March 2011: Green Scene

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 Smaller farming

Do you have a small plot and an intense desire to grow lots of food on it? If so, SPIN (small plot intensive) farming might be your ticket. Proponents of the method say that a half-acre of land can yield $50,000 of produce a year! We say, just squeezing more veggies onto your land is a good enough reason to attend a one-day SPIN farming workshop, March 12 at the Local Food Hub’s Educational Farm in Scottsville. 

The SPIN method comes from Canada, and its biggest advantage is surely that it can be adapted to urban, rural, and in-between homesites. Making some extra cash by turning a lawn into a market plot is definitely appealing, but hobby gardeners who suspect they can coax more carrots from their eighth-acre backyard might be interested, too.

The workshop runs 8am-4pm and costs $100. Register by e-mailing info@localfoodhub.org or calling 286-2176.—Erika Howsare

Learn to eat local

Need some inspiration in the seasonal cooking department? At least two local classes offered this spring will get you up to speed.

At the Seasonal Cook on March 15, enter the world of the wild mushroom with L’Etoile Chef Mark Gresge and grower Mark Jones (who also sometimes teaches mycoculture, or mushroom growing, courses at his Sharondale Farm in Keswick). You’ll learn to cook up such tasty dishes as risotto with lion’s mane mushrooms. The class runs 6-8:30pm and costs $60; call 295-9355.

Then there’s a Spring Dinner Menu class at the Charlottesville Cooking School, March 31, in which Chef Ashley Clarke will enlighten you on the art of combining spring vegetables with fish and grains to create a lovely seasonal menu. This one runs 6-9pm and costs $75; call 963-COOK.

Whether classes are your thing or not, keep an eye out for an increasing selection of local produce at Integral Yoga and other stores, consider signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription, and/or mark your calendar for the opening of the City Market on April 2. Let the eating begin!—E.H.

No-soap cleaning

Yes, that’s the claim: Just add water—to what are called E-cloths—and you’ll be able to wipe away soap scum, grease and other household grime without using any sort of cleaning product. The microfiber cloths are designed with zillions of tiny strands on their cleaning surfaces, so they’ll scrape away the nasties physically, without the need for chemical cleaners. After using, you rinse them in warm water or throw them in with your laundry.

Of course, vinegar and baking soda are great nontoxic cleaners, too. E-cloths might save you some money, though: A pair of shower-cleaning cloths sells on greendepot.com for $17.95 and is guaranteed to last through 300 launderings. One other advantage: E-cloths remove bacteria, but don’t themselves harbor the growth of germs. 

E-cloth makes mop heads, furniture-cleaning cloths, stovetop cloths, glass polishing cloths and a number of other products. Check them out on greendepot.com.—E.H.

 Charging ahead

Whether you have one in your watch, cell phone, wall clock or TV remote, a collection of batteries of all shapes and sizes is at work in your home. This month Betty provides the 411 on battery use and disposal.

The average American throws away eight household batteries per year, which some say is fine for landfills, but considering all batteries contain heavy metals, the truth is they should be recycled. The acid can be reused and the rest is melted down to scrap metal or converted to a new battery, making them 100 percent recyclable.

Which kind?

Rule of thumb for alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, D, etc.): In low-tech items (remote controls and smoke detectors), single use are a better choice because they drain slowly and last longer. For high-tech items, definitely use rechargeables.

Prolonging battery life

Do not return a fully charged battery to the charger.

Let discharged battery cool to room temp before recharging.

Recharge batteries when almost fully discharged.

Don’t leave them charging for prolonged periods.

Refrigerating batteries extends their shelf life (but let batteries reach room temperature before using).

Recycling

For household rechargeables and NiCad (nickel cadmium), try Batteries Plus, Staples and Best Buy, since McIntire no longer accepts them. Most cell phone retailers take phone batteries (made of lithium ion) for recycling. Lead acid-filled car batteries can be recycled at Auto Zone or other auto retailers. Button cell batteries (found in wall clocks and wristwatches) contain silver oxide and therefore are designated hazardous waste and legally cannot be trashed, so wait for the next household hazardous waste day. For more battery information and locations call 1-877-2-RECYCLE (www.call2recycle.org). 

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

It’s alive!

The earth wakes up this month. Mark the 21st as the official first day of spring and celebrate accordingly—perhaps by taking a soil test. You know you’ve been meaning to, and the beginning of the growing season is as good a time as any. Local garden centers and Virginia Tech (www.ext.vt.edu) will do it for a nominal fee. 

The most important thing is the acidity, or pH. If you want to have a healthy lawn—or vegetables, lilacs, boxwood or herbs—you’re probably going to have to “sweeten” the soil with lime or wood ashes. If you’re growing blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons or hollies, you’ll want to keep it acidic with organic amendments like pine bark or sawdust. 

A professional test will tell you how much amendment to apply to get what you want—e.g., how much lime to apply per 1,000 square feet to raise the pH to 6.2, the ideal range for turf grass. If you do a home test that tells you the pH is 5.5 (or 7.5, if someone buried a lot of old cinder blocks), where do you go from there?

Make sure to take a number of different samples from the same area (chop up in a metal bucket to consolidate) instead of just one shovel-full from the middle. The county extension agency (872-4580) has the forms and cunning little boxes. Test your soil every three years if you’re altering the natural pH.

We walk a fine line during mud season. Mucking about in wet soil can destroy its structure and drainage. Don’t till or dig—the fateful temptations of spring—unless the ground is dried out enough to crumble in your hand. If it makes slick little pottery balls, leave it be or make bricks.

But if the earth has indeed achieved the holy grail of “workability,” that’s the signal to plant early greens like spinach and lettuce. Peas go in around St. Paddy’s Day. Keep your eye out for asparagus crowns at the garden centers. They’re only available for a few weeks.

MARCH IN THE GARDEN

—Adjust pH for spring

—Don’t muck it up

—Alien invaders or wave of the future?

I muse every winter over the conundrum of “native” versus “non-native” plants as I watch our autumn olives, an invasive, feed and shelter countless birds and animals. Many horticulturists regard plants that did not grow on this continent before European settlement as enemies (“alien invaders”) that displace indigenous trees, shrubs and perennials. Multiflora rose, bittersweet, privet and English ivy are among the worst around here. Yet often, especially on disturbed ground, vigorous long-established immigrant colonies prevent erosion and mitigate the sun even as they inevitably change historic deciduous woodland habitats.

What to do if you want to eschew eco-politics as well as herbicides and just grow a patch of veggies in a sea of brambles? Goat-grazing is a fun organic way to clear large areas, but roots still have to be grubbed out before growing a new crop. Next month we’ll explore other strategies to work our will on this messy life around us.—Cathy Clary

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