Casting a New Light on Energy Awareness Month

Casting a New Light on Energy Awareness MonthOctober is Energy Awareness Month, and in this day and age if you are not aware of energy, chances are you’re living in a picturesque off-grid cabin somewhere in Vermont. From liberal to conservative, the topic of energy is firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness of our nation as we prepare to face the challenges of powering the ever-increasing demands of our modern world. No matter your position on the issue, one fact cannot be ignored: our energy-hungry world is taking no steps backwards from its triumphant foothold in the technological revolution. For those of us who walk that thin line between the idealistic hope for an environmental revolution and a pragmatic understanding of the realities of our newly forged world, this month is more than just about a list of tips and tricks to defeat rogue kilowatts, it’s about a perspective on what energy is and how it shapes our world.

Let’s start with the very basic concept of energy. According to physics, energy is the ability to do work, and according to the law of conservation of energy, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Step back for a moment and realize the implications of this concept, every ounce of energy in your life, from your ability to perform metabolic processes, to internal combustion, to lighting a room, every last drop of energy is part of an eternally continual chain of reactions that utilize energy from one source, only to become the source for the next reaction. Nothing that happens in this world occurs in a vacuum, that very concept carries with it a certain gravity when you realize that every action undertaken is dependent on something else.

Even as you read this blog, the air you are taking into your lungs is the result of a complex series of reactions involving the Sun, plants, animals, and even lightning. From our early days as students in grade school, we are taught about the amazing interconnected dependencies of the food web, but one thing we never really touch on is the energy web, that web that powers not only our smartphones and flat screens, but life itself. Energy is everywhere; it is past, present, and future. The very energy that once departed our Sun many hundreds of millions of years ago now helps to carry planes across oceans.

All of this is leading to a point, and that is to really stop and consider the very nature of energy, no matter its form. In today’s busy world, it’s almost necessary for us to gloss over the deeper relevance of things, and to that end I think that we are losing something of our connection to the world around us. Awareness doesn’t require such an investment of time and consciousness, but the world does seem to come alive when we dig just a little bit deeper.

4 Helpful Tips for Understanding Fall Fruits and Vegetables

4 Helpful Tips for Understanding Fall Fruits and VegetablesFrom farmers markets to restaurant fare, consumers seem to think that the best foods expire at the end of August, but nothing could be further from the truth! So I want to set the record straight: fresh food isn’t the sole province of summer. Think about it – every autumn features harvest parties, recipes, and holiday traditions with foods seen only once a year, and that’s because fall is the time of year these foods are traditionally harvested.

Since supermarkets stock produce year round, this creates ambiguity as to which items are actually in season, and which ones are seasonal impostors. So, how can we know what’s genuinely a traditional farm-to-fork item and what’s grown somewhere in a greenhouse? Let’s have a look at these 4 helpful tips for understanding the harvest of fall fruits and vegetables.4 Helpful Tips for Understanding Fall Fruits and Vegetables

1) Many fruits like apples, pears, and grapes are available in your “big box” grocery store all year long, but here’s the reality: the North American growing season for these items begins in mid-late summer and actually ends in early autumn. If you grew up in the Northeast United States like me, you’ll remember harvest parties revolving around these amazing fruits as the days grew shorter and air turned crisp. Some other familiar fruits like cranberries, pomegranates, crab apples, and quince are also natives of traditional harvest months.

4 Helpful Tips for Understanding Fall Fruits and Vegetables2) Fruits from another mother: Gourds. Surprise! Gourds like pumpkin and squash are fruit! Many of our favorite varieties of gourds like pumpkins, acorn squash, and butternut squash are traditionally harvested in the autumn.

3) You can create a stunning and diverse menu by relying on seasonal fruits and vegetables, many of which you’d never associate with the fall season. Sweet potatoes and turnips are typically harvested in the months between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are also native to the autumn season.

4) If you’re looking to season your culinary masterpiece, herbs and aromatics like sage, shallots, garlic, ginger, and many varieties of mushrooms peak in the fall.

4 Helpful Tips for Understanding Fall Fruits and VegetablesThe truth is, the list of fall fruits and vegetables is exhaustive. Eating seasonally during the fall is a definite change from spring and summer, but it is no less flavorful and it is certainly not lacking in variety. Farm-to-fork doesn’t end with Labor Day; in fact, it only gets better as the season progresses. If you really want to make any season last, learn to can and to pickle. This skill will enrich your palette and extend any food season long past the change in weather.

Do you have any fall food tips? If so, let us know in the comments below!

7 Fall Tips for Winter Gardening in Texas

7 Fall Tips for Winter Gardening in Texas

To The Garden image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Believe it or not, the fall is here in Texas, which means the winter will be coming soon after.  Based on all the freak “polar vortex” trouble the US experienced last winter, it’s never too early to start thinking about this upcoming winter. Before temperatures drop outside, there are some helpful tasks you can do to protect your home and yards like trimming trees and bushes. But for those of you with gardens, we wanted to share seven tips to help protect your garden during colder temperatures in Texas.

  1. Bulk Up Before the Freeze. Your plants will need plenty of food before winter. A great way to “feed” them is to put a layer of compost and mulch on top of the plants along with some water if it isn’t already too cold. Be sure not to over-water, as this leads to cold soggy roots which are not great for plants that are cold already.
  2. Take Care of the Soil. According to Green Horn Gardening, there’s a special plant called a cover crop – also known as green manure. The provided example of rye and hairy vetch go great together. The beauty of such crops is that they suppress weed growth, keep soil in place, and then break it down to provide nutrients to the soil. Talk about a one-stop-shop!
  3. In order to save your herbs, find a place to store them inside during the winter months.
  4. Use any fallen leaves as mulch on your lawn and/or garden.
  5. If you have a garden with so-called “root crops” like carrots, radishes, or onions, then leave them in the garden over winter but cover them heavily with straw or pine branches.
  6. 7 Fall Tips for Winter Gardening in Texas

    Pruning Trees is Fun!

    Prune all trees and shrubs to remove all dead branches. Doing so will actually cause your plants to produce more flowers and fruits and ward off pests and diseases. Plus for larger trees, pruning dead branches can save your home from possible damage in case they break off and fall during a freeze or bad storm. Click here for more information on how to prune back trees and shrubs.

  7. Cover up your plants before a freeze. You can use an old sheet, or if you want something professional, purchase a frost cover from your local garden center. Just don’t use anything made out of plastic, as it can actually make the plants too hot.

Happy Gardening! Do you have any fall and winter gardening tips for your fellow Texans? Share with us in the comments!

The Darker Side of Botany: 4 Creepy Plants to Prepare You for Halloween

The Darker Side of Botany: 4 Creepy Plants to Prepare You for Halloween

The Plants Can Kill Gate image courtesy of The Alnwick Garden.

It’s finally October, which means Halloween is almost here! There’s an undeniable excitement that comes with preparing for the spooky holiday. While there are the typical spooks like ghosts, goblins, and skeletons to consider, it turns out that certain plants can be just as scary.

For instance – Alnwick, Northumberland, England contains an actual “Poison Garden” that features over 100 plant species ranging by deadliness. The idea behind this garden is to attract visitors with the opposite approach to normal gardens by shedding light on the potentially dangerous side of botany, specifically how some plants kill and how you could die if you ate others. In that spirit, here are 4 creepy plants from the garden to get you mentally prepared for Halloween.

The Darker Side of Botany: 4 Creepy Plants to Prepare You for Halloween

Atropa belladonna image courtesy of The Poison Garden.

1) Atropa belladonna

With a name like “deadly nightshade”, it’s a dead giveaway (no pun intended) that this plant is poisonous. According to Wikipedia, its foliage and berries are extremely toxic, and eating them will result in death by poison. Aside from being used as poison, this plant has a long history of being used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes as well. Believe it or not, it has been used to dilate eyes, which was viewed to improve beauty.

2) Papaver somniferum

More commonly known as the “poppy,” this plant might seem beautiful and harmless, but it packs quite a punch. When scratched, the pod of a poppy produces a milky substance called opium. That’s right…opium. The milky substance contains a number of opiates such as codeine and morphine!

The Darker Side of Botany: 4 Creepy Plants to Prepare You for Halloween

Colchicum autumnale image courtesy of The Poison Garden.

3) Colchicum autumnale 

This plant takes the cake on scary. The worst part is that according to The Poison Garden, this is a popular garden plant; however it’s a genuine killer! This plant contains colchicine and colchiceine, the first one being more toxic and harmful. If ingested this plant causes severe effects such as convulsions, cardiovascular collapse, multi-organ failure, and blood clots that form all over the body.

And just when you thought enough was enough that’s when it really hits you, finally at the end there’s muscular weakness and ascending paralysis which causes respiratory arrest. The amazing part is that small amounts of this plant were used to treat gout until finally the FDA banned all drugs containing colchicine in an injectable form because an accidental overdose can occur. If that’s not a lesson in understanding what you’re putting in your body, then I don’t know what is!

The Darker Side of Botany: 4 Creepy Plants to Prepare You for Halloween

Ricinus communis image courtesy of The Poison Garden.

4) Ricinus communis

This plant is used to make Castor Oil, which was at one time a treatment for many illnesses and infections (and for some still today). However, one seed from this plant will kill an adult in a terrible way by causing severe vomiting, convulsions, and subsequent disintegration of the kidneys, liver, and spleen. Yikes!

So keep these in mind when preparing to get spooky and be spooked while still enjoying a fun and safe Halloween!

Do you have any scary plants you’d care to share with our readers? Talk to us in the comments!

3 Simple Tips for Composting Autumn Leaves

3 Simple Tips for Composting Autumn Leaves

Compost Pile with Autumn Leaves image courtesy of solylunafamiliar

Autumn has arrived, which means your green routines need to change with the seasons. So we want to re-introduce the concept of composting! Hailed as one of the best green routines for your home gardening, any successful composter will tell you to put all of the blessings of fall to your advantage. Let’s look at a few tips and tricks for composting your autumn leaves to help prepare for all of your springtime planting.

1) Compost Your Leaves

During the early autumn weeks, nature treats us to an awe-inspiring visual spectacle, but after that, our lawns are littered with crunchy brown leaves and we are left with hours of raking and bagging. Thankfully, composting is nature’s recycling program, and autumn’s fallen leaves are no exception to the rule. Dried leaves are a fantastic source of much needed carbon for any compost pile. For the best results, make sure to shred your leaves.

It’s also important to keep a good ratio of carbon-rich (dry, brown plant life) and nitrogen-rich (green plant life) sources, so with the coming winter die-off, make sure you continually supplement your pile with fresh plant scraps from the kitchen. As an added bonus for you coffee lovers, coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen, so add those to your compost pile to help get you through the winter months.

3 Simple Tips for Composting Autumn Leaves

Field of Fallen Leaves in Fall image courtesy of Average Jane. https://www.flickr.com/photos/averagejane/

2) Hoard Those Leaves

Every year, I’m flabbergasted with the amount of leaves that fall. Even here in Texas where live oaks are common, we still end up with a new coating of leaves every few days once the floodgates of autumn have opened. This endless stream of leaves isn’t an annoyance for the yard-conscious – it’s an opportunity. Even the most robust compost piles will likely have a hard time accommodating the entirety of the autumn bounty, so start stockpiling excess carbon-rich leaf piles for later use.

 

3) Use Proper Shelter and Maintenance.

Maintaining the proper moisture content and the optimal breathability is essential to having a productive composting environment. Depending on where you live, cold dry air and winter precipitation can present a challenge to the progress of your compost pile. The key is to allow for breathability while protecting your compost pile from excess moisture and drying out.

3 Simple Tips for Composting Autumn Leaves

Compost Pile image courtesy of Natalie Maynor. https://www.flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/

Start by building a walled structure with a roof that has openings on the side for aeration, and be sure to allow for expansion of additional cubicles as your ambitions grow. This will provide a reasonably sheltered environment for natural decomposition, but remember, with a covered compost pile, it’s important to add moisture to each new layer of compost added.

Let’s face it, those amazing fall colors will soon give way to a carpet of leaves on your back lawn. Instead of lamenting another outdoor chore, make this season’s fallen leaves into next year’s ideal planting materials with a little fall and winter composting!