April 2010: Green Scene


Fair play

Strap on your bicycle helmets and shake out your reusable canvas totes: It’s time for Eco-Fair 2010!

With plenty of activities for children (Bike Rodeo, anyone?!) and more booths than you can shake an organic seed packet at, this year’s Eco-Fair promises to be quite a celebration. As part of Earth Week, Eco-Fair will be held at the Charlottesville Pavilion on the east end of the Downtown Mall on Sunday, April 18 from 11am until 7pm. 

Get in the mix with conservationists, ecological activists, local food producers, eco-conscious businesses, natural health care practitioners, and government organizations as they set up tables in the exhibition area. Spend the day grooving to live music and expanding your eco-consciousness. The Eco-Fair is free and open to all ages.—Christy Baker

Effortless gardening?

The folks from C’ville Foodscapes, shown, will help out with your garden, as will Blue Ridge Backyard Harvest.

No more confused gaping at the seed packet carousels at Whole Foods and Rebecca’s. No more aching backs and dry dirty hands from just thinking about digging up that clay and crabgrass.

Two poking-out-of-the-soil-new local businesses are here to satisfy your veggie garden lust. C’ville Foodscapes (cvillefoodscapes.com or 806-6255) and Blue Ridge Backyard Harvest (blueridgebackyard.com or 806-6157) will design, install and maintain a food-producing garden right in your very own back (or front) yard. 

Both companies are worker-owned and -operated and bring decades of combined organic growing experience to your kitchen table. Whether you want someone to do the weeding or you just need a bit of advice from a seasoned gardener, these two companies are here to help.—C.B.

Spring’s kitchen

Several years ago, chef and farmer Rachel Willis appeared in these very pages when we wrote about her extensive home garden—and published a killer beet recipe of Willis’ invention that some of us here in the office still make regularly at home. So we don’t need to know that Willis used to cook at the Clifton Inn and other top-flight local restaurants. We’re already convinced that her locavore cooking class at the Charlottesville Cooking School will be more than worthwhile.

Using locally grown (or locally gathered) ingredients is easy in July, but spring can present a challenge. The class menu features solutions like leg of lamb, sautéed spinach and morels, and a dessert made of rhubarb. The locavore class costs $75 and will be held on April 18 at 10am. Check charlottesvillecookingschool.com for more deets.—Erika Howsare

Nature’s gate 

Want to give your kids the design equivalent of that time-honored parental message, “Go play outside”? An outdoor space designed to encourage play, exploration and wandering by the younger set can do a lot to cut down couch time. At the Mountaintop Montessori School on Pantops, a lecture and workshop this month will feature Robin Moore, the director of the Natural Learning Initiative, who will share wisdom on designing natural play spaces for kids.

A Friday evening lecture (April 23, 7-8:30pm) will lay out the basics on why it’s important for kids to roam in natural spaces. Saturday’s workshop (April 24, 8:30am-5:30pm, $25 pre-registration) will get into the nitty-gritty of design and provide a chance to review your own ideas with Moore and his staff. 

Reach out to ryan@mountaintopseedproject.org or 960-4082 for more info.—E.H.

One more row

If you’re anything like us, planting a garden is an exercise in over-abundance: ordering just a couple more tomato varieties, starting a few extra pepper plants, digging up another square yard or six. So it’s not hard to imagine directing some of that enthusiasm (and some of those extra zucchini) toward a good cause. The Local Food Hub is asking local home gardeners to plant an extra row for the hungry this year. 

It’s that simple, really: Grow a little surplus food, and the Hub will distribute it to the local food pantries it already serves, including Blue Ridge, Westhaven and Nelson County. What could be better than donating fresh backyard produce rather than dusty cans of soup?

For more info, e-mail emily@localfoodhub.org.—E.H.

The Home Show will go on

When the dogwoods and daffodils bloom, so does the John Paul Jones Arena. Find everything you didn’t know you needed for your house at the annual Home and Garden show, brought to you by the Blue Ridge Home Builders Association. Whether you’re looking to improve the aesthetics and efficiency of your house or just looking for something to do on the weekend, swing by the JPJ April 9-11 to check out over 120 vendors, from builders to interior designers. 

Every year, more of these vendors offer green products and services. Here are a few to put on your list.

Need to know about energy audits and green building certification? Proenergy conducts energy audits and makes recommendations on how to make your house more efficient. EarthCraft, VA is a Richmond-based company that provides (you guessed it!) EarthCraft certification.

Want to make your house more efficient? Airflow Systems is an EarthCraft certifier and has certified over 60 homes in Charlottesville. Airflow can help redesign homes to comply with ENERGY STAR certification criteria and install geothermal heat systems. Creative Conservation offers all kinds of insulation systems. Learn about harvesting rainwater and managing greywater and stormwater from the folks at Rainwater Management Solutions. And don’t miss the LEAP program, a joint Charlottesville-Albemarle venture that will help homeowners cut down on energy use.

UpStream Construction, a Home Show participant, built this LEED-certified house in Crozet.

If you’re in the building or remodeling phase, UpStream Construction is an EarthCraft and LEED builder, and Heartwood Corporation is experienced with historic preservation, remodels and green-friendly building.

The Home Show also hosts free green-minded seminars with a variety of speakers. Jeff Sties, architect of both of the houses in our feature story on page 35, will be leading a talk on sustainable design. Sties is founder of Sunbiosis, a local architecture firm that specializes in building LEED certified homes, and believes in architecture that is environmentally conscientious and efficient. Catch his talk on Saturday, April 10 at 5pm.

Other speakers include: Laura Fiori of Key Green Energy Solutions, an energy auditing and consulting company; Cynthia Adams, newly hired executive director of LEAP; and Jimmy North of Airflow Systems, who will speak about the benefits of geothermal heating.

The Home and Garden Show is open 10am-7pm on April 9-10 and 1-5pm on April 11. Admission is $5.—Lucy Kim and Erika Howsare

Drop the mulch; back away slowly

Although it officially began with last month’s vernal equinox, spring is really April’s show. Erupting blossoms and greening grass paint the world in a lurid explosion of pastel and chartreuse that merely requires the gardener to get out of the way. Yet one feels one must do something and, sadly, that activity is often mulching.

This is how not to mulch. The “volcano mound” invites rot and pests. Instead, apply no more than two to three inches of mulch around trees.

“We have become a society of over-mulchers,” says Tracy DiSabato-Aust in The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, “feeling compelled to go out every spring and mulch whether it’s needed or not.” 

There are horticultural reasons for this practice, although it didn’t become common until the later part of the 20th century. Organic material like shredded bark, leaf mold, pine tags or compost covers the soil between plants and holds in moisture, moderates soil temperature, and slows down weeds. But the real reason people do it is because it makes the garden look neat, tended and brand-new; and, ah, the smell of fresh mulch.

However, if you put it down every year, it builds up. How many seasons have you been adding the same amount? Are your trees coming up out of their mulch rings straight as telephone poles? This is not nature’s way.

Trees should have a flare at the base of the trunk for oxygen exchange. We’re talking living tissue here. Piled up against the bark, even several inches of shredded hardwood (and I’ve seen much more) abets rot and invites chewing rodents to nest in winter. 

Large planting beds buried in wood chips make a paradise for tunneling voles, encouraging weak roots to grow up instead of down into the soil, making them more vulnerable to drought and hot temperatures. Likewise, covering the crowns of perennials and shrubs invites rot in our heavy clay soils. 


—Two to three inches of mulch are enough!

—Pull it back; fluff it up.

—Stay the hand of fertilizer for turf.

Two to three inches of good quality shredded hardwood, the premium mulch in these parts, should last at least a couple of years. Two to three inches for trees and shrubs and one to two for perennials and annuals is a good rule of thumb. Keep it well away from the base of plants. You’re mulching the soil, not the plants.

Rather than automatically renewing the mulch order each spring, check the depth. Turn it over with a steel rake or fork. That will fluff it up and let in some air. It will also look nice and dark and new. Use the money you just saved to buy containers or plants or tools.

LAWN PEOPLE: You who want to take up the challenge of going organic must eschew fertilizers and pesticides that wash into gutters, wantonly poisoning the watershed. If you haven’t yet opened that bag of Weed and Feed, it’s not too late.

Instead, set a sharp mower blade to two inches (do not starve the new grass which makes its food in its leaves) and let the cuttings fall back onto the turf. The time for supplemental feeding will come (I’ll talk you through it this season), but for the Chesapeake Bay’s sake, it’s not the thing for spring.—Cathy Clary

Mix up your own green cleaners

Time to spring clean! This month Betty gives you simple recipes to save greenbacks, and our green planet. These phosphate- and petroleum-free, biodegradable cleaners outshine harmful and unnecessary specific cleaning products. All you really need is baking soda, mild detergent (Dr. Bronner’s), lemon, kosher salt and (optional) tea tree oil.

Basic all-purpose cleaner: 1 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 gallon of water (many spray bottles are this size) and a lemon’s squeeze for aroma and anti-bacterial benefits. Use this in bathrooms (on tub and tile) and all countertops and appliances. For tougher stains sprinkle baking soda and kosher salt and apply elbow grease.

Natural disinfectant: 2 cups water, 3 T liquid soap, 20-30 drops of tea tree oil.

Clogged drains: ½ cup baking soda followed by 2 cups boiling water (unless you have plastic pipes). Still clogged? Add ½ cup of vinegar and watch it fizz, set, then flush.

Bathroom mold: 1 part hydrogen peroxide (3 percent) with 2 parts water.  Spray; wait an hour before rinsing.

Carpet spills: If club soda fails, pour corn meal or corn starch, wait 15 minutes, and vacuum.

Hardwood floors: Local hardwood expert Will Rainey says you really don’t need to use anything special on hardwoods, just warm water (optional: a splash of vinegar).

Windows: 2 T of white vinegar per gallon of water. Wipe with newspaper (no need for paper towels).

Stubborn clothing stains: After a red wine stain on new white linens, I discovered this trick: hydrogen peroxide. Let it pull the stain off, then wash. 

Happy green cleaning!

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource list at www.betterworldbetty.org and blog at cvillebettyblog.blogspot.com.