Friday wrap-up: Gas, solar hot water heat, credit card protections and detergent

My hot water heater is only a couple years old AND I don’t know how to do plumbing, but other than that, doesn’t this sound good? And it’s remarkably pretty, too.

Gas prices are climbing, climbing, climbing. Green Daily posted about gas prices and options for using less gas-intensive transportation, and WiseBread had a post on offers that will earn you free gas.

This post extols the merits of Blue Dawn and got me excited with its mention of biodegradable. I added my own use for Dawn … washing the lanolin (and gunk, suint (sheep sweat) and other goo) from sheep’s fleece. I bought Dawn because it’s highly recommended by many spinners, and I figured I wouldn’t be washing much fleece … but it seems to be a building contagion around here and now I’ve washed three fleeces. This site questions the “biodegradable” claim and suggests Ecover. I LOVE Ecover’s dishwashing liquid and dishwasher powder (their prices seem high at first, but unlike many green detergents they actually WORK, so I use very little), so I will try it next time.

And WiseBread posted this article about possible protections for credit card users that might be mandated by the Federal Reserve (the article includes a link to where you can submit a public comment). I know I’ve been hit by the interest-on-two-cycles one, which smacks users who don’t quite pay off their balance one month, then polish it off the next. Have you suffered from any of these rules?

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Hybrid car competition heats up!

Today, hybrid car competition has heated up with the announcement that Honda is planning to introduce two new hybrid models.

One of them, the company hopes, will be priced at under $20,000 for a five-seat, four-door hatchback model. That’s at least $4,000 less than Toyota’s Prius and is likely to make price incentives a possibility for car buyers — they haven’t been happening because Toyota’s had the groovy-hybrid market all to itself. (Honda makes a hybrid Civic and that’s it, for now.)

This is excellent news for those of us looking to improve our footprint next year. It will be even better news in about four years when those vehicles really start hitting the resale market.

See the full story here.

Green culture and kids

This morning, Little Cheap was playing “bookstore.” I went into the “store” to choose some books and toys for my fictitious niece, Duck, who fictitiously likes birds and elephants.

The shopkeeper, Aryana (we’ll discuss the political implications of that spelling later), made some recommendations for me to purchase, including the book “Duck for President” (“it’s hilarious, even for adults”) and a toy elephant.

I handed over my toy money. She wrote up a receipt. Then she put my purchases into an American Girl bag that I accepted in New York to hold our American Girl purchase, so that Little Cheap could have it as a souvenir.

This bag does not come from my store,” the “shopkeeper” said. “I use all bags that I’ve gotten from other places. I’m doing the ‘green project’ this year.”

She said “green project” complete with finger-punctuation marks.

I know she’s getting the “green project” from me. But this exchange made me think that she’s noticing it in the world, too.

How do you see “green projects” affecting kids? Or not? Is there hope, yet?

Friday-on-Monday wrap-up: Food costs, urban farming

Sorry everyone … this was supposed to automatically publish on Friday, but I was out of town and I see that it didn’t! Catching up today …

Food prices are going up, and Liz Pulliam Weston wrote about how to save — including not buying (pricier) brown eggs based on the (false) premise that they are more nutritious, not wasting food, and a suggestion that families would save a lot of money by eating bananas instead of apples every day. (Note to my readers: Families also would be more constipated. Just sayin’.)

Marketplace put on its Web site an article titled “Rise of the Urban Farmer,” in which a reporter buys some tomatoes to grow. She jokingly anticipates that pasta sauce grown at home will cost $59. I wonder how much it really costs? Maybe we’ll have to tally it this year … or just read Get Rich Slowly’s post on suburban gardening.

I also came across an article on container gardening (via Money and Values) that has some items of interest. We are growing quite a few things in containers — potatoes, scallions, mint — mostly to add more growing space without having to dig so much at the moment.

Garden Update 2008

Spring is here and things are growing!

We have a bunch of crops started. In fact, the first batch of spinach is just about done — ready to pick, cook and freeze.

spinach

Lettuce is going into salads.

Lettuce

Inside, our seedlings have taken off — scarlet runner beans, pumpkins, butternut squash, cantaloupe, and okra.

seedlings

The peanuts, on the other hand, started out looking like a mold/mushroom/space alien combination.

peanuts

Outside, we’ve had blossoms on our apricot tree, cherry tree and apple trees … but I’ve only seen two bees so far, so I don’t know if pollination is underway. It seems doubtful. Very sad.

Potatoes are just cropping up in one of our two containers.

potatoes

We’ve got herbs coming along nicely, some self-seeded dill growing, and parsley that overwintered under the protective leaves of the frostbitten collards.

parsley

The peas … well, the birds ate them, and I don’t know if they’ll make it before it gets too hot.

And out of the six Napa cabbage seedlings Mr. Cheap set out under milk-jug cloches, just one is still fighting.

We’re getting ready to plant beets, arugula, bush green beans and a new batch of lettuce and spinach. In just a couple of weeks, we can install everybody else: Tomatoes, the seedlings mentioned above, Brussels sprouts.

What’s growing in your patch of Earth?

Just compost!

Last week was International Compost Week, and since we missed it here, the pressure’s off and we can just focus on the process of starting a compost pile.

Compost is a mixture of decayed organic matter (from vegetable peelings to manure) that provides rich fertilizer for soil (humus — not to be confused with hummus, the chickpea-based snack food). For the home gardener, compost is a great source of soil enrichment — and a way to recycle a significant amount of the heavy, stinky, gas-producing components of garbage.

Some cities have green waste recycling programs – essentially a city compost program. If yours doesn’t — or if you want to reuse your organic garbage — compost on.

Note that “organic” simply means something that grew — and while waste that is organic in the sense of no pesticides is better, any organic/grown matter can make compost.

How to compost

At its simplest:

  1. Find a place to put your organic matter. A container of some sort is best, because it keeps out critters like squirrels and neighborhood cats (and, if you asked me at 10:00 last night when one side of our bin detached in the wind, the dog who frequents your own back yard). But you can just make a pile in
    a corner of the yard, too. Sometimes compost smells, so a site downwind from your patio and not too close to your neighbor’s yard is most humane.

  2. Put some “green” stuff in the bin/pile. Green stuff, for composting, is stuff that is rich in nitrogen and not dry (carbon). This includes grass clippings, thinnings from your vegetables (that you don’t eat), peelings and leftover vegetables, livestock manure, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, urine, what have you.

  3. Put an approximately equal amount of “dry” or “brown” stuff (carbon-rich matter) in the bin/pile. This is just what it sounds like: Grass clippings you’ve let dry, leaves saved up from the fall, hay, etc. In fact, check out the EPA’s compost page, which has great “in” and “out” lists. It says you can compost cardboard rolls (like toilet paper tubes) and clean paper (per the shredding discussion we had a while back on this blog). This is excellent news, because in my experience, brown stuff is much harder to come by than green.

  4. Do NOT include: meat or dairy products, pet poop, human poop (did I need to tell you that?), or weeds with seeds (lest you grow a big healthy crop of just what you’re trying to eradicate).

  5. Give it a little water.

  6. “Turn” it. This means poke and shovel it around so it gets mixed up well. Ambitious composters will “turn” their pile frequently (every week or so) and even be sure to poke air holes in the pile so air can get to the bottom layers. Lazy composters will just leave it to rot, and eventually, it will.

  7. Watch it get hot. “Hot” is literal. The decaying action will release heat, and in a healthy compost pile, the middle of the pile will turn ashy gray. That’s an excellent sign! It’s working! Go, Mother Nature!

  8. Let it cool down. Just let it do its job.

  9. Put it on your garden or make “compost tea” (caution: If you are an easily intimidated novice, don’t click that link – it’s intense!). Your plants will love you, and so will the landfill. Plus you’ll save the $3 a bag or so that you’re spending on purchased compost — all while recycling your waste.

What if you don’t have a yard? Perhaps vermicomposting (worm compost) is for you. Read all about it at this site.

And now, what did I miss? Share your own trials, tribulations and tips with composting – ’tis the season.