Monday, May 26, 2014

Four reasons why you should adjust your shower colder

Now that the temperature is starting to creep up here in NY, it’s good to remind ourselves to turn the shower a little colder each day.   Turn your shower to its normal temperature setting and then adjust so it’s slightly colder than you would like.  For those of you with young children, do the same for their bathwater. 

Adjusting the shower/bath water temperature colder:

1.     Acclimates your body to colder water so that you will be all set for summer swimming in lakes, rivers, pools and the ocean.  A scientist I knew who worked on a boat in Alaska once told me that everyone on the boat jumped into the freezing water each day to make sure that if they ever fell overboard, their bodies would be acclimated to the cold water. 

2.     Saves energy.  Not only do you save energy by not heating up the water, but you also save energy by not having to cool down your house or apartment after heating up the hot water and having the hot water travel through your pipes.

3.     Saves water.  At least for me, the colder the shower, the quicker the shower, and the less water used.

4.     Is good for your hair and skin.  Folk wisdom has it that cold water is better for your hair and skin than warm water.  (Although, this might just be due to quicker showers (#3), rather than anything intrinsic about the water temperature.)

Of course, you could also try not showering for a while and growing your microbiome instead, as was described in this interesting NYT article:  My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment

Friday, May 23, 2014

Weeds for sale! Change the way you think about your yard!

Dandelion greens for sale.

Yesterday I saw dandelion leaves for sale at the local Mrs. Greens. Dandelions have been on my mind lately.  Earlier I wrote, “When weeding becomes foraging, it’s a change in mindset.” Realizing that the dandelions growing in your yard can be added to your sandwich is one thing, but thinking of dandelion leaves as being worth $3.49 a bunch brings it to a whole other level.  Maybe we should encourage the kids in our neighborhoods to ditch the lemonade stands and instead harvest and sell the neighborhood’s dandelions. This is yet one more reason why we should refrain from using pesticides in our yards.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

This week in the Garden: (Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Dogwood tree (Cornus florida) with azaleas.
When I planted the dogwood, it was just a foot tall.

 Candystripe phlox (Phlox subulata)that I planted three years ago.
This year some of the flowers in the middle are all-pink.

Lettuce, peas and kale
I like to grow my veggies all mixed together.

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and Jacob's ladder (Polemonium reptans).
I bought the Jacob's ladder from the Native Plant Center sale at WCC two years ago.
 Last year I scattered columbine seeds that I had collected next to the Jacob's ladder.
I love the combination! 

(This post was shared on Green Thumb Thursday.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Imagine if … the energy from footsteps could be harvested and converted into electricity.

Think about all of the people racing up and down the stairs of a busy train station, the children running around in a school gym, and the folks dancing at a zumba class.  Think about capturing all of that energy.  Pavegen, a company based in London, uses recycled materials to manufacture tiles that can convert the kinetic energy of footprints into electricity.  Earlier this year, Pavagen installed 8 of their tiles at the Riverdale Country School, a private school in NY.  The tiles power a smartphone charging center at the school. 

Why stop with footsteps?  If an emergency radio can be powered by a crank, wouldn’t it be nice if revolving doors could power the lights?  How about harvesting all of the kinetic energy in a playground – swings, slides, ladders? 

(This post was shared on Reduce Footprints Meet & Greet LinkUp)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ten Reasons Why You Should Grow Asparagus

Asparagus growing in my garden.  Each crown sends up multiple spears.  

1. Deer, rabbits, woodchucks, chipmunks and squirrels leave asparagus alone!

2. It’s a perennial!  Plant it this year and you’ll enjoy it for decades to come!   Each spring it will come up whether you’ve gotten around to gardening yet or not.

3. It’s fun to see asparagus spears popping out of the soil – they really look like someone just stuck them in the ground.

4. You can start harvesting and eating homegrown asparagus early in the season, before most people plant their tomatoes outside.

5. An established asparagus patch can be harvested again and again over a two month period, letting you enjoy lots of asparagus for 8 – 10 weeks.

6. After the harvest period is over, the plants grow tall (up to five feet) and leaf out, transforming from a food item into an attractive fern-like plant.

7. You won’t have to worry about shopping for fresh veggies or finding a place to store them in your fridge – instead, just go out and pick some asparagus.

8. Asparagus is very nutritious.  It’s an excellent source of vitamin K, folate, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C and vitamin E according to The World's Healthiest Foods Website.

9. Growing your own asparagus is so much cheaper than buying it at the store.

10. It’s yummy!

Last Tuesday's harvest of asparagus.
Six days later,  I harvested double this amount.  

One of the things I LOVE about growing asparagus is that none of the animals around here eat it, so it can be incorporated into your landscaping without requiring deer fencing.    My asparagus patch has coexisted with deer, rabbits, woodchucks, chipmunks and squirrels for a decade without any nibbling whatsoever.

For more information on growing asparagus, check out: The Old Farmer's Almanac.

(This post was shared on Green Thumb Thursdays, The HomeAcre HopHealthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop and Real Food Fridays.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

How about a rain barrel or compost bin?

If you live in Westchester, you can purchase a reduced-cost rain barrel and/or compost bin.   Just reserve them by Thursday May 15 for pick up on Sunday May 18 at Croton Point Park.   Click here for more information. 

Compost bins and rain barrels offer so many benefits – from saving you money to lowering your greenhouse gas emissions!  

Composting your kitchen and yard waste allows you to decreases the amount of waste you send to the landfill and also decrease the fuel needed to transport your waste.   It's also is great for your garden!

Rain barrels let you collect the rainwater that falls on your roof and other impervious surfaces.  Not only does collecting this rainwater help prevent surface runoff and erosion, but it also provides you with a free source of rain water for irrigation and other needs.  Rainwater is free of added chlorine and fluoride, so it’s great to use on your garden. 

Two of my seven compost bins.  The milk container on top was
repurposed as a collection bin for compost scraps in the kitchen

I add new vegetable scraps on top, and then cover  them
with shredded leaves (kept in the second compost bin).

I’ve had a compost bin or pile in just about every place I’ve lived.  I’ve been curious about rain barrels for a while, but I've never had one.  What about you?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Imagine if … roads, parking lots and driveways were embedded with solar energy collectors.

SolarRoadways, a husband-and-wife team, is making solar tiles that can do just that.  The tiles are strong enough to be driven over, and they collect energy from the sun.   SolarRoadways has already built a prototype driveway and are now in the midst of an indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign to raise money to build a manufacturing plant. 

Prototype Solar Driveway by SolarRoadways 
Think about the enormous surface area of asphalt exposed to the sun - all of the miles and miles of roads, parking lots, and driveways.  Imagine if the sunlight reaching those roads could be collected and converted into electricity to make communities less dependent on fossil fuels.  Solar tiles in roads allow energy to be produced close to where it will be used, which is much more efficient than transporting energy over long distances.  Decentralizing our energy sources also makes us much more resilient- for example, severe weather would be less likely to lead to widespread power outages. 

One more perk of using solar tiles is that the solar energy captured could be used to melt snow and ice on highways and driveways during winter.  The benefits would be huge:  energy and resource savings (no need to buy and transport salt!), increased safety and no more salt contamination of the surrounding environment.   

Monday, May 5, 2014

Weeds – if you can’t beat them, eat them! Local foraging for dandelion greens and garlic mustard.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the nutritional value of eating weeds such as garlic mustard, dandelions and other weeds that are abundant.  They are supposedly ultra-healthy and packed with lots of nutrients.  Having no shortage of dandelions on my property, I decided to give it a go.

When weeding becomes foraging, there is a complete change in perspective.  No longer are weeds nuisances; instead they become prizes to be collected.  I find this mindset refreshing!

Homegrown Common Dandelion
(Taraxacum officinale)
that I subsequently harvested.

Washing dandelion greens in a salad spinner

We ate the dandelion greens in a salad and also in sandwiches.  The verdict:  not as bitter as we were expecting.   They made a nice addition to the salad, but we liked having them mixed with milder greens.  In a sandwich, they were fine on their own as the sole greens.  

Weed greens are usually more bitter/strong flavored than your average salad green.  Many greens such as lettuce are mild in the early spring and become more bitter as weather warms up and the plants bolt.  I suspect this may also be the case with dandelion leave - that the spring leaves will be milder than those harvested in summer.  If anyone can attest to this, please let me know.  

Eating locally grown foods is available to many people who might have thought otherwise.  If you have some weeds growing near you, they very well may be edible. A great resource for finding out more about foraging for and preparing edible weeds such as dandelion leaves is Wildman Steve Brill's website.

Another abundant weed to try is Garlic Mustard (Alliaria officinalis).  Garlic Mustard, originally from Europe, can be invasive here in the northeast US.   It is a biennial- meaning it lives for two years.  The first year it grows as a basal rosette.  After overwintering, it sends up a tall shoot and flowers  the second year.  Often year-one plants and year-two plants will be found next to each other.

A whole bunch of Garlic Mustard
 Garlic Mustard rosette

One popular way to eat garlic mustard is as pesto.  Google "garlic mustard pesto" and you'll pull up pages of recipes.   Most involve substituting garlic mustard greens for  basil leaves in a basic basil pesto recipe.  Some recipes also use walnuts in place of the traditional pine nuts,  and some omit the garlic or use some garlic mustard taproot in place of garlic.  Here is one example to try:

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

4 cups garlic mustard greens

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Have you ever foraged for weeds?  Let me know if you have a favorite way to eat them.

(This post was shared on Tuesdays with a Twist and Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.)