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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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Infographic: the benefits of peat-free compost


When you purchase compost, do you ensure that it’s peat-free? Peat is a finite resource, and the annual rate of extraction is currently 220 times higher than the rate of formation. We’re running out of peatland fast, and this will affect our water supply as well as various wildlife.

The infographic below, which comes from compost specialist Compost Direct, explores the problem with using peat in more detail, and explains why you should switch to a sustainable alternative. Whether you’re a keen gardener or simply keep a few plant pots, make sure you learn about the benefits of peat-free compost.

the benefits of compost

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Friday, December 12, 2014

5 Financial Resolutions for the New Year


horizon

The new year is right around the corner, and it’s time to take stock of how things went this past year. As a self-described Capital C Consumer, I have enjoyed my year, but there are a number of ways that I can pick out where I could make better decisions with my money. You’re probably right there with me. That’s why I’ve decided to make my New Year’s resolutions financial in nature, this year. It’ll make my money go farther, keep me out of debt, and let me use my money how I want for years to come. So let’s take a closer look at this kind of “green.”

1)  Educate myself on personal finance. This one’s all the rage these days. Every finance blog you see is trying to convince people like you and me to get focused financially speaking. Now that I’ve been an adult for a little while, I’m seeing the balance one has to strike between things I want now and security I want to have in the future. This year I plan to learn a lot more about investment, and to make the purchases I make today very intentional.

2)  Buy Good Stuff. That’s right, if you are going to make a purchase this year, do your homework. There are so many forces that make it incredibly easy to buy all the time – the internet, credit, free 2-day delivery, free returns. All of these add up to me making a lot of impulse purchases. But I want to curtail those and focus on buying the right thing. From this day forward I will not just buy any blender, I will buy the Platonic ideal blender! I will read reviews. I will compare prices. I will buy the thing with the 8 year warranty, and I will make it last!

3)  Do a Budget. I mean, seriously, do it. You’re how old? It’s time to sit down with your little notepad, or whatever, and figure out how much you make, how much you can spend, and how much you can save. Quit playing games.

bch

4)  Start a Retirement Account. I’m not old, right? Oh, but if I started investing 10 years ago, I’d already have $30,000 saved and more than $1,000,000 more in investments by the time I retire? I see. Well, better late than never. I have recently started my IRA, and I will max it out this year. I will also move forward with OptionsXPress and get this personal finance train moving.

5)  Buy a Bike. This is just a personal one, but you might want to do this one too. It’s time for me to stop paying so much for my stupid car. I don’t drive it that much. I work from home. I can get anywhere I need to go (usually) on a bike. It’s time to make the jump and get to pedalling. Plus I can use the workout, but my wallet will thank me too.

These are just my New Year’s Resolutions, but perhaps you can relate. If you need to get your financial house in order, it’s time for you to resolve with me to make 2015 the year of personal finance. By this time next year, we’re both going to be in way better positions. Maybe we’ll be so happy we can splurge on gifts for the family. Maybe.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

10 Christmas Shopping Don’ts


green gift guide

  • Don’t buy anything a Kardashian might wear. Items include: bad rap musicians, undersized thongs, anything that was once a living creature, ex-professional basketball players and any fashion accessory that requires 2 or more sherpas to haul it around.
  • Avoid buying anything manufactured in a country you can’t spell or pronounce.
  • Avoid purchasing products made by workers who make less in a year than you pay for a bad haircut.
  • Don’t purchase tickets to any theme park that makes giant mammals do tricks your Yorky would refuse to perform.
  • Don’t shop in any store that’s big enough to have its own zip code. Keep your local small businesses alive.
  • Don’t buy any more holiday decorations if your home’s monthly electric bill doubles in December.
  • If you need to refill your gas tank to get to a store, it’s not local enough – save the emissions. Shop closer to home.
  • If, in the creation of a product, a gene pool needed to be modified, you should put it back on the shelf…
  • Just say no to anything involving fur, hair, skin or hide unless it’s breathing, alive and happy.
  • Don’t buy some piece of disposable junk for someone in lieu of doing them an invaluable service (clean those gutter anyone?) … showing them some authentic love, or investing in a gift with lasting, sustainable value.

related: more holiday gift guides fromThe Alternative Consumer

Christmas gift photo via shutterstock.com

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How about some Real Holiday Cheer?


Brrr, it’s cold outside, even here in Florida. Our friends at Prairie Organic Spirits have some tasty ideas for hot-toddy beverages to keep you nice (or naughty) and warm this winter.

Prairie Organic Gin Hot Toddy

(above) Prairie Gin(gerbread) Toddy
2 parts Prairie Organic Gin
1 part gingerbread syrup*
1 part lemon or orange juice
¼ cup boiling water
Directions: Fill cup with hot water and stir until gingerbread syrup is dissolved. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

*Gingerbread Syrup:
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Directions: Combine ingredients in a pan. Heat to boiling while whisking until all the powder substances dissolve. Boil for 2-3 minutes so syrup thickens.

Harvest Hot Chocolate

(above) Harvest Hot Chocolate
1 oz. Prairie Organic Vodka
¾ oz. Amaretto
2 tbsp hot chocolate mix (instant)
4 oz. milk
Whipped cream (optional)
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Directions: Prepare hot chocolate (as usual) with milk and stir in remaining ingredients. Top with whipped cream and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

spiced & spirited hot toddy

Spiced and Spirited (serves 2-3)
1/2 bottle Red Wine
2 oz Prairie Organic Vodka
3 cinnamon sticks + 1 for garnish
3 star anise pods
1 strip lemon peel
1 tsp. sugar
Directions: Add ingredients to a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until warm (do not boil), remove from the heat and let stand 5 – 10 minutes. Garnish with cinnamon stick.

Make merry, stay warm my friends…Cheers!

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Garden Waste Recycling – What Can and Can’t Be Composted


DIY Composting

Many people do not know that there is an art to composting. Though it is relatively easy to do, there are specific steps to getting the process right.  Making good compost is a pleasure, while a poorly maintained heap of compost can be a really bad experience.

When it comes to creating compost for the garden there is a great deal of information available. Some of the information may even seem to contradict what another source says. However, there is an abundance of consensus on what items are good and not good for use in home compost.

Most people also agree that composting is the first true step towards green gardening. In fact, homemade compost is a personal on-site and biological recycling system. Compost is the real beginning of healthy soil because the compost recycles nutrients and builds the structure of the soil. This improves water retention and/or drainage as needed by the garden. In addition to the benefits composting provides the garden, when done correctly the process of garden recycling is good for the environment. When items such as garden waste are sent to a landfill they end up getting buried in such a way that air (oxygen) cannot reach them. Since air cannot reach the items, they produce methane gas as they break down. Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that damages the Earth’s atmosphere.

It is pretty easy to get started composting at home. Composting is an inexpensive and natural process, producing nutrient rich food that is valuable to the home garden.

Seven Easy Steps to Composting at Home

  • Choosing the correct site for the compost is very important. It must be a location that is reasonably sunny and preferably on bare soil. Patio slabs, tarmac, and concrete are not the ideal base for a compost bin, but if one of these is the only option then make sure to place a layer of twigs and paper or a bit of existing compost on the bottom. This will allow the colonization of worms and other creatures. The site should also be easily accessible for adding ingredients and for retrieving completed compost.
  • It is vital that the right ingredients are added to make good compost. (See the subtitled section below for more information about the items to compost and the items not to compost.) A good tip for composting at home is to have a container that is readily available such as a kitchen caddy for collecting the items that will be transferred to the compost bin from throughout the house.
  • Fill the compost bin up by emptying the items from the kitchen caddy and adding any appropriate garden waste.
  • All that is required now is to wait for a while. It may take between nine and twelve months for the composting process to complete and for the compost to be ready for use. Remember to keep adding ingredients to the top of the compost throughout this waiting period.
  • The compost is now ready for use. The compost will resemble the consistency of thick, moist soil; it will be a crumbly, dark material. Another indication the compost is ready to use is it will have an earthy, fresh aroma.

compost bins

  • Depending upon the type of compost bin that was used, the compost can be removed by lifting the bin slightly off the ground or by opening a hatch at the bottom and then scooping out the nutrient rich compost.
  • Finally, use the compost on the garden or even to feed the lawn. Further enhance the garden with new plants, updated fencing and furniture.

DIY garden fencing

Making Good Compost Relies Upon Using the Correct Ingredients
Getting the right mix is what makes for good compost. The key to this is balancing the greens and browns that are used in the compost. Greens are things like: fruit waste, teabags, vegetable peelings, plant pruning, and grass cuttings. Browns include items like: small twigs, scrunched up paper, and cardboard egg boxes. The differences between greens and browns have to do with the amount of time it takes for the items to rot and what the two contribute to the compost.

Greens provide important moisture and nitrogen, while browns provide fibre and carbon. Browns also permit air pockets to form in the mixture, which is very important to the composting process to ensure that the items can fully break down in an environmentally friendly manner.

Items that should never be placed in the compost are: meat, dairy products, cooked vegetables, plants that may be diseased, cat litter, dog excrement, and baby nappies. Weeds with seed heads and perennial weeds like dandelions and thistles should be avoided as well. Remember there is a difference between recycling and composting, although composting is a sort of garden recycling. Recycling in and of itself has to do with plastics, glass, and certain metals that are not fit for composting.

Items to Compost and What They Provide
Banana peels, clover, coffee grounds (and filters), dog food, feathers, flowers, fruit peels, green grass clippings, hair, hay, leather (leather waste), and vegetable peels and scraps all provide Nitrogen to the compost heap.

Cardboard, cocoa hulls, corncobs, dryer lint, dried grass clippings, hedge clippings, hops, leaves, newspaper, nut shells, oak leaves, sawdust and wood shavings, paper, peanut shells, peat moss, pine needles and cones, tea leaves, and weeds all provide Carbon to the compost heap.

Items to Avoid Composting
Cat litter (used) and cat/dog droppings may contain disease organisms and should never be composted. Colored paper, non-biodegradable materials, and toxic materials should not be composted. Dairy products, bread, meats, fat, grease, bones and oils can attract pests, coat materials as a sort of preservative and prevent them from breaking down so they should never end up in a compost bin. Finally, avoid placing lime peels or any part of a lime in a compost heap because the high alkaline pH is likely to kill the composting action.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Four Tips for Creating a Sustainable Garden for Your Home


spring daffodils

If you own a garden, you can do a lot to help the environment. Yes, with a small garden in your yard, you can take steps to protect the planet and save resources. While true, it’s also easy to remain foolish and waste resources. With that being said, here are four tips to creating a sustainable garden for your home.

Water: Without water, you cannot have a flourishing garden. If you are lucky to live in an area with lots of rainfall, you may be able to get away with a simple setup. On the other hand, if you are like the rest of us and live in a drier climate like California, you will want to plant drought-resistant plants. Then, when you put in plants that don’t require a lot of water, you will not have to waste any of this precious resources. Furthermore, you should catch any rainwater and use it to water your plants. That way, none of the water that lands on your roof will go to waste.

fall garden

Stay on top of it all: If you are wise, you will take care of maintenance items before they get out of hand. Whether you have a broken sprinkler or are dealing with busted equipment, the clean up process will go faster, which will allow you to take better care of your garden. This is true whether you have a handyman or opt for a DIY approach. Otherwise, if you let typical maintenance issues get out of hand, you will end up wasting time with the clean up process. Remember, a handyman can help, but you will want to take a proactive approach with your yard.

Reuse old plants: Now, every year, you will watch as your neighbors rake up all the leaves and put them in buckets. Then, people will often burn them or take them to the dump. Not only will this waste fossil fuels and take a lot of time, but it will hurt your garden. Yes, nature is very smart, and you can enjoy great mulch and plenty of benefits if you leave old leaves and other plants in the yard. Not only that, if you have old leaves covering your plants, they are likely to survive longer and come back sooner as they will enjoy a layer of protection from the cold winter nights.

Do it all by hand: While it’s easy to buy a lawnmower or other expensive and useful equipment, you should consider doing it the old-fashioned way. Not only will you build muscle and burn calories, but you won’t waste precious resources. As a side benefit, if you pull out weeds by hand and clear your garden without tools, you will catch any minor issues such as infestations or diseased plants. Since most homeowners don’t have huge gardens to deal with, it doesn’t take much longer to go through the yard by hand.

If you want to create a sustainable garden, you won’t have to take drastic steps. In fact, these are four simple tips that anyone can follow if they want to have a sustainable garden that they still enjoy all the time.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Go Green Indoors


green home

The environmentally friendly green movement has taken off, and it’s no longer just for cleaning products, cars and personal care products. In fact, it has become a popular topic among professional and do-it-yourself interior decorators. Many use home design software to realize their vision. Some people work tirelessly to ensure that every aspect of their indoor environment is ecologically friendly. Others incorporate a sustainable table here, a green rug there. Whether you desire to make green decorating your personal mission or just your hobby with the help of an interior design tool, there are simple ways to incorporate green décor into your furnishings to satisfy both your sense of style and Mother Nature.

Going Green Underfoot
Because traditional wall-to-wall carpeting can trap toxic outdoor chemicals and allergens deposited via your shoes or furry friends, many people are turning to eco-friendly flooring. Options come in all styles and price ranges. Sustainable flooring is typically very durable and sometimes made of recycled materials. There are four popular options: hardwood, cork, bamboo and tile.

When shopping for hardwood floors, look for products that bear the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seal. It ensures that the wood has been produced in a forest with regenerated trees, among other factors. Cork offers elasticity, which makes it very comfortable for walking and standing. In addition, cork is fire-resistant and hypoallergenic. Bamboo floors are water resistant and also detract bugs and mildew. For a more colorful look, tile floors made of recycled glass are a great option.

Seeing Green
Going green on the walls used to mean sacrificing style and quality. That’s no longer the case. Many manufacturers now offer eco-friendly paint that boasts durability and superior coverage, plus a rainbow of options. The key is, these paints do not have damaging solvents and harmful chemicals. How do you know which paint is safe for your home and health? Be sure the items you purchase have low or no VOC in the colorant and in the paint. You can try on paint colors with an interior design tool, available on many websites, for example, Digital Decorator.

If wallpaper is more your style, you’re in luck. Wall coverings have come a long way in both look and application, and many options are available for non-PVC products. PVC is a dangerous toxin that can leech into the air. Look for wallpapers that are fully vinyl-free and made with water-based inks on organic cotton fabric.

Saving Green
Rather than purchasing all of your home furnishings and fixtures new, why not consider buying second-hand finds? This technique is easy on the environment and your wallet. Shopping vintage avoids a double hit on the great outdoors, cuts down on overconsumption and helps landfills. Suddenly, a couch can have two or more lives, mirrors can be repurposed to suit your taste and counter-tops can be re-imagined to coincide with your décor. When you think recycle, not replace, the options are nearly limitless. Garage sales, online auction sites and vintage stores are brimming with interesting, eclectic finds. If you plan to refinish furniture, look for environmentally friendly products that are water-based and free of toxins.

By incorporating a little green into your style you’ll improve your home’s air quality and reduce the negative impact that your furnishings have on the environment. It’s the most sensible, responsible kind of style, and you can watch it come to life with the help of home design software. Just put your imagination to work.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Eco-Friendly Flooring Options for Modern Homes


floor polished concrete

At one point in time, if someone mentioned the term “eco-friendly” in connection with flooring, many people would frown. While the use of eco-friendly materials is good for the environment, many people would avoid using it as flooring due to its unattractiveness. Luckily, modern design and technology is creating beautiful flooring that not only looks great, but is great for the environment. Here are a few eco-friendly, flooring options that will accent a modern home.

Cork
Cork is one of the newer types of flooring. It is made from the bark of the cork oak tree and harvested in a manner that does not involve cutting down the tree. Cork is a versatile material. It can be painted or stained to match any décor. This type of flooring is also fire retardant, naturally repels insects and is antimicrobial.

Bamboo
Even though bamboo has the properties of wood, it is really a grass. What makes bamboo a great alternative to wood is the fact that it has a faster regrowth rate and it does not require pesticides or fertilizers to grow. Bamboo flooring is easy to maintain and install. The variety of tones and grain patterns increases the ability to customize the flooring. The best part about choosing bamboo is the fact that is looks great with in any setting.

Natural Stone Flooring
There are many benefits to using natural stone flooring. It is durable, has a long lifespan and recyclable. Natural stone flooring is made from sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock. Because no stone is the same, this environmentally-friendly flooring will add a unique and natural look to a room. Other characteristics that make stone flooring a great choice, it is easy to care for and looks better as it ages.

alfresco polished concrete

Polished Concrete
Polished concrete floors are another popular, eco-friendly flooring choice. The concrete used is usually the sub flooring of the home or business. What makes the flooring a sustainable option is the fact that it does not use natural resources to produce and creates very little waste. Concrete also has the ability to absorb heat and keep the environment cool during the summer, reducing the need to rely on energy. Concrete polishing can create a variety of decorative effects and it can be tinted to meet any design specification. Polished concrete floors are durable, easily cleaned and does not need to be replaced.

Linoleum
Linoleum is comprised of biodegradable materials that include linseed oil, cork flour and limestone. This hypoallergenic flooring is water resistant, fire retardant and easy to clean. The long-lasting floor is available in a variety of colors and is coated to ensure that it lasts a long time. At one point of time, linoleum fell of favor. However, many designers are choosing to use this flooring.

Using eco-friendly flooring options does not mean sacrificing aesthetics to save the environment. There are several types of natural flooring available, each with their own attributes. Whether you are interested in concrete polishing or want a unique cork flooring, there is environmentally-friendly flooring that will increase the aesthetics wherever they are installed.

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