Sunday, September 12, 2010

Right Plant, Right Place

Anyone who has gardened for any length of time has heard the phrase "right plant, right place." it's a simple concept, place plants in areas that the plants are going to do best. Places with the right levels of sun, the right amount of natural water (called rain!) and the right soil conditions. Man, being a species of control-nuts, often wants to force plants to behave in places that are difficult. Take the former owners of our house. The house is a wonderful Georgian Colonial. That means it is symmetrical. The former owners wanted the landscape to be symmetrical as well. Unfortunately one side is under the shade of an old live oak tree and the other side has full sun during the summer for 12 hours! The Oak tree side has rich, dark black soil from all the oak leaves. The sunny side is mostly sand and it's pretty dry. So they planted their Azaleas on each side and watered like crazy. I'm sure they fertilized as well. They also cut the Azalea bushes as if they were boxwoods!

It looks very neat doesn't it? We continued on in their footsteps using the 7-zone sprinkler system, three distinct pest control companies and a lawn care company that embodied the "mow-blow & go" mentality! They dumped fertilizer on the yard 4 times a year, charging us of course. It cost a small fortune to keep this yard looking this way. But it cost an immeasurable price to the environment.

One thing I noticed was that the bushes were actually Azaleas. No more clipping off the potential blooms.
Here it is in 2006

But the past few years have included prolonged periods of drought. And that has changed the whole thing.
Here is the sunny side in 2010

And here is the shady side same year, 2010:

Keep in mind that one of the MarshLand rules is no watering. Plants live by rain alone once they are established. Another rule is no artificial fertilizer. However, the shady side naturally gets a lot of oak leaf debris that gives the Azaleas some of that acid they need so much. For the sunny side I have to sweep large piles of leaves over to that side. It helped for a time, but with the multiple years of drought, it wasn't enough.

This year I'm going to transition that sunny side to a native "hedge" border. There are two lovely American Beauty Berry bushes volunteering right in the center of the Azaleas. I've encouraged these for a couple years now.  This year I'll use some of their seeds to plant a line of Beauty Berry bushes and at the same time, I'll start to cut out the azaleas. With a little luck and planning maybe I'll have a great crop of the right plant in the right place! 

PS: For some great info on the Florida American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) click here!

Note that there are great mosquito repellent qualities to this plant, scientifically proven. Something every gardener can appreciate!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pool to Garden, chicken coop & fish farm!

This is a wonderful pool conversion! It looks like it takes a bit more work than my pool to pond, but the food production is amazing! This is in Arizona and the pool statistics he sites are sad indeed. Think of the one billion people that cannot find potable water and are dying, then think of the 7000 gallons of evaporation per year PER POOL!! This pond conversion is a spark of sanity amidst the lunacy called "normal".

Check out their website:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fiskars Ergonomic Reel Mower

About six months ago I was thrilled to be chosen to evaluate the new Fiskars Ergonomic Reel Mower. That meant I got one delivered to my door to use, evaluate through a series of surveys and then KEEP! Yea! First, I love Fiskars products. They seem to last forever. I have a pair of scissors that must be 30 years old, no joke! They even made it though a house fire! So the thought of this was very exciting.

The mower was delivered in a box and I had to assemble. A mild wave of dread washed over me as I dragged the box into the foyer. But what a pleasant surprise! It had simple directions and almost IKEA-like snap together construction. I had it up and ready in 10 minutes!

Side by side, old mower on the left & Fiskars on right.
Then I carried it outside for its first trial run. It was light enough for me to carry easily. I can only carry up to 40 lbs. comfortably so this was nice. My old reel mower is like lead in comparison! The Fiskars is really ergonomic and it glides with ease over the landscape. And my landscape is pretty non-conventional. If you've ever read my blog you know I hate conventional grass lawns. So my "lawn" is mostly weeds with small groups of native plants!

One of the worst aspects of my old reel mower was mowing tall or flowering weeds. It would never get the stalk, just press it down. Fiskars reel mower handles this much better, but still not 100%. Where Fiskars reel mower really beats all others is in the frequency of the blades jamming. I gave up on my old reel mower since I use mulched oak branches and they blow all over the yard making any attempt at reel mowing a nightmare of jamming blades!  I'd have to stop, bend down, turn the mower over and fight to pull out the stick. With Fiskars reel mower all you need to do when it jams is back it up a bit and voila, it's free! And it jams much less to begin with!

There are still a couple more surveys to complete for the Fiskars engineers, but I have to admit I'm won over! I still use the small gas powered mower in the highest heat since it is faster. But now, I use it half as much as before! Every little bit counts and I thank Fiskars for creating a responsible and well-built solution!

I am adding this link for info only! I do not endorse any specific way to purchase. There are good photos and information on this site:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oil Spill - Where to go in Florida to Help

If you're like me, this oil spill is gut wrenching. As anyone who has read any of my articles knows, water, clean water is my passion. And wildlife is also a huge priority to me. I didn't make my yard, pool and home a totally organic wildlife habitat for any other reason than my love for all life and firm commitment to clean, pure water for all life!

All that said, there are many great ways to get involved and volunteer to help clean up this oil mess! One of the best sites for Floridians is the official Volunteer Florida website

Scroll down that site to all the PDF and Doc files that are filled with great information.

To watch the "topkill" operation live, Huffington Post seems to have the best live feed. Huffington keeps a
 couple different feeds online so if any fails there will still be something up. This is a screen shot of the live feed as of 10:11 AM EST on 5/27/10.  I'm no expert, but it looks worse to me.

The main thing is that we all stay involved on some level, whether giving a donation, our time and labor or being politically active. Whatever your strength is where you are needed!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

May Day in Sanford

Sanford, Florida is a historic place filled with historic homes and a historic downtown Main Street. This May Day Celebration has been going on a long time! This year the proceeds benefit the wonderful Student Museum - see: Student Museum Website

Monday, April 12, 2010

Stop Buying Water in Plastic Bottles! Heck, Stop BUYING Drinking Water!

I have a post called "I Hate Gas" where I discuss how much more important our water is to our auto fuel. It was back in the days of the great gas price increases. This is so much more important. Why? Why? Why? Seriously, why do we buy water in plastic bottles? Even environmental groups have these at their meetings sometimes! It must stop! Most the time our tap water is better tasting and safer than what profit-hungry corporations (unregulated for the most part) put into plastic bottles. This video is well done. Please watch. And stop buying bottled water!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

They're Ba-ack!

Yep, it's as if the bugs know Spring has sprung! On the 23rd of March I saw my first palmetto bug in four months! And one flea turned up in the ritual cat-combing! It's a combination of sunlight time and warmth that alerts both the beautiful blooms and the not-so-beautiful bugs that it's time to wake up!

So here are some time-tested eco-friendly tips for bug control in the home.
  1. Diatomaceous Earth kills fleas mechanically
    1. Basically it is microscopic broken glass, that's simplifying it, but that's how it works. We feel nothing but an almost talc-like fineness, but for the flea, it's like walking on shards of glass. It cuts their exoskeleton and they die by dehydration pretty fast. It only works when dry and is dangerous only if inhaled, so use appropriately.
    2. I use it several ways.
      1. I put it on the carpet overnight and then vacuum in the morning.
      2. I put it on the bottom of my ferret's cage where the litter box is and cover it with fluffy bedding. The ferret doesn't spend much time down there, but the eggs drop and it seems to help. 
      3. I also sweep it across my wood floors and let it sit there at least a few days - once I mop or vacuum it is gone.
  2. Boric acid does wonders keeping the Palmetto bug population down
    1. I have cleaned out all my cupboards and put down boric acid around the perimeters. You can blow in a thin stream of it. I push it down into the spaces between the shelves and the sides as well as packing it into any holes.
    2. Sprinkle it around the pipes under your sinks. Boric acid works wet as well as dry. The only precaution is to keep it away from food and pets. So keeping it in the hidden pipe areas is best.
  3. Containers with water and some dish-soap trap and kill both bugs.
    1. Now this is a fun experiment for kids over say 6 or 7: Put down a shallow dish with about an inch of water and a couple squirts of dish washing liquid in it. For palmettos, place it near a place you've seen them in the past for an over night. For fleas, place it in a spot on the floor where pets frequent, but keep the pets out of the room for the night. Add a small desk lamp over it for heat (so use incandescent light bulb, NOT florescent!).  In the morning you'll find some dead bugs...but only if you have bugs. If you use chemicals, this is all moot.
    2. I use a wide-mouth mug with water and dish soap when I comb my pets. That way I can flick the fleas right into the soap-water and they sink immediately.
  4. Try not to kill all your house spiders. Leave a couple in hidden spots and you'll be amazed at how many fleas and baby palmettos they catch!
    1. This has been a great learning tool for kids! I have picked fleas off my cats and dropped them into the tiny webs of the harmless house spider and we've watched the spider run right to the flea!
  5. If you have a bad flea infestation, judicious use of topical flea treatments on your pets might be the only way to get them under control. Use all chemicals strictly according to the label instructions and NEVER use dog products on cats!
    1. One tip, use one brand for two cycles and then switch to another brand for two cycles. These meds kill 99% of the fleas within 24 hours. This means 1% lives to breed "super fleas" that are immune to that chemical. In the decades that these products have been in use, there have evolved some fleas that are immune. By switching up the chemicals you have a better chance of stopping the immunity.
  6. Vacuuming every carpeted area every day.
    1. Vacuum the furniture weekly.
    2. Use cheap throws on the furniture if pets get up there so they can be washed.
    3. Put boric acid and D.E. in the vacuum bag or canister.
    4. Sweep D.E. and Boric acid onto wooden floors so it gets between the slats. If your wood floor is sealed, this isn't necessary.
    5. Empty the vacuum bags/canisters and take the garbage out of the house.
  7. Put stopper in sinks over night when not in use.
    1. I've found this very helpful. Most palmetto activity is at night. Sneak into your kitchen around 2 AM and flip on the light - if you have palmettos, you'll see 'em then! Mostly around the sink. There were many fewer in my traps when I started plugging the drains.
    2. If you get an infestation in your dishwasher, pour about a galleon of water into the bottom when not in use. Most families won't have this issue. But if you're like me and only run the dishwasher once every other week or so, then this is another drain they can enter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ten Water Saving Tips Beyond the Ordinary

OK, I admit it, I'm a water nut! And I'm not talking about going to the beach or a water park, in fact I rarely swim. I'm talking about the wasting of the most precious element next to air.

In Florida 65% of the available potable water is used for irrigation! Some of that is for agriculture, but way too much is for watering lawns. Mismanaged sprinkler systems that go off in the rain, water concrete and go off in the peak heat of the day are just criminal.

Here are a few things I do to lower my water use, beyond the basic 'turn off the faucet while brushing teeth' advice:
  1. No sprinkler system period! Water by hose only when establishing a new plant or in an extreme drought.
  2. Plant only drought-tolerant or natives that work well in your area with no extra watering, just rain.
  3. Use of "Johnny Boy" on toilets to save water when washing hands.
  4. "If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down!"
  5. Low flow toilets and shower heads - easy and low cost fix for water use.
  6. Have bricks/water bottles/ galleon jugs in toilet tanks to displace water.
  7. Rain barrels to collect water for use instead of turning on hose.
  8. 5 minute shower timer to remind you to get out of the shower faster! (Free at a eco-festivals and your local water management district!)
  9. Collect water from faucet while waiting for hot water, for showers, pet cleanings, dishes, whatever reason you wait for hot water. Save it to use for plants, cleaning hands, countertops, etc. as just a few ideas.
  10. Use day-old pet water to water plants.
These are just some of my personal ways to lower water use. I realize I can be a bit extreme since I don't have to worry about a lot of people in my household. Here are a couple even more extreme things I hope to have someday. Consider it my water conservation wish list!

Self-Contained Composting Toilet:

Tankless water heater saves water since there's instant hot water instead of running out the cold water from the lines.  It has the added benefit of saving energy costs too!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Mighty Tabbouleh

I love tabbouleh. I make it using quinoa instead of bulgar for nutrient purposes, but the big ingredient, the thing that makes it taste so fresh, is parsley.

I brought home some parsley the other day and it tasted terrible. Really bitter. Here's the cure: snip the stems and put into a mug of water. Just as if this were a bouquet of fresh flowers. Change out the water after you notice the parsley perk up. The fresh water will improve the taste as well as keep the parsley fresh for up to a week! Change out the water every 2 days to keep it clean.

This also works for celery. Is it just me or do these veggies taste bad these days? I may just be getting old. My son says it's my "old taste buds", but I think something is up. Especially when the taste improves after putting the celery or parsley into water. For the celery, just do the same thing, cut the bottom off and put it into a tall jar of water. You can put the whole thing into the fridge if you want.
And don't get me started on the lousy taste of tomatoes and bell peppers!! If I figure out how to make these taste fresher and less bitter or in the case of the tomatoes, less like cardboard!; I'll post it!

Now go make up a batch of tabbouleh! It's so good and so good for you!

Recipe: Tabbouleh
Serves 4-6

1 cup cooked quinoa -
3/4 cup minced parsley*
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1 tomato, diced
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
1 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
Pinch allspice (really, add this! You'll be surprised at how good it is!)

Combine the quinoa and the chopped vegetables and toss to mix. Combine oil, lemon juice, salt, and allspice. Add to quinoa mixture and mix well. Chill. Serve and enjoy.

* Some recipes call for 1/4 c. mint and 1/2 c. parsley. I prefer the all parsley.
I've also made this with millet and it's just as good. Millet is a great grain, but go easy if you are hypothyroid!
Also, I often make the Tabbouleh without the grain. I store the grain separately and mix when ready to eat. This way I can use the Tabbouleh as a topping for a tofu burger or hummus sandwich!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Almond Milk - The Easiest Food I've Ever Made!

Surfing the web as I do, I came across a great blog:

Basically it's this:
1 cup almonds
4-6 cups water (I used 4.5 C. since my blender is small)
Soak almonds in water overnight.
Pour it all into a blender and blend until pieces are as tiny as your blender will get them.
Pour it all through a fine mesh strainer, using a spoon to get as much liquid out as possible.

My twist, one teaspoon of vanilla and about 2 tablespoons of honey mixed in.
I also saved the pulp, one small container with cinnamon and honey in it and one container plain.

Place the milk into a clean, well sealed jar and refrigerate. 

The first thing I did was make my usual morning oatmeal. I cooked it in the almond milk instead of water and it was much richer, mellower tasting. Then I added about 4 spoonsful of the pulp and it was really good! I'm sure the extra almond pulp added a nice protein boost!

The plain almond milk was good to drink. I like the extra oomph of the vanilla and honey, but taste it first! You might just prefer it plain! My next batch will be plain and I'll experiment with mashed potatoes. 

As much as I've always loved cow products, they do create mucus and if you have sinus issues or use your voice a lot, you know dairy products are not good for you.  Many people love soy milk, as did I until I had some issues with it.  Rice Milk is also good, but not nearly as many great benefits as almonds! The protein and B vitamins in almonds are much higher than in rice.  Also, with 3 pounds (about 9.5 cups) of almonds costing under $10 at BJs, it's less expensive to make my own almond milk than to buy any other product.  A huge plus is that the ingredients are known and controlled by you! So you know it's pure!

I hope you try it! And stop by the So Good and Tasty blog! Jacqui has  many more interesting recipes shared there!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

We've All Been Brainwashed to Some Extent

I just read something that made me a little sad. A couple had wanted to turn their toxic pool into a natural water garden/pond. They gave up. They took out the pool and filled in the spot and turned it into lawn. They were overwhelmed with the cost and heavy machinery required to create a pond! As my readers know, that is overkill for most people. If the only way to turn a pool into a pond was to hire backhoes and dig up the entire yard, then I wouldn't have done it.  I simply let the pool revert naturally and helped it along with small fish and many plants.

Companies that make money from us buying their products need us to buy into their marketing and have stifled us by doing so. When I first stopped all my pest control subscriptions I was very concerned that I would soon be overwhelmed with "natural Florida"! Bugs, snakes, poisonous spiders and more! EEK! I thought it would be awful! But to my surprise, instead of critters that would torment me, I got tons of new birds eating the new bugs! And several varieties of frogs eating more! Then I took the Florida Master Naturalist Program and learned that rarely are these critters, snakes, spiders, etc. ever poisonous! Moreover, I saw my first native black racer snake, famous for eating all those nasty Norwegian river rats that have always been an issue here. Now that I know my snakes, instead of being frightened, I can welcome him! With all the frogs, dragonflies, bats and birds, I have no mosquitoes! I don't want to kill all the mosquitoes, they are an important food source for these beneficial critters.

But the Chemical companies would have us believe we need all these toxins for our health! And the pond industry would have you believe you need to start from scratch to have a pond where you now have a pool! They also advocate regular water changes! How absurd is that! If you work to get all those beneficial microbes and insects into your pond, why would you destroy them all with powerful (and expensive) filters and water changes! Now I'm not saying there is no maintenance required. Just that the prudent stewardship that comes with actual knowledge will do the trick. And surprise! It doesn't require all the products that Madison Avenue would have you think it does!

I wish I had seen this couple's post sooner.  Taking the initiative to step out and learn something new is scary. But believing what the companies that want to sell you a product have to say is how the Earth got into this mess in the first place. I say step out, step up and learn the facts for yourself. There is no greater step in fulfillment of your own personal journey on this Earth.

Some starting points:
  • Master Naturalist Programs, many states have them now! Google this: Master Naturalist Programs
  • Native Plant Societies: again, most states have them!
  • Master Gardener Programs - as mandated by the US Congress, each state has an Agricultural Extension Service associated with a major university and a Master Gardener Program! Find yours!
  • Yards and Neighborhoods programs are now in many states! Usually advocating friendly planting and water wise gardening.
Another good blogspot to read through:
Happy Ponding!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Step 2 – Pool to Pea Soup?

So, you’ve turned off your pool filter and stopped using the chemicals. You’re waiting for the chlorine to completely leach out of the pool walls. You’ll know this has happened when plant life begins to flourish. But that plant life isn’t exactly what you want. It’s a pea soup of algae. (For more about algae check out this site: Smithsonian Institute Botany Projects )

The first thing I did after I got the green soup bowl was start to add a couple small fish and a few plants. That process takes a long time to clean up the algae. Since then I’ve found that adding certain plants can clear the water within a couple weeks! In FL, there is an invasive plant called Elodea (the native version of the highly invasive exotic hydrilla) Hydrilla is a plant on our exotic eradication list, so if you do use something like it and you’re unsure, just be sure not to release it into the waterways or sewers. I pull mine out when it gets to be too much and I bake it in the sun for a day and then use it as mulch.
I purchased the elodea at a pet store in the aquarium department. This is why you can never be sure of what you’re getting. Submersed plants will clear up the algae the fastest. The potted plants are important for long term care since they compete for the nutrients. Algae are plants that need sunlight, oxygen and nutrients just like any other plant. So by covering your pond surface space with at least 65% vegetation, algae cannot survive. It will still grow on the sides, but so many things eat it that it hasn’t become an issue for me or any of the other ponds I work with. Photo on the right is elodea in bloom in April. Right after this I pull about half of it out to use as mulch.

One more tip for this soupy stage: hydrogen peroxide. You may have heard that barley straw can eliminate algae. The by-product of barley straw decomposing is hydrogen peroxide. It’s safe for all the good plants and all the critters, although at this stage you probably don’t have many to worry about. In the 22,000 gallon pool I used 16 32 oz. bottles. Get them at discount stores for about $1.50 or less per bottle. It really helps to jump-start the algae killing process. It’s good to have some small filter at this point as the algae dies off and leaves decaying plant material in its stead.

Now here’s my story about filtration. I was so afraid of it going wrong when I started that I purchased an inline bio filter made for ponds. It was way too strong and started to suck all the tadpoles and beneficial insects, dragonfly larva, etc. into the skimmers. So finally I turned it off and disconnected it. Lesson learned. There are lots of wonderful and inexpensive filters that worked just fine to clean out dead algae and other debris. This is one of my favorites. I also tried the UV filters that were recommended to me only to find that they kill the good stuff with the bad and now I reserve them for the day I have a pathogen or other issue. It’s been 8 years and I’ve never had any issues.

These little filters also are convenient since you can move them around. I like to use their fountains for oxygenation of the water, but not around lily pads since they don’t like water movement or too much water on their pads. They breathe through their pads. These have filter pads that are simple to clean and reuse.

Fish and plants will keep the pond balanced. The fish eat mosquito larva as do the dragonfly larva and tadpoles and lots of other neat bugs. The adult dragonflies and frogs eat the adult mosquitoes! The filtration, minor, is to clean out dead algae. I turned the spa into a bio-filter by lining the seats with plants and using a submersed filter just like the one above, only attached to a hose (instead of the fountain piece) that comes up out of the main pond and into the spa, the water goes through the roots and out the waterfall, adding oxygen. I find you can never have too much oxygen. In the summer here (very hot) oxygen escapes faster so in the hot summer days, I turn the fountains off during the day and on all night. In the winter I do the opposite, and this year I only turned on the fountains during warm days for extra heat in this unusually cold winter.

Just toss in some elodea. You’ll be amazed at how fast it grows and takes down the algae. It doesn’t like the cold though, so up here I’d say wait until March 1 just to be safe. You might be warmer. Here's how to test  the water quality , use very small, young fish since they adapt faster. The older the goldfish, the more difficult it is for them to adapt. (And I recommend goldfish since they are hardy and cheap) I let my pool go in August, so it got really bad with the high heat. I think I tired two or three small goldfish in September, but they didn’t survive until the spring. It may have had more to do with the lack of oxygen than the chlorine issue since I hadn’t found the elodea solution yet and that many algae leaves little oxygen for the fish.

So those tips should do it! The main thing is to trust nature. It’s amazing how brain-washed I had become by the whole pest control mentality. When I stopped using all chemicals in my yard and home I was sure I’d be overrun with critters! It has never happened. Lizards, frogs, birds, they all eat each other and they ALL eat bugs! I can’t wait to hear of your progress and see your photos!

Happy ponding!

Filter links:
The Pondmaster Filter at Foster & Smith
Tetra above ground filter at Foster & Smith
I am not endorsing any particular vendor, info only for information purposes.
And special thanks to Janet for the questions that led to this article! Keep 'em coming!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Teach Every Child about Food: Jamie Oliver's TED Prize Wish!

This is something every human, and especially every US human should consider. It reminds me a little of the UK television show "You Are What You Eat". But it all comes back to toxicity. Chemicals are ingested where they need not be. As one person put it, "If it came from a plant, eat it! If it's MADE in a plant DON'T!" We Americans need to use some form of chemical control on everything from our food to our yards to our medications. We really took the 1950's slogan "Better living through chemistry" to heart. And we are now an obese, heart & kidney disease-ridden population. The idea that our children will live lives 10 years shorter than ours just because we've drugged them with sugar, fat and salt is pathetic. We have brains! We can do better.

This video is 21 minutes long, but the time passes too fast. Please watch it and pass it on. Consider it every time you start to plan your grocery shopping or a meal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Master Gardener Garden Walk 2010 video

The video is finally finished for the Master Gardener Garden Walk.  It shows off some of the beautiful gardens of Seminole County Florida. CLICK HERE to view the video! If you're a Seminole County FL resident consider submitting your garden for the 2010 walk to be held on Sunday, May 16.  Submission must be in by February 23.  Anyone can come on the walk!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chai On The Fly!

Wiki article on Chai

I accidentally purchased condensed milk over the holidays. Being a raw/healthy eater, I'm not much of a baker and only make things like pumpkin pie over the holidays. So I looked at the can and was surprised to see the ingredients were simply milk and sugar. NOT corn syrup! So I tried a little experiment and the result was a really tasty fast version of Chai.

First boil some water in a cup in the microwave as usual for a cup of tea. Next cut up a small slice of fresh ginger. When the water is ready add a tea bag or some loose tea in a strainer. I found a nice black tea with natural apply spice to be very good in this.  Next add the chopped up fresh ginger and about 1 tablespoon of the condensed milk. Stir until it's time to take the tea ball or bag out.  It's really tasty and in the end I chew up the fresh ginger since the brewing has mellowed it.

Now I probably won't go out and buy more condensed milk, but it's sure been a nice warm beverage during an unusually cold winter!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How Green Is Your Garden? - National Wildlife Magazine

This is a great article and I initially posted it here as a draft so I could refer to it. Then I figured I should share it since there are so many good tips for "greening" your yard.  I hope it can be of help  to you!  Let me know if it was, leave a comment!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Experiment in climate control

Update: Jan. 10, 2010
I just got December's electric bill and it's only 117! That's the lowest ever. I have to enjoy it, since I know with this cold spell, it will be much higher for January!  However, there are some other new tricks this year that should help. For one, all my electronics are on surge protectors so I turn everything off with one switch for groups like computer/external drive/printer or TV/cable box/DVD player. Lights that were on timers are now on a remote system so I can still have light as I walk into a room, but now it doesn't have to be on for long stretches. I've also started doing all my laundry in cold water. Using white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser has really worked to make the clothes feel soft and smell nice! My gas bill has seen a drop from $80 to $50 per month on average.  Other things this year that weren't up last year are the weather stripping on the back door, and insulating drapes up on all windows and doors. I've still got the safe space heater which I carry from room to room.  It's made a huge difference. With the upstairs heat set  at 58, my room is around 64! It is a newer model that does have the auto shut off feature in case it is knocked over.  It also has what it calls its "eco" option which sets it to turn off automatically in three hours. These are good safety features and I can't stress this kind of thing enough when it comes to space heaters! They are a major cause of house fires in the cold months! But used with care, it sure helps save energy!

So the experiment continues! How are you coping with this rough winter? Any tips for saving electricity? Please share them!

Previous logs of my electric experiment!
June 5, 2009 - update:

The A/C guy fixed my downstairs unit - seems a transformer needed replacement. It was only $84, so pretty good there. But now that I'm used to the warmer temps, I'm setting my downstairs unit on 85, with the fan running continuously. My electric bill with only one unit running has gotten below the $180 per month mark. We'll see what it goes up to now. Usually I use the upstairs unit more in the summer - cold air drops, and my bedroom is where I need the most cooling comfort anyway. In the winter, I use the downstairs unit most, since the warm air rises and I use my space heater sparingly. This month's electric bill was $169. That's for 3700+ square feet! When I moved here the electric bill was hovering around the $500/month mark!
And the experiment continues!

Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 10:18am
My mud room was 91.5 degrees yesterday! Outdoor temperature was around 94. The mud room is an add-on to the actual house. However, the interior of the actual main house downstairs is staying right around 80. My bedroom (upstairs) stays at 75.5 even though the upstairs unit is set at 83. My great experiment on being cheap and keeping comfortable without as much electricity continues! The downstairs unit still not working. (Over the winter my dining room came in at 38 one morning!) I get very hot direct sun in the front (East) up until about 2 PM at which time I start to get direct and HOT sun in the back (West) of the house. I have put up heavy triple-lined draperies on most windows and they make a huge difference in the main house. So as an experiment I put up (or I should say staple-gunned up) some insulated draperies bought on the cheap at a JCPenney's sale. And it made a big difference. The hottest the mud room is getting is right around 85-87. That's down from the 90+ mentioned at the top!
The A/C folks are coming week after next.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Southeast Needs to move into the Future

Every time I do a search on natural yards I get a multitude of sites on the west coast. And while I used to live in Northern California back in  the 70's and realize that we were already working on all the buzzwords of today's modern ecologists, I still cannot fathom that we here in the Southeast are so far behind the curve.

We're still promoting growth, the use of herbicides and pesticides and artificial fertilizers. We're still promoting the use of artificial irrigation. Granted we're trying to promote micro and drip irrigation systems, but in these times of water shortages throughout the world, we should not be promoting any automatic systems. If one needs to water due to a drought, or to establish a new plant, then one should use a hose and an auto-off sprayer. This harsh winter should open our eyes. I've had no casualties due to the cold temperatures. Some of the natives have died back, but I know they will be returning in the Spring. Natives may not be a pretty but they are certainly substantial.

We (meaning all homeowners with land to tend) need to be using composting as a means to enrich our soils and maintain moisture. We need to plant native plants that don't need extra watering, chemical care and sheets in the cold! Not only will we all reap the benefits of lower costs and less physical maintenance, we will also have more birds and butterflies visiting. And  the all important pollinators will have some refuge and new sources of pollen.

It all works together as one piece and most of the world is waking up to that fact. It is time to move forward and become the examples we should be.

I would love to hear what you think about this! Please share your opinions with a comment!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The wonders of the Neti Pot! Save Your Sinuses!

For years I suffered two sinus infections each year, one around Easter and the other in the Fall. Both times related to specific plant blooming times. I had to take Zyrtec in the morning and Flonase at night as well as the antibiotics! Ugh!

Then finally a doctor at the Mayo clinic started me on the path to freedom from sinus infections. His advice: keep the nasal passages moist so they can deal with the pollen attack better. He recommended "Ocean" nasal spay. I took it one step farther, to the Neti, and haven't had an infection since.

The Neti is cheap, safe and well proven over several thousands of years. Learn more about it here:

And of course, Google/Ask/Bing it yourself. The main thing is that I no longer need antibiotics twice a year. No more daily antihistamines. Although I will take a Benadryl after a full day of gardening during certain seasons and high pollen counts.

I also stop all cow milk products during the high pollen times. Cow milk products simply exacerbated the problem for me with the increased mucus dairy is known to produce.

So between the Neti and no cow's milk for those two months, I am sinus clean! (And I love my cheese and ice cream the rest of the year!)

If this helps just one person even a little bit, then I'm happy! Have you ever tried Neti? If so, share your experience in a comment!