Why Spiders Are Good In Our Garden

April 4th, 2012 No comments

A lot of people tend to react to spiders – especially big ones – with fear. Garden spiders can get quite large, but before you run, scream, or squish, stop and think about the benefits of having spiders in your garden.

Yes, spiders can be beneficial. They eat insects that cause problems for humans, such as wasps and mosquitoes. They do tend to be secretive and reclusive, which contributes to their creepy reputation. They move quickly when startled, and you never know when you will come upon one.

But spiders are not trying to be sneaky in order to scare you; this elusiveness is how they survive. They can sneak up on their prey and remain still and out of sight for hours, keeping them safe from predators that would like to eat them. Let’s take a look at some of the types of beneficial spiders that can be found in your garden.

* Crab spiders are the chameleons of the arachnid world. They can change their colors and patterns to match their environment, and take up residence deep inside flower blossoms. When one flower fades, they move into another one, changing color and pattern to match whichever flower they are living in. They prey on wasps, bees, flies, caterpillars, and just about any other insect that crawls along the ground (or a flying insect that has landed).

* Wolf spiders are rather scary looking, but you need not fear them unless you are a garden pest. Like crab spiders, wolf spiders hunt their prey rather than spinning a web and capturing it. They lie in wait or stalk their meals that consist of almost any insect pest.

* Yellow Garden Orb-Weavers are spiders that weave large, beautiful webs that sometimes look as if they have writing down the middle (hence another name for these yellow-and-black striped beauties: writing spider). These spiders are quite large, and their elaborate webs are lethal to all kinds of flying pests, such as mosquitoes, moths, wasps, hornets, etc. Such webs can be annoying to humans, but there are few things more breath-taking than one of these orb webs covered in dew drops on a sunny morning.

You can encourage spiders in your garden by not spraying broad-spectrum insecticides (spiders are not insects, but they will succumb to insect sprays). Another thing you can do is spread thick mulch that gives hunting spiders a place to hide and spend the winter. Encourage web-weavers with an outside light that attracts flying insects. Spiders will weave their webs near the light to take advantage of the bugs.

Safety

While very few spiders possess the mouth parts capable of breaking human skin, it’s a good idea to leave them alone. Wear gloves in the garden, especially if you are working among wood logs, in mulch, or other spidery hide-outs. Tell your children the same thing, without inciting fear. Spiders are beautiful, beneficial creatures to watch but not touch.

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Homemade Natural Garden Sprays That Keep Pests at Bay

August 31st, 2011 5 comments

Have you been wanting to use a more natural type of pest control in your garden? You can make your own natural garden sprays to control pests, and the ingredients are not expensive. In fact, you probably have a lot of these items already in your home or growing in your garden. Here are some recipes for repelling the pests from your yard and garden.

Note – some of the recipes call for liquid soap. This refers to vegetable-based soap such as castile or oil soap (such as is used for cleaning wood and floors). Using dish or laundry detergent can harm plants.

1. Hot Chili Pepper Spray

This is reputed to kill caterpillars. In a blender, whiz 2 cups of fresh chili peppers or 1 cup dried with 2 cups of water until it is liquefied. Use this spray right away, and keep it out of your eyes.

2. Hot Chili Pepper and Wormwood Spray

This is a spray that can help repel larger pests such as opossums and rabbits, in addition to snails and slugs. It kills white flies and aphids (be sure to spray under the leaves for aphids). Begin as with the chili spray above, but add one cup of chopped wormwood herb before blending (you may need some additional water to blend it into a liquid). Then, add 5 cups of water, boil, and steep for an hour. Strain before spraying. Keep this spray from contacting your eyes and skin.

3. Garlic Sprays

There are multiple garlic-based sprays that repel or kill a variety of pests. Garlic is said to be especially effective against ants, cabbage worms, and caterpillars, but it works as a repellent for a wide variety of pests.

* Basic garlic spray: Steep 4 raw garlic cloves in a quart of water for about 3 days. Then liquefy the mixture in a blender.

* Garlic soap spray: Steep 4 cloves of garlic as above, then add 2 tablespoons of liquid soap before blending.

* Garlic hot pepper spray: Add 3-4 chili peppers to the mixture before blending.

* Garlic, hot pepper, and onion spray: Try this concentrated spray for red spider mites or aphids. Chop a head of garlic and a medium onion (no need to peel first). Add chopped garlic and onion to 5-6 cups of water and stir in a tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.

When the mixture has cooled, let it sit in a glass jar for a month to six weeks. Then, strain and add 1 tablespoon of this formula (plus an optional tablespoon of liquid soap) to 1 quart of water to make a spray. Keep this out of your eyes and off your skin.

* Garlic oil spray: To kill aphids, onion flies, and mosquitoes, chop the bulbs of 3 to 4 heads of garlic. Steep in 2 tablespoons of mineral oil for about 24 hours. Then mix 1 teaspoon of fish emulsion with 2 cups of water and stir until dissolved. Add the fish emulsion mixture to the garlic and mineral oil. Strain and store in a glass container (not metal). This is also concentrated, so use 1 tablespoon per 1 1/4 cups of water.

4. Basic Soap Spray

Gently (so that it doesn’t foam) mix 1 tablespoon of liquid vegetable soap with 1 quart of water. This spray is especially effective on squash bugs and is a great way to protect your squash and cucumber plants.

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How To Get Rid of Odors in Your Home Naturally

August 23rd, 2011 1 comment

A home that smells bad can be very frustrating and embarrassing. Bad smells in the home can also indicate problems that could be causing allergies or other respiratory symptoms. Chemical-based, air freshener sprays and synthetic potpourris can actually make allergies worse. Here are some ideas for ridding your home of nasty odors using natural means.

1. Baking soda
Yes, it is part of every natural cleaning suggestion list! There is a reason for that. Baking soda is very effective at absorbing odors. Sprinkle it on your carpet, wait about 10 minutes, and then vacuum. Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of your kitchen garbage can, underneath the garbage bag. Leave a pan of baking soda out to absorb airborne odors. For sink odors, pour baking soda into your sink drain, followed by white vinegar. Leave overnight, then flush with hot water the next morning.

2. Find the source
It will help any smell-eliminating effort to find the source and clean it up. Maybe one of your pets has started using the bathroom in a hidden corner, or perhaps someone dropped some food behind the couch. It could even be your garbage.

3. Check the vacuum
Because they suck up all manner of household debris, vacuum cleaners can get very smelly. Emptying the canister or changing bags often is helpful, as is changing the filters if your vacuum has them. If the smell is stubborn despite these efforts, vacuum up some baking soda. Or, put a few drops of an essential oil you like onto a cotton ball, then vacuum the ball.

4. Enzymes
Enzymatic cleaners are available to clean many odor-causing messes. There are enzymes specifically for pet odors (you pour the liquid right on the area where the pet has soiled – after cleaning it up, of course), and enzymes for combating mildew. These are natural, non-toxic choices for getting rid of odors.

5. Fresh air
Perhaps it’s old-fashioned, but an open window or two can sweep out odors in a matter of minutes. Make a cross-breeze effect by opening windows that are across from each other, and put a fan in the window to pull fresh air in and help circulate it. If the weather will not permit this, just circulating the air with fans can help.

6. Houseplants
If you can’t let fresh air in due to weather (or worse odors outdoors from, say, car exhaust), grow houseplants. Indoor plants can improve air quality significantly; NASA scientists actually studied the effects of houseplants on indoor air and concluded that they do, in fact, pull chemicals from the air. Some plants to consider are English ivy, spider plant, peace lily, bamboo palm or reed palm, rubber plant and other figs (Ficus), and snake plant.

7. Charcoal
Charcoal is used in filters to remove odors and impurities from water, and it can also serve to remove odors from air. Because it can be messy, put the charcoal in a container with holes in the top of it so air can flow through. Place these throughout your home.

8. Dehumidifier
Sometimes, damp air can worsen odors. A dehumidifier can get rid of the water in the air, making it smell much better.

9. Spritzers
It’s easy to make a natural air freshening spray by mixing 1 part rubbing alcohol with 2 parts water in a spritzer, and adding a few drops of essential oil. Some good choices for essential oils are citrus, lavender, bergamot, and peppermint.

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The Natural Beauty of Living Roofs

June 8th, 2011 No comments

The idea of using living materials for a roof is not a new one. Applying it to modern buildings, however, is relatively new. How is the ancient art of a living roof compatible with modern building methods? And why would anyone choose a living roof for his or her home?

The Living Roof – What Is It?

A living roof, also known as a green roof, can be constructed on an existing roof or incorporated into a new structure. It can be used on commercial or private buildings. A corrugated, aluminum sheet is placed on the roof, followed by a waterproof membrane. Some builders will then apply a sheet of foam and another waterproof membrane. Drains are incorporated into the design.

Over all of the weatherproofing layers, about 4 inches of soil is placed and various greenery is planted. Many green roof builders like to focus on native plants for their rooftop “garden.”

So what are the main advantages and disadvantages of having a living roof? Read on to find out.

Advantages of a Living Roof

* Less Reflective Heat – The sunlight and heat that are reflected off of urban buildings’ roofs can greatly increase the temperature within a city. Green roofs eliminate the reflective factor, absorbing and utilizing the sun’s light.

* Insulation – Earth is a good insulator, and having four or more inches of it on your roof will keep your building cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

* Protection – The soil and plants on a living roof protect the roof structure beneath from the elements, thus preventing the wear and tear (and the subsequent leaks) that can result from exposure to the weather.

* Wildlife – Green roofs provide wildlife habitat, especially if native species are planted. Particularly in urban areas, living roofs can act as an oasis to wildlife.

* Clean air – Plants clean the air, soaking up carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen. The air around your structure will be cleaner as a result, and the more living roofs that are planted, the cleaner the air over a wider area.

* Absorption of rainwater – This helps control storm run-off, which can cause problems when it is excessive. It can also be a source of pollution.

Disadvantages of a Living Roof

* Initial expense – Living roofs can be expensive to construct. Some of the cost can be offset, though, in the savings on heating and cooling, or if you grow your own food on the living roof.

* Maintenance – Like a garden, a living roof will need some maintenance. It might need watering during a dry spell, or fertilizer may be necessary. Choosing native plant species will reduce the amount of maintenance.

* Weight – Soil is heavy, and some roof structures cannot support it.

Living roofs are beautiful, green structures that combine the necessities of building with the beauty of a garden.

Categories: Conservation, Environment, Gardening, Home Tags:

Green Redecorating On a Budget

January 4th, 2011 2 comments

You may think that keeping your redecorating efforts eco-friendly will break your budget. While it’s true that some “green” items can cost more, there are ways to engage in environmentally-friendly redecorating and still stay within a budget. Here are some ideas.

Paint

Do you get headaches or respiratory irritation when painting a room? That is probably due to the toxic substances in the paint, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Look for paint that is VOC-free – many major paint manufacturers have VOC-free versions of their paints. While it does cost a bit more, it is high-quality paint that tends to cover better, so you will likely only need one coat. That can actually end up being cheaper than getting many gallons of conventional paint.

Painting a room can mean a lot of disposable accoutrements such as plastic drop cloths and paint trays. Consider biodegradable drop cloths, which are comparable to plastic and sell for under $4. An even cheaper option is to use an old sheet you already have. It can be washed and re-used for your next painting project.

If you use disposable paint trays and rollers, look for those that are biodegradable or made from recycled materials.

Flooring

If you have synthetic wall-to-wall carpet, rip it up and expose the flooring beneath. If it’s hardwood, it can be restored with minimal effort. If it is not hardwood, or if you just want to put down more carpet, consider modular carpet tiles. These are inexpensive and can be laid down by the homeowner without the use of toxic adhesives or chemicals. They are also manufactured with non-toxic dyes and recycled materials. When they are worn out or you just want a change, they can be returned to the manufacturer for recycling.

Appliances

Perhaps you are wanting to redecorate your kitchen and you are considering buying new appliances. If they are still in good working order, you can actually get appliance paints to give them a fresh, new look. (The same is true for bathroom tiles.) If you do purchase new appliances, look for those with the energy-star for optimum efficiency.

Furniture and Accessories

Here is where you can really save money and be environmentally friendly. Shop at antique and second-hand stores and purchase inexpensive furniture and accessories such as lamps, vases, etc. Some of these items need to be restored, or can be given a new look by simply spraying them with white spray paint.

Don’t forget your own attic, garage, closet, etc. for these items. Perhaps you have an old end table that you could re-paint, or a basket hidden away that could be used to hold magazines. Re-use bottles and jars as candle holders and flower vases.

Redecorating probably means that you are throwing out some things – old carpet, appliances, etc. Rather than hauling these to the landfill, find out if they can be donated to charitable organizations for refurbishing. Remember to report any eco-friendly changes you make to your home on your income tax return.

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