Saturday, December 26, 2009

Undoing the Wrap

Last week, a neighborhood list-serve that I am on had a long thread on alternatives to wrapping paper. The list members had many cool suggestions for wrapping gifts in such as old maps, architectural drawings, trendy newspaper sections, and fabric. Lots of enthusiasm was expressed for kicking the resource-dependent wrapping-paper-habit.

Here is an exhaustive collection of 36 alternates to wrapping paper to get one started from Wisebread & by no means do they mean a gift needs to look shabby. Above is a cloth wrapping guide put out by the Japanese government aimed at reducing waste. Once you see the possibilities, there is so much paper & fabric that could be re-purposed, it seems silly to spend money on unrecyclable and single-use wrapping paper.

This takes my thoughts to school fundraisers that sell wrapping paper. During gift wrap season, our household will easily get requests from five or six different schools. That is a lot of wrapping paper being pushed for a demand that maybe isn't there. I have been declining wrap for a few years now, instead writing a check to the school directly (which then doubles my contribution on my sale). Another MidPoint Green post should ponder school fundraising, but for now this site appears to have potential- fabric gift bags & recycled gift papers . At least paper purchased here would contain recycled content. Do you have experiences with the site?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Lights: the Broken, the Rundown and the Weary

How does an Eco-sensitive household handle holiday decorations? It is a question that can haunt. The plastic light-up crèche, blow-up NASCAR Santa, laughing-motion-detecting Christmas tree all require resources to make and just what to do with them once they break? Like for many folks, reducing consumption, reusing/re-purposing, and using natural items for winter displays are becoming more common at our house.

At least broken light strings can now be recycled, thanks to Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM). Ram has created a program where the collected light strings are disassembled and each part is recycled for a different purpose .

The broken light strings are received at PPL Industry's job training facility where employees there disassemble the strings. Each element of the light string is directed to its own recycling process, for example the bulbs are recycled into tiles, asphalt and fiberglass, and the metal in the cords is captured in another process. A video of the process can be seen at this link (wav) . Since early December, 15,000 pounds of light strings have been diverted from landfill or the garbage burner through this program.

Two neighborhood groups around the Twin Cities are making sure collections are local and easy to get to. All locations for light drop off outside the neighborhood can be found on the RAM webpage. Below, list the sites arranged by neighborhood groups in SE Como, Minneapolis and the Midway of St. Paul.

HMEG Announces Holiday Light Recycling Now Available in the Midway at Hamline Hardware

The Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG) invites you to recycle your incandescent light strings to reduce waste! The light recycling is sponsored by RAM and drop-off locations can be found at Snyder Drugs (coupon incentive available) and Como Zoo. However, to make light recycling even more convenient for Hamline Midway residents, HMEG has arranged a drop off location right in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.

To recycle your unusable light strings, just bring them to Hamline Hardware store (755 Snelling Ave N St Paul, MN 55104, 651-646-4049) from now until January 10th.

Holiday Light Recycling Comes to SECIA

The SECIA staff noticed that the options for recycling broken incandescent light strings were inconvenient to SE Minneapolis residents. To remedy this, the SECIA office signed on to be a drop-off location for broken holiday lights. Light recycling fits right into the Como Green Village waste reduction efforts. The light recycling is sponsored by RAM and its appropriate that there is a drop-off in SE Como because the lights are disassembled right in the neighborhood! PPL Industry's job training facility on 15th Ave SE eventually receives the broken light strings and employees there take apart the strings.

To recycle your unusable light strings, just bring them to SECIA's office from now until January 10th. Do note, the office will be closed between Dec 24th through January 4th for the holidays. It is recommended that you call ahead to make sure a staff person will be there. Some evening hours are available.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chicken Feed Quest II

The quest for chicken feed continues here in the Midway. More trials and tribulations have been endured since my last post on the topic.

As I wrote before, the feed I am looking for would be organic, wholesome, pelleted and locally sourced and available.

It is easy to find organic feed near the Twin Cities, but its only available in "mash". Mash is ground up grains, sometimes with other suspicious ingredients that form a near powder. Hens scatter mash in such a way that much of the bag goes to waste (not to mention an invitation to rodents). The scattering issue goes away when using pelleted feed. During processing of pelleted feed, the mash is pressed in to little nuggets that prevent hens from being so selective and when spilled, they are easily pecked up. I have learned that the pelleting equipment are expensive where costs preclude many small feed producers from investing in this machinery. I can order organic pelleted feed from larger outstate sources as Eric commented on a previous post. However, this requires paying the dollar and carbon costs of shipping individual bags. Ideally, I would like my locally sourced feed to also be available in bulk, so that I could bring my own storage bin and fill up. This would eliminate having large quantities of feed hanging around the urban henhouse demanding both space and many rodent proof containers.

Lately, I experimented with using a home-made feed called Ronda's Whole Grain Chicken Feed Recipe. A local chicken keeper, Jake, offered to mix a large batch. It contains 14 individual whole grains, seeds and legumes . It is not cheap, even when buying the grains in 50# bags. The reception by the hens was not particularly surprising and they have needed some encouragement. They tend to pick out their favorite grains and spill the lesser ones. I use a hanging piglet trough feeder for my feed and put a tray under it to catch spills. I can return the spills to the feeder, but not at the bird's delight. Much to my chagrin, I have now managed to train the local squirrels to now go into the henhouse and be rewarded by the unwanted peanuts and corn. I have learned that I can defeat the hen's hunt-n-peck by grinding Ronda's mix in the vitamix. It works, but then I am back straight to the mash mess. I can trick the hens to gobbling more of the feed by mixing the feed with meat drippings. Think suet-what is offered to wild birds in backyard feeders. This solution is a great way to use up meat drippings, however probably should be limited to an periodic treat. Cooking the grains in water also seems to entice them to consume them more completely too. All-in-all, these solutions are more work than a henkeeper needs on a regular basis.

Other Twin City chicken keepers report their hens are eating most of the feed, leaving behind the peas and a few of other grains. They also report that less feed is needed due to the high quality food value. Ronda's webpage says hens may need to transition into the feed. Some users mentioned that hens need to get hungry in order to eat it all up. I will keep trying, but it seems my quest continues. In the meantime, my next batch of feed may again be conventional pelleted feed, obtained after a long drive to the Anoka Ramsey Farm Store.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hamline SPROUTS and Frances Moore Lappé: Hunger and the Food System

The season of learning has begun now that the gardens are near buttoned up. Reading, attending lectures, conferences, meeting with other folks with good ideas are thankfully re-appearing on the calendar.

This week, a Panel Discussion about Hunger and the Food System was put on by Hamline University's SPROUTS. The conversation was meaty and the panelists from IATP, Gardening Matters, HECUA, and MN Food & Justice did a fine job of connecting climate change, cultural barriers, poor quality food, wasted food, hunger and the need for community based change.

The delivery person spotted my hens and he asked, "Are the worth it?". He meant are the costs of hens and their upkeep really less than store bought eggs? I shared with him that backyard chickens are not just about getting eggs. Just as valuable is their ability to consume most of the food waste our 4-person household creates, and then make significant nutrient contributions to our urban soils via composting. All very true, however, what I did not bring up was that my homegrown eggs do not have any of the hidden costs which industrial food prices ignore. In the case of factory farmed eggs, the hidden costs include environmental, public health and societal hidden costs which never appear into their retail price. For example, how much of the price of factory farmed eggs does the farmer see? The SPROUT panel discussed that in the case of our population in hunger, calories-for-the-sake-of-calories may fill empty stomachs, but the long term chronic disease encouraged by America's cheap diet is certainly wrought with further hidden costs.

SPROUT-ites also heard that food waste reduction is a goal worth obtaining in the efforts to reduce hunger. As Addie Broyles of the
Austin American-Statesman reveals, 25-50% of the food produced in this country goes to waste! Food that is produced, transported, and gotten to a market, home refrigerator or restaurant and then wastefully allowed to go bad or tossed because it doesn't meet some standard. There are known interventions to change this. It does not require sophisticated knowledge to implement smart purchasing, gleaning, or local foods initiatives. When the food waste percentage is seriously attacked, our hunger concerns will lessen, and so will greenhouse gases emitted from food buried landfills.

Frances Moore Lapp
é hit this message well on the Friday evening session of the Wisdom Ways Soul Conference, It's all tied together-- the choices we make in our dinner table ripple into the our food system and directly influence those around us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Household Organic Waste: The Crib Sheet

This is a table I have been updating for the neighbors near my henhouse who contribute food scraps to our feathered friends. Just for comparison, I added the vermicomposting column too. Together, these 3 food waste options sure take care of almost any organic material from your household- some inedible. As I continue to learn about this topic, I plan re-post the crib sheet when new information has been added.

Organic Waste
coffee grounds
yes, the filters too.
Best place for coffee grounds as worms consider this bedding. Unbleached filter are OK
dried fruit
past their prime is fine, but if the dried fruit is hard and tough, then soften first before serving.
cheese (cream & cottage too) OK if has a touch of mold. Hard cheeses like Parmesan or dried out cheese edges are great but need to be diced. Yogurt must be soaked up with old cereal or similar. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No, attracts vermin
OK, but very liquid products should be avoided.
grain products: breads, cereal, crackers &
other grain -based foods
This is the best place for grain products. Stale bread is perfect for hens, but bread can't be hard and dried out when served to chickens. Soften with leftover milk, soup, sauce. Same for hard crackers and pretzels and hard pizza crust. Best chunk up into nickle size pieces to keep squirrels from stealing it all. Rice, noodles, quinoa, oatmeal, uncooked oats, etc.
No, attracts vermin
All, but only if whole grains (100% white flour products are not good for worms, or for you)
eggs & eggshells
Hens love cooked eggs. Empty hells of hard cooked eggs are great too (no raw eggshells though due to passing bacteria). The trick is that the hens can't know that they are eggs! They will start to eat their own and its very hard to stop that behavior. Crush any shells into tiny bits. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats.Provides good calcium for layers.
Shells are OK even if raw.
Shells are OK even if raw. They provide needed calcium to the livestock.
egg cartons (and packing material made of the same stuff)
OK, great source of carbon
super for bedding, would need to be torn up first.
drier lint and kitchen sink gunk
meat / stockpot leftovers
Hens will definitely eat meat leftovers. Can't be rotten though, and needs to be diced if its hard or grisly. After stock-making, Hens will love to pick the bones clean (remove bones later in the day). Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No
meat drippings
Mixing meat drippings with hen feed, or even cat food until soaked up becomes fine hen food. Think Suet served to wild birds.
nuts Most nuts are hard, so really need to be ground up, like a coarse cornmeal consistency. Rancid is just fine. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No, attracts vermin OK
Fruit: citrus,
melon (rinds & seeds too),
apple/pear peel & cores (seeds removed),
berries, bananas,
Fruit is a real treat! Apples must be diced in order for the hens to take much. Apple seeds are toxic, so I usually cut that part out before dicing. Grapefruit halves are welcomed, even after eating.
All can go in no matter its state
All plus worms will take peels that hens won't
paper towels, napkins and tissues
All can go in unless there was a chemical cleaner used on the towels.
unbleached paper products only, no cleaning product on them
take-out and plate scrapings
Generally all good. Pizza should be diced, if crust is very hard best to soften with liquid. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No, attracts vermin OK
packing material - cornstarch peanuts & egg carton materials
tea leaves hens like the size of loose leaf
OK, with any paper teabag too
OK, with any paper teabag too
pizza boxes (unrecyclable corrugated due to food residue)
Yes, the best place for pizza boxes. Take the time to tear up the box, but it is not necessary
vegetable scraps:corn
lettuce, chard, beet greens, tomato, pepper seeds, cucumbers
Hens will take anything leafy without any prep and OK if they are not particularly fresh. Corn cobs with bits of left overs on them are well loved. Hard veggies should be diced. Root veggie scraps work best if cooked first to soften. I have read that folks suggest to go light on items in the cabbage family as egg flavor can be impacted.

This is the best place for onions, carrots and anything in the cabbage family, & avocados. These items are either toxic to, or not preferred by hens. Otherwise, any vegetable waste in any condition can be put in the bins.
Worms will take it all, but may have to limit onion.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn! The Annual Leaf Harvest

My fellow HMEGer, Peter Hoh and I adapted a piece from the MPCA to get the word out that your autumn leaves are a valuable resource. -- they contain nutrients that your lawn, compost pile, chicken run, or garden needs! You can always take the material to the yard waste compost site, but here are a few eco-smart options that will benefit you for 12 months until the next fall:

  • If you have a backyard compost bin, or plan to start one, save your dry leaves to use as a carbon source, or "browns,". "Browns" are essential to non-smelly, active compost and must be added to vegetable scraps (aka "greens") for compost success. You cannot avoid finding a "browns" source, so why not use what falls onto your yard?
  • Create free and convenient garden mulch from your leaves by collecting your autumn leaves in a hoop of wire or plastic fencing. They will breakdown partly over the winter and come next summer, you will have a valuable mulch to use in your garden beds. Leaf mulch (sometimes called leaf mold) works especially well in vegetable gardens. If these leaves are mowed first they will fit into a smaller hoop, but this step is not necessary.
  • Use a mower to break leaves into tiny pieces and leave them on your lawn. A leaf layer that is thin enough to still see some grass is fine for lawns.
  • If you have pets, or backyard chickens, dried leaves are a source of free and sustainable bedding. See this earlier post.
  • Whether you compost your own leaves or take them to the county compost site, it's important to make sure that you are not raking up dog waste along with the leaves.

HMEG wants to help you save autumn leaves for your compost bin and garden needs. For a short time, we are offering a length of plastic fencing that can be set-up into a hoop, at cost, along with zip-ties to hold it together. This means that you won't have to buy a large roll of plastic fencing. To get your leaf bin, contact Peter at (Enough fencing for a 3-foot diameter bin will cost $10).

You can also help keep our water and air clean by what you don't do with that pile of leaves:
  • Don't throw yard waste in the trash. Mixing yard and tree waste with your trash is illegal in Minnesota.
  • Don't rake leaves onto a city street or sidewalk. It washes too many leaves, and therefore nutrients, into the Mississippi River via the stormwater sewers.
  • And last, don't burn large piles of leaves. Burning of twigs and yard debris releases large amounts of air pollution in to the atmosphere.

More about the HMEG
More about Backyard composting
More about wood smoke pollution
More about Ramsey County compost sites in
More about leaf mold

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Celebration of all Things Tomato

This is the time of year to revel in the tomatoes. The last hanging-on days before the first frost brings it all to an end. The colors, flavors, shapes and sizes seem endless.

In SE Como, the annual Tomato Tastin' Experience exploits the annual tomato bounty. Here, attendees of the Como Cookout get a chance to taste dozens of different tomato varieties side-by-side and then vote for their favorites. This year's Como Cookout is on September 20th from 2-5pm at Van Cleve Park.

Winning results from the past years' tastings are found on the Como Green Village website. It is a handy list for future seed ordering.

Recently, I discovered this new book that profiles hundreds of tomatoes and provides beautiful images too. Check out The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table: Recipes, Portraits, and History of the World's Most Beautiful Fruit by By Amy Goldman, Victor Schrager.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What a great idea! The Midway Barter Market

In the Hamline Midway neighborhood, neighbors long for a local co-op grocery store. While the community waits to have a walkable venue for locally grown food, they have come to their own devices; setting up a dropsite for Whole Farm and creating the Midway Barter Market.

Whole Farm Co-op is a network of 30+ farms near the Twin Cities. By getting together to do orders, marketing, and delivery, they are able to be small producers who really know & care about what they offer us as consumers. Customers order online; products include meats, dairy, groceries, crafts, garden produce in the summer, and more. Midway deliveries will be monthly on the 3rd Wednesdays at the drop site at Hamline/Thomas SuperUSA. This means ordering at by the second Wednesday.

At the Midway Barter Market, neighbors exchange handmade goods, garden grown produce, softly used items and plants without the use of money! All sorts of items have been exchanged and its a fun time! There are even the occasional garden and henhouse tour, or impromptu juggling lessons in a kid friendly space. Come on down on Sunday to hang out with your neighbors and swap your goods and have a great time! The Midway Barter Market is now on Sundays 1-3 pm on the boulevard at the Anderson Oaks place, 1724 Englewood Ave until the season ends. See photos of the market here.

These great options have been brought to fruition by community members who participate in the Hamline Midway Environment Group, Mighty Midway Greening and Growing, LISN (Leasdership in Support on Neighborhoods) and specifically due to the efforts of Nine Dodge.

Monday, August 17, 2009

August is National Community Garden Awareness Month and 4th Annual Parade of Community Gardens

The 4th Annual Parade of Community Gardens!!
August 22nd - 10:00am to 2:00pm

There is a great group of community gardens participating this year on the Parade, all are bringing attention to & celebrating in these vital greenspaces in our communities!
Forty community gardens from across the Twin Cities & greater Minnesota open their gardens to the public. Experience the unique and individual gardening efforts happening around the state. Gardens will feature a variety of attractions including music, cool treats, a goat, heirloom tomato festival, a beehive and more! Here are a couple profiles:

  • At the Accord Community Garden in SE Como Minneapolis, visitors will find viola music, birthday cake and ice cream along with beautiful native plants under a one-of-a-kind sculpture.

  • At the Midway Greenspirit Garden in the Midway, the feature will be the bees! Community beekeepers will be on hand to describe the symbiosis of having a hive in a community garden and what it entails.

The event is a free & self-guided tour, rain or shine. Details and brochure maps, in English & English/Spanish, can be found at or call Gardening Matters at 612-492-8964.

Find more information on National Community Garden Awareness Month at

Monday, August 10, 2009

Worm Bin Washout

I have been trying to get the last worm bin task for weeks now. In fact, others want worms and are waiting on me. The bin was now too heavy to tote in and out every time I think of digging in, so it sat in the backyard waiting until I could harvest the last of the worm castings. Then the big rain came. I had thought of this scenario, and while my bin's lid has some small holes in the lid for ventilation, the tarp I kept over the works should keep the rain out. Well, not so. When I opened up to finish the belated harvest with my daughter's help, the worms were in the top of the bedding trying to find some air with puddles encroaching all around. The whole bin was sogged out, the bedding had the consistency of a too-thick brownie batter.

What to do? The bottom-side spigot was already open. The bin's bedding had so much water holding capacity that tipping to pour off water only dislodge the whole mess. The bin contained too much dense mass to even consider that evaporation could dry it out.

I needed to add something that would absorb excess moisture. Since we augment our gas furnace with a wood pellet stove, the pellets themselves jumped into mind. These pressured bits of sawdust are handy when cleaning spills and turns out they can sop up a soggy worm bin too. I added them slowly and carefully incorporating as I went. Laverme's Worms warns of using sawdust in vermicomposting because they can dry out the bedding too much. In the end, the pellets turned out to be a save and my original bin is now three.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Natives Are Restless

Here is a new favorite for my "blue" garden- Spotted Bee Balm, or Monarda punctata L. Thanks to Hannah from the Friends of Horton Park for suggesting this wacky-yet-beautiful native for the sandy soil here. As I was checking it out today, I saw a number of different wasps and bees doing their thing. It reminded me of my Leadplant earlier in the season. I saw 4 or 5 different types of bees on that native plant at one time (they move fast, so its a bit hard to count). The pollinator sightings would please the Horton Park community gardeners, many whom have taken a course on native pollinators this season.

My winged visitors highlight an important reason to plant natives in your landscapes- to provide food sources for our native insects. As we use more and more cultivars (like the petunias on the left of the monarda) the options for native pollinators become slim which impacts the foodweb that relies on those insects. The diversity of insects can also be on your side when it comes to bad bugs.

Just last night, as I was with a group of community gardeners in SE Como brainstorming ideas for a rain garden at Como Corner Community Garden (a project sponsored by SECIA and Mississippi Watershed Management Organization) and one of the gardeners had a book in hand by Douglas W. Tallamy called "Bringing nature home". As we envisioned raingardens, cisterns, dry creek beds, the group also insisted upon native plants and "ugly bugs". The word is spreading about the important role these insects have in the greenspaces of our cities and suburbs. Something the Horton Park community gardeners would cheer on.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hanging it all out

This time of year means gardens galore, so to change it up, here is a non-gardening post-Clotheslines!

I admit it, I really enjoy hanging laundry. Enough that it causes me pause before passing the task onto my kids. Hanging clothes on the line is a calm, repetitive, hypnotic task which cools me down on a hot day. I can ponder, watch birds or just enjoy the process of getting our clothes up in the sun to dry at no carbon cost. We run about 1 load of clothes per day, and from April to October, we use our line as the primary clothes drier. I feel a bit for allergic households who cannot use a clothesline because their clothes bring in allergens. Automatic clothes driers are a typical household's second biggest energy using appliance (behind refrigerators). Air drying is free in both dollars and on carbon footprints.

In SE Como Minneapolis, the neighborhood association SECIA, raised awareness of energy consumption of driers by distributing free clotheslines to residents in 2007. It was a very popular program sponsored by the City of Minneapolis climate Change micro grants and really could be repeated every year with the high resident turnover due to proximity to the U of MN. The neighborhood association distributed mini retractable clotheslines to 78 residents.

Numbers cited for energy conservation due to clothesline use include a 3.3% reduction of CO2 if everyone used a line for half a year, and 5.8% of a household's energy demands can be due to an electric clothes drier.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Midway Community Greening and Gardening gets busy

The Midway is bursting with community greening and gardening events this weekend. Time to enjoy the spoils of summer, join any or all!

These events are reflected on the Hamline Midway Community Gardening Calendar (see the events box on the right sidebar).

  • Horton Park Community Garden time Sun, July 12, 12:00pm – 2:30pm. We may do a bit of watering, continue the pursuit of identifying grasses, lookover the beauties such as butterfly weed and its usual monarch caterpillars (see photo). Group info is here at the community garden's googlegroup.

  • HM Rain Garden Tours Sun, July 12, 12pm – 2pm Where: Meet at the Hamline United Methodist Church raingarden located near the church parking lot at the intersection of Minnehaha at Simpson (Tour-goers are very welcome to make a pass through the Horton Community Garden time too!) Taproots is hosting walking tours of neighborhood raingardens to discuss and share wisdom about gardening, plant lore, and hydrology. Raingardens are a great way to deal with drainage problems, reduce runoff, improve water quality downstream, and strengthen native plants and the local ecology. For more information about the tours or Taproots, visit the group's blog at or contact Jonathan Dregni, 651-207-3539 or

  • Midway Barter Market Sun, July 12, 1pm – 3pm Where: 1724 Englewood Ave Bring something to share if you can, we've seen CSA produce, jam, bread, fruits, homemade candles and soap, jewelry, cassette tapes, clothes, anything that's in good condition that someone else may want. It's an informal gathering that's lots of fun, and you get to take home stuff you want that someone else has too much of. Midway Barter Market also runs on Wednesday evening- see the calendar for more information

With all these events, we are sure to see you- Right?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Dino Boulevard Garden

Here is a fun garden profile called the "Dino Garden! Its located in my brother's Saint Paul boulevard and for 3 years, neighborhood kids make this little patch of vegetation a destination on walks. Kids and parents stop to find hidden dinosaurs and play with them, and occasionally parents even have to avoid this block because they are too engrossed in dinosaurs for time allotted. Even adults without kids pass with a smile. The complement of shade tolerant plants that my brother has included only adds to the prehistoric effect- ferns, solomon's seal, hosta, fairy candles, and sedges.

This is a great example of placemaking. As defined by Project for Public Spaces, "Placemaking is not just the act of building or fixing up a space, but a whole process that fosters the creation of vital public destinations: the kind of places where people feel a strong stake in their communities and a commitment to making things better." As demonstrated by this boulevard, placemaking does not have to only happen in public squares or municipal gateways. Positive outcomes in the case of the Dino Garden include an ever-changing community expression that adds beauty, traffic calming and community building as neighbors find reason to pause and ask questions and even investigate. Most of the Dinosaurs are still on duty after 3 seasons in the garden, not many have been lost or stolen. Compare how well this space is functioning to previous longstanding life as unnoticeable lawn.

Boulevards are of course city property and cities have restrictions on what you plant and you should take steps not to create a stormwater runoff issue. At the same time, they are a great space to be creative, improve your tree's health, and make your street more inviting. A practical boulevard garden guide from Metro Blooms can be found here.

Photo Credit: Amanda Hankerson

Friday, June 12, 2009

Emerald Ash Borer: Its Here. Plant a Tree.

Emerald Ash Borer in the Twin Cities. Sooner than expected. Actually likely been here for few years unnoticed. That fact demonstrates how hard it is to detect this non-native pest and how easily its transported. While the state holds its breath for the large expanses of native ash forest up north, there are some practical actions we Twin Citians can do now.

  • Absolutely do not transport firewood or any ash wood across county lines. Not only is there a heavy fine, but this is exactly how EAB hitchhikers make their gains.
  • Learn which trees your property are ash. Eventually, these will likely be lost to the pest. Harsh, yes. Are any of your trees really valuable to, just can't be missed? That is when to consider a pesticide treatment. Maybe. Pesticides, if chosen, will need to be applied every year for the life of the tree at the cost of$50-200 per tree (depending on the tree's size). A certified arborist can help with evaluation and application. For many of our ash trees, they really do not justify such treatment.
  • Lastly, plant a tree this year. Plant a few. You can even plant on the city-owned-boulevard area. In Saint Paul, residents are encouraged to add to and maintain the urban forest, however, a free written permit from the St. Paul Forestry Office is required by ordinance. Call (651) 632-5129 to request a Forestry Tree Permit. In Minneapolis, check through your options at Forestry's replanting pages.
More info can be found on these websites, including ID information:

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Need more hands in your community garden? Part 2

Encouraging people to turn out for a community planting is a constant job for community garden leaders. Often, there is a substantial list of garden tasks, and too slim of hands to tackle them. Folks do want to participate, but often life is busy and there are many competing interests for our time.

This is a second in a series of posts that are focused on finding more hands for your community garden. Your efforts in planning these now will be a boon for your community garden later in the season (just when your regulars are getting tired out). Ten, one-time volunteers can take care of a task that would require 2 people to do all day. This fact makes these bigger work days more fun for your regulars as they both get to do something different and achieve sense of accomplishment feels like "Extreme Makeover". Examples of good tasks for a one-time larger group include trash pick-up, watering, mulching, deadheading, planting, edging beds, weeding fence lines, weeding out one particular weed. These are all simple, repetitive gardening techniques that you can show folks how-to do in a quick lesson.

This second tip in the "Need more hands" series suggests connecting to local colleges (and even high schools). Colleges and Universities can be bureaucratic to wade through, but there is usually multiple avenues to reach willing 15-20 year old volunteers. Many folks in the age group very much want to contribute, and a growing proportion want to learn sustainable gardening.

Here are some tricks to connecting to school crews:
  • One tricky element about this suggestion is the fact that many student volunteers are tied to the academic year only, which means their available time does not greatly an overlap to the growing season. Its still worth recruiting however, because these volunteers are energetic! Further, their available dates are often the beginning and the end of the growing season, just when there happens to be bigger tasks related to garden openings and closings. Because of the differences in calendars, you will probably have to locate a new crew for each work date you arrange.
  • You may likely need to plan these community service dates involving students well in advance, often in the previous term. This can be hard to remember in the spring rush of garden tasks that you also need to connect with your teachers for the Fall events! For example, This week, The Snelling Avenue Planter Project just made some connections for a Hamline University crew who will be performing community service, in early September. Another example in the Twin Cities is the U of MN's Welcome Week which involves their incoming freshmen in community service.
  • To find a student volunteer(s) that will be able to volunteer repeatedly, you will need to find students required to do service for class credit (like Service Learning departments, course projects, capstone projects, senior thesis, and even Eagle scout & 4H projects). This type of student volunteer can tackle other garden needs beyond hauling wood chip such as making a flier, cleaning the garden's tools, write, research, apply for grants, and more.
  • To begin tapping into to this potential source of volunteers, you need to ask amongst other organizations how they reach students, and also call around to the schools asking if their students do community service. Places to hunt on campus include service learning departments, student orientation events, student governments, student groups, restorative justice programs, resident housing, fraternities, community relations offices, alumni organizations, and of course, particular department offices (or even professors) which have majors that relate to your garden project.
  • Once you find a route to interested student volunteers, try to make these connections institutionalized. It is important to find out the permanent staff person who is ultimately in charge of the students, and even try to get a face-to-face meeting with them. Many college departments rely on student workers to pull together community service projects. So once that student worker graduates or finish working at that department, then you have lost that connection. You will gain more return on your time investment if you can come back to that department/professor year-after-year. Once the college knows about your project and that community service will be successful, then they will start calling you!

Photo Caption: A service learner from the University of Minnesota looks over one of Horton Park's serviceberry trees scouting for insects amongst the native plantings installed by the Friends of Horton Park. Sarah worked for 24 hours in the community gardens over spring 09 term.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hen Bedding

There has been recent discussion at the Twin Cities Chicken's list about bedding material for the chicken coop. Options suggested were straw, wood chips, and dry leaves.

Over here at our Midway henhouse, we are in the dried leaf camp. We use them both in the run bedding and in the henhouse. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is dried leaves are plentiful with our large shade trees. Next, manure+leaves augments our compost pile providing the necessary carbon and nitrogen. And lastly, it feels sustainable using what is here. The alternatives may require hauling them away when soiled and upon return, again transporting the fresh bedding, which we would be paying for.

On the maintenance, a few leaves will blow through the chain link on big wind days and do require a bit of tiding. I do scoop the run regularly (few times a weeks to daily) to remove visible droppings. This is a task that is difficult in long blades of straw, making leaves more manageable. I rake out the whole works once/twice a month, usually timing it to just after a wet period as leaves will get sogged out (and can begin to have odor). I find the rain soaked bedding adds useful moisture to the compost bins. I am also finding that neighbors are beginning to request this material from me for their own compost piles.

Using leaves in this manner for bedding may be a bit more demanding day-to-day than deep bedding of wood chips or straw, but of course that does not account for the time to acquire and then dispose of the bedding.

(Photo caption- chicken walking by my daughter and a friend. Not something done often!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Buzzing at the Midway Greenspirit Garden

An urban beehive has come to the Midway neighborhood, just recently installed at the Midway Greenspirit Garden. A recent Saturday, the Mighty Midway 4H group got their own tour of the bees! It was fascinating! Even the couple of kids who were truly afraid were soothed by the calmness of beekeeper Virginia and the bees themselves. We learned that these bees may go up to 5 miles away to find nectar. That means that we could see Greenspirit's bees in our backyards!

The garden was able to install this beehive with a grant from Gardening Matters. Bees are integral to pollinating crops, for veggie gardens, and in the case of Greenspirit, a future orchard! Diane, one of the beekeepers/community gardeners, had this to say about the garden's new flying friends:

"With little to no fanfare, members of the Bee Team from Midway Green Spirit Community Garden installed what may be the first legal bee colony in a community garden in the Twin Cities this afternoon.

The permitting and fence building occurred last year. The legal aspects (animal control permit and building permit for the fence) dragged on for so long in 2008 that it became too late to feasibly get the bees hived up in time so that they could build up their ranks and stores to take them into the winter (the window of opportunity to install package bees is soon coming to an end this year), so the Bee Team decided to wait until this spring.

It was a perfect day (cool and cloudy) for hiving up our two pound package of Minnesota Hygienic bees and it's proven queen and the process went off without a hitch. There is an abundance of pollen for the girls to gather, and we're feeding them sugar syrup until the nectar starts flowing.

We're mighty excited!!"

To follow the hives' progress, check out Virginia's blog. Oh yeah, the bees will make honey too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Growing for elders: community gardens harvest for block nurse programs

Neighbors looking out for neighbors. When it works, its a direct way to gain a sustainable neighborhood via self reliance.

In SE Como, the OWLS Garden Shares community garden has been following this concept for several years. The organic produce they grow is shared with elders in the community through a collaboration with the Southeast Seniors (SES). Gardeners take a bit home and each elder on our list gets a bag of fresh picked vegetables.

The relationship between the community garden and the local neighborhood block nurse program has worked out well for all. Further, OWLS gardeners are primarily U of Mn students and their efforts are a great example of a positive impact of the off-campus student body.

This successful model is spreading to the Midway area of Saint Paul too. A group of Hamline University students have taken up the passion to grow food everywhere. They call themselves Hamline SPROUTS (Students Proposing Real Options for Underutilized Territory) and have hooked up with the greater community, include that Hamline Midway Elders, a block nurse program.

Many community gardens regularly donate produce to food shelves, Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis and Midway Greenspirit in St. Paul for example. The block nurse collaboration is actually more similar to a CSA (community supported agriculture) arrangement since the same list of individuals get a share of each harvest. As a result, more of a relationship between grower and eater is created.

I am finding that up & coming 20 year-olds have increasing interest in acquiring the know how to grow-your-own food . I find that hopeful.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tetanus booster shots- not optional

Tetanus immunizations are an over-looked gardening tool. My fellow U of Mn Master Gardeners are reminding folks to check their shot status. Those who have not had a booster within 10 years need to get this taken care of--over 40% of us are overdue. Scraps and cuts are pretty routine while working in the garden and the Tetanus bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the dirt. Its reported that nearly twenty-percent of tetanus cases result in death.

While you are planning your plant list, tool needs and compost needs, put your booster shot on there too. For more information :

Oh yeah, gloves help too.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rain Barrel Time!

The rain barrel is in action here at the homestead. Most of the rainwater I collect is used on my compost piles, ornamental plantings and trees. I would like to add another to my front porch, but first have to install a gutter on that roof. Here is an informative pdf on rain barrels written by the U of MN Extension Service.

Using collected rainwater is very satisfying, knowing your landscape can be sustained by what falls from the sky. They do require their own attention however. Making sure the barrel's overflow doesn't impact your foundation, making sure your barrel doesn't grow mosquitoes, and getting your barrel drained before the next big rain are examples of such attention. Some of this can be taken care of through your design, but if this type of maintenance is not for you, then installing a rain garden is a good alternative. The costs for a rain garden will be higher (unless you get financial support from your watershed) but its maintenance is less.

In Saint Paul, the Hamline Midway Coalition and the Hamline Midway Environment Group is co-sponsoring a ‘build your own’ rain barrel workshop for neighbors on Tuesday , May 19th. A $30 fee covers all materials, including a recycled barrel and hardware. To reserve a spot, please contact at 651-646-1986. Space is limited.

In Minneapolis,
as a follow-up to the rain barrel sale at Green Village Day, SECIA is also starting a waiting list for SE Como residents interested in receiving a rain barrel that SECIA interns will construct for only $15 using recycled 55 gallon drums. Quantities are limited. Contact the office at 612-676-1731 for more info.

Captured stormwater protects the Mississippi river!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Need more hands in your community garden?

Finding enough people to do the shared work in a community planting is an endless job for community garden leaders. Folks do want to participate, but often life is busy and there are many competing interests for our time. Here in the the Twin Cities there is a flurry of garden openings happening this week. For me that means 6 community gardens in 9 days. At four of those, I had arranged for persons needing community service to attend. These extra bodies on big work days are priceless. Ten single-visit-volunteers can take care of a task that would require 2 people to do all day. This fact makes these bigger work days more fun for the regulars as they get to do something different and the sense of accomplishment feels like "Extreme Makeover". There are tricks to getting this to happen but, you won't be able to make such arrangements overnight.

This post is the first in a series of tips to find more hands for your garden. Your efforts now in sourcing one-time-volunteers will be a boon for your community garden projects later in the season (when the regulars are tiring out).

The first step needed is to set your dates for the season and get the word out! This seems obvious, but I interact with many garden groups who do not have a webpage, a flier or even an up to date email list. Your sessions really do need to be on the web, at your neighborhood office, on electronic and printed calendars, the local newspapers listings, Facebook, in the hands of related neighborhood groups, and/or as many other public places and websites as possible. Sometimes folks will stumble upon your event post and ask if they can attend, requiring no other action by you. This happened at Como Corner and the Gateway Garden (see photo) this week where a large group of college students from the YMCA called asking to come to our community garden time as a 1 time service project.

The time I spent getting the dates on the calendar and creating a webpage was repaid many times over for the 1 hour that the YMCA folks were there.

Does this mean that someone in your garden needs to become savvy about such things? Well in short, yes it does. The PR role does not have to be done by the same person who weeds, but this skill set and role needs to be part of your garden's support system. Can't be you? Then think creatively about be someone from a neighborhood organization, a neighbor across the street that benefits from the garden's presence, or an intern.

In future posts, I will point to volunteer sources that could also be tapped to help with your garden's PR role.

eggs dyed naturally from the icebox

This photo was snapped at my sister's photograghy studio on Easter. My kids did the eggs this year and they looked straight from Martha, in part due to Amanda's cool blue couch.

Its a process, but its about the experience, not instant results. We start with research, a plan and a shopping list for the produce section. You see, no box of dye tablets needed here, these are dyed from various natural ingredients that were brewed on our stove top. Its a bit like whipping up a potion. While we have been dyeing eggs this way forever, my eldest daughter is really into it and produced these jewels. Pretty food doesn't escape our extended family that includes a skilled set of web designers and photographers, so of course there was a photo shoot before eating.

For the gems in the photo, my daughter boiled uncooked eggs in a mixture of dye material, vinegar and water. For many batches, more color was desired, so the eggs spent the night refrigerated in the dye mixture. Here are the materials that were used:

  • Dark Orange: red onion
  • Yellow: turmeric spice
  • Grey: grape juice
  • Blue: purple cabbage

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Green Cleaners

I just finished a batch of home made cleaners. Alice's Wonder Spray is commonly known. I find that this recipe really can take care of most every day wipe-ups. Further it is cheap. Making your own cleaner is another small way to take control of your sustainability. Proctor & Gamble just is not always needed.

This type of mix-your-own cleaner that is available at the SE Como neighborhood's refill station and that the Mighty Midway 4h group did as a event in Midway neighborhood. The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization sponsors/ed these. The point of their interest that these cleaners are safer for you and safer for our surface waters (i.e. the Mississippi River). Having different scents available makes the mixing task fun! Lemon, and cedar are very nice.

Here is the basic wonder spray recipe:


2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon borax
1 1/2 cups very hot distilled or purified water
1T liquid dish soap
3-15 drops essential oils (optional)


Fill bottle with the hot water. Add the the vinegar and borax in a 16oz spray bottle,
and shake to dissolve the vinegar and borax. Add soap LAST and then scent with essential oil.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Horton Park Native Community Garden Reconvenes.

Friends of Horton Park reconvenes for the season. Be a native plant enthusiast while enjoying the greater Horton Park with fellow neighbors. Garden sessions are monthly on Sunday's at noon until 2pm. Dates are April 19th, May 3rd, June 14th, July 12th, Aug 9th & Sept 13th.

This little community garden was started by neighbors in the Midway to diversify the plantings at Horton Park in Saint Paul, and to provide an additional reason to enjoy the park. Horton's garden gatherings are a great place to see and learn about native plants that can be used in your landscape. We have prairie and savanna species as well as woodland species.

Garden website is FFI, or to get on this community garden's list contact

Friday, April 10, 2009

Como Green Village Day on Saturday April 18th- All invited

Celebrate the beginning of spring, Earth Week AND the first year of a successful Como Green Village with SECIA on

When: April 18th, 2009 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM, rain or shine!

Where: Van Cleve Park and Van Cleve Recreation Center (here)

What: Como Green Village Day

  • Como Eco-Exchange, a re-use event where residents in the neighborhood will trade and barter used goods;
  • Bicycle Auction, a rehabbed bike auction supplying very affordable green transportation to students and residents;
  • Green Talk, a round of demonstrations and presentations from local experts and organizations, including rain barrel painting!
  • Rain Gardens, information about this beautiful way to improve water quality and the resources available to install yours.
  • Rain Barrels, See how they work and place an order for your low-cost barrel
  • Resource Fair, organizations, including student groups, exhibit their cause to participants of the event!

The event is sponsored by SECIA, the Southeast Como Improvement Association; the Neighborhood Revitalization Project; The Mississippi Watershed Management Organization; Metro Blooms, and the McKnight Foundation.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Community Gardening season opens in SE Como with a harvest at Como Corner!

From time to time, I will be featuring news from the community gardens I support. Today, its a SE Como perennial garden, where we convened last weekend to move a tree.

Hmmm a harvest on April 4th? How about harvesting rocks? Once again, there is road construction adjacent to Como Corner Community garden. With road construction comes large piles of dirt which happen to contain a lot of rocks, right along the boulevard. So after moving a black hills spruce tree, we hunted for treasure, rock treasure. This community garden was started in 1992, coincidentally using garden bed edgers collected from street construction remnants. Sixteen years later, more edging material is in order, and what could be better than having them turn up in the street?

The official community gardening season is beginning this month. All garden dates are updated at the SECIA calendar. Upcoming dates for April & early May:
Is this the year you become a Community Gardener?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bag Laundry

Its an odd picture. This is a shot of my Bag Laundry. As far as I know, Bag Laundry is a term coined by members of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG). This group of eco-volunteers spend a lot of time thinking about waste reduction. Plastic waste is a current obsession.

Ziploc bags just appear in my life. Have not bought any in a long while because many foods from the grocery store are coming in ziplocs and we seem to get them from other folks too. To get more out of the zip bags we have, our family set-up a bag laundry line above our kitchen sink. Washing and reusing allows us several of uses of the same bags.

The zip feature of a ziploc bag is not recyclable, so bag recycling around here (if you can find them) frowns on zip bags. So instead of tossing after a single use, we wash the Bag Laundry, hang on the line and reuse.

We have found that washing is done easiest (and least water required) by putting all the zips into a larger zip bag that is filled with hot soapy water. Swish and slosh each bag inside and then cycle through hot rinse water. Turning each bag inside out works best for this method. Note: we do not generally have meat products stored in zip bags and would never use this method with bags that contained raw meat.

ideas to reduce plastic bag waste:

  • cloth shopping bags- they are ubiquitous now
  • reuse food packaging- tortilla packages are a favorite here
  • use other types of reusable containers, glass even i.e. your old peanut butter jar
  • encourage stores to at least ask customers if a bag is needed
  • stop using lawn & leaf bags, instead find a big sheet or tarp and bundle your yard waste inside. I can recommend garden containers like Fiskar's Kangaroos, which have been used for 6 years now in SE Como's community gardens. They loose their toggles for collapsing, but otherwise have held up to kids, sticks, compost, trimmings etc during endless trips to the compost piles.
  • Bag Laundry!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thinking about Stuff

This series of videos help me stay grounded when faced with more stuff. My kid's stuff. Stuff gifted to me. My stuff from relatives. My stuff that breaks. My stuff that I cannot recycle. When I have to get stuff for others. Go to The Story of Stuff for the full animation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ramsey County compost sites open March 30th

For those living in Ramsey County Minnesota, Tuesday is a big day. The county yard waste sites reopen (may be delayed if the predicted snow hits). While I do make use of most of my garden waste/leaves for my hen operation and own backyard compost, these county collection points are useful for woodies and items that are trickier to compost at home- such as thick tomato stems.

I tend to grow a largish pile of brush over the winter due to the branches I collect from these same yard waste sites for use as winter decoration in both my yard and at community plantings. The photo above shows a Midway business and community members adding branches like these to a planter. The branches all end up back at the yard waste site in the spring.

The urban/suburban brush collected at Ramsey County goes to St. Paul's District Energy, which supplies heating, cooling and electricity to downtown St. Paul all created from that biomass.

That's a tight closed cycle for these decorative woody branches used in the Midway.

St. Paul yard --> Yard Waste Site --> St. Paul Yard--> Yard Waste Site -->District Energy in downtown St.Paul ---> heat & energy to St. Paul business & homes

ahhh, sustainability.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot Humus

The compost piles are steaming! I was pleasantly surprised when I checked under the hood last week. Planting in the Twin Cities is still around the corner, but now is a perfect time to get a jump on your compost duties. If you had a full compost pile waiting through the winter in Minnesota, a thorough turning is now needed as well provides an opportunity to adjust the browns/greens ratio or moisture content.

Getting backyard compost to decompose well can be elusive, especially if kitchen scraps are your main source of organics. Kitchen scraps are considered "greens". Active composting will only happen if the "browns" are in far excess compared to the greens, such as 20:1 ratio. So planning your "brown" supply is the key. In my yard its the dried leaves stored from autumn. The chicken manure that also goes into my compost adds the bit of nitrogen that really makes the compost heat up.

Can't do the "browns" planning and stuck with only "greens"? No matter. Indoor vermicomposting can do the trick.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A portion of the White House lawn to be torn up for a food garden

This has been a well publicized grassroots effort, but the President and Michelle Obama are bringing back a White House garden! Many reports have been filed already, see Kitchen Gardens International whose efforts should be celebrated! The White House lawn has ample space, most of it under utilized lawn.

There are spaces like this all around our communities, even in the city. Kentucky bluegrass, the most common lawn species, is the biggest crop we Americans have planted. Lawn is great where you might want a patch to picnic, or want to toss a ball around. However, the far majority of our lawns are generally not even walked upon except when mowing. If a grassy space is not used for games or leisure there are "higher and better" uses for such real estate, especially in denser urban neighborhoods. Plantings to retain stormwater, plantings for wildlife, and food gardens are few thoughts. Isn't this true about your neighborhood?

An example of upgrading from grass can be found in SE Como Minneapolis at the art installation and care business Museum Services Inc. In 2002, Museum Services was very receptive to the neighborhood's suggestion of converting their football field sized front yard into a community garden. This garden has now served over 80 households for 6 years!

The White House lawn is not the only folks considering a new garden in 2009. Community Gardens are experiencing record number of inquires. Master Gardeners report more questions about vegetable growing. Seed companies are reporting increased sales this early in the season.

Grow everywhere! Need a visual? Look up Farmadelphia.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Organic or conventional chicken feed?

This is a question I did not believe I needed to think about. Organic, of course, as I would prefer my dollars pay for sustainably raised grain. However, after trying a variety of different feeds for my small backyard flock (from 3 different farm stores), I have determined there is a more important feature of chicken feed - whether its in pellets or "mash". Mash is very powder-like. Hens make a mess of mash. A fair percent just ends up on the floor, never to be eaten, which then requires clean-up. In a small urban henhouse, cleanliness is the rule. Chicken feed scattered everywhere is a recipe for rodents. Rodents can even be attracted to the compost bin when spilled feed is added. So pellets it must be. The hens are much less prone to toss pellets into the far corners of the henhouse, and any that do get spilled are easily pecked right back up. Trouble is that I have yet to source an organic feed that comes in pellets.

So for now the hens get conventional feed. This is not a permanent situation though. I actually would prefer to eliminate corn from their diet entirely. Humans have created the corn diet for chickens, just like we have a corn diet for ourselves, cows, pigs and every other domestic and farmed animal. A long-time goal around here is to expand our vermiculture to also feed our hens. We are not the first to try this and we realize will be a while before we have enough worms to feed and compost. In fact, we may have to reclaim additional food waste to actually achieve this goal as the current population of worms and hens is taking care of our trimmings at present. Needing more food waste is a delightful problem to have for those of us who are concerned about organic waste in landfills and the methane it creates.