Thursday, July 9, 2009

LEARN: Landscaping in water-tapped areas

Many areas of the West, and some places in the Southeast, have been undergoing water shortages. With climate change already underway and many underground water sources already tapped, it is inevitable that less water will be the norm in the foreseeable future. As a result, you may already be experiencing water restrictions in your area and may be wondering what you can do to save your landscape -- which has likely been used to more regular watering.

In my book, The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family Green, I offer more extensive education and ideas for helping to conserve water -- both for the home and garden. It is a handy resource for you. But to get you started, you might consider these beginning tips:
  • Install drip irrigation -- consider changing out your watering to drip irrigation wherever possible. This will waste less water. Areas where you have bushes and trees are some of the best spots for installing drip systems, as well as gardens.

  • Go native -- little by little change our your landscape to include more native plants. Sometimes you have to do a little research to find out what is native and what is not because importation of plants from other states and countries is now the norm. But native landscape will better withstand drier weather.

  • Xeriscape -- plant less grass and more of other plants that can be more drought tolerant. Even most heat-hardy grasses still needs more watering than drought-tolerant bushes and trees. So, put grass down only where you need it. Some drought-tolerant, low-level groundcovers can look like grass and even be cut like grass, so this is another possibility as well.

  • Plant trees -- There is nothing like trees in your landscape to lower surrounding outdoor temperatures, give partial shade to plants and the soil, and add beauty to your landscape. Water your trees deeply instead of superficially, and they will withstand periods of drought more easily.

  • Amend your soil -- I recommend you have a compost. You can add this compost material to your landscape soil, once or twice a year, to help the soil retain moisture and enrich its health.

Some people may consider synthetic grass to save on water, pesticides, and fertilizers -- and I mentioned this in my book as a tremendous water saver with environmental benefits and tradeoffs. But since then I have reconsidered the extent to which these new-generation artificial grass products should be used, even if the company states they are made with recycled materials and will take back the product for recycling. This is because birds and other animals cannot access food in the dirt below, artificial grass has a tendency to intensify heat, and there are other environmental and health concerns that I now believe outweigh most the initial benefits (like significant water conservation) that people would have bought into.

So, I recommend you only consider artificial turf for specific situations and used in small quantities. Possible examples are an enclosed dog run, a situation where you need to reduce allergens for people who are highly allergic or have severe respiratory issues, or an outdoor area of an elderly person's home when the person cannot maintain natural grass (though, even in that case you might just use low-maintenance bushes and trees instead).

There is a debate over if synthetic turf should be used for high traffic areas -- like a sports field or daycare center -- I would say no based upon new 2009 research by the University of Arkansas. The University found that natural grass is cheaper, more easily renewed, much cooler, safer (due to less heat injuries, less chance of contracting disease from the grass), filters water and air pollutants, releases oxygen into the air, and it captures carbon dioxide.

If you don't want natural grass or can't support natural grass with water restrictions, you may consider not having any grass at all in your landscape, instead just landscape with a variety of trees, bushes, and naturally occurring plants and flowers that are specific to your area. And add compost to your soil so that it retains moisture longer.

This may require you to look at landscape in a different way -- my family and I were reminded of this when we visited the Piedras Blancas Light Station along the Central Coast of California this summer -- they have been undergoing an extensive plant restoration project to renew the area with native plants. And I have to say that the areas where native plants are now growing tends to be the most beautiful and biodiverse.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

More: Revisiting Particulates

Another revisitation today -- this time with air quality. There's was an interesting interview today with Chip Jacobs and William Kelly at the NPR station KCRW in Los Angeles talking about smog and how it relates to particulate matter and global warming.

Regarding particulate matter -- they addressed the same issues I talked about almost exactly a year ago. Those issues being that the pollution in our air is getting finer and finer, in terms of size, and perhaps becoming equally or more dangerous than the pollution of yester-year -- only, we can't see it as much because it has changed. So people may not be complaining as much. And the interviewees notioned that perhaps we need added pollution measurements now. You can see how clean your air is where you live by looking at the map at

You can listen to the interview below -- tip ... after you press play and see the moving guidebar under the smoggy city, move the guidebar to the 32 minute mark.

Revisiting Tissue Products

You are going to see more and more "naturally" labeled tissue products coming out, as the green movement swiftly moves through all consumer goods. One such example is tissue products. I wrote about how to select greener tissue products a couple of months ago in a two-part series, but now that some of the larger companies are starting to gain more distribution I will mention some key points again --
  • Carefully read the labels -- again, you are looking for 100% recycled content with at least 40 percent of that being post-consumer waste AND bleaches with NO toxic chlorine compounds

  • Print out the Greenpeace Tissue Guide for specific brand guidance

Also to note, if you see "ECF" (Elemental Chlorine Free) on the label or on the company's website, it doesn't mean chlorine free. It just means there is no elemental chlorine in the bleaching process because elemental chlorine was banned by the EPA in April 2001 due to toxicity issues. Instead, the company is using some other type of bleaching, probably chlorine dioxide. The Natural Resources Defense Council has outlined the various chlorine acronyms for you and what they mean here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Major Food Victory for Consumers and Non-Industrialized Ranchers and Farmers

If you've seen the documentary "Food, Inc." (see my review here) or have been staying on top of news in the farming and organic industry, this past week was a potential tipping point in the favor of conscious consumers and non-industrialized ranchers and farmers. According to The Center for Food Safety's report "the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has re-affirmed its previous decision upholding a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa ... genetically modified alfalfa can result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment, and economic harm to farmers."

I foresee this ruling being a domino effect in reversing the flow of genetically modified plants and seeds and Monsanto's strangle hold on the farming industry.

The organizations you and your family have to thank in protecting your food supply in this courageous lawsuit are not just The Center for Food Safety but also Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, Trask Family Seeds, and Geertson Seed Farms. You can subscribe to these organizations' blog and newsletters to be kept up to date on future issues.