October 30, 2011

Calling all worms

Actually, it's a "casting" call! 

If your garden struggled last summer, you might learn a thing or two from local teachers and their green thumb students who have jumped into the “school garden movement” and worm composting.

J. Blaine Blayton (JBB) Elementary PTA president, Marlene Armstrong, is an avid gardener and a volunteer with JBB's School Garden that was officially dedicated two weeks ago. She says, “The school garden movement is burgeoning across the country and especially alive and well in our area.”

Matthew Whaley, Matoaka, Norge, D.J. Montague and Stonehouse Elementary Schools, Berkeley Middle, and Jamestown and Lafayette High Schools are among those that operate school gardens.

Armstrong says, “I have been struck by the dedication of the teachers and James City County Master Gardeners in getting our project off the ground. But the gardens are heavily reliant on the financial and volunteer contributions of the community.”

See J. Blaine Blayton Elementary School's Garden Page and Stonehouse Elementary’s Habitat Garden to see how green these school gardens are. These programs are part of the reason that the Virginia School Board Association just announced that the Williamsburg/James City County schools are among the 37 public school divisions in Virginia that were recognized as a "Certified Green School Division" as part of their "Green Public Schools Challenge" this year.

Dig in — With worm “castings,” the end product (pun intended) of the breakdown of organic matter by nightcrawlers or red wigglers. Officially called vermicompost, this stuff is the “caviar of compost”—super for your garden, landscaped beds, potted plants or lawns.

“Worm guru” Ron Crum in James City County raises more than 500,000 worms for both composting and bait. Homeowners can buy Ron's screened worm castings in one quart ($3) bags or larger at Jamestown Feed and Seed or Homestead Garden Center in James City County. He says, “A Kingsmill garden club member told me that just a spoonful on her sad-looking African violet returned it to health.” I’m trying some around our stressed-out Virginia sweetspires.

Leftover Halloween pumpkins? I watched Ron Crum’s worms feasting on donated pumpkins in his compost bins. You can drop off your unwanted pumpkins at Crum’s worm farm on Forge Road in Toano. Look for his stonework pumphouse on the left, about 350 yards off Richmond Road or contact him at 291-6675.

Adopt-a-bin? Local resident Gina Ridgway launched the “WormWatcher” program last year for students and home gardeners. About 100 Virginia schools already use her worm composting bins. Students at Rawls Byrd, the Academy of Life and Learning, Williamsburg Montessori Middle School, Stonehouse Preschool, Bruton High, and Norge Elementary are among the 35 local schools that have embraced the program.

The worms need only apple cores, coffee grounds, etc. every few weeks and some newspaper for bedding and fiber. Devoted teachers keep the worms thriving during summer vacations.

But budget cuts limit the number of students who are able to watch worms convert two to three pounds of food waste into castings weekly—more than 100 pounds into 50 pounds of castings in a school year.

The children at a week-long camp at Boys and Girls Club studied whether worms preferred white chocolate chips over watermelon. The worms ate the melon first and left the chips fairly untouched. Smart little wigglers! These students want a bin for their afterschool program but cannot afford it yet.

Ridgway suggests, “There is an Adopt-a-Bin program to help schools purchase them. Wouldn’t it be great if folks or organizations like Garden Clubs, Master Gardeners, or generous businesses or individuals sponsored a classroom?”

The season of giving is just around the corner if you’re looking for a unique gift. You can find more info at WormWatcher or contact Ridgway at 256-3489 or regina@biomeinabox.com .

October 28, 2011

What is this fast insect with many legs, and his pokey friend?

This insect "scoots" away because he's scutigera coleoptrata, or more simply called a house centipede. That is much easier to pronounce as you scream when he runs by your feet in the bathroom.

These critters come into the house when it's dry, when it's wet, when it's cold, and when it's hot. They are obviously in training as sprinters because they are the fastest insects I've ever seen. And all my friends in Virginia have seen these guys more than once.

Supposedly, they are not dangerous to humans although their bite can be painful. Luckily, I've not experienced that.

They are very scary looking, but the experts advise to leave them alone because they prey on other insects and spiders. No thank you! They must leave the premises--and quickly. To "bug heaven" it is!

And now, the experts warn that Virginia may be the next site for an invasion of stink bugs. The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), officially known as Halyomorpha halys, has been a plague to homeowners throughout the mid-Atlantic region for the last few years, so I suppose it's our turn in Tidewater Virginia. Our fellow state residents to the north know them well already. They have recently been spotted in Atlanta.

These critters are the losers in the sprint with a house centipede. Stink bugs, named for the smell when they are crushed, just "hang around" after they come inside your home as cooler weather arrives. But they are a bane to farmers in both their native range of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan--and serious pests of fruit, vegetables and farm crops in the Mid-Atlantic region. The apple industry alone estimated losses of about $37 million as the result of stink bug infestations in the mid-Atlantic region in 2010.

Penn State will receive nearly $900,000 of a grant to study stink bug biology and behavior, develop monitoring and management tools and practices, and provide extension education programs to disseminate new knowledge to crop producers.
If numerous stink bugs enter your home, try to locate the openings where they gain access. Typically, stink bugs will emerge from cracks under or behind baseboards, around window and door trim, and around exhaust fans or lights in ceilings. Seal these openings with caulk or other suitable materials to prevent the insects from crawling out. Both live and dead stink bugs can be removed from interior areas with the aid of a vacuum cleaner - however, the vacuum may acquire the smell of stink bugs for a period of time.

October 19, 2011

Recycling JUNK into ART

Crab by Tom Boring
One person's junk really is another person's treasure! I have run into quite a few artists who can transform a bunch of "junk" into amazing pieces of art.

This is recycling at its creative best!

Last summer, at a craft show in Anacortes, Washington, I saw some amazing scuptures by Tom Boring. From a distance, they appeared as a bird, fish, animal or familiar object. Then I noticed the nailclipper, or pliers head, or bolts. or whatever welded together into a coherent piece. Check out some of his creations at Second Chance Sculptures. He says that his sculptures are made from at least 95% recycled metal and found objects. Truly amazing stuff!

Crab by Marcie Evans
Closer to home, in Poquoson, Virginia,  Marcie Evans does some dandy feats with nails and bolts. I first saw her work at Williamsburg's annual Occasion for the Arts a few weeks ago. I love how she can transform nails into fish and crabs.

I had an "Aha" moment and asked if she'd like 8 huge glass jars full of multi-size nails, my Dad's collection over his lifetime which had been gathering dust in our garage. I don't know if he ever used any of them, and I couldn't give them away until now. I had no idea of how to "recycle" them in  a meaningful way. Check out Marcie's website link above and see what local galleries have her work.

The only creative "arty" thing we did was turn a bunch of old clay flower pots into "Potman Willy" for our yard. He now needs some minor repairs after Hurricane Irene met him. Then he can add a touch of whimsy again to our back yard.

Christmas is coming soon and I have a humongous collection of wine corks that I hope might make a unique Christmas wreath! Cheers!

October 12, 2011

We CAN recycle plastic

It's an "urban myth" that plastics (all those numbers) cannot be recycled. Europe is way ahead of the U.S. in accomplishing it.

Click here to see a great TED.com video of Mike Biddle, explaining how his innovative plant does indeed recyle plastic, closing the loop on this minimally-recycled "stuff."

What is ZipCar?

Zipcar is a huge car-sharing program with the goal of one million fewer cars on the road. That means less congestion, less pollution, less dependence on oil, and cleaner, fresher air to breathe. They claim that every Zipcar takes at least 15 personally-owned vehicles off the road. Multiply that by the more than 8000 cars in our fleet and you've got a really big number.

So Kudos to several William and Mary students who signed up in the second year of the Zipcar program on campus. Bill Horacio III, Director of Parking and Transportation Services, says that because of their "very active membership, we added a third car to our fleet of Zipcars on campus and many students are enjoying the cost savings this program offers." allowing students without cars on campus to use a car for up to 180 miles per day for a nominal per fee. Membership is $35, but Zipcar credits this fee in driving time within the first month. Daily rates are $8/hr; weekends $9/hr, including gas and insurance.

After joining Zipcar, 90% of their members drove 5,500 miles or less per year. That adds up to more than 32 million gallons of crude oil left in the ground—or 219 gallons saved per Zipster. And many of their cars are hybrids. Electric cars should be part of theri fleets too, I expect.

October 4, 2011

Too many food recalls?

Eat, drink and be green? Not green as in organic, but green as in sick.

Did you throw out a cantaloupe last week “just to be sure,” although the one case of illness in Virginia from listeria occurred in someone who had recently traveled? This outbreak of food-borne illness in the United States is the deadliest in more than a decade, and makes many of us leery about what we put into our grocery carts. The more I researched this topic, the more I worried. There’s a lot of scary info out there, and I’m talking about government websites, not just watchdog groups. It makes "Virginia Grown" look better and better. Somehow, I trust my local farmers more than the factory farms.

Not too long ago we had salmonella-tainted peanuts; then questionable eggs; later deadly sprouts in Europe; then tainted ground turkey. Most food poisoning attacks occur shortly after ingesting tainted food. However, listeriosis symptoms can take up to two months to appear. 800 cases are reported in the U.S. each year.

Food recalls have become all too routine since the “great Alar apple scare” of 1989, and they are more frequent than you think. Check out the “Food Safety Recalls” link here on my blog (top left) to stay informed about the almost daily (yes daily!) recalls of foods.

Another good resource is Food Safety News and their foodborne illness outbreaks. It's great incentive to diet!

Chew on this — Putting politics aside (although food politics is a current hot topic), the often-maligned EPA reminds us that October is Children’s Health Month and that “protecting children’s health from environmental risks is fundamental to EPA’s mission.”

For years, the food industry has usually agreed with consumer groups on the need to modernize the nation’s food safety inspection system because recalls are expensive. Yet recent budget cuts to the FDA and USDA guarantee more food inspectors on the unemployment lines and more food-borne illnesses. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot? Too many mistakes in that farm-to-table chain are happening.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama on January 4th, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. Yet key parts of the food-safety system clearly fail on a regular basis. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, about 1 in 6 people in the United States get sick from food poisoning each year; 128,000 are hospitalized; and about 3000 die.

15% of our food comes from other countries. Who is inspecting that?

Lettuce be safe — Packaged greens, with E.coli bacteria occasionally lurking in them, have been the culprit in recent recalls. These packaged greens are designed to stay “fresh” for up to two weeks, but I’ve seen some nasty dark limp leaves within only a few days.

Speaking of preservatives, I’m doing some unofficial food research in my bread drawer after I found a bag of sandwich buns well-hidden under a bag of pretzels a month ago. The “sell by” date was Jan. 19, 2011, but there’s no mold yet. That “retard spoilage” ingredient, calcium propionate must be potent stuff., even if the FDA considers it safe for human consumption.

A 2002 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health states that children who suffered from restlessness, inattention, sleep disorders and irritability improved when bread without this preservative became part of their diet. What’s a mother to believe?.

More food for thought — Most of us are in the dark when it comes to how most food is grown and raised on “factory farms.” Probably best we don’t know.

Whether you accept the documentary Food Inc’s frightening look at industrial agriculture and toxic pesticides and bacteria or simply worry about the frequency of food recalls, “caveat emptor” is a worthy motto for consumers.

We want to trust farmers and ranchers, but should we? More and more pesticides are used on our crops, and more genetically-altered foods are on the horizon. Portion control may not be the only control we need. But that takes us back to "food politics."

October 2, 2011

Fertilize your lawn wisely

Most established lawns require no phosphorus, yet many homeowners routinely applied fertilizer containing phosphorus. Fertilizer with nitrogen is also frequently misapplied to paved surfaces, frozen ground, or grass that simply doesn’t need it. Avoid chemicals and use an organic product like the truly organic Nutri-Green to topdress lawn areas that are suffering from drought, before reseeding those areas.

Bipartisan legislation in Virginia will soon bar the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorus for use on established lawns. Why? To avoid costly pollution cleanups later by not allowing the pollution to occur in the first place. This much-needed legislation could cut up to 230,000 pounds of phosphorus pollution per year, or 22 percent of Virginia’s phosphorus reduction goal for 2017. And that could save Virginia localities millions of dollars by reducing their need to install expensive runoff treatment systems to comply with the new Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet.” Once phosphorus gets into runoff, it can cost more than $30,000 per pound to remove it using engineered stormwater systems.

The new Virginia law also requires lawn service companies and other professionals to apply fertilizer only according to nutrient management standards, mandates clear labeling on fertilizer packages to inform consumers about proper application rates, and prohibits the use of de-icers that contain nitrogen.