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Create a More Sustainable Garden and Get Started with Composting



Vegetable garden by Nick Saltmarsh via Flickr

One of the most important things you can do for your garden is to feed it nutrient-rich compost. While a mixture of grass clippings, leaves and vegetable matter may not sound exciting, it can do amazing things when it comes to improving your soil structure and providing your plants with the nutrients they need to thrive.

You can easily create your own compost for little or no cost, in your own backyard or on your patio. However, it’s important that you start composting now because it can take about a year for the compost to be ready to use in your garden. If you’re ready to get started, here are some steps you can take that can help you compost at home.

Choose a Container

There are a number of containers made for compost. You’ll find some at your local garden center. You can purchase a sealed bin that has a small door where you add the organic matter. You might also consider buying a composting barrel on a stand that allows you to tumble it – CompostBinHQ has a good selection of all sorts.

If you’re a traditionalist you won’t need to buy a container, you can create a conventional compost heap. You build a four-sided box from scrap lumber and place it in a corner of your backyard, according to Nicholas Staddon, director of new plants for Monrovia. The company grows 22 million plants (and over 2,300 varieties) annually. You want to position the compost heap away from your home and outdoor gathering places because the compost can get stinky when it’s not in a sealed container.

Start Piling

If you want to have an organic garden, make sure you only put organic items in your compost. According to Robert McLaughlin, CEO of Organic Bouquet in Maitland, Florida, you should not add chemically-treated produce in your compost or you’ll be adding those chemicals. The majority of your compost should be fruit and vegetables. However, you can add small sticks, straw, grass clippings, paper and newspaper. Staddon says that the amount of chemicals in a newspaper is so small that it does not make a big difference.

If you run short of organic matter, ask your neighbors for their vegetable waste or grass clippings. According to Staddon, you’d be doing them a favor. If your neighbor owns goats, chickens or horses, you may also be able to get nutrient-packed manure.

Hit the Right Ratio

When adding to your compost heap, you want to make sure you keep a healthy ratio of nitrogen-rich matter and carbon-rich matter, according to Nell Foster, gardening blogger, horticulturist and owner of Joy Us in Santa Barbara, California, which creates eco-conscious garden accessories. A healthy ratio is 25 to 30 parts carbon to one-part nitrogen. If you can maintain this ratio, it is the quickest way to produce aromatic, fertile compost. If the mix has too much carbon decomposition will slow down. If the nitrogen levels are too high, then you’ll have a smelly pile.

Finely shredded cardboard, straw, leaves, sawdust, ashes, corn stalks, peanut shells, pine needles and fruit are excellent sources of carbon. Coffee grounds, garden waste, manure, hay, seaweed, grass clippings, clover and vegetable scraps have high levels of nitrogen. According to Foster, you should do a little research before throwing things into your compost pile. And make sure the plant matter, you throw into the pile has not gone to seed or they can take root in your compost. For example, if you toss your rotting jack-o-lantern in the compost, you may find your pile full of sprouting pumpkin plants.

Stir Your Compost Regularly

Turn the compost heap regularly with a garden fork to aerate the soil. This will help to speed up the bacterial activity. You can tell when a compost is ready by its appearance. When ready the compost will have the look of rich, healthy soil.

Keep the Compost Warm

Compost breaks down faster when kept warm, so it’s important to keep your compost bin or heap insulated from the cold. That’s the reason many compost bin containers are black, to attract the sun. Covering a heap with a black tarp can have the same effect. The ideal temperature for your compost heap is 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Although you want to try to keep the temperature at that level, don’t worry if it drops. The microbes in the compost can generate their own heat, so some decomposition will occur, as long as the compost heap is above freezing. Here are some tips to keep compost warm during winter.

Collect the Run-off

Some compost bins allow rainwater to flow through. The water comes out of the bottom of the bin and collects for drainage. This liquid is an amazing fertilizer; all you need to do is pour it around the plants in your garden.

Put the Compost to Work

When the compost is ready, add it to your garden. After the plants in your garden have taken root and have 10 to 12-inches of growth, you can add an inch of compost on top of the soil. McLaughlin advises you to blend the compost into the soil for the best results.



Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations



green housing techniques

Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?

The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.

New Construction Options

One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.

In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.

The Simple Retrofit

From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?

Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.

Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.

Big Innovations

Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.

In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.

Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.

It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.

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How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions



auto industry to clean air pollution

Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Public Health Crisis

It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.

Eco-Friendly Vehicles

It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.

Used Cars

Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.

Public Perception

With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.


The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.

With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.

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