Tuesday, May 27, 2008

That Slippery Green Slope...by Mindy Friddle

Several years ago, I started faithfully participating in my city's curbside recycling program. To my surprise that small step led to other earth-friendly choices, and now, although I don't own a Prius (yet), let's just say I haven't been this green since I tossed my cookies on a deep-sea fishing trip as a kid.
  • I tore up my lawn.
  • I grow vegetables in my front yard.
  • I have a bat house in the back.
  • The bumper sticker on my car says, "Compost Happens."
  • I don't eat anything (much) with a face.
  • I take my own reusable grocery bags to the store (plastic bags...never again!)
You, too, can be green, kids. Maybe even "person of interest" green. Here are four easy steps:

1. Talkin' Trash
Recycling is standard these days, but if you start composting, you'll hardly have any trash to haul to the curb. Compost--kitchen scraps and papers and leaves and grass clippings-- is magic stuff. You put in leftovers and leavings and--with the help of earthworms, grubs, the handy "reducers" of the earth--out comes the best fertilizer on the planet! Even if you have just one big pot with a tomato and basil, the compost will make it the best tasting tomato you ever had! And it's free. Also gratifying.
This is what you can put in compost:
"Brown" stuff (carbon): old manuscripts and rejection letters, bad reviews, newspapers, shredded bills, leaves, vacuum cleaner bag contents.
"Green" stuff (nitrogen): egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, veggie and fruit peels, food leftovers (except for anything with sugar, fats and meat).
Put in a pile in the yard (or a tub thingy) and mix and wait. Then spread.

2. Lawns are so yesterday. With water conservation in and chemicals out, it's now wonder. But you'll never miss them. They're so... high-maintenance and boring. So here's what you do: lay down a bunch of newspapers over the grass (8 pages thick) and then mulch over it (pine needles are ideal.) In a few months, you'll have fantastic soil under your mulch and no grass or weeds. You can plant a garden or trees right into you it. You can grow vegetables in containers! You can order packets of seed and grow a meadow!

If you happen to live in one of those neighborhoods with matching mailboxes, and rules about how high the grass can grow, etc., I'd recommend plying your neighbors--and homeowners' committee--with your freshly picked tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, herbs, melons, pumkins, squash and eggplant. It's a very cold heart indeed that isn't warmed by such a gesture, and a very dull palate that isn't titillated by homegrown vittles.

3. Put out a bird feeder. Watching the birds is both addictive and calming. Birds are so zen. They just are. And they always sing...in all kinds of weather. Watch them and learn: in nesting season they are dutiful to their young, but also quite firm about their fledglings winging it. I saw one mother Carolina Wren and her adolescent-looking offspring the other day. The baby had his mouth open wide (although he was nearly bigger than she was) Feed me! The mother stuffed a bug in his maw once in a while, but spent most of the time flying to a higher branch to peer down at him until he got the idea to go to the feeder and forage for himself. It's time to move your things out of the basement, dear, and buy your own cappuccinos and Wii games, she seemed to be saying.

Soon, you'll add more feeders with different kinds of seed and feed, and you'll probably hang a birdhouse or two, and add a birdbath. Throw in some native plants--sunflowers, fruit trees-- and you have a Certified Natural Habitat! (photo at right.) Something else the neighbors can get excited about.

4. Consider giving up meat. It's bad for you! It's bad for the planet! It's really bad for the animals! My epiphany came one day on the interstate, when I passed a poultry truck--the cages crammed with chickens, their beaks and heads and poor yellow feet crammed this way and that. My love for animals led me to give up eating chicken, beef, and pork. I don't support the agriculture industry/corporations that are, well, insane, and oblivious to suffering. I do support family-owned farms with free-range practices, and at Thanksgiving, I buy my mother's turkey from a local foodmarket that buys from a Amish farm with free-range turkeys that have, as they say, only one bad day.

5. Native plants. If you plant native species--in the south, that's things like Cardinal flower, black-eyed Susan, dogwood, pawpaws, milkweed, Iron weed--you'll water less (because they're hardy for our areas) and feed the wildlife (butterflies, birds, bees). Plus, native plants happen to be gorgeous.

So, there you have it. That green slope is slippery. Turn your attention to the earth, and she draws you in. But she gives and gives.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go harvest some lettuce.


jennamom said...

I love all those ideas! I've planted the backyard with some raised beds, and we've been enjoying fresh organically grown lettuce and spinach and herbs this spring. Bring on the tomatoes and green beans, and in the fall-sweet potatoes and pumpkins! I would totally do the entire backyard with beds, and rip out all the front yard grass and put in cottage perennials if my husband and the HOA would let me. (Not likely to happen, but I think it would be really cool!)

MIndy said...

Way to go! I've discovered it helps to plant plenty of flowers in with your herbs and veggies to deflect furrowed brows. Of course, hyacinth bean vines are gorgeous ornamentals AND edible. If you plant nasturtiums, Geraniums and marigolds in--they not only add beauty they repel pests. You can really go high-yield with containers and raised beds...and in our climate, just about eat homegrown year round.

kimberly said...

"Turn your attention to the earth and she draws you in." That is beautiful.

I enjoyed your post. It certainly gave me lots to ponder.

MIndy said...

Thank you so much.
btw, I love what Michael Pollen said in a recent article in the NYT magazine about gardening--that it fosters your own growth physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Start with just one plant, or one pot of herbs, and you'll see!

geeky Heather said...

It must be nice to be able to survive without animal protein! I'd be dead in three days. I am trying to convince the hubby to grow corn on our deck, though (we live in a loft and have no yard at all). Now if only we could get the City of Atlanta to actually pick up our recycling. It only took us ten years to get them to give us a recycling bin, so there's hope!!!