Archive for the ‘Lawn and Garden’ Category

Day 73 – Composting

Compost Bin


My friend Michelle is a composter!  This is the bin she uses in her back yard.  Composting is something that you can do, too, in order to reduce your landfill waste.  

Composting is about finding nature’s balance.  Did you ever notice that when maple tree seeds fly down like little helicopters and fill your yard they don’t stay around for long.  Nature has a balance.  Wild animals eat these seeds.  Sure, a few make it into the ground and start growing a little tree, but could you imagine if they ALL did?  So, did little elves come and bag them up and put them out for a gas-powered green monster to come and take away into oblivion?  No.  It’s nature’s balance. 

As modern humans, we have a lot of waste.  Some of it can be composted and thus stay out of landfills.  There is a recipe for composting, and you can learn all of the “how-to” details be going to this link to the Purdue Extension guide to composting:  You have to balance “brown” materials like dead leaves and corn cobs with “green” materials like freshly cut grass and food waste.  There are rules to this, though.  You can’t just pile up leaves and food in your back yard.  For instance, citrus fruits cannot be composted.  The acid affects the bacteria needed for decomposition. 

Composting containers can be something like Michelle has which is purchased at a store.  It can be easily rotated around to keep the waste mixed up well inside.  You can make your own compost bin, too.  The University of Missouri Extension has this information available on how to build your own composting bin whether a barrel, bins, or smaller box for worm composting:  I have seen the tree-bin system in use, and I like it because you can keep your brown materials on one side, your green materials on the other, and the proper proportions of each in the middle for composting. 

Do you compost?  I’d love to hear your feedback!

Day 57 – Plant Ground Cover

Ground Cover

This gorgeous view is along a sidewalk lining an embankment leading up to commuter train tracks.  Often I have seen grass planted in areas like this.  Grass needs water, fertilizer, cutting, and general maintenance.  This ground cover is taller than you might like to have for your lawn, but this is not an area that you would walk through anyway.  It does not get too tall that it needs to be cut either.

There are many areas long roadways and train tracks where municipalities plant and maintain grass.  Why?  Instead, a lovely flowering ground cover could be better for the environment and better for the bottom line, too.

Are there areas around your home where you could plant ground cover instead of grass?  Ground cover is easier to maintain and is better for the environment because you don’t have to produce fertilizer for it, you don’t need to use a power mower to cut it, and you don’t need to water it.

Day 43 – Fight the Heat Island Effect

An Oasis in the Parking Lot

Did you ever wonder why someone goes through all the trouble designing and building an oasis in the parking lot?  Trees and sometimes grass or even butterfly gardens are planted here.  When you think about it, isn’t it more work for the city maintenance crews and the snow plow driver in the winter, too?  Many municipalities now require an oasis like this to be built in new or remodeled parking lots.  When the trees mature, it is more beautiful than bare concrete, but that’s not the main reason that these are required.

The main reason that an oasis like this is built is to reduce the heat island effect.  The heat island effect is when an area with paving and buildings is hotter than the surrounding wooded or grassy areas.  There can be a significant difference in the temperature between the two areas.  We all know it is generally cooler in the shade, but it is also cooler in the woods than in a parking lot and it is cooler in the country than in the city.  It is also cooler on a green roof than on an asphalt shingled roof which is one reason green roofs, roofs that have plants on them like grass, vegetable gardens, or flowers, are becoming more popular.

Take a look around you and notice the heat islands.  Walk around in them and feel the difference.  Whether you are redoing your own landscaping or on a committee in charge of landscaping for a company or organization, we can all make a difference one tree at a time.

Day 39 – Eco Friendly Lawn Care

Sod Installation


One day you decided that you don’t really want grass – what I mean is you don’t want the tall, prairie grass native to the Midwestern United States.  You want this short attractive thing to be more like a green carpet, really.  It should take a couple of hours a week throughout the spring and summer to care for it, and perhaps the season could be extended to have more work to do during the autumn and winter in some parts of the world.  There are no worms or bugs, so you use a special device to aerate the soil in the spring.  You want this carpet mass to be nice and thick so you fertilize it only to find that it needs to be cut, usually by a fossil-fueled motorized machine as much as once every five days.  Plus, you water it with processed, filtered water as often as once a day until it “looks wet enough.”  Oh, and you purchase bags to fill and throw away the waste, but you really don’t know what happens to it.  If it gets to be too icky, you can just call up a company that already grew a new batch for you several hundred miles away and can bring it to you in a truck any time you like. 

This is not eco-friendly! 

If you must have grass, that is anything called grass that needs maintenance (in California some homes have beautiful short, tufted grass that seems not to need cutting), then here are some tips: 

  1. Seed instead of sod whenever possible.  Sod is heavy and uses a lot more carbon emissions to transport.
  2. Don’t cut it bald.  When you cut your grass, it should still shade itself.  The ground underneath should be well-shaded so that the ground moisture does not evaporate as quickly.
  3. Choose a human-powered grass cutter.  A neighbor of ours down the block uses one.  It is a lot of manual work, but it is quiet, does a great job cutting (she keeps the blades sharpened), and she gets excercise in the process!
  4. Measure your water.  Put a cup outside when you turn on your sprinkler.  Time how long it takes to get to one inch.  That is how long you should water your grass each time.  Skipping days is mandated by some municipalities to conserve water, but it also allows the roots to grow deeper encouraging sturdier plants.  You can also collect rain water for this purpose (more on this in an upcoming post.) 
  5. Mulch the clippings.  You can do this by choosing to not collect the clippings and just leave them on the ground.  Another alternative is to put the clippings in a compost pile.  (More on composting in an upcoming post.)
  6. Find out what happens to your clippings if your city picks them up.  Are they composted?  Are they landfilled *gasp*?
  7. Whenever possible, plant native plants instead that don’t rely on fossil fuels and treated water to grow.  I have a real problem with trucking water into the desert so that people can have grass!

In my neighborhood, traditional grassy lawns are the norm, but we don’t water our lawn unless we’ve planted seeds which need extra care to get started.  Nonetheless, we have grass that is green long after the neighbors’ grass has gone dormant.  This has to do with allowing it to be a little longer and having more trees on our property to assist in shading the grass and keeping moisture contained.

Day 35 – Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly

I have already touched on butterfly gardening and why native plants are better for the environment.  Now, let me tell you about butterflies and the impact our environmental damage has on their habitat.  This is a monarch butterfly that I raised with the help of a local butterfly gardener.  It was a magical experience, and I learned a lot.  For instance, the monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed.  Also, most butterflies only live about two weeks – all except the last generation of the season which fly down to Mexico for the winter.  This is what I want to talk about because on both ends, the butterfly population is hurting. 

In the United States (I know butterflies go up to Canada, too, but I have no specific examples of that), my observations over the past couple of months of paying attention to this sort of thing is that most people where I live do not have milkweed in their yards because they’ve chosen to plant more exotic plants instead of letting a natural, local plant thrive.  This means there is no food for the monarch caterpillars since they only eat milkweed.  Even in a rural vacant lot in Indiana did I only spy two plants! 

At another family member’s house in Northern Illinois, I saw a large patch of milkweed.  I commented on it since it was rare from my perspective.  He told me that he purposefully lets the milkweed grow for the monarchs!  That was great news to me!

In Mexico, logging and tourism are affecting the monarchs’ winter habitat.  Check out this story for my source for this information and to learn more about the monarchs being affected by environmental concerns.

Day 30 – Native American Planting Style

Corn, Beans, and Squash

Vegetable and fruit gardeners struggle with keeping weeds away.  Native Americans used a companion planting method putting their “three sisters” of corn (maize), beans, and squash together.  The corn provides a natural support for the beans to climb, the beans provide nitrogen which is necessary for both the corn and squash, and the squash (in this case zucchini) spread over the ground and block weeds from forming.  This planting method is eco friendly because it eliminates the need for chemical treatments and additional labor to care for your garden.

This photograph is from a family member’s garden.  This shows how traditional methods can easily be reproduced for modern-day benefits without the need for chemical weed killers or fertilizers.  If you are interested in replicating this method in your garden, you can refer to the link below for specific planting details.

Source: Wikipedia Article

Day 24 – Butterfly Garden

Common Milkweed

To many, the common milkweed is considered a weed and people will dig it up and dispose of it in order to plant something perhaps more exotic.  Milkweed is the only type of plant that the monarch butterfly will use for a host plant.  Host plants for other butterflies might also be considered weeds.

What does this have to do with going green?  Well, here in the Midwestern United States, milkweed will grow very well with no care: no fertilizers, no watering, etc.  It is a native plant.  Determining the native plants for your area will reduce water consumption and chemical fertilizer needs.  This type of gardening is also referred to as xeriscaping.

Personally, I think this plant is gorgeous!  Whether a plant is considered a weed or not, if I could have a garden that looks this great and is good for the environment, then it is a win for the butterflies, a win for the environment, and a win for me too!

Day 10 – Sustainable Seeds

Sustainable Seed Co. Seeds

If you plant a vegetable garden, then you should use sustainable heirloom seeds!  An interesting fact that I was surprised to learn is that most of the food I had been eating whether from the grocery store or from my own vegetable garden had been genetically modified or hybridized.  The selection process for the people behind this might be size, color, uniformity, and durability for travel.  Um…How about taste and nutrition???

Sustainable seeds are natural.  Any “natural selection” involved is not done in a laboratory.  Plus, if you grow your own vegetables, you, too can save the seeds for next year.  Here’s an example.  Last year, I grew black-seeded Simpson lettuce which is a light tasting, delicious lettuce that I found easy to grow.  We ate the lettuce while the leaves were small.  Eventually, the plant “bolts” which means is starts growing a stem.  At that point, the leaves are too bitter to eat.  Anyway, we just let it go to see what would happen.  I am just learning about saving seeds, so we did not collect the lettuce seeds.  However, to my surprise and delight, this spring, we had more lettuce growing in the lettuce patch!  There was not as much of it as if it were cultivated, but it was still beautiful and delicious.

Genetically modified (GMO) seeds are specifically designed to not do this.  The company controls the seeds that way.  There are other concerns about GMO foods that I won’t get into here, but you can click here for a link to a book that I definitely recommend.

Heirloom vegetables are not meant to be transported half way across the world because they are not naturally tough.  Instead, they are tender and juicy as you would want them to be.  They are not meant to win the largest pumpkin contest.  They are definitely meant to maintain nutrition levels of long, long ago as well as a delicious flavor.  Finally, heirloom vegetable fanatics like me believe in saving lots of different species.  There actually are other varieties of tomatoes than the giant, bland red ones that you buy at the chain supermarket!

I purchase all of my seeds through the Sustainable Seed Co. who grows their seeds in the USA and supports small American farmers.  Their service is great and their prices are too.  They have over 100 varieties of seeds for less than $1.00.  Note:  If you don’t live in North America, then please find a sustainable heirloom seed grower closer to you.  This keeps carbon emissions to a minimum.  There is still time to plant some things this season!  Enjoy!

Source: Sustainable Seed Co. Website