May 2010: Green Scene


Running for a cause

The EcoMill produces energy instead of using it up.

Ever look up from your elliptical at the gym and realize that you were in a sea of energy-guzzling machines? Running outside is the obvious environmentally friendly alternative, but if air conditioning and daytime television shows are more your thing, consider manual treadmills.

There are a slew of machines priced under $200 that offer solid basics and don’t require a plug. Most of these models have the benefit of being compact and easily storable. Visit for a wide variety of brands.

Ecomill, a product of Woodway, is a more high-tech option. Your sweat and tears are converted into wattage for a generator that runs the treadmill, while excess energy is stored in a battery for future use. At $8,500, it’s a pricey investment that could serve as incentive to get your money’s worth. Try lobbying your local gym to consider greener options. Available through—Lucy Kim

Wear dots, learn lots 

We bet you’re already going to the City Market on Saturday, June 5. If not, consider going for more than the lettuce and eggs—Market Central, the support organization for the farmer’s market, will add another dimension with its event, “Connecting the Dots in Our Local Food System,” 9am-1pm. The point? To spread info and knowledge about all the people and groups who are making it easier to eat local around here.

Look for booths housing folks like Blue Ridge Backyard Harvest and the Buford Schoolyard Garden Project. Sounds like a great chance to sign up for volunteering, learn about a CSA you never heard of before, or get some chicken-keeping info. If you really want to show local-food solidarity, wear polka dots—or maybe just put some fruit on your hat.—Erika Howsare


Eco Shop hits the Mall 


Maybe you’re already a fan of the Blue Ridge Eco Shop (where else can you get a rain barrel and organic cotton underwear in the same store?), or maybe you’ve never noticed it tucked away on Preston Avenue. Well, now it’s got prime visibility in a new spot right on the Downtown Mall, at 313 E. Main St. next to Yves Delorme.

With two and a half times the space, owner Paige Mattson says she’ll be able to expand like crazy: more organic gardening supplies, more organic bed linens, more sustainable furniture. And she’s planning an eco-friendly home design center, a separate room within the store that “has its own table, so you can spread out and think and look at different things”—including countertops, toilets, flooring, nontoxic paints and stains, and LED lighting. 

And fear not, Downtown pedestrians: If you do spring for the rain barrel, the Eco Shop will now offer free delivery.—E.H.



Nature play

May’s arrival could have parents contemplating the long summer days with kids. A close-to-home solution for getting them outside and experiencing nature is to create a sustainably-minded backyard play structure or treehouse.


If you have an existing structure (pre-2004), a green remodel is in order because your lumber is likely treated with arsenate CCA (chromated copper arsenate), which leaches carcinogenic toxins. You could seal it with a water-based sealant to keep the CCA trapped in the wood, or replace the old wood with EnviroSafe lumber found at Nature Neutral (975-2002).

If you’re starting from scratch and feeling adventurous, choose a D.I.Y. treehouse plan online or design your own. Keep it simple. Look for FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) wood treated with a nontoxic stain. If you scout local lumber yards, ask lots of questions. Better yet, call Harry Groot at Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative (540-392-8081) which services a wide area, including Charlottesville, and tell him Betty sent you.

Too busy to build? There are many online companies that sell 100 percent recycled plastic, PVC-free play structures. I found Earthscapes structures, Timber Form’s “RePlay,” and Big Toys (they tout U.S. Green Building Council approval and plant three trees per purchase) online—alas, no local dealers.

Stay away from recycled-tire surfaces for underneath play structures, because of possible off-gassing. Pesticide-free grass, pea gravel, natural wood chips, play sand (avoid sand with tremolalite, a type of asbestos), or good ol’ dirt work well.—Better World Betty

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

The morning after

May is like the morning after a wild fling. The mad flowering of early spring has spent itself in an explosion of floral confetti and the responsible gardener is left to wonder where to begin. Old daffodils have a tawdry air, and the test of the true bulb lover is to see how long one can endure the dishabille as its foliar decay feeds embryo flowers for next year. Happy the narcissus, whose foliage collapses like a party skirt and melts demurely away into natural compost.

Spirea and other blooming shrubs can be pruned now while they still have time to develop flower buds for next year.

In addition to frumpy clumps of daffs overstaying their welcome, early blooming shrubs have lost that pristine April glow and are now bedecked in bedraggled faded flowers. When forsythia, spirea, lilac and azalea have shot their wad, shape them up and take them back while they still have time to develop flower buds for next year.

Although Japanese gardeners achieve interesting effects by clipping azaleas into geometric forms, it’s better to save shearing for evergreens like privet, holly or abelia (always remembering that boxwood are the exception and should be minimally pruned except for removing dead). Flowering shrubs make a better display when we follow their natural habits by pruning branch by branch, each time back to a juncture with another stem. Make a few cuts, step back, cock your head and consider. Let out your inner sculptor and the ideal form will emerge. 

But you must know your shrub before you get intimate with it.

Common forsythia creates large thickets of graceful arching branches that root where they touch. Renovate old plantings by cutting to the ground and letting them re-grow over several years. Bridal wreath spirea, which blooms on bright white puffy twigs before its leaves come out, makes similar colonies, as do lilacs. It’s a losing game trying to prune them into individual shrubs. 

On the other hand, Van Houte spirea, which sports neat pairs of white pillow-like flowers after its blue-green leaves come out, keeps a singular form, along with azaleas, which grow into a range of shapes and sizes from neat little mounds to towering canopies. Thinning out and heading back by a third is a good rule of thumb for maintaining forms like these.


—Leave the daffodils be.

—Prune spent spring flowering shrubs.

—Mulch with the mower.

The dance that continues through the season is the fandango we do with turf. The best among us got the mower blowing on all cylinders two months ago before the big rush, but if you just pulled the tarp off a moribund machine, consider investing in a mulching mower. It cuts grass twice, depositing it back on the lawn as a source of instant organic nitrogen—keeping the greensward eponymous, without dumping nitrite granules that roll from the bag to the gutters to the dead zones of the Chesapeake Bay.

The best hangover remedy after spring’s excesses? A steady hand with the pruning implements, and a resolution not to be too tidy. Cut the grass high so it can feed itself, and let the daffodils droop. High summer’s coming and the party’s just getting started.—Cathy Clary