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NRDC: Trashy Habits — Reducing Your Waste

NRDC: Trashy Habits — Reducing Your Waste.  So, everything is about the “Green Life” these days.  Linux themes, many blogs, and even some green washing.  One of my favorite sites for information is the Natural Resource Defense Council.  And, it looks like they’ve picked up on the demand for Green Life blogs (linked above).  Today’s blog was on Trash.  A favorite topic of many the greeny.   How do we dispose of our waste in a more responsible manner so that we’re not sweeping the issue under the rug?  The author-urbanite provides some quick logic and a no-nonsense look at what we waste, why, and how to reduce it.

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Eco lunches

Peter's Eco Lunch Bag
A homemade duck-cloth lunch bag.

I’ve noticed lately two things:  1) there are a lot of tips to show you how to build a green lunch and 2) there is a lot of talk about how organic food doesn’t hold any more nutrition than conventional food.  The discussion that could happen based on these trends is amazing, and I would like to add a few points to hopefully further the discussion. Continue reading Eco lunches

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Mulch Mulch Mulch

Apparently people like mulch!  This blog has seen a steady increase in hits since I posted the ‘free mulch’ tidbits several weeks ago.  So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to preach to the choir about some mulch benefits:

  • Mulch keeps the soil warmer
  • Mulch retains more water
  • Enough mulch naturally squelches weeds
  • Mulch adds more nutrients to soil, especially compacted soil
  • By adding more nutrients, mulch helps attract beneficial creepy crawlies – like worms & bugs
  • Worms & bugs help aerate the soil, making it less compacted
  • Less compacted soil is better for growing things
  • When we have things growing in our yards, we attract beneficial insects
  • Bees are beneficial insects/pollinators
  • We would do well to attract bees
  • So mulch, mulch, mulch!

That’s all for now folks!

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Poplar Suckers

The History

While putting the Tolman Guide together, we learned that poplar trees are great soil remediators. They take up toxins from soil, cleaning the soil. I already knew that sunflowers do the same thing, and in ten years sunflowers, when planted on a brownfield, will clean the land. What I didn’t know, and was sad to learn this year, was that poplars are not ideal for urban spaces.

In fact, the poplar tree can be so prolific as to act like a weed. Because of the compaction and density of houses, poplar trees don’t grow like they would in open country, and the trees (according to three arborists, 2 certified) are weaker and prone to falling as they get older. My husband and I were quite disappointed to learn this because we had been quite pleased with the very quick shade they brought. Several of the ‘suckers’ shot up 6+ feet, some reaching 15 feet, in about 18 months!

It started with the neighbor wanting to cut down his ‘problem’ tree. He hired a tree guy (not a certified arborist) to cut down this tree he thought would impact his foundation in 40 years. This was the summer of 2007. The tree is directly on the property line, and we wanted the shade and did not want to pay this shady tree guy, so we instructed him to leave ‘our’ tree alone. Shortly after half of the tree was felled, we began noticing these weedy things in our yard. The ‘weeds’ followed the root line of the felled tree. This summer, 2008, we consulted our Audubon book and learned our prolific weeds were indeed white poplar. These suckers, as they are called, kept popping up in odd and annoying places, and they were getting more difficult to mow over; so we called in the professionals.

We had three arborists come out. Two are certified by the ISA. The low-ball bid (the first, non-certified) quoted $300 to remove all the trees. There were about a half dozen. The second, $600, and we’d get the wood chips they would make on-site. The third (Green Options) quoted $2000 but offered a home remedy. All agreed we were addressing the problem at an early, preventive stage.

The Remedy

James Kinder of Green Options saw our plight and suggested we do it ourselves. Being in the infancy of the problem, he instructed us as follows:

  1. Cut all tall (tree-like, not weed-like) suckers
  2. Within one-half hour of cutting, saturate fresh trunk with vegetable oil

The trees take big gulps of oxygen trying to survive after being cut, and by dousing them with oil, you effectively suffocate the tree preventing it from spreading.

Next, you have to take care of the weed-like suckers. Kinder gave us a homemade recipe for weed-killer. He told us that Roundup is actually based on a similar (or the same) base as vinegar, it just has all the unnecessary stuff added.

Homemade Weed Killer Recipe

  • 1-gallon white-distilled vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dye-free liquid soap (like dish soap)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  1. Add all ingredients in a pan
  2. Boil
  3. Put in a spray bottle
  4. Spray on plants while hot

Next, cover the severely affected area with newspaper, then add 90% weed-free topsoil. The area should be ready for planting in about 6 months.

The Results

We noticed results with the weed killer within a few hours, most noticeably 24 hours after application. You spray the leaves of the sucker, and within a day the sucker begins to wilt. Some plants come up easily, some do not. We ordered 4 cubic yards of screened, weed-free topsoil. We covered the area, about 15′ long and 3′ wide, with newspaper, a few sheets thick throughout. Then we shoveled the dirt onto the newspapers. Then the rains came. We’ll catch up in 6 months and see how well it worked. Kinder instructed us that the few suckers that will remain should then be easy to pull up by the roots.

It’s important to remember that all ingredients are found in the kitchen. Most people have vinegar and vegetable oil on-hand. I didn’t ask what properties sea salt added over iodized salt but would conjecture the lack of iodine. Some grass was killed, but we buried the rest in soil anyway. This process is green, but do be mindful of the smell of the hot vinegar concoction; I have not had levels tested for toxicity.

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The Urban Homestead

A lot dealing with sustainability answers the question, “How can I do for myself?” A major component of sustainability is keeping things local, and what’s more local than supplying for yourself from your place on this earth? Whether it be an apartment, a small house with a small yard, or a farmhouse, a new book breaks it down in simple ideas for the Average American.

The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficiency (review and blog) examines this question in a simple, easy-to-read format. It’s what we did with the Tolman Guide, it but makes the techy stuff easier to swallow. In The Urban Homestead you will find easy to understand tips for making your own cleaning products, how-to-compost and what to look for, and even a lengthy section on fermentation and storing food.

I will admit, I was a bit envious when I read it. The thought, “We did this first!” kept screaming through my head. But, they did it in a manner that’s easier to understand, and they hit many highlights of living in the city.

A must-read for any person who wants to live closer to the land in the city.

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Backyard Chickens Part Two

The trek into having chickens has become more informative. For the City of Portland, a permit for chickens is only required if you have 4 or more chickens. It is suggested that you follow the guidelines for having 4 or more chickens even if you have less, just in case you want to have more later. Plan ahead, in other words!

The City of Portland decides the code and Multnomah County enforces the code. The basic requirements are that the coop’s outer reaches (the chicken’s enclosure) is not less than 15 feet from your neighbors home. Although the requirement is quite flexible, it is suggested that you keep the coop on your property and contact all neighbors within 200 feet of the chicken enclosure. Keep the odors under control, and don’t feed the chickens things that will attract rats.

For more information, check out the following links:

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What should I compost?

If you don’t want to tend to a compost pile, an easier way may be worms and Vermicomposting. You could start by calling your plant stores/nurseries and see if they have anything.

It was good timing then for the website! Check these sections out especially…

This is a nifty set of pamphlets the NRCS put together…

University of Wisconsin did these, here’s a link to all sections which are formulated for the Midwest, especially Wisconsin/Michigan along the lakeshore. You should be able to download all the info. They changed it slightly in the 2 years since I initially found it – but all the info should be there.