Start your spring garden by planting seedlings indoors

By Julie Bonnin
Green Right Now

Looking for a mid-winter activity that costs little and reaps big benefits for families who are trying to grow more of their own organic food (or flowers)?

Consider starting seeds indoors to plant outside when the weather warms up in your region of the country. Even for experienced gardeners, the sight of little green sprouts emerging from seeds when little else is growing is always a thrill. Not so thrilling is the disappointment that comes if your perky little seedlings start to droop.

Though seed-starting isn’t difficult, it’s not foolproof. There are lots of different ways to do it, and you can buy accessories like covered trays and plug-in warming pads to help the process along. But why not keep things simple, and make this an off-the-grid, green activity that takes advantage of recycled items?

Ten reasons to buy local food

Brenton Johnson, who hosted a recent local-food gourmet dinner on his organic farm, Johnson’s Backyard Garden, just east of Austin, Texas, represents a new breed of young, organic farmer whose philosophy is to live in harmony with the land and bring back the sustainable ways. Naturally (no pun intended), he advocates buying local food.

In between tending his turnips and perusing the potatoes, Brenton penned this wise, authoritative list, which he agreed to share with us. (We couldn’t write it any better.)

This isn’t just about helping the local farmer, it’s about preserving our planet (and eatin’ better, too!).

It’s autumn, leave those leaves!

By Kelly Rondeau

The smell of autumn permeates the air. The cool, crisp weather signals fall’s annual crimson-colored foliage. For many an avid lawn keeper, the harvest season often means returning to the never-ending chore of raking and bagging leaves, then setting them at curbside for the weekly garbage haul-off. But stop right there.

Leaves are packed full of nutrients! Under normal growing conditions — with varied values, based on the source and condition of each tree — leaves are jam-packed with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, chloride, boron, iron, sodium, copper, and zinc. To simply rake and bag them up, only to be hauled off to the garbage landfill is a total waste of nature’s vast supply of rich nutrients, perfect for replenishing the soil.

So how do you go green in the fall? Start the process by not throwing away your leaves. There are alternatives. Mowing leaves, then mulching, and composting are the most effective way to reuse and recycle leaf mixtures. In addition, leaves can be used for overall soil improvement, directly working them into garden and flowerbed soils by tilling them in.

Time to grow your own food? Start with healthful, easy-growing herbs

By Julie Bonnin

There are many reasons to grow your own food, and recent unresolved food safety concerns about summer favorites like tomatoes and cilantro, the official herb of Tex-Mex cooking – are likely to have more folks cultivating an interest in growing edible plants.

Herbs are the perfect entry-level plant for first-time food growers. Given the right conditions and a minimum of care, they’re quite easy to grow, even if your outdoor space is limited to a small patio.

There are many more fringe benefits — the taste and scent of fresh herbs can’t be beat. You’ll never again pay grocery store prices for a bunch of past-their-prime herbs. Often those prices are only a little less than you’d pay for the plant itself, though growing your own, you will have to invest in pots, good soil and a few other necessities, as well as make a small investment in time.

But perhaps the biggest advantage of growing herbs is what people have known for centuries – that they have considerable health benefits to give.

Shoo pesky pests without pesky chemicals

By Barbara Kessler

Green pest control might sound like an oxymoron to some green devotees who believe in the “live and let live” mantra, or organic gardeners who appreciate that good pests and bad pests balance each other in nature.

Still, there’s the pest you can live with and the one you can’t. Some pests, like weeds, are simply organisms out of place. Like the nest of ants behind our cabinets. They don’t belong there and their incessant forays across the kitchen counter are not so appetizing. So what to do? Used to be, the answer was to grab a can of Triple Strength Ant Annihilation Spray at the grocery, return home and fire away.

That’s no longer the default solution. As green pest exterminator, Michael Bohdan, owner of The Pest Shop in Plano, Texas, tells us, consumers are getting pickier about how they pickle their pests, and pest companies are providing new, cleaner, less-toxic and more finely crafted products to get rid of invading invertebrates without despoiling our house or the environment. (Bohdan’s also the keeper of the infamous Cockroach Hall of Fame – but you’ll have to view the video to see that story.)

Fighting to save the bees and other pollinators

By Barbara Kessler

If you’ve been wondering about all the buzz over honeybees, here is some food for thought – or rather some thought about food: Bees play a role in one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.

Pollinators, mainly bees, but also butterflies, songbirds and even bats, perform such a critical function in the food chain that their absence threatens everything from the viability of vast fields of commercial corn and other crops to the tomatoes in your garden. Without the bees and other pollinators, plants can fail to produce the fruits and seeds we eat.

Which is why a San Francisco-based group called the Pollinator Partnership has dedicated itself to the survival of pollinators — from hummingbirds to small mammals to the fragile and busiest pollinators of them all, the bees. Partnership members, along with beekeepers and researchers testified before Congress last week to lobby lawmakers for more funding to research the decline of many pollinators, particularly the loss of millions of bees around the world to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).