Sunday, March 7, 2010

Growing your own food

I'm in my 2nd year as a vegetable gardener and I don't know why everyone else isn't doing it. Not only is it a wonderful way to reduce your impact on the world, but it's also easy, fun and cheaper than buying in the store.

I guess for me, the excuse was often that I didn't own my own house and so could not plant a garden. Last year my boyfriend solved that problem (another awesome Valentine's day present). I still don't own my own house, but we now do square foot gardening in raised 4X4 beds that can be put anywhere and moved as needed. And if you live in a townhouse or apartment, why not try container gardening? Most of my herbs are in containers and this Spring I'm trying some veggies too.

Another excuse that I used was that I didn't know what I was doing, but that excuse goes out the window with all the information available on the Internet. Some of my favorites are Gardening Patch, Gardener's Supply Company and Arzeena Hamir. Not to mention that local gardening stores, like my favorite Stone Brothers & Byrd, provide very useful gardening advice. Last year, they recommended VermaPlex for use on our plants and it worked wonderfully. I've also gone there to ask for basic planting advice and they have this awesome, what to plant when guide, which I've sworn by each planting season.

There really aren't any words to describe how it feels to grow your own garden. To know that your labor and your efforts are providing you with your own food. To bite into a piece of lettuce and know that you grew it in your own back yard. To eat freshly picked sugar snap peas or freshly grown broccoli, no chemicals or pesticides added.

It feels even better this year, because in the past my boyfriend helped plant all the crops, but this year he's away on a work trip, so it was totally up to me to plant a successful garden. I guess we'll have to wait to judge my success, but I do know it feels extremely satisfying to sit on the couch after a day in the garden and know that soon I will be able to eat home-grown veggies.

I even ventured past the typical lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, kale and swiss chard routine we did last Spring. In my adventurous mode, I added broccoli, cabbage, turnip and radishes. I've also been growing mint, stevia, spring onions (organic store-bought, that just decided to grow even after being refrigerated for 3 days!) and rosemary and hope to grow parsley, basil, cilantro and strawberry from seed. I even started some onions from seed (which sprouted today!) and recently purchased a mushroom growing kit to try my luck with that.

Don't think you have time for all of that? Start slow. Pick a few plants using a seasonal planting guide, prep the soil, plant the seeds and water. Don't have time to start from seed? Or don't trust you can grow something from seed? No problem! Buy the seedlings at a gardening store. Growing your our food is really much easier than you think!

So what are you waiting for? The last frost has passed and we are heading into Spring, so get to gardening and start enjoying the benefits of growing your own herbs and vegetables!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A simple and free way to reduce, reuse and recycle

For those of you who answer yes to my question, this may be a "what rock have you been living under" type of post. For the rest of you, it's time we get out from under our rock and join the other side. So what's the question?

Have you been to the library recently?

I know it sounds like a silly question, but here's the reason I ask. Until today, my answer to that question would have been "no." Not because I don't like to read or don't read, but purely because it has never dawned on me to go to the library for pleasure. As a kid I used to go to the library every week. Once I got to high school and then college and grad school, the library became a place to check out books and journals I needed for papers, not a place to get books for pleasure. That's what Barnes & Noble and Amazon were for. Or at least, that's what my consumer brain was trained to think. But why?

Why did I feel the need to purchase all the books I wanted to read for pleasure, when I could just as easily go check them out from the library for free?

Sure there are certain books you'd like to own, so that you can re-read them at any time or because they are from your favorite author or a so-called classic, but what about all those other books that you read once and then store away or even throw away? (Shame on you, if you throw away books, but I'll deal with that later).

Had I convinced myself that it was more convenient to go to a book store than to a library? Was the so-called hassle of returning books on time really worth the $19.99 average I spent on each new book? Why is it that I preferred to go to a store and buy a book, instead of going to the library and checking the same book out for free?

As I contemplated these questions, I started to feel like a total idiot. I didn't have the answers. More importantly, all my logic was leading me to a library and yet for years I had been heading straight to the bookstore.

In Durham, a library card is free and you can check out up to 50 books for 3 weeks at a time. If you want it longer than 3 weeks, you can renew it online up to 5 times. That means you can keep each book over 4 months and even if you don't renew or need it longer, it only costs 25 cents per day. Sure, if you lose an item, you have to pay a replacement cost and $5 fee, but if you lose a book you bought in the store or throw it away, you've lost the same 20 bucks.

So I've come to the conclusion that no matter what age you are, you need to get a library card. Not only are you reusing books and reducing waste and the energy and materials it costs to create new books, you are also saving yourself a whole lot of money, while still getting all the benefits books offer.

Take Valentine's day for example. My boyfriend and I both got each other books. I, brainwashed consumer, went to Barnes & Noble and bought him a book. He, smart man, went to the Durham County Library and got me not 1, but 5 books. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Wow, what a cheap boyfriend. He got her library books for Valentine's day?" But that's not the point. Not to mention that I was super happy with his gift. Not only did he get me 5 books about a topic I am passionate about, he also thought about my decision to strive towards sustainability. Sure it didn't cost him any money, but it was thoughtful and he took to the time to go to the library and look for books I would like. He may have spent less money than I did, but he definitely put more time and effort into his present and that made his present so much better than mine.

And thanks to him, I now have my own library card and I can't wait to go back and check out more books, DVDs, CDs and even magazines. If you haven't been to the library in a while, GO! Take your friends and children with you and give them the gift of endless books.

Funny how my brain is still consumer oriented...the second I wrote "endless books" I immediately thought of the new e-readers, which advertise endless shelf space and are destined to make paper books obsolete. While I don't think you can ever take away the pleasure of reading a real book, I do think if you're going to purchase lots of books, you should do so on an e-reader. It's convenient for travel and more environmentally friendly than buying books, especially if you buy at least 22.5 books per year. But e-readers are only more environmentally friendly than books if you recycle them at the end of their life, which is also the case for books and other periodicals.

Which brings me back to the "throw away books" comment I made earlier. I'm convinced that over 75% of the things we throw away can be recycled and/or reused. Paper (including newspapers and magazines), plastic, metal , all of it can be recycled. Food scraps can be composted and clothing, electronics, furniture and BOOKS, can be reused! If you are currently in the habit of throwing away books, please stop. If the book is falling apart and not reusable, recycle it. If it can be reused, consider donating it to a thrift store, a local library, school, swap with a friend or join a website like Swaptree where you can trade books, DVDs, CDs and video games for free! This site is especially great for video gamers and avid DVD watchers, because admit it, you play a video game and once you beat it, you never play it again or you watch a DVD once, maybe twice and then it just sits on your shelf. Did I mention you can check out DVDs and CDs from the library too?

Media is a big part of most of our lives. Some of us love books, some of us love movies and the younger ones among us love video games. You don't have to give that up when going green or choosing to live more sustainably. There are so many ways you can keep enjoying these pleasures, while significantly reducing your impact on the world and the easiest and cheapest place to start is with a free library card! So go get a library card and start reusing, reducing and recycling!