Friday, April 15, 2011

Ecosattva ::: Egosattva

Ecosattva - Be kind to the earth
Egosattva - Be kind to yourself

I'll turn 45 this summer.  That's sort of horrifying, although I don't feel 45.  The number sounds big...  But I digress.

When I turned 40 I threw out all the chemicals in my house and began my journey of "going green" in earnest.  Coming up on the 5 year anniversary of that seems like a good time to review where I am, and the areas in my life where I could be greener.  When I say "green," I also include items such as how I reduce my carbon footprint, ways that I give back to the earth/environment, and habits that I have which I consider healthy or eco-conscious.

How am I doing?
I don't use any chemical lawn fertilizers or pesticides.
I clean my house with natural cleaners:  vinegar, Bon Ami, etc.*
I live within 5 miles of where I work.
I buy from the bulk bins at the grocery store when possible.
I have a "no shoes" home.
My body products are paraben free (no petroleum ingredients).
I either compost or worm-farm my vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, etc.
I recycle, and I shred most paper & use it for worm food.
I try not to buy products that are over-packaged.
When getting doggy bags in restaurants, if they use styrofoam, I try to remember to ask for a piece of foil instead.
I use re-usable shopping bags at the grocery store.
I'll pay a little extra to support a local independent business vs. a chain or mass producer.
I use a broom instead of my garden hose to tidy my sidewalks and driveway.
I cook for my dog.  When I do buy commerical dry food, it's natural and human grade.
I rake and compost leaves, etc. -- I despise leaf blowers...
I use biodegradeable dog poop bags on walks (and do not individually bag from the yard.)
I installed gutters and rain barrels for rain water conservation.
I mostly buy organic produce and food items.
I got rid of all rubber-backed rugs in my home.
I got rid of some concrete surfaces at my home and planted plants instead.
I am vegetarian, and on many days, vegan.
When I do eat fish, I try my best to be sure it's wild caught.
I frequently hand-carry store items, declining a bag.
I grow my own herbs and some vegetables.
I provide a butterfly/hummingbird friendly environment.
I put up an owl shack!
I got rid of my microwave and use a toaster oven.
When I buy interior paint, I buy low or no VOC.
I feed the birds and keep a bird bath full of water.
I support animal rescue.
I drink out of the tap e.g. I do not buy bottled water.
I store used batteries and burned out light bulbs, and do a twice a year trip to a disposal center.
I buy CFL lightbulbs when available for my fixture.
I wait as long as I can to use my central air conditioning.
In the winter, I reduce furnace bills by using an electric blanket.
I very rarely drink sodas.
I'm a label reader: generally if I cannot pronounce and identify ingredients on a label, I likely won't eat the product.
I try to buy clothes made from natural fibers.
I drive a tiny car and its paid for.
My electric service at my home is 100% wind energy.
I opt out of junk mail, and call to cancel catalogs.
I re-purpose and re-use whenever I can and rarely buy furniture new.
I try not to buy leather products (shoes are my only downfall)

What can I do better?
Some of my make up is still not organic -- eye shadow, mascara, etc. -- although I rarely wear it...
I wash my car in the driveway - but I do use biodegradable soap
I still use traditional toothpaste/mouthwash as opposed to a natural brand.
Eat.  Less.  Butter.
I accept plastic bags at Target - I should bring my own bags in.
I could use more attic insulation.
Stop buying Burger King Big Fish sandwiches!  LOL  Probably aren't even real...
I'd like to swap out my hot water tank for a tankless system
My house needs new windows.
I'm addicted to my iPhone.
I still use ChapStick (contains petroleum)
I buy Beggin' Strips for my dog!

So those are the things that I do that I can think of off the top of my head.  Over all I make these choices because they make me feel better.  I feel better physically and mentally, and I feel better that I am being responsible in my corner of the world for the environment, the world around me and being good to myself.  I try not to preach my ways to others -- I just do what works for me.  I do happily observe though, that sometimes the way I live raises the awareness of friends and neighbors -- and at least provokes thought and sometimes lively discussion -- and that's fun.  I have had a lot of people in my life who have raised my awareness, and I'm grateful for that.  I learn new things all the time about ways I can change - I like the challenge of finding new ways.  Do you have new any suggestions for me?

*  I'll admit to the occassional small use of bleach...sometimes I just gotta have it.

What could be happening here?

Coming up Roses

I've decided I'll just have to make friends with this pink rose bush:

I am not a rose fan... and the colors I'm trying to have out front are orange and blue (okay and yellow/purple) -- far from pink.  But I've cut this thing to the ground twice, and it just keeps coming back happier and happier.  And I must admit, it is beautiful.  I'm not into all the detail work that comes with growing roses, and if I don't keep it pruned closely it scratches the car when I drive by...  but I can't seem to kill it with neglect, so I guess I'll be nice and stop cutting it down...

Backyard Plantings

I popped in 5 lavendar plants at the end of my new garden box:

It turned out that was a great place for the lavender -- the soil was all sandy due to being dug up from pretty far down during backstep construction.  Perfect for good drainage.

And I also planted 3 salvia and a thyme plant along the walk.  It already had a bumble bee on it last evening.

Clearly I use the term "walk" loosely -- at this point it's just a piece of plywood resting on some 2"x4"s!  All in good time...

Finally - herbs in

I finally got my herbs planted out front after they languished in their seedling pots in my backyard for two weeks!   They are Bergamot sage (2), traditional sage (2),  greek oregano (1), hot and spicy oregano (1), and (not pictured) one variegated thyme.  The Bergamot sage leaves smelled so good when I touched them while planting -- great citrus scent!

I also stuck in one non-herb -- a flowering plant that was a gift from a friend.  I can't remember what the label said it was.  It's a pretty blue... 

I'll likely be adding more plants to this bed over time.  I had a lot more thyme, but I decided to plant it in the back around some stepping stones instead. 

Around the (Front) Butterfly Garden

Just a few photos of what's happening in the butterfly garden out front:

Russian sage and butterfly bush - got supports in early this year!

Echinacea/Purple Coneflower - didn't come up last year at all!


Hmmm cannot recall name...

Caterpillar food plants - dill, parsley, fennel

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oooo -- Metal Planters!

I am in love with these metal planters:

(Photo courtesy of Slow Love Life

It seems like I could make these with some sheet metal, but I suspect that isn't really true.  But - love.

I once saw some others similar to these that were made out of a section of the corrugated metal that culverts (okay, culverts in rural Minnesota) are made out of.  They appeared to just be a section of culvert stood up on end.  Now THAT I could probably figure out...


Things have gone seriously downhill when I start quoting the Little Rascals.  But I couldn't resist, because last night I planted buckwheat seeds in the backyard.

I needed some type of cover crop to hold the dirt in place until I can get plants in everywhere.  Last Fall I planted Hairy Vetch which was pretty successful, but it didn't till in quite as easily as I had hoped.  It was sort of viney, and then the vines wrapped around the rototiller tines.  Sure, it came off easily, but it wasn't optimal.

I went to Redenta's and explained my conundrum and they suggested buckwheat as a cover crop.  They had 3 packages, and I bought all three.  I've planted one and a half packages so far.  The package says it likes sun, and I'm worried that my remaining areas aren't sunny enough.

I planted it in 2 areas, and then I staked them off.  The staking was partly to give the dog guidance and partly to give some guidance to a contractor who will be in my backyard on Thursday.  It turned out that I liked the look of having the yard sectioned off, so I also staked off my three flower beds where seeds are sprouting.  (It looks like all my sunflowers came up!!)  It has the benefit of breaking the yard up into manageable sections, it keeps the dog mostly out of areas where I don't want the seeds disturbed, and it also helps me remember what I have planted where, until the plants become identifiable.

Then I put down some rectangular pavers that I have on hand around the new plot of St. Augustine.   Mostly to contain it, partly to provide additional dirt cover, and partially because it looks nicer with a defined border.  I think I will make some type of concrete stones to edge it, but I haven't decided.  The pavers aren't my favorite, but I do have a heap of them on hand.  I also want/need to make some type of sign for the yoga platforms that says, "No Shoes, Please" as folks seem to be inclined to hop up on them with shoes on when I'm not looking.  One, you've probably learned that I think the bottoms of shoes are filthy; two, the soles leave prints on my beautiful surface; and three, hello, I lay up there, I'm trying to keep them clean...

Here's my yard this morning in the dappled sunshine.  Yes, the herbs are still sitting in their seedling pots... I still haven't gotten them planted in front.  Trust me, they are like an albatross around my neck... but they still look quite happy and healthy, so there's that...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reclaimed Lumber

One of the last things I did Friday afternoon at work before I shut down my computer was to do a quick Google seach for "reclaimed lumber Dallas".  I knew I wasn't going to get to any of the places this weekend, but I thought I would get a list of possible sources and do a little online research on them while watching TV.  Due to cost, I'm probably going to build my potting table for outside, rather than buying an old table to convert.

It turns out I won't need to do that research -- at least not for the potting table project:  My next door neighbor is getting a new deck, and he has offered his old deck material to me!  I need to go look at it -- he's already started disassembling the old deck -- and see if it is anything that I want.  BONUS.

Also on the topic of reclaimed lumber, I started taking apart the wooden pallet this weekend -- to build that row of hooks for outside my back door.  The disassembly is taking a little longer than expected, but there's definitely some worth while boards coming out of it.

If you Google "reclaimed lumber furniture" you really get some fabulous ideas!

A Patch of Traditional Green

I have been pretty set in my plan to get rid of all the lawn space in my backyard.  My dog, however, does not share the same enthusiasm for the plan that I do.  She has been quite confused about where to do her business since I took all the grass out.  And so, in the theme of "what we'll do for our pets" I went out and bought 24 squares of St. Augustine sod this weekend.  I'll admit that the patch of green is very pretty...  I'll have to figure out what type of creative border I am going to put around it, as I do not want it to spread, and I do not want to have to use an edger.  Ideas, anyone?

Here is the view from my back steps now -- the yard is coming along!

The rectangular raised bed is new.  The "walk the plank" sidewalk material is temporary (although the location is probably good) and the grill is just left there from Friday night -- not a permanent location.  The long narrow patch of mulch behind the grill is my raspberry patch.

I added the rectangular raised bed this weekend -- and got some unexpected help planting it when a girlfriend stopped over to see my yoga platforms.  It was fun to have someone help and it was fun to catch up on each other's lives while we dug in the dirt!  She had the itch to garden but doesn't have a yard.  For this box I just used some 2"x4"s that I had on hand; if I determine that i really like the size and location I will build it properly -- but for now, this totally works.  In it we planted two vining plants, watermelon and goards.  And then because I tend to overplant, I also put in sugar snap peas which I'll trellis vertically and did a border of green scallions.

I barely had the sod laid down and I was given immediate gratification/validation:

I think she approves.

Owl Shacks!

I got the owl houses built!  My neighbor came over and we built one for each of us, and installed them:

My owl house in the big pecan tree out front

I found the plans online courtesy of Shaw Creek Bird Supply.  You may view the plans here:

The boxes were very easy to build, and the cost was about $20 per box; it was a fun project.  My neighbor had so much fun with it she wants us to start a business making and selling them --  I so don't have time for that!  It was fun to have someone share my enthusiasm for the project though.

She is going to go buy the cedar shavings today; I've read you are supposed to put 3 inches of shavings inside the box.  I've read conflicting information on how high to hang the boxes and which direction to face them, so we'll see how these do.  We hung them facing North/Northwest as suggested by Shaw Bird Supply. 

After additional research, I think I'll give it a light coating of paint with a sponge to camouflauge the box; apparently that helps with predators.  I've also read you can rub some paraffin on it to discourage bees.  Hmmm.  The good news is, everything I've read seems to say the same thing about house size so it appears we got that part right.  And most everyone calls them owl shacks.  I like that...

Working the Herb Bed

Monday!  It's a gorgeous morning here after a warm dusty weekend followed by an overnight downpour.  My rain gauge says my area got .75 inches.  Fanstastic.  (The new rain barrel worked this time!) Ironically last night I hosed down everything in my backyard -- I was just so weary of the dust.  "They" said we had a 30% chance of rain, but when the sun went down it was all blue skies.  Frankly I don't take chances of rain below 40% seriously... thankfully I had checked the weather before I went to bed, and saw enough promise of rain that I rolled up my porch rug and moved my porch furniture closer in under the porch.

I'm happy to report that I accomplished everything on my weekend wish list other than I didn't totally get herbs into the front bed.  I did a lot of bed prep, but didn't get the plants in the ground.  I'm frustrated with myself about that -- I've had them a week now I think -- but I apparently have too many balls in the air.

Here is the bed I am working in -- it's in the front, adjacent to the front of my porch:

View from the driveway end of the bed

View from the front door end of the bed (porch to the right)
A few weeks ago I took 3 shrubs out of this bed.  I was going to take everything out, but decided that I like the screening they give to my porch.  I still need to work on getting the stumps out...  My plan is to plant the herbs behind the shrubs.  This bed faces southeast -- a fair amount of sun and the will provide shelter from the wind.  Perfect for my herbs I think!

The main issue with this area is that it has way too much dirt in it; I suspect that over the years, gardeners had just repeatedly added dirt.  The entire thing was mounded up so high with dirt that many of the border stones were buried.  Water run off is a problem with the slope, there isn't room to add any soil amendments, and visually it just isn't pleasing.  So I knew my first task was to get some of that dirt out...

These photos were taken after I had loosened dirt with my pick, and loaded up SIX WHEELBARROWS worth of dirt.  Six.  And really I think I could easily remove another 3-4 and be in really good shape.  It's insane! The good news is, the soil looks pretty good -- apparently what was added was good stuff.  And as with so many other areas of my yard, it contains lots of earthworms when you start digging around.  I was able to identify some low areas in the other front bed area so I dumped 3 of the wheelbarrow loads there.  The other three I put in the back -- two in the driveway center and one adjacent to the driveway.  Talk about a major redistribution of soil!

So, I still need to loosen and remove more dirt, and then loosen the new top layer and I should be ready to plop in my herbs and mulch the bed.  I hope that I can muster the energy to make that happen one afternoon/evening this week.  By 8 p.m. Sunday when I stopped working on this, the last project of the weekend, I was just beat.