Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Planning your "Potential"

If you are anything like me you find this time of year to be stifling, frustrating and sometimes completely overwhelming. The rain never seems to end. The sun seems to take hiatus and leave us with nothing but lackluster dirt and plants who can't even muster enough energy to be a pretty brown. They are dull and lifeless moving inertly in the cold breeze offering little that is thrilling or inspiring. But as my Facebook page gets weighed down by people's images of fleeting winter wonderlands and no-school days due to snow, I find myself dreaming about cucumbers and english ivy; a garden so green even Marvell is taken by its beauty.

"No white nor red was ever seen / So am'rous as this lovely green."

And so this past weekend my wife and I sat down with some tea and a few leftover niblets and began to plan this years "potential."

We talked about containers, raised beds, our existing landscape and what percentage of self-sustainability we were currently living in. We quickly decided to expand our main garden by another 98 sq. ft. We opted to remove our tomatoes from the garden bed and grow them instead in containers so as to move them around, if necessary.

Our seed catalogues had long been sitting next to the couch with dog-eared pages and post-it notes as well as highlighted items and notes in the margins. I have been staring at the pages long enough to know the scientific names of some plants I had never even seen before. Between Victory Garden, Main Street Seeds and Johnny's Selected Seeds we were confident we would have an even better garden than last year.

Armed with a piece of posterboard, a ruler, some Sharpie pens, a Macbook and Excel, we got down to business. I plotted and she entered. Before long we had laid out beds, prepared our seed orders and continued our dream of becoming homesteaders free from the confines of our local grocery store.

Tips for your own "Potential":

  • Do your homework. Find seed catalogues and online reviews to match. Remember, plant what you like, not what the books tell you to.

  • Find our germination times and hardness zones. The right time to plant is as important as what to plant! If you start indoors and transplant outside you will need to do some basic calendar counting to figure out your key dates.

  • Layout your garden on paper. Don't let your taller plants shade out your smaller ones.

  • Think about companion planting so you can make the most of your soil.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Top 8 Plastics Recycling Tips

I admit that I completely pulled this from Stef at Focus Organic. She borrowed it from Ideal Bite (used with permission).

Plotting your plastic recyclables' next move? O, well, let us help you plan their X-it with our walk-through of the different kinds (check the Plastic Identification Code - the number in the little arrow symbol on the bottom of the container), which ones are safer for you in the first place, which are usually recyclable, and which ones aren't so much. Then check with your local recycling facility to see what types of plastics it accepts. Game on.

1. We're #1.
Plastics labeled #1 are PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) and fall into the safer plastics category, since they're not known to leach any toxic by-products (such as BPA, which is linked to cancer). Disposable water bottles, peanut butter jars, and TV dinner trays are typically made of PET. These can usually go in the recycling bin no problem.recyclinggirl.gif

2. Takes 2 to tango.
The #2 plastics are made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene), which also has a low leaching risk. These include butter tubs, milk and juice jugs, household cleaner containers, and shampoo bottles, and you can usually toss them straight in your curbside recycling bin.

3. The 3 Rs.
Poor #3 plastic - it's in the not-so-recyclable and not-so-safe category. This type's PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and it's arguably the worst plastic for the planet and you. It can emit mercury, phthalates, and dioxins, which can cause reproductive abnormalities; and it's also usually not recyclable, so try to avoid it when possible. You'll often encounter it in cooking oil bottles, food packaging, and plastic wrap.

4. Free 4 all.
LDPE (low-density polyethylene) makes up our #4-labeled plastics. These include plastic grocery bags, produce bags, and food wrap, and the good news is that it has a low risk of leaching. Many curbside recycling programs will take your #4s, but if yours doesn't, see if your local grocery store will at least accept your plastic bags (if you're not already bringing your own).

5. Gimme 5.
Clap it up for #5 plastics - made of PP (polypropylene) - which include yogurt containers, straws, and syrup and ketchup bottles. You can usually toss these straight in the recycling bin, and they're not likely to release toxic chemicals into whatever they're containing.

6. Let's talk about 6, baby.
This one's a mixed bag. Made of PS (polystyrene), these plastics include stuff like egg cartons and Styrofoam, which can release styrene, a possible carcinogen, when heated. Thankfully, you can recycle some Styrofoam, like those little packing peanuts - reuse them by taking them back to a shipping company that accepts them in your area or just by packaging them in another box yourself.

7. Stairway to 7.
The #7 plastics fall into the somewhat ambiguous "other" category - some are safe, but others can contain BPA. With these plastics - which include things like gallon-size water bottles, baby bottles, compostable plastics (nontoxic and break down as fast as paper), and biodegradable plastics - it really just depends. Check out Earth 911 and enter your zip to find out where to send this stuff in your area.

8. Lid 'er rip.
The caps on a lot of containers are made of a different plastic than the container itself. And many recycling centers won't accept the caps and lids, since they're too small and can fall through or jam recycling equipment. The bright side: Aveda stores have a great take-back program for twist-on caps, which turns them into - what else? - new bottle caps. (Or for bonus points: Get in touch with your craftier side to reuse these babies.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Preparing for next Halloween....by planting garlic

I have to admit that I made a bad choice. I purchased some lettuce (at about 3" tall already) to plant in my hoop house for some winter greens. I should have known better. Purchases of greens at a hardware store are typically a bad idea. Most of these locations don't know where the plants came from, how old they are or even how to care for them. So, I have ripped them out and transferring my boxes over to garlic.

When To Plant Garlic

You can plant from September through mid-January, as long as the soil is not frozen. Fall planting, when the soil is around 60F, will yield the highest quality bulbs; and generally speaking, the later you plant the smaller the heads will be. However, don’t worry too much if you plant it late - you can even plant it in late winter/early spring and still get a nice fall crop.

Types of Garlic

There are two types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.

  • Hardneck Garlic tends to have dramatic and distinct flavors, is easy to peel, and has generally bigger cloves. These also produce edible garlic scapes at the beginning of the summer. These are my favorite, but they generally don’t store for as long as softneck garlic. Can be stored 3-6 months.

  • Softneck garlic is what you’ll find in most supermarkets - it generally has a milder flavor and smaller cloves. However, it can be braided, and generally stores for much longer. Can be stored for a year or more.

  • Elephant Garlic is actually a member of the leek family so it’s not really garlic, but tastes similarly. It has much larger cloves, with a milder taste than garlic, and it keeps well. Elephant Garlic is wonderful baked: slice off the very top of the head so that you can see the tops of the cloves, pour a bit of olive oil on top, and bake until soft and browned. Then you can eat it by scooping the cloves with a spoon, or adding the cloves to other dishes.

How To Plant & Grow Garlic

Simple, simple, simple

  1. Separate the cloves.
  2. Plant the cloves 1-2″ deep, 4-6″ apart.
  3. Water, and don’t water again until spring.
  4. Mulch - in warm winter areas, a light layer of mulch is enough; in colder winter areas, mulch with 8″ or more. We mulch with straw, you can also mulch with leaves.
  5. Remove the mulch in spring, once danger of frost has passed.
  6. Water. Continue to water whenever soil is dry.
  7. When the leaves begin to turn yellow, stop watering for 2 weeks.
  8. Pull up the plant.
  9. Place the plant in a warm, shady spot to cure for 2-3 weeks (4 weeks for elephant garlic); if you have soft neck garlic, you can braid it and hang it in a dark place with good circulation.
  10. Store in a cool, dark place (50F is ideal, with less than 60% humidity).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Barnesville company, Greenco, makes national news

Originally written for the Atlanta Business Chronicle - by Lisa R. Schoolcraft, Staff Writer

Some of metro Atlanta’s biggest hotels and a growing number of restaurants and caterers are reducing their food waste, thanks to a company in Norcross. Greenco Environmental LLC hauls away organic waste for hotels such Hyatt Regency Atlanta, InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta and Doubletree Hotel Atlanta in Buckhead.

The Norcross company has just signed a contract to do the same for some of the tenants in Underground Atlanta, and will begin hauling away food waste at Sheraton Atlanta Hotel soon, said Tim Lesko, co-founder and president of the privately held, family-owned business.

“We have been targeting grocery stores, hotels and restaurants, anyone who has a kitchen or cafeteria,” Lesko said of his business, which became operational in November 2008.

Lesko hauls 32 tons to 35 tons of organic and food waste to his 32-acre Barnesville composting facility each day, six days a week.

Greenco’s first hotel client was the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, coming on board in March.

Today, the Hyatt saves 24 tons of organic waste per month from the landfills and estimates it is saving $6,000 per month because of it, said Randy Childers, senior director of engineering at Hyatt Regency Atlanta, which also received top honors recently from the Glass Packaging Institute for its glass-recycling efforts.

Greenco provides 32-gallon trash cans dedicated to food waste in the kitchens of hotels and restaurants, Lesko said.

“Everything from their potato peels to their leftovers from chafing dishes from buffet lines are put in trash,” he said.

The food waste is collected a couple of times a week and brought to the Barnesville composting facility, where in about 90 days, rich organic material is ready for reuse in yards and gardens around metro Atlanta, Lesko said.

Several hotel customers are also using the composted materials for chef’s kitchens, he said.

Doubletree General Manager Dave Rossman had been researching “green” certifications for the hotel when he ran across Greenco.

“We got our chef and food and beverage guys involved,” Rossman said.

Prior to hiring Greenco, Doubletree’s food waste ended up in its compactor, which was emptied every two weeks, he said. All of that compacted material went to area landfills.

“I just went two months before having to [empty] the compactor,” he said. “Every pull I can avoid saves me money.”

Hilton Hotels Corp. has a program that tracks energy consumption and waste generation at each hotel, and Doubletree Atlanta Hotel has reduced 45 percent of its waste from its compactor, Rossman said. “That’s year-to-date over last year and we only started this program in April.”

Greenco also helped Rossman’s staff set up a chef’s garden for the hotel, using 55-gallon plastic drums that were destined for the landfill as well.

“The chef doesn’t have to order fresh herbs any more,” Rossman said. “We know it’s not going to offset our food costs, but it is a great conversation piece. The restaurant looks right out into the garden.”

Limited cost benefits

Affairs to Remember LLC, an Atlanta catering company with an $8 million operation, generates about 8.5 tons of food waste per month, said Patrick Cuccaro, general manager. “In June, which is a big month for us, we generated 12 tons of material.”

Cuccaro estimated 83 percent of that was diverted from the landfill because of Affairs to Remember’s partnership with Greenco. He’s working to increase that amount by bringing organic waste containers to his catering events and hauling it back to his business for recycling.