting is an easy way to turn your kitchen scraps and other organic waste into a reusable substance that will benefit your lawn and garden. Mother Nature herself would recommend trying this natural method of recycling.

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ThINK green

“Modern technology owes ecology an apology.”Alan M. Eddison

Living in a technological age comes with a lot of benefits: We have more access to more information, we can communicate quickly, and we are able to keep permanent records, online and off, of just about anything. But as technology continues to develop and grow, our environment continues to take a hit.

Printers, especially smaller-scale ones used for personal purposes, are often a God-send for getting work completed and handed in on time. The ink cartridges that fuel those printers, however, are posing an environmental challenge. Approximately 70 percent of all ink cartridges aren’t recycled, and millions — about 375 million, to be exact — of empty cartridges fill up our landfills. According to inkguides.com, that breaks down to about 11 empty cartridges being tossed into the trash every second; “If you put all these cartridges end to end they would cover a distance encircling the earth over three times,” the site states.

Photo courtesy puregreen.com

Photo courtesy puregreen.com

These cartridges are made up of non-biodegradable products, and the ink inside them contains many chemicals harmful to the environment. So while ink cartridges just sit, piling up in landfills, any traces of the chemical-containing ink begin to seep into the soil. Eventually the chemicals can make their way into our groundwater and into our bodies.

Fortunately, there are ways to stop ink cartridges from slowly ruining our environment. The best and easiest way is to recycle empty cartridges. Many printer manufacturers, such as Canon, Dell, and Samsung, offer cartridge recycling programs. While many of these programs are non-cash rewarding, others do offer compensation for returned cartridges. Programs such as Toner Buyer give $.50 to $1 for cartridges. Other programs that offer cash in exchange for cartridges pay even more; Advantage Cartridge and Sunset Recycling will pay around $5 for inkjet cartridges. In addition to these programs, many schools and other organizations have started ink cartridge recycling programs. By holding drives and putting out collection boxes, those involved are able to give local residents a central drop-off spot for their old cartridges.

While a new cartridge containing a built-in environmental protection control is currently under patent, most cartridges are still the landfill-polluting kind. The next time you run out of ink, send your cartridge to a recycling program. Not only can you make a couple bucks, but you can help to stop overfilling landfills.

For a brief clip about the cartridge recycling process, check out this video:

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The cat’s out of the bag

“Remember when atmospheric contaminants were romantically called stardust?”Lane Olinghouse

Most people don’t sit around pondering where their toilet paper comes from. Certainly cats don’t stress about their litter. While it’s not a cat’s job to think about his bathroom business, an owner should to know where that litter came from. And chances are, it didn’t come from somewhere good.

According to a Green living tips article, “The most common cat litter in use today is made from a natural clay, also known as ‘diatomaceous earth,’ or sodium bentonite.” You might think that because clay is a natural material, no harm is being done. Well, you might be wrong. The article states that as it turns out, the clay used in popular litter is targeted by strip mining. As its name implies, strip mining consists of digging and drudging away the land’s surface, typically to access and extract coal, but also clay. It’s a practice that is no stranger to environmental concern; in fact, as far back as 1971, Time magazine spoke against the perils of strip mining and painted this ugly, but true, picture:

The bleakest landscape in the U.S. can be found where miners have torn away the earth’s surface to get at coal deposits. Huge piles of gray debris, aptly called “orphan soil banks,” stand like gravestones over land so scarred and acidic that only rodents can live there. The sight is not rare. Using dynamite, bulldozers, great augers and earth movers, working on the surface rather than below ground … After such mining, the land is usually abandoned.

Photo courtesy athro.com

Photo courtesy athro.com

Strike one against litter: It’s ripping up and destroying our earth.

Strike two: This litter is also destroying our feline friends. Marina Michaels, writing for catmom.com, says that “clumping clay kitty litters may be related to a wide variety of seemingly unrelated cat health problems, included diarrhea, mega-bowel or mega-colon syndrome, unexplained lethargy, unexplained vomiting (especially frothy yellow vomit), irritable bowel syndrome, kidney diseases, respiratory problems, eye problems, general failure to thrive, anemia, and even death.”

You don’t have to be a cat lover to find that distressing. So what can you do if you own a furry friend? Try a different litter. Litter made from recycled newspaper or reclaimed wood makes a great alternative to the clay-based, trouble-causing traditional litter. Treehugger recommends Swheat Scoop, which is made from natural wheat, and can actually be licked or digested without serious consequences. There’s also Feline Pine, a brand that uses all natural pine instead of chemicals.

Even if you don’t have a furry friend, you may find yourself using cat litter for other purposes, such as cleaning liquid spills, adding traction on ice, and getting rid of foul-smelling entities. Whatever reason you use it, unless it’s an eco-friendly version, the litter is simply doing more harm than help. Next time you clean up a mess, or a box, clean up the environment, too.

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Blown Away

“Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find.”Unknown

There’s no denying it: Fall is approaching quickly, and with that cool, crisp change in the air, leaves begin to high-tail it off tree branches.

While the red, orange and golden leaves do make a beautiful sight, they also clutter yards. For most people, firing up their leaf-blowers is the easiest, most efficient way to pile their leaves and make their lawns a bit less messy. Unfortunately, using leaf-blowers means sacrificing a healthy environment for a quick fix.

Gas-powered leaf-blowers pollute the air, just as any gas-powered invention does. According to a Reuters blog, “in one year, the average blower used by a professional gardener emits as much smog-forming pollution as 80 new cars, each driven 12,500 miles.” But the pollution doesn’t stop there.  Not only do these blowers produce foul chemical emissions, but they also stir up mold and other allergens that were trapped in the decomposing leaves. Several California communities have even placed bans on gas-powered blowers, as well as offered an exchange program to get those polluters off the yards.

But there is good news: This blower debacle is nothing that a little old-fashioned exercise can’t fix. In a study examining particulate emission (the fine liquid or solid particles discharged with exhaust gases) rates from leaf-blowers, researchers found that raking leaves did not generate significant amounts of the nasty debris. Horticulture agent Maggie Shao says,Raking leaves is generally a good practice of sanitation, that is cleaning up possibly diseased leaves or preventing a dark, warm environment for diseases and pests to develop and create problems in the spring for new tender growth.” So, as you’re keeping your yard healthy, you’re also keeping the air healthy.

And that’s not the only health benefit: Raking leaves will help to get your heart rate pumping and to tone your body. According to AARP.com, “A 135-pound person could burn about 240 calories raking leaves for an hour.” That’s quite a few calories for just tidying up your yard, and all you need is a rake. Good rakes are made with high-carbon steel. The type of rake you need will depend on the type of clean-up job you have to do. Adjustable rakes are great for big-yard cleanups, but they can also work well for digging leaves out of shrubbery. The “Cleanup Rake” is also versatile and can be used for picking up both wet and dry leaves.

Whatever style you choose, the important thing to keep in mind is that by raking, you’re taking one step toward cleaning up not only your yard, but also the environment. That is something you should really fall in love with.

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It’s getting hot (or cold) in here

“The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.”E.F. Schumacher

E.F. Schumacher had it right: Technology can’t seem to regulate itself the same way nature can. But, some creations in this technological age do have the ability to make some of their own adjustments, and programmable thermostats are a good example.

Photo courtesy ductlesscooling.com

Photo courtesy ductlesscooling.com

These thermostats can be programed to automatically reduce heating and cooling in your home when you don’t need as much, and they are one of the easiest ways you can save energy, money and help fight global warming.

We’re currently in the throes of summer, and temperatures can get a bit uncomfortable. Informational “going green” Web site thedailygreen.com states that cooling accounts for nearly half the energy used by the average home during the summer, according to the EPA. Energy Star broadens that sad picture, explaining that the average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills — nearly half of which goes to heating and cooling.

Photo courtesy guardian.co.uk

Photo courtesy guardian.co.uk

By using a programmable thermostat, you can adjust the times you turn on the heating or air conditioning through a pre-set schedule, according to the US Department of Energy. For every degree you lower the thermostat in the winter or raise it in the summer, you’ll save between 1 percent and 3 percent of your heating and cooling bill. You can save around 10 percent a year of your bill by simply turning your thermostat back 10 degrees to 15 degrees for eight hours.

Programmable thermostats can cost as little as $30 to as much as $300 depending on how fancy you get them, although they will pay for themselves in energy savings.

But what if you’re either a.) not in the market for a thermostat, or b.) don’t have a thermostat to replace? Well, there are other options. Another energy-saving solution is to purchase a Cool-n-Save, which attaches to almost any home air conditioning unit. The system costs about $100, but it’s supposed to save you 30 percent on your electric bill.

Additional options involve working with what you already have. The US Department of Energy suggests keeping your house warmer than normal when you are away and lowering the setting to 78°F (26°C) only when you are at home and need cooling. Or, if you really want to save (and don’t have pets at home that need a cooler temperature), try turning off your air conditioner about 10 minutes before you leave the house, so that you still feel cool prior to heading out. You should also be sure to clean and to maintain your air-conditioning unit properly.

Photo courtesy bhgrealestate.com

Photo courtesy bhgrealestate.com

The best option for saving energy and money: Don’t use an air conditioner at all. E/The Environmental Magazine suggests using table top or ceiling fans, which use about only 1/30th the electricity of a room air conditioner. Even better yet, just throw open a couple windows and let nature do its thing.

As Schumacher said, nature is self-balancing, self-adjusting and self-cleansing. Why not let a little bit of that goodness flow through your house now and then? It’ll beat air conditioning any day, I guarantee it.

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You give me butterflies

“Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.”Henrik Tikkanen

It’s an insect that some people say brings good luck if it lands on you, but the butterfly is more than just a lucky charm. Butterflies are an important part of every ecosystem, but because of  increased clearing of land for development, their habitats are dwindling. In fact, Sir David Attenborough, the long-time face and voice of several British natural history programs, said Britain will face an “environmental catastrophe” unless immediate action is taken to save the country’s butterflies from extinction. Certainly, it’s not hard to imagine the same outcome for the US.

People who are interested in helping to preserve butterfly populations or who are simply fascinated by their beauty can bring butterflies to their own backyard by creating an eco-friendly butterfly garden. Attracting butterflies doesn’t have to be a bank-breaker or huge time commitment; all it takes is the right plants, a good environment and a little patience.

Photo courtesy uky.edu

Photo courtesy uky.edu

Developing your garden can be broken down into three basic steps:

1.) Location

Choose a location in your backyard that receives at least five to six hours of sunlight daily. Make sure the spot doesn’t get too windy, as butterflies don’t like to struggle to feed in a strong breeze. A good spot may be near a tree line or wall of shrubbery that would block the majority of the wind.

2.) Research

Once you’ve chosen a good location for your butterfly garden you need to research two things — first, which butterflies are in your area, and second, which plants and flowers will grow best in your area and attract those butterflies. As a general rule, butterfly-friendly plants include cornflowers, milkweed, goldenrod, willows, passion vine and hydrangeas. Keep in mind, though, that different butterflies like different flowers. Along with nectar food for mature butterflies, be sure to include larval food for caterpillars, and it’s best to select native plants rather than exotic species.

It is said that mature butterflies are attracted to vibrant colors, such as yellows, oranges, pinks and purples. Plan to have blooming plants from late spring to early fall.

3.) “Accessories”

With the correct selections at hand, it’s time to begin planting. To make your garden as environmentally friendly as possible, do not apply any pesticides or chemicals to your soil. In addition to your plants and flowers, butterflies also require a water source. Butterflies will not drink from open or deep areas, so the source needs to be kept shallow. Creating a small pit in mud or sand can provide the right amount of water for the insects, as well as does placing a small container in the soil. Just be sure to fill it with sand to keep it shallow.

Finally, add a few rocks to both the water source and the garden itself. These will provide the butterflies with resting places where they can also sun themselves.

While your backyard garden will never be a substitute for the butterflies’ natural habitat, it will give them a safe place to grow and thrive, even if only temporarily. The more effort you put into making a satisfactory home for the butterflies, the more satisfaction you’ll receive while you watch them flitzing about.

Photo courtesy jenscapes.com

Photo courtesy jenscapes.com

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