Category Archives: Home and Garden

Tips to Create a Small Garden with Difficult Soil

Don’t blame yourself if you’re having trouble sustaining your yard. It doesn’t mean you lack a green thumb or can’t keep the simplest of species alive. The number one problem in any kind of landscaping is soil. Unless you live in a fertile part of the country, there’s a good chance you’ll run into difficult soil that will hinder you in growing even the most maintenance-free flowers or plants. There are several reasons why plants have a hard time growing, but when nature seems to be stacked against you, these soil solutions can make the difference between a garden that’s great, and one that’s nearly non-existent.

Causes of Difficult Soil

All yards run into difficulties at some point and a lot of it has to do with the ground it’s growing in. So the first line of attack is a good defense: identifying the setback.

pH Balance: the most troublesome dilemma is your yard’s chemical composition. Dirt has a pH level which is measured using a scale ranging from 0-14. Since plants need a nice balance of several chemical elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc.) in order to effectively grow, you need to make sure its pH level is balanced as well. It should always stay somewhere between 5 and 7. Below that it’s too acidic, and above that it’s too alkaline; too much in either direction and you have a problem.
Salty Soil: If your plant leaves are discolored, if brown crust is surfacing, or if a powdery material is dusting the top of your small garden, then you may have saline or sodic soil. In other words, sodium levels are high and it’s stressing your yard.
Soil Species: Soil structure could also be causing some obstacles. Clay can hold too much water at times and then suddenly dry out and get hard (hardpan). Sandy dirt can’t hold water at all, and therefore nutrients simply slide away with the irrigation.
Lucky for us, the modern gardener has the benefit of decades of science and research that can be used to modify whatever dirt we’re dealing with. Contemporary garden planning and soil additives are the key elements in keeping our plants healthy, and easy to manage.

Common Soil Additives

Before you can find a suitable soil solution, you must understand your specific soil problem. Therefore, it’s a good idea to hire a professional to test it. Take a dirt sample from the plot and a water sample from the irrigation source, and give it to a testing facility who’ll quickly diagnose the difficulty.

Once you know what your dirt is lacking, you can improve its structure with soil additives like organic compost, top soil, and activation products that can help to thicken sand, calm down clay, and dilute salt. Soil additives are often a necessity when balancing pH levels. If you want to keep it organic, however, make sure to read labels carefully. You may even want to consult a gardening specialist in your area for suggestions on what soil additives will work best.

Drainage Solutions

Soil additives are only one element in making your garden grow. When it comes to small gardens, raised garden beds, or entire lawns, another common predicament is drainage. Soil could be draining too fast, which washes away vital nutrients and creates puddles (causing root destruction and rotting). But if it’s not getting enough irrigation, it could become hardpan and barren. There are different solutions to improper drainage (some that you can to do on your own and some larger projects which may take the hand of a professional), but there’s only one overriding philosophy: moderation and proportion.

– Compost: Once again, soil structure is essential. Add compost to thicken sandy dirt, but beware of overfilling: it causes settling and the compost could waterlog.
– Dry Dirt: Adding dry dirt, such as limestone and silica sand, could help soak up the moisture from clay, but watch out for overdoing it because it alters pH levels as well.
– No Tilling: We love to feel like we’re doing something, so sometimes gardeners over-till the earth, which only aggravates the soil and upsets natural drainage systems.
– Grading: It’s crucial to have proper surface drainage, which means your yard must be appropriately sloped so water doesn’t collect. Underground tile and subsurface pipes can’t do it alone: you have to actually move around and correctly grade the topsoil.
– Low spots: Backfilling low spots help to avoid water buildup, but you’ll have to get a backhoe, dig up the ground, and add new dirt (of the same species) until it is leveled.
– Irrigation: To make sure the yard is getting just the right amount of water, you may want to hire a landscape contractor to install a sprinkler system for $1,800 to $2,500 to control the exact amount of irrigation your lawn receives.

Best Tips for Building the Perfect Garden

The landscaping around your home is more important than you may think. Properly done landscaping helps to protect your home from the dangers of excess water runoff, and well-done landscaping can increase the value of your home. There are some elements of your landscaping that you can do on your own, and then there are those tasks that are best left to professionals. There are also seasonal landscaping activities that can become traditions in your family that will go on for many years. The more effort and resources you put into landscaping your home and developing your garden, the more you will get out of it.

Your garden has to be placed in the right part of your yard if you want to get the best possible results. You cannot put your garden in an area that will be shaded from the sun for most of the day because that will inhibit the growth of your plants. You can always block the sunlight with a covering if you need to, but you cannot create sunlight where it is blocked by a building or a tree. Your garden should be in an area exposed to the sun and in a place that is easy to access with your water hose and sprinkler. Some people get very elaborate with their garden designs and add a multitude of colorful flowers. If you want to bring in a variety of flowers to your garden, then it is best to keep the garden away from your house, as some flowers tend to attract large insects.

To protect your garden, you can put up a fence that will keep out smaller animals. If you have problems with animals burrowing into your garden, then install your fence at least one foot below ground level to prevent burrowing animals from getting in. To keep out smaller birds that may try to feed on your plants, you can put reflective tape around your garden fence to help confuse and deter plant-eating birds. If you are having major issues with smaller birds dive-bombing your garden, then put up large owl boxes and other homes to attract predators that will keep the smaller birds away from your garden. The larger predators will not be interested in your plants, and the boxes may add some color and interest to your garden as well.

Your landscaping needs to be sloped away from your home to make sure that all runoff water goes away from your foundation. It is best to bring in a professional contractor to look over your landscaping and make sure that it is graded properly to protect your home. You can facilitate proper water runoff by mowing your lawn regularly to create pathways for the water to travel through. Mowing your lawn regularly will also help it to stay healthy and keep weeds and crabgrass from growing as well. A mowed lawn also enhances the look of your landscaping and gives more curb appeal to your home.

Landscaping lights powered by solar energy will enhance your lawn without adding to your monthly energy bill. You can also add small touches such as mulch and low fencing around the trees and shrubs on your lawn as well. The mulch will absorb and retain moisture that will keep your shrubs and trees healthy. Remember to have a professional tree-trimming company take care of your trees at least once a year to prevent the branches from growing too close to your home. Healthy shrubs and trees can also accommodate holiday decorations that add color and fun to your home during the holiday season. If you do notice that one of your trees is no longer growing leaves, then that tree should be removed immediately to prevent damage to your home and the possible spread of pests.

Your landscaping and garden are the first home elements people see when they visit you. When you take care of your landscaping and work hard to create the perfect garden, you will have a lawn that is worth bragging about. A professionally designed landscape can protect your home’s foundation from damage while keeping your trees and shrubs healthy at the same time. The regular maintenance you do to your garden and lawn are well worth it when you step back and take a look at the results you get.

Tips to Feed Your Whole Family

Are you wondering how to grow organically? People all over the United States are getting involved in organic gardening so they can provide safe, healthy, low-cost food to their family. Gardening for delicious organic food is happening everywhere from backyards in Florida to window boxes in Maine. To get started, however, it’s a good idea to start by answering the question, “exactly what is the organic way of gardening?” While many people have different ideas about this, a basic definition is easy to agree on: It’s a form of gardening that does not allow the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. While this is a very rewarding approach to growing plants, it can also be quite challenging!

Pesticides

There are a limited number of pesticides permitted in organic gardens, but without artificial chemicals to rely on, would-be organic gardeners need to learn the ins and outs of cultivating an entire ecosystem that will naturally support their plants. This requires them to learn a lot about their crops, the soil they have available, and possible pests that could harm their crops. It all begins with choosing the right seeds for your vegetable patch. Some of the easiest crops to grow organically include mainstays like tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and strawberries, though of course, you should choose crops that will flourish in your climate and soil type. Companion planting can be a smart way to optimize the use of your space, but knowing what to plant and when is also key. For instance, clover, oats, and buckwheat flourish in the summer, while many beans and peas prefer winter.

Preventing Weeds & Insects

When you’re considering how to start an organic garden, you need to give consideration to insects and weeds that could prove problematic. That starts with learning about organic pest control and removal and discovering which garden insects tend to be helpful. In organic gardening, it’s impossible to completely eliminate pests and plant diseases, but you can go a long way toward minimizing problems by encouraging beneficial insects that prey on pests. How do you do it? Incorporate plants that produce the pollen and nectar that these insects crave. If you’re finding that pests are gaining the upper hand, you can actually purchase eggs or larvae for many beneficial insects from your local specialty gardening shop. It may still take a few weeks before you notice a difference, but the end results are well worth it!
Weeds can be a serious issue in organic gardening. Rotation, mulching, and weeding can all help protect your plants from harm. Some good mulching materials include compost, wood chips, pine needles, grass clippings, shredded leaves, and aged sawdust. In small amounts, black plastic or clear plastic can also be used to keep weeds at bay. Crop rotation of different plant families will improve the soil’s ability to maintain growth: Switch between members of the lily family, squash family, carrot family, beet family, and cabbage-mustard family regularly for best results. Intercropping can also help: For example, pair shade-tolerant plants under those that love sunlight, fast growers with slower growers, and those with deep root systems alongside those with shallow roots to maximize your yield.
Over-Wintering

Virtually any organic gardener will eventually have to make plans for over-wintering. Over-wintering can be tough at first, but with a little bit of experience, you’ll be able to get better and more efficient results. In an organic ecosystem, the soil needs to be protected during the winter or its ability to support crops in warmer seasons will be compromised. Many gardeners turn to burlap as a lower “guard layer” for the soil, piling mulch made from garden debris on top. Throughout the winter, it’s important to check the soil for moisture, which might indicate whether the burlap is improperly placed.

Know More About Green Building Glossary

Agricultural Bi-products: Products developed in agriculture but are not a primary product. This is often converted into building materials, such as straw used in wall panels or entire bales used as building blocks.

Agricultural Fibers: Natural fibers, such as cotton, often used as insulation materials.

Air Quality Standards: Amount of pollutants approved by predetermined guidelines that are not to be surpassed during a given time in a specific area.

Biodegradable: A material that is capable of decomposing naturally within a short amount of time.

Brownfields: Idle facilities where expansion or redevelopment is made difficult by environmental contamination.

Cellulose: A fibrous part of plants used to manufacture paper/textiles.

Cellulose Insulation: Insulation is made from recycled newspaper with borates to provide fire protection.

Certified Forest Product: A product certified as sustainable/suitable for use in a green building. These products are from a managed forest that has passed guidelines for responsible harvesting and environmental conservation.

Chain-of-custody Certification: A product that has met certain requirements throughout its life, beginning from its extraction and production all the way to its distribution and sale.

Chlorofluorocarbons: Chemicals used in refrigeration, air conditioning, insulation, or as solvents and aerosol propellants. CFC’s are not eliminated in the lower atmosphere, and therefore they float into the upper atmosphere where their components destroy the ozone layer.

Clean Energy: Energy created from renewable sources with low environmental impact.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs): These lamps use much less energy than standard incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs.

Compost: An organic fertilizer made by a composting process wherein bacteria in the soil is mixed with degradable trash.

Cradle-to-Cradle: A procedure that advocates the recycling of waste materials into new products rather than permanently disposing of them.

Cradle-to-Grave: A procedure advocating the disposal of waste materials by means of landfill, incineration, etc. rather than recycling.

Daylighting: Using natural light in many different ways in a building. By using various design methods, this light decreases reliance on electricity by using windows and skylights.

Design for the Environment (DfE): An environmentally sensitive design model which reducing environmental damage through careful planning and material selection.

Domestic Hardwood: Deciduous trees whose wood is the only in the U.S. and where the growth of new trees exceeds the removal rate.

Dust Spot Efficiency: A measure of a filter’s collection efficiency for fine particles.

Earth Sheltered Design: A home designed to be built partially or completely below ground, either by digging into existing ground or by covering over parts of the house. This design utilizes the constant temperature of the soil to improve energy efficiency and reduces environmental impact.

Earth’s Thermal Energy: A little below the surface, the earth keeps a constant temperature close to the human comfort level, and this type of heating can be used efficiently for geothermal heating systems.

Embodied Energy: The energy that is necessary to make a product. It is also the molecular energy already existing in a product’s content.

Emission: The release of any gas or vapor into the environment from a particular source, including smokestacks, chimneys, and motor vehicles.

Energy Efficiency: Products or systems designed to use less energy for the same or higher performance. It can also save money on utilities by being less reliable on fossil fuels and depending more on renewable resources.

Energy Modeling: A computer model used to analyze a building’s energy systems in order to project its possible consumption rate.

Energy Recovery: A process of attaining energy from waste.

Energy Recovery Ventilator: A device that draws stale air away from a building and transfers the heat or coolness of that air to the outside air being pulled into the house, which also decreases energy costs along with reducing indoor pollutants.

Environmental Aspect: The way a manufacturer’s activities or products can relate positively or negatively with the environment.

Environmental Audit: An assessment of a company’s (or person’s) compliance with environmental requirements.

Environmental Impact: Any positive or negative change to the environment resulting from manufacturing processes.

EPA: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: a governmental organization designed to set and enforce environmental regulations.

Fluorocarbon: A non-flammable liquid or gas used as propellants; often used in spray cans, they are classified as ozone-depleting substances.

Fly Ash: An ash residue created from combustion processes. Some electrical plants create a non-toxic fly ash that can be a substitute for Portland Cement.

Fossil Fuel: Fuel (such as coal, oil and natural gas) produced by the decomposition of fossilized plants and animals.

Formaldehyde: Colorless, pungent, toxic (the cause of many cancers or respiratory ailments) material used to as a component in glues for wood products.

Fuel Cell: A device used to convert energy into electrical power that is cleaner than most power sources.

Full Spectrum Lights: Lights that imitate the natural light spectrum and are therefore considered healthier.

Generator: A power plant producing electricity for a large number of people.

Geothermal Heat: A technology that utilizes the warmth from subsurface water to heat buildings, and it also extracts this heat to put back into the ground for cooling. Find more information on geothermal heating.

Global Warming: A significant variation from one climatic condition to another due to human activities.

Green Building: A building constructed to incorporate design techniques and materials, which then minimize its environmental impacts.

Green Electricity Provider: A utility that generates or invests in electricity from renewable sources and sells it for a small premium over standard electricity costs.

Green Power (see Renewable Energy):
Greenhouse Effect: The warming of the Earth’s atmosphere due to a buildup of gases in the air.

Greenhouse Gas: Any gas contributing to the greenhouse effect (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) by staying in the atmosphere and intensifying the sun’s heat as it radiates to the earth.

Greywater: Wastewater that doesn’t contain contaminates and can then be reused for irrigation after filtration.

Halocarbons: Manmade chemicals that, when released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, can disrupt global climate patterns. Their most common use is in refrigeration and air conditioning technologies.

Harvested Rainwater: Rain channeled by gutters to a storage unit and can then be reused for different things.

Heat Recovery Systems: Mechanical devices used to capture waste heat from another system to replace the heat that would otherwise come from a primary energy source.

High-performance Building: Similar to a green building, these structures specifically aim to be energy efficient, safe, and healthy.

High-quality Duct System: An alternative system in which all the ducts are sealed with fibrated latex material and fiberglass tape, and then run outside to avoid significant heating and cooling losses and potential health threats caused by de/pressurizing a house.

Hydropower (hydroelectricity): Clean energy technology that uses moving water to produce electricity. Water flows through a hydraulic turbine, which spins and then rotates generators and converts rotational energy into electricity.

Indigenous Materials: Building with materials that are produced in an area near to where the construction is taking place. This reduces building costs and helps to boost local economies.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): The amount of indoor pollution sources (paint, carpet, wood treatments, mold, etc) which can release different harmful gases (such as carbon monoxide) and can cause health hazards if the air isn’t properly ventilated.

Integrated Pest Management: A cost-effective way to prevent pests by using less invasive techniques to both animal and occupant alike.

Lead: A toxic pollutant, typically found in older homes, that is a component of lead-based paint.
Life Cycle Assessment: Analyzing a product’s entire life from raw materials through manufacture, use, and disposal.

Low Biocide: Paint that does not contain toxic additives, such as fungicide or pesticide.

Low-E Windows: Low emissivity windows that reflect heat, not light, thereby keeping spaces warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

Low-flow toilet: A toilet that uses less water than a traditional unit, therefore lowering costs by using water more efficiently.

Low-pressure Drop Air Filters: High efficiency air filters with an extended surface, which allows for more filtration without an increase in horsepower.

NIOSH: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health: a federal agency that conducts research in order to prevent work-related injury and illness.

Outgas: Emission of fumes into the air; these emissions are often caused by building materials that contain certain chemicals.

Passive Design: Building design that uses natural processes such as radiation, convection, absorption, and conduction as support.

Passive Cooling/Heating: A building structure designed to increase ventilation and retention of heating/cooling within its building components.

Pervious Paving: Material that allows water to penetrate to the soil below, thereby decreasing the amount of water needed by the water system.

Passive Solar Design: Using design methods to capitalize on heat and light from the sun, thereby reducing the need for electric systems.

Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) Content: Materials that have been recovered after use.

Radon: A radioactive gas that occurs naturally, but when trapped in buildings can cause health problems such as lung cancer.

Recyclable Content: Materials that have potential to be recovered from recycling.

Recycled Content: Percentage of recycled materials in a product.

Renewable Energy: Energy resulting from natural sources; they can then replenish themselves over short periods of time (sun, wind, moving water, organic plant, biomass, geothermal heat).

Sink: Gases and vapors absorbed onto surfaces such as carpet, drywall, etc, and can later be re-emitted.

Site Preservation: Minimizing the disruption of a building on its surrounding environment (reusing existing structures on a site, rather than building upon unused land; or avoiding building on top of environmentally fragile land that could interfere with natural ecosystems).

Smart House: Electronic controls and sensors that regulate heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, and appliance operation for energy conservation purposes. Do you want a smart home?

Solar Water Heater: Heat from the sun that is absorbed and then transferred by pumps to a storage unit, which is then transported to the hot water of a home through a heat exchanger.

Solar Photovoltaics (PV): These convert sunlight directly into electricity by using materials made from semiconductor materials. This material does not create any pollution, noise, or other environmental impact.

Technical Nutrient: A material designed to return into the technical cycle.

Thermal Bridge: A conductive element, such as a metal channel, that bypasses a less conductive element, such as insulation.

Thermal Buffer: A gap between a space and its exterior used to reduce the heating/cooling load.

Thermal By-pass: An opening between spaces that air can move through, thereby violating air tightness.

Thermal Envelope: The shell of a structure that creates a barrier from the elements.

Thermal Flywheel: A space that collects heat then releases it in a continuous pattern.

Tight Construction: The elimination of gaps and holes in a building’s exterior through proper air sealing and ventilation. It reduces waste and makes a home more energy efficient.

Toxic: Any material or waste product, which can cause injury if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC): A national organization whose mission is to accelerate the adoption of green building practices, technologies, and standards.

Urban Heat Islands: Dark-colored surfaces absorb heat from the sun more than light-colored surfaces. In urban areas, a combination of dark surfaces and a lack of shade intensify this effect. One solution is the use of lighter-colored materials in building construction. The use of well-placed vegetation to increase shade or green roof systems can also minimize these effects and increase energy efficiency.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Materials that evaporate from organic products and can cause acute and chronic illnesses.

Waste-to-Energy: Incinerating waste products in order to generate steam, heat, or electricity.

Water Efficiency: Products, such as low-flow water fixtures, that use less water than traditional products, while still sustaining the same performance.

Whole-building Design: The integration of a building’s systems to maximize environmental and financial functioning by considering energy systems, building materials, design methods, site preservation, and indoor air quality so that a structure can run at its maximum efficiency.
Wind Turbine: A mechanical system that “captures” wind to generate electrical power. Surplus electricity is then stored in a battery storage system for future use, or power is restored back into the utility, thereby lowering usage rates.

Xerioscope: A new landscaping design that accounts for water and energy efficiency yet requires less maintenance by exemplifying good planning, efficient irrigation processes, soil improvement, easily foliage conservation, and good maintenance.

Let’s Learn About Composting and Landscaping at Home

When imagining one’s ideal home, the image is often accompanied by picturesque landscaping in the form of beautiful trees and manicured lawns. Unfortunately, attractively kept yards are often the result of chemicals that can be hard on the environment and they are typically difficult to maintain. In addition, the landscape design cost can add up. Composting is a method of creating a beautiful outdoor environment in a more natural way. In fact, composting is an accelerated process that mimics nature’s own process of recycling.

When families compost they, like nature, are recycling certain organic materials, which then enrich the soil. This “recycling” is actually the decomposition of organic materials such as leaves, twigs, grass clippings, paper, and even food scraps. Unlike nature, people who choose to compost must use a system to accomplish this in a timely manner that is also as sanitary as possible. There are two primary types of composting that people may choose from: backyard composting and worm composting. When worm composting, which is also known as vermicomposting, people use worms to break down the scraps. Worms do this by consuming the organic scraps that are put in the bin. After they have chewed up or consumed the organic materials, they expel it as their waste. This waste material is what is used for compost. Vermicomposting can be accomplished indoors or in small spaces and is ideal for people who live in apartments or who do not have a lot of yard space.

As its name would suggest, backyard composting takes place in one’s yard. It may be accomplished in a bin, in a caged off area, or even in a garbage can. Organic waste is divided into “browns” and “greens” which are alternately piled into the bin or a caged off area. Browns are carbon sources and include branches, straw, wood chips, sawdust, etc. Greens are sources of nitrogen and include hair, lint, manure from herbivore farm animals, dead houseplants, egg shells, and coffee grounds, to name a few. The compost should be kept damp and turned regularly to keep it aerated and odors down. When it is ready, it will look and smell very similar to rich, dark dirt.

Compost can be used in a number of ways. It may be used in landscaping such as lawns, shrubs, and trees. Flower and vegetable gardens can benefit from the addition of compost as well. Vegetable gardens and fruit trees, for example, that have had the benefit of compost, tend to produce healthier vegetables and fruit that are free of the chemicals found in fertilizers. When it comes to one’s landscape, compost offers numerous benefits. Weeds, for example, can distract from the beauty of one’s lawn and can be a nuisance in terms of their removal. Compost helps to control the growth of weeds by cutting off the light that is needed for their survival and growth. The high amount of organic material found in compost improves the condition of the soil so that plants grow healthier and more easily. Compost also improves water retention and aggregates formed by compost help to improve the structure of every soil type. Another benefit to using compost when landscaping is that any soil borne pathogens are greatly suppressed and macronutrients supply plants and grass with many of the nutrients they need. As a result, the use of fertilizer is greatly decreased. Because one is using compost, the cost of lawn maintenance in terms of fertilizer and other additives is also reduced if not eliminated.

Composting is a natural and safe way to obtain a beautiful outdoor environment. Not only will homeowners be pleased with the healthy appearance of their landscape, but they will also reap the rewards of using an environmentally safe process to do so. Although the process of creating compost can take some effort and time, people often find that the results are worth it. From lawns to flowers to vegetable gardens, composting is one of the most beneficial things that a person can do for their outdoor environment.