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Posts Tagged ‘story-on-planet’


Living Without Air Conditioning in Texas

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Most people would say it is impossible to live in Texas without using air conditioning in the summer. After all, in the Dallas area we often get 100 plus degree temperatures for days on end. It seems a given that in these conditions air conditioning would be a no brainer. Maybe that is the problem. Society doesn’t really consider alternatives anymore, we blindly follow what others are doing.

Our family hasn’t used air conditioning in five years. It just is not an option for us. Have there been benefits? Oh yeah there have!

We Used to be Normal…Sort Of

A number of years ago we found the house of our dreams. A 1910 farmhouse on two and a half acres with 4,300 square feet of space for our large family. Sure, it had been abandoned, and then inhabited by rodents and raccoons but the charm was there. Most of the charm was in the very low price.

Moving a small nation into a structure of behemoth proportions was tricky…and being seven months pregnant with child number eight just added to the challenge. By June the heat seemed unbearable to my incubating system and I begged for the air conditioning. In fact I begged for the air conditioning right up until the time we got the bill. Four hundred fifty dollars? Ouch.

Obviously either Texas needed to be moved a bit farther north or we needed to adapt. Choice two seemed the more attainable goal.

The Benefits of Living in Harmony with Summer

It wasn’t an easy shift initially. We gathered the family around the thermostat and, teary eyed, bade a fond farewell. I patted the small, plastic box one more time before moving the switch to the “off” position. The deed was done.

The first week or so was difficult. Our bodies began to slowly adjust to the temperature change. We ran fans, drank lots of water and groaned a lot. Yet, after the initial adjustment phase we found that there were benefits to living without air conditioning, even when it was 107 degrees outside.

1. We Are in Sync with the Seasons

You may not think too much about it but there was a time where almost everything a human being did was determined by the seasons. You planted in spring, weeded and worked in summer, harvestd in fall, and rested a bit in winter. There were winter clothes and summer clothes. Summer mornings were a flurry of activity so that you could be done before it got hot. Those sultry afternoons were often spent on the porch, doing some simple task that allowed you to stay cool. Benefit? Life happened at a slower pace.

2. The Kids Play Outside All Year

In Texas during the very hottest months most children end up on house arrest. When you spend most of your time at a cool 75 degrees, stepping out into the baking 98 degree afternoon is a shock to your system. We have found that rather than wanting to huddle around the television our kids were riding bikes, swinging on swings, fishing in the creek, or building forts. The fact that their systems were used to a higher temperature has allowed them to lead normal lives.

3. Turning Off the Air Conditioning is Budget Friendly

We are not a wealthy family. Sometimes it seems that the utility companies believe we are, though. By turning off the air conditioning we have been able to save money. People in our area with houses much smaller than ours can easily write out a check for over two hundred dollars every month.

4. We Are Moving toward Self Dependence

We are trying to eventually take our house off grid. Nonessential items like air conditioning hold us back from achieving that goal. When those famous Texas storms blow through and the electricity goes off other people may be panicked but we are quite comfortable.

Surviving without Air Conditioning in Dallas (or anywhere)

If you have never thought about trying to live without air conditioning, especially if you are living in the south or southwest, the idea may be a little foreign. Here are some tips to help you say goodbye to your air conditioning bills whether you live in Dallas, Texas or Terre Haute, Indiana.

  • Stay hydrated. Most people do not drink enough water. Drinking plenty of ice water will enable you to tolerate the heat safely.
  • Keep your windows open. Use fans to keep the air circulating. These use a fraction of the energy that an air conditioning unit does.
  • Choose a slower pace. Spend the afternoon on the porch with a good book and a glass of ice water or herbal tea.
  • Wear natural fabrics like cotton, bamboo, and linen.
  • Wear light colors and loose clothing.
  • Go barefoot.
  • Soak your feet in cool water.
  • If it is very hot at night bathe in cool water and go to bed without drying yourself off.
  • Use the outdoor grill, eat cold salads, and do your cooking early in the day. You can use the grill for almost anything, including bread and pizza.
  • The dryer is another appliance that will really heat your house up. Hang your clothes outside to dry if possible.
  • Consider enjoying all of that fresh produce that summer offers and cutting back on meats and proteins. Your body will stay cooler.
  • An ice cold beer might sound great but the alcohol will act as a diuretic and you can become dehydrated and hotter.
  • Change to eco-friendly LED or CFL lightbulbs. They give off less heat.
  • If you have a creek, pond, or pool spend some time in the water.
  • Consider installing a solar powered attic fan to pull the hot air out of the house.
  • Paint your house a light color. If you are planning on installing a new roof, a light colored shingle will help as well.

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5 Quick Tips for Spring Lawn Care

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Even if the weather in your area is still a bit chilly, it’s time to start thinking about giving your lawn a little TLC.

Spring lawns require extra care following chilly winter temperatures and dormant growth,” said John Buechner, Lawn Doctors Horticulture expert. “It’s also a critical time to take steps to insure a beautiful summer lawn. Fertilization, weed and pest control combined with proper mowing will stop problems before they start and keep your lawn looking its best.”

For many, this means heading down to the local home improvement warehouse to buy chemical products that might produce a green lawn, but will do a great deal of damage to the soil, water, and wildlife in the process.

If you’d rather take a more organic approach to lawn care, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Fertilization: Spring is a crucial time to fertilize because it replenishes the food reserves your yard draws from while dormant in the winter and fuels grass’ rapid growth phase. Hopefully, you’ve been composting your kitchen waste all year long, and you have the means to make compost tea to fertilize your lawn and garden. This will produce a thick, healthy lawn that also helps prevent weeds. (And don’t worry: if you haven’t been composting, there are lots of packaged organic fertilizers on the market, but just like when shopping for organic foods, be careful and read the label).

Weed control: Apply a pre-emergent weed killer on lawns to prevent grassy weeds from germinating. Spring broadleaf weeds like dandelions, clovers and plantains, are best prevented by maintaining a proper mowing height and fertilization. After a mild winter, annual weeds that germinate in the fall, like henbit and chickweed, will be more visible and require higher levels of broadleaf weed control through herbicides. Never use chemical weed killers! Check out natural and effective options like Burn Out, (made from clove oil, vinegar and lemon juice) instead.

Pest control/Disease repair: Severe winters may increase the incidence of winter diseases such as snow mold and Bermuda dead spot. Proper cultural care is important in helping your lawn recover from stress related winter diseases. Properly timed fertilizer application and mowing at the recommended height for your grass type are two items that will aid in the recovery of your lawn.

Mowing: Contrary to popular belief, setting your mower at a very low height can actually increase weeds by exposing the soil surface to sunlight and removing stored nutrients in leaf blades. Cool weather grasses, such as bluegrass, ryegrass and fescues, should maintain a height of 2.5 to 3.5 inches. Warm season grasses, like bermuda, zoysia, St. Augustine and centipede, should be kept at 1.5 to 2.5 inches tall. Also, think about skipping the loud, carbon-intensive, gas-powered mower for an electric or human-powered alternative.

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5 Quick Tips for Spring Lawn Care

Versatile Vinegar: 8 More Handy Uses For Vinegar

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

vinegar photo

Vinegar may be oh-so-tasty on fish and chips, and a host of other foods, but it has plenty of other uses in your home. The acidic liquid is a powerful cleaner, eating through lime and grime, and killing many viruses and bacteria. From cleaning calcium buildup to unclogging drains to detoxifying your home, it seems like there’s nothing vinegar can’t do, and it’s easy on the environment and your wallet. Here are eight more tips on how to use this incredible substance.

1. Balance bad soil’s PH and increase its acidity by adding half a cup of vinegar to 1 gallon of water when watering plants.

2. Soothe stings from bees or jellyfish with vinegar. Dab a cotton ball in white vinegar and dot the irritation to relieve itching.

3. Use it to treat sinus infections, congestion and chest colds. Add 1/4 cup or more to a vaporizer.

4. Freshen a lunchbox. Soak a piece of bread in vinegar and place it in the lunchbox to sit over night to get rid of that funky smell.

5. Use it in the laundry room to remove lint from clothes. Add half a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of the washing machine. This will also help brighten fabric colors.

6. Vinegar is great at removing stains and odors from hands. Case in point: Rub your fingers with vinegar before and after slicing onions to avoid that tell-tale aroma.

7. Throw vinegar onto grease fires to safely extinguish the fire.

8. Feel better and soothe a sore throat with vinegar. Mix a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water with a bit of sweetener and drink it. It will make you feel better.

One last quick tip: Always keep a large bottle of white vinegar in your pantry, and when you notice that you have just a quarter of a bottle left, pick up a new one. That way you’ll never run out when you need it most

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Versatile Vinegar: 8 More Handy Uses For Vinegar

15 Drought-Tolerant Perennials for Your Garden

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

One of the easiest ways to conserve water in your garden is to plant as many drought-resistant plants as you can. Drought-resistant plants need regular watering while they are getting established for their first year in your garden. After that, they will live happily on nothing more than the rain that Ma Nature provides.

Of course, you can do a few things to help these plants get off to a great start: amend your soil with compost at planting time, mulch well once everything is planted, and keep weeds (which will compete with your plants for moisture) under control.

My front yard garden is made up entirely of drought-tolerant perennials. I’ve been removing my lawn and replacing it with gardens. I don’t water anything in my front yard other than the containers of mesclun and herbs on my front porch — and my yard looks great (if I do say so myself!) With that in mind, here are 15 of my favorite drought-resistant perennial plants.

15 Drought-Resistant Plants for Your Garden

1. Asters
2. Bee Balm (Monarda)
3. Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
4. Coreopsis
5. Echinops

DSCI0794.JPG Purple Coneflower, Photo by Colleen Vanderlinden

6. Gaillardia
7. Heliopsis
8. Hyssop (Agastache)
9. Lavender
10. Liatris

DSCI0109.JPG Lavender, photo by Colleen Vanderlinden
11. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
12. Russian Sage
13. Salvia
14. Sundrops
15. Yarrow

DSCI0691.JPG Sundrops with native sweat bee, photo by Colleen Vanderlinden

Drought-resistant, beautiful, and (an added bonus!) many of these plants are also important nectar sources for beneficial insects and butterflies. What more could anyone want from a perennial garden?

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Keep Cool This Summer Without Turning on the A/C

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

As the temperatures climb throughout the country to the inevitable summertime highs, many of us will be tempted to pull the AC from the closet and crank it. Which is troublesome: air conditioners use a whole lot of electricity, which in turns costs you a bundle, particularly because all the cooling devices turned on around a city create a massive demand that raises electricity rates and strains the grid.

In New York City, the grid’s sketchy reliability in July and August can be attributed almost entirely to all the air conditioners churning away. While there are plenty of places out there to find tips about saving energy in the Summer, we thought it’d be useful to look at how you can keep your home cool and comfortable during even the scorching Summer months.

We found Peter Troast, founder and CEO of Energy Circle, a comprehensive source of information, tips and great products for making your home more energy efficient, comfortable, and affordable. Troast has thought a lot about surviving summer without an AC, and shared a bunch of great ideas falling into a three-prong strategic attack.

Eliminate heat sources: “A significant slice of your summer discomfort can be attributed to heat sources within your house,” Troast told us. “These are generally things we don’t think about when cursing the summer sun, because they’re mostly small things, but they do add up.”

1) Fix your Lighting. Those incandescent bulbs that have become the symbol of household inefficiency actually use so much energy because they burn most of it off as heat. Troast has actually tested the temperatures of some bulbs. “A dimmable CFL reflector bulb in our kitchen was measured at 167 degrees Fahrenheit, while a very cool LED retrofit burned at a cool 107. The halogen reflector bulb we tested was cranking the heat at 327 degrees. Imagine ten of those above your kitchen table.”

2) Insulate your pipes. If you own your home or control your hot water system, you can also find some gains there. Wrap your water heater in a blanket and expose hot water pipes with insulation. You’ll save energy and money, and lower the ambient temps in your home.

3) Rethink appliances. Appliances and electronics produce more heat collectively than you ever would imagine. The most obvious is the dryer. Use a clothesline or drying rack in the summer. The oven is another obvious one. There’s a clear alternative that’s already a celebrated American summer activity: grilling. Finally, unplug electronic equipment when you’re not using it. It might seem like a no-brainer, but few people actually do it.

Minimize solar heat gain. Of course, the sun is the biggest factor in turning your home into a broiler.

4) Cool the roof. White or light-colored roofs collect a lot less heat than the typical dark shaded shingles and tar that covers most buildings. If you’re in a city and really ambitious, a green roof is second to none.

5) Block your windows. Close your curtains and window shades during the day to better block out the sun. Special “blackout curtains” do an even better job than run-of-the-mill shades. Also use exterior shutters or awnings wherever you can. “Exterior shades keep the sun off your windows,” says Troast. “Which cuts back on radiant heat gain.”

6) Put your landscape to work. Troast encourages everyone to think long term (”often a good way to think”), and to consider strategic landscaping to help block the summer sun. Deciduous trees shade your home during the summer, but they also let sun through in the leafless winter when you actually want the light and heat to reach you. “It’s a win-win,” says Troast.

Ventilate. According to Troast, “Air that’s moving feels up to 8 degrees cooler than air that’s stagnant.” Pushing air around your home is key to the AC-free summer home.

7) Maximize your fans. Huddling around a window fan is no way to live. Try an energy efficient room fan which will make less noise and move more air than the big box in the window. With a room fan, though, “just be sure that you’re not drawing in air from a hot spot around the house,” warns Troast. You can use window fans to supplement, and they’re best placed on north-facing, shaded windows, if possible.

And bathroom fans aren’t just for stink. A simple, subtle ventilation tactic is to continuously run exhaust fans – like the bathroom fan- to keep air moving through the house without causing a minor tornado inside.

8) Go whole house. If you’re in a house and want to go big, consider a whole house fan. These powerful units suck air up out of the house and out through the roof or attic, and can be installed strategically- above a staircase, for instance- with incredible results. Open the windows first thing in the morning before it gets hot, switch on the whole house fan for a mere half hour, and flush the whole house out with cool, fresh air. Repeat in the evening after outdoor temps have dropped.

9) Use a ceiling fan. An overlooked option, and a personal favorite of mine. Says Troast, “the subtle, near silent, romantic breeze from a well-designed ceiling fan is always a good option.”

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Keep Cool This Summer Without Turning on the A/C

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Have You Tried Square Foot Gardening?

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

square foot gardening is a good idea for small space gardenersPatrick Breen/flickr Creative Commons

You know those directions on seed packets that tell you to space your pepper plants twelve inches apart, in rows three feet apart? That space between the rows sure eats up a lot of space in the garden. If you’re gardening in a small space, every inch of available soil is precious. If you’re struggling with fitting everything into your garden, it might be time to abandon the old row method of vegetable gardening for the square foot method.

This method is the brainchild of Mel Bartholomew, who has been teaching the method in books, classes, and even on a PBS series, for years. The idea, generally, is to set up your vegetable garden based on a grid of one foot squares. And then, you follow the instructions for spacing between the plants, ignoring the rules about space between rows (those row instructions are mainly meant for large-scale growers who use harvesting and planting equipment, and need all of that space between rows for their machinery). So, say a seed packet says to plant your spinach three inches apart. You can fit nine spinach plants in a single one-square-foot block. The method is loosely based on the French Intensive method, in which you make a point of spacing plants closely, and succession plant for maximum harvest.

There are a few other tenets of square foot gardening:

1. Never, ever walk on the soil.
2. Grow in raised beds.
3. Succession plant for optimum yield.

This was just a very simple overview of the method. I’ve used it in my garden, with good results. I’ve found that it especially works well for smaller crops like lettuces, salad greens, radishes, and carrots — so if you grow a lot of that type of thing, you may be able to grow even more using the square foot method. To learn more about square foot gardening, you can check out Mel Bartholomew’s website, or look for his books at your local library.

Original Post by Colleen Vanderlinden, Planet Green

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Refinish Wood Furniture with Olive Oil

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

olive oil bottleBanana Stock/Thinkstock


I was watching some sort of home improvement show on television and I saw them using olive oil to refinish furniture and they weren’t even trying to be green. I felt compelled to give it a try because I have always been pretty frightened of furniture polish. Store-bought furniture polish is the farthest thing from green and can irritate the respiratory systems in some individuals. And Collin wrote a while back about the importance of staying away from furniture finishes laden with VOCs. Olive oil doesn’t have the thick coating of a varnish but it does protect woods from simple scratches and drink rings.

Make Your Own Furniture Polish From Olive Oil

1. Combine two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice. You could substitute vegetable oil or linseed oil for the olive oil but you should avoid the use of virgin olive oil because it doesn’t work nearly as well. This recipe only works on finished wood.

2. Apply with a lint free cloth or cheesecloth. Towel-dry excess oil in a circular motion applying special attention to the problem areas of the wood.

*To polish unfinished wood, combine a teaspoon of lemon oil into a cup of mineral oil. Apply with a lint free cloth or cheesecloth. Apply the mixture in a circular motion taking time to make sure it’s evenly distributed.

Original Post by Sara Novak, Planet Green
Refinish Wood Furniture with Olive Oil

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Natural Ways to Get Rid of Ants in Your Home

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

Each and every summer, we do battle with the ants that make their way into our house. They are drawn here by the myriad dropped Cheerios my toddler leaves them, as well as the flour and sugar canisters in the kitchen. The most common way to deal with an ant problem is to buy one of those small ant traps that contain both a lure and a pesticide that the ants will carry back to the nest, killing the rest of the colony. The problem is that those little traps seem to attract small children (hey, what is this thing?) and they’re not something I want any of my kids touching. So I started looking for some more natural solutions to the problem. I hope these help

Natural Ant Control

Baby powder, dusted on both the ants when you see them, and at their entry point into your house.

  • Spray white vinegar mixed with water to get rid of the ants’ scent trails – if they can’t smell their scent trails, they’ll stop coming around.
  • Even more ant-fighting power: vinegar and water, with about ten drops of tea tree oil mixed in. This is an excellent cleaner, disinfectant, and deodorizer.
  • Place bay leaves or cloves at their point of entry. Ants hate the scent of these, and will avoid them.
  • You can also try sprinkling cayenne pepper at their point of entry.
  • You can make your own Borax ant traps to help get rid of your ant problem for good.

Ants can be a real annoyance (besides just being kind of gross — who wants to see ants crawling around on the kitchen counter?) but these tips should help you get control of the problem without resorting to harmful chemicals.

Original post by Colleen Vanderlinden, Planet Green

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Four Natural Ways to Deter Mosquitoes

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

mosquitoes hate lemon balm Mosquitoes hate the scent of lemon balm.

It’s already happening. I spent a few minutes weeding and watering my garden this morning, and ended up with two itchy mosquito bites for my troubles. Besides the itch and annoyance, in my neck of the woods West Nile Virus is a yearly danger, with at least a few cases reported each summer.

But I don’t believe in reaching for some aerosol spray of nasty chemicals to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I wouldn’t use that stuff on myself, and I will definitely never let it touch my kids. So there are a few natural ways I deter mosquitoes in my garden, and it’s time to put them into action now.

Four Natural Ways to Deter Mosquitoes

1. Plant Herbs That Mosquitoes Hate
The oils of certain herbs are a complete turn-off to mosquitoes. Luckily for us, they usually happen to be herbs that we love! Plant lemon balm, catnip, rosemary, thyme, or garlic near any seating areas, and mosquitoes will steer clear.
2. Remove Sources of Standing Water.
If you just do this one step, you’ll see a drastic reduction in the number of mosquitoes you have to contend with. They are attracted to standing water because they lay their eggs in it The eggs hatch, and, you guessed it — you have even more mosquitoes bugging you. A few common sources of standing water:

  • Saucers for flower pots
  • Bird baths
  • Kid’s buckets and other toys
  • Small swimming pools

Keep in mind that you don’t have to eliminate your bird bath. Just make sure to change the water every day or so. Mosquito larvae need still water to hatch. If you disturb the water, the eggs won’t hatch. The other sources of standing water are good to eliminate if you’re able to.
3. Burn All-Natural Candles with Citronella Essential Oil
Citronella candles really do work. Place a few around your patio or wherever you happen to be working in the garden, and you’ll see fewer mosquitoes.
4. Rub Some Lemon Balm on Any Exposed Skin
That lemon balm I mentioned in step one is also very useful when applied directly to any exposed skin. Simply crush a leaf to release the essential oils, and rub the leaf on any exposed skin. You’ll smell lemony fresh, and the mosquitoes will hate it!

Original post by Colleen Vanderlinden, Planet Green
Four Natural Ways to Deter Mosquitoes