Friday, October 31, 2008

Plant Some Beans

Okay, finally a follow-up to my last post! What can you do to lessen your fertilizer use? Well, fertilizers mostly provide nitrogen in a form plants can use, and the element nitrogen is an essential compound in living things. Even though the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen gas, plants cannot utilize in that form.

Enter into the picture nitrogen-fixing bacteria! These bacteria are able to transform nitrogen gas into various compounds such as ammonium ions and nitrate, which plants are then able to intake. Well, where can you find these special little critters? It turns out, they like living in the roots of the legume family. Therefore, if you plant lots of beans in your garden along with your veggies, or alternate beans with the other plants, your soil will probably have more nitrogen and you won't need as much fertilizer.

However, beans are great in their own right. So many varieties exist- black, navy, soy, chickpeas, kidney, etc. They are so nutritious - with high protein and fiber, vitamins and minerals. You can definitely find lots of recipes - not just good old baked beans.

Here's a great website, The Gardener's Network, that has a special page about beans.

I was also perusing the Internet for some bean recipes and ideas to show you guys, and here's what I found- The Bean Bible! I never knew there was such a thing. Well, I guess you can find anything online these days.

Here's a great looking black bean burger recipe. Healthy and easy!

The image at the top is from the Latino Nutrition Coalition. What's your favorite bean or bean recipe? Have you ever grown beans?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Use Less Fertilizer

This post is for all of you that have a nice little vegetable garden but find you need to use lots of fertilizer to keep that little garden going.

What's wrong with fertilizer? Well, a little bit won't hurt anyone, but usually if you use fertilizer, some of it will wash off with the rains. Eventually, all these nutrients from everyone's lawns, gardens, and fields, flow into a large body water. Then a phenomenon called eutrophication occurs. All this excess organic chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphorous causes huge algal blooms to occur.

Definitely not the prettiest sight. Well, this ugly mess does more than just disgust everyone! When the algae die, a lot of dissolved oxygen in the water is used up by bacteria that are decomposing the bloom. And when the level of oxygen is too low, all kinds of marine life can be harmed, including fish. The Chesapeake Bay is the major body of water near where I live, and I know it is going through a major crisis of algal blooms.

So you ask, Molly, what I am supposed to do if I don't want to use that much fertilizer? I can't just let my vegetables and plants die? Don't worry... a post is coming up soon that might be able to help you.

This image is from Plant Management in Florida Waters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eat the Right Fish

We've all heard the news over and over again- fish contains omega-3's that help brain function, fish is low in saturated fat, fish are high in protein, people who eat a diet with fish live longer, fish is low in cholesterol...but what kind of fish? There's salmon, tuna, mackerel, tilapia, mahi mahi, cod, flounder, sardines, anchovies, swordfish, and a whole ocean of other kinds! Which do you eat and which picks are best for the environment?

One major concern is overfishing. The stocks in the oceans are being depleted at a far faster rate than they can recover. If you buy and consume the species that are in abundance, you won't only being helping biodiversity - you might be saving a few bucks too.

Here are the best fish to eat:

1. Atlantic Herring
2. Pollock
3. Crawfish (farmed)
4. Tilapia (farmed)
5. Alaska Salmon
6. Atlantic Mackerel
7. Mahi Mahi (poll and troll caught)
8. Dover Sole
9. Catfish (farmed)
10. Black Sea Bass

This Seared Pollock Fillet with Carmelized Onions recipe from the Washington Post looks delicious and is healthy!

Here are the worst:

1. Caviar
2. Shark
3. Atlantic Salmon
4. Snapper
5. Halibut
6. Orange Roughy
7. Chilean Sea Bass
8. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
9. Grouper
10. Atlantic Cod

The above info was taken from The Blue Ocean Institute.
Also, you should watch out for mercury and PCB levels. These dangerous chemicals bioaccumulate and biomagnificate up the food chain, meaning usually that bigger fish have higher levels.

Highest levels of mercury
1. Shark
2. Swordfish
3. King Mackerel
4. Tuna steaks
5. Canned tuna

Lowest levels of mercury

1. Flounder
2. Haddock
3. Trout (farmed)
4. Salmon (wild Pacific)

So it seems like shark is a bad option, not that I know of anyone who eats shark on a daily basis. People who eat a lot of tuna should be cautious though. The main idea is that fish is a great nutrional choice but some kinds are better than others. The top image is courtesy of Simple Healthy Recipes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Visit a Farmers Market!

This time of year is great for visiting Farmers Markets! Do you have one near you? Here are some fabulous reasons for dropping in and getting great food!

1. Support for local farmers: small farmers really are suffering these days. I read somewhere that a huge percentage (like 80%) of our food is grown by big corporations, and the little guys are getting pushed out. Some of these people have been on their farms for generations. Supporting the local economy really helps cut down on the massive transportation and packaging energy costs of big corporations.

2. Cost: usually the produce and homemade goodies found at farmers markets cost way less than at a conventional grocery store. The reason most likely is because large companies have to pay a lot for shipping and transportation, plus there are middlemen involved (ex. Kroger has to buy the oranges from a company in Florida and still has to make a profit).

3. Health: a lot of the produce sold by local farmers are grown organically, without any pesticides. According to WebMD, these foods should be bought organic as often as possible, since they usually have the highest level of pesticides:

Organic items worth buying as often as possible: Apples, baby food, bell peppers, celery, cherries, dairy, eggs, imported grapes, meat, nectarines, peaches, pears, poultry, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries.

4. Taste: I find that locally grown produce tastes so much better and fresher. I mean, it probably was just in the ground a day or two ago, right? Conventionally grown produce has to be packed, transported, stored, etc., before it makes it to your kitchen. Plus, sometimes chemicals are added to delay the ripening, or the fruit is covered in waxy layer. At a farmers market, the produce may not be standard size and shape, but the taste is much sharper and fresher.

This image is from Active Rain.
What are your favorite finds at your nearby farmers market?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reuse Plastic Bags

My parents always get plastic when they grocery shop, so my pantry is full of wads of these plastic bags. I've found lots of good ways to reuse them, so I thought I'd share some with you.

1. Pack your lunch in them. Instead of buying and using those little brown paper bags, it's better to use something you already have. I find that plastic grocery bags work fine when packing a sandwich and a few sides. It doesn't keep the food from being squashed and its not a great insulator, but it works. Of course, an even better container to pack a lunch in is a reusable bag that I blogged about it this post.

2. Use them to line trash cans. Of course, they won't really work in your kitchen (I know my trash can needs those 30 gallon sturdy black bags to work), but they are really handy for those little trash bins in my bedroom and bathroom.

3. Bring them back to the store. Plastic bags take up no space at all and are pretty convenient to stuff in your purse and use again. Of course, too many uses may result in tearing, so you might be better of with one of these reusable bags.

4. Recycle them! Supermarkets in my town now have containers that let you recycle plastic bags, so there might be some where you live as well (Richmond isn't exactly known for being environmentally progressive).

5. Use them as "packing peanuts." I've actually never tried this, but I'm sure it could work! Stuff them in a package to cushion the item.

Anyone else have some great ideas for using plastic blags?
This image is from Captain Pao. Sorry if the "idiots" part offends anyone - I would substitute "silly" in if I could photoshop well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Clean Organically

Conventional cleaning products are stringent and harsh on the environment. I found this great video about how to make your own organic cleaning supplies - check it out! It seems pretty simple and doable. Most of the ingredients can be found in any home, such as distilled vinegar.

How to Make Organic Cleaning Supplies.

Does any computer savvy person know how to upload online videos directly onto a blog? I would really appreciate any help!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Don't Waste

Remember how your mother always told you clean your plate, because children elsewhere are starving of hunger? The better strategy, I have learned, is to take less in the first place. This starts way before you serving yourself a meal - back to the grocery store.

Always check for expiration dates and serving sizes. Once I bought a huge bag of flaxseed because it was on sale and I needed a tablespoon of it for a recipe. Well, I forgot one detail- nobody in my family uses flax and nothing else I make requires flax! That sad bag sat on my fridge shelf for three months until it was past the "best used by" date and was tossed into the trash. Really, what a waste of food and money.

Remember how you learned in elementary school that the Native Americans were in tune with nature and respectful of everything, meaning they used the whole animal/plant whenever they killed anything? Well, I'm not suggesting that you demand the bones with your deli meat and carve jewelry, but there are so many things that we throw away without realizing its uses! For example, peels on veggies and fruits can be made into compost, as explained in this previous post.

Another thing many people throw away is the stem of broccoli! That is my favorite part of the vegetable - it's crispy and crunchy when made in a stir-fry. Just peel away the hard outer layer, chop up, and throw into a stir-fry. Most parts of vegetables can be eaten in some form- just today, I learned that the leaves of a pumpkin plant are delicious and nutritious after a quick turn in the pan with some olive oil and salt. Eggshells are good for plants if you crush them around the surface of the dirt.

Some people even eat the shells of shrimp and crabs! I'm definitely not to that step yet- eugh! The point being, a lot of the things people think of as trash and throw away can be used in some way or another. This image is from Innovate Infinitely.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Take Cold(er) Showers

I love steaming hot showers, especially on a cold winter night. I don't even realize how hot they are until I step out of the tub and see the bathroom mirror completely fogged up. However, this is definitely a habit I need to cut back on, for the good of the environment, our family's budget, and even my hair and skin.

According to the Consumer Energy Center, 25% of our energy costs goes to the water heater! You can bet a large chunk of that is for baths and showers. I had no idea the percentage was that high, but it makes sense when you think of the high specific heat of water. I'm learning this in AP Bio right now. Basically, water just needs a lot of energy to heat up! When you think of a swimming pool, it's a lot colder in June than in August! It takes a long time for the sun's rays to be able to warm up the water.

With using colder water, I would probably save a bunch on my energy bill, as well as the fossil fuel usage that is contributing to global warming and pollution.

Hot water can also remove necessary oils from your skin, leaving it dry and less than optimal (MSN). It can damage your hair and irritate your scalp. Hmmmm...maybe if I don't use so much hot water, I can skip buying all those expensive moisturizers and conditioners!

Well, I don't think I will ever be one of those people that can just hop out of bed and into a freezing cold shower, but who knows? I'll just adjust my water a little colder and colder each day, and maybe I'll get used to it! This image is from

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Play FreeRice

This online game/quiz is quite addicting. When I first began, FreeRice quizzed you on English vocabulary. For each word you answered correctly, a certain amount of rice grains would be donated to help end world hunger. The difficulty level moved up according to your level of accuracy.

Well, I just got back on today, and boy has the site changed! There are more categories to be quizzed on, including geography, Spanish, chemistry, and math! This really is an ingenious way to learn and help out at the same time. It's quite a good study aid too. I definitely would have used it last year to memorize the chemistry symbols I needed to know. Now I can use it to increase my Spanish vocabulary (currently in my fourth year of Spanish). The ads are really unobtrusive, too. I barely notice them.

There are some arguments that giving aid to Third World Countries is actually making them dependent and less self-sufficient. I agree to an extent - we shouldn't just be sending in food and undermining their local economy. However, donating the basics while bolstering the agricultural production and distribution is necessary. People who literally are starving can't possible be as productive. I really don't think donating some rice will hurt.

An alternate version of this game is available on Facebook, if any of you use it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Find a Better Search Engine

Did you know that there are search engines that you can use that donate to your favorite charities? Every time you use that site, you are increasing the money going to the organization, mainly generated from the ads on the page. These search engines are mostly convenient to use and donate to pretty good causes. Here are some that I have found.

1. SearchKindly- this search engine has raised over $13,000. Different charities are featured each week, and you get to vote on who gets the money. This week features an environmental group called Climate Cycle, that works to raise awareness in communities.

2. Everyclick- the UK based site has a pretty snazzy and clean page. They provide over 200,000 charities with fundraising options. You can register as a supporter of a particular organization, or the revenue will just go into a general pot.

3. GoodSearch- you chose a charity, and every search you make on this search engine increases contributions to the charity. A LOT of non profits participate in this, so you will be sure to find one to support.

4. MagicTaxi- cute name. Gives 50% of revenue to a selected charity of the week. Pretty cool in that in has a tab to search Wikipedia.

5. GoodTree- kind of looks like the Google homepage, only personalized. It has different features such as bookmarks and news.

And this last one, not as much charity related, but one of my favorites

6. Blackle- basically a Google with a black page. This saves energy - "864,680.675 Watt hours saved."

It is a hard habit to break, just opening up Internet Explorer or Firefox and mindlessly typing in Google. You might want to set one of the above as a homepage so you don't forget. A few clicks can make a difference. The image is from Core77.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Milk Ice Cream

I saw this in Time magazine and just had to say something about it.

So PETA says to Ben and Jerry's (the ice cream maker) that they should use human breast milk to make ice cream instead of cow milk. Their argument is that it is even more absurd to drink the milk of another animal than our own species, and milking cows is cruel, etc. Yeah...I don't think this is going to happen any time soon.

However, the response of Ben and Jerry's was even more ridiculous. They replied, word for word, "We believe a mother's milk is best used for her child." Hello? They're not giving their ice cream to baby cows, are they? The company is directly contradicting itself. If a mother's milk is best used for her child, why is the ice cream company stealing it to manufacture a product for another species?

I don't have a problem with them using cow milk, but I do have a problem with their view of animals. Yes, cows are mothers too. They are not machines. I don't care about the argument whether people are animals etc, but the biological fact is that cows are mothers and they have babies. The end.

This image is from Will Work For Food.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vice Presidential Debate

Did any one watch the "Global warming" section of the debates on Thursday night?

I thought it was pretty ridiculous how Palin's response to global warming was domestic oil. No matter where we get our oil from, it still comes out the same way from the exhaust pipe our our cars! Oil doesn't magically become less polluting because it is American oil. So what if America has more regulations than other countries? As long as we are using the same amount of oil, we will create the same amount of greenhouse gases. She focused too much on the effects of global warming and not the causes. I know she's from Alaska and all - didn't she see the Exxon Valdez disaster and the tremendous damage of the oil spill? She seems pretty eager to drill her land up.

Biden's focus on alternative energy was much more realistic. He did talk about the causes of global warming, and how our reliance on oil was detrimental. Alternative energy would create more jobs in the job market, maybe even better than producing domestic oil would. After all, the oil supply isn't infinite. Eventually people would have to be laid off as our oil dwindled away. Why not just start with alternative energy? There is always more to research, more to develop, to further enhance solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy.

So what did you think about the debates?

This image is from CNews.