Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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3/23/2015

Check out these bald eagles captured on live web cams!

Click here to watch bald eagles in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

And here to watch bald eagles in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Right now these bald eagles are taking turns to incubate their eggs which should be hatching any day now. Generally, bald eagles will mate for life. If only one eagle is shown that means the other one is foraging for food. He/she will return to the nest and exchange places, incubating the egg as the other one forages for food. As beautiful as this could be please remember this is nature and anything can happen.

Two hundred years ago watching bald eagles on live web cams would not be possible. Not because technology did not exist but rather, bald eagles almost did not exist. Just 30-years ago in Pennsylvania there were only three nests. There are now over 250 nests, thanks again to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and live web cams are set up in Pittsburgh, Lancaster, and Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Bald Eagles are being restored all over the United States so make sure to search for live web cams in your own state. And if you miss the golden opportunity of watching the eggs hatch, don’t worry - you can watch pre-recorded time lapse videos any time you please.

Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Game Commission


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/17/2015

raised bed 

When my family moved into our new home the first thing we did-before the ink was even dry on the contract-was plan our vegetable garden. We were so excited to finally have enough space to grow a proper garden. The combination of the financial and health benefits of growing our own vegetables, and the fabulous opportunity to ingrain in our young children a love of the outdoors and desire to care for and grow their own food, was irresistible.

Here's a step-by-step guide to how we built our paved, raised vegetable garden for $197.

boxes 

Step One: Build A Box

The base of our raised vegetable garden is made up of three simple boxes, each 4 feet wide and 10 feet long. We decided on a 4-foot width to give us an arm's reach into the bed from either side, so we won't have to walk into the bed.

To build our boxes we needed the following items for each box (we built three in total):

• 1 6-foot 4-by-4-inch pine board
• 2 10-foot 2-by-8-inch pine boards
• 1 8-foot 2-by-8-inch pine board
• A box of 3-1/2-inch galvanized screws

First, we cut the 8-foot 2 x 8 in half with a circular skill saw to give us the ends of the bed. Then, we placed the 2 10-foot 2-by-8s in between the (now) 4-foot-long boards, creating a rectangle. The final piece of wood, the 4-by-4, we cut into four, 8-inch pieces and put one into each corner of the bed.

With a power drill, we attached the boards to the 8 in. pieces with the 3-1/2 inch galvanized screws, thereby securing each corner of the bed.

Step Two: Plan the Space

We laid each of our three boxes out in our planned area, spaced far enough apart to allow for room to comfortably kneel down between them. Then we marked the perimeter of the area we planned to pave with green landscape tape and dug it out to provide a level playing field for the pavers.

boxes 

Step Three: Prepping the Pavers

We lined the entire space with landscape edging, to provide a “wall” that would hold the pavers in place. Next, we placed landscape cloth down under each box to provide for drainage and protection against weeds (we didn't dig down into the soil, as recommended in this article on preparing your beds; because we live a block from the ocean, our soil is mostly sand).

boxes 

boxes

Step Four: Placing the Pavers

Before the pavers went down, we spread paver base over the area and smoothed it out. Next, we laid the pavers, which were mainly old bricks we salvaged from around the yard (we did run a little short and had to pick up about 100 new ones).

The final step was to cover the pavers with paver sand and brush it in to fill in all the gaps. We did this twice, letting the first batch settle overnight before applying the second.

 bricks

bricks

Step Five: Building the Garden

We picked up a cubic yard of compost at our local county-owned composting station for $10, and some fill dirt from a landscape company, mixed it all together and filled each bed.

Then came the fun part: planting! We planted some veggies from seed and others from seedlings and then sat back and waited to reap the fruits of our labor.

planting 

An inexact tally of our expenditure is as follows:

• Wood $50
• Nails $9
• Landscape cloth $14
• Landscape edging $27
• Bricks $35
• Soil $30
• Paver Base and Sand $32
• Total: $197

And here's the finished product about four months later. All it took was a circular saw, a hammer, $197 worth of supplies, and a fun family weekend. Can't you just smell all that healthy goodness?

garden 

Jennifer Tuohy writes about her DIY outdoor projects at home in South Carolina for The Home Depot. Jennifer's raised bed garden project is a fine example of how inexpensive DIY can literally change the landscape of a yard. For a look at some of the tools Jennifer used to build her garden beds, you can click here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



3/13/2015

camping in spring 

The sun’s shining, the birds are singing and your mind is already wandering to your local campsite. Spring is certainly an ideal time for camping, thanks to its mild weather and eye-catching foliage.

Still, despite the cheery weather, there are plenty of things that can go wrong on an outdoor expedition. Fortunately, we’ve made a list of the most common issues that campers have while adventuring in the spring. With the right amount of preparation, you can avoid them and have an epic adventure, whether you’re getting away for the weekend or spending months in the wild.

Pack Appropriately

Overpacking is a common mistake among camping newbies. Avoid an achy back by packing only what’s essential for a weekend or week away. This list typically includes the following:

• Tent that’s just big enough to house everyone
• Sleeping bag
• Mat to keep moisture out of your sleeping bag
• Change(s) of clothes
• Rain jacket and other gear in case of inclement weather
• Toiletries and toilet paper
• First-aid kit
• Cooking equipment
• Water bottle
• Food that’s lightweight and easy to transport, such as rice, tea, powdered milk, etc.
• Tools, including a flashlight

If you plan on transporting your camping gear in a small trailer hitched to your vehicle, you will also want to be careful that the weight of the trailer is suitable for the type of vehicle you're using. I've seen people driving down the road with seemingly very heavy trailers hitched to nothing but a sedan; it always looks like an accident waiting to happen.

Find Higher Ground

Springtime brings sun, sure, but it also brings some pesky showers. Keep this in mind as you choose your campsite – you don’t want to be sitting or sleeping at the bottom of a hill or mountain when rain starts to fall. You should also avoid bodies of water that might overflow with heavy rain. It might be a bit more work to climb to your campsite, but it’s worth it to stay warm and dry.

Know Your Foliage

Beautiful flowers burst forth in spring, but so do dangerous plants like poison ivy, oak and sumac. Campground staffers should be able to tell you whether or not these plants grow on the premises. If you’re trekking solo, be sure to study the look of each one of these plants and avoid anything that seems suspicious. In the off chance that your preparation fails you, have a soothing lotion like calamine on hand in order to calm the inflammation.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat …

There are plenty of dangers when there’s an open flame around, and your campsite will most likely center around one. Ensure the fire you build is well-contained within a ring of large rocks, for example, so that it doesn’t spread and hurt you or the surrounding natural area. You should also make sure that you have enough water to put it out when you’re finished cooking or telling ghost stories.

Even if you’re not planning on building a fire, you can still get burned while camping. That’s because the sun – even in the springtime – can cause damage to your skin. It’s easy to prevent, though: Slather on plenty of sunscreen, wear sunglasses and sunhats, and wear the longest sleeves and pants that you can handle in the spring heat.

Avoid Unfriendly Animals

After a winter’s worth of hibernation, many animals make their debut in springtime. This means you’ll have to be extra cautious as to avoid any run-ins with unwanted guests. The best way to do so is to leave your campsite as clean and neat as possible. Any open containers of food or trash receptacles will be bait for pesky raccoons. While they’re most likely to dig through your scraps, eat them and be gone, you’ll still have a huge mess to clean up.

Worst case scenario: Your campsite will attract bears, moose or other dangerous wildlife. That isn’t the ideal memory to take home from your first camping trip of the year, now is it?

Do you have any interesting camping stories or camping tips? Share them in the comments section below!

Image by Christopher Michel


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/6/2015

coral reef

As ocean temperatures rise, coral reefs are vulnerable to bleaching: a whitening process brought on by the loss of algae in coral tissue. The relationship between the two is vital, because coral gets its nutrients from algae. Without algae, the coral loses its greenness and health, which leaves it vulnerable to diseases that could ultimately cause mass outbreaks among marine life.

Most of this is due to dropping pH, informally known as ocean acidification, which is caused by carbon dioxide — brought on by pollution and industrial waste in the atmosphere. As acidification takes its toll, calcification rates drop around coral environments.

The Effects of Emissions and Acidification

Since 1800, one-third of all CO2 emissions have been absorbed by ocean waters. A large percentage of this has stemmed from burning fossil fuel, of which half the emissions have dissolved into the sea. As the ocean's CO2 levels rise, its pH drops, which leads to acidification. When the water becomes acidified, corals are deprived of calcium carbonate, which is vital to their skeletons; without calcium, the skeletons dissolve.

Thus far, emissions have lowered the ocean's pH from 8.179 to 8.069 units. This marks a 30 percent jump in acidification since the mid-18th century. If emissions aren't drastically reduced, it's only a matter of time before the ocean's pH drops to devastating lows for all of the world's coral ecosystems.

Declining calcification levels not only impact corals but also clams, snails and urchins, who form cells via calcium carbonate. Acidification deprives these organisms of essential, shell-building calcium supplies.

Emissions at their current rate could spawn enough CO2 to lower the sea to a pH of 7.8 by the end of this century. At that level, the ocean might lose its coral reefs entirely, which would have a devastating impact on many surrounding organisms.

Severe Events of Coral Reef Bleaching

Throughout Polynesia, moderate bleaching is typical during warmer months. But over the last two decades, the problem has been on the rise. In the National Park of American Samoa, abnormal spikes in bleaching rates were observed during 1994, 2002 and 2004.   

In 2005, an unprecedented bleaching event devastated the reefs of the Caribbean. It all started with rising temperatures around the Antilles, which drifted south and turned half the coral white within a single year. Based on year-by-year satellite imagery from the preceding two decades, scientists determined that the damage from this event exceeded all that had occurred in the prior 20 years put together.

However, warm water isn't always the culprit. During the winter of 2010, an uncharacteristically low drop in ocean temperatures around the Florida Keys resulted in a major loss of coral life. Since then, researchers have studied the impacts of unusually cold, La Niña-like ocean temperatures on the accretion of reef layers.

In the Panama Pacific, researchers gathered 6,750-year old coral to determine whether past changes in climate were responsible for a 2,500-year halt in reef accretion. Extracting the oldest core corals within the reefs, they determined cooler oceans, stronger downpour, and greater upwelling were all factors in the region some 4,100 years ago, around the time when reef growth went into hiatus.

What Humans Can Do to Stop Warming Sea Temperatures

From now to the end of this century, emission levels could largely depend on population numbers, energy consumption, energy sources and the types of industries that humans rely on for products and transportation.

It starts with each individual, where the amount of energy that's used to heat a home or fuel a car will ultimately contribute to CO2 levels in the air. By driving fewer vehicles, using green energy, and keeping homes better insulated for less heating/cooling consumption, we as humans can do our part to halt global warming trends before they make our world an unlivable place for flora and fauna alike. 

Image by stevebidmead.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



3/4/2015

Barn Swallows 

Daylight saving time is only a few days away and spring is right around the corner. The chickadees have been calling hey sweetie since late January preparing for the coming nesting season, while many migrants are already heading north - grackles, blackbirds, robins and phoebes are some of the earliest to depart their winter territories. Of the approximately 650 species of birds that nest in North America, the vast majority are migrants. Thus, ready or not, the birds are coming.

 YM

Spring migration fills backyard enthusiasts with the greatest joy as they watch new arrivals scouting out the best places to forage, feed, rest, and nest. However, for the birds themselves, this is one of the most physically stressful times of the year. Birds are constantly battling unpredictable weather, predation, the energetic demands of molting to breeding plumage, and the unknown availability of food and water. As gardeners we have a vital role to play in supporting our avian migrants. Studies have found that yards, especially in urban and suburban areas, have a significant impact on the nesting success rate and abundance of birds.

The following are some ideas to help support birds in the early spring:

Delay Spring Cleanup Often the first migrants to arrive are seed eaters. They are looking for remnant seeds in trees, on dead flowers, and beneath the leaf litter around your garden beds. Leave your gardens messy until late spring to help provide optimal foraging conditions. Explore YardMap for more ideas on growing seed-producing flowers for birds.

Birdhouses Birds begin scouting optimal nesting areas the minute they arrive in their mating territory. And for year-round residents, this process can begin as early as January or February. Put up your nest boxes as soon as possible so birds know their options for mating season.  For more information on appropriate birdhouses to use, visit Nestwatch.

Mud Puddles These are not just for kids, but birds too!  Mud puddles are a great way to provide both water and nesting material for birds. Robins, phoebes and swallows all use mud to build their nests. So, find a wet area in your yard, dig down about six inches, let the water fill in, and watch the birds celebrate!

Don't Use Pesticides or Herbicides As spring gets underway and soil temperatures reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit, earthworms, beetles, and insects become active. These organisms feed a multitude of birds and applying pesticides or herbicides to your lawn, gardens, shrubs, or trees will often kill these insects, leaving less food for the birds. Once birds are nesting, they rely heavily on insects--even seed eaters such as chickadees and nuthatches--for protein-packed snacks for their offspring. To learn more, explore this article: Freedom from Danger.

Following these simple strategies will help provide a welcoming and nourishing backyard for avian migrants in early spring. To learn more about how to prepare your property, explore our Learn pages. The birds are coming, are you ready?

For more information on supporting birds in your backyard, visit YardMap or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/24/2015

Have you noticed a lack of variety in local shopping options? As big businesses move in, the small ones get pushed out, which results in the somewhat stagnant local commerce options representing the interests of large brands – not your community.

A 2011 study conducted by the Maine Center for Economic Policy revealed that choosing to purchase goods and services from locally owned businesses impacted the local economy nearly twice as much as the same purchases made at regional or national retailers. Because the return is higher – as much as 76 percent, the study found – more local job, business and growth opportunities are created.

So what can you buy locally without breaking the bank?

local economy

1. Fresh Produce

Local farmers can offer fruit, vegetables and herbs straight from the source, guaranteeing your family has the freshest foods. Compared to produce found in supermarkets, produce from local farmers doesn’t travel long distances or incur additional costs to get from farm to table.

Vern Grubinger, a vegetable and berry specialist writing for the University of Vermont, noted that purchasing local produce maintains the genetic diversity of foods, which results in better nutrients, colors and flavors.

2. Clothing

It’s easy to walk into the nearest chain store to purchase your wardrobe, but do you know where each piece came from? Often, larger retailers outsource the production of clothing to other countries, which takes business away from the local community.

Instead, consider shopping at locally owned consignment or thrift stores for clothing and working with a local tailor or seamstress to ensure secondhand clothes fit you well.

3. Repair Services

Whether your heating and cooling system is on the fritz or you’re looking for ways to reduce monthly energy costs, opting for local repair services is beneficial to your home and wallet. Local home repair companies understand the factors impacting energy efficiency and offer local green options capable of saving you money while enhancing the sustainability of your home’s energy use.

4. Personal Care

When buying soap, lotion or hair products, can you recognize the ingredients? If you’re like most people, simply reading the ingredients can be challenging, let alone understanding why it’s used. Purchasing name-brand personal-care products might seem tempting, but you receive better quality and value when shopping locally. Shop at local stores for handmade soap, lotion and beauty products containing natural ingredients.

5. Florists

Ordering flowers online has become the norm for many people, as it’s quick and convenient. However, using online services takes your business away from local florists who offer fresh flowers, innovative arrangements and quick service. Unlike paying extra money for rapid delivery via online flower retailers, buying from local florists offers the same selection at a lower price while supporting local flower suppliers.

6. Books

Between Amazon and Kindle, buying books online is effortless. Unfortunately, choosing online book vendors does nothing for the local economy. Supplement online shopping with local booksellers and traders.

The best part is most local sellers offer cash or store credit for your old books, meaning you may even make a little extra cash for gently used tomes. Reduce clutter, get new-to-you books and support fellow members of your community when shopping for books locally.

7. Tax Services

It’s tempting to file your taxes online or trust a national tax-solution chain to complete forms, but saving a few dollars initially could lead to costly errors.

Instead, work with a local tax firm or accountant to ensure your household’s annual income, expenses and deductions are properly recorded before filing. In addition to supporting the local economy, hiring an accountant ensures you have professional representation in the event of an audit.

Become a Community Contributor

Everyone wants a thriving, vibrant community, but how and where you spend your hard-earned cash affects how much or little your community can grow. The next time you need to purchase goods or services, search for locally owned businesses instead of opting for large brands.

Image by PublicDomainArchive.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



2/21/2015

Concerns about the environment, energy efficiency and conservation stretch across the globe. The options available for research, analysis, safety and protection practically boggle the mind. The environmental discipline encompasses many natural sciences such as air, soil, water, wildlife, plants, historic or archaeological impacts, agriculture and more.

And when someone says “environmental audit,” you may easily picture everything from a Googled checklist to a team of archaeologists digging in the backyard on a multi-agency investigation.

So how does an average homeowner or small-business owner wade through all the information to find what they need? It helps to narrow the focus or break a multi-faceted audit into parts organized by science type.

Why Do You Need an Environmental Audit?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers guidelines for conducting an audit and says the first step is to determine why it’s needed. The two most common reasons are for compliance or some level of environmental management.

The person requesting the audit usually defines its purpose and scope, and then chooses whether to hire a consultant or do it themselves. Few audits are the same, but most follow general steps and protocol:

• Determine an objective
• Define the scope
• Gather data
• Monitor subject
• Report results
• Implement action

States, counties, cities, land trusts, wildlife associations, farm bureaus and natural-resource organizations offer different kinds of information that may be relevant to your objective and scope.

The data-gathering part of an audit often requires special equipment, creating a need for everything from radiation-detection kits and submersible cameras to devices that measure dangerous gasses and volatile-organic compounds (VOCs). For professional and do-it-yourself environmental auditors, look for testing and safety equipment, such as water-quality meters, to use on site.

If you’re a land developer seeking investment property, you most likely need an environmental assessment to ensure that a potential site doesn’t have characteristics that might impede progress. You don’t want contaminated soil, a building with asbestos or lead, dangerous floodplains, protected species, or an unknown historical or archaeological feature. The audit can be used for compliance — you can consider hiring a professional scientist, if not a team of them, to perform it.

If you own a home by the river, you might want to know why you saw dead fish in the nearby creek last summer and if there is any threat to area groundwater. You’ll find plenty of free information on your own, but a consultant will save you time. Consultancy options range from companies that charge thousands of dollars to conduct audits regularly to qualified individuals who review basic information and report verbally.

Follow a Logical Flow

Using the dead fish example, you might start an audit by checking with a reliable source to see what kills fish, such as a list at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dead fish can result from:

• Erosion
• Dirt deposit
• Excess nitrate and phosphorous
• Dissolved oxygen
• Water temperature
• Decaying materials

The next step is to make calls to the local river-protection association, water-management organization department and land trust downriver. Ask to see water-quality test results if they’re not accessible online and scan the local drinking water quality reports for any red flags. Research what exists upriver to see if any industrial or agricultural operations could be affecting water quality, knowingly or unknowingly.

The next typical audit steps involve:

Objective – determine why the fish died
Scope
– consider the small stretch of creek
Data – gather from multiple sources
Monitor – test water and watch fish
Report – make notes about what you learn
Action – clean debris periodically

You may learn that there are no major issues but find that low oxygen can kill fish during summer months. Warm water holds less oxygen than cool water, and it also encourages algae blooms and other plants that hog oxygen at night.

If the data reveals how built-up debris causes poor circulation and the accumulation of toxins, clear away the branches and leaves to free the creek’s flow, boost the water’s oxygen level and prevent more fish deaths.

Share Your Information

What you learn during any kind of environmental audit produces information that is helpful to others. Tell your neighbors how the local river association offers incentives for green infrastructure like rain barrels, green roofs, shade trees, porous pavement, and rooftop-runoff catchers.  

Ask if anyone wants to organize a volunteer-cleanup day and pass along the EPA’s list of ways to preserve healthy waters:

• Adopt a watershed
• Clear debris after a storm
• Join a stewardship program
• Stop or prevent pollutants
• Use water efficiently
• Bring back the water fountain

Large or small, collaboratively or independently, an environmental audit presents a challenging but fulfilling puzzle to solve. Audit results provide a valuable benchmark and lead to necessary corrections, enhanced protection and deeper education.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.












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