Category: Sustain

Sowing a Wildflower Meadow Garden

There are an astonishing number of wildflower species that grow across this country. Every region seems to have a favorite, like the bluebonnets of Texas or California poppies.

 

 

Many wildflowers are at their showiest in the spring and summer, visible along roadsides and meadows. But now, during the late summer and early fall, is the best time to sow the seeds. The key to success is to make sure that your plants have enough time to germinate and establish themselves before the first hard frost. That’s usually about 8 weeks. And if you don’t have rain, it’s critical you keep the soil consistently moist. If you run out of time to plant seeds this fall, you can plant them in the very early spring as well.

 

When sowing wildflower seeds the first thing you want to do is prepare the bed by clearing it of weeds and grass. The quickest way to do this is with a broad-spectrum herbicide, but if you prefer to use an earth-friendly method you can cover the area with a plastic (clear or black will do) for an entire growing season.

Once the existing vegetation is dead the rake away the debris and any remaining foliage. Next lightly till the soil to a depth of about 3 inches. This will ensure good seed to soil contact without bringing up weed seeds that may be lurking deeper underground. If you have especially rocky soil you may want to mix in some compost, but wildflowers aren’t too particular about soil quality. In fact, it’s best to avoid fertilizer because it will just encourage weeds.

The quantity of seeds you’ll need depends on your climate and how much area you want to cover. Wildflowers suffer less from weed competition and excessive moisture in cooler regions so in those areas you get more bang for your buck; one pound of seeds will cover about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. In warm Southern states, 1 pound usually covers about 2,000 square feet.

Many wildflower seeds are very tiny so to get even distribution when sowing, it’s a good idea to mix the seeds with an inert material like sand. In a bucket combine, 5 parts moistened sand to 1 part seeds. You can hand distribute the seed and sand mixture or use a spreader.

After the seeds are evenly spread over the area you need to press them into the soil. You can do this by simply walking over the ground or use a lawn roller.

Spread a thin layer of wheat straw over the area to protect the seeds from washing away in a hard rain. I like wheat straw because it does not have seeds. Don’t be too heavy-handed in the amount you apply so that light can get to the seeds.

Be prepared to water the area on a regular basis to get the seeds started. If you are lucky you’ll get some of those nice, slow fall rains to help you with this part of the process.

When it comes to choosing varieties you are better off buying specific types of seeds that you know will do well in your region rather than buying a mix. Most wildflowers require full sun, but you can also find varieties that will grow in partial to fully shaded areas.

However, if you do use a wildflower mix, you’ll find that they contain both annuals and perennials. The annuals will bloom the following spring, but many of the perennials will take 2 years to flower, so you have to be patient.

 

Homemade Cleaning Solutions

Green cleaning or eco-cleaning has become a big business as homeowners gravitate toward more planet-friendly lifestyles. Eco-cleaning companies are popping up everywhere and there are a plethora of low impact cleaning products available to purchase. While there are a few commercial products that are staples in my pantry, many of my cleaning solutions are ones that I make at home. Much like the home remedies I use in the garden, these formulas are inexpensive and simple to prepare. If I don’t have the ingredients already, I can find everything I need at my neighborhood grocery store.

Stock Your Pantry

  • Borax – Great for disinfecting and deodorizing and as a mild abrasive. Borax is a safe alternative but IS toxic. So be careful where you store it.
  • Vinegar – A natural acidic for removing grime and soap scum. Because of vinegar’s acidic quality, don’t use it full strength on tile grout and it’s not recommended for marble or unprotected vinyl flooring.
  • Baking soda – There are too many virtues of baking soda to list here, but mainly it is a great deodorizer, mild abrasive, and general gunk remover.
  • Lemons – The juice is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer. Dried lemon peel can be used as a moth repellant.
  • Essential oils – These oils are great to add a little fragrance to homemade cleaners. I like to use lemon, grapefruit, or lavender. Check your local health food store for essential oils.
  • Liquid soap
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Whole cloves
  • Muslin
  • Old t-shirts, diapers or other soft cloth
  • Plastic spray bottles
  • Small bucket

Cleaning Solutions
Here is a list of homemade cleaning solutions that I use in my home. When trying new products in your home use the same precautions as you would in the garden. Test in a small area before using it throughout your house. Also, remember to store cleaning products away from children and pets.

All-Purpose Cleaner
Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/2 gallon water in a cleaning bucket. Then add 1/2 cup vinegar. Use immediately.

Furniture Polish
Mix 1 cup olive oil with 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Apply to wood furniture with a soft, clean cloth. Allow to dry and buff with another soft, clean cloth.

Disinfectant
Combine 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 cups hot water. Remember that borax is not non-toxic, so keep this solution away from the little ones.

Drain Deodorizer
My plumber told me that one of the best ways to prevent build up in pipes is with boiling water. About once a week I pour a kettle of boiling water down the sink.

To keep the kitchen sink fresh and deodorize the disposal pour 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of vinegar down the drain. Let stand for a few minutes and then flush with boiling water. The vinegar and baking soda will foam so be prepared for that. Also, don’t try this if you’ve recently used a commercial drain opener and are uncertain if any is still present.

Glass Cleaner
Mix 2 tablespoons of vinegar with 1 quart of water. Store in a spray bottle. When cleaning windows using old newspaper really does make a difference.

Bathtub and Sink Cleaner
Mix 1 2/3 cup of baking soda, 1/2 cup of liquid soap, and 1/2 of cup water in a cleaning bucket. Add 2 tablespoons of vinegar.

Air Fresheners
My favorite way to bring fragrance into the home during the fall and winter is with a simmer pot. Fill a muslin bag with cinnamon sticks, orange peel, and whole cloves. Simmer the bag in a pot of boiling water. Just be sure you don’t leave the pot unattended.

A few drops of essential oil in a small dish of baking soda freshens the air.

Place a dish of vinegar by the stove when cooking fish or onions to eliminate odors.

Stuck on Grease
Baked on food can be loosened with baking soda. Sprinkle the dish liberally with baking soda and set aside for 5 – 10 minutes. Wash pan as usual.

Sprinkle half a lemon with salt and use it to scrub dishes.

Fabric Softener
Use vinegar as a natural fabric softener. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.

 

 

Thanks To Global Lockdown, Our Earth Is Healing

 

7 ways the planet is healing, thanks to global lockdown

From air pollution levels plummeting to the canals in Venice clearing up


How the Coronavirus Is (and Is Not) Affecting the Environment

March 5th, 2020 by Kasha Patel | Earth Observatory

The coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic is first and foremost an issue of human health and safety. But as people have changed their everyday behaviors and patterns to contain or avoid the virus, there have been some subtle effects on the environment. There also has been misinformation. Below are four ways the virus is—and is not—affecting the environment in China.

1. Satellites found decreases in one air pollutant, but that doesn’t mean the air is free of all pollution.

2. During the quarantine, roads and transportation hubs are emptier.

3. Coal and oil industrial activities have dropped, so carbon dioxide emissions have also decreased.

4. There is no evidence that cremation ashes are increasing the levels of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere.

Read the full article here.

Manure and other Winter Thoughts

 

January is an introspective month for me. I look inward and take solace in the quiet, winter landscape. I try to redirect the urge to jump up to getting things done and sitting in silence. It’s as though the earth is at rest and I am meant to be, too. Though the sky is clear and the infinite star-filled cosmos feels like it’s within my grasp, my tendency is to look down at the wonder beneath my feet at the delight any gardener or farmer; the soil. Good old terra firma or Mother Earth.

In fact, it’s during these cold weeks ahead we clean the barns and poultry houses mining the gold that’s built up over the previous seasons. Yes, manure, nutrient-rich, life-restoring manure. An inauspicious chore to some, but I actually look forward to this ritual because I have seen with my own eyes what it can do to my soil. It’s like an elixir or spring tonic that feeds an invisible universe below us. It’s the microbial activity that lies at the heart of creating healthy living soil.

My first memory of recognizing this power in the soil and manure, in particular, was when I was a little kid in the vegetable garden of my grandmother Smith. The generous vegetable patch was directly adjacent to a large barn with warm southwest exposure. Through the eyes of a child, her garden was different; the plants were larger and they seemed darker green and, well, it just appeared more alive.

 

You see, my grandparents, milked a small herd of dairy cows, mainly Jerseys and Guernseys each morning and evening. Of course, an important by-product of the rich milk was the manure from the cows. This black ‘gold’ was hauled from the hall and stalls of the barn into the garden and spread over fields in winter. But, it wasn’t until spring when it’s power was fully manifest in the plants that grew in what must have been, at least to me, the most verdant plot of ground on the planet.

 

I recall, in particular, the enormous leaves of the yellow crookneck squash and okra plants that made me feel lilliputian. Ma Smith directed me to gently twist and pull the young squash from the center of these colossal plants and place the vegetables into her basket. For a curious 3rd grader it was like a thrilling expedition into some mysterious tropical rain forest in search of rare gems. It was a space that stirred my imagination.

It would be many years later when I would fully understand what was going on in the soil that had made such an impression on me as a child. Oh, I had read insensitively through information on Sir Albert Howard and pored over his ‘Agricultural Testament’. But, after reading ‘Teaming with Microbes’ I became a total soil nerd. For months after reading the book twice over and raving on about the authors, Lowenfelds and Lewis, I recall friends politely asking me what I was currently reading… and I would say enthusiastically ‘Teaming with Microbes’ and then proceed to wear them out about the soil nutritional web beneath our feet. Nothing like the zeal of a new convert, right? As you can imagine, this did little to improve my social life.

Today, recognizing the importance of the complexity of our planet’s soil couldn’t be more important. I recently read an article by Heather Hansman about sustainability and our food system, it’s well worth a read. While it’s exciting that we are now finally reaching new levels of understanding out the complexity of the soil (it seems Ma Smith knew, at least intuited, it all the time). That universe in a teaspoon of soil is one of nature’s greatest marvels.

Click here to read.

The message in this article took me back to this summer when I lead a road trip with friends through the great Mississippi Delta, known for its rich, deep alluvial soil, as bountiful as the Nile River delta of ancient times. Stopping along the way it was hauntingly silent, almost dead, yet we were among the verdant fields. The crops of soybeans, cotton, and corn, stretching as far as the distant horizon, without a single weed or a fence row among them. Every plant a clone of the other, all perfectly uniform. A very different scene than from my childhood or Ma Smith’s garden where weeds and fence row hedges shared space among the crops.

 


The difference today is the use of chemicals and genetically modified organisms, in the genetics of the food we eat or feed to livestock. The soil is being saturated year in and year out with petrochemical-based fertilizers and chemicals such as glyphosate (Round-up), dicamba and defoliants. The fence rows are all gone, in the name of greater efficiencies and yields.

Over the course of the 200 plus miles on a hot afternoon, as we traversed along with the Mississippi River levy, we saw just nine songbirds and only once did an insect hit our windshield. Remarkable. It was like a scene from Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller ‘Silent Spring’.  A very different delta than I recall as a child when my brothers and I walked the fields quail hunting with my granddad. Then, the fence and hedgerows were intact and served as habitat for quail and other species. ‘Weeds’ grew in the fields that by today’s standards would be seen as unkempt and poor agricultural practices. But, be sure that those weeds play an important role in the larger ecology. Where are the bobwhite quail and other birds today? The proverbial canaries in the coal mine.

Sappy nostalgia for days gone by? I don’t think so. Destruction of the planet is going on around us at every turn and at a disturbing pace. Often in a veiled and silent way. In this time of retrospection, I often read the works of Wendell Berry, poet, farmer and environmental activist from Henry County, Kentucky. I find both comfort and discomfort in his words. A few years ago Robert Redford created a documentary called ‘Look and See’ about Wendell and his view on the world. The opening and trailer to the documentary is powerful; it’s a poem by Wendell himself set to video and read by him.

 

In this month, while the earth rests, look and see what’s around you. Look up at the mystery of the cosmos and reach down and marvel at a handful of soil. Find peace in silence.

 

 

 

P. Allen Smith

upcycled t-shirt garden tote bag

Upcycled T-Shirt Garden Tote Bag

You know those times when you head out into the garden to pick a few things and you end up having more than you can handle? Isn’t it great to have that “problem”? All you need is a pair of scissors and an old t-shirt. I’ll show you how you can upcycle your t-shirt to create a handy harvest tote bag for the garden. Read more