Friday, April 27, 2012

It's Arbor Day

I never knew the billboard industry was so cutthroat. But I read an eye-opening article on MSN yesterday, "A crime by the highway: Poisoning trees to make billboards easier to see," and it, well, opened my eyes to the underbelly of billboard advertising.

To sum up, tall plant growth can block motorists' views of the advertisements, so billboard companies often obtain permits to trim or even remove the trees surrounding their signs. Logical. But permits cost money, and then they have to pay a landscaping professional to properly dispose of the trees, and sometimes they would like to cut down a larger area of trees than the permit allows. Wouldn't it be convenient—and cheaper—if the trees, oh, just happened to die? And you know, a can of strong herbicide in the hands of one of their own employees would cost a lot less than hiring a landscaper...

So some companies have been illegally poisoning the trees to clear the line of sight to their roadside advertisement. The article focuses on one employee who refused to continue these despicable duties (only in his job description unofficially, of course) and was fired.

I understand that the clearing of some woodland is a necessary part of civilization, but the preservation of forests is essential to keeping our atmosphere suitable for human life. And, we all know that spraying toxic chemicals all over the place is never a good idea.

Plus, trees are nice to look at, which brings me to Arbor Day. That's today. The perfect day to offset the illegal removal of our precious natural air filters by planting one of your own. You don't even need a yard; small citrus trees can grow in pots in a sunny room of your home.

If you don't have the space or the means to plant a tree, then I say to you, take a hike! Really. Go outside and walk through the woods and enjoy some trees today.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lazy Earth Day

This Sunday, celebrate Earth Day the lazy man's way:  Just stay in bed!

Start conserving energy the night before by unplugging your alarm clock.  Then on Earth Day, you can reduce your carbon footprint without lifting a finger!

You won't burn any fossil fuels driving, because you won't go anywhere.

You won't waste any water, because you won't shower.

You won't waste any electricity, because you won't get on the computer.

If you do haul yourself out of bed to eat during the day, you won't even waste any energy cooking, because you'll just eat whatever leftovers are in the fridge.  And you'll eat them cold.  Right out of the container (no extra dishes to wash later—saves water).

See?  It's easy to lessen your impact on the environment.

But, if you do feel like putting in a little more effort and being extra green this Earth Day, check out our ideas from previous Earth Days:

Beyond the Day (2011)
Earth Day: Easy to Extreme (2010)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Farm-Fresh Dinner

I told you about those radish sprouts I discovered on Saturday and about our field trip to Heritage Prairie Farm earlier that morning.  Well, one thing led to another, and we had a delicious, farm-fresh dinner on Saturday night, and I just had to share it.  Or share a photo of it, anyway.

Here it is.

That's the smoked Gouda bread we bought from the market, and the locally raised pork chop glazed with the pumpkin honey mustard.  And there's our radish sprout salad, which included apples from last fall's harvest and a couple of baby shallots from our yard and was served warm with pumpkin seed oil and apple cider vinegar.  The roasted potatoes were not actually fresh from the farm.  They are grocery-store potatoes that have been in our pantry for a while now. 

But whatever. Three quarters of the meal was farm fresh, and it was outstanding.  And, it came together pretty quickly, too.  The only thing missing was a pie for dessert.  If only I'd been thinking ahead!

I can't wait to see what our hard work in the garden can bring to the kitchen table for the rest of the summer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Garden Bonus

Saturday was our first official day working in our community garden plot, and as I was digging up the spaces where I would plant the first spring crops, I spotted... volunteer radish sprouts!

In a community garden, you don't expect plants to come back year after year, because the whole thing is mowed over in the fall and rough-tilled in the spring.  The dirt that was in your garden last season is now mixed with your neighbor's dirt, and any plants you left behind could be chopped up or buried or who knows what.  Well, some of my radishes bolted last spring when the weather got too hot too quickly, and they went to flower and then seed, so I just left them there.  Out of laziness, I guess.  But—surprise, surprise!—the seeds survived the till and germinated on their very own. 

The tiny seedlings were concentrated where my radishes had been last summer, but they were also scattered around the general area.  I left a patch of them to develop fully, but I picked a whole bunch that became our salad that night.  I believe these are what gourmet restaurants call micro-greens.  We call them bonus food.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Field Trip to Heritage Prairie Farm

Have you seen the documentary Food, Inc.?  It's meant to educate viewers on where their food comes from.  If you're a meat eater, I definitely recommend you watch it, and I'd like to assure you that it is not a grotesque exposé of farm animal cruelty, and it is not meant to turn you vegan.  Not even close.  If you are a vegetarian or vegan, I might still recommend it to you, because it's not just about where your meat comes from.  It's about where all your food comes from.

The documentary came out in 2009, but we just watched it a couple of weeks ago.  Not surprisingly, it was a good companion to Fast Food Nation (read the book; the FFN movie just doesn't cover it all), which I read and we watched a few years ago.  I'm not going to go on and on about it, because that's not the point of this post, but here's a brief summary so you can understand what the movie has to do with today's field trip.

Most of what we eat is beef, chicken, corn and soybeans.  Giant agricultural companies pretty much control the production of these products, and the demand for the products is so high that a factory-line system is the only way to keep production high and prices low.  This means the livestock are crowded together and eat a cheap corn diet, and it requires fast-moving slaughter houses where contamination of the meat and crippling injuries to the workers are commonplace. The live animals are pumped with hormones and antibiotics, and the meat is treated with things like ammonia.  Meanwhile, smaller farms are being crushed financially by these big companies, and even the farmers working for the big companies aren't being treated all that well.  The moral of the story is that it's better to let the animals roam around a little, eat grass like they're meant to do, and grow at a natural pace.  And, you should read the labels on all of your other food, because corn is in everything, and soy is in a lot of it, too, and you're supporting the big guys when you buy it.  The whole idea is that we should buy food that is healthy for ourselves and fair to the farmers (and, in the case of meats, that was raised healthily and humanely).

So, today we went to the market at Heritage Prairie Farm, a pretty cool place about 35 minutes from our house.  We tasted herb-infused honey and medicinal-mushroom–infused green tea, talked to some goats and a donkey, took a peek inside a bee hive and then bought some expensive pork chops, a jar of pumpkin honey mustard, a roll of Wisconsin goat cheese and a small loaf of smoked Gouda bread.  Oh, and we had a "cinnamon honey cow latte." 

The people were really friendly, and I think we'll go back—gotta try Chuck's Wood-Fired Pizzas!—to check out the seasonal changes in products.  But it sure ain't cheap to give up hormone-rich meat and dairy. 

I think we'll move slowly in that direction, making meat more of a luxury item, trying to get more out of our own garden.  I'll definitely be more hesitant to buy the really big boneless skinless chicken breasts.  (Those aren't natural!)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Ants, Naturally

It's that time of year.  The insects want in.

I saw a few ants in our first-floor bathroom, apparently coming in from under a baseboard.  What could possibly have lured them from outdoors into the bathroom, I can't imagine.  It's just a toilet and a sink, a bar of soap.  No crumbs of cat food like near our back door, where—big surprise—I found more ants.  The back-door ants do not appear to be of the same colony as the bathroom ants, because there we found no ants between the bathroom and the cat dish.  So, we have two infiltrations.  What to do about it?

Of course, there are multitudes of pesticides, especially for ants, that you can spray around the perimeter of your house to kill the bugs and keep them out.  But those aren't particularly green, are they?  Here's the natural solution:  Borax, sugar, and vinegar.

Borax (a naturally occurring sodium compound), if you don't know, is a laundry booster, but just like baking soda and vinegar, it has so many other household applications.  We use it to clean our toilet bowls.  It really makes that porcelain shine!  It's also a great ant killer.

Note: Just because borax is natural, it's not necessarily environmentally friendly. What I mean is it can be toxic in varying amounts to people, animals, and plants—it does kill insects, after all.  So, don't sprinkle it all over your house if you have pets or kids, and don't use it near your food.  Instead, make a borax trap, as I'll describe now.

In a small plastic container with a lid, like a yogurt cup or a Cool Whip container, mix three parts sugar with one part borax.  Add just enough water to moisten the granules and mix them together.  They'll turn syrupy.  Poke some holes in the sides of the container near the bottom but above the surface of the borax-sugar bait.  Put the lid on the container and then set it outside, out of the way of normal people/animal traffic, near where the ants are marching.

Second step: Indoors, use a vinegar-soaked cloth to wipe down the floor and baseboards or other surfaces where the ants have been.  The vinegar is not toxic, so it's safe to use liberally inside.

The sugar disguises the borax and attracts the ants, so they head for the trap instead of for your kitchen, and they eat the borax-laced sweetness and carry it back to their buddies to share.  But the borax, when ingested, essentially dehydrates the ants until they're nothing but a crusty ant shell.  Meanwhile, the vinegar repels the ants for a brief period.  It stops working when it evaporates, so you'll want to keep the vinegar on hand for one or two follow-up wipe-downs, until the ants get the idea that your house smells like vinegar and/or they've all died from eating the bait.

You're probably wondering if any of this actually works.  Yes, it does!  So far, anyway.  Almost two weeks ago, I laid borax traps, one against the exterior wall of the bathroom, and one just outside our patio door.  We were ant-free for two or three days, but then I spotted a few in the bathroom again.  I checked the traps, and they did have some dead ants in and around them, but a few explorers were still interested in coming in the house.  I simply did another quick vinegar application (to remind those ants why they stopped coming inside the first time!), and we haven't seen any more indoor ants since.

Now, the weather has been erratic lately, bouncing around from chilly and damp to warm and humid to cold and windy to mild and sunny, so, I can't rule it out as a contributing factor in the ants' disappearance.  We'll see as spring progresses whether the ants stay away, which will mark the true success of the all-natural ant-trapping-repelling business.

Linked to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Eat Make Grow