gardening

Things My Mother Taught Me

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By Lina Younes

As I look back at my relationship with my Mom over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve become an environmentalist largely due to the values that she instilled in me as a child. The love of nature, the interest in protecting wildlife, especially birds, the appreciation for flowering plants are some of the things that my mother taught me, not only in words, but through her actions. Lina's-Robin#

As far as I can remember, we always had flowering plants in the garden and indoor house plants as well. For many years, my mother had birdfeeders in our back yard. Given the fact that we lived in Puerto Rico where we enjoy summer-like weather all year round, our home definitely felt like a tropical oasis.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, my parents, both my grandmothers, and even great grandmother, were fortunate to have a green thumb. It seemed that anything they planted bloomed easily and flourished. I’ve tried to replicate their gardening skills at home as best as possible. I like to joke that our family’s green thumb seems to have skipped a generation in my case.

Nonetheless, I still try to create a welcoming natural environment around my home and a green environment indoors as well.

Lina's-Maple#So as we get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day,  I would like to thank my Mother for what she has taught me. I hope that I will transmit those teachings to my children so they will also appreciate nature and protect the environment. This Mother’s Day, as we have done during similar celebrations, we’ll probably go to Brookside Gardens. I promise I’ll take pictures.

Do you have any special plans for Mother’s Day? We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Gift That Keeps On Giving

By Lina Younes

I’ve always been fascinated with the change of seasons. I marvel at how the bare branches of seemingly lifeless trees and bushes come to life overnight. It’s part of the beauty of nature that never ceases to amaze me.


Just recently I was looking at my garden’s revival. While the garden itself will definitely need some attention in the coming weeks, there is still a natural beauty even in its current status. That’s how I focused on the tree that my father, youngest daughter and I planted on Earth Day six years ago. The ornamental pear tree that was barely four feet high has grown to more than fifteen feet tall. It stands tall, healthy, and proud in my garden.

I believe that tree-planting is a great way to instill in children the value of protecting our environment. The process of selecting the tree, preparing the soil, planting the tree, watering it regularly and watching it grow and thrive is a unique experience that benefits all involved. Furthermore, as the tree begins to grow, it also provides shade and improves air quality. Basically, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Even today, as I look at my tree I relive those memories. I still have the vivid images in my mind of the intergenerational experience of seeing my father, my youngest daughter and I working in the garden. I look at my garden and see many of the flowering plants that he helped me plant. He has always loved gardening. Even as he no longer has the agility to do some gardening in the same manner he did many years ago, he still enjoys it. Together, we still can share the experience.

Are you planning to do some gardening around your home this weekend? I’m including some tips that may help you keep your garden waste-free.  Do you have any tips you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spring Time to Prep the Garden!

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Gina Snyder

The crocuses and birds have been greeting me in the mornings this month. That must mean spring is here, although the wind can still seem like the beginning of March! But the warmth of the sun and the flowers springing up remind us all that it’s time to spruce up for spring.

Even though it’s not quite warm enough to plant outside yet, there are some timely tasks you can do now to get your yard ready and help satisfy your gardening urges. The first thing to do is give your garden organics by visiting your local compost center.

Many towns have a compost center, and in my town, the compost center is open again as of the first weekend in April. There you can fill some buckets with finished compost to bring back home and enrich your gardens.
If you don’t compost in your own yard, you can also take advantage of the compost center by bringing any leftover leaves from last year and any windfalls from the winter – broken branches, downed sticks – and drop these off to be composted and mulched.

For vegetable gardens, add the new compost to the top of the existing soil without tilling it in. Annual tilling is not recommended as it disturbs the natural and beneficial work of organisms in your soil. When it is warm enough, plant your seeds and seedlings in the new topsoil and as they grow, their roots will extend into the naturally aerated existing soil.

Gina collects wood chip mulch at her local compost center

Chipped wood is also available at my compost center for mulching. When I mulch, a couple of layers of newspapers between my soil and mulch provide an added barrier to weeds while still allowing the rain to penetrate to the soil.

I have found wood chips decompose more slowly than some other mulches, and they can be quite effective in helping establish trees and native plants, especially in areas that are hot and sunny.

Good, rich organic compost and mulch make for a great combination to keep your yard and garden healthy, and help your soil retain moisture when conditions get hot and dry. Now is the time to get the garden ready and give it extra hardiness as we head into summer.

About the author: Gina Snyder works in the Office of Environmental and Compliance Assistance at EPA New England and has been a volunteer river monitor on the Ipswich River, where she also picks up trash every time she monitors the water quality.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New England Fairy Houses

By Amy Miller

The hundreds of little girls prancing around historic Portsmouth in pink tutus and silvery fairy wings were adorable. Of course. And even the mothers that put a splotch of glitter on their cheeks were endearing. But what really warmed my heart were the men – police officers? – directing traffic in flowing princess skirts and organdy wings.

For eight years, Portsmouth has welcomed the community for a weekend of viewing incredibly artful fairy houses. Fairy houses, for the uninformed, are essentially tiny houses made of twigs, leaves, pinecones or whatever else you find in the woods, the yard, in nature. And they are the residences of fairies.

The Fairy House Tour invited visitors to tour five dozen abodes tucked under maples, hidden among tomato plants, blooming from Prescott Park’s flower beds and sitting in the pathways of historic Strawbery Banke. Thousands of people came to see the diminutive garden center, the tea room, the yarn store, the dress shop and so on.

The fairy house craze has been a New England tradition for decades or longer. But in the last few years it has taken off as a way to encourage kids to be outside and enjoying nature.

Author Tracey Kane of New Hampshire set the tradition on fire and inspired the Portsmouth tour after her book “Fair Houses” came out about a decade ago. Her website suggests building fairy houses as an antidote for the so-called “nature-deficit disorder” affecting kids these days.

Nature deficit disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in 2005, refers to the trend of children spending less time outdoors. After traveling the country, Louv concluded children are spending more time on either organized sports or inside on screens. He partly blames a culture of fear among parents that he says is exacerbated by the media.

Although my 10-year-old son watches nowhere near the average amount of TV, and neither of us is particularly fearful of the outdoors or the people you find there, he was predictably sullen about going to the land of girls in tutus. He was lured by his 9-year-old female cousin and the boats I promised he’d see from Prescott Park.

Still, when we got to the part where you build your own, everything changed. Benjamin’s testosterone (culturally derived training?) kicked in and he erected a construction site. A twig log here, a milkweed stalk there and he was off hunting the woods for more building materials.

And so it seems, the pull of nature once again is hard for a child to resist. Given half a chance.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Plants and Fat Wallets: Water Conservation Tips for the Summer

By Elisa Hyder

After all the hard work during the spring, proper watering can help relieve some of summer’s challenges to a flourishing outdoor lawn and garden.  However, outdoor watering can easily turn into wasted watering if not done properly. Residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than 7 billion gallons of water each day, and it is estimated that up to 50% of this water is wasted due to overwatering. That is 3.5 billion gallons of water down the drain every day, along with money spent for the water bill.

Overwatering draws down our water resources and your wallet, and it may also affect your beautiful plants. Overwatering may also lead to drooping or wilting plants and stunted growth.  Plants need a very specific amount of water for the best growth results, depending on weather and soil conditions.

There are lots of ways to save money and water when using water outside.  Always make sure that the water you are using is going towards the plants, not your house walls or sidewalks. Also, water your plants earlier in the morning or later in the evening; if done in the early afternoon, most of the water is lost to evaporation.  You can also think about rainwater harvesting like rain barrels as a source of water for your plants.  Check out our new video about rain barrels on youtube!

[youtube width=”400″ height=”300″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSBKqFrxoZA[/youtube]

Do you know just how much water to give your plants? It can be hard to track what’s going on with the weather and soil. But, now it can be a lot easier. There are technologies out there that can handle all of the effort.

Some of these technologies include irrigation controllers that, with proper programming, can do wonders for your garden and your water bill. Instead of using a clock or preset schedule, they work like a thermostat for your sprinkler system. There are access points that can be plugged into either an Internet router or personal computer which communicates wirelessly with the controllers.

Click for more about WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controllers

Click for more about WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controllers

So, the controllers are able to use the Internet to check local weather and landscape conditions to adjust the watering schedule. These controllers are designed to make sprinkler systems more efficient. With them, you can enjoy a beautiful outdoor lawn and garden while keeping some money in your pocket. In fact, it is estimated that they can help you save up to 40% on your water bills.

How are you watering your garden efficiently this summer?  For more tips on more efficient outdoor water use and technologies, visit http://www.epa.gov/watersense/ and check out WaterSense on Facebook and Twitter.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Environmental Expression

Last summer a group of inner city kids in Chicago had a cool learning experience when they took part in summer camp activities that included gardening, exploring nature, understanding conservation, and the importance of environmental awareness.

They expressed an interest in environmental stewardship through writing about the projects they participated in. These are some of the words they used to describe their connection with the environment. 

What words would you use to describe your connection with your environment? 

Yvonne Gonzalez recently finished an internship with the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago. She currently works at EPA in Washington, DC in the Chemicals Control Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Outdoor Activities for Better Grades

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

As I was watching one of the morning shows covering the Olympics Games this week, I saw a feature story about a primary school in England that had incorporated cooking classes into the curriculum. The intention was not to produce future chefs, although many of the students had become quite skilled in the culinary arts. The objective was to get children outdoors, to teach them about gardening, to make them aware of where food comes from, and how eating fresh food makes them healthier. While their culinary talents were an added bonus, the program pointed out to many positive outcomes. The part that caught my attention was when the reporter asked the schoolmaster if there had been an improvement in their overall grades in traditional classes. The school master answered with an emphatic “yes!”

Many of the issues highlighted in the London school were similar to First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move which focuses on fighting childhood obesity by improving access to healthy food in schools and in the home and by increasing physical activity. I would take the benefits of this program one step further. How about increasing opportunities for children to have healthy outdoor activities? How about exposing children to nature? What would be the impact on children’s health and knowledge?

In fact, there have been several small studies which show a correlation between environmental education and improved student achievement and success in the sciences. The studies indicate how hands-on learning experiences through outdoor or environmental education enhance problem-solving skills, improved performance in the sciences while fostering overall environmental literacy and stewardship. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

So, while we still might have time off with the kids during the remaining summer vacation, why not try engaging our kids in some outdoor activities away from the TV? What do you think?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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2 Flower Pots, 4 Herbs, and My Pick 5 for the Environment

By Jessica Orquina

When I was growing up we always had a garden – rows of vegetables and herbs to eat throughout the summer. I remember picking fresh tomatoes, corn, or herbs to help make dinner.

Balcony flower pot herb gardenNow, I live in an eight story condominium building surrounded by a paved-over world of sidewalks and asphalt in Washington, DC. While I enjoy the culture, energy, and convenience of living in the city, I sometimes miss the connection to nature I had during my childhood. I try to shop at farmers’ markets whenever I can. It is not quite the same as picking a fresh vegetable from my own garden, but it’s close. And I started planting a small garden in flower pots on my apartment balcony. Last year I had chives and basil. This year my chive plant returned and I’ve added a new basil plant, oregano, and parsley. It’s tiny, but it’s my patch of green. Next year I’ll add a few more plants (maybe even tomatoes).

At EPA I work in communications. My daily tasks focus on sharing information with the public about protecting the environment. But, I also do things in my everyday life – like planting my small garden (greenscaping), saving water, using less energy, recycling, and taking public transportation – to reduce my impact on the planet. These are my Pick 5 – the simple actions I take every day to make a difference.

You can make a difference too! Join our Pick 5 for the Environment and learn how to make your actions count! Share your Pick 5 in the comments below.

About the author: Jessica Orquina works in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education as the social media lead for the agency. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a public affairs specialist at another federal agency and is a former military and commercial airline pilot. She lives, works, and writes in Washington, DC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Early Blooms and Bugs

By Lina Younes

Due to the mild spring, many bulbs and flowering plants have been blooming early.

In our area, forsythia and bulbs were the first to make their appearance. Azalea bushes that normally bloom around Mother’s Day already peaked several weeks ago. Even rose bushes have some breathtaking flowers earlier than usual. As I was taking a walk, I couldn’t resist capturing the moment through some pictures which I’m sharing with you.

Unseasonably mild temperatures have also ushered the early arrival of other living creatures to our neighborhoods: bugs. While we welcome beneficial insects, especially pollinators such as butterflies and bees, we will not be putting out the welcoming mat for pests such as ants, termites, ticks and mosquitoes. Special measures will be needed to control biting insects that can transmit diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Our web pages indicate which insect repellents are most effective in controlling specific biting insects. When using insect repellents or any pesticide products, always remember to read the label first.

So, as you’re getting your garden ready for the planting season, adopt greenscaping practices to attract beneficial insects. By planting the right native trees, plants and shrubs you’ll create an inviting environment for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Any gardening projects in the making? Please share your ideas with us.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Planning A Summer Garden

By Alice Kaufman

Seed catalogs are piling up around the house. It’s that season when my attentions turn to spring, then to summer’s bounty. I grow just enough of the things our family likes but leave the veggies that take a lot of land to local farmers –things like corn and potatoes.

I grow a salsa garden, a salad garden and a pesto garden. That means I grow the ingredients to make salsa, salads and pesto: tomatoes, peppers of various colors, shades and hotness, lettuce, basil and herbs. I plant obscure and familiar varieties of lettuce. Every time my husband eats a garden salad he says “I feel like I am eating the sun.”

I meticulously label each row of tomatoes so when it’s time to harvest, I know what I’m eating. Funny, though, I am never sure whether I am eating an Early Girl or Pink Beauty by time it goes from basket to summer table. When I pick these tomatoes they are still full of the sun’s heat which makes them that much juicier to eat.

Backyard gardeners learn to share their plots with wildlife. Bunnies nibble on early greens, woodchucks eat everything if I’m not careful, and birds love blueberries. The neighbor’s chickens have a knack for filing in to feast the day before I would have picked the tomatoes. I’m always torn about how aggressive to be in keeping critters out. My master gardener friend plants a row of veggies for the critters and harvests inner rows for her family.

This year I can choose from a broader range of varieties For the first time in more than 20 years the USDA redrew the Plant Hardiness Zone map, based on national warming trends. My town in Massachusetts is now in Zone 6. This map is the gardener’s Bible about what varieties of shrubs and plants can be grown given certain climate limitations. Kim Kaplan of the USDA said the agency isn’t forecasting a dire message about climate change. She says the map is not scientific evidence of climate warming since the map is simply based on the coldest days of the year.

But Mainers are excited to try varieties of rhododendrons that would surely have perished in winter’s freeze. And Tucson gardeners report daffodils blooming earlier. Nebraskans are pondering peaches and apricots. For me, the big question is whether I should try growing figs. Or maybe kiwi?

About the author: Alice Kaufman works in EPA’s Boston office. She loves to travel, is an avid backcountry hiker, and frequently tromps through Thoreau’s woods in her home town with her husband and kids, and Watson, her mischievous Golden Retriever.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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