August 2011: Green Scene

 The cable box power drain

What’s the biggest energy hog in the house? You might guess the fridge, the dryer or the hot tub, but the New York Times reported in June that in many homes, the little boxes on top of the TV are actually the largest electricity users. They’re running even when not in use, often 24 hours a day, and collectively account for $3 billion in electricity per year across the U.S.

The problem is that we consumers have little choice about which boxes come with our cable subscriptions, and the companies who do make those decisions are more interested in convenience and cost than energy-efficiency, according to the Times. Much more efficient versions exist and are used in Europe, but they have largely not made their way to the U.S.

What can you do? For one thing, think twice before giving every family member her own cable box and digital video recorder. For another, let your cable company know how you feel about energy-efficiency. Maybe they’ll tune in.—Erika Howsare

Lush life

Summer teems with life. It breathes out from the warm ground and thrums through the air. I spent a morning last week contemplating such emanations while I tucked little mattresses of soft yellow straw beneath sprawling tomato vines. They were mulched when they were planted, but as they never got staked (caged, really, since I use ancient cylinders of rusting re-bar), they began growing horizontally and needed insulation from the moist soil.

We grew them this way at Monticello once and, though it takes more space, the tomatoes like it just fine. Indeed, this summer’s foliage is a healthy dark green and seems so far to have escaped the blight of past drier years. My tomato plants clamber over patches of marigolds randomly re-seeded from last fall, said to be a generally beneficial companion for vegetables. If you do let tomatoes spread over a mulched bed, as you harvest or clean up, keep your eyes open for wasps or other critters that might have nested there.

This has been the year of the triage garden here in the hollow. Not getting around to staking tomatoes was just one of the chores that got re-prioritized in the wake of a family emergency. Having to pare down the garden to essentials (do I really let it ALL go?) makes you decide, at least for a season, what you value most. The 8-foot post and wire deer fence has been our salvation. The garden plot makes a little handkerchief of sanity within a world of rampant growth.

August in the garden
*Get ready for fall greens.
*Rotate tomatoes and peppers.

Mugwort and winged sunflower are making inroads into some of the outer shrubberies (yes, and the perennial border, too, fighting it out with Tartarian asters), but my must-have summer vegetables got planted in the nick of time in the upper bed where the soil was certainly well-warmed: jalapenos and basil along with an assortment of cherry, hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. The lower bed is mostly weeded and ready for early sowings of fall greens late this month. Mixes of little lettuces work well, sowed every seven-10 days through September. Carrots and peas are also good fall crops. Plan to leave some carrots to sweeten over winter.

Our roses are going into their second year. The hybrid teas need regular feeding and faithful pruning to make new blooms and keep them open for air circulation. Learn the rosarian’s adage: cut back to an outward-facing leaflet of five. The climbers in the corners have grown whippy canes that will be tied down this fall. The Sombreuil is just starting its leap over the gate.

Perennials in this kitchen garden—asparagus, sorrel, strawberries and the roses (dare I add soft fruits?)—give it structure and help make it a four-season affair, but they also reduce space for rotating tomatoes and peppers, which can have problems if grown repeatedly in the same soil. The garden presents us with the eternal choice between desire and possibility, but the seasons change and you can always start over again.—Cathy Clary

Cathy Clary is a gardening teacher and consultant; she tends ornamental beds and a kitchen and cutting garden at home in a hollow south of Charlottesville. Read more about her at, and e-mail her with questions at


Fresh dates


Hey, home canners! If you can find time between batches of pickles and salsa, August will see a bounty of home-canning workshops and events presented by Market Central and the national Discover You CAN! program. It’s all designed to help you get started canning (if you never have before) and increase your prowess (if you’re already up to your elbows in Mason jars).

See for the complete schedule, which includes an event each Saturday in August and several in September. The highlight, for our money, would be the water-bath canning basics class on August 20, 1-4pm, at The Haven. It’s taught by Leni Sorensen, a local culinary historian and expert on food preservation who’s also a lot of fun. Sign up online.

Other events on the canner’s calendar: demos on dehydration and pressure canning basics at City Market, a nationwide Can it Forward Day on August 13, and a September 25 canner’s swap at The Haven. Check it out and roll up your sleeves.—E.H.

Make your house a winner

Need a makeover? The LEAP program can’t help you with boring hair, but they’d love to improve your house’s energy-efficiency. Register before August 19 for the PowerSaver Home Energy Makeover Contest, which will award four home energy makeovers ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 in value, plus 16 professional home energy assessments. 

Local contractors are battling in a “smackdown” for the chance to do the makeovers, which promise at least 15 percent efficiency improvement. You’ll feel that come winter!

It’s free to enter the contest, which is also sponsored by the UVA Community Credit Union and is open to homeowners in Charlottesville, Albemarle, Greene, Louisa, Nelson and Fluvanna. Call 227-4666 or go to to learn more. As for that new wardrobe, it’s all up to you.—E.H.

A greener cool


What is the one appliance in your home that is on ALL the time, and yet is absolutely essential even for the carbon tiptoers? Your refrigerator/freezer. This month Betty helps you reduce costs on the biggest loser in your kitchen.

First, if your fridge is older than 10 years, you should really replace it with a newer EnergyStar model, which can be as much as 40 percent more efficient. Remember: a top/bottom style is good and freezer on top is the best. Ditch the auto ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers, which increase energy use by 14–20 percent.  

Keeping your existing model? Here are some considerations for placement, maintenance and usage. Place away from stoves or direct sunlight, areas where your fridge has to work harder. Vacuum the coils every six months or less. Set the fridge temperature at 35-38 degrees. And please, remember to close the door! According to Home Energy Magazine, door openings account for 7 percent of your fridge energy use.  

Now here’s another “cool” tip:  place a dollar bill in the door of the fridge and see if it holds. If it falls out easily, you need to fix the seal.  

As for freezers, most new models self-defrost, but older models require regular defrosting. A friend recently confessed that she changed her garage freezer when she finally realized it was heating their garage instead of keeping food frozen. Also, keep your freezer packed, so that it doesn’t have to work as hard. You can do this by even filling plastic milk jugs with water (allow for expansion).  

Finally, make sure you dispose of your old refrigerator properly by taking it to Cycle Systems where refrigerants can be drained and the scrap metal re-used.  

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

Posted In:     Living

Previous Post

They came, they drank, they tweeted

Next Post

Dump, out from the shadows

Our comments system is designed to foster a lively debate of ideas, offer a forum for the exchange of ad hoc information, and solicit honest, respectful feedback about the work we do. We’re glad you’re participating. Here are a few simple rules to follow, which should be relatively straightforward.

1) Don’t call people names or accuse them of things you cannot support.
2) Don’t direct foul language, racial slurs, or offensive terms at other commenters or our staff.
3) Don’t use the discussion on our site for commercial (or shameless personal) promotion.

We reserve the right to remove posts and ban commenters who violate any of the rules listed above, or the spirit of the discussion. We’re trying to create a safe space for a wide range of people to express themselves, and we believe that goal can only be achieved through thoughtful, sensitive editorial control.

If you have questions or comments about our policies or about a specific post, please send an e-mail to

Leave a Reply

Notify of