Archive for the ‘simple things’ Category

Take a little patch of earth and make it a garden. Even if you only grow one thing. Even if it’s a hardscrabble piece of bare dirt along the side of a wall, or a pot on a balcony, or a milk carton in a windowsill. That’s what I’d like you to come away with, today on Blog Action Day, when we are all talking about the environment. Because WE are an integral part of the environment. Our human actions.

Being involved with maintaining the life of plants will involve you more intimately with the life of the planet. Even better if it’s a plant you can eat, because you won’t want to eat poison and you’ll be more careful about what you use to keep other things from eating that plant.

We started our garden when we moved in, in February 2005. The ground was baked, cracked clay, utterly bare, without even weeds. The previous owner had torn out the dead sod, the lawn that nobody had watered while the place was for sale before he’d bought it. For three and a half years, he never got around to putting in a lawn, a garden, even any ground cover. So the bare ground sat and baked. No worms, no bugs, nothing.

After almost 3 years of hauling in compost, planting, putting down wood chips, letting things go to seed and spread, we now have a little ecosystem all our own. Every year we see new critters not previously encountered. Some of these new neighbors are not so great, like plant-damaging soldier bugs. Others are unexpected delights, like the giant salamanders, the little lizard I saw drinking from a soaker hose, and of course the hummingbird regulars who now understand that peas or beans will be flowering here most of the year (and that our neighbor’s hummie feeder will take care of the wintertime).

We’ve gone from seeing a few bees here or there to hosting a wide array of pollinators: honeybees, to be sure, but also big black carpenter bees, ground-nesting bumblebees, and sleek metallic hoverflies. And we’re still learning.

This year we’re putting in mustard and vetch as a cover crop on some of the beds, with fall-winter fava beans. We’ve established alyssum that self-seeds, and cornflowers, and borage, along with plantings of lavender, to try to provide a year-round supermarket for our native pollinators.

We realized that even after just a couple of years, things don’t grow so spectacularly as they once did– we’ve been putting our virgin clay soil-grown, mineral-rich, organic tomato and bean vines in the city compost bin and getting back lawn-clipping gruel, even if it IS composted. Every eggshell that we’ve thrown in the trash is a bit of calcium that could have been useful in the garden. I have a few dozen eggshells, crushed into the bottom of a clean milk jug, drying, waiting to go into the garden now. The top of the gallon milk jug is a warming cap for a broccoli plant, and will nurture pepper seedlings this spring.

This fall we bought a lightweight ‘leaf shredder’ that uses a modified weed-whacker in a big funnel, and we shredded up our plants at the end of summer and mulched them into the beds. I could bang my head on the wall thinking of the cubic yards of tomato plant, squash vine, bean plants, etc that we’ve stuffed into the city ‘yard waste’ bin and sent away, but at least we’re doing it differently now.

It starts with just a little patch of ground, even a single plant. If you do nothing else for the environment this year, plant a garden. You’ll find out that it was really for you, too.

Yes, these are all photos from our backyard. The one below is what it looked like in November 2005. We’ve come a long way, baby!

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Leo Babauta of the awesome Zen Habits blog has kicked off Blog Action Day with his 50 Simple Steps that anybody can do any day to be kinder and gentler to the environment. How many are part of your standard practice already?

  1. Take a shorter shower.
  2. Use a rag or hand towel instead of napkins or paper towels.
  3. Don't print at least once today.
  4. Carpool once this week.
  5. Turn off the TV for an hour. [Was it on?! I doubt it!]
  6. Turn off the lights when you leave the room (even for a little while). [Hey, I'm a New Englander who grew up in the 70's… does anybody NOT do this one?!]
  7. Use a coffee mug instead of disposable (for takeout/coffeeshop) (Mostly, sometimes I forget to bring it!)
  8. Use CFC light bulbs.
  9. Skip the foil and plastic wrap for reusable food containers.
  10. Inflate your tires.
  11. Clean up (the beach, park, street, etc for a few minutes).
  12. Talk to your kids about the environment.
  13. Reuse printed paper.
  14. Turn down your water heater to 130F.
  15. Plant a tree.
  16. Hang out your clothes. [SRC: ok, technically not, but I'm taking credit because– I read up on energy-saving appliances and found that apparently it's MUCH better over time to use the autodry cycle on your dryer instead of setting it manually to a time and resetting if stuff isn't dry enough; so now we do that. We're not f'ing allowed to have a clothesline here, apparently the yuppies might think “those people” had moved in if there were clotheslines. Grr.]
  17. Buy a manual reel mower or electric mower. [SRC: Better yet, get rid of your lawn, and have a garden instead; we have almost all garden or fixed landscaping (eg, mulch and weedblock around plantings). Our tiny patch of lawn, 2 foot by 10 foot, is small enough to mow with an electric weed whacker.]
  18. Get a low-flow shower head.
  19. Lower your thermostats. [SRC: in the summer, yes; in the winter, not so much, as I'm asthmatic and studies show that one's chance of catching cold or flu go up statistically for every degree below 70F while you sleep. But we have an electric radiator for the bedroom to handle this, and keep the rest of the house chilly.]
  20. Participate or organize a clean-up.
  21. Avoid fast food.
  22. Use acrylic paint (instead of oil-based).
  23. Coat your roof.
  24. Clean your filters.
  25. Telecommute.
  26. Wash clothes in cold water. [SRC: did you know that blood and other protein based stains come out in cold water but SET in warm/hot water?]
  27. Get a low-flow toilet (or make one, by putting spacers in your tank or otherwise adjusting the amount used for flushing).
  28. Buy recycled products.
  29. Recycle.
  30. Buy a smaller car.
  31. Buy a smaller home.
  32. Look for energy efficiency (in appliances).
  33. Water grass early in the morning.
  34. Plant shade trees near your house. [SRC: or, put up lattices and grow summer vines on them, like flowering scarlet runner beans, morning glories, ornamental hyacinth bean, climbing roses, etc. Runner beans or cherry tomatoes will give you a tasty bonus, as well as providing shade.]
  35. Use rechargeable batteries.
  36. Buy used.
  37. Walk instead of drive.
  38. Unplug appliances.
  39. Unload your car of all that stuff you 'forgot'.
  40. Try cycling.
  41. Install a water filter. [SRC: instead of buying bottled water; the amount of fossil fuel used to move filtered water around, and to put plastic around it, is tragic and appalling.]
  42. Use cloth shopping bags.
  43. Mend your stuff.
  44. Compost.
  45. Try mass transit.
  46. Buy in bulk.
  47. Buy durable.
  48. Use your oven less.
  49. Join a local organization.
  50. Join Blog Action Day. [SRC: here unofficially, and officially at My Bay Area Garden.]

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If you’re looking for places in walking distance of where you live, or evaluating a neighborhood to see what’s walkable, try WalkScore, a maps mashup that shows resources in an area. It’s not perfect, but it may show you things that you didn’t realize were around a corner that you hadn’t visited, like a convenience store or a bookstore.

update 4/11/2018: Someone from WalkScore has asked me to link in some instruction page for WalkScore. Apparently the site itself is too hard to understand.

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