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Helping People Reconnect To Our Environment

EcoLogue

THE LONG HAUL

Posted on September 11, 2014 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I have often said that my mind works in mysterious ways, for instance last week I was stuck behind a trash truck and as the not so gentle smell drifted towards me I started to wonder, "How much food is in that truck?".

Now I know that other things can contribute to the smell, used diapers for instance, but it's mostly food. And from there my mind was off and running. I started to make up scenarios in my head about what happened to put the food in the trash; burnt meals, sell by date rejects, left overs, new recipes that went horribly wrong, or produce that was left to become someone's High School experiment.

Then my mind jumped to the cost of that wasted food. How many food dollars were in that truck, how much does it cost the city to clean the trucks, does the food lead to other issues at the landfills such as scavengers? Who pays to control them? What about the health of the workers? Is their health affected due to transporting all this rotting food?

I don't have the answers to any of these questions, so unfortunately they will have to remain a mystery. What I do know is none of that food heading to the landfill belongs to me, I compost! And because I compost, I have healthy soil, a clean trash can and happy worms. For me, composting is where it's at, and I'm in it for the Long Haul. My mind can rest a little easier because I also know that I'm not alone, more and more people are practicing composting at home, and that is a big load off my mind!

-Chris Ward

WARNING: THIS POST DOES CONTAIN NUTS

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (1)

When I left my parents house seeking my own identity, fame and fortune, I took with me the list of cleaning supplies my mother used in our house.  These were the products that I grew up with, each had a specific job and I believed, as my mother did, that your house wasn't clean unless you could smell pine and bleach.  I was in for a shock the first time I went to the grocery store clutching my list; my cleaning supplies took half my budget!  But they were a necessity and it continued like that until I had my second child.  My son had very sensitive skin and my first old friend to bite the dust was my Gain laundry detergent.  When I came out of my mourning period which amounted to a moment of silence, I took a deep breath and began the search for a greener and may I say cleaner laundry soap.

The more research I conducted, the more it became clear to me that I needed to make my own cleaning supplies.  I was in Nirvana, this stuff was so easy and cheap to make, but I had some rewiring to do first.  Turns out suds don't equal clean.  What!?!  I need bubbles...how do I know that the soap is doing it's job unless I have bubbles, everybody has bubbles.  I had already gone through the painful process of deciding to break up with Gain, what more could the universe ask of me... come on!  Every site told me that soap bubbles usually indicate Sodium Laureth Sulfates (SLS) and it is harmful to the environment, commercial companies add it to give you bubbles.  It's like the cherry on top of the Sundae, you don't need it, you probably don't eat it, but boy do you notice if it's not there and the Sundae just looks naked.  So I was left with a Gain-less life and a naked Sundae, yeah.  But things got better, the first recipe that I tried for laundry powder worked great!  But, as I became more and more concerned about the environment, I discovered that the soap bar that I was grating to make it contained petroleum products, and the search began again.  I am not going to tell you about all the chemicals found in some commercial products, you have heard it all before, but for my family, I wanted to be chemical free.  I found Soap Nuts.

Soap Nuts are the berry form the Soapberry or Sapindus Tree, and they produce a natural surfactant saponin that makes them a powerful tool in your quest for a green clean house.  I will admit that I spen 15 minutes stuck on a mental loop contemplating the irony of calling something a nut that was in fact a berry, but I eventually found the exit.  If these nuts worked as advertised, I had found my answer.  A nut that would clean my clothes and could then be composted....no waste, no additional packaging; I felt dizzy, but ordered some immediately.

I fell in love with Soap Nuts and imagined starting a fan club that would go international bringing me the fame and fortune that has so far eluded me, but I had laundry to do back in the real world and that dream was forwarded to my environmental bucket list.   The company that I use sends me a little cotton bag with each order and you place 4-5 nuts in the bag, if you wash in cold, you need to place the bag into a cup of hot water to soften them up.  Then, place the cup of hot water, and the bag containing the nuts in the wash.  You can reuse them until they turn a grayish color, and then compost them.  My Soap Nut evolution continued as I learned how to make liquid soap from them, and there was no stopping me when I learned you could freeze the liquid for future use.  I started to use the soap to make shampoo, in the dishwasher and as an all purpose cleaner.

Over the years, I have learned many lessons that I want to share with you about Soap Nuts.  To make the liquid, boil 4 cups of distilled water, remove from heat, add 7 nuts to the water, replace the lid and allow to steep overnight.  In the morning, remove the nuts and squeeze all the goodness out of them and toss them into the compost.  I usually double or triple my recipe in order to freeze some in ice cube trays or in recycled 4 oz glass jars.  Soap Nuts are a natural product and the liquid will spoil quickly outside of refrigeration.  If you do keep it in the fridge, label it because it can resemble apple juice and you don't want to hear that story.  Soap nuts can be found locally now at some of our Natural Food Stores.

To make an all purpose cleaner add: 2 c. distilled water, 1 T. vinegar, 1 T. of the liquid soap.  As an option, you can add an essential oil such as lemon, tea tree or lavender as an additional disinfectant.

I love my Soap Nuts, but I still get nostalgic about Gain.  I have been known to sit closer than accepted in polite society when I smell it on someone's clothes.  And I would never camp outside of a store on Thanksgiving for Black Friday sales or wait in line for 24 hours to buy tickets to anything, but....it they ever produce an essential oil blend that resembles the scent of original Gain, I would body check a senior citizen to get to it.  

-Chris Ward  

BANANA PEELS ARE ANOTHER SENSITIVE SUBJECT

Posted on October 15, 2012 at 9:20 AM Comments comments (0)

This article was written by contributing writer, Marc Jensen.

There is no question that Americans send an astronomical amount of garbage to the landfill every day, even if the only thing that is considered trash is post-consumer waste.  One recent estimate, (http://recycling.colorado.edu/education ) and puts the figure for garbage at 4.4 pounds of post-consumer waste per person per day. This would mean that in a city the size of Norman (110,925 people), 488,070 pounds of trash would be generated every day.  This number is staggering.

One of the really interesting things about garbage though, is that depressingly big number is really made up of a few small influences that have been multiplied 110,000 times, so relatively tiny improvements made by individuals can quickly add up to impressively large landfill diversions through that same multiplier effect.

Here is an example.

At our home, we keep a compost tpile to divert our kitchen waste away from the landfill and into the garden.  Each day when I come to work, I usually eat at least one piece of fruit.  Instead of putting the peel/rind/core/pit in the trash, I make it a habit to put it in a lunch container and take it home to feet my compost pile.

For the sake of argument, let's say that I eat a banana at work every day, and that a banana peel weighs 1.75 ounces (I've only weighed one, but it was of average size).  If I come to work 250 days a year, that single act adds up to over 27 pounds of material diverted from the waste stream annually.  Assuming that I otherwise produce the average 4.4 pounds of waste per day, this banana peel represents 2.5% of my daily waste.  Keep in mind that this is just one person eating one piece of fruit a day on weekdays.

Now consider this with the multiplier effect.  If just half of the people in Norman did just this, that would be 1.35 million pounds of waste diverted from the landfill in a year.  That's a lot of fruit rinds, but it doesn't actually represent a huge effort.

Dr. Marc Jensen

Our waste production is a slippery slope that must be dealt with sooner rather than later.  (Sorry, couldn't help myself, I was going with the banana theme.) 

- Chris Ward, Cleveland Co. Conservation District.

THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS

Posted on August 6, 2012 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

  I am many things; a wife, mother, ecoist, gardener and poo collector.  Yes, you read that right, I collect poo.  I have two worm bins, three rabbits and a free source of chicken poo.  Want to see me smile with glee and dance like a child?  Offer me free range, grass fed farm poo!

My family is slightly, (okay, extremely) embarrassed with my obsession for quality poo.  But it isn't really the poo that obsesses me, it is just an ingredient for my real obsession, compost.  Great compost is the reason my garden is not suffering as much as other gardens during what I like to call the, "2012 Oklahoma Oven Occupation".  We are in DROUGHT and to add pain to injury we have had several days with temperatures over 113 degrees.  I have to water from my faucet like everyone else because the rain barrels have been dry for over 3 weeks, but I would bet that I have to water less often because I compost and use it.

Compost is gardener's gold and its worth its weight, not that you have to pay anything for it.....its free!  Not only are you improving your soil you are diverting materials away from the waste stream, its the original recycling program, Mother Nature approved.  Compost is the answer to most garden dilemmas; it is a mulch, a fertilizer, water retainer and it amends and aerates soil.  The organic matter in compost feeds microorganisms, producing Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus.  This produces healthy root development in plants, helping them to survive pest invasions.  Compost is swimming with life!

Everyone can compost, even if you live in a apartment you can compost.  Worm bins are a one size fits all solution to composting your food and some other types of waste.  You can use the compost for your houseplants or donate it to a friend or family member with a garden, maybe in exchange for produce.  I have a large garden, my outdoor compost bin is a 70 gallon galvanized stock tank, it had a rusted bottom and was going to the dump.  It was beautiful, it was perfect due to the rusted out bottom for drainage and I had to have it no matter the logistics of getting it home.  I have several holes drilled in the side for aeration, and I keep red wrigglers in there and feed them my rabbit & chicken poo with the straw and my garden waste.  I have a compost tumbler and an indoor worm bin in my kitchen.  I make compost tea and feed my houseplants as well as my garden plants with the tea.  Composting allows me to reduce my waste input as I don't have to buy bags upon bags, of mulch, fertilizer, soil amendments, manure or potting soil.

There are too many items other than food waste that you could add to your compost bin to mention here, but this is list of some things I add; shredded paper, newspaper (pulled from bins at the recycling center), napkins, lint, coffee grounds & filters (collected from friends), tea bags (also donated by friends), sawdust, egg shells, cardboard, old wine or beer and the contents of my vacuum.  If I don't use it to feed houseplants, I add the water from boiling veggies and pasta, and another of my favorite add-ins; dying aquatic plants and fish from my pond.  To learn more about the how-to's of composting, contact your local OSU Extension Service, they have some great Fact Sheets on how to compost at home.

Compost means many things to me.  It is my first step to being an organic grower.  It helps me complete my waste cycle; I recycle kitchen waste by feeding my rabbits and worms, I also give the collected poo to the worms who break it all down into compost, which helps me to provide the food that someday will become waste again, circle completed.  And I like to think that I am the best employer in the world.  I employ 3,000 or more worms, and not only do I let them work from home, I provide the housing for their entire families and encourage maternity leave. They get a free lunches everyday and I bring their coffee to THEM!  As Oklahoma is an At Will Employment state, and they know that I need them more than they need me, I do whatever needs to be done to ensure happy campers in order to keep up production.  I do this because it is true, there is a Sweet Smell of Success, and it smells like fresh compost. 

WHAT SHADE IS YOUR GREEN THUMB?

Posted on March 28, 2012 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Judging by the amount of people that I had to trample to get to the herbs, the entire County was gardening this weekend. Standing there, it dawned on me how much plastic I was watching go out the door; plants in plastic pots or 6-packs, bags of mulch, small stones, potting soil and compost. Then nursery employees placing the plants into plastic bags or offering large sheets of plastic to protect vehicle interiors. I also don't know how many gallons of herbicide, pesticide or fertilizer left the building either.

I have many weaknesses, but my biggest weakness if the one that will eventually become my financial downfall.... gardening.  I am a gardenholic, my name is Chris. I love everything about gardening including weeding, (I know, but remember, this is an illness).  I have had to learn to be creative in order to fit my obsession with gardening into my ecoist lifestyle. I am on the path to becoming a true green thumb, but if I am honest I must tell you that I have stumbled along the way and have outright fallen a time or two. So at this point, I am actually more of a moss than forest green.

For myself and my family, I don't use chemicals in my garden, I use, banana peels, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, bone meal or blood meal. I choose to brew my own compost tea using the compost from my worm bins or from the compost bin outside, and I usually get my mulch for free from the City of Norman.  I have a rain barrel system that I use with drip and soaker hoses.  I sharpen and reuse my tools and the only gas powered equipment that I have is our mower which I keep maintained. I start my own seeds in my own potting soil mix.  I put in perennials and drought tolerant natives as much as possible.  I grow some of my own food.  I have even had my patio furniture cushions recovered instead of buying new ones. However, no one is perfect.

This year I purchased some gardening items and in doing so have had to make some environmental compromises. I bought several bags of shredded mulch as well as new wood to build a sandbox and raised bed.  And I now have a collection of little black plastic pots.  I am a fallen ecoist.  I have always encouraged people to be as "green" as they feel comfortable being, because every little bit helps and it all adds up in the end.  So don't think that I sit in judgment of your purchases, to be honest, I don't have the time. I just expect more from myself.  So, to make myself feel better, I am confessing here and want to pass on some information that might help you be a little greener.  If you buy those large bags of potting soil, mulch or manure, fear not, those bags are recyclable.  Wash them out and add them to Norman's Plastic bin or take them to Wal-Mart or Lowes.  Those little plastic plant pots are also recyclable; however give them new life by taking them to K & K Nursery or The Greenhouse who will reuse them.  Lowes also accepts those pots for recycling.  I feel a little better.  

If you are interested in being a "greener" gardener, the District is sponsoring several programs this spring and summer.  This Saturday, I am a guest speaker at the Moore Library's Annual Plant Swap. On April 21st at Moore's Earth Day Extravaganza, Amanda Nairn and myself will conduct a rain barrel workshop, (Citizens of Moore can purchase a 55 gallon barrel for $5 you must register and seating is VERY limited, visit www.recyclemoore.com ).  On April 22nd, Amanda Nairn, Chair of the City of Norman's Environmental Control Advisory Board and I will conduct another Rain Barrel Workshop on stage during Norman's Earth Day Festival, for more information about these events, check out our calendar.  On May 19th at 9:30 at the Norman Public Library, we are sponsoring the Green Acres Primary School Class, "Organic Gardening, The Bare Essentials".  If you are interested in attending this class, check out our workshop page. 

I will pick myself up and continue on my path.  If you are equally obsessive with gardening, please send us your pictures, especially if you have a great idea on gardening reuse, recycle or organic methods.  Garden On!   

MY KITCHEN TRASH, AND OTHER TALES OF WOE

Posted on February 8, 2012 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)

I thought that I would continue the theme, from last week and discuss a topic that comes up every now and then at our Green Living Classes that I teach.  I am asked at least 5-6 times a year, "what is in your trashcan at home?" So, I had a look.

Here is what I have found in my 13 gallon kitchen trash can and now that I have had to write it down, I have room for improvement.

  • 4 cellophane wrappers from the Ramen Noodles that my husband loves to eat.
  • An abundance of tissues, due to the cold that won't die.
  • One piece of scorched aluminum foil.

That is it.  I stopped putting bags in my trash can when I started to compost and vermicompost.  Since I don't place food waste in the trash can there is nothing in there that can stink or get slimy and gross. A quick clean after dumping and done.  I actually produce so little waste; I called my local city government and asked if I could discontinue my trash service.  Unfortunately, the answer was no, I had to have trash service, bummer!  Now you are asking yourself, if she has so little trash why does she have a trash can in the kitchen?  Good question. I haven't figured out what else to do with the trash can, so for now it stays.

As to how I can improve. I know that I would end up on the next episode of divorce court if after everything else I have asked him to change or give up for the better good of humanity, I then asked him to forego eating his beloved ramen noodles.  I know what you are thinking, that cellophane is #4 plastic and should be recyclable.  Normally I would agree, however, my contact at Waste Management Recycles America which holds the contract for Recycling in Norman tells me that they cannot accept cellophane, it gums up the works.   Same for aluminum trays, foil, plastic wrap and plastic bags (take plastic bags to Lowes, Homeland or Wal-Mart).

Nope, this sacrifice is mine.  I am going to have to purchase handkerchiefs.  This is no small sacrifice either; I suffer from sinus problems, think Niagara Falls in the spring.  It is one of my last intentional hold outs.  When I looked in my trash can this morning in order to give an accurate account, it was tissues as deep as I could see.  We dumped everything out on newspaper, because neither one of us wanted to touch the tissues. So, as soon as I go through my current box, I will purchase some handkerchiefs, or maybe I will make some out of a ripped sheet that I put aside until I could figure out what to do with it. I call this upcycling, my son calls it Hippiecycling.  Either way a king size sheet just might make enough handkerchiefs to get me through a day......I hope.

GETTING JIGGY WITH IT!

Posted on January 25, 2012 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

In honor of my friends at Jefferson Elementary & Girl Scout troop 671 we are reposting this article.

Worm composting is fun and easy! It is the best way to dispose of your kitchen waste; in return you get the best compost imaginable for your garden or houseplants.  So, let's Get Jiggy With It!

  The first thing I want to tell you is when purchasing your worms, get RED WIGGLERS.  They are the champs of vermicomposting.  Night Crawlers and Earthworms just don't perform as well.  Red Wigglers adapt to the environment of a home compost system very well, and each of them will eat their weight in food every day as well as produce like crazy.

THIS OLD HOUSE - You can purchase a bin system online, or take the greener route and make your own.  When I first began vermicomposting 5 years ago, I bought three 10 gallon totes at a garage sale to use as bins, (whatever you do, do not get a tote larger than 18 gallons, or one that is clear - they do not like the light).  I left one tote alone without holes, I drilled several larger holes into the bottom of both of the remaining totes for drainage and entry holes.  Just recently I saw a video on You Tube that instructed the viewer to use two small round soffit vents for air holes.  She drilled one large hole on either side of the tote and pushed the vents through.  On the inside of the tote, she covered the openings with an old pair of knee high stockings and secured them with rubber bands.  I thought that this was brilliant and I will use this method when it is time to replace my current system.  The larger vents allow my air flow and make for dryer, quicker compost, not to mention healthier worms. Stack your totes in this order; undrilled tote first, add two bricks inside to elevate the next tote at least 2-3" above the bottom.  This allows any liquid fertilizer to drain and be contained for later use.  You will want to use it too; it is the best fertilizer on the planet.  However, you want to keep it out of the worm bins as worms can drown.  Place one the totes with the holes on top of the bricks; this is the one that you will prepare for the worms.

LOCATION AND CURB APPEAL - You need to pick a spot for the bins that is out of direct sun in the spring through fall if you are placing it outside and in the garage in winter.  Direct sun hitting the totes will make them too hot for the worms and will make for some brittle totes.  Worms are at their happiest at 50-80 degrees.  I keep mine in the kitchen year round.  If possible place them near your kitchen for convenience.

HOME SWEET HOME - Let's chat about bedding.  I think that every worm farmer has their own thoughts concerning worm bedding, these are mine.  I like coconut fiber; it is also called coconut coir.  Coconut Fiber has a balanced pH, (as does Peat Moss, but I don't like to use Peat Moss due to the high environmental cost of harvesting it.  Peat Moss grows slowly and is usually shipped from already stressed wetland regions in Florida and Georgia).  I also don't like to use only shredded newspaper when introducing new worms to the system or at the beginning of a cleaned out apartment.  To prepare the bedding, spread 3" of fiber on the bottom of the tote.  Your bedding needs to be moist, but not overly moist.  Fill a spray bottle and allow it to rest for 24 hours to let the chlorine dispel, then spray the bedding until just right (squeeze test: if you squeeze the fiber and water drips it is too moist, let it dry a little).  Add worms and cover the bedding with 2" of damp shredded black & white sheets of newspaper (no glossy circulars) and cover the lid.

BELLY UP TO THE BAR - When worms arrive, them will need to acclimate themselves to your worm apartment.  They will be more thirst than hungry, so only feed new arrivals about 1 cup of finely chopped up food.  When you feed the worms, you will place the food under the newspaper and on top of the fiber.  This prevents fruit flies from smelling it and helping themselves.  Check again in two to three days and feed again only if the previous food is gone.  After that it is once a week.  You will figure out how much they can eat and get a rhythm going.  They love tea bags, used coffee grounds with filters fruit, veggies, napkins cardboard and egg shells, cut up as fine as possible.  Do not give them too much garlic onions or citrus, they don't seem to like them much and this changes the delicate pH.  Also leave out cobs, peach pits, etc.  DO NOT EVER GIVE THEM MEAT, OIL OR DIARY OF ANY KIND.

MOVING DAY - After 4-6 months check to see if it is time to move them to the second bin apartment. The depends on how many worms you have and how much you have feed them.  If it is time to collect your compost, stop feeding them in bin #1, remove the shredded paper and place the second tote directly on top of the compost first bin. This may also be a great time to drain the catch basin of liquid if there is any.  Dilute it with water until it resembles the weakest tea you have ever seen and use it to fertilize your houseplants.  Set up your second apartment as you did the first and place food under the moist shredded newspaper and on top of the fresh fiber and close the lid.  It could take up to 2 weeks for the worms to move from the first tote to the second, but they will, keep checking.  When they have moved, remove the first tote and place the second on top of the bricks in the catch basin.  Look at your new compost carefully.  If you still have unprocessed food present, you need to let it decompose or add it to the second tote.  If it is good to go, spread it around you beds or make some worm tea.

MURPHY'S LAW - I have never liked Murphy, however, he/she has a point.  In a new system it is not unusual to see worms climbing the walls of the bin; however, if it is 3 months down the road, you have a problem.  Check the moisture first, if it is too moist, stir in some dry fiber.  If it is too dry, give it a mist.  If it stinks, you have either too much food (remove some and wait to feed again when the remainder is gone) or there is too much of something that they just don't like and are not eating, remove it. If you have an abundance of fruit flies, bury your food deeper by adding more newspaper.  Always check that your newspaper is moist, not wet.  Remember food is often moist itself.  Make sure it doesn't get too hot, don't stir the food between feedings; you will create a hot compost situation that super heats.  Stick a ground thermometer in the bin if you are concerned about the temp, and adjust your location if necessary.  If you are concerned that it is too cold in the bin, find a very large bottle, fill it half way with water, bury it in the fiber and add an aquarium water heater.  The worms will gather around the bottle if they are cold.  This is such a great activity for your children, and it is the perfect chore for them to contribute to the running of the house.  You will find that they can't keep their hands off of the worms.  Not only can they watch nature at work, they get their own recycling project.  Let me know how it goes!