How to Plant Healthy Trees

I know this is the age of instant gratification, but — this being the season — let's hear it for planting young trees. The rewards (I speak from experience) are huge: a personal forest or great big hedge isn't simply a visual treat, a haven for Our Friends The Birds and a way to help fight global warming. It's also a shelter from road intrusions, wind and whatever lies next door.

Even a single tree offers most of these benefits, and if it provides shade from summer sun it gets extra points, for making it easier to turn off the air conditioner.

All this and money too. As long as you don't overpay at the start, trees are a terrific investment. Deposit a 4- to 6-footer now, enjoy a major increase in property value when it hits the 14-foot mark — or, of course, soars beyond.

trimming a hedge of trees

My husband Bill trimming our hemlock hedge. That's a 12-foot ladder.

The hedge in the picture is about a hundred trees long, so it had to start out as young ones. We paid 5 or 10 bucks apiece — this being 12 years ago, more or less — for an assortment of rather spindly 4- to 5-footers. Two years later, when the tallest had barely hit 6 feet and all were still more promise than performance, I got antsy. Bought a bunch of 10-footers, at about 40 bucks a pop, to plant in front of the most grievous eyesore.

Sure enough it did make an immediate difference, but the little guys only took two or three more years to catch up, and once they did that was it for the benefit. Annual pruning evened it all out. Now that every tree in the hedge is 14 to 16 or more feet tall, you can't tell which is which.

Other benefits of starting small:

* Small trees suffer less damage when taken from the field, so they recover more quickly when planted (big trees usually stay the same height for at least a couple of years; they're too busy repairing their roots to do much of anything else).

* Small trees are DIY, which matters huge when you're talking about a lot of them. You can pick up a 4-footer without serious consequences for your back. You can dig a hole for it without taking all day, and you can keep it watered...even a skinny 8-foot tree needs about 20 gallons of water each week, more if the weather is hot and windy.

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Grow Perfect Peas in Any Space with Containers
carouby de maussane snow pea flower

When it comes to "home grown is best," there is no common vegetable -- including tomatoes! -- that proves this as conclusively as peas. Three reasons:

  • 1. Peas start turning starchy the instant they leave the plant. Even picked-in-the-morning fresh will be less sweet by dinnertime than those picked right before cooking...or, delight of delights, eating raw.
  • 2. Commercial pea varieties are usually less flavorful than the ones sold for home gardening.
  • 3. Beautiful, tasty pea shoots and flowers are seldom marketed, and when they are, they cost a fortune.

If you have a garden, planting peas is a no-brainer. If you're growing food in containers, planting peas will show your dedication to quality over quantity.

Planting Peas in Containers

Let's get the unpleasant part out of the way first: peas aren't good container plants, because they want cool weather and moist soil. Containers are by nature hot and dry, and they're usually sitting on or above heat-retentive paved surfaces, so you're more or less working uphill all the way. Nevertheless, it can be done, and the results are worth it.

1. Select a large container -- at least 14 inches wide and deep. Something much larger, like a half whiskey barrel, is much better. A light color is better than a dark one; consider painting the barrel. Fill it with a mixture of 3/4ths soilless mix like Promix and 1/4th compost.

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Go Beyond Baking Soda for a Cleaner Fridge
guy in gas mask cleaning refrigerator

"It's a dog-eat-dog world, and I'm wearing Milk Bone shorts." ~Kelly Allen

With all the hustle and bustle, our holidays were about as Zen as a common household refrigerator. (Is the light always on or is it just me? Similar to asking, "Am I conscious now?" or "Is my own inner mental light on or not?")

When it comes to refrigerators, for the record, men eat far more fruits and vegetables if they're stored on the same shelf as the Christmas time or otherwise. Similarly, storing fruits and vegetables at eye-level reminds everyone to mindfully eat them. But for some reason the crisper drawers are at the base of the fridge and we somehow always forget about the stuff we've stashed there. Cleaning out the crisper is a sad reminder of how good food turns into puddles of goo beneath other goodies -- and unless you compost, that goo ain't green!

Our new dog, a rescued 18 month-old Cairn terrier called Emerson (named after the author Ralph Waldo Emerson or the 80s band Emerson, Lake & Palmer -- your choice) is always sitting at the base of our opened refrigerator right in front of the crisper drawer. I'm convinced that lato was right when he joked, "Your dog is a true philosopher." That being said, Emerson's either contemplating his own mental light, wondering how he might joyfully clean the slimy mess that's growing in our over-crowed crisper or -- most probably - coveting the entire mess.

So if your refrigerator is a disaster hung over from this holiday season, remember that many people still swear by baking soda to keep it smelling fresh. Just tear the top off a new box and let it do its thing. After a month, if you can find it among everything else you forgot was in there, replace the old baking soda with a fresh one and use the old box in a cleaning project so that nothing goes to waste (e.g. just pour it down the kitchen drain to freshen the pipes or add some white vinegar to unclog them).

If you want to follow the most recent advice from some scientists who have looked at the issue, go for something even more powerful than baking soda, such as activated charcoal, which is more absorptive.

To remove that inevitable puddle of holiday goo, your crisper drawer will shine like new when cleaned with borax. Apply to a soft cloth or a dampened sponge and use as you would any commercial kitchen cleanser. Once cleaned, rinse with clean water.

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Unlock the Natural Healing Powers of Your Pantry

Make a yummy salve for chapped lips with honey and olive oil (hey it's better than ear wax, right?). Or make a mild disinfectant with salt. Got a headache? Skip the giant pills and reach for vitamin C.

These are some of the suggestions from TDG Zen Cleaner blogger Michael de Jong, who has just released his latest book, Clean Cures: The Humble Art of Zen-Curing Yourself. Watch de Jong show you exactly how to concoct this natural remedies on this recent segent on Good Morning America Health.

Clean Cures has hundreds of remedy recipes, which de Jong hopes will help you protect the planet as well as your health and pocketbook. Not only can you avoid toxic chemicals and strong medicines, but you also can dispense with considerable amounts of packaging. For example, with his natural salve, you too can get kissable lips but without having to throw away all those empty tubes. de Jong worked with a physician during his research, and personally uses what he recommends (though of course no book should be considered a substitute for seeing a licensed doctor).

Want better skin and fewer trips to the pharmacy...all with natural ingredients you probably already have in your house? Visit Michael de Jong's website.

-Written by Brian Clark Howard

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New Organic(!) Tulip Bulbs for Fall Planting
white poeticus narcissus flower

It had to happen sooner or later, and sure enough here they are, catchily called Ecotulips.

As usual with newly introduced organic versions of things, there still isn't much selection and prices are a bit higher than for the conventional kind, but if you'd like to buy certified organic tulip bulbs, lovingly grown in Holland by an experienced bulb farmer, at least you've got the option.

So if the title is Organic Tulips, why is the first picture of a narcissus (poeticus narcissus, probably 'Pheasant's Eye')? Partly because I've already gone into how to grow tulips, and partly because there's more to environmental responsibility than simply buying organic and calling it a day.

For one thing, there's the mileage question; it's much easier to find (sort-of) locally grown daffodils than locally grown tulips.

For another, daffodils are much easier to save and reuse. Tulips can come back more frequently than they're given credit for, but they don't come back the way daffodils do and they certainly don't multiply the way daffodils do.

Also: deer. They eat tulips; they don't eat daffodils.

Choosing daffodils

white obdam daffodil flowers in vase

This particular bunch is 'Obdam,' which I got some years ago from Brent and Becky's.

It's even harder than choosing tulips, but checking the description for "naturalize" eliminates a lot of otherwise tempting contenders. Naturalize is narcissusspeak for "likely to come back and multiply" and its omission is a warning that the beauty in question may not be an eager grower. The other thing to keep in mind is use in the landscape.

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