May 28, 2012

5 Recommendations for a Greener Summer

Happy Memorial Day!

Today marks the traditional start of summer in the United States.  I recently got a request for a post on recommendations I have for how to be 'more green'.  This post is my top 5 recommendations for simple, easy, and cheap ways to live in a more Earth-friendly way this summer.

  • Stop - Don't use pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or other poisons in your yard

    • Although when pesticides and other poisons are mentioned, the most likely picture brought to mind is one of large farms or crop dusting planes, backyards are often where the highest concentrations of these poisons can be found.  Due to drift from neighboring yards, as well as the mixing of many different types of poisons in one yard the concentrations can be many times higher the recommended levels noted on product labels.  (And regardless of the recommendations on the label consider if you would like to ingest the product you are putting onto your yard or garden.)
    • Additionally, consider the yards and gardens of your neighbors if you use these products.  They may have pets, children, or edible plants that could be harmed by the products you use on your yard.

  • Grow - Plant and enjoy something edible

    • Regardless of the amount of space your have at your resident, grow one plant you can consume this summer. It's a great way to learn about a new plant and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  If you are looking for an option that is easy to grow inquire at your local nursery and consider tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber or squash, cilantro, basil, or rosemary.  
    • If you're short on space or just have indoor room available consider herbs like rosemary, dill, basil, or mint.
    • Hopefully one plant will encourage you to try new varieties in the future.  Here are a few that I haven't tried before that we planted for this summer.
New arrivals: lemongrass, yarrow, baby leeks, cat scat, chives, chamomile, italian squash, radicchio, armenian cucumber

  • Learn - Read a book about sustainability, greening, or the environment

    • Education is key to better understanding on any subject whether you're an adult or a child.  With the longer days of summer enjoy a new book on vacation or on summer evenings.  Here are some titles I recommend (in order of preference):
      • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
      • Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris
      • The God Species by Mark Lynas

  • Compost - Reduce your trash output and improve your soil
    • A large portion of the U.S. trash stream is comprised of discarded food.  Per the EPA, in 2010 food waste was the second largest category of waste that went to landfills (behind paper).  Composting food waste helps to reduce the trash going to our landfills (and increase their useful life).
    • There are many composting systems available today - from simple bucket-type containers to worm based vermicomposters and many other varieties.  I have a worm composter and a compost pile as well.  My compost pile is simply a pile of our food waste that I put underneath of our guava tree in the backyard.  (Note: we have very little meat waste and the compost pile is almost exclusively plant-based waste.  I generally wouldn't recommend putting meat-based waste in a compost pile.)  Inquire at your local nursery about what type of system might be best for you, or simply start a pile in the back corner of your yard to try it out.
  • Enjoy - Take a walk, hike, or run through your neighborhood or a park or wilderness area every week
    • Take the time to enjoy the outdoors and the insects, plants, birds, etc. that are present where you live. It's good for your health and a reminder of why it's important to live more sustainably. If we want the world of the future to be even more biodiverse and green than it is today we need to take action now to ensure that it will be. This weekend's Wall Street Journal noted the positive impact that getting outdoors can have on your mental state, happiness, and creativity that's a good read on the topic.
    • This step is especially important if you have children. We need to ensure that the next generation knows about nature. If they don't, why will they care about it?

Strawberries are fun to pick . . . 
. . . and delicious to eat.

Hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend and take care!  Thanks to Angela for the suggestion and if you have a suggestion please email me at or leave a message in the Comments section below.

May 24, 2012

Old Chairs Repurposed into Trellis

A few days ago I wrote about picking up pieces of a couple of old chairs that had been discarded along a street near my house.  I went back to the spot and picked up the remaining pieces and made the backs of the chairs into a trellis for some purple lantana I had planted to attract hummingbirds to the yard.

Inspecting the raw materials.

After seeing this awesome monkey pattern that was beneath the faded red seat covering I was tempted to try and refinish the chairs but between the missing parts and damage already done it seemed a long way above my skill level.

One of the best patterns I've seen in awhile.

Here's the finished product, just wanted to share how it turned out looking.  I'll throw up a new photo when the trellis is covered with delightful purple flowers and hopefully a charm of hummingbirds.  Check out that link for the group names of various birds - pretty good stuff.

The finished product - Eva approves.

The Power of Compounding on Your Yard

I recently wrote about the importance of making a commitment to regularly planting and/or gardening.  As with developing any habit, it takes consistent, recurring effort to form a new habit and make it stick.  Over time, the effort required decreases as the habit becomes a more natural, automatic part of your schedule.  In regard to planting, each addition to your yard makes the next one easier because it becomes a routine habit, knowledge and experience is gained with each planting, and because each plant helps to create better conditions for the next plant to survive and thrive.


Compounding is a concept typically encountered in relation to a 401(k), retirement account, or investing in general. Per Investopedia compounding is defiined as:

  • The ability of an asset to generate earnings, which are then reinvested in order to generate their own earnings. In other words, compounding refers to generating earnings from previous earnings. 
Basically, if you take the interest, dividends, or other earnings of an investment and invest them, your return will grow more and more quickly, as you are earning money not just on the money you contributed but also on the earnings that money generated (earnings on earnings). This idea is the basic premise behind most retirement planning today.  Here's a graphic representation of the idea of compounding.

The concept of compounding equally applies to creating a healthy, flourishing environment in your yard.  If you start with a yard that is nothing but pavement, it's going to be pretty hard to get the first plant to grow.  However, if you can get one plant established, the next plant will be able to benefit from a host of ways the first plant improves growing conditions, including:
  1. Quieter environment
    1. May promote growth and presence of pollinators and seed disbursing animals
  2. Improved usage of water resources present
    1. Denser vegetation encourages more dew to form
    2. Plants can also benefit from transpiration of nearby plants 
  3. Increased soil quality through decomposition of leaves, berries, etc.
  4. Habitat for birds, bugs, insects, etc.
    1. Provide pollination, seed dispersion, source of fertilizer
  5. Increased shade and protection from strong sun
  6. Improved air quality
Essentially, these improvements to the conditions in your yard are the 'earnings' on your initial investment and can be 'reinvested' in additional plants.  This reinvestment occurs through the lower input costs required (fertilizer, physical effort, water) the new plants require and the higher 'returns' (growth rate, health of plants) possible.  Lower costs and higher returns both lead to an increase in the growth of the investment made.

These benefits impact not only your yard, but also your neighbors, city, and larger region. Although we apply many lines to the world - property lots, city limits, county and state borders, etc. our actions easily cross these borders and impact those on the other side of them.  This is readily seen on a large scale here in San Diego where there are regular beach closures (more than half the year, 239 days, in 2010) in the southern part of the county primarily due to polluted water entering the ocean from Tijuana, Mexico.  

On a smaller scale, I often find disoriented dying bees on my driveway and yard.  Most likely these bees have been sprayed with a poison by someone nearby and then found their way to my yard.  Decreasing the bee population, and the beneficial effects they provide as pollinators, harms my yard and plants.  More importantly to me, I also worry that whatever was sprayed on the bees may drifting into my garden, patio, yard, etc. where it may directly impact my health.  Actions like this also decrease the returns I can realize on my investment in my yard and garden.

Suggested Action Steps:
  1. Make a regular commitment to adding plants to your yard or garden
  2. Consider the plants already in your yard when selecting new plantings
    1. For example, if you have a shade producing tree find part shade plants to install below, or climbing vines to climb the trunk and branches
  3. Enjoy the quieter, more enjoyable yard you've created and the returns on your investment

My neighbor's yard - first plant is going to have a tough time (if it ever happens).

Part of my backyard - not great, but getting better. (Which yard do you think a new planting would do better in?)

May 21, 2012

Lawn Mowers + Air Quality

A gasoline-powered lawn mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time.
- Union of Concerned Scientists 

Over 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment.  That's more than the entire amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez spill.

Garden equpiment engines create about 5% of the nation's air pollution and a good deal more in metropolitan areas.

- Environmental Protection Agency

Summer is upon us, which brings to mind thoughts of fireworks, grills, and mowing the yard.  As with many other American youth in the bucolic lands of rural or suburban America one of my first 'jobs' was mowing our yard during the summertime.  Usually a chore I tried to avoid, but also occasionally enjoyed, a field of emerald green grass is a vision almost as classically American as an apple pie fresh out of the oven or a white picket fence.  I enjoy working in the yard and garden but was surprised to learn how detrimental some of the tools we use are to our environment, despite the seemingly pristine yard they can help to create.


The standard gas-powered lawn mower creates a disproportionately high amount of air pollutants for their size, compared to cars.  I was surprised by the figures at top - I would not have expected lawn mowers to produce 5% of our national air pollution.  Thinking of air pollution brings to mind images of freeways, large trucks, and large boats - not lawn mowers.  Air pollution is of specific concern to me because although San Diego is known as a beautiful place with gorgeous weather it is also regularly ranked as having some of the worst air quality in the nation.  In a recent study by the American Lung Association San Diego was ranked in the worst 20 cities in the nation for both ozone and short-term particle pollution.  

I use an old school 'reel-style' push mower (pictured at right).  It works well for me, although I have a small yard.  If you have a larger yard there are rechargeable mowers available on the market today that are much more powerful than the plug-in types of yesteryear.  In San Diego there is an annual event where you can trade in your old mower for a greatly discounted electric mower.  This year's event was last Saturday, May 19, but you can put it on your calendar for next year or keep an eye out for specials at local retailers for the Memorial Day holiday.  If you live elsewhere, check with your city to see if similar programs are available.  My mower cost less than $50 and requires very little maintenance - an occasional blade sharpening, and a little big of oiling to prevent rust.

Although electric powered tools still typically rely on fossil-fueled power stations that are detrimental to the environment, producing power in a central location and then distributing over power lines allows for better pollution control measures.  

Additionally, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards are helping nearly every state to make their overall energy production cleaner and more environmentally friendly.  Here in California, we have a commitment to producing 33% of our energy from renewable sources by the year 2020 (following an original commitment to 20% by 2010).  For information on your state, please see the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions website and consider supporting renewable energy in your state.

Suggested action steps:
  1. If you have a grass lawn and use a gasoline powered mower, consider switching to a push or electric mower to reduce air pollutants
    1. If you hire a landscaper, consider an environmentally friendly provider that uses these kinds of tools
  2. Consider reducing the size your grass lawn and utilizing native plants and trees to reduce the amount of time, energy, resources, and money required to maintain your yard
  3. Enjoy your summer!

May 20, 2012

One Piece (and Day) at a Time

Look around the table. If you don't see a sucker, get up, because you're the sucker. 
- Amarillo Slim
I just got back from a nice run on this sunny Sunday morning.  A beautiful start to the day, and some nice views of Balboa Park, downtown San Diego, and the South Park neighborhood to enjoy.  About a half mile from home I saw a few chairs on the side of the street that have been there for at least a year.  I've passed these chairs regularly on walks or runs through the Golden Hill neighborhood and never stopped to pick them up and put them in the trash.  Although it annoyed me that someone would just throw furniture on the side of the street and let it rot I didn't do anything other than be annoyed and think how someone should clean up the mess.  Of course, that someone would be an anonymous cleaning person, or the city, or some concerned neighbor (that wasn't me).

I picked up two of the chair backs today and plan to get the rest of that pile over the next few days.  One small act, and there is a lot more litter and trash on the streets, alleys, and canyons nearby to be picked up.  I plan to continue making a small effort to address the mess in my neighborhood and city.  Hopefully if you're reading this you'll consider doing the same.  Even a small item like a gum wrapper or a cigarette butt helps, especially if we all do a little every day.


My first few posts on this blog were about picking up litter on my walks with Eva when she was still a newborn (hence the name of this blog, Walking Miss Eva).  I try to pick up at least two pieces of litter, big or small, everyday.  I don't always succeed in this effort.

Although I've written about litter before I think it's well worth revisiting.  The world is increasingly complicated every day - new inventions, new problems and solutions, etc.  But many basic principles still apply and when it comes to helping improve our environment it's hard to find a more tried and true way to do your part than by not littering and helping to clean up the litter left by others.

I hope you have a great day and encourage you to take a moment to pick up some piece(s) of trash you come across on your street today.  

Suggested action steps:
  1. Don't litter
  2. Try to pick up at least 2 pieces of litter each day
  3. Enjoy the cleaner, more healthy street, neighborhood, and city you've helped to improve
Thank you!

(Here's a photo of the chair backs I picked up today.  I'm planning to use them for trellising in the yard/garden.  Should make for an interesting look and I'll post some photos when they're covered with bougainvillea or another climbing plant.)


Couldn't get this song out of my head on the run this morning.

May 17, 2012

Awesome Bread Sequel - Awesome Pizza

A couple of months ago I posted about our family's effort to make our own bread for 2012.  We continue to enjoy the bread (current tally: 30 loaves made, 2 bought) and tonight I made blood orange and strawberry bread with dark chocolate - I'm excited to see how it turns out tomorrow.  One baked item we had continued to buy at the start of the year was the crust for pizza.  We love pizza and it's fun to make at home - you can experiment with different toppings and it's easy to make.  Amelia found a great recipe for making pizza crust and so since February we haven't bought any pizza crusts and love the taste of the fresh homemade pizzas.

Below is the crust / pizza recipe and a video demonstration of making the pizza.  If you try it out this weekend let me know what you think.  Enjoy!

Awesome Pizza Recipe

Ingredients (crust):

  • 1 package active dry yeast (.25 ounce) 
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients (toppings):
The following is an example, use any toppings that you like and experiment
  • .5 lbs mozzarella cheese
  • .25 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 8 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 1.5 cups mushrooms
  • 1 small onion
  • .5 cups fresh basil
  • .25 cups fresh oregano

  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Sheet pan (with raised edges)
  • 1 cup measure
  • 1 Tbsp measure
  • 1 tsp measure
  • Knife and cutting board

Below is a video demonstration of making the pizza recipe above - the first 1.5 minutes shows how to make the crust.  Hopefully it's helpful and worth a good laugh at my expense too.

Although pizza might not be the healthiest food in the world we've been trying to cook more at home in general to better understand what goes into our food, and to prepare what we can at home instead of purchasing everything at a store.  Plus, this recipe tastes much better than the crusts we were buying and also costs a lot less (about $1.62 per crust compared to $3 or $4 to purchase).

We try to always use something from our garden on our pizzas and have used arugula, basil, oregano, green onion, and tomatoes (yellow and red) so far.  Using something from the garden each day is a great way to ensure we use what we're growing and reminds us to step outside and see how things are going in the yard.

I hope you enjoyed the post and more importantly, that you enjoyed your pizza!

Stretching the Plant Budget with Craigslist - It's Not Just for Casual Encounters Anymore

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. 
 ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Yesterday's post was about making a monthly budget dedicated to plants and gardening.  Today's post expands on that theme with a great way to get more for your plant money by using Craigslist.  In addition to being a great resource for plants and other items for your yard, Craigslist tons of items for free, or greatly discounted, that may be of interest to you.  (This may be old news to some, but if you're already familiar hopefully it's a good reminder to check out what's going on in the Craigslist world today.)


Craigslist is a community-oriented website that allows users to create posts about items for sale, job openings, and much more.  (I've bought and sold cars on the site, searched for apartments, and tried to purchase chicken coops among other activities.)  The site has separate pages for many cities and regions in the United States and around the world.  Included on the main Craigslist page for each area is a link to the 'Free' items section (located in the middle column, under the 'For Sale' heading).  In the 'Free' section you'll find all kinds of things people are looking to get rid of - firewood, pianos, cabinets, clothes, plants, and nearly anything else you can imagine.  

The 'Free' section is great resource if you have something you're not using and want to get rid of, especially if it's heavy or hard to move.  You can help out someone else and also get it moved out of your house for free.  Of course, caution should be exercised when inviting people into your home and I would recommend making sure you have someone else with you when they show up and talking to the person on the phone before arranging a pick-up.  My experience with Craigslist has been great, other than the flaky people you can run into that don't show up when they say they will. 

I've been able to pick up a number of fantastic plants and trees on Craigslist for free - some of them I had to dig up, others were in pots and just needed to be picked up.  In addition to free items, checking out estate and garage sales has been a good resource for purchasing plants for cheap.  Below are photos of some of the plants that I've gotten for free on Craigslist.

Suggested Action Steps:

  1. Visit the 'Free' section of your local Craigslist website to see if there are any plants or other free items you would enjoy
    1. There is also a 'Farm and Garden' section under the 'For Sale' heading that often has great deals on plants and related items.  (Labelled as 'farm+garden')
  2. If you find an item you like, contact the poster via the email or phone number included in their post to arrange pick up
  3. Enjoy the additions to your home or yard.  
    1. Give yourself a pat on the back for helping to keep items out of the landfill and/or trash.
  4. Utilize Craigslist to get rid of your own unwanted items and benefit your local community

Camellia trees, in the trunk of our Oldsmobile Alero. 

Norfolk Pine Tree.  Planted Halloween 2011.  This is a tall tree.

Mexican fan palm.  Heavy.

Cherimoya tree.  I'm really hoping it will fruit next year - delicious!

May 16, 2012

Planting is a Habit - Budgeting for Nature

Budgets bring to mind spreadsheets, bank accounts, and reducing expenditures.  At their root, I believe budgets are a tool we use for accomplishing a goal.  Whether that goal is to reduce our weight using a food budget, to save for a vacation, or pay off a mortgage budgets can be useful to ensure we stay on the right path to meet our goals.


Over the past few years I have developed an affinity for plants and working in the yard / garden / alley / apartment.  At some point along the way Amelia decided we needed to put a limit on how much to spend on plants so we created a plant budget.  (I admit I was not a proponent of this plan but life, and especially marriage, is full of compromises.)  We decided on a budget of $30 per month on plant purchases and any unused balance could be rolled over to the following month to allow for larger purchases like trees.  We've adjusted this budget over time and today it is $50 a month - the increase is partially because we have been able to reduce our food bill by growing a garden and partially because I have pitiful puppy dog eyes.

I wasn't very excited when we put the plant budget into place but my view has changed over time.  At first I looked at the budget as a limit on what I could spend on plants, which it is.  But it is also a commitment to regularly making an investment in our yard and garden.  Now we have a monthly trip to the nursery, farmer's market, or garden store and can plan for what we'd like to grow in our garden or what flowers would look good in the front yard.  It's good motivation and a reminder to think about the outdoors and engage on a regular basis.  I'm looking forward to when Eva can help us pick out which plants to try and help with watering and seeing them grow.

Another benefit of having this regular commitment to investing in our yard and garden is the opportunity to try new things.  We probably wouldn't be inclined to try planting borage or yarrow in our garden on a whim - I still don't know what they are going to look or taste like.  However, since we had extra funds in our plant budget last month we picked up these plants for a couple of dollars each and now can learn how they grow, what they look and taste like, and how well they do in our climate.  It's a learning experience in addition to being a part of our yard to enjoy.

If you're looking to learn more about plants, gardening, or landscaping I highly recommend creating a monthly budget / commitment to spend a set amount on plants each month.  Whether it's $5 or $100 a month it's a great reminder to get out in the yard and enjoy the weather.  Making regular visits to the nursery will also teach you a lot about the seasons what should be planted when.  If it gets too cold in the winter you can try something for indoors - an herb for the kitchen or trailing plant for the mantle or windowsill.

Another reason I think it's important to make a regular commitment to plants is to remind us of their importance.  We all rely on plants for food, air, shelter, many of our goods like furniture, to clean our air and water, and for many other purposes and uses.  Despite all that plants do for us I think we know relatively little about the plants that surround us in our own corners of the world, as well as plants that exist in other parts of the world.  Despite the importance of plants to all of us I think in general we spend very little, if anything, on helping plants to thrive and learning more about them.  Especially when compared to the amounts we spend on cable and other discretionary purchases I think spending a comparatively small amount on plants provides a handsome return of knowledge and enjoyment.

Suggested Action Steps:

  1. Create a monthly plant budget
  2. Spend your monthly budget at a local nursery or garden store
    1. Consider native plantings to attract local wildlife to your yard
  3. Enjoy the fruits of your labor in the form of fruits and vegetables, shade, a quieter yard, or more birds and squirrels
Here are a few of the recent additions to our yard.  Thank you to Seeds in the City and City Farmers Nursery here in San Diego for these plants, and for all the information you've shared with me and others!  If you live in San Diego you have to take a trip to City Farmers - it's an amazing place with so many plants (and animals!) to see and learn about.

Bush Monkey Flower (California Native) 
Basil, Mexican Elderberry (California Native), Eggplant - Rosita variety (Puerto Rico)