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How to Shop for a Greenhouse

Posted on February 16, 2017 by | Comments (0)

Green HouseDeciding to buy a greenhouse catapults the novice gardener into the big leagues. Even a small model provides the space and the conditions to extend the gardening season and try new techniques, such as starting seeds early, that just are not possible in most gardens. Here are four questions to ask yourself when deciding on a greenhouse that meets your needs.

1.       How will I use the greenhouse?

The answer to this will help determine the size and the features you may want. Walk-in greenhouse kits designed for residential use range in size from 5×5 feet up to 8×20 feet. You can find smaller, portable kits for about $100, but more permanent kits can cost from several hundred up to several thousand dollars, depending on the size and features.

Smaller models are great for getting a jump on spring planting by starting seeds early, but if you want to grow plants to maturity, you will need a bigger model. Your plans for the greenhouse will also determine the “extras” you will need (see below). Of course, you will have to balance your gardening needs with your budget and the available space for constructing the greenhouse.

2.       Where will I put it?

If you plan on growing plants to maturity or using the greenhouse over the winter, you will want maximum sun exposure—at least six hours a day. It’s best to situate the greenhouse so that its longest dimension faces south, which means most of the space will receive direct sunlight. This is especially true in the winter when the sun appears lower in the sky.

Select a spot that is convenient to get to and has access to water. You may also want access to electricity.

Before you purchase a greenhouse, check with the local building department to ask about zoning requirements, such as how close you can erect the greenhouse to the property line, and whether you need a building permit. In some locales, any structure on a foundation requires a permit, and some kits require a concrete slab or a wooden foundation.

3.       What are my options in materials?

Greenhouse frames are available in a number of different materials:

  • Aluminum and galvanized steel. These provide the strongest greenhouses, but they are the most expensive.
  • PVC pipe. These don’t provide the structural heft of an aluminum or steel frame, but they are relatively inexpensive. PVC structures are often used for portable greenhouses.
  • Wood. These provide a rustic, classic look and are usually made of insect-resistant woods such as redwood or cedar. Be aware that wood components will require periodic sealing or staining.

While glass may be the traditional glazing material, greenhouse kit manufacturers are now turning to plastics such as polyethylene and polycarbonate panels because they are lighter and easier to handle. Polycarbonate panels can provide either direct sunlight or diffused light to the plants. They also come in a variety of thicknesses, making them a better insulator than glass. Look for panels that are treated to block the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

4.       What extras will I need?

There are a lot of extras available to make your gardening experience more enjoyable:

  • Shelves and benches. Some kits come with shelves, but not all do. They make caring for plants easier. Make sure the frame can support the shelves and the plants.
  • Ventilation. Greenhouses get hot, so you will need at least one operable vent in the roof. Some kits feature vents that open automatically when the greenhouse becomes too hot. Larger models can accommodate ventilation fans.
  • Watering system. You can pull the garden hose into the greenhouse to water the plants, but automatic watering and misting systems are available. Some greenhouses include gutter systems that allow you to collect rainwater.
  • Heaters. Greenhouses placed in cold climates will need a heater for year-round use.
  • Sensors and controls. Keep the greenhouse functioning properly with controls that track the temperature and humidity levels and can automatically operate watering and ventilation systems.

A greenhouse kit can enhance your gardening experience, and the right kit will provide years of gardening pleasure.

Fran Donegan writes on home improvement for Home Depot. Fran is a longtime DIY author and has written several books, including Paint Your Home.

Posted in: Lawn and landscape, Lawncare

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Have you heard about SWIFT?

Posted on February 8, 2017 by | Comments Off

If I were to ask you what areas of the United States are facing water crises, your thoughts would probably veer toward drought-prone southern California or Texas. New Orleans might come to mind, with its flooding issues and precarious below-sea-level vantage point. But we’re ok in Hampton Roads! Nothing to worry about in our water-rich neck of the woods; we’re surrounded by bridges and tunnels and rivers galore! And we’re definitely not like New Orleans with a “too much water” problem, right? 

Sadly, Hampton Roads IS facing a water crisis- it’s just invisible. The Potomac aquifer, eastern Virginia’s largest water supply, is being overused and is shrinking beneath our feet. Groundwater-using industries are facing increasing regulations and new water-using industries are being told not to move to the region. The compacting aquifer is also contributing to land subsidence, which in turn is increasing the area’s susceptibility to the negative impacts of sea level rise. Hampton Roads is the second largest population at risk for the negative impacts of sea level rise, right behind infamous New Orleans. It’s not a pretty picture. 

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

Engineers and scientists have turned “used” into “useful” at the SWIFT Pilot Facility in Seaford, Virginia.

So what do we do? How do we combat such an extensive, multi-faceted issue? Do we build flood walls? Elevate our homes on stilts? Move? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and there are many individuals and organizations working on the problem. HRSD is one of those organizations, and it’s tackling the situation head-on with an initiative that not only addresses the shrinking Potomac aquifer and land subsidence, but one that will help achieve Chesapeake Bay restoration goals and support our economy at the same time.

HRSD currently discharges approximately 150 million gallons of highly treated water into the waterways of Hampton Roads each day. Rather than continuing to waste this valuable resource, the Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) would take the water that would otherwise be discharged into the Elizabeth, James or York rivers and purify it through additional advanced water treatment to produce drinking-quality water. The purified water would then be treated to match the existing groundwater chemistry and added to the Potomac Aquifer. Hydraulic modeling suggests that this could reduce the effects of sea level rise by up to 25 percent and positively impact nearly the entire Potomac aquifer, as far north as Maryland and south beyond the North Carolina border.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

With SWIFT, the York River would no longer regularly receive discharge from HRSD wastewater treatment plants.

SWIFT would also benefit the Chesapeake Bay. Replenishing groundwater with HRSD’s purified water would effectively eliminate more than 90 percent of HRSD’s discharge to local waters – reducing the total amount of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen reaching the Bay. And the homes and industries in eastern Virginia that currently remove approximately 155 million gallons of groundwater from the Potomac aquifer every day would have a renewable source of groundwater to rely upon rather than an increasingly restricted one. 

Extensive environmental and economic benefits aside, why is HRSD pursuing SWIFT in the first place?  Its mission is to treat wastewater effectively, not to produce drinking-quality water and add it to the ground. Increasing regulations play a part. HRSD is continuously making process-level upgrades to its thirteen wastewater treatment plants to remove more and more nutrients and other contaminants from the highly treated water it discharges. By leaping forward under the assumption that the increasingly stringent regulations will continue, the next logical step would be to purify its water to the point that it’s clean enough to drink. Subsequently dumping such a valuable resource back into surface waters that don’t need it when technology exists to use it in a way that is regionally beneficial…well that just doesn’t make sense.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

HRSD’s SWIFT team toasts their successful production of purified water on September 15, 2016.

Secondly, HRSD is pursuing SWIFT because it recognizes that it’s part of the big picture. Land subsidence, shrinking groundwater supplies and rising seas are problems that impact ALL Hampton Roads’ residents, not just a select few. They are not problems that will go away if they’re ignored, nor are they problems with easy solutions. HRSD’s mission may be treating wastewater, but its vision is that future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean. SWIFT boldly meets that vision by protecting the Chesapeake Bay,  securing future groundwater supplies, addressing land subsidence and helping the economy. Those are things I think we can all stand behind.

Blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator at HRSD.

 

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Using water wisely, Waterways

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Is Your Child’s Car Seat Unsafe?

Posted on February 1, 2017 by | Comments Off

baby-617411_960_720Did you know that an old or broken safety seat could be putting a child in danger?

Car seats that are over 8 years old, expired, purchased  secondhand or involved in a car accident all pose safety risks for young children. Unknown wear and tear or other damage to these car seats makes them less effective in protecting your most precious cargo. To help keep our young children as safe as possible, Drive Safe Hampton Roads, along with Walmart, AAA Tidewater Virginia, DMV: Virginia Highway Safety Office, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, WVEC Channel 13,  Hoffman Beverage,  and Waste Management of Virginia, Inc. have teamed up to conduct the 28th Annual Old, Used, Borrowed and Abused Child Safety Seat Round-Up.  During the month of February, the public is invited to bring old, used or abused car seats to a participating drop-off location for a $5 reward and the good feeling of knowing that you are helping keep kids safe while protecting the environment.

If you have any questions about the Round-Up or traffic safety issues, please call 757-498-2562 or email dshr@drivesafehr.org.

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Download a list of drop-off locations.

Posted in: Community events, Reduce reuse and recycle

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Disposable diaper liners- to flush or not to flush?

Posted on January 10, 2017 by | Comments Off

Ah, diapers.  A staple of nurseries everywhere.  But as a parent, how do you decide what kind of diaper is right for your kiddo?  Gone are the days of only a handful of disposable diaper options or cloth diapers that are secured to your precious baby with terrifyingly-stabby safety pins.  Now you’re faced with so many choices!  If you decide to go with fully disposable diapers, should you buy off-brand or name-brand?  Organic?  Moisture-wicking?  Chlorine free?  Should you enter the realm of cloth diapering and, if so, should you purchase All In Ones, All In Twos, pocket diapers, or hybrids?  Inserts?  Cotton liners?  Disposable liners?

The answer to these questions depends on your personal preferences and what works for you and your family.  But having successfully navigated the mysterious world of diapering twice now, I’ve figured out a few things. 

1)      Your baby will ultimately have the final say (i.e., you’ll choose the type that doesn’t make him or her break out in a bum rash) 

2)      Occasional leaks are an inevitability

3)      Disposable diaper liners are not flushable

“Hold the phone, Molly; did you just say disposable diaper liners aren’t flushable??  But a lot of them state that they’re flushable right on the packaging!  How can this be?”  Well, I’ll tell you.  Much like “flushable” wipes, they’re misnamed.  Technically you CAN flush both wipes and liners, just like my son has recently shown me that you CAN flush ninja turtle action figures.  But should you flush them?  Definitely not.

Diaper Liners Blog 1Disposable diaper liners are thin mesh-like cloths (usually made out of cotton or viscose rayon) that can be placed in diapers to conveniently catch solid waste.   The idea is that rather than removing the waste from and scrubbing the entire cloth diaper or insert, you can just remove and discard the liner and toss the rest into the washing machine.  But where should they be discarded?  Most are labeled “flushable,” although many specify that they are not “septic safe.”  Most I’ve found state this (or something similar) on the packaging:

Place liner inside diaper.  When diaper is soiled, simply remove and flush down toilet.  May cause blockage in old or damaged drains.  Not recommended for sensitive septic tanks.” 

Hm… suspicious!  So does that mean they’re safe to flush if your home has newer plumbing?  How do you determine whether or not your septic system is “sensitive?”  Talk about confusing packaging.

While there are plenty of first-hand accounts of the detriment of flushable wipes on our sewer systems, I couldn’t find enough out there in terms of disposable diaper liners to ease my uncertainty.  So, in order to decipher whether they’re truly safe to send down the drain, I put on my lab coat and did a bit of experimenting on my own.

Supplies:

1)      Three well-known brands of “flushable” diaper liners

2)      3 bowls of water

3)      1 washing machine

4)      1 mesh garment bag

Diaper Liners Blog 2

12 hours after being placed in water the diaper liners are going strong!

 

Diaper Liners Blog 3

A full 24 hours in water and the liners still haven’t changed.

First, I placed two sheets of each brand of diaper liner in a bowl of water, swished them around a bit, and let them sit overnight.  As you can see, all three survived completely unscathed.  I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and leave them in for another twelve hours.  Nope, still holding on strong!

Next, I figured I’d simulate the sloshing of our sewer lines by putting them through a round in my washing machine.  I placed them in a mesh garment bag to prevent them from wrapping around the agitator and then waited patiently.  The result….they survived!  I couldn’t find ANY signs of deterioration.

Diaper Liners Blog 4

24 hours in water plus a trip through my washing machine. These certainly aren’t going to breakdown any time soon!

Conclusion: Disposable diaper liners are great.  They make cleaning cloth diapers quicker and easier and can help prevent rash creams and ointments from ruining the fabric’s absorbency.  But remember, flushing things down the drain that don’t break down easily contributes to clogged pipes, which can in turn cause environmentally- harmful sewer system overflows.  Or, much like my own ninja turtle action figure incident, they can cause messy overflows in your own home.  So be a Sewer Steward and dispose of those helpful diaper liners in a trash can, NOT a toilet.  

 

Blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator at HRSD.

Posted in: Fats, oils and grease disposal, Household tips, What Not To Flush

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Winter Storm Checklist

Posted on January 4, 2017 by | Comments Off

IMG_20140129_110644494Each winter we must battle Old Man winter to protect ourselves, our property and the environment! Cold temperatures bring the possibility of frozen water pipes, slippery sidewalks and lots of hazardous. This handy winter storm checklist will help you prepare for winter while being easy on the environment.

  • Prevent your pipes from freezing and causing costly damage to your home by:
    • Keeping doors and windows near your water pipes closed during cold weather.
    • Sealing air leaks and cracks in the crawl space or basement.
    • Closing crawl space air vents or covering them from the inside.
    • Checking to ensure pipes are insulated in unheated parts of the house. Wet insulation is worse than no insulation, so be sure to replace any you find.
    • Disconnecting garden hoses and storing them in a garage or shed.
    • When temps drop to the teens or lower, you may choose to drip your faucets to prevent pipes from freezing. Pick a single faucet at the highest level in your house and make sure droplets are about the size of the lead in a pencil. You’ll only waste money (and water) if you leave the faucet wide open.
  • Apply deicer before snow falls to prevent ice from forming on sidewalks, driveways and walkways. Look for deicers with magnesium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate because they are less likely to harm your pets, sidewalks, grass and plants. Never use lawn fertilizers as a substitute for deicers.
  • Stay off roads during winter storms. Most traffic crashes happen within the first two hours after a storm starts. Get road conditions by calling 511 or visiting www.511Virginia.org.
  • Get supplies before the storm. Have enough non-perishable foods, water, and batteries on hand for at least three days in case you become snowed in. Don’t forget other necessities as well – like baby supplies, medications, pet food, and toilet paper!
  • Never plug space heaters into extension cords. Always plug them directly into a wall outlet. Keep space heaters at least three feet from other objects, and turn off before going to bed.
  • Stay informed during power outages with a battery-powered and/or hand-crank radio. Get one with the NOAA Weather Radio band so you can hear winter weather reports directly from the National Weather Service as well as news reports from local radio stations. 
  • Don’t use candles during power outages. Many home fires in winter are caused by candles. Flashlights are much safer. 
  • Have a family emergency plan. If your family cannot return home because of severe weather or closed roads, you need to decide now on alternate locations for riding out the storm.

For more winter preparedness tips before, during, and after extreme cold, check out ReadyHamptonRoads.org.

Posted in: Household tips, Outdoor tips

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