Recent Articles

Environmentally Friendly Tips for Your Lawn

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Who doesn’t appreciate a nice green lawn? Caring for a lawn doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In fact, with a little creativity it can be fun—even if you live in a neighborhood with an overly strict and nosy homeowner’s association and makes seemingly unreasonable demands and is always looking over your shoulder. Here are some of the things to make the task of yard and lawn care easier for you and for the environment.

1. Hire a Professional

Seriously! The easiest way, though not the cheapest, to care for your yard and lawn is to hire someone else to take care of it for you. It’s easy enough to find a professional in your area by using sites like search sites like lawnservice.net or hitting up Craigslist. Professionals do this for a living, know all the tricks of the trade, and bring professional grade equipment that can do the job in half the time.

2. Use a push mower

Mowers that use engines require gasoline. This is terrible for the environment, your lungs, and your wallet. They are also louder than push mowers and while it might be fun to irritate an annoying neighbor, that whole turnabout is fair play thing should keep you in check. Plus, do you really want to spend money to bother your neighbor?

Bonus: engineless/push mowers are more difficult to move, which means you get a better workout when you mow the lawn (which could mean that you no longer need that expensive gym membership!)

3. Compost is Your Friend

Start a compost pile at a far corner of your yard (they’re smelly and aren’t fun when kept under windows). Compost piles are great because they reduce the amount of land-fill bound waste produced by your home. You can compost almost all organic foodstuffs (not meat—compost piles are Vegan) as well as grass clippings and other yard debris. Compost is better for your lawn and plants than fertilizer, it saves you money and it is much better on the environment.

4. Use Rain and Gray Water

Set up a rain collection barrel near your house (they’re easy to set up and use). Stop up your tub and sink when you bathe and wash dishes. Run this water through a simple filter and then use it and the rainwater you’ve collected to water your lawn and your plants. This reduces your water and electric bill by quite a lot. It’s also better for your plants. Just don’t use the gray water or roof runoff to water vegetable or fruit producing plants, they may contain toxins that you don’t want in your food.

5. Rake, Don’t Blow

Leaf blowers are loud, they are obnoxious and they require gasoline to run. They put lots of carbon into the air, which is terrible for the environment. Also, blowing the leaves from your lawn into the street (or someone else’s yard) doesn’t actually solve the problem. It just creates a bigger one for someone else to take care of.

Raking your yard helps you gather up leaves and debris so that your yard looks great. It provides you with a pretty decent workout and can be a fun way to spend an afternoon if you get the whole family involved. Leaves and organic debris are compostable so you can simply add them to your compost pile when you’re done gathering them up (and jumping in them).

These are just five ways that you can care for your yard and be as eco-friendly as possible.  They should even pass a strict Homeowner’s Association’s standards (especially if you keep your compost pile covered so the smell doesn’t spread or attract critters)!

How to keep termites out of your home

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Termites are the last insect most homeowners ever want to see on their property.  Their voracious appetite for wood can do untold damage to even the newest and best-built homes in any neighborhood.

Making sure they don’t do this to you takes persistence and anticipation.  Waiting for signs of termites before you initiate a treatment program is the wrong way to handle it.  If you don’t already have termites, don’t think of it as a treatment program. Think of it as a prevention program, or else it may become a treatment program.

You must deal with professionals on termites.  An infestation requires skills, tools, and chemicals that homeowners do not have.  Finding a reputable exterminator is as easy as dropping in on www.pestcontrol.us and placing a phone call.  From that initial contact, your situation will be handled by people who are well-trained in termite issues.  Don’t select some no-name startup local company, staffed by freshly-minted technicians who might not be able to find termites in their own homes.  To get the best results, work with the best people.  This is your home we’re talking about!

Calling a professional isn’t exactly how-to instruction.  But there is a significant DIY component to the process of termite-proofing your home.  We’re getting there…

First, you must limit the availability of cellulose.  That can best be handled at the time of construction, of course, but even with renovation you can look for places where wood is within six inches of soil.  Consider lattice work, structural members, and decorative items.  And note that pressure treated wood is not immune to termite damage.

Second, don’t store wood on the ground.  Whether it’s firewood or scrap lumber, placing it on the ground is making it a vector for termites.  When you grab a 2×4 block for a household repair, it may already be infested with termites.  Bringing in an extra armload of firewood to get you through the night will also bring in a squadron of these destructive pests.  Mulch, in excess, can stay moist enough to provide a home for termites that’s just inches from your home.  If you like to replace mulch annually, rake away last year’s accumulation (and any previous years’!) and use a modest layer that covers the soil just enough to get the look you want.  Don’t let mulch mound up in a thick, damp layer.  That is Club Med for termites.

Finally, manage moisture.  Termites are soft-bodied insects that cannot survive very long in a dry environment.  By taking away the moisture that keeps them alive, you will force them to relocate elsewhere.  That applies to inside your home and out.  Check for damp areas around your foundation.  Ensure that gutter downspouts can easily drain away from the home.  Get a dehumidifier for summer use, and make sure you keep it emptied as needed.

The battle against termites never ends, but with vigilance on your part and skilled work by professionals on theirs, you can stay ahead of the monsters that would eat your home.

Nutrient density of vegetables in your garden

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Just out of curiosity I got my hands on the USDA food database and had a little fun in Excel and the results were pretty interesting.  Assuming I wanted to figure out what vegetables I could grow in my garden had the highest nutrient density.  I wrote a formula for each nutrient from Vitamin A to Zinc what percentage rank across all of the foods did the item have.  I then summed up these percentages based on 100 calories consumed to create an overall score and grouped by average across the categories as a “Nutrient Density Score.”

The results were pretty interesting and discovered some new plants I should try consuming this year.

Top 10 most nutrient dense vegetables

Rank Vegetable Score Nutrients with significant content
1 Pumpkin leaves 24.0 Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Leucine, Tyrosine, Threroline, Isoleucine, Phenylalanie
2 Spinach 23.4 Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Folate, Magnesium, Beta carotene, Tyrosine, Threroline, Isoleucine
3 Mustard Greens 23.0 Calcium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Folate, Beta carotene, Tyrosine, Arginine
4 Broccoli 23.0 Calcium, Phosphorus, Zinc, Pantothenic acid, Folate, Aspartic acid, Glutamic acid, Valine
5 Asparagus 22.6 Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Copper, Selenium, Niacin, Folate, Aspartic acid, Glutamic acid
6 Turnip Greens 22.6 Calcium, Potassium, Beta carotene, Tyrosine, Threroline, Isoleucine, Phenylalanie, Leucine, Valine
7 Pak-Choi 22.3 Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Vitamin C, Folate, Beta carotene, Glutamic acid, Isoleucine, Alanine
8 Swiss Chard 21.5 Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper, Beta carotene, Isoleucine, Phenylalanie
9 Green Leaf Lettuce 21.5 Phosphorus, Potassium, Manganese, Vitamin A, Beta carotene, Isoleucine
10 Beet Greens 21.4 Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Pantothenic acid, Beta carotene

 
As you can see everything in the top ten is at least the color green with most of the plants being leafy vegetables.  Some honorable mentions rounding up the top 20: Chives, Kale, Zucchini, Corn salad, Okra, Cauliflower Greens, Parsley, Mushrooms, Collards, Red leaf Lettuce.

So as you know vegetables contain the most nutrients the shorter the time between they are harvested and then consumed so anywhere you can shave off a few hours of this process is to your advantage, so to benefit the most for the nutrients in your food some of the above plants are some great options.

So how about the bottom, or the top ten least nutrient dense vegetables in your garden?

Bottom 10 least nutrient dense vegetables

Rank Vegetable Score
1 Indian Squash 8.4
2 Shiitake Mushrooms 9.4
3 Potatoes 9.5
4 Jerusalem Artichoke 9.6
5 Parsnips 9.7
6 Lemon grass 9.7
7 Pumpkin flowers 10.3
8 Arrowroot 10.8
9 Tomatillos 10.9
10 Rhubarb 10.9

 

Now don’t get me wrong many of the plants in the above list may still have plenty of nutritional value it is just that compared to the competition they lack the shear concentration of nutrition and the diversity across the spectrum. 

I know for me I am planning on trying some pumpkin leaves this year.  Sounds like you just dice them up and sauté with some oil and throw in some garlic at the end and sounds like the leaves should actually be pretty sweet tasting…I will be sure to post of the success or failure of cooking pumpkin leaves.

5 Easy Money-saving Gardening Tips

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Starting and keeping a garden is a great way to spend your time for those of you with a green thumb. I just recently took up the hobby, and was shocked at just how expensive it was to start a relatively large garden in my back yard. Undeterred by the cost, I opened my wallet, pulled out the no fee credit cards and began buying seeds, mulch, and the tools I needed to keep my garden looking great.

Make you own compost. There are two big benefits to composting.  First, those scraps from the vegetables and other foods you spent your hard-earned money on don’t go to waste, allowing you to make the most of your purchases. More importantly, however, compost is free nutrient rich soil for your garden.  It’s easy, too.

A very simple way to create a compost area is to choose an area of your yard that’s away from everything else and section it off with chicken wire.  Once you’ve built your bin, simply toss your scraps, veggie peelings, egg shells, and more into the bin and let it decompose. Compost soil takes about a year to be ready for gardening, but once it’s ready, you’ll have some of the freshest free soil around.

Cut back on mulch. Have you laid mulch and then had pesky weeds pop up anyway? If you answered “yes,” there’s a good chance that you also purchased more mulch to lay over the invading weeds. There’s a simpler solution, however.

Next time you go to lay mulch, take some of those old newspapers out of your recycling bin and lay them flat over the area where you’re going to lay the mulch.  With this biodegradable layer between the weeds and the mulch, you’ll see fewer of their little heads popping through the wood chips, and you’ll save money since you’ll have to reapply your mulch less often.

Buy self-seeding plants. Another really great way to save money on your garden going forwards is by not having to by new plants every year. Many plants – like Foxgloves, Oriental Poppies, etc. – are self-seeders.  This means that as they deteriorate in the colder months, they will release seeds that will germinate when the weather gets warm again.

This is a great way to save money on your garden because it removes some of the monetary burden of purchasing all-new flowers at the start of each warm season.

Start small. One way to facilitate the lushness of your garden is to buy larger, adult plants instead of growing from seeds. Many gardening stores sell larger plants because they are more expensive to the buyer, however.  To save some money this year, but smaller, starter plants or grow your garden from seeds. Seeds and smaller plants cost less because they’ve cost the growers and distributors less to grow and maintain.

For some, growing a garden can be challenging, but if you’re willing to try, going this route will save you money upfront and could very well produce just as beautiful a garden as larger plants.

Become a plant food chef. Another expense that can be very important to your garden (and its health) is purchasing plant food.  Plants, like all other organisms, need certain things to thrive—water, light, nutrients, and more. And one of the ways we give plants nutrients is with expensive plant foods.

You can, however, save money on plant food by making your own. Here’s how: take compost and place it into a large container of water for a week.  When the week’s up, the water should be murky and brown. That means it’s ready. Now, use this mixture to water your plants—it will work as well as store-bought foods, but will lack the chemicals found in them.

The biggest tip I can give you is to keep it small and simple until you get the hang of it. Gardening is supposed to be relaxing, not complicated. If you want complicated, try understanding section 529 college savings plans.  That’s complicated.  Gardening should be the opposite of that, and once you get the hang of it, it is.

Make the most of May with some quick recycling projects

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May is a great time to start enjoying the warmer weather and longer days by getting out in the garden.  By taking the time to smell the roses and stroll around the allotment plot or garden you can help to combat stress levels and restore the Zen to your busy life. Discovering the plant life and wildlife using your senses will bring you closer nature. While you appreciate these little natural miracles why not give a thought to how we can help the environment at home.

While you are (hopefully) having fun in the sun you could have a go at a few recycling and repurposing activities. Here are a few tips that can help you turn your rubbish into something beautiful or functional. 

1. Turn rubbish into a planter.  A chipped cup and saucer, a teapot with a broken lid, a lonely wellington boot, all can be filled with compost and turned from something unloved into something beautiful. It’s true that flowers can work wonders to cheer up a dull space, all you have to do is to drill some holes in the bottom of the receptacle, fill it with compost and plant flowers or seeds. Summer bedding plants are in available at garden centers right now and can be used to add an instant impact.

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2. Build a bug hotel. These can be made from all sorts of weather durable scraps of building material and garden material. The easiest bug hotel can be made from broken garden canes which are too small for anything else. All you have to do is chop them up into similar lengths and tie them together with twine and leave it in a quiet corner of the garden. Bugs, insects and even bees will crawl in to this safe place during bad weather and frosts. 

3. Make use of kitchen scraps.  Slugs are a gardener’s public enemy number 1, use broken eggshells or anything prickly (holly leaves work well too) scattered around your most precious plants to deter the slimy horrible critters from munching their way through the irresistible fresh new shoots.  Other kitchen scraps such a vegetable peelings can be added to the compost where they will provide valuable nutrients and help improve the structure of the soil.

4. Use finished water bottles. Empty water bottles are one of the world’s biggest recycling problems but there are so many uses for them around the garden. In May when frosts can still happen, water bottles filled with water can be used to protect courgette plants. By filling up the bottle with collected rain water and then placing the bottle (or 2 of them) next to your courgette plants you can provide extra warmth during the last frosts. The water in the bottle will warm up during the day in the sun and then cool down slower than the air at night, thus keeping your plants toasty should a frost happen. Used water bottles can also be made into slow release drip feeders which will make efficient use of water as none runs away from its intended destination.

With so many ways to recycle you need never look at your rubbish in the same way again!

This article is a guest post from Dan Whiteside, Dan blogs about DIY and gardening topics at DIY Newbie, where he discusses a variety of issues including plumbing repairs and building projects.

Gardening Novice

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My ancestors were German farmers, but somewhere along the way the green thumb gene got spliced out of me.  Despite enjoying an abundance of homegrown green peppers, squash, and tomatoes in my youth, I never seriously shadowed my grandparents nor my mother in the garden.

My youthful experience gardening involved one sad attempt at growing carrots from seedlings, an endeavor so fraught with impatience I harvested little orange worms (they do not deserve to be called carrots) no bigger than a pinky toe.  I hung up the trowel and spade after that attempt, and determined that all of my future vegetables would be store bought and enjoy endless refrigeration in a yard-free condominium.

However, each summer as the sun grows warm I miss the fresh taste of garden tomatoes.  I also, inexplicably, long to get dirt beneath my nails. I have recently become very aware of sourcing food locally, and it seems to me there is no better local source than my own backyard.

There have been many stumbling blocks to garden domination.

1. Soil. It turns out that soil is very important to the success of your garden.  Too dense (like the clay-like mud of our yard) and plants don’t have room to grow or absorb nutrients. Too loose (loamy) and the beds won’t retain sufficient amounts of water leaving your plants thirsty.  Talk to your local nursery about the local soil.  My guy was very helpful in setting me up with some soil to supplement and loosen up our existing dirt.  If you are looking for a cheaper, more green alternative to purchasing soil from a nursery composting is a good option.  We got a late start on it this year and therefore went the lazy route, but I am eager to use compost in our garden next year.

2. Space.  While I did not end up in the full-service penthouse condominium of my dreams, our yard still presents special challenges.  We’ve opted to use square foot gardening techniques to organize our garden.  Some plants will take up a single square foot of space, and other plants like the zucchini take up four or more spaces on the grid. Since most of our seedlings started out the same size, using this square foot method helped ensure we buffered each plant with enough room to grow.

Additionally we are experimenting with other space savers like vertical gardening and upside down planters.  So far we have had mixed success due in part to poor planning (Who knew the garage cast that large of a shadow in the afternoon while we are work?), but ultimately we look to have an interesting and robust crop coming.

3. Cost. Free vegetables aren’t free.  We thunked down a healthy amount of start-up cash to get our garden going.  Lumber for raised beds, soil, and even the seeds and plants themselves set us back a little more than we anticipated.  However we built the garden for longevity and hope to reduce our costs next year.  Additionally. we have taken the garden beyond just the edibles and taken tips from www.texaselectricityproviders.com to improve our landscaping to reduce home energy costs. Ultimately, knowing exactly where our food is coming from carries more value than the few extra dollars invested this year.

I am excited to see if I have reclaimed my heritage come harvest.  I hold out hope that if I squint at in the right light (and rub some freshly cut grass on it) my thumb will reflect a healthy green hue.

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