Monthly Archives: March 2012

Time For Action on Clothianidin Pesticide

I’ve posted in the past about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in bees, but I haven’t paid much attention to the topic lately because I haven’t seen much going on. That said, it’s clearly still a problem when you take a look at the losses beekeepers are suffering in their colonies. That’s why beekeepers are petitioning the EPA to suspend the use of Clothianidin, a pesticide which is suspected to be at least a partial cause of CCD.

The trouble is that it’s really hard to say if Clothianindin is the problem or no, as testing on it may have been poorly designed. That said, some beekeepers say they have greater losses than usual when they bring their bees to crops treated with Clothianindin. Obviously, that’s suspicious to them.

The worst part is that the EPA is already aware of problems with Clothianindin. It’s less risky to agricultural workers, fish and wildlife than other pesticides, but they don’t feel the situation merits a ban at this time.  It has, however, been banned in some European countries.

While it’s likely that Clothianindin is not the only cause of Colony Collapse Disorder, it looks as though it’s probably a factor, and that’s worth considering. If you want to do something to help, there are a few things you can do.

You can get involved with groups such as the Pesticide Action Network. They have suggested actions you can take, such as contacting Congress.

You can also make sure your property is friendly to bees. Have a variety of flowers available to them, and don’t use pesticides in your own yard. Native plants are best for bees, but you can always grow a garden for your family while attracting bees. It may not sound like much, but it’s one of the best things you can do directly for the bees in your area.

Coping With a Clogged Dishwasher

We had a little problem here last week – the dishwasher wasn’t draining well at all. I could hear a bit of water draining, but there was still a significant amount of water in the bottom of it when I checked. Of course, as the dirty water was staying in there, the dishes weren’t exactly getting clean either. Needless to say, I was close to calling in my fallback dishwashers (AKA the kids) by the time the plumber got here.

This time, it was an issue I needed the plumber for, as he took out parts I wasn’t comfortable working with. He had to detach the various hoses, and blast them clean with water. Worked really well. That said, we did try some other steps before calling on the plumber.

The first step is to make sure the garbage disposal is clear. I do this every time I run the dishwasher because I don’t always know if someone has dropped something down there. It just takes a moment to run the disposal and ensure that it will be clear for the dishwasher.

The next thing was to get the water out of the bottom. I had been using a cup to scoop water out, then my sometimes efficient husband brought out the shop vac, which handled the water issue quite easily.

A quick check showed that there was nothing outside the drainage basket, which is an area I check regularly. I had pulled some pineapple tidbits from there the other day, so I knew the kids weren’t being careful when they loaded the dishwasher. Or somebody wasn’t.

The drainage basket can be pretty easy to remove, just find the screws or bolts and remove them. Check your owner’s manual to be sure you’re doing this right. Once there, you can clean out any mess you can see, but you may not be done yet.

Now, I wouldn’t use a drain cleaner in a dishwasher. The acid may be too strong for that kind of pipe and besides, that stuff’s nasty and dangerous. You could end up with an even bigger problem if you tried it. Better is something like your typical baking soda and vinegar drain clearing procedure. I’ve seen a few sites suggest it, and I assume it’s safe enough. Pour some baking soda down the drain inside the dishwasher, followed by some vinegar and let it work for a while. Pour hot water or run the dishwasher to clear this out.

We were lucky, of course, in that it wasn’t the dishwasher pump causing the problem. I had been pretty sure, as I know the sounds my dishwasher makes when running, including the sound of draining water, and the draining water sound had decreased, but not disappeared, so I was confident that we had a plugged drain and wouldn’t need to replace a part.

After all this, it’s probably unsurprising that the dishwasher looked pretty bad down in the bottom. All the stuff that settled out as the water failed to drain was just sitting there, and I didn’t want it getting sprayed all over the dishes.

The solution was citric acid. You can buy dishwasher cleaners that have this in them, or just buy it separately. Amazon has it available in a lot of sizes. It’s a good boost for your regular dishwasher detergent. I just poured it into the dispenser in my dishwasher, ran it until the citric acid dispensed and had been in the water for a bit, then turned the dishwasher off and let it sit overnight. That took care of a lot of the mess. Get food grade citric acid, and it’s pretty safe stuff. Still acid of course, so you should be a little careful. Using it with my regular dishwasher detergent has resulted in dishes even cleaner and shinier than I’m used to.

7 Homemade Weed Killers

Herbicides can be hard on the environment, but many people like them because it’s the easy way to get rid of weeds. The problem is that they can make your yard toxic to other creatures as well as your children. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to kill weeds in your yard that aren’t dangerous to much aside from the weeds.

My goal here is to keep things as safe over time as possible. There may be some risk with certain products at the start, and you should be careful of how much of some weed killers you get into the soil. Anything other than the boiling water may stick in the soil a little and make it harder to grow other plants there if you overdo it.

1. Boiling water

I use this method regularly. It’s pretty time consuming, but there’s no dangerous residue and it’s effective on many weeds. You may have to treat an area a few times, as boiling water doesn’t get down to the roots. Be persistent, and the roots will have a much harder time recovering. That said, I’ve found that dandelions seem to recover really quickly from having boiling water poured on them. Those things are stubborn!

The great part is that the boiling water cools within minutes. I’ve made the mistake of stepping on areas I’ve treated shortly after pouring the water, and it can be uncomfortably hot, but I have yet to get a burn. You do have to be careful with the water when you’re pouring it, of course, as it will burn you at that point.

Boiling water will of course kill all plant material it comes in contact with, so you don’t want to risk pouring it too near plants you actually care about.

2. Cover them

If you cover a weed, it will die due to the lack of sunlight. A few layers of newspaper will work well, but you can place just about anything on top of a weed to kill it. I have a circle of bare earth right where one of the kids left a bucket in the middle of my lawn, in fact. This method is slow and highly subject to the cover being moved, but if it stays long enough, that weed will die.

This is a part of why mulching around your garden is such a good idea. It covers the areas where weeds might grow, plus helps to keep the soil moist.

3. Pull the weeds yourself

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but pulling weeds by hand and with appropriate garden tools absolutely works. You can always assign the job to the kids once they know how to tell a weed from a wanted plant. Do your best to get the root when you pull weeds, and try not to spread any seeds.

4. Vinegar

Many people swear by vinegar as a weed killer. It’s an acid, and it works. Don’t dilute it with water, but some say you can mix it with a squirt of soap to make it more effective. The plain vinegar you use in your kitchen should work, but you can also use pickling vinegar or other stronger formulations. Be careful as the acidity goes up, as you can get a burn from the more acidic varieties.

Vinegar will dilute in the soil over time, but it may be too much for young plants, so be careful about using it near your garden. It may make the soil sterile for a year or two if too much vinegar gets into the soil. That’s a benefit if it’s a place you don’t want anything growing, but a serious problem for your lawn or garden. The more acidic your mixture, the more likely you are to have a problem of this sort.

5. Salt

This is one to be really careful with. There’s a reason why salting the earth was used in war. Nothing will grow in soil that is too salty. But if you do it carefully, it can kill weeds for you. Do your best to keep the salt on the leaves of the weeds, not in your soil. This is not a personal favorite, but in places you really don’t want anything growing, it’s a pretty effective treatment.

6. Corn gluten meal

If you use corn gluten meal, you need to be sure you buy a type made as a pre-emergent herbicide. It doesn’t kill weeds so much as it keeps seeds from sprouting. On the plus side, you can use it in areas where you’ll be planting grown plants, as it won’t effect them.

7. Maintain a healthy lawn and garden

If your lawn and garden don’t give space to weeds, weeds will have a much harder time growing. You aren’t so much killing weeds as denying them the chance to live in the first place.

All this said, remember that many weeds serve a purpose. Clover and dandelions attract bees, for example. If you can stand them in your lawn, leave them be. If you can’t, at least try to plant other plants to attract bees, such as native flowers.

12 Books to Help You Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle

It’s not easy making your lifestyle more sustainable. We don’t always know all the options or how to get started on the things we’ve heard about. Fortunately, information is fairly easy to come by, so you can take steps as you’re ready for them.

Here are some books that may help you to live more sustainably. You may be able to find some titles through your library, but if you’re going to refer to them regularly, buying your own copy either on Kindle or as a real book is worth it.

1. Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre

If you have a quarter acre available, you can grow an amazing amount of food for your family. This book says you may get up to 85% of your family’s needs off that space, and earn money while doing so. All in all, it sounds like a good deal, and a fair bit of work. It covers intensive gardening practices plus a bit about keeping backyard chickens.

Some reviewers on Amazon feel this book doesn’t go into enough depth on the various topics it covers, but others appreciate the simplicity of the descriptions and say it goes into plenty of detail.

2. Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces

So you don’t have a lot of space to grow a garden. That’s not as much of a problem as you might think. This book will help you grow a garden even if you don’t have much of a backyard or even none at all.

3. Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

If you’re going to be serious about your garden, you need to learn how to save seeds from year to year. This book covers the seed saving techniques for 160 vegetables, as well as pollination techniques and starting vegetables from seed.

4. Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third Edition

If you want to live sustainably, you need to pick up a variety of traditional skills that most of us no longer know. This book has plenty of photos to illustrate the skills you may want to learn. Most of us won’t use all of the skills, but if you’re serious about your sustainable lifestyle you’ll probably find some skills you’ll be happy to pick up.

5. Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space

Whether your garden space is limited or you just want to make the most of it, vertical gardening can help you grow far more produce in less space by focusing on plants that climb, and low growing plants that are good companions for them. It also covers a lot of basic gardening techniques, which you may not need if you’ve been gardening already.

6. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables

Canning isn’t the only way to preserve your harvest when you have a garden. A traditional root cellar can help you preserve many fruits and vegetables without putting them in the refrigerator, freezing them or canning them.

This book will help you choose the produce which will store best. It will also help you figure out how to make your root cellar or substitute another cool, dry space in your home if you don’t have the space for a traditional root cellar.

7. Encyclopedia of Country Living, 10th Edition

If you want a thorough reference for country living, this is the book. It covers topics such as alternative energy, candle making, primitive living, raising earthworms, food preservation, seed saving, beekeeping… the list goes on.

The problem some people have is with the sheer volume of information. It doesn’t always get into the details that everyone needs. It’s an encyclopedia, not a book to sit and read, and not everyone finds the format usable.

8. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch — Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods

So you aren’t quite sure which foods you should make versus buy. It’s a common problem, and this book addresses it quite nicely. It’s mostly recipes, but also covers raising livestock and whether particular foods are worth the trouble of making them. Worth it isn’t just cost either; it’s the nutritional values that may be even more important in the long run than the upfront cost and time spent.

9. Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter

Not everyone wants a McMansion these days. Many people are recognizing that smaller homes are a great way to live more sustainably, as they really limit how much stuff you can own. This book provides examples of many tiny homes and gives tips on how you can plan your own.

10. Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World

If you’re into things like making your own laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, canning and so forth, or if you want to get into those things, this book is for you. It will help you learn to make all kinds of products at home, even if you live in an apartment.

11. The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses

If you’re serious about growing your own food, greenhouses are one of those things you may get interested in. Being able to grow your own produce regardless of the weather outside is a wonderful thing, and this book will help you do so, and you don’t even have to buy a prebuilt greenhouse, as the book includes instructions to build your own. You’ll also learn which vegetables will do best in unheated greenhouses.

12. DIY Projects for the Self-Sufficient Homeowner: 25 Ways to Build a Self-Reliant Lifestyle

If you’re trying to go gradually more self sufficient, this book will help you with the steps required to get off the grid, including backup systems. Some of the ideas will require more advanced skills than others, but there will be something for most skill levels.