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My Messy (on Purpose) Garden

Posted on September 19, 2017 by | Comments (0)

suburbs

Tidy lawns – but where’s the habitat?

If a stranger were to pass by my house, they may think my yard is unkempt. The blanket flowers and coreopsis are sprawling and leggy. The seedheads of cone flowers are not trimmed back. The butterfly bush grows just a bit unevenly. Look closely and you may even see the remnants of leaves from LAST fall in the flowerbed. But what you wouldn’t know by just looking at my yard is that it’s messy on purpose.

I saw a great article recently from the Habitat Network promoting messy gardens. The Habitat Network allows people across the country to connect with tools and resources to help improve the wildlife value of residential landscapes. And how oh-so-important that is now that homeowner associations rule the land. It isn’t that a “working” yard suffers from a lack of care or maintenance. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Those who let their yard complement their local environment are caring for all the residents of the neighborhood – big and small. Nature is a little messy — and our yards should be too!

So why should you get messy?

  • Native plants protect natural resources because they thrive in this region without needing extra water, fertilizer or chemical pesticide.
  • Seedheads left on dried flowers are an important food source for song birds and migratory birds.
  • Dead limbs and fallen leaves provide habit for wildlife including overwintering insects like ladybugs, butterflies and bees.
  • Gardens can be “alive” all year if we embrace lazy gardening.

Goldfinch & ConeflowerI’ve seen big changes in my yard since we went messy. We have a family of gold finches that started frequenting our yard this spring. The rabbits love the dense cover of our shrubs and raised their babies in our yard. We’ve seen hummingbirds, Monarch caterpillars, swallow-tail butterflies and even a hawk that likes to perch on our fence at midday. All this smack-dab in the middle of suburban Hampton Roads. So let your garden get messy and see what wildlife will show up for a visit.

Want to get messy? Here’s what to do:

  • Plant native plants that invite wildlife and insects to your yard.
  • Don’t remove spent flowers or berries from plants visited by wildlife.
  • Mulch mow your grass and rake fallen leaves into the mulched areas of your yard.
  • Ditch chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Reserve your yard maintenance for early spring when temperatures have reached at least 50 degrees for several days. This will protect any wildlife that has called your yard home during winter.

 Everything you need to know for creating a “working” habitat in your yard is available from the Habitat Network.

Posted in: Beautification, Gardening, Going Green, Outdoor tips

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Green Your School Year

Posted on August 22, 2017 by | Comments Off

back to school

G is for Green! Practice the 3 Rs of Reducing, Reusing and Recycling this fall

Reading, writing and arithmetic may be top of mind as the school year approaches, but parents and students should also be thinking of reducing, reusing and recycling as they head back to school. These simple green tips will save families time and money, while making the school transition easy on the environment!

  • Take Inventory: Before hitting the store for school supplies, take inventory of what is already around the house. See if last year’s staples—such as binders, pencil cases, supply boxes and backpacks—could be used for another term.
  • Close the Recycling Loop: When purchasing new items, such as pens, paper, notebooks and pencils, look for products made from recycled materials to close the recycling loop.
  • Choose Paperless: Many schools, PTAs and student clubs offer the option of paperless correspondence. Instead of receiving both hard and electronic copies of the school newsletter, fundraisers and announcements, sign up for electronic only and save these in an e-file for future reference.
  • Stockpile Cool Stuff for Art Projects: Those old magazines, cloth scraps, bottle caps and toilet paper rolls could be transformed into amazing works of art. Ask your student’s teachers if they can use such items.
  • Waste-free Lunch: No need to pack green eggs and ham to send children to school with a green lunch. Follow these quick tips for a waste-free lunch:
    • Use reusable meal/snack containers instead of plastic baggies
    • Send flatware instead of disposable utensils
    • Use refillable drink bottles instead of juice boxes or bottled water
  • Buy Used and Save: Consignment and thrift stores give clothes a second life and your wallet a break! Before buying new apparel, see what’s available at local secondhand stores. In addition, many PTAs sell used school uniforms as a way to fund field trips and special programs.
  • Catch the Bus: While walking or biking to school is the greenest way to get to class, sending your child to school on the bus saves gas and puts less cars on the road, resulting in fewer CO2 emissions and improved air quality.
  • Clean up your School’s Act: Organize a schoolyard cleanup at your school each fall and spring. Cleanup events are a great opportunity for students, parents, teachers and neighbors to come together to give your school’s outdoor area a good once-over. Pick up litter, rake leaves, spread mulch, plant native plants and repair and spruce up the playground for an A+ schoolyard.
  • Set up a School Recycling Program: If your school doesn’t provide recycling in classrooms or the cafeteria, speak with the administrators about starting one. Schools can also compete for national awards and prizes in competitive recycling contests such as the Recycle-Bowl or the Trex plastic bag recycling program.

Just for Teachers

We have lots of resources available just for teachers including Green Learning, a free education guide geared toward the region’s sixth-grade classrooms. Written according to Virginia SOL guidelines by a team of experts who work in the region’s public works and public utilities departments, Green Learning is packed with colorful maps, bold graphics, puzzles and fun activities specific to the Hampton Roads environment. Download Green Learning and the Teacher’s Guide now and stay tuned for an exciting announcement regarding a new edition coming in 2018!

Teachers can also apply for environmental education mini-grants of up to $500 from askHRgreen.org. The mini-grants are intended to provide funding for environmentally-themed projects and may be used to fund projects big and small. Start planning your project now!

Teachers can encourage their students to practice green behaviors around the classroom with the Green Classroom Pledge. Teachers can recognize and reward students at random throughout the school year for practicing green classroom behaviors such as using scrap paper, picking up litter or packing low waste lunches.

How will you green your school year? Let us know on Facebook!

Posted in: Going Green

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Consider Adding Insulation this Fall

Posted on August 16, 2017 by | Comments Off

insulationAdding attic insulation is one of the most cost-effective home improvements you can make. But it is not part of many homeowners’ to-do lists because many homes already have some insulation in place. Unfortunately, the amount they have is not enough to take full advantage of the energy-saving capabilities of attic insulation.

How Do I Shop for Insulation?

Recommended insulation levels are based on climate. You can find the recommended R-values for your area by checking here. Insulation amounts are listed in R-values rather than inches. R-value indicates the material’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the number, the more resistance. Insulation products have their R-values listed on the product packaging so that you can compare one product with another.

You will see that the table lists R-values for both uninsulated attics and those that have a few inches of insulation already in place. Most homes will fall into the second category. In general, if you can see the tops of the ceiling joists, you need to add more insulation.

Do-It-Yourself or Do-It-for-Me?

Insulating an attic is one of those jobs that is trickier than it looks. Most homeowners fail to see the connection between insulating and air sealing, which is the plugging of openings that allow heated or air-conditioned air from the living area to escape to the attic. And there are a lot of openings, including those created by flues and chimneys, ducts, electrical and plumbing lines and recessed light fixtures. Many are hard to find, especially if there is some insulation in place. Insulation and air sealing work together to make an attic energy efficient, because each technique stops a different type of heat flow.

Attics that are uncluttered can be insulated with fiberglass or rock wool batts or blankets. But if there are obstructions or unusual angles, you may need a loose-fill material, such as blown-in fiberglass or cellulose. These require special equipment and should be left to a professional contractor to ensure even coverage and a consistent R-value throughout the space.

Another area that may require a pro’s expertise are recessed lights that have their housings in the attic.  Old style “can” lights should not be covered with insulation. A contractor can set up safe ways to block the insulation as well as other alternatives.

Installers also need to consider ventilation. The attic space above the insulation should be ventilated so that any moisture laden air that makes its way from the living space to the attic is exhausted to the outside. There are a few ways to obtain adequate ventilation, including using a combination of ridge and soffit vents. But if the airflow is blocked because the insulation is installed incorrectly, condensation could occur, leading to wet insulation, which is worthless, or structural damage. Discuss your ventilation options with a qualified insulation contractor.

Installing attic insulation saves energy and money, but only if it is installed correctly.

Guest blog submitted by Fran Donegan, a DIY-for-the-home authority who writes on energy-saving tips for The Home Depot.

Posted in: Energy Saving & Cooling, Household tips

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Keep Drainage Flowing and the Bay Clean

Posted on August 3, 2017 by | Comments Off

Mailbox in Flood WatersIf you live in Hampton Roads, you have flood stories.  It’s part of living near the water.  Here is the good news:  You can take steps to reduce flooding.  And that flood reduction work will very likely help the environment too.

Flooding in Hampton Roads is caused by:

  • High tides that flow upstream, flooding low lying areas and blocking stormwater from leaving the land;
  • Intense rain storms that overwhelm stormwater drainage systems.

Turning back the tide is not an option.  Our goal has to be finding ways to increase the capacity of our drainage systems.  Cleaning ditches is one way you can help create more capacity.  More ditch volume means less flooding. 

How does cleaning a ditch help the environment?  The Chesapeake Bay is dirty – literally. Dirt (also called sediment) and  yard debris can be carried in stormwater to local waterways. To help clean up the bay, your city or county is required to reduce the amount of sediment entering waterways from drainage systems.  The cleaner we keep our ditches and drainage pipes, the less sediment we send to the bay. 

Local government crews do their part by clearing public drainage systems.  They remove debris and re-grade ditches that have filled in by dirt carried in stormwater.  Citizens can help  by making sure that fences, foot bridges and other structures do not block ditches.  In most cities and counties blocking public drainage easements with structures and landscaping is prohibited.   

Many ditches are privately owned and not maintained by your local government.  Property owners are responsible for cleaning these ditches.  It’s an easier job if you keep yard debris and grass clippings out of ditches and storm drains.  Also, do not store fallen leaves, grass clippings and other yard debris near drainage features like storm drains. You should also think before you plant.  Keep trees and other large plants out of the ditch and away from the sides of a ditch.   If possible, coordinate your drainage-clearing work with your neighbors’ efforts.  That way longer stretches of the system will be free to flow.  Neighborhood teams may be able to help elderly residents or other owners who are not physically capable of cleaning their ditches.  But always ask for permission before working on someone else’s property. 

Do your part to keep the water flowing and save the environment.  Fewer flood stories is a good thing.

Posted in: Outdoor tips, Waterways

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So What Do You Do With Pool Water?

Posted on July 28, 2017 by | Comments Off

Pool chemicalsPool ownership can be great.  You can swim anytime you want, and entertain the kids without leaving home.  All you have to do is step out into your yard to enjoy it.

Of course, all that beautiful water occasionally needs to be drained.  What do you do with the stuff?  Are you allowed to drain it into a stormwater system?

Pool water can be drained to the drainage system, but only when it is dechlorinated.  After all, you don’t want to kill our crabs, fish, and other aquatic life by releasing chlorine into the environment.  State law prohibits discharging chlorinated pool water.

Here is how to drain your pool responsibly and legally:

  • Dechlorinate pool water by letting it sit for several days without adding more chlorine. 
  • Your water’s pH level should be between 6.5 and 8.5 before draining.
  • If you are in a hurry to drain your pool, you can add sodium thiosulphate to break down the chlorine faster.  Please remember that it will still take time for the chlorine to break down…DO NOT discharge pool water immediately after adding this chemical.
  • Dechlorination times depend on the weather and the volume of water being discharged.  If you have a pool, you have a test kit.  Use it before discharging water.
  • When in doubt, let the water sit longer! 
  • Drain your pool water over grass.  This will help some of the water infiltrate into the soil.  

Pool filterNow let’s talk backwash, as in that water produced when you backwash your filters.  This water should not be drained into the storm drainage system.  Backwash water has a heavy concentration of chlorine and other pool chemicals.  It also contains sediment and small debris that had been lodged in the filter.  Run filter water through the grass to a landscaping area.  If need be, create an infiltration pit so backwash is absorbed into the ground. 

With a little bit of time and planning, you can maintain your pool in an environmentally, legal manner.  Enjoy your summer, and enjoy that pool!

Posted in: Outdoor tips, Waterways

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