August 2010: Green Scene


Lock it up


“Easier to put together than IKEA,” proclaims the website for Ecolok Furniture. Actually, there’s a lot more to like about this company than the guarantee of a quick assembly. Ecolok furniture is shipped flat, saving space and increasing its portability. There are no nails, tools, fasteners, hot-glue guns, or duct tape involved in the assembly process—the flat panels interlock securely into place. Designs are also customizable, meaning you can adjust sizes to fit your space and request specific pre-cutout designs on tabletops and desks.

The use of materials is minimal, so you don’t get stuck with wasteful packaging and extra bits, and the design is mighty attractive. Sleek, subtly curvy cutouts, natural finished wood or brightly colored panels: The combinations are up to your discretion. If you’re interested, contact the designers via—Lucy Kim




Get into the field


Ever wondered what kale looks like when it’s still on the plant, or where dairy goats sleep? September 6 is your chance to find out, at Farm Tour 2010. For $10 a carload, you and the whole fam damily can check out as many local farms as you care to fit into the day. 

With a list of about 20 participating farms spread over six counties—including Caromont Chevre, Double H Farm, Brightwood Vineyard and Farm, and The Orchid Station—there’s a wide variety of ways to broaden your agricultural horizons. Farmers will be giving guided tours (and some will offer on-farm sales) between 10am and 4pm, rain or shine. 

Get tickets (plus a map) at the Market Central booth at City Market on Saturday mornings, or at Then start making the tough choices: Appalachia Star? Radical Roots? Everona Dairy?….—Erika Howsare



That old devil sun


No matter how we try to pretty it up, gardening remains a fight against nature. We choose the plants we want—edible, medicinal, those with pretty flowers or pleasing scents—and try to destroy their enemies: voracious animals, insects, fungi and bacteria; fecund weeds that do not charm the human eye and out-compete our favorites for food, water and light.


But there are some things it’s crazy to fight and one of them is August.

Thankfully, there are plants that succumb happily to the sun. Vitex agnus-castus comes to mind in the dog days, with sky blue spikes of spicy flowers followed by glossy seed heads. Given room, it can reach 10 to 12 feet all around, with a form and texture somewhat like a multi-stemmed Japanese maple, although you can cut it back hard in the spring like a butterfly bush if you want to keep it small. 

Likewise, Russian sage (Perovskia) and smoke bush (Cotinus) welcome the heat and dryness of the season. They make a dramatic combination through fall—silvery blue spikes sprawling against smoky purple puffs. Put them by asphalt or brick with rosemary and lavender and let them soak up the sun.

These plants that love late summer—don’t forget Artemisia, dwarf plumbago and yarrow—are lean by design and perfect preservers of precious resources. Copious amounts of water and fertilizer serve only to over stress them, fostering weak unsustainable growth, rot and disease.

Turf, of course, can be the biggest waste of water and nutrients this time of year as we strive to achieve the corporate-sponsored illusion of the green, green grass of home. But you don’t have to be wasteful to have a nice lawn. The best thing you can do is to make sure you have at least a half day of sun, well-drained soil rich in organic matter, and a pH around 6.2.

A soil test now will let you know if you need to sweeten things up with lime and compost in the fall. If you’re automatically adding lime every year without testing, you could well have achieved a pH of 7 or more by now, which makes it hard for the grass to take up nutrients.


—Grow plants that like it hot.

—Do not over-water.

—Soil test for turf pH.

Increasingly, people are fighting over water. On all coasts and in between, the relentless spray of untended sprinkler heads washes oil, chemicals, fertilizer, pet waste and god knows what all down into the gutters, and on towards the sewers that our bays and the gulf have become. Deep-water oil drilling may be a bit too high-tech for us at this point, but any fool can stop growing a chemically dependent lawn. 

Do we really want to literally fling water and fertilizer to the winds? Perhaps we should reconsider ancient biblical assumptions of illimitable nature and human domination. Anthropologists have documented and explained humankind’s love affair with closely shorn turf, but in the wrong hands it looks like a toxic relationship, turning into a fight no one can win.—Cathy Clary



Dead tree home tour


This month Betty takes a home walk-through to find any dead tree, replacing it with some tree-friendly alternatives.


Entering the home, we are likely standing on hardwood or surrounded by wood columns (i.e. 4x4s) that were once trees growing outside amongst the elements, but now wear a coat of drywall, insulation, and paint to protect us from the weather. Done deal.

The first thing we find in the entryway: junk mail. Put a stop to this dead tree by going to Betty’s easy links for eliminating junk mail at Share your magazines and recycle newspapers.

What do we find in the kitchen? No paper bags because you use reusable bags. Paper towels are unnecessary, but if you insist on having them on hand, the brown recycled variety will do. Cereal boxes and other food containers made of mixed brown paper (once trees) make great flash cards, art project materials, and can be recycled. 

Stepping into the living room, we find a coffee table, dining set, and guitar—all former trees. Make your next furniture purchase FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or reclaimed wood, or second-hand.

Next room: the office. Remember to purchase 100 percent post-consumer FSC-certified bleach-free paper, have a recycle box readily accessible (paper still tops the list as the number one recyclable throwaway), and go paperless when possible. 

We finish the tour with a bathroom break, finding Green Forest or Seventh Generation toilet and tissue paper using 90-100 percent recycled content and a chlorine-free manufacturing process. Phew!

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource list at and blog at