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Composting: A Lazy Gardener’s Guide

Posted on June 13, 2017 by | Comments Off

If you’re an avid gardener, you’re probably familiar with home composting. The premise is simple; mix kitchen scraps with a bunch of leaves or straw in a bin to make a rich, organic fertilizer for your plants. It’s green! It’s economical! It’s easy! Or so they say.

I love home-grown vegetables. Specifically tomatoes, because I’ve found the ones available in grocery stores to be nothing short of inedible. I’m also known to grow epic corn, eggplants, artichokes, lettuces, kale, cucumbers, potatoes, watermelons, zucchini, blackberries, herbs and green beans. The point is this: I’m good at growing things. The secret to my success? Good soil and a laid-back (bordering on lazy) attitude. Unfortunately, home composting using a bin requires a certain level of attention to detail that just doesn’t jive with my “lazy gardening” philosophy.

Here’s how bin composting works:

1. Choose a bin. You can purchase a simple pre-made bin from a garden center or spring for a more expensive tumbler. You can even make your own from a large lidded trash can. I made my own by drilling a bunch of small holes in a hefty green trash can to let oxygen in.

2. Layer nitrogen-rich green waste (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, flowers) and carbon-rich brown waste (dead leaves, sawdust, shredded paper).  Each later should be about 2-4 inches thick. Make sure green waste from your kitchen is always covered by green or brown waste from your yard to keep it from attracting critters.

3. Turn it at least once a week. The decomposing microorganisms responsible for turning your waste into fertilizing compost need oxygen to survive, and turning the pile allows air to circulate and speeds things along. A tumbler makes this step easy (you just rotate the side handle a few times) but you can also use a pitchfork or shovel.

4. Be patient. Compost is ready to use when it no longer looks like raw materials and instead like rich soil. This may take a few months!

Once I completed my homemade compost bin, I was ready to roll. I kept dead leaves and topsoil nearby to sprinkle on top of any food scraps, mixed it up every week, threw in a bunch of worms to help out the decomposing microorganisms, and got… grubs. Lots and lots of grubs. So I dumped Trial 1 onto the lawn (the neighborhood songbirds had a heyday) and tried again. I figured I didn’t have enough brown waste, so I added more leaves and shredded paper and less food scraps. The result? More grubs. It was gross. And most of my food scraps were still completely recognizable! Ever the optimist, I tried again. Unfortunately, the third time was NOT the charm and I was once again thwarted by those pesky fly larvae.

Maybe my homemade compost bin was ineffective. Maybe I didn’t add enough leaves or have the right brown-to-green-waste ratio. Maybe I didn’t mix it enough, or mixed it too much. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough (this is likely true). Who knows. The point is, after three tries and way more grubs than I ever want to see again, I gave up. I figured I’d just have to be one of those people who buys fertilizer from the store each year.

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

A few months after quitting composting, I was dealing with the remnants of an ill-fated attempt at growing acorn squash and thinking to myself “I wish I still lived in Troutville and could just rake all this stuff into the woods.” And then, a light bulb! Just because I live in the city now doesn’t mean I have to use a bin to make compost! Like my country brethren of yore, I could just rake it into a pile, dump some dirt on top, and let nature do its thing. So I dug a hole in one of my raised beds, added the vines and exploded acorn squash, topped it with dirt, and went on my merry way. A few weeks later I dug the spot back up and found rich, beautiful soil. It was a Lazy Gardening miracle!

 

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

Two years later and that raised bed is my own personal dirt factory. It’s active about ten months out of the year (my commitment to sustainability doesn’t go so far as to dig through ice in the winter) and produces enough compost to fertilize all my produce and fill the small sinkholes in my yard. I add fruit and vegetable scraps, thin cardboard, shredded paper, grass clippings, leaves, dead plants, tea bags, spaghetti… pretty much anything biodegradable that isn’t meat or cheese. I literally just dig a hole in the ground and bury stuff. I don’t worry about layering brown and green waste, adding earth worms or mixing it; I just let the bugs and microorganisms in the soil do their magic. As a family of four, our big black curbside trashcan is rarely half-full and I’m able to avoid the dreaded clear plastic yard waste bags most of the time. All in all, it’s been a great success.  But I have learned a few things:

  • It turns out this method actually has a name: Trench Composting.
  • Although you can get away with burying large food scraps in your compost pile (I bury our jack-o-lanterns whole after Halloween), it does take longer for them to break down. So cut your kitchen scraps into small pieces if you’re in a compost-creating hurry.
  • The key is to success is ADEQUATE BURIAL. This gives easy-access to worms and microorganisms while repelling flies, ‘coons and other varmints.

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

 

If bin composting works for you, that’s great! But if you’re like me, have failed at it repeatedly, and have the space for a food scrap burial ground (a.k.a. Trench Composting) then try out my Lazy Gardening method. Your tomatoes and trash can will thank you.

Guest post submitted by Molly Bertsch, HRSD Community Educator.

 

 

 

Posted in: Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Lawn and landscape, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized

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Four Ways to Green Your Business

Posted on June 10, 2017 by | Comments Off

Green_business_suit_shutterstock_215636905More than likely you recognize that it’s important for everyone to be more eco-friendly and help to preserve the environment. But you may not have adopted green measures into your business. Most business owners have enough on their to-do list without leading environmental initiatives or spending profits on solar panels. However, companies that go green have some advantages in public relations, tax credits, and sustainability. Here are four simple changes you can make to your business to become more environmentally-friendly.

Upgrade Your lighting
Look into ditching the traditional incandescent and fluorescent bulbs and using LED lights. They’re slightly more expensive upfront, but they last far longer and use much less electricity than conventional lighting. Over time, you’ll actually save money, and keep those old bulbs out of the landfill. You might even look into upgrading to a smart lighting system that uses motion sensors and timers to automatically turn off lights when they aren’t needed.

Recycle Everything
Recycle as much as possible. If you don’t have one already, consider starting a company program for separating recyclables from trash. There are also any number of products made from recycled materials that you could be using every day, such as boxes, packing materials, toner cartridges, paper, electronics, and even furniture. Reusing and buying recycled goods puts less demand on the environment and generally saves you money. 

Green Cleaning Products
Maintaining a clean office is important not just to impress visitors, but to kill germs and stop the spread of illness that could cripple productivity. Unfortunately, many of those commercial products use harsh chemicals that could be just as harmful, especially if they build up on work surfaces or permeate the air you breathe. Cleaning with products that have lower levels of chemicals and more ingredients that naturally occur in the world can be a huge step in reducing your impact on the environment. Green cleaning products like these are healthier and sometimes entirely biodegradable, so you can be assured of a workspace that’s safe as well as clean.

Learn the Regulations
Green policies are not only the right thing to do, they are becoming a matter of legal obligation. Companies that improperly dispose of hazardous materials, risk worker health, or have polluting emissions may be subject to fines or even criminal charges. While every company is different, it’s essential to be familiar with and follow all environmental regulations for your industry to make sure your company is headed in the right direction.

It’s true that a single company won’t be able to change the world alone, but millions of people working together will become a movement driving change. The only way for that to happen is for you to set an example for both your customers and employees.

Guest blog contributed by Kara Masterson, a freelance writer from West Jordan, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah and enjoys writing and spending time with her dog, Max. Kara works with environment-conscious education programs like the Vermont Law School to help promote green business practices.

Posted in: Going Green

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National Drug Take-Back Day 2017

Posted on April 28, 2017 by | Comments Off

National Prescription Take Back DayTomorrow is National Drug Take-Back Day so it’s time to clean out those medicine cabinets! And when you do, I’m willing to bet you’ll find more than one expired or unwanted medication. Safely getting rid of unwanted/unused medications is good for several reasons. It ensures that those medications won’t fall into the wrong hands and that they can’t harm the environment if disposed of improperly (like being flushed down the commode).

You can take advantage of the National Drug Take-Back initiative on Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Local police and Sheriff departments, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will be collecting expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs for destruction.

You can easily find a medication collection site near you using the DEA’s online collection site locator. Simply put in your zip code or city/state and voila!

Why can’t we just flush medications down the toilet? 
For most of us in Hampton Roads, our wastewater flows to HRSD’s treatment plants where it is treated before it is released back into the environment. However, the treatment process cannot remove medications, it was never designed to do so. That’s why it is so important we dispose of medications responsibly, like participating in the National Drug Take-Back Day. If you can’t make it out to a collection location tomorrow but you have medications to get rid of, DEQ has published this handy guide for disposal of home pharmaceuticals with step-by-step instructions.

 

Posted in: Community events, Going Green

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askHRgreen.org Hits the Streets with “Write as Rain” Campaign

Posted on April 18, 2017 by | Comments Off

rainworks_hashtag

Launched this week (just in time for Earth Day) on sidewalks, streetscapes and thoroughfares throughout Hampton Roads, the motivational campaign will reveal a bevy of good-to-know “green” messages that become visible when wet.  

With the approval of local municipalities, askHRgreen.org committee members blanketed the region using custom-made stencils and an eco-friendly rain-resistant spray to adhere their messages to sidewalks in locations where residents gather. When it becomes wet, the surface around the message darkens while the stenciled area stays dry and light. The messages carry such sayings as: Only Rain Down the Storm Drain; No Wipes in Our Pipes; Your Morning Shower Starts with Tap Water; and Cigarette Butts are Litter, Too. There are 12 different messages in all!

Why “Write as Rain?”
The goal of the campaign is to inspire people to think about our Hampton Roads environment in ways they haven’t before. What’s more unexpected than a magically appearing message written with rain?

Grab your umbrella and head outside to enjoy the next rainy day in Hampton Roads and look for messages in Chesapeake, Hampton, Isle of Wight County, James City County, Newport News, Portsmouth, Smithfield, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, York County, and more locations. Find a message near you using our interactive map below and check back often as new locations are added.

Whenever you find one of our hidden messages, don’t forget to snap a photo to share with us on social media #askHRgreen.  

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Community events, Don't litter!, Fats, oils and grease disposal, Going Green, HR Green campaign updates, Keeping storm drains free, Reduce reuse and recycle, Waterways

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New Years Resolutions to Keep in 2017

Posted on January 2, 2017 by | Comments Off

2017Each year we all make a bunch of promises to ourselves at the turn of the new year. We promise to be healthier, start saving money, live life to the fullest and more. Unfortunately, reducing our collective environmental impact hasn’t yet made it to the top of the New Year’s resolutions list. But that’s OK. No, really, it’s fine. Most people don’t realize that going green is already a part of their goal for 2017…and that’s where we come in! Here are some of the most popular resolutions for the new year and a few tips on how green living can help you meet your goal.

A New Year Means a New (Greener) You

1. Lose Weight. Who hasn’t made this resolution? I’m pretty sure I make it every year! But losing weight and green living have a lot in common. For starters, if you’re ditching fast food and other convenience foods then you’re reducing the amount of waste you produce. In place of these wasteful (and unhealthy) convenience foods, you’ll likely be packing a lunch in reusable containers and cooking at home more often. You’ll also want to keep a refillable water bottle with you all the time to fill with tap water and keep your body hydrated. See, green living is so easy you didn’t even realize you were already doing it!

2. Get Organized. This is probably one resolution I should make, but let’s be honest, I’d never keep it! Being organized means getting rid of unnecessary clutter in your home. And that’s the perfect time to refresh your knowledge on what’s recyclable, what’s reusable and what’s plain old trash. Get out some boxes and label them: Keep, Donate, Recycle and Trash. Keep what you need, donate what can be reused, recycle everything your city/county will accept and make the landfill a last resort. And don’t underestimate the power of donation. Even items like old bedsheets/towels, worn out shoes and dinosaur electronics  have value to the charities that are able to reuse or resell them. For example, old towels and linens seem like trash but are actually an important part of caring for animals at local animal shelters.  

3. Spend Less, Save More. This one is easy. Green living  is all about saving money! Whether you are switching from bottled water to tap water, adjusting your thermostat up or down a couple degrees or starting a carpool, you’ll be saving money and reducing your environmental impact. Saving more is almost always the same as using less and that’s great for the environment as well as your wallet!

4. Learn Something New. Looking to add a new hobby to your life? Consider taking up composting, upcycling, refurbishment projects or gardening. You could even take on backyard chickens! Yes, there are plenty of other new skills to learn in 2017, but why not take on something that benefits you and your surrounding community?

5. Quit Smoking. Kicking the cigarette habit is a big deal and it’s not easy. In return for your hard work, you’ll receive multiple benefits. Non-smokers are healthier and have reduced risks for cancer and other health problems. Non-smokers are also known to litter less. Yep, that’s right. Most smokers are guilty of flicking cigarette butts out the car window, onto the sidewalk or wherever they find themselves without a proper ash receptacle. In fact, cigarette butts are the most commonly littered item in Virginia and across the world. Your community and your local waterways will thank you for not smoking!

We wish you much success as you tackle a new (greener) you in 2017. Happy New Year from all of us at askHRgreen.org!

Posted in: Going Green, Holidays

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