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Archive for the ‘Being Green’ Category

Celebrate Mother Earth

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Did you know the first Earth Day was marked 48 years ago in 1970? To help celebrate this April 22nd observance, why not head outdoors and do something green?

Begin with your own property. By now, hopefully winter’s assault is over and what you’re left with is the promise of spring mixed with the remains left by snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Take a mental inventory and begin to prioritize what needs tending first.

Prune dormant trees, non-flowering shrubs and vines such as wisteria, clematis and climbing roses. Rake up leftover curled fall leaves caught in your flower beds, shrubs and hedges. Now is the time to feed your garden so try an organic fertilizer on trees, vines, roses and other plants. Trim summer-blooming shrubs such as hydrangea. Also don’t forget to divide perennials that have grown too big.

April is also a good time to begin trying to keep weeds at bay. According to Mark Cullen, weed control comprises a four-step approach:

  1. Kill them when they’re young.
  2. Mulch is so effective at preventing weeds. It’s also not a chemical and easy to apply. Cullen says the secret is to apply four to five centimetres of finely ground up cedar or pine bark mulch. The sooner this is done, the better.
  3. For grass weeds, he recommends removing all loose debris from the area and getting grass blades to stand up on end. Smoothly rake on three to five centimeters of lawn soil or triple mix. Use quality grass seed on the area. Rake it smooth and then step on the patch to ensure the seed comes in contact with the soil and water until germination. Keep it damp and be sure to fertilize.
  4. Consider trying biologically based weed killers.

Once your lawn and garden is spring ready you may want to tackle the neighbourhood. Consider organizing a spring clean-up on your street or in your community. It’s likely in desperate need of a polish what with coffee cups, dog poop and plastic bags now on full display now that the snow is gone.

The city is also encouraging spring cleanup with drop-off depots for items such as electronics, books, dishes and toys. Beginning April 7 in Scarborough-Rouge River and Parkdale-High Park wards will take turns hosting these Community Environment Days until the end of July. Free compost collected thanks to the city’s yard-waste program is also available.

According to the CBC.ca, about 200,000 volunteers from Toronto schools, businesses and community groups participate in Community Cleanup Days, which are local city-run events that clean up public spaces. They take place from April 20—22.

 

Is a High-Efficiency Water Heater Really Worth It?

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

 

The term high-efficiency typically appeals to our pursuit for products that show quality, speed and effectiveness. It also speaks to goods that are kind to the environment or at least kinder than their predecessors were.

When it comes to water heaters, there are a number of choices available and for good reason. Did you know that warming up your at-home water supply comprises nearly 20 per cent of your home’s energy use? Heating your water supply ranks second, albeit a distant second, to the amount of energy used to heat your home, which clocks in at 63 per cent. Hot water is an expensive proposition as it accounts for between 15 and 25 per cent of your household energy bill.

While the natural thing is to replace your broken down water heater with the exact same model, you should at least consider the different types of water heaters that are on the market. Next to the standard storage model, there are tankless or on-demand, heat pump models and those that are solar assisted. Then there are the different fuel types used by water heaters such as electric, natural gas, propane and oil.

Storage or tank water heaters, which are the most commonly used appliances, are also the most inefficient. That’s because anywhere from 20 to 80 gallons of water is being kept hot and ready for use at all times. That sucks a good amount of energy. Insiders call this energy-out-of-the-window formula ‘standby losses.’

Demand or tankless water heaters are a good alternative because the supply of hot water is made on demand or as needed. As a result, standby losses are eliminated.

Heat pump water heaters somehow transfer energy from the air to water in the storage tank.

Solar water heating is another alternative. While the initial costs are high with this choice, the long-term costs of operating a solar water heater can save you up to 90 per cent. The only stipulation with this system is that you also need a conventional water heater as backup should the solar system fail to operate.

There is a myriad of considerations to think about when investing in a high-efficiency hot water tank. What you ultimately choose depends on your budget and needs. Let’s take a look at an efficiency comparison of common types:

A standard storage water heater has low initial costs and a life span in the neighbourhood of eight to ten years. Energy savings are the lowest at 10 to 20 per cent. A tankless water heater can last up to 20 years and provides an unlimited water supply. The heat pump water heater is the most efficient for those using electricity. They generally last about ten years. Solar offers the best energy savings, in the range of 70 to 90 per cent and last up to 20 years.

How Technology Helps Green Our Homes

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

There’s no doubt that when historians look back on this time it will be deemed the Age of Technology or some such name that indicates the era as a whirlwind of rapidly changing automation.

Perhaps nowhere is that revolution more evident than in our homes with how technology has served to make them warmer yet more eco-friendly. Let’s take a look at some of the tech advances that are helping green our homes:

Temperature-Controlled Living

Saving us money and time, but perhaps most importantly, saving our planet from environmental ruin are home automation systems that allow you to cool or warm your home remotely. What’s unique about smart thermostats is that technology allows you to be eco-smart so that you are not heating or cooling a space when you’re not there. Sync these thermostats with your iPhone so that your habits are remembered. Some tech companies allow you to use your smartphone to link your temperature controls with your lighting for added savings. Just think: no more fiddling with tricky timers or leaving lights on at all hours to fool people into thinking you’re home. With this technology, you can easily control the timer from anywhere with a simple click.

Tiny Bubbles

While laundering your clothes will never be a snap, there are smart washing machines now that don’t guzzle energy like their predecessors. Equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities, these machines also allow you to use your smartphone to detect any issues that crop up with your washer.

Ditch the Dryer

While that is much easier said than done, dryer chugs through an inordinate amount of energy that rivals your washer, dishwasher and refrigerator combined. Try using folding racks to hang and air dry your laundry or simply hang clothes such as shirts from hangers. Or consider hanging half your laundry and machine drying the other half. Just be sure to air dry the heavier items and let the lighter loads in the machine, which will cut down drying time.

Skip to the Loo

Dual-flush toilets are all the rage and with good reason. Instead of flushing away six gallons of water with each flush, dual-flush toilets only use up either.8 or 1.6 gallons. Let’s say a family of three each uses the toilet five times a day. If they are using an older style toilet then they are flushing nearly 100 gallons of water down the drain each and every day. Dual-flush toilets allow you to select the level of water required for each flush. Another great technological advancement is the toilet that uses gray water from your bath and shower in order to flush.

Eco Padding Your House

While spray polyurethane foam insulation is a workhorse of a product in terms of helping keep homes draft free and temperature controlled, environmentalists don’t look too kindly on it for its greening properties. Soybean-based spray foam is a good alternative as it does not contain the chemical (MDI or diphenyl diisocyanate) that causes off-gassing. Castor-oil based lcynene is also a good option. Cotton denim batting is a good green insulation, though it can be expensive to install and not nearly as easy as foam. Similarly, sheep’s wool is a good eco-friendly alternative, but like denim, it is not as easy to install.

Sources: Mother Earth News, Better Homes & Gardens, Organic 4 Greenlivings, Eco Building Pulse, Green High Five

Fall TLC for Lawn and Gardens

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

October is here and besides giving thanks and paying tribute to our ghoulish side, the month’s changing leaves and falling temperatures are a steady reminder that winter is on its way.

So let’s consider how to give our lawns and gardens a last bit of TLC before the snow flies.

Hydration

As living organisms, we all need it. It’s important to give all of your plants and especially your trees, a good watering this month. Their roots will need lots of moisture in the coming months so make use of those rain barrels and start collecting water. Fall is also the perfect time to aerate your soil, which allows oxygen, water and fertilizer to get at the roots of your grass.

Put Roses to Bed

These garden beauties not only deserve but need some extra care. Clear debris and leaves from the base of the plant as not doing so can help harbour disease and create problems for the plant next year. To avoid damage due to freezing, pile soil or mulch on the plant base. Do the same for other shrubs and perennials that might suffer from freezing temperatures.

Trim Grass Lower

A lower cutting height makes leaf-raking much easier, inhibits diseases and helps dry out the soil more quickly in springtime.

Fertilize 

Fall is the best time of year to do this. But you want to make sure the product you use has minimal impact on the environment. Switch to lawn fertilizers that are high in slow-release nitrogen and ones that contain no phosphorus. Both are designed to give lawns nutrients as needed which reduces run-off that harms waterways.

Cover Bald Spots

The easiest way to do this is with an all-in-one lawn repair mix sold at most home centres and garden spots. The ready-to-use mixture contains grass seed, fertilizer and organic mulch.

Feed the Birds

As food sources grow scarcer, don’t forget our feathered friends. Wild bird seed mixes, black or striped sunflower seed, peanuts and suet in balls or blocks are good choices. Also be sure to empty and clean your bird feeders and fill with fresh seed.

Divide & Conquer

Now is the time to dig up perennials that have grown too large for their space or to move plants that aren’t working where you originally placed them. While you’re at it, now is also the time to plant bulbs for colourful springtime displays.

Let the Air In

Don’t forget to winterize irrigation systems in an effort to prevent frozen pipe damage.

Green Ways to Control Outdoor Pests

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Summertime can’t be beat for backyard barbecues, enjoying the cottage and tending to your lawn and garden. But that’s not to say that summer doesn’t come without its challenges and perhaps one of the most annoying are pesky pests.

To be fair, most lawn and garden insects are beneficial with some naturalists claiming that fewer than two per cent are considered harmful. In fact, many insects, including ladybugs, fireflies, praying mantis, spiders and wasps will actually keep harmful insects from devouring your lawn and will also help to pollinate your plants. But it’s that two per cent that can wreak havoc on your plants, flowers and grass, making your best gardening efforts a big waste of time and money.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to handle unwanted pests without hurting beneficial insects and the world in which we live.

If your lawn is victim to a small infestation of unwanted bugs, you can try picking them off by hand. If that sounds unbearable, you can try homemade garlic and pepper sprays. You can also try insecticidal soap on pests.

Traps are another good eco-friendly option. The kind that allow an insect to enter and not leave are best for wasps and other bugs. Place insect traps around the periphery of your property so that the pests are taken out of commission before they’ve chewed up your grass and plants.

Bacillus thuringiensis or more commonly named BT is a naturally occurring soil bacteria ideal for controlling cabbageworm, tent caterpillars, gypsy moth, tomato hornworm and other leaf eating caterpillars.

To control beetles and other insects with shells, try diatomaceous earth, a fine silica powder made from the fossilized shells of already minute creatures called diatoms. The razor sharp powder destroys the shells of crawling insects, but does not harm earthworms, pets, or humans. Different bugs are susceptible to different extents (even beetles differ somewhat), so check before buying.

To identify a grub problem in your lawn, look for brown patches. If you’re still uncertain, dig up a bit of sod near the brown patch. If you see more than ten grubs per square foot, you should take action. Below that, there’s no need.

Use beneficial nematodes, which are tiny worms that feed on the larval, or grub, stage of the beetle. It takes a few weeks for nematodes to establish themselves in the soil and to parasitize their grub hosts, so it’s best to apply them before the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Be sure to carefully read the instructions for applying nematodes. Since they are living things they can also die. Follow the directions otherwise your time and money will be wasted.

 

Green Ways to Control Outdoor Pests

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Summertime can’t be beat for backyard barbecues, enjoying the cottage and tending to your lawn and garden. But that’s not to say that summer doesn’t come without its challenges and perhaps one of the most annoying are pesky pests.

To be fair, most lawn and garden insects are beneficial with some naturalists claiming that fewer than two per cent are considered harmful. In fact, many insects, including ladybugs, fireflies, praying mantis, spiders and wasps will actually keep harmful insects from devouring your lawn and will also help to pollinate your plants. But it’s that two per cent that can wreak havoc on your plants, flowers and grass, making your best gardening efforts a big waste of time and money.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to handle unwanted pests without hurting beneficial insects and the world in which we live.

If your lawn is victim to a small infestation of unwanted bugs, you can try picking them off by hand. If that sounds unbearable, you can try homemade garlic and pepper sprays. You can also try insecticidal soap on pests.

Traps are another good eco-friendly option. The kind that allow an insect to enter and not leave are best for wasps and other bugs. Place insect traps around the periphery of your property so that the pests are taken out of commission before they’ve chewed up your grass and plants.

Bacillus thuringiensis or more commonly named BT is a naturally occurring soil bacteria ideal for controlling cabbageworm, tent caterpillars, gypsy moth, tomato hornworm and other leaf eating caterpillars.

To control beetles and other insects with shells, try diatomaceous earth, a fine silica powder made from the fossilized shells of already minute creatures called diatoms. The razor sharp powder destroys the shells of crawling insects, but does not harm earthworms, pets, or humans. Different bugs are susceptible to different extents (even beetles differ somewhat), so check before buying.

To identify a grub problem in your lawn, look for brown patches. If you’re still uncertain, dig up a bit of sod near the brown patch. If you see more than ten grubs per square foot, you should take action. Below that, there’s no need.

Use beneficial nematodes, which are tiny worms that feed on the larval, or grub, stage of the beetle. It takes a few weeks for nematodes to establish themselves in the soil and to parasitize their grub hosts, so it’s best to apply them before the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Be sure to carefully read the instructions for applying nematodes. Since they are living things they can also die. Follow the directions otherwise your time and money will be wasted.

 

Chemical-Free Fixes for your Lawn

Monday, July 31st, 2017

Most of us enjoy having lawns and gardens that are pretty and lush. But the problem with achieving the kind of leafy green grass that your neighbours will envy is that it’s hard on the environment, not to mention your wallet.

We’re big spenders when it comes to our grass. It’s been said that Canadians spend at least $2-billion per year on seed, sod and chemicals, a number that’s been rising steadily, according to Planet Natural.

Bear in mind, too, that much of lawn care products help your turf in very superficial ways so you should question whether degrading the soil, polluting nearby water sources and posing health threats to humans, pets, wildlife and the birds and the bees is worth it.

Fortunately, attitudes about perfect lawns are beginning to change. Dozens of municipalities and even a few provinces including Ontario have passed laws that severely restrict pesticide use.

Let’s look at some ways to reduce our addiction to lawn chemicals:

Spot treat weeds with vinegar

Mix the vinegar with a little dish soap and Epsom salts and apply with a hand-pump sprayer. Try to be precise when applying to weeds only because the mixture can burn grass.

Corn Gluten

This non-toxic by product of corn processing can kill young weeds in days. An added benefit is that it adds nitrogen to your soil. It’s believed that after several years of use, the gluten can control up to 90 per cent of weeds. Apply in early spring.

Make the switch

Convert your lawn to a grass that is drought resistant and lower maintenance. Eco lawn grass requires little or no mowing and fertilizer.

Let clippings chill

This process is sometimes called grass-cycling as it provides a good nutrient boost of nitrogen, phosphorus and water. Clippings don’t cause thatch. To do this properly make sure the grass is three inches high and set your mower height to chop one-inch of grass. The clippings will disappear among the blades of grass. Think of the time and effort saved, not to mention the benefit to your landfill site.

Watering

Avoid over-watering your lawn because that is more damaging to your grass than under-watering. Try to water early in the morning. If you wait till the middle of the day, much is lost to evaporation. Water deeply but not frequently. Most healthy lawns need about one inch of water per week.

Clover

This is a good weed to have. It often appears when soil is low in nitrogen so the solution is to let the clover clippings fall where they may after cutting, which will fix the problem without using fertilizer.

Dandelions

These indicate you’re having nutrient problems with your soil or that your grass isn’t developing healthy roots. Get a soil test to determine your issue. Corn gluten applied early in the growing season prevents dandelions from germinating and makes your grass stronger and more weed resistant.

 

 

Attracting Bees and Butterflies to Your Garden

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

If you’re looking to heighten your level of environmental good-deed doing this summer, why not consider establishing a garden or flower bed that welcomes bees and butterflies.

Little thought they are, bees and butterflies are incredibly important to our ecosystem.  Did you know that 75 per cent of the food we eat, from fruits and nuts to herbs, need pollinators? Bees do this quite well. The fruit and vegetables you grow will be delightful with more bees around.

Butterflies play an important role in pollinating flowers, especially those that are strongly scented, are red or yellow or those that produce a healthy dose of nectar from which to feed. It’s believed that an abundance of butterflies is a sign that our ecosystem is doing well.

So let’s look at ways to create a bee- and butterfly-friendly space in your garden:

Make a Bee House

Paint a wooden house a bright colour with low-VOC paint. The bees will buzz around and make mental snapshots of their new home before nesting in their new dwelling. Once the temperature hits 12 to 14 degrees C hang the house at eye level out of the rain facing south or east.

Dig down below the soil near your bee house to expose the clay soil. This will encourage the masons to use it as construction material or you can also keep a bowl of moist clay near their house.

Offer Food

Grow a variety of plants that flower at different times. That way there’s always a snack available for them.

Showy flowers are sometimes the worst food providers for bees. Look for native plants or heirloom varieties. Consider planting flowers in clumps. Bees especially love blue, purple, violet, white and yellow. A variety of flower shapes are good for a diverse bee population with different tongue lengths.

Here are a number of bee-friendly plants categorized based on their bloom times. Early bloomers include blueberry, crabapple, foxglove, heather and willow. Good mid-season bloomers for bees are chives, dahlia, lavender and sunflower. Late blooming plants include coneflower, cosmos, pumpkin and sedum.

Butterflies like alyssum, bee balm, delphinium, hollyhock, marigold, nasturtium, phlox, Shasta daisy, verbena and zinnia, among others. Don’t forget to include plants like dill, fennel and milkweed that butterfly larvae feed on.

Create a Bee Bath

Bees and butterflies needs fresh water to survive. Because of the way they’re built, though, they need something to land on when trying to touch down in bird baths and the like. Try lining a shallow bowl with rocks or stones, leaving the rocks to stick out in spots so bees and butterflies have landing pads on which to settle.

The bath should be at ground level in your garden. Better yet, place the bath near your problems plants, those that get aphids and such, and these beneficial insects that are flying in for a drink will also take care of your plant’s pests.

Refresh the water daily.

 

Sources: www.gardeners.com, www.davidsuzuki.org,

Kill Weeds without Killing the Earth

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

It’s May and we all know that means buds are bursting, seeds are sprouting and grass is growing at a breakneck pace.

Of course, so are the weeds. But before you apply harmful toxins, there are ways to eradicate them that are kinder and gentler on the environment. Let’s look at how to wipe out weeds by killing them with kindness, so to speak:

Dandelions:

In full bloom right now, these pretty weeds can be a nuisance. If you’re feeling energetic you can pluck them out by hand. Also try decapitating the yellow flower heads before they germinate and spread thousands of seeds. Corn gluten is said to suppress dandelion growth as well as other weeds. You can also try a stronger vinegar solution that is 15—25% acetic and available at most home and garden centres.

Boil Water:

Believe it or not, this extremely simple and inexpensive method is recommended by many. This is especially effective for weeds growing in sidewalk cracks or driveways or a larger area that you would like to replant once the weeds have died. The great thing is water doesn’t leave any harmful residue.

Zap Em:

Direct heat will wilt and with repeated applications kill most weeds. Most home and garden stores carry flame weeder torches that allow you to torch weeds directly without burning down your house.

Sodium Chloride:  

Common table salt is an effective herbicide. You need to be careful, though, not to soak the soil and other plants when applying this solution and that’s why salt is often recommended for killing weeds on driveways and sidewalks. Dissolve one part salt in eight parts of hot water  and add a small amount of liquid dish soap to help the solution adhere to the weed. Pour into a spray bottle and then spray the leaves of the weeds you want to get rid of.

Pickle Them:

Vinegar is a good solution for weeds. Even common white vinegar with its 5 per cent acidity will do the job, though you can purchase more acidic vinegars at garden stores. A good recipe for killing weeds that crop up in concrete and stone patios, driveways and sidewalks is four litres of white vinegar mixed with one cup of Epsom salts and a quarter cup of dish soap. Mix the ingredients in a large grab-and-go container with an attached sprayer wand and keep it on hand all summer long.

Borax:

Sold mainly as a product for cleaning and laundry, borax is an effective herbicide in the garden. Mix 10 ounces of powdered borax with 2.5 gallons of water and pour some of the solution in a container that has a sprayer. Simply spray the leaves of the weeds you want to kill being careful not to spray other plants or soak the soil with the solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources: www.mydandelionisaflower.org, www.treehugger.com,

The data included on this website is deemed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate by the Toronto Real Estate Board. The trademarks REALTOR®, REALTORS® and the REALTOR® logo are controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify real estate professionals who are members of CREA. Used under license.