March 27, 2013

GMO salmon coming soon?


In case you hadn't heard, the crafty scientists at AquaBounty Technologies have spliced DNA from a fast-growing eel-like fish with the farmed salmon.

Why mess with nature, you ask? To develop a salmon that can grow faster into a size for your dinner table! Some suspicious types refer to it as a "frankenfish" because they fear that it may not be as sterile as the AquaBounty folks claim. Or that, alas, it may escape and reproduce with wild salmon.

It is bad enough that few Americans know that they are already consuming "genetically modified organism" (GMO) corn nearly every day. The food industry lobbyists believe that we do not need to know.

Californians voted down the requirement to label all GMO foods in their state last November. That would have set the ball in motion to label foods across the U.S.

So mega green kudos to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and a few other grocery chains for just announcing that they will NOT be selling AquaBounty salmon in their 2000 stores if the FDA approves GMO salmon, which it seems they may.

March 26, 2013

Feeling crabby?


A crafty husband and wife team in Gloucester, VA, have come up with some clever art.

If you ever wanted something artsy out of bottle caps, check out http://beachhousebottlecapart.com/Home_Page.php.

This blue crab really caught my eye.

March 25, 2013

More on GMO foods

Thirteen new genetically modified crops (GMOs) are awaiting USDA approval! Plus that GMO salmon is waiting for the FDA's blessing.

One of the many amendments to the federal budget bill that Congress just passed is one you might not have read about much. Section 735 allows Monsanto and other chemical companies to sell GMO seeds BEFORE they are approved! That is a big privilege, but one that affects you and me.

Even if their new GMO crops are ultimately proven to be harmful to human health or the environment, Section 735 allows them to be planted the minute the USDA approves them!

The floodgates would literally be open for Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical’s new GMO crops that are resistant to more toxic chemicals like 2,4-D, Agent Orange and dicamba that will replace failing Roundup Ready GMO crops.

March 24, 2013

Invasive weeds are more than a nuisance

Stiltgrass takes over a trail
My personal vendetta is against the lowly microstegium, or as it is commonly called Japanese stiltgrass. It caught a ride into the U.S. on Japanese cargo ships many decades ago and now covers huge areas along the East Coast. It gets established in disturbed soil very easily too, as in the trails near me. Chiggers love to hide out in it too, so be warned!

Other invasive species tag along in fishing boats. So what is the big deal? Once invasive species arrive in their new location, they begin multiplying, and in some cases, overpowering the native plants. They literally choke them out.

True, some invasives are harmless. But not the ones in my backyard. I resist using herbicides, but I had to resort to Roundup to get rid of stilt grass. And it took seven years because the seeds are so prolific. Pulling up the plants was not sufficient.

Now if only some clever scientist could produce biofuel from kudzu vines.

Another promising idea to produce biofuel and control an invasive underwater plant, hydrilla, was floated [parden the pun] a while back to reduce the huge amounts of hydrilla that grow locally in James City County's Diascund Reservoir and the Chickahominy River. This waterweed blocks intakes on powerboat motors and is a bane to the homeowners nearby. It is not especially helpful to the water quality either. It was hoped that this pesky weed could be a source of biofuel. But federal and state permits were a major barrier, and the project is dead in the water [sorry again].

3-28-13 UPDATE: About 1000 hungry sterile carp (at least we hope they are sterile) have been introduced to the Diascund Reservoir to eat down the hydrilla and keep it under control. Keep your fingers crossed that it works.

March 22, 2013

Where does bottled water come from?

Peter Gleick is a suspicious fellow and did a lot of research for his recent book, Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. He wrote to many bottled water companies, asking them where their water came from. There is no legal requirement that they say on their label from whence the water comes. So most Americans don’t know much about it in spite of spending about $11 billion a year on it. Some bottlers were rather evasive and some gave surprising answers such as: About 1/3 Poland Spring comes from Poland Spring, Maine. All spring sources are in Maine and meet a distinct character profile.

Gleick found that only about 55 percent of bottled waters are actual spring water. The other 45 percent of brands is mostly treated tap water. Some (such as Aquafina, PepsiCo’s bottled water brand and Coke's Dasani) are from multiple sources. And what does "distinct character profile" mean?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) got into the fun topic too and found that 18 percent of bottled-water brands give zero information about where they come from. 32 percent of the 173 bottled-water brands failed to disclose information about their treatment procedures or water purity on the label. So caveat emptor, all you bottles water drinkers out there.

Is nuclear power safe?

Anti-nuclear activists such as Greenpeace and pro-nuclear advocates have been on different sides of this issue long before Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and Fukushima in Japan in 2011. The debate about the safety of nuclear power has been going on since 1954 when the world's first nuclear power plant became operational in Obninsk, outside of Moscow.

The nuclear energy industry never solved the issue of nuclear waste disposal (its Achilles heel) and the risk of radiation exposure when something like Fukushima occurs. As of 2007, the United States had accumulated more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors. Underground permanent storage in the U.S. had been proposed at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, but that project has now been effectively cancelled

Many of us remember the "quick, hide under your desk" drills in school in the 1950s.  This fear continued through the environmental times of the 1970s. Later, cheap coal (if you don't consider $4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies) made nuclear power plants then under construction less attractive.

I still sit on the fence about the role of nuclear power. Since about 2001 the term "nuclear renaissance" had been used to refer to a possible nuclear power industry revival, but then came Fukushima. Even Japan now plans to stop producing electricity with nuclear power.Dilution is not the solution to pollution--especially radioactive pollutants.

China has 20 new reactors under construction, and new reactors are being built in South Korea, India, and Russia. At least 100 older and smaller reactors will most probably be closed over the next 10-15 years. No major accidents or problems have occurred at the nearby Surrey nuclear power plant, although Virginia's last earthquake made a lot of us hold our breaths.

The threat of cyberattacks is real too. I pray that I never need to post to this blog on that topic.

March lawn & landscaping tips

This is the first of my monthly lawn and landscaping calendars for Tidewater Virginia residents. I have lived here for ten years and learned some of these the hard way--by planting the wrong plants for our seemingly omnivorous deer. We also have some unique soil conditions here, and we are on the dividing line between plant hardiness zones 7a and 7b. Northern Virginia is in 7a. At Richmond, it turns into 7b. 

March weather is rather fickle with frost possible, so plant with caution! Be sure soil is workable (doesn’t clump up) before you prepare it for planting. 

SOIL TEST: You may be applying more fertilizer—or the wrong kind—if you haven’t had a soil test done in the last 3 or 4 years. Get a “Turf Love” soil test and home visit by a Master Gardener for $30 by calling Virginia Cooperative Extension at (757) 564-2170. The testing will give you information on your soil texture and composition, pH, lime content, and available phosphorus, and potassium. 
CRABGRASS: Apply a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent weed seed—like crabgrass—from germinating if you haven’t done so already. Better late than never. You do NOT need to wait for the forsythia to bloom. You’ll see crabgrass preventer PLUS fertilizer in many garden aisles. However, cool-season fescue lawns do NOT need fertilizer in the spring—unless you forgot to put down those three applications last fall. Look for a pre-emergent alone product.
MULCH: It’s a good time to apply more organic mulch to keep down the weeds. I prefer pine straw or "mulch manna from heaven" for a lot of reasons. Pine needles remain loose and don’t form a hard crust as bark mulches do. Then rain can soak into the soil, reducing runoff. Also, it breaks down slower than wood mulch and doesn’t wash out of beds. Best of all, it’s lightweight and much easier on your back muscles. For new beds, three inches, which settle into one and a half inches, is recommended. Then one inch topdressing is usually needed annually.
LIRIOPE: Rejuvenate your liriope (if the deer haven’t already pruned them) by mowing it to a height of 2 to 3 inches. Avoid damaging the crown of the plant since that is where the new growth emerges. Divide and transplant hostas, liriope, daylilies, dicentra, Shasta daisies, and coral bells before new growth starts.
DAFFODILS: Fertilize daffodil bulbs with bonemeal as leaves emerge. Do not mow the area until the bulb foliage begins to die back because the leaves “feed” the bulbs for next year.
NEW TREES & SHRUBS: If you missed the ideal time (fall) to plant small trees and shrubs, plant a few now. Our colder than average winter months did not allow fall-planted trees to do much anyway. Just be sure to completely remove that plastic material that looks and feels like natural burlap.
PRUNING: Once new growth begins on trees and shrubs, cut back winter-killed twigs to living, green wood. However, trees that bleed, such as birch and maple, should not be pruned until their leaves are fully developed. If your pyracanthas are “out of control,” prune new growth now and you’ll probably still get berries. Prune spring-flowering shrubs after flowering is completed. Encore Azaleas will bloom throughout the year, so do not prune them. Please, please: do NOT "murder" your crape myrtle trees by cutting them back so severely that they resemble a coat rack. We very rarely trim ours and they look terrific. I only cut back any inner branches that will start rubbing against other branches and eventually grow together (not healthy for either branch).
PRUNING HEDGES: Prune evergreen shrubs and hedges before growth starts. Be sure to leave the base of hedge plants wider than the top. Otherwise, sunlight can’t reach the bottom of the plant, and those lower branches will die back. NOT the look you want!
CHEMICALS: Don't buy more chemicals than you can use in a season. If you have old garden chemicals you no longer use, do not pour them down the drain or onto the ground as this can pollute the water systems, damage the soil and possibly injure or kill plants, people and animals that come in contact with the chemicals. Dispose of them at James City County’s next Household Hazardous Waste collection day on April 13. 
You can also check out the James City County Master Gardeners' website at www.jccwmg.org for other good info.

Or Newport News Master Gardeners' website at www.nnmastergardeners.org 

March 17, 2013

Green beer news

It is St. Patrick's Day after all, but this is really green beer news.

Anheuser-Busch’s 130 beer and soft drink breweries use a lot of water and they set aggressive goals to reduce the energy, water and fuel usage and to increase recycling.

Kudos to the Williamsburg brewery for surpassing the goals set and doing it one year ahead of schedule. That is a big deal because that brewery is the third highest in use of water worldwide.

March 14, 2013

A funky soap!

Now you've seen everything.

A friend returned from a trip with this unique bar of soap for me! It is Natura Brand's "green" soap, designed to eliminate that pesky sliver of soap that remains from traditional bars of soap.

What will they think of next? But I can't wait to try it.

My pet peeve is hotels that try to reduce waste by providing shampoo, conditioner and even body wash in large refillable gizmos on the wall. But I have never heard of the brand and am reluctant to try it.

At least give them an "A" for trying.

Is agritourism for you?


Know your farmer?

You meet a few local farmers when you shop at farmers markets. But you can really connect if you try out what Italy calls “agriturismo” and actually stay at a farm. Demand for American agritourism now exceeds supply and it is very widespread in the Pacific Northwest.

Check out www.farmstayus.com  to connect with almost 1000 farms, ranches or vineyards in the U.S. There are quite a few in Virginia and most allow children under 12. Or click here to see their blog.

Or check out the website for Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms in rural Swoope, Virginia, the amazing endeavor spotlighted in Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma. You may want to take a free self-guided tour of Polyface any day except Sunday. Or book a two hour "Lunatic Tour" for $15, April 11 to October 7, 2013.

Green cruise ships?

Cruise ship passengers occasionally  turn green while at sea. But green  is not what comes to find if you picture humongous fuel-hungry megaships, many of which empty holding tanks and dump leftover food while offshore.

Eco-friendly is not the word that pops into my mind after the recent cruise ship disasters either.

But I speak out of both sides of my mouth. I have no desire to book a cruise on one of the "floating cities" megaships, but I have thoroughly enjoyed two cruises on the 140-passenger Windstar and the somewhat larger Royal Clipper in recent years. I also quizzed the captain on both ships about the destination of sewage and leftover food. In the Mediterranean, I heard that both are dumped "far offshore." But perhaps that has changed in the last few years. The Windstar captain assured me that sewage was handled at pumpouts onshore and that food spoils were also stored onboard until taken ashore.

In spite of what trinkets you buy, stay-over tourists (even at all-inclusive resorts) usually put 18 to 28 times more money into a local economy than a cruise passenger. But Windstar passengers who go ashore in the San Blas Islands of Panama do contribute to those indigenous tribes because boat is the only way to get there and no tourist lodging exists.

Kudos to TripAdvisor


Kudos to TripAdvisor, one of my favorite lodging resources.

They will launch a voluntary GreenLeaders program soon on their website to help properties that have comprehensive recycling, solar panels, electric car charging stations, composting and more get the recognition they deserve and to make it easier for travelers to plan and book green trips.

TripAdvisor collaborated with the EPA's ENERGY STAR program, the UN Environment Programme, the U.S. Green Building Council, and other sustainability experts to create this program that awards points by weighing them according to the environmental importance of the green practice, and the scale of that practice’s impact.

Green vacations, anyone?


April is “Virginia Green Travel Month.”

But summer vacation planning begins now for many folks, especially those with children, but vacations are not particularly green. Travelers can destroy fragile habitats. Travel by plane makes a big carbon footprint simply getting from point A to point B. Car travel isn’t much better.

I must admit that after my cousin’s invitation to share his timeshare in Hawaii last summer, my first thought was not about the environmental impact of getting there. But I do "discover green” during the vacation—such as the reef friendly sunscreen freely distributed on the Pacific Whale Foundation’s snorkeling trip or the huge recycling facility discovered after a wrong turn or the golf course irrigated with reclaimed water.

Eco-tourism is popular in many Central American and Caribbean nations, and especially in Hawaii. Whale watching and dolphin watching boats are plentiful. But is that truly ecotourism? Some green claims are dubious at best, even in Costa Rica.

Geotourism, promoted by National Geographic, sustains or enhances the environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of the local residents.

Finally, there are eco-vacations when your trip includes a time commitment for volunteer work in that locale. Check out www.togethergreen.org or www.outdoors.org or www.earthwatch.org to learn about some options.

Green lodging — Across Virginia, many hotels and B & Bs are aware of their impact on the environment and are incorporating green standards into their business plans. Most do little more than encouraging vacationers to use towels more than once. Some provide recycling opportunities. It may be decades before they adopt the energy-efficient European hotel practice of room keys being needed to keep lights and AC operating.

Green kudos to Econo Lodge hotels. They will be the first national economy hotel chain to promote green practices across all of their 900 properties, iimplementing the Choice Hotels Room to be Green (RTBG) program in 2013. The program is designed to reduce environmental impact and waste, meet the changing expectations of today's environmentally conscious guests and potentially lower operational expenses, (including energy and water costs).

Click on Virginia Green to see what the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and hotels offer. Or  click on “Virginia Green Lodging” at www.vatc.org/virginiagreen.

March 11, 2013

Groundwater problems in Virginia?

Are Virginians depleting our aquifers? The Groundwater Virginia experts believe that a water crisis is heading our way because residents and businesses do not see it as a finite resource.

In Tidewater Virginia, most of our water comes to us from both reservoirs and the Potomac aquifer. But when was the last time you thought of your water source as you turned on the faucet, brushed your teeth, or irrigated your lawn?

Monitoring wells in our area show that aquifer levels have dropped as much as 200 feet during the last 50 years. Two to four feet per year!

The other number that is eye-opening is 4 millimeters per year. That is the estimated annual drop in Hampton Roads land areas. The technical term for this drop is "subsidence." But whatever you call it, it should worry those who live near shorelines because the waters are also rising a bit each year.

I don't think we need to build an ark yet, but do be alarmed.


March 8, 2013

Green proms are possible

Most prom dresses are costly and worn once.

I am not promoting green dresses as in the color green, but new-for-you and affordable dresses that are recycled from a former owner. The guys get to rent a tux. So why not the girls?

The clever writers at Grist have done it again. Click here to read their great Paul Simon rewrite, "Fifty Ways to Share your Sweater."

There are always local consignment shops where you might get lucky. Or check out Rent the Runway and Lending Luxury. You can even get designer purses from Bag Borrow or Steal.

You can trade clothing at Rehash or  SwapStyle. Try out thredUP for kids clothing.

March 3, 2013

Dune erosion is not a small challenge

Did you know that a chunk of the recently approved multibillion dollar Hurricane Sandy relief bill will be spent in Virginia? New Jersey and Connecticut were not the only shorelines battered by that storm. Even NASA's Kennedy Space Center got walloped. Which brings me back to Virginia.

Some of the $15 million for NASA will go to their facility on Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia to rebuild the sand dunes there.

But Mother Nature always has the last word when it comes to shoreline erosion. Some dune refurbishment projects are indeed a success. See the photo above of one section of Edisto Beach in South Carolina. I watched the plantings go in a year ago on top of rebuilt dunes, and now the sands are really building up around them.

The 2009 Dune Vulnerability Team that is rebuilding some of the dunes is a joint effort with NASA, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the University of Florida.

Getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables

It is not always easy! But check out "Produce Mom's" website to see how she created these yummy snacks for kids. Even adults would find them attractive.

These are simply too cute to avoid at a party. Even Oscar the Grouch looks enticing.