Monthly Archives: April 2011

Things to Do for Earth Day

Earth Day can be a bit of a challenging holiday to celebrate. It’s about doing better for the planet, but figuring out a way to do so isn’t always easy. It’s a day to keep things simple but at the same time a day to consider how you can have a positive impact. Here are some basic ideas you can do to celebrate.

1. Don’t go shopping.

Sure, there are all sorts of “eco friendly” products you could be buying, but do you really need them? Especially if they’re being advertised as a way to celebrate Earth Day, take another look at whether or not they’re really worthwhile. Anything you buy in honor of Earth Day should be something you absolutely need, not just something you like that sounds kind of eco friendly. Your purchases should absolutely not be in honor of Earth Day – they should be necessary.

2. Don’t drive.

Consider your other options instead. Can you walk, bike or take public transportation?

If you must go somewhere by car, see if there’s any way to make it into a carpool. I know many people have to get to work every day, and other options aren’t always realistic.

3. Volunteer.

You can do a lot for the planet and for people in need. Take just a bit of time out of your Earth Day or your weekend if you have to work today, and do something for a good cause.

If you can’t volunteer, pick a good cause and send in a donation.

4. Plant a tree, a garden, wildflowers.

Make the world a more attractive place by encouraging more green things to grow. It can be in your own backyard or someplace in your local area.

5. Help an entrepreneur through Kiva or other microloan sites.

These loans can help out entrepreneurs in developing countries. You can choose the project you’re funding. Microloans aren’t perfect, but they’re a way to help people get a business going in communities that need help.

6. Go meatless for the day or longer.

If there were ever a day to eat entirely vegetarian, Earth Day is the day. Skip the meat and try out some great new vegetarian or vegan meals. You might find some new favorites.

7. Clean out your closets.

Get rid of the clutter in your own life and donate it to charity. You’ll be glad to be rid of the excess.

8. Turn off the TV, computer, etc.

How little electricity can you use today? Give it a try and see how many other ways you can enjoy life. For best results, unplug everything that isn’t in use to cut out the phantom power load.

9. Get outside.

Enjoy some of the natural beauty of your area. It might be in your backyard, it might be a hike in a local park or nature reserve. Just get outside and remember why our planet is beautiful and worth helping.

Are You Wasting Reusable Bags?

eusable shopping bags are a great idea in theory. You buy a bag, and bring it back every time you go shopping, no more need for paper or plastic bags.

The only problem is that many people don’t do it like that. They keep getting new reusable bags because they forget the old. The rate of reuse is so low that some grocery stores no longer offer a small discount for bringing your own bags because too few people do it.

I’ll admit the discounts are a nice thing when you can get them, but they shouldn’t be your only reason for bringing your own bags.

It’s easy to forget to bring your reusable bags to the store, if they aren’t right there when you head out. Most of us need it to be really convenient to remember the bags or it’s just not going to happen. Some people keep them by the door, others in the car, still others buy reusable bags that can be folded up small enough to fit into a purse.

Reusable bag quality matters too. You can get cheap ones many places, but some of those only last a few uses. They really aren’t as beneficial as better quality reusable bags that last far longer. My canvas bag, for example, puts up with quite a bit of abuse. I also have some old jeans that need to be made into shopping bags – far better than buying more reusable bags. Now I just need to make the time to get the job done.

If you’re developing a stack of reusable bags because you keep buying new ones when you forget, you need to build a new habit. Too many reusable bags are not good for the environment. Excess bags are a waste, especially if they’re just some sort of thicker plastic rather than fabric.

If you find yourself with a lot of extra reusable bags, a good start is to find people to give them to. Family members and friends who might use them are a pretty good place to start. They can make a nice sort of gift wrap, depending on style. Not quite as nice if they have store logos on them, but if you know people who won’t mind, not a bad gift either.

The main thing to remember is that any activity you do with the intent of being environmentally friendly only has a chance of actually being so if you do it correctly. Do it wrong and it becomes a feel good gesture that doesn’t actually accomplish anything and may even have more of negative effect than what you were trying to avoid.

Bee Swarm!

I seem to be having interesting weekends right now. Last weekend we had snow, this weekend temperatures into the 90s F, plus we had a swarm of bees hanging out on a tree branch.

I kept a close eye on the situation because welcome though they are, I didn’t want the bees thinking the eaves of my house are an appropriate place to build their hive, as happened last week to one of my neighbors. The bees made it from there inside the main part of the house and obviously that’s not where you want bees.

swarm of beesI was going to call Vector Control this morning to see if they’d come move the bees, and if that didn’t work, start seeking out local beekeepers. I’d far rather they be moved alive into a suitable home, as bees have enough trouble with Colony Collapse Disorder; they don’t need pest control killing them. But, as is common for honeybee swarms, they moved on about 24 hours after they arrived.

The kids were fascinated, and I gave various of our neighbors permission to come over and show their kids the swarm. Swarming bees are supposed to be relatively gentle after all, with no hive to protect. It’s a good lesson for the kids to be able to get so close and to see such interesting behavior from the bees.

The hardest part was keeping the kids out of the backyard the rest of the time. The bees arrived sometime on Saturday, so pretty much all weekend the backyard was off limits to play. I didn’t want them to accidentally agitate the bees, after all. My youngest took that pretty hard, as she always wants to go out and play.

It’s a bit difficult for the bees to find a good place for a hive that isn’t someone’s home around here. The neighborhood is too young for there to be many large trees, and it being southern California there aren’t many that just grow on their own either. I’m really hoping they found a good place.

My one wish is that I had gotten to see them leave, as it would have been nice to know the direction, in case a neighbor ends up with them. Be nice to warn them before the bees get comfortable and make sure they know there are better options than calling pest control. We think we missed the departure by minutes, as we kept checking on them all yesterday afternoon, and saw a few stragglers still on the branch, and a few more headed over the fence.

My son took a picture of the swarm at rest to school today for show and tell. Great adventure for a kindergartner, after all. Bees tend to inspire such fear and awe in young children.

Remember the Wildflowers for Your Garden

I always love planting a good vegetable garden. There’s just something about that fresh produce that can’t be touched by any other source. But my gardens are never just about the vegetables. I include flowers as well. Are you making sure to include wildflowers in your garden?

Wildflowers, especially of native varieties, are wonderful for your garden. They grow better than other plants as they’re adapted to the climate. Many attract bees and other pollinators, and can be beneficial to native wildlife.

Select the right varieties, and they’re also beautiful. That’s true even here in southern California, where most people don’t think of the native plants as beautiful. There are some great ones for gardens. The California poppy is perhaps the best known. There’s a quite lovely larkspur that is native to the part I live in right now that produces stunning, deep purple blooms. I learned about that one when it volunteered itself in the backyard last year.

Wildflowers may not be beautiful year round, which is why not all gardeners like them. If you want them to keep growing year after year, you have to let at least some of the flowers go to seed, which may not be the most attractive time for the plant either. But if you do this, you won’t have to keep planting them year after year. Some of the seeds should come up on their own. Do clear out the dry plants after they’ve gone to seed and add them to your compost pile.

Letting the seeds go on their own does mean a more random, natural look to your garden. That’s one of the things I love about it, but that is difficult for others to appreciate. If you want your flower garden to look a bit more organized, you may need to harvest the seeds yourself and plant them where you’d prefer that they grow.

Wildflower seeds shouldn’t be too hard to find. Look at local garden centers and find out which wildflowers are native to your area. You may also have to check with your Homeowner’s Association if you’re planting them where others can see, as some associations are really picky about what you can grow.

Choose well, plant them in the right kind of soil, and you should have some lovely native flowers to enjoy from your garden in the months to come. A good mix of species will add wonderful colors to your garden.

April Showers Bring… Snow? In Southern California!

It was a strange weekend. It was supposed to be my kids’ first soccer game. That got snowed out.

We had some warning of the weird weather, but none of the parents believed me when I insisted that the games would be canceled. They said the league only cancels games for thunderstorms. Well, ice, snow, and temperatures below 40 degrees F at game time turned out to be quite sufficient to cancel as well. Good thing, since we wouldn’t have let the kids play in those temperatures anyhow. Soccer uniforms aren’t too good for that, and I can’t imagine parents sitting around watching a game in such cold weather.

I’ve come to regret thinking so much about how soccer was going to go, however. I completely forgot to consider my garden, so now we’re waiting to see what survived the cold.

So far the tomatoes look all right. The peppers looked bad with the snow on the, but might survive after all. Both are in containers, so we should have brought them in to be sure they’d be all right. We’ve done that before. It’s probably a good thing we don’t have any other vegetables planted quite yet.

We’ve been cracking a few climate change jokes. We know that climate change is a long term, global phenomenon, but when local weather gets so strange, jokes are easy to make. A bit over a week ago, we had temperatures up to 90. Makes the snow feel so much colder when you aren’t used to it anymore. And this week we may get into the 80s again, depending on how the weather really goes. The whole winter was on the unusual side, with days of pouring rain in December to where we got the usual for an entire year that week, then a dry January, and just a lot of ups and downs with the temperatures.

Now we’re just waiting for summer. Everyone I talk to is convinced it’s going to be a really hot summer. We’ll have to see how it goes.