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Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.

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7/30/2014
Every summer, I find being outdoors after dusk impossible because of mosquitoes. Is there a natural spray or trap for mosquito control?

Several synthetic and organic pesticides will poison mosquitoes on contact, but they’ll provide only minimal relief. The best way to reduce mosquito populations in your yard is to eradicate breeding sites and also install both passive and active mosquito traps.

Mosquitoes need water to breed — their larvae are the “wigglers” you can see in neglected buckets of water if you look closely — so you can naturally limit mosquito swarms by eliminating breeding sites in your neighborhood. To do this, always empty water from open containers, old tires and other potential breeding grounds within five days after a heavy rain. Add a product called Mosquito Dunks (made with Bacillus thuringiensis) to rain barrels and other standing-water supplies for a safe and easy way to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching. Or, let fish do the trick — preferably native minnows. You can purchase traps at a sporting goods store that have been designed to collect the minnows from a pond, and then release them to feed on larvae in your rain barrel or water garden.

You won’t need many minnows — fish are some of the best mosquito traps available. One fathead minnow can eat 74 mosquito larvae per day. A study from Rutgers University recommends 10 gambusia minnows for one standard rain barrel, and 35 to 100 for a water garden, depending on its size. Similar stocking rates would apply to arroyo chub minnows or fathead minnows.

Some of the best mosquito traps use multiple attractants — light, carbon dioxide and an attractant called “octenol” — to lure mosquitoes and then suck them in with a fan. A University of North Dakota professor of biology collected data in 2002 showing that the Mosquito Magnet caught 8,000 female mosquitoes per night during peak-summer season. The Mosquito Magnet is pricey, starting at $400. The cheapest Mega-Catch model costs much less — $150 with lures — and is a good fit for smaller yards. Shop carefully: Some anti-mosquito products actually spray chemical pesticides into the air — and those pesticides could be toxic to you, too.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .



7/23/2014

Seed Packets In Jars In The Refrigerator

What’s the best way to store my garden seeds?

Seeds are living organisms, so don’t simply toss them into a shed or shoe box. To keep seeds you buy viable as long as possible, you should always keep them as cool and dry as you can. Usually, your best option is to keep them in the refrigerator, sealed in a glass jar.

If you live in a humid region, you can add silica gel to absorb additional moisture. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells silica gel beads for drying seeds, or you can find them at craft supply stores, where they’re sold for drying flowers. You can also use powdered milk as a desiccant: Measure 1 to 2 tablespoons from a freshly opened package onto a piece of fabric or a paper towel, fold it up, and then place it in the container with the seed packets. Powdered milk will absorb excess moisture for about six months.

If you’re saving seeds from your garden, dry them well before you store them in the refrigerator. Spread the mature seeds in a shallow layer over a fine mesh screen or ceramic plate, and dry the seeds in a warm, dark and airy location for several weeks, until the seeds are hard and no longer pliable. A fan may help speed up the process. If possible, gently stir the seeds every now and then to expose them evenly to the air. Package the dry seeds in envelopes labeled with the variety and date, and then store them in glass jars in the refrigerator.

If treated well, your garden seeds will stay viable for one to five years, depending on the plant type. To learn how to test your seeds’ viability, read Testing Seed Viability.

To learn more about how to store seeds, see Savvy Seed Care.

Photo by Hannah Kincaid: Airtight jars placed in the refrigerator will safeguard the viability of the garden seeds stored within.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on Google+.



5/28/2014

Where do I locate sustainable wood for my home building projects?

Certified sustainably grown wood isn’t always easy to track down. trees in a forestThe certification label could reside on the product’s wrapping paper, shipping document, or an invoice that the distributor sees but that you may not have access to.

You can source sustainable wood with a little digging, however. Two major organizations certify sustainably produced wood: the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). SFI is a North American organization; FSC works globally. Each has a searchable online database that identifies lumber, engineered wood, decking, siding and other wood products that have met the organization’s standards for sustainability. You can check out the SFI database and the FSC database, and then locate dealers that carry the certified brands.

Another approach is to ask your local lumber distributor to direct you to the sustainable wood products it stocks. If a label isn’t clearly visible on the product and you want to verify the product’s certification status, you can ask the distributor for the product’s identification number and then check it on the SFI or FSC website.

If your retail distributor doesn’t already carry sustainably harvested wood, ask for it! That kind of grass-roots demand is one of the best ways to increase its availability and support sustainable forestry, says Valerie Luzadis, president of the U.S. Society for Ecological Economics.

Both the SFI and FSC certification programs officially organized shortly after the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, which put forth a set of principles to guide the sustainable management of forests worldwide. The SFI and FSC certification programs differ, and those differences have led to considerable debate about which system is more rigorous. Over the years, each organization’s certification standards have become tougher, and additional updates are in the works. A 2011 Dovetail Partners report examined the differences between the programs’ certification standards.

If you’re planning to build a home or undertake some other large project, seeking out certified lumber is ecologically wise and impactful. A March 2012 Journal of Forestry report that measured certification’s effects on forest-management practices concluded that both systems have improved the environmental, social and economic sustainability of forests by establishing geographic information systems, controlling exotic invasives, monitoring chemical use, planning with biological diversity in mind, and more.

Photo courtesy Forest Stewardship Council: The Forest Stewardship Council has certified more than 330 million acres of forest around the world.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .



5/21/2014

I found out the hard way that my garden is infested with poison ivy. What should I do to evict this rash-causing weed?poison ivy

Getting rid of poison ivy in your yard is tough — there’s just no easy way to do it. One of the most effective techniques to banish it is to pull it and pull it and pull it. Wear special gloves that you never use for anything else and use a pair of long-handled pliers. The ivy’s stems run mainly near the surface of the soil and up onto nearby trees. Large lengths will come up when you pull. If the stems are thick and won’t budge, then you’ll have to cut them and paint the remaining portion with an herbicide. Repeat this pulling process as needed each year.

Before you begin pulling poison ivy, apply the FDA-approved product called Ivy Block to your hands and arms to protect your skin. After you’re finished, carefully remove your gloves, wash your clothes, and wash your hands with Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub. You can find these products online or at a drugstore.

Photo by Dreamstime/Stevebrigman: Pesky poison ivy often likes to climb up trees.


Cheryl Long is the editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and a leading advocate for more sustainable lifestyles. She leads a team of editors which produces high quality content that has resulted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS being rated as one North America’s favorite magazines. Long lives on an 8-acre homestead near Topeka, Kan., powered in part by solar panels, where she manages a large organic garden and a small flock of heritage chickens. Prior to taking the helm at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, she was an editor at Organic Gardening magazine for 10 years. Connect with her on .

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5/14/2014

What should I do with the loopy stems growing on my garlic plants?

If you’ve noticed curly flowering stems emerging Garlic spreadmidseason out of your hardneck garlic plants, you’ve probably wondered what to do with garlic scapes. We can help! You should remove garlic scapes so the plants can put all of their energy into growing garlic bulbs. If you don’t remove them, the size of your harvest could be reduced by as much as 30 percent.

Use a sharp knife to cut off the scapes at the base of the curl, but don’t discard this tasty bonus crop. Use garlic scapes just as you would garlic cloves or scallions. The raw scapes have a strong flavor and produce a delicious pesto; simply purée a handful or two of the chopped stems with olive oil, nuts and grated cheese. Cooked scapes are less pungent; chop and add them to soups, sauces and stir-fries for a subtle garlic taste. For more about cooking them, including a recipe for sautéed scapes, check out this Garlic Scapes article.

If a few scapes manage to grow unnoticed and form heads of small, pink-purple bulbils, you can use those, too. Rub the heads between your fingers to separate the individual bulbs, and then sprinkle them atop pizza, salads, eggs or other dishes to add a slightly nutty texture. The bulbils dry easily, too.

Photo by Dreamstime/Danelle McCollum: Pull garlic scapes off of your garlic plants and purée them into a scrumptious pesto.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .



4/23/2014

What should I do to finish my cedar deck? It’s been up for eight years but I have yet to find a deck stain I’m happy with. I’m really getting tired of applying a finish and then pressure washing it off the following year.

Deck

Maintaining a wooden deck finish is one of those jobs that turns out to be more work than meets the eye at first, at least for most people, for two reasons. First, deck surfaces are a harsh environment, with lots of stress from sunshine, moisture and abrasion. And to make matters worse, most deck stains don’t actually perform very well, even when applied properly after the right kind of prep work. I know because I’ve been testing deck stains since 1990.

I’ve put together a free list of four different deck staining products that I know work well. You can download a copy at my Real Rural Life blog. I’m sure other reliable deck stains are out there, but I know for sure these work.

After choosing the right product, you’ll need to prep the surface correctly, and this is where many people mess up. Both new wood and older wood needs to be prepped. Even a good deck stain will fail prematurely without proper prep.

The best approach involves pressure washing with plain water, and then sanding the wood after it’s completely dry using a 60- or 80-grit abrasive in a random orbit sander.

Are you building a new deck? Would you like it to last twice as long as average decks? Check out my video ebook on deck designs that last and resist rot.


Steve Maxwell and his family have homesteaded on Manitoulin Island since 1985. You can learn more about Steve’s mortgage-free homestead story at the Real Rural Life blog.



4/9/2014

I’ve been wondering about how to eliminate mold — for good. How can I get rid of mold growth in my home?

Mold growth is an ever-present possibility in homes, and Eliminate Moldthough not all molds are dangerous, identifying which ones are harmful can be difficult. You should thus eliminate mold when you find it by addressing the root causes and then killing the dormant spores left behind.

Mold grows only when sufficient moisture encounters organic materials, so moisture control should always be the first step toward managing mold growth. Increase your home’s ventilation enough during winter to eradicate or greatly reduce window condensation that could trigger mold growth. Proper ventilation will also help curtail the moisture buildup in other places, too. A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is the best way to boost ventilation and will also improve indoor air quality.

A bleach-and-water solution is a traditional means of killing mold, but this method isn’t always effective. The best way I’ve found to get rid of mold is to use a fungicide called Concrobium Mold Control, which is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. This product contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium carbonate (washing soda) and trisodium phosphate (TSP). It’s a transparent, odorless, non-sticky liquid that kills mold and mold spores as it dries. It also offers some residual mold control. Brush or spray it onto moldy surfaces. Professional mold-abatement workers employ fogging units to deliver this same product over large areas inside of buildings infested with mold. A companion product called Mold Stain Eraser uses oxygen-based bleaching to eliminate mold stains with little or no scrubbing

Photo courtesy Concrobium Mold Solutions: Concrobium Mold Control is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a fungicide that effectively eliminates household mold.


Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 









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