Creating a 100-foot Prairie-Inspired Pollinator Garden

By Benjamin Vogt
prairie inspired garden design and author of A NEW GARDEN ETHIC

Creating a new pollinator garden for your yard can be daunting, especially when you A small pollinator gardenare new to a lot of the design and environmental principles that make up a great garden. It’s a lot to remember, from choosing the wrong plants for the site, to matching those plants to one another, But it’s not all that complex (well, maybe it is) especially after you’ve learned a few basic principles and dive in after you’ve done some healthy research. This article attempts to distill what makes a natural pollinator garden beautiful for wildlife and people, all while requiring less management (water, mulch, fertilizer) than  a typical garden.

learning about plants

So yes, you have to research plants. You can just trust a plant tag or even a sales person, especially because when you put a little legwork in you learn your way, way, way more. So let’s say you’ve just picked up a pale purple coneflower, Echinacea pallida. The plant tag likely says it needs full sun and dry soil. That tag can’t fit enough pertinent info on there to help you garden with more success, such as: what TYPE of soil; how it actually performs in various conditions; what wildlife it literally grows. Is it even native to the local ecoregion? Go online and type a search in for “Echinacea pallida.” Websites that I’ve found the most helpful in learning about plants in flyover country include:

Prairie Moon Nursery
Prairie Nursery
Illinois Wildflowers
Missouri Botanical Garden
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Once you’ve read about the plants from these sites — and even a local or regional book — you’ll know more than most folks and you can plant with much more ecological confidence.

What you’ll discover about Echinacea pallida is that it has a deep tap root, and planted as a plug it will take 1-2 years before flowering as it works on that tap root. You’ll learn it prefers leaner, drier soils but can thrive in the moisture swings of clay soil. You’ll learn it’s a clumper that, in bare soil, will lightly self sow. Since it has a deep taproot it works well among other plants that have more fibrous root zones, that way the plants aren’t always competing for the same resources. You’ll learn its flower stalks get taller in more rich soil and that its basal foliage stays relatively short to the ground, with long fuzzy leaves. Since its foliage isn’t all that dense or large, other plants that require more sunlight — including ground covers — will do well right next to it. You may even discover in your reading that the dried flower heads, nearly jet black, remain all winter, and how cool they look with a backdrop of short prairie grasses (like little bluestem) as the winter sun filters in behind them.

Click here to continue reading this article.

Buying furniture and linens at a Thrift Store

Furniture

Thrifting is the ultimate recyclingThrift stores allot varying amounts of floor space to furniture.  You can usually find nice, often vintage pieces that will meet your needs. (1,2)   If you are looking for a piece of furniture for a specific function/location, be sure to measure that location and then bring a tape measure with you so that you find a suitable piece. If you are leery of upholstered furniture, note that some stores place stickers (3) that should reassure you. Most thrift stores have staff who will assist you in getting the item in your car or van. Additionally, most have some sort of delivery services.  Change hardware (handles, drawer pulls, hinges, etc.) for easy & attractive modifications. Look at each piece critically – if it has scratches and nicks, can it be easily refinished or painted?  If the top of a table, chest, or cabinet is beyond repair, think about a glass top with wallpaper or fabric below it. (4)  Another solution is a large wood and glass tray with wallpaper, fabric or photos. (5) Dining room chairs like this one (6, $10) can be somewhat mismatched when the seats are easily recovered with the same fabric.
Shopping for furniture at a thrift store

Furniture and linens at a thrift store
Linens

If you are handy and have a sewing machine, think creatively and consider re-purposing.  For example, turn two flat sheets into a duvet cover with 3 seams and a few snaps, buttons or Velcro.  And if you use two different sheets, you’ll get two duvet covers for the price of one! Sheets can be also turned into pillowcases, tablecloths into table runners, place mats, or curtains. You may find new linens in original packaging. (7)

A word of warning

That “Thrift Store Smell” seems to be most prevalent in linens and clothes made with synthetic fabrics. Try adding a half cup of an odor eliminating laundry booster like white vinegar, Borax, or baking soda to the wash or hang for a few hours in the sun.

Remember! By purchasing gently used instead of new items, you are helping our planet and its fragile ecosystems. Your actions are part of the Green Change.

GTA Launches Be the Green Change Campaign

In honor of its 5th anniversary, the Green Towson Alliance (GTA) is launching a Be the Green Change Campaign to encourage people to think green and make changes in their lives to benefit our planet and fight climate change.  The centerpiece of this campaign is a personal pledge to examine our individual impact on the earth and choose to change five behaviors in our lifestyles so we can live a greener life.  Through this volunteer pledge, GTA is asking everyone to be part of the Be the Green Change Campaign and specify the ways they plan to lighten their footprint on the planet and help save our environment.

The Green Towson Alliance, a group of local volunteer environmentalists, is calling on local residents, elected officials, businesses, school students and families to join the Be the Green Change pledge and make five green changes in their lifestyles to help preserve our environment.

Green changes can be as simple as walking or biking to school or work, replacing your light bulbs with LED bulbs, planting native trees in your yard to create habitat, absorb stormwater and clean the air and not using pesticides in your yard including “weed and feed” lawn products.  The online pledge offers an array of green options which can easily be checked off.

Getting involved with Green Towson Alliance is another way to Be the Green Change. GTA hosts activities throughout the year that local residents can participate in as part of their pledge to Be the Green Change.  See GTA’s calendar and Facebook Events for activities such as stream clean-ups, tree pruning, habitat restoration and tree plantings.

For more information, go to https://greentowsonalliance.org

Tips on getting near zero-waste orders from Amazon

By Polly Barks

Zero waste orders from Amazon: it can (almost) be done. The question is: do we really want to?

Not all of us are living Pinterest-worthy zero waste lives here. And not all of us have the ability to source local, high-quality zero waste goods – basically, all of us outside of a select few major metropolitan areas.

While the internet and ethical online shopping has really leveled the playing field, we also can’t all afford to always support brands with high price points.

Trust me – I get it. I started my zero waste journey almost qualifying for food stamps in a food desert without a car so zero waste on a budget is near and dear.

So what happens when you’re ready to replace an old, used item with a zero waste counterpart? What do these factors lead to? Amazon.

I’m going to be real here: Amazon is inherently unethical. If you have the ability to support anything more ethical (AKA just about anywhere else), you have the ethical duty to do so.

If you’re reading this, think very seriously about whether you can’t spend the extra money, or you simply don’t want to. Amazon is not sustainable. Supporting Amazon when you have other options is not sustainable.

So for those who need it and want an Amazon plastic-free packaging experience, here are 5 tips for the best way to get packages zero waste on Amazon:

Be the Green Change

make 5 changes to mitigate the climate crisis

The student Climate Strike last September helped to hone our attention on the reality that our planet is changing, and we must take immediate steps in our own lives to help fight and reverse the climate crisis.
Join Green Towson Alliance as we pledge to Be the Green Change.

 

We’re asking you to make five changes in your life – they can be small and simple changes, like packing silverware along with your lunch so that you avoid using throw-away plastic silverware, or giving up plastic bags – or big changes, like swearing off your clothes dryer and installing a laundry line in your yard, or trading in your fossil-fuel guzzling car for an electric or hybrid electric vehicle.

Here is a list of things you can start right away.

Five Easy Changes

Simple actions that won’t be hard to fold into your life. These include picking up plastic trash when you’re walking outside, using a recyclable coffee mug, and adding a plant-based meal to your weekly food plan.

Swear off chemical cleaners

Give up those spray bottles full of cleaning supplies. You’ll be surprised how
simple it is to clean your home naturally!

Thrifting is the ultimate recyclingCheck out local thrift stores instead of online shopping

Think carefully about your habits as a consumer. Try shopping at a local thrift store for the ultimate in recycling.

Give up plastic wrap!
Handmade beeswax wraps

You can buy or make your own food wraps that are every bit as good as plastic wrap.

Update laundry day

Do-over your laundry routine. And no, you don’t have to hang up a huge, old-fashioned laundry line (although you can, if you want to!)

Opt to Act

REI, the outdoor adventure store, has a list of simple changes you can make this year.  The Opt To Act program is s a 52- week long plan of simple changes you can make each week. You can download the plan and read all about it here.

Please join Green Towson Alliance and Make the pledge to Be the Green Change.

 

GTA Celebrates 5 Years of Environmental Strides

As the Green Towson Alliance (GTA) enters its fifth year, this volunteer group is celebrating the strides it has made in environmental advocacy and action since its inception in 2015. GTA has worked to increase open space in Towson, promote a greener local community and protect our environment. Across five years, GTA has planted 900+ trees in the local community, removed 9.5 tons of debris from local streams, cleared away invasive vines in numerous locations to restore native habitats and shared its Green Platform for Baltimore County with elected officials.

GTA was recently honored as “Citizen of the Year for Towson’s 5th District” by Baltimore County Councilman David Marks. This honor was bestowed on GTA for its four years of dedicated leadership in developing, fundraising and establishing Towson’s new Radebaugh Community Park.

Since 2015, GTA has created a visible presence in the Towson community as an environmental advocate that takes action to protect our environment and address climate change at the local level.  It has sponsored a green speakers’ series at the Towson Library, launched letter to the editor campaigns and partnered with over 20 local groups, including boy and girl scouts and high school and college students, to plant trees, clean up streams and protect mature trees to promote a green local environment.

As GTA celebrates its 5th anniversary, it will be launching a special Be the Green Change campaign to encourage people to make changes in their lives that will benefit our planet.  A number of initiatives will complement this campaign and GTA will offer information and ideas on ways people can live greener lives with simple lifestyle changes.  GTA urges everyone to think green and fight climate change.

Wash Laundry, Not too Much, Hang to Dry

By Anne-Marie Bonneau

(With apologies to Michael Pollan for another riff of his quote, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.”)

Why Does She Keep Posting Pictures of Her Underwear?

Every several months, I’ll post a picture on Instagram of my laundry drying outside on my drying rack. I hear two basic reactions.

  1. Americans: “OMG where did you get your drying rack? I’d love one like it.”
  2. Everyone else: “Why are you posting this?”

In most of the world, hanging up clothes to dry is normal, non-Instagrammable behavior. Here in the US, where many home owners associations (HOAs) ban “unsightly” clotheslines, hanging up your laundry to dry like god intended racks up the likes and confers rebel status. Many of these HOA bans appear to be illegal, however.

Laundry rule #1: Wash only when dirty

You will save time, energy and money by washing clothes only when they actually need it. Unless I spill tea all over myself while sitting at my desk writing and editing all day on my laptop, my clothes stay clean. I’ll wear even my wool or cotton socks for (at least) a couple of days in a row if they pass the sniff test.

Washing

Although I hang my clothes to dry, I have not begun to manually wash them by beating them against rocks except for that one time in the Caribbean while skinny-dipping. I do use a washing machine.

Use cold water

Avoid the delicate cycle

A recent study found that the delicate cycle can release an additional 800,000 plastic microfibers. The study revealed that the more water used, the more plastic microfibers released. The delicate cycle uses up to two times as much water as the regular cycle.

While washing machines cannot capture these microfibers, Guppyfriend bags, which Patagonia sells at cost, reduce the amount of microfibers that washing machines release.

Wash full loads

Get your money’s worth and do full loads. Whether you wash two towels or a full load, your machine will use the same amount of energy to wash them.

Skip the fabric softener

When your nose detects a fragrance, your brain should think phthalates. Fabric softeners may contain these endocrine disruptors. Studies have linked phthalates to an array of negative health outcomes, such as “hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.” The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which rates the safety of household products, gives fabric softeners an abysmal F.

Check out ivy leaves as detergent

Let me start off by saying that I need to experiment with this method more and am by no means an ivy-as-detergent expert. For more adventures in washing with ivy, please read the posts of @cleareasmud on Instagram, who told me about this trick.

I’ve been cutting up large English ivy leaves (otherwise known as common ivy or Hedera helix), putting them in an old sock, tying up the end to keep the ivy from going all over the place and then throwing the sock into the washing machine. For my last load, I used 15 grams of leaves. Never use poison ivy leaves!

Ivy leaves contain saponin, a natural detergent and foaming agent. (“Saponin” comes from the Latin word for soap, “sapo.”) Other sources of saponins include horse chestnuts, soapwort and soap nuts.

I don’t know if the ivy works or the agitation of the machine alone cleans the clothes and we’ve all been duped into buying more products than we need. I do know my clothes come out clean. However, they don’t go in very dirty. Someone on Facebook told me that her family’s very dirty clothes come out of the wash clean with the addition of mere vinegar and no detergent.

On my long to-blog list, I’ve added “make liquid detergent from ivy.” To do this, you simmer the leaves in water and strain. I hope it works well. (Go here for laundry detergent made from horse chestnuts.)

Drying

According to the US Energy Information Association (EIA), clothes dryers account for 5 percent of total household energy consumed in the US, while washing machines account for only 0.5 percent of household energy, not including the energy to heat the water in warm or hot loads.

If you dry laundry in a dryer

Spin it right round, baby right round

Spin your clothes in the washing machine for a longer amount of time than the standard cycle lasts. Your machine may have a high spin cycle or other cycle that you can set it to for a longer spin. This will reduce the amount of time your dryer will have to run to dry your clothes.

Buy a pair

I rarely use the dryer and so haven’t bought a pair of 100 percent wool dryer balls myself but people rave about them online. By absorbing water and increasing the air flow around laundry as it dries, these balls apparently reduce drying time. (As I said, I haven’t tried them myself.)

Look for an efficient model

When you replace your dryer, look for one with the Energy Star label. To earn this label, machines must be pass independent certifications while functioning well. If you can afford it, consider buying a heat pump dryer. These recycle the hot air in the dryer rather than wasting it by venting it outside.

Clean out the lint

Clean out the filter after drying each load. If the lint contains synthetic fibers, I would not add it to the compost pile.

Skip the dryer sheets

These single-use throwaway synthetic (i.e., plastic) sheets can, like fabric softener, contain phthalates. Avoid over-drying your laundry to avoid static electricity shocks.

If you hang laundry to dry

Buy clothes less often

Dryers break down fibers. Hang your laundry up to dry and it will last much longer. Yes, hanging takes more time but I find it meditative.

Send less money to your utility company

Instead of Zero-Waste Chef, I could have named this blog “Zero-Waste by Default for Frugal People.” You’ll save money if you hang up your clothes to dry or if you follow any of the tips I’ve listed in this post.

Does anyone actually like their utility company? Here in Northern California, PG&E sparked outrage in October for cutting off power to hundreds of thousands of residents after weather forecasts predicted high winds and severe fire risk.

A probe into the devastating Camp Fire of 2018, which killed 85 people and razed the town of Paradise, found that PG&E’s power lines ignited the blaze. The company, now in bankruptcy, could face more liability claims if its equipment starts more fires. Hence, the blackouts.

No one wants the state to endure another mega-fire. Outrage over the outages stemmed from the fact that PG&E has not updated its infrastructure and instead, inconvenienced a massive number of residents, some of whom had to evacuate their homes because of medical issues.

Hang up your laundry to dry and stick it to the man.

This article was written by Anne-Marie Bonneau and reprinted here with her permission.  Read more on her website, The Zero Waste Chef.

Buying great shoes and purses at a Thrift Store

Thrifting is the ultimate recyclingWhy do women buy lots of purses and shoes? One theory is that, when you “try them on” they never make you look fat. Lucky for you, Thrifter, there’s usually a lot to choose from.

Shoes
The beauty of thrift store shoes is that they are likely already broken in. However, shoes that show no wear were likely donated because they’re uncomfortable.  Be sure to walk them around the store before purchasing. The shoes you wear to the store should be easy off/easy on. Also wear or bring the weight of socks you plan to wear with the shoes. Here are some great options found recently in a Towson thrift store.

(1) Ryka Faze training shoes – $6 ($60 in DSW.) (2) Ann Taylor booties ($5.50)  (3) Well, maybe not everyone’s taste…

Four pairs of shoes found at a thrift store(4)  Rarely, you will find tap shoes, jazz//split sole sneakers, ballet slippers, sports cleats. On occasion these may even be for adults.

 

 

Purses
Lots of pockets/compartments may initially seem like a good idea, backpacks are in style nowbut, unless you are consistent with what you put in each, you’ll likely get frustrated fishing around through each one to find what you need.

 

 

(5) Backpacks are also in abundance.

Luggage
Great buys can be found for canvas luggage of all sizes and in good shape.  Choose a size and compartment configuration that suits your purpose. Check for signs of wear, functioning zippers, retractable handles. Make sure stains can be removed by using a wet wipe.

Pink striped bag will be easy to see in the luggage carousel(6) For luggage you plan to check, consider something like this “obnoxious” pink striped one.  Think how easy it would be to spot on the luggage carousel!

Hard-shell spinner with wheels

 

 

 

(7)   On rare occasions, you might find hardshell/four-wheeled spinner luggage. This one was $15. Check these for cracks, especially near handles.

New to Thrifting?
Here are some tips on shopping at Thrift stores.  Have a special occasion coming up, or looking for that perfect outfit for a holiday? Be sure to check out the local Thrift stores.  And don’t forget that when you are shopping for a gift, you might find something pretty amazing at a Thrift store as well!

Climate Crisis: Five More Changes

By Patty Mochel

Cutting way back on single-use paper products seemed a no-brainer on my Climate Crisis Consumer Diet. I had used cloth table napkins when I had four kids at home, but as fewer people regularly came to the dinner table, I had inexplicably slipped back into using paper napkins. Last year, when I pulled out my stash of cloth napkins, I had lost my relaxed attitude about them. During dinner, I would cringe every time someone used one to wipe a greasy finger. Why was I so neurotic about them? Was I burdened by the thought that they would need constant washing and ironing? I had handled that in the past by keeping several sets of cloth napkins on hand. However, the unhappy decline of retail stores meant there are fewer local shops to find cloth napkins, and I was loathe to go online to find them, or  cut out and sew a set of six napkins.

Cotton bandana used as napkin
Cotton bandanas make easy-to-use table napkins.

I realized that 20 years ago, because there were so many available, I had several sets and had discovered that napkins made of a darker colored cloth that was printed with a pattern helped to hide food stains, relieving me of daily napkin washing.  With that in mind, I hit on the idea of using cloth bandanas, and the local Michael’s store had a bunch of really inexpensive ones. I bought six in a dark green. They can be washed frequently, and if I shake them out and hang them, they don’t need to be ironed.  Problem solved.

Next to go: paper towels. A trip to Target’s kitchen department scored two Kitchen clothssets of washcloths that conveniently came in a color that matched my kitchen. I stash them in a stack on the counter and use them to wipe off countertops and placemats, and clean out the sink. I inwardly cringed the first time I used them to clean up a mess on the floor – I was screaming inside, “It’s a mess! Use a paper towel and toss the mess away.” What brought me back to reality was the realization that 50 (or 60) years ago, people (like my Mom and grandmother) used cloth “rags” to clean up everything. If they could do it, so could I! Presto. No more paper towels.

Silicone sandwich bag and paper chip sack
Silicone sandwich bag and paper chip sack replace plastic in a lunch box.

My son packs a lunch every day, and I wanted to stop using plastic sandwich and chip bags. In August, I found some reusable silicone sandwich bags at Mom’s Organic Market. I bought two, and they have been working out well.  I missed the before-school sale for chip bags, so my son has been using paper sacks I found at the grocery store for his chips and cookies. I’ll be trading up for reusable chip bags next year.

Finally, I made the switch to 100% recycled toilet paper. I read an articleBath tissue made from 100% recycled paper that the plush T.P. I had been purchasing for my family was made from wood pulp taken from virgin forests in Canada. That was pretty shocking, and I’m glad I found out about that.

 

Next to consider on my Climate Crisis Consumer Diet: Kleenex, and skin care “essentials” like cotton swabs, cotton balls. Dare I say shampoo in plastic bottles? Stay tuned.

You can read about the first changes I made a few months ago here.