I found an easy way to go Green, while beautifying my yard; I signed up for the DC Greenworks program and was treated to a beautiful garden of indigenous flowers. The program is a partnership between DC Greenworks, the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS) and the District Department of the Environment RiverSmart. DC Greenworks has installed rain gardens for DC residents meant to capture rainwater runoff from impervious surface areas, including rooftops, paved streets, parking lots and compacted lawns.
It was easy to sign up for the program and I’d encourage you to check with your local Department of Environment to see if you have a similar program. Or, how about planning a rain garden of your own? Rain gardens absorb the rainwater runoff at or near where it falls. This reduces the load of runoff into municipal sewer and storm water systems.
According to the DC Greenworks website, “Rain gardens are typically planted with wildflowers and other native vegetation over a complex mix of soils, sand and gravel that allow approximately 30% more water to soak into the ground. Following a heavy rain, runoff will pond in the rain garden and be slowly filtered by the plants and soil.”
A simple rain garden can be planted in most landscapes with little or no modification to existing conditions. It is easiest to plant the garden based upon natural drainage flows (look for low spots where water ponds following a heavy rain). However, if this is not feasible due to the location of existing structures (or other reasons) some minor landscaping can redirect flows to areas that better meet site conditions.”
Because the depth of a rain garden can be as little as six inches, heavy machinery is not necessarily required. Even sites with heavy clay, like my backyard, make a wonderful home for your rain garden. I hope you’ll consider planning a rain garden soon!
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A strawberry jar is a tall pot that has holes in the side used for planting several plants at once. They are perfect for the balcony or fire escape gardener because they don’t take up much room and you can use them to plant a collection of different plants, either decorative or culinary. You can buy them at garden centers or places like Walmart, Home Depot or Target that have seasonal gardening departments.
Most strawberry jars are made out of terracotta; plants dry out quickly in this material. If you are shopping for a strawberry jar, opt for a larger model that allows you to give more water to the plants it holds. Also, look for lips on the side pockets. These hold the dirt so it doesn’t wash out when you water the pot. Glazed pots are more expensive, but they last longer and slow the drying process.
Plant the jar in stages, one tier at a time. Loosen the roots when you take the plant out of its temporary container and push the tops of plants through the pockets from the inside out. Fill as you plant and water each layer to settle the soil. Plant the largest or tall plants at the very top.
Keeping the plants evenly watered is the hardest part, but there are some tricks you can use to make certain all of the plants get enough water. Drill holes in a piece of PVC pipe slightly longer than the height of your jar. Stuff one end with a piece of sponge. Place the sponge end in the bottom of the pot before you start adding soil and plants (this way you can water the tube and the plants on the lower levels will receive moisture.)
You could do the same with a tall, narrow water or soda bottle if you can find one that fits in your pot without taking up too much space. In this case you won’t need the sponge. You also can use the method shown in the video below. Your herb jar may need watering every day, especially during the hottest part of summer.
Here are some herbs that do well in a strawberry jar: chives, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, thyme. Lavender and rosemary do well at the top of the planter as they tend to grow tall. Keep the herbs clipped and don’t let them flower to keep them productive. Avoid fast growing, bolting, plants like dill and cilantro.
Crystal Plew and Devon Lyttle show off their favorite water bottles.
Who doesn’t like a great app – one that is entertaining, educational and/or makes your day-to-day tasks a step easier? At Unspoiled.org, we love apps that empower us, those galvanizing us to DO what you REALLY WANT … save money, practice a hobby, eat better, attend a place of worship, exercise more … go a step farther in being our best selves.
Amazi is one app we love. Crystal Plew and Devin Lyttle, founders of Amazi, created an app to make it easy to find locations to fill eco-friendly containers with clean, fresh water across the United States.
Amazi, which means “water” in Rwanda, is dedicated to ending the consumption of bottled water by offering a sensible alternative, and aiding in the clean water crisis around the globe. This app allows users to search by location – businesses, campuses, city water stations, and more! – where to fill re-useable water containers as easily as buying bottled water.
In addition to providing the locations of clean water from fountains, faucets and filtered water dispensers, Amazi provides data on the municipal water supply so users can make informed decisions regarding the quality of their water. Also, a portion of profits are donated to fund relief in developing countries.
In the podcast below, Plew and Lyttle explain how they came upon the idea for this app, and where, as social entrepreneurs, they hope to go next:
Amazi is finalizing the development of this app, expecting Podcast with Crystal Plew and Devin Lyttle to launch in July 2013 – just in time for summer! You can lend your voice to the project in the meantime by answering a few quick questions. Find out more here.
Looking for some other useful environmental apps?
- Good Guide: A mobile app making it fast and easy to find safe, healthy, green and ethical products, instantly delivering the information you need, when you need it most – in the store and on the go.
- GreenDrive: A mobile app to help motorists find the most efficient way to travel from one location to another. The application analyzes road conditions and generates the shortest route you can take to get to your destination in the quickest time allowed by law.
- iRecycle: A mobile app making it easy to search how and where to recycle an item or product based on your location/zip code.
Rainbow Stop (Photo credit: mindgutter)
According to the International Eco-tourism Society, eco-tourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
You may imagine exotic jungles and pristine hillsides when you hear the term eco-tourism … but there’s another, darker, and still very necessary aspect of eco-tourism: toxic tourism.
Toxic tourism is an opportunity for school groups and activists – or anyone who is interested – to tour a U.S. city’s poorest neighborhood to witness the visible toxic mishaps that are dumped or crowded into marginalized communities. Toxic tourism is sprouting up in cities across the nation, including Baltimore, Bloomington, Chicago, and Oakland and strives to increase awareness of low-income communities that are unfairly affected by a much larger population’s literal and metaphorical “run-off.” Sometimes, the tours examine how these communities struggle to hold government and industry professionals accountable for the lead, clogged drains, vacant buildings, and illegal dumping sites.
Oftentimes the tours increase awareness of low-income communities that are unfairly affected by a much larger population’s literal and metaphorical “run-off”. Sometimes, the tours get into how these communities struggle to hold government and industry professionals accountable for the lead, clogged drains, vacant buildings, and illegal dumping sites.
In Baltimore, Community Activist Glenn Ross leads toxic tours that have shown some improvement over the years. As Andrea Appleton points out on Grist.org: “Students on his tours often take photographs along the way, and Ross attributes the improvements to the paparazzi effect.”
Follow one of Ross’ live tours below:
Or, take a look at what Oakland, CA has on its toxic tour docket:
Ready to join the ranks of these activists? With so many new examples of toxic tours from across the country, we’ve gleaned some tips for how to get started planning your city’s own toxic tour:
- Find a leader or champion, like Ross. Choose an engaging person from the community(ies) you plan to visit that is passionate about educating all city residents
- Partner with a local environmental non-profit who might have some of the resources to help run your tour (transportation, logistics support, and outreach support)
- Empower a local health-related organization to be part of your planning team. No one should care about how the environment is affecting the health of communities’ more than local healthcare providers
- Reach out and listen to the communities you plan to tour through. Get a clearer picture of the environmental issues affecting those neighborhoods so you can highlight them on the tour. Document the journey. Encourage attendees to bring cameras, video cameras, and cell phones. Create Ross’ “paparazzi effect” via social media to help spread the word, while being mindful of a community’s privacy.
What tips would you add to this list?
Steaming compost (Photo credit: SuperFantastic)
We already know that Americans waste a lot of food. In 2010 alone, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated, with only three percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.
Harnessing the power of food-scraps through composting would remove millions of tons from the waste stream while generating rich nutrients for your garden. But, let’s face it turning our food waste into rich nutrients has not always been easy, especially for city dwellers.
Fortunately, sustainable waste management roots appear to be taking hold here in Maryland. While nationally only 3 percent of food scraps were composted in 2010, the Maryland Department of the Environment estimated that 13 percent of Maryland food scraps are being recycled to improve soil for gardens and other landscaping.
Last December, composting became a little easier for Baltimoreans as the curbside composting program Compost Cab rolled into town. Just this past week two local composting initiatives were unveiled:
- The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) announced on Monday that it would begin collecting food scraps at its Baltimore headquarters for composting. Over 900 employees will be afforded the opportunity to compost their uneaten food – which has the potential to divert more than six tons of waste that might otherwise wind-up in an incinerator landfill.
- Howard County, one of the first East Coast communities to try large-scale composting of household food scraps, is “cooking” the first batches of plant fertilizer to be produced by the new composting facility at the county’s Alpha Ridge landfill in Marriottsville. Compost produced through this program will be sold back to residents and used to fertilize parks and government property.
Thirteen percent is a promising start, but it is just a drop in the hat – and each one of us can contribute to nutrient-rich soils to sustain neighborhoods, businesses & ecosystems.
Don’t have a lot of space for composting? Here’s a quick, four-step process for small-scale composting
- Toss compostable items into your blender so that it’s about a third full.
- Fill the container with water and blend until very finely chopped.
- Walk out to the garden and with a trowel, dig a small hole alongside a garden plant and pour some of the contents of the blender in.
- Cover with dirt and let the worms and microbes go to work. One blender full will fill three small holes (or, of course, one larger one).
No garden? No problem. Real Food Farm wants your food scraps. Gather your food-waste (no meat) and head out to the farm!
Boston: Public Garden (Photo credit: wallyg)
By now, most of the country is showing some bloom in the landscape even if it may not quite be time to put tender plants in the ground. Serious gardeners have been scrounging garden catalogues since January and sharpening their tools in preparation for digging. To mark this national greening, The National Garden Association has declared April National Garden Month.
Even if you do not have what could officially qualify as a garden in the strictest sense of the word, there are ways you can join in the celebration.
1. Visit a public garden: Most urban areas have beautiful public gardens in or nearby. They often offer lectures and tours to explain what is growing in them. If you are a gardener you may be inspired to grow something new. If you don’t garden, it’s an opportunity to be transported to a serene and beautiful vacation from stress.
2. Plant an herb pot: Herbs grow well in posts and can provide even apartment dwellers with some sense of a harvest. Plus, many herbs can be kept going all year long, doubling as home decoration and culinary or medicinal value.
3. Join a CSA: CSAs, or community-supported agriculture, are made up of small farmers with access to a city who can provide you with regularly scheduled produce during the active growing season. Sometimes the produce is delivered to your door and other farmers deliver to a central location for pickup. It’s a great way to experience new vegetables and get the freshest possible produce.
4. Make gardening easy with a garden app: There are garden apps to tell you when, where, and how to plant anything in your area. There is even an app that will lead you to a farmers market where you can sell your harvested produce or buy someone else’s.
5. Garden coupons: If you are ready to start digging in the dirt, there are a number of retailers who are offering special savings on your supplies.
I hope by now we can put away any thoughts of winter and enjoy what the next few months will bring us as nature blooms anew. Here are 101 ways you can enjoy National Garden Month and gardening throughout the season.
What are you doing to celebrate National Garden Month?
English: Vestas V90-3MW wind turbine of the Kentish Flats Offshore Wind Farm, Thames Estuary. www.kentishflats.co.uk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
America lags behind Europe and Asia in its adoption of clean, renewable energy production. Offshore wind power is no exception. Since 1991, offshore wind farms have been successfully generating electricity in European waters. While there are now more than 1,662 offshore wind turbines generating power for European electric users, the first wind turbine in U.S. waters has yet to be installed. This is particularly striking, given that there is enough wind along the U.S. East Coast to power at least one-third of the country, according to an analysis by Stanford scientists.
Fortunately, this will change in the relatively near future as planning for offshore wind farms kicks into high gear – with Maryland taking the lead.
On Tuesday, April 9th, Governor O’Malley signed into law the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013. The bill earmarks $1.7 billion for development of an offshore wind farm in federal waters and incentivizes the construction of approximately 40 ocean-based wind turbines capable of producing enough electricity to power a third of the homes on the Eastern shore, with zero emissions. To offset the cost, consumers can expect to pay up to a $1.50 monthly surcharge on their electricity bills, but will only be charged if and when the windmills are constructed off the coast of Ocean City. This is a small price to pay.
By 2017, suppliers of electricity in Marlyand will be required to get up to 2.5 percent of their power from offshore wind. Moreover, the 200-megawatt project could generate 850 jobs in manufacturing and construction and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by upward of 378,000 tons per year. According to the National Academy of Sciences, that could equate to a $17 million gain in annual public health benefits as a result of reduced fossil fuel use for electricity production.
Construction of the wind turbines may be another four or five years down the road, but if you have a penchant for DIY hackery, a spare weekend, elbow grease and a little bit of cash, you can harness your own wind power at home.
Remember William Kamkwamba, the Malawian teenager who built a wind turbine out of spare bicycle parts and scrap metal and wood? He taught himself the basics of electrical engineering out of an old school book and building a wind turbine that powered four lights, two radios, and a cell phone charger. He built his own homemade light switches and circuit breakers and has dabbled in radio transmitters. His turbine provided electricity in his home for the first time and allowed them to replace inefficient, expensive kerosene lamps.
We have plenty of savvy individuals in the US with similar passion for green DIY hackery. Kevin Harris put together an extremely thorough how-to article on building a $150 wind generator on his website. Mr. Harris’s turbine produces 50-250 watts, which makes puts its $150 price tag drastically cheaper than solar panels of the same output, even when you factor in the time needed to assemble it; 150 watt solar panels can cost in the neighborhood of $500 – $1,000.
If you have a breezy home, consider taking on a weekend project that will enable you to harness the wind to generate your own electricity. For a step-by-step guide, check out Kevin’s site.
This week my favorite movie of all time is being released in 3D: Jurassic Park. While you might not have realized it during your first viewing, Jurassic Park is a cautionary tale about man’s belief that we have control over our nature. Both the book and the movie are an incredible examination of the way science gives us a false sense that we are beyond the limits of our natural environment. The break down of John Hammond’s grand experiment was due to this philosophical flaw so eloquently laid out by Ian Malcolm:
“When a hunter goes out in the rain forest to seek food for his family, does he expect to control nature? No. He imagines that nature is beyond him. Beyond his understanding. Beyond his control. Maybe he prays to nature, to the fertility of the forest that provides for him. He prays because he knows he doesn’t control it. He’s at the mercy of it. But you decide you won’t be at the mercy of nature. You decide you’ll control nature and from that moment you’re in deep trouble, because you can’t do it. And you can’t do it – and you never have – and you never will. Don’t confuse things. You can make a boat, but you can’t make the ocean. You can make an airplane, but you can’t make the air. Your powers are much less than your dreams of reason would have you believe. “
In the green community we pride ourselves on honoring and respecting nature. However, Ian Malcom points out there is arrogance in environmentalism too. Many of us believe that humans can ruin planet earth. Yes, our actions make an impact on the land, air, and sea but that doesn’t mean we have the power to wield or take down the forces of mother nature. It would take an incredible power to “destroy the planet” but Malcolm points out that humans may not be capable of such a feat.
“You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity…Think about oxygen. Necessary for life now, but oxygen is actually a metabolic poison, a corrosive glass, like fluorine. When oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells some three billion years ago, it created a crisis for all other life on earth. Those plants were polluting the environment, exhaling a lethal gas. Earth eventually had an atmosphere incompatible with life. Nevertheless, life on earth took care of itself. In the thinking of the human being a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago we didn’t have cars, airplanes, computers or vaccines. It was a whole different world, but to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We’ve been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we’re gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.”
Does this mean we shouldn’t be concerned about environment? No, in fact it means we should be more concerned. While the earth may be resilient the human race is not. The way we frame the issue of “the environment” focuses protecting the planet it but really it is us that needs protecting. Too often people dismiss environmentalism in favor of focusing on “human concerns” but in fact the series of issues couched under the heading of the environment is the human concern, it is about ensuring the future of our species. We are not working to ensure the continuation of the earth but to ensure the continuation of a planet habitable to humans. Everyone should be an environmentalist.
Being green shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice, a trend, and badge of pride, it should be the expectation. Relying on fossil fuels, polluting our water sources, and destroying our soil doesn’t undermine the planet’s sustainability, it undermines the ability of future generations to make a life for themselves.
“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”
Water islands (Photo credit: @Doug88888)
Water is our most intimate resource – our bodies are between 60 and 70 percent water. We use water to grow our food, generate our power, manufacture our clothes, and move our waste stream. But water, like most resources, is finite.
While the amount of freshwater on the planet has remained fairly constant over time—continually recycled through the atmosphere and back into our cups—the population has exploded. This means that every year competition for a clean, copious supply of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and sustaining life intensifies.
Freshwater comprises a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is freshwater. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.
According to the United Nations, water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change. Even regions that have avoided the majority of these problems to date are at risk: the impacts of climate change, unsustainable water use patterns, and the continued depletion of major aquifers portent significant problems ahead.
The way forward? Comprehensive water management approaches that include conservation and efficiency in every sector, community-scale infrastructure, aquatic ecosystems protections, water management at the level of watersheds rather than political boundaries, and smart economies.
The report “New Visions. Smart Choices. Western Water Security in a Changing Climate” from Carpe Diem West documents progress on this front in ten communities throughout the West who are collaborating to optimize the benefits that freshwater provides. The approaches of the ten communities profiled in this report can serve as models for other communities seeking to take real steps to add resiliency to their water supply in anticipation of a dry future.
- San Antonio has reduced per capita water use by 42% since 1994
- Santa Fe took on water conservation with even greater gusto, reducing per capita use by 40% in just ten years
- In Colorado, water users and the Colorado Trust cooperated to provide ‘drought emergency’ instream flows for the Yampa River. The leased water provided multiple benefits as it flowed downstream – generating extra hydropower, providing aesthetic and recreation benefits, helping recreation business avoid tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue, and irrigating thirsty crops
Eugene’s Water and Electric Board developed a Drinking Water Protection Plan to help farms become more economically viable so that the land stays in production and is not sold for development and to encourage reduced use of polluting pesticides and nitrates. Partnerships with farmers in the watershed are the cornerstone of success to ensure that the local watershed remained well-stewarded.
Read the entire report to find out what other communities are doing to take on Goliath. What other things are communities doing to avoid being caught unprepared by a dry future?
Driving through the rural southeastern part of the United States, you pass ghostly scenes that are composed entirely of green. You are looking at a non-native plant that was introduced into the U.S from Japan in 1876 and used the 1930’s to control erosion. It’s kudzu!
Kudzu is an invasive weed that climbs over trees or shrubs and grows so rapidly, it kills them by heavy shading. It even covers entire buildings. Kudzu’s environmental and ecological damage results from acting through “interference competition.” Kudzu competes with native plants for light, water, and soil nutrients. It blocks another plant’s access to these vital resources by growing over them and shading them with its leaves. Plants then die as a result of suffocation and starvation.
English: Photo of Bee Balm Plant (Monarda) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You, on the other hand, would be delighted if you could get that pretty perennial you picked up at the local big box store to last through the first season. Not every plant you put in a hole in your backyard is meant to be there. Plants are rather finicky about their habitat. Most plants require specific growing conditions: soil nutrients, water, light, temperature, etc… You will have the best success with plants that are meant to grow in your area…native plants.Native or indigenous plants are adapted to the local soil, rainfall, light and temperature conditions, and have developed natural defenses to withstand many types of insects and diseases. By picking native plants that suit local conditions, you can reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizers, pesticides and watering. This ecologically sound practice also saves time and money. Native plants provide food and cover for local wildlife like butterflies, birds, frogs, turtle and small mammals.
The Maryland Native Plant Society provides information about choosing native plants and gives resources for non-profits and commercial sellers of native plants in this area. Here’s a list of some of the most popular plants that grow well in the Baltimore area. I’ve given both the common and Latin names as many plants are known more by one or the other:
Azalea (numerous varieties)
Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Canadensis)
Black-eyed Susan (rudebeckia hirta) It’s our state flower!
Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Coralbells (Heuchera americana)
Coreopsis (several varieties)
Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera)
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Purple cone flower(Echinacea purpurea)
and 25 varieties of ferns!
These plants also are perennial, which means they will come back year after year without you having to do anything but enjoy them.
If you are growing in other parts of the country, you can find native plants for your area here.
Campaign Consultation, Inc.