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!