Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tips for an Eco-Friendly Summer

Summer can be a particularly challenging time for people who want to lead a green lifestyle. Longer, hotter days mean more hours indoors, which inevitably leads to higher energy consumption. With summer quickly approaching, it’s important to prepare your household for peak temperatures, ensuring you use energy as efficiently as possible. Here are a few tips that will help reduce your energy consumption even in the heat.

Tactics You Can Use Year Round

  • Plugged-in electronics constantly pull electricity, so get in the habit of unplugging electronic devices when you aren’t using them. The biggest offenders include flatscreen TVs, cable boxes and DVRs. A power-strip is an easy way to quickly turn off and on your entertainment system or any number of electronics at once.
  • Completely turn off your computer, rather than simply letting it hibernate.
  • Use a solar mobile phone charger.
  • Turn off the lights whenever you leave a room and consider installing dimmer switches in the future.
  • Use florescent light bulbs whenever possible.
  • Only heat or cool the areas of the house you are actually using. Close doors and shut vents in spaces like unused guest rooms.

Household Chores

  • Water lawns and gardens early in the morning – 4am or earlier – allowing water to fully soak in before the afternoon heat. Every 7 to 10 days, add one-to-three parts EM•1® Microbial Inoculant to your lawn water mix. EM•1® will help ensure a healthy micro-environment, improving soil structure, drainage and water retention (increased drought tolerance).
  • Install low flow show heads in your shower and opt for short showers rather than baths.
  • Wash clothes on the cold setting whenever possible and hang towels out to air dry.

Control Your Indoor Environment

  • Install darkening curtains or window treatments in rooms with significant sun exposure during peak summer hours. The room will remain cooler, requiring far less air-conditioning.
  • Rather than simply closing blinds or shutters, angle them to directly reflect the sun.
  • Attics are one of the easiest and least expensive parts of the house to insulate. The good news is, attic insulation can shave between 20 and 25% off your electricity bill, paying for the upgrade in just a matter of months.
  • Seal cool air in and keep hot air out by closing gaps around doors and windows. Easy remedies include caulk around windows and weather stripping on doors.
  • Air sealing with spray foam insulation will tighten up the house as well. Simply pull back insulation and spray cracks in joints and around joists. Then place the insulation back. Be sure not to crush the insulation if it is fiberglass. If you have blown cellulose insulation, there is no need to air seal.
  • Check your insulation to see if there are lots of gaps or if it has settled a lot. Fiberglass insulation looses its insulating value as it compacts. Cellulose insulation value increases as it settles. If there are lots of gaps in the fiberglass insulation or it has settled to only a few inches, it may be a good idea to install cellulose insulation to increases.
  • Make sure there is a cover over your attic entry way that fits properly. These look like big styrofoam coolers and fit over pull-down stairs. If you have a door entryway, there are insulation boards that can be fitted in the doorway to block hot or cold air.
  • Insulate pipes with pipe insulation that are either in the attic or underneath the house if you have a crawl space or basement. This can be done easily by yourself.
  • In the transition months, when temperatures aren’t unbearable, opt to use fans rather than a/c whenever possible.
  • Check the filters on your a/c unit and replace them when necessary. Have a pro look at you’re a/c system every year to ensure Freon levels are sufficient. When filters are clogged or Freon is low, the system has work harder, for longer in order to produce the same cooling affect.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting Houseplants Right: A Guide to Effective Indoor Plant Care

If you enjoy nature, chances are you also enjoy bringing elements of nature into your home. Houseplants can infuse your living space with natural beauty that - if done correctly - can complement the décor and lift your mood.

When it comes to caring for plants, there are several primary needs you should address: potting, soil quality, lighting, temperature, moisture, and maintenance. You can address these in needs with six simple steps.

Step 1:

Choose the right pot.
If you are transferring the plant from another pot, be sure to wash thoroughly and spray the pot’s surface with a microbial inoculant as it may harbor harmful bacteria or disease. Be sure to keep your pot size proportionate to the plant it will house. Too large a pot can lead to root disease and too small a pot will prevent the plant from thriving.

Step 2:

Provide the right soil.
Simply filling the pot with outdoor soil is not going to cut it as standard soil does not drain properly. Indoor plants require special potting soil that provides additional nutrients as well as proper aeration and drainage. After placing the potting soil in the pot, lightly pack the soil down around the plants root system and then prime the soil with a light misting of EM1 effective microorganisms.

Step 3:

Find the right spot.
Most houseplants require sunlight to create food via photosynthesis. Depending on the type of plant you are caring for, you will need to make sure the plant is exposed to an adequate amount of sunlight. If possible, place the plant within direct sunlight or move the plant to a windowsill for several hours every day.

Step 4:

Make your home the right environment.
Most plants require temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees during daylight hours. If you want to keep plants healthy, your house needs to stay within this temperature zone. Plants also thrive in around 80% humidity. If you live in a drier environment, consider purchasing a humidifier to make the home most hospitable to your plants. (Bonus: The humid air is also beneficial for human lungs, sinuses and skin.)

Step 5:

Get watering right.
Most houseplant deaths are water related. The plant either receives too much or too little water. There is no set rule of thumb for watering. You want to water plants when they need it. Rather than having a rigid watering schedule, feel the soil every so often. The plant is ready to be watered when the soil feels dry to the touch. For more effective watering, mix in approximately one quarter tablespoon of a microbial incolulant like EM1.

Step 6:

Use the right fertilizer and insecticide.
Every so often, you will need to enhance the houseplant’s soil or combat insects. Unfortunately, many plant fertilizers and insecticides are highly toxic, making them unwelcome products to bring into your home. Only use fertilizers that are organic and natural. Every month spray the plants leaves with a fine mist of EM1 effective microorganisms, which will infuse their mini eco-system with a healthy dose of enzymes, trace minerals and various B-complex vitamins. To safely treat plants for the occasional insect, mix one ounce of 3% hydrogen peroxide in 1 quart of water, and mist plants as needed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

10 Tips for a Healthier Greenhouse

A healthy greenhouse environment can produce more robust plant yields, extend the growing season, prepare delicate seedlings and even allow you to grow plants traditionally incompatible with your climate zone and humidity levels.

If you are a greenhouse gardener looking for simple ways to make your greenhouse more successful, here are the top 10 easiest ways to kick up your productivity.

If you are just starting your greenhouse, these tips will put you ahead of the curve and make your life a little easier down the road!

1. Beware of over-watering. One of the biggest mistakes new greenhouse gardeners make is over-watering. A drip irrigation system is ideal, but if you prefer to hand water, only do so when soil is legitimately dry and only using room temperature water. This means, you may not need to water every day.

2. Check your sunlight. Sunlight is fundamental to a successful greenhouse. Each year, be sure to examine possible sources for troublesome shadows, including buildings, trees (especially evergreen ones) or overhanging foliage. Trim away or remove any shadow-educing culprits. Also, be sure to take into consideration how the sun’s path may vary from season to season. In North America the sun will often lay lower on the horizon during winter months, casting longer shadows. If you are just starting out, start your greenhouse in an open space with the long side facing south.

3. Apply a garden disinfectant. Unfortunately, the moist, warm greenhouse environment can also be hospitable to unwanted algae, mold and fungi. A quality, natural garden disinfectant will kill these invaders without damaging the plants. How often you apply the disinfectant will depend on the humidity of your greenhouse.

4. Use only high grade soil. Using a high quality commercial potting soil is always a good starting point for your greenhouse garden. Soil mixtures vary, but often include a combination of sand, peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and fir bark. Mix in organic greenhouse fertilizer every so often to ensure you are maintaining an optimum soil environment. Many experts also recommend throwing in crushed egg shells (for calcium) and coffee grounds (for nitrogen) to enhance the soil. Be sure to wash eggshells prior to scattering them in the garden as lingering egg yolk can attract undesirable bugs.

5. Add Beneficial Microorganisms. Heat and moisture are the two key elements of a successful greenhouse environment. Unfortunately, warmer temperatures often dry out the soil. In some instances, dry soil call also lead to over-watering, as the soil is stripped away, water floods and overwhelms delicate plants. Adding a microbial inoculant product like EM1 to your greenhouse irrigation lines will help counter soil dehydration by establishing a healthy micro-ecology. The microbes naturally enhance the soil with antioxidants, vitamins, trace minerals, enzymes and organic acids. The end result is improved soil structure, texture and hydration.

6. Space your plants evenly. It’s tempting to try to crowd plants onto one or two benches, but if you space them out, you allow the air to circulate evenly. This means healthier plants and a more consistent room temperature.

7. Keep an eye on the temperature. Greenhouses can over-heat easily, so it is important to monitor temperature closely. Place thermometers in several locations to ensure temperature consistency. If you find that temperatures are too high, you will need to increase your ventilation. In many cases you can simply open some doors during the warmer hours of the day in order to correct high temperatures. Another quick fix includes hosing down the floor and allowing the water evaporation to cool the room. If these quick fixes don’t work, you may need to invest in a ventilation system. These systems will vary depending on your climate zone and particular needs, so it is best to go to a local gardening center and speak with a local pro.

8. Ensure the greenhouse has proper drainage. Standing and stagnant water can mean the death of sensitive plants. A quick and inexpensive trick for improving drainage includes placing broken clay pots, marbles, cracked walnuts or gravel in the bottom often planters and garden beds.

9. Add some herbs to the mix. Herbs act as a natural insecticide. Grow different herbs amongst your other plants. You can also mix some onions and garlic in a jar of water and let it stand in the greenhouse for about a week.

10. Deep clean your greenhouse two to three times a year. Remove all your plants and gear from the greenhouse, sweep out debris, clean the windows, mop the floor thoroughly with a natural garden disinfectant and treat both the floor and soil with a healthy shot of beneficial microorganisms to reestablish a good microbial environment in the greenhouse.