Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Extra Tomato Recipe

It is that wonderful time of year when I am inundated with tomatoes. Every morning there are more beautiful, red fruits just begging to be picked. It really is true that there is NOTHING like a home grown tomato. I have a super fast and delicious recipe for all those extra guys you have from your garden. "Tomato Ziti" is ready in less than fifteen minutes and it's healthy to boot.

ziti pasta (whole wheat is best)
tomatoes (I used grape because that's what I had the most of at the time)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup Parmesan cheese
red pepper flakes to taste (I like mine spicy so I add a tablespoon)
basil (optional)

Put your pasta on to boil in salted water. Follow the al dente directions on the box for how long to cook. While that's going, heat your tomatoes in a saute pan with a tablespoon of oil. Cook on medium heat until tomatoes start to burst. Add the olive oil, Parmesan cheese and pepper flakes and gently combine with the tomatoes. Toss with the drained pasta  and add basil leaves just before you serve. Scrumptious!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Yellow Cukes?!

I got a little lazy this year when I planted my garden. Usually, I am meticulous about keeping a journal with what I planted and where, where I bought the seeds, how things were progressing. I even made little drawings. But I had just started a new job this year and I was growing ALL of my plants from seed. This was a lot of work because I live in the city and I do not have a greenhouse (but I will one day!). I was constantly moving trays from the top of my refrigerator to my car during the day, trying desperately to get things heated up and sprouting. These are all poor excuses for why I didn't make the time to journal this year. I had planted one of my beds with nothing but cucumbers but as the plants started to mature, the veggies looked more like squash. They were only slightly green but mostly yellow and very prickly. Had I mixed them up? Was it because  I was trying a different variety from what I had grown before? What was going on?

Once I picked the fruit off of the plants, brought them inside and gave them a good scrubbing I cut into the mystery veggie with bated breath. Indeed, it WAS a cucumber. A little sour, but still quite good. There were a few more seeds than I am used to, but still perfectly edible. So what had I done wrong? Most likely I waited too long to harvest them. I was expecting them to be long, lean and green but this was not the case. If I had picked them sooner they would have been sweeter. Another issue may have been inconsistent watering. You should never let the soil dry out and by the same token, never over water. Next year I plan on getting an irrigation system set up so I won't have to worry when I'm out of town and I'll also be sure to pick my cucumbers as soon as they are ripe and not let them sit on the vine for too long. Another possible reason for yellowing is missing nutrients in the soil.The solution to that is to add more organic compost throughout the season. One of the great things about gardening is each year is different and every season teaches you new lessons! I'll take note of these and have an even more productive garden next year.

Cucumbers, cherry tomatoes,and basil from my garden drizzled with oil & vinegar

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Raised Garden Beds

A raised garden bed has many benefits. First, you can control the quality of the soil.  Even if you're stuck with not so perfect dirt, you can add store bought organic soil that will create better growing conditions. The sides of the raised bed will stop the soil from washing away as well. Another pro is that the ground will not become compacted because you won't be walking on top of it.  If soil becomes compacted, the plants will not grow as well because air and nutrients will not easily reach the growing vegetable and the roots will not be as strong.With a raised structure, you can easily reach any part of the interior while comfortably kneeling or sitting on the outside. Raised beds can be very attractive and will create an interesting landscape. You can also plant earlier in a raised bed since the soil is warmer because of it's elevation. That means you can harvest sooner!

To build a raised bed, you can purchase a ready made kit or you can construct your own.If you choose to make one, make sure you buy untreated wood so that you can be certain that chemicals will not leech into your food. Of course you can choose to create a bed of any size to fit your needs but a bed that measures 4' x 4' will be accessible from any side. Have your local hardware store make cuts for you to make things easier. Usually the first two cuts will be free, but there may be a small charge for subsequent ones. To make one bed, purchase 3 pieces that measure 2'' x 6'' x 8'. I had two of them cut in half. These will form the body of the bed. You'll need four cuts from the other board measuring 2'' x 6"".These will be used to connect the body together. At home I attached the four longer pieces together with galvanized screws and the small pieces in the corners. Your bed is complete and ready  for planting!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Green Mowing

April showers bring May flowers...and the beginnings of grass mowing season. Traditional lawn mowers are gas guzzlers that pollute the air and produce unwelcome noise. You can avoid these irritants if you opt for a greener machine. Electric lawn mowers run on batteries so there's no gas or oil to buy. They are much quieter while still providing great power. While they can be expensive, you should remember that you'll be saving dollars by not purchasing gas and by reducing  maintenance costs. It's also very easy to start. Simply push a button. Goodbye frustrating pull cords! Most come with same features as the gas burning kinds like side discharge, bagging capability and blade height adjustment.

Another option is the push reel mower. This mower seems a bit old fashioned to many people but it is gaining in popularity because of it's many benefits. It is less expensive than other mowers and definitely safer. All you do is push and the rotating blades act like a pair of scissors. It's better for your lawn and provides a super workout. The grass clippings that it leaves behind are excellent for the health of your lawn. No toxic fumes, no pulling your back while you repeatedly try to start it...a reel mower is an exceptional buy if you have a small to medium size yard.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Problem with Plastic Bags

Most of us accept them without thinking twice. We give our groceries to the clerk and she automatically puts them in a plastic bag. Usually a lot of them. Items already in a sack, like a bag of potatoes, get put in another bag as well. It's so commonplace, everyone does it, and no one seems to think about the consequences.

And there are many consequences. Over a trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Only a very small percentage are recycled.  That leaves an enormous amount of plastic floating around our Earth. Many end up in landfills, where it will take up to a thousand years for them to break down. Hundreds are blowing around your town right now, ending up in trees or sewers. More are in our oceans and streams where they kill marine life. Even when the plastic does degrade, its' remnants contaminate the water and soil.

Many countries have taken action by either banning or taxing plastic bags. A few are China, Australia and Ireland. In the United States, several cities are taking action as well, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and The Outer Banks in North Carolina. Many more have legislation in the works. This movement is not going to go away. Plastic bags create too many environmental issues and cost retailers thousands of dollars. The best alternative is to get reusable bags and to use them. Most stores sell them for a low price or you can make your own. Take an old pair of jeans or a t-shirt, cut them up, and sew three sides together to make an up cycled bag. If you can't sew, pull out the glue gun. There really is no reason not to do it. Once you get in the habit of carrying reusable bags with you, you'll soon forget those flimsy, toxic plastic bags. Our world depends on each of us to think and make a conscious decision about what's important to us- destructive convenience or the future of our planet and wildlife.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hardening Off

Before you move your plants to their permanent location, you should harden them off. That means gradually acclimating them to the outdoors. They've been protected all of their lives and if you were to just throw them outside without preparing them, they may die and all your hard work would be for naught. Your plants have had pretty constant temperatures and light and a sudden change could have drastic consequences.

Before taking them outside, check their size. If you started your seeds in a flat they are most likely ready for a bigger container. Carefully loosen them from their present home and move them to a bigger one. Now  is usually  a good time to add some organic fertilizer. Give them a gentle watering and let them get accustomed to their new digs for a couple days. Once you can see that they have adjusted well, it's time to start the hardening off process. To begin, I take mine out for an hour at the warmest part of the afternoon. Make sure they are sheltered from any harsh winds or rains. The next day, extend their time outdoors for an extra half an hour. Keep up this routine until the temperatures outside are ideal for your particular plant. Once the danger of frost is past, it is safe to plant them in your garden.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Composting is the process in which waste is recycled into nutrient rich soil. It has been referred to as "Black Gold" because of how very valuable it is when you add it to your lawn or garden. When your garden is rich in nutrients there is no need for synthetic fertilizers. You are naturally amending the soil and that is good for the Earth and for the health of your family.

What can you compost? From your kitchen you can use leftover produce, coffee grounds, egg shells and tea bags. Fresh grass clippings from your yard are great as well. These items will provide nitrogen. When you compost these you are reusing cooking waste and reducing landfill refuse. Food left to rot in landfills produces methane, a toxic greenhouse gas. The Environmental Protection Agency states that as much as 30% of garbage taken to landfills could be composted.

You also will want to add "brown" waste to your compost pile. This includes paper, cardboard, straw, leaves and small twigs.  These provide carbon, which is essential in the breaking down of all the ingredients into the humus you want. Basically, you want a ratio of 3 parts brown to 1 part green.

You'll need to choose something to keep your kitchen waste in until you can get it outside. You can use an empty coffee tin or any container with a lid. Another alternative is to purchase a bin that is designed to hold your compost. I have one that is so cute, it sits on my counter right beside my stand mixer! It comes with a carbon air filter that absorbs odors. I bought mine from World Market.

You'll also to have choose a method of containing your compost outside. It's best if it is enclosed but it is possible to just have a pile in your yard. You can get one ready made at Home Depot like I did or your can build one yourself out of wood.

To have a successful compost pile you must do several things. Place small twigs on the bottom of your heap to provide drainage and air circulation. Alternate layers of "green" (waste that provides nitrogen) and "brown" (waste that provides carbon). Water the mix and cover. You'll want to keep it moist and you will need to turn the mixture every so often to aid in the breakdown of the materials. The smaller the pieces are, the faster they will decompose. It's ready when it's dark in color and there are no chunks of the materials you added. Be patient and keep at it! It takes time to produce your black gold but in the end you will be rewarded with a rich soil amendment that will give you an abundant garden.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Seedling Care

So you've planted your seeds indoors and put them in a warm place to germinate. You check the water level every day to make sure the soil does not dry out. One morning you take a peek and there they are! Your precious seedlings have sprouted. Congratulations! Now is the time to rejoice. You've successfully completed step one on your journey to growing a bountiful garden. 

 Next, you need to provide your little babies with sunlight. You can place them in a south facing window or put them under fluorescent lights. Whichever you choose, make sure your sprouts are growing up straight. If they start to lean to one side, move the container around so that light is equally distributed around the plants. Sometimes I'll even move them to the back of my car if it's a really bright day. The greenhouse effect inside your vehicle gives them tons of toasty light.

Continue to monitor the water level carefully. You never want the soil to dry out but you also want to make sure you don't over water. Both are detrimental to your young plants! Watering from the bottom is a safe method to make sure they're getting the right amount of moisture. Place your containers on a tray or baking sheet and pour water into the bottom. Your plants will soak up what they need through the holes in the bottom of their containers. 

Following these steps each day will help your seedlings develop and mature into hardy plants that will soon be ready for the outdoors.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Seed Starting

If you're thinking about having a garden this year, now is a good time to start your seeds inside. It's a lot easier than you may think and it's definitely less expensive than buying established plants. Growing your own food is rewarding in so many ways. It's better for the environment because you're not relying on gas guzzling trucks to deliver food to stores. Home grown produce is also healthier and better tasting. And it's extremely satisfying to work and care for your plants and see them turn into beautiful, delicious food that will nourish your entire family.

To begin, you need to choose your seeds wisely. I recommend choosing certified organic, ecologically grown, or heirloom seeds. You can find these at your local garden shop or you can easily order them on-line. Make sure that the seeds are not genetically modified!

Your next step is to choose a method in which to sow your seeds. You can use seed starting flats or you can use recycled materials that you probably already have around your house. Egg cartons or empty food containers are good choices.

You'll need to fill your flats with a seed starting potting mix. Water to moisten and use a pencil to make a small hole in the soil. Next, place 2-3 seeds in the hole and gently cover. Water again just until it starts to drain from the bottom. Make sure you label your seeds so you won't forget what you planted! Now cover and place in a warm location. I put mine on top of the freezer but if you don't have the space you can buy a warming mat. Check your seed packet for more detailed instructions on how long it will take for your specific plant to germinate.

Easier than you thought, right? Pick up a packet and try it. You'll be amazed at how tiny seeds turn into something so marvelous!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Avoiding Plastics

Plastics are everywhere these days. They hold our beverages, are wrapped around our meat and cheeses, contain our butter and yogurt, and comprise a great deal of the toys our kids play with. They are so commonplace that we rarely think of them at all. That is a mistake too many of us are guilty of. Why should we pay more attention to our use of plastics? One of the biggest reasons is that they are composed of harmful chemicals that can leach into our food and air. Many consist of phthalates, chemicals that soften plastics and makes them more flexible. They are often listed as DPB, BzBP, DEHP, or DMP on the ingredients list of products. Phthalates are thought to lead to reproductive issues and may cause cancer as well. If you are aiming for a healthier lifestyle, then cutting down on or eliminating plastics is a must.

The most important plastics to avoid are those labeled #3 and #7. #3 plastics are PVC's. They are found in pipes, shower curtain liners, toys, food wraps and bottles containing oils and dressings. Go to the website for Health, Environment and Justice for a more complete list of items that contain PVC.  #7 plastics contain BPA, a chemical believed to cause endocrine issues, obesity and behavioral problems. The FDA has banned  BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. If the Food and Drug Administration is aware of the harmful effects these chemicals have on children, why allow them at all? Why risk out health? At the very least they could force manufacturers to label when BPA is used in a product.

The ideal thing is to phase out as much plastic as possible from our lives. Switch to ceramic or glass containers. Stainless steel is another good option. Ask for your meats and cheeses to be wrapped in paper. Transfer items wrapped in plastic to other containers as soon as possible. Never heat plastic or put hot food or beverages in it. Heat causes the chemicals to seep into your food. Do not reuse plastic water bottles or leave them sitting in the sun. 

By reducing our use of plastics, not only will we be improving our health but we will also be helping the Earth. Plastics are made from petrochemicals which harm the environment when they are manufactured and also takes thousands of years to break down. We will all breathe easier when we make an effort to reduce the amount of plastics in our lives.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pesticides in Food

So why do farmers use synthetic pesticides on their crops? To kill insects and weeds, of course. So if these products are designed to kill, what are they doing to us when we ingest them? Numerous studies have shown that we store pesticides in our bodies and that they are linked to cancer, ADHD, Alzheimer's, and endocrine problems. Research done at Berkeley has shown that the prevalent herbicide, Atrazine, has actually turned male frogs into females.
                                                     photo: newscenter.berkeley.edu

 The EPA has admitted that the long term exposure of pesticides can cause cancer. Respected doctors including Andrew Weil and Sanjay Gupta warn consumers about the dangers of ingesting these chemicals. The Environmental Working Group has a Dirty Dozen List of fruits and vegetables to avoid because of their high concentration of pesticides.

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Spinach and other greens
  • Summer Squash

Even after the above is washed, they still contain pesticide residue!

The EWG states that we can reduce our exposure by 80% if we eliminate foods on the Dirty Dozen List  or by purchasing organic versions of them. There is an abundance of organic produce available at your local market, in the fresh, canned and frozen sections. Or you can try growing some yourself this summer.

If we as consumers demand more organically grown produce, their availability will rise and their prices will drop. It is up to us to put more thought into what we eat. Refusing to purchase food doused with synthetic pesticides will promote healthier people and a healthier planet.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Green Cleaning

As the end of winter is (hopefully) in sight, many of us are starting to think about spring cleaning.  But before you start to dive in, take a few moments to look at the products you've been using. Studies have shown that indoor air has more pollutants than outdoor air. For most of us, that's where we spend the majority of our time. The chemicals found in conventional cleaners can trigger allergies and asthma symptoms. These irritants are behind our headaches and fatigue. They can cause reproductive issues and can be fatal if ingested. Children are especially susceptible to these carcinogens. They even affect our beloved pets! Take a moment to examine the products you own. Is there a "DANGER" or "WARNING" on the bottle? If so, get rid of them!

There are "green" cleaners readily available in stores that do not contain harmful chemicals. A few good brands are:
  • Method
  • Seventh Generation
  • Meyers

Another alternative is to make your own cleaners. All you need are a few products that you probably already own and some spray bottles. You'll save money and your well being!

Vinegar: natural de-greaser, kills viruses and bacteria
Baking Soda: removes odors, excellent at scouring and scrubbing
Lemon: antibacterial, removes odors

Simple Cleaner & Disinfectant
2 cups Water
1/2 cup White Vinegar
Mix together in a spray bottle.After spraying on a hard surface, let sit for at least 10 minutes to kill germs.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner
1/2 cup Baking Soda
Pour into bowl and let sit for 30 minutes. Scrub with a brush and flush.

Furniture Polish
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
Mix well and wipe with a soft cloth.

Whether you decide to make your own cleaners or buy green ones from the store, replacing the toxic, chemical filled ones you already own will improve your life and your loved ones!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Beware of Parabens

Do you know that there is NO agency in the United Stated that oversees the ingredients in personal care products? None. We take it for granted that the items we put on our bodies are safe. But we should not make that assumption. The FDA does not test what companies put in their make up, shampoo, deodorant or toothpaste. It is up to the consumer to look at the ingredients list and become educated about the myriad of names printed on the packaging. Unfortunately, there are several chemicals that are commonplace but have negative side effects. The most prevalent and potentially dangerous are PARABENS.  It is a chemical used as a preservative in a whole slew of products. The problem is that it has been shown to mimic estrogen in the body and has actually been found in cancerous breast tissue samples. It may also be a factor in reproductive issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screened the urine of a sampling of Americans and found traces of parabens in MOST people tested. Our skin is highly absorbent. So whatever goes on it - on our lips, eyelids, feet, etc. - goes into us. Our bloodstream. Our tissues. Our organs. This is scary stuff and not something we should stick our heads in the sand about. We need to be proactive and make informed decisions about what we purchase and how we use it. The European Union will ban five specific parabens this month. We need to urge the ban of these cheap hormone disruptors in the U.S. as well.

So how do you identify the presence of these nasty chemicals? Well, be prepared to put on your reading glasses because you are going to have to carefully peruse the ingredients list of just about every personal care product you own. Look for anything ending in "paraben" such as methylparaben, butylparaben, or
propylparaben. You'll be dismayed at how commonplace they are.

Check the following items for parabens:

  • Hair products such as shampoos, gels, etc.
  • Shaving Cream
  • Deodorant
  • Lotions
  • Toothpaste
  • Make Up

Thankfully, there are companies that do not use parabens. Some to look for are St. Ives, Burts Bees and Origins.They make great products and you can feel safe as you are using them.

It's not always easy to face the truth or to make changes. But isn't better to err on the side of caution and eliminate potentially dangerous chemicals from our lives? We have nothing to lose and our health to gain.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why You Should Recycle

One of the easiest things you can do to help the Earth is to start recycling. Our grandparents learned to save and reuse everything during the Great Depression. Now we’ve become a society in which it is acceptable to dispose of things arbitrarily because it's convenient to do so. Here are a few photos of items that could have easily been recycled, but the residents instead chose to put it out to the curb.

We need to change that mindset in order to help our planet and ourselves. Too much waste is piling up in our landfills. Then when one area is filled, another site must be chosen. Some of these are actually in our oceans! Here are a few reasons to start recycling:

·         Plastic takes at least 450 years to degrade

·         Waste contributes to greenhouse gasses and climate change

·         Plastic is a petroleum based product. If we use less oil, we’ll be less dependent on other nations

·         Recycling saves trees which provide us with oxygen and protection from the elements

·         There is an island of floating trash in the Pacific Ocean

·         When you recycle you are protecting animals and their habitats

·         Recycling creates more jobs

·         You are saving precious natural resources

·         You can save money by reducing the garbage you put out to the curb

·         You can actually earn money for recycling certain items

So how do you get started recycling?

Check out your city’s website for information on locations and what you can recycle.
In Lynchburg, VA we have many convenient locations including
·         Fairview Square Shopping Center on Campbell Avenue
·         Grace Street Behind Fire Station
·         Kroger, Linkhorne Drive, Behind the Adelphia Cable Office
·         Kroger, Old Graves Mill Road & Timberlake
·         River Ridge Mall
·         Corner of Alleghany & Lakeside Dr.
·         Village Court Shopping Center, Boonsboro Road
How to Store Your Recycling

You can use items you already have in your home:

·         Plastic tubs

·         Tote bags

·         Cardboard Boxes

Lynchburg Offers free Recycling Boxes at City Hall on Church St. and at the Public Works Building on Memorial Avenue


Or you can purchase readymade recycling containers from stores such as IKEA or Home Depot.  


Buying Recycled Products
Two of the easiest things to buy that are made from recycled materials are paper towels and toilet paper. In my area, Food Lion sells Marcal Small Steps. It’s made in the United States and no new trees are used in its production. Walmart sells White Cloud Green Earth and Kroger carries the Seventh Generation brand. All are top notch products and you can feel good about using them.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Starting to be Green

There are vast problems facing humanity and the Earth today from overpopulation, climate change, unpredictable weather phenomenon to new super bugs and the possible extinction of more species of animals. If you look at it as a whole, it seems insurmountable.

Yet, if more of us can make simple, everyday green choices,
the actions of individuals CAN make a difference.

                                                                                           photo via Treehugger.com

You don't have to do it at all at once. Choose what fits into your lifestyle. Commit to an action and stick with it. See how good it makes you feel when you realize that you are taking a step towards bettering the lives of generations to come.