Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tree Thursday - Redberry Stopper

A great article from the Miami Herald!

By Kenneth Setzer
Fairchild Botanic Tropical Garden

If you are even slightly interested in native plants, you have heard of (and smelled) white stopper. It gives off a wonderfully musky scent, slightly reminiscent of skunk, but not offensive.

There are quite a few types of shrubs and small trees commonly called stoppers, and it can get a little confusing. There’s the fairly well-known white stopper ( Eugenia axillaris). Then there’s Spanish stopper ( E. foetida), Simpson’s stopper ( Myrcianthes fragrans—one of the most common in cultivation) and red stopper ( Eugenia rhombea). If you compare the botanical names, you’ll note Simpson’s stopper is not even in the same genus as the other stoppers, though if you go up one level to family, they are all members of the myrtle family ( Myrtaceae).

Rare among the stoppers is the intriguing redberry stopper ( Eugenia confusa), not to be confused with red stopper. Now the scientific nomenclature shines in its clarity; you’d never confuse confusa with rhombea.

Redberry stopper is surprisingly uncommon in cultivation. It is a small evergreen tree that grows to a compact 20 feet or so. Or it can be pruned and kept to shrub proportions. It flowers most heavily in spring and summer, producing clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers with yellow stamens. It’s distinguished a bit from the other stoppers by its extremely graceful and arching leaf drip tips, and its beige bark, much rougher than the gray bark of Simpson’s or Spanish stopper.

New leaves emerge reddish, turning green as they mature. True to its name, it produces small round berries, green at first, ripening to red. They naturally attract birds. If you prune the lower branches and encourage the redberry to grow as a tree, it takes up an amazingly small amount of space as its vertical growth is almost columnar. It would also make a perfect screening plant, border shrub or divider for privacy between yards if maintained as a shrub. Its slow-growing nature means you could even grow it in a large pot.

Its adaptability to different light conditions makes this stopper versatile for any yard. While it will grow denser in South Florida’s sunlight, it does perfectly well in shade. In fact, one gorgeous specimen at Fairchild is growing in fairly deep shade, surrounded and shaded by larger trees. Its leaves may grow larger in shady conditions, but it isn’t leggy or struggling for sun. My yard is full of shaded areas with limited horizontal space—redberry stopper is a perfect candidate for such difficult areas.

This native and endangered plant lives naturally in coastal hammocks of South Florida and the West Indies, where it is sometimes called ironwood. But what’s in a name, and why “stopper”?

The usual tale is that the fruit was eaten by Native Americans and early settlers (who also used its dense wood for implements) to “stop” intestinal distress, but I haven’t seen research to support this. One source gave the etymology of its use as a physical barrier, and therefore a “stopper.” We may never know.

Once established, drought-resistant redberry will do well in a variety of well-drained soil types, especially our alkaline soil. Redberry will be available at Fairchild’s Ramble, Nov. 8-10. See it for yourself in the garden in Plot 46, right outside the visitors’ center.

Kenneth Setzer is writer and editor at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sharp’s See-Through Solar Panels Used as Architectural Glass

David QuiltyFebruary 14, 2013

In a move that could soon make solar panels on homes and buildings the norm rather than the exception, Sharp has introduced new see-through solar panels that can be integrated invisibly as architectural glass.
According to a press release from Sharp, the new panels can be used in a conventional manner mounted on the roof but were primarily designed to be used as protective porch railings or as window glass. The semi-transparent black panels are lacking the metal frame found on typical panels and instead are constructed mainly of laminated glass filled with photovoltaic cells. They are each 4.5 feet wide by 3.2 feet tall and only 0.37 inches thick, which is much thinner than standard panels.
One downside? They have a maximum power output of only 95 watts with around 6.8 percent efficiency, which is far below the 20 percent efficiency being produced on today's modern solar panels. However, while they may not be as efficient (and I'm sure over time the efficiency will improve) they are semi-transparent, and thus can be integrated anywhere glass is used in construction. Sharp hopes to eventually integrate the panels directly with building materials so that any available glass surface can be converted into a power-generating solar panel.
If we could retrofit every high-rise building's standard windows with this solar panel glass, our buildings would each become its own power plant capable of generating at least a percentage of its energy needs. The new panels will be launched in Japan but no word yet on price nor availability dates in the U.S. Let's hope it sooner rather than later.
[Image from CNET]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

10 Ways to Attract and Enjoy Birds this Fall

Follow these simple steps to maximize the number and variety of birds living in your yard this autumn
09-07-2010 // NWF Staff

Autumn brings dramatic changes in the bird life of any North American backyard. As many of the feathered residents that visit your yard during summer go south, migrants from regions to the north will pass through. Some will make brief stopovers while others will spend the winter.
You can make the most of this seasonal avian passage by making some adjustments to your property that will attract greater numbers of different birds in the fall—and help them thrive. Consider the following ideas:
 1. Provide running water:
 The sound of running water in a birdbath or pond will be heard by migrating birds from some distance, and will draw them to the bath for a drink, and possibly a quick dip. Most migrants that visit birdbaths with running water eat insects. These include warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes and thrashers. In addition, the juveniles of summer resident birds are likely to spend more time at the pool before moving to more southern climes.
Tip: Running water can be created in a single pool birdbath by installing an electric mister or bubbler, available from bird supply stores. A small pump will move water in a multiple-tiered birdbath, causing the water to make a splashing noise as it recirculates from top to bottom.
2. Leave sugar water feeders out:
Don’t take down sugar water feeders as soon as local hummingbirds and orioles start leaving in the fall. There are huge numbers of hummingbirds and orioles that have spent the summer farther north; as they migrate through your area, they will recharge themselves at the feeders. And juvenile hummingbirds, the last to abandon nesting grounds, feed on sugar water long after their parents have gone south.
3. Clean out birdhouses:
Early fall is a good time to clean out and make necessary repairs to birdhouses in preparation for hosting species that roost during fall and winter. The old nests usually attract insects and parasites and should be removed before winter residents move in. In many areas, bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches and winter wrens may take up nightly residence in birdhouses to keep warm and safe.
4. Create brush piles:
Save your fall clippings of branches and twigs and pile them in a corner of the yard (where they will be less intrusive) to create cover for birds. Most birds that prefer habitat on the ground—such as dark-eyed juncos, tree sparrows and white-throated sparrows—will use brush piles for roosting at night and for protection from predators.
Tip: Fallen evergreen trees, placed along the border of the yard, create more cover that will last throughout the winter.
 5. Plant evergreens:
There is no better natural cover for birds in fall and winter than evergreens. Planted near feeders and birdbaths, they will attract migrants and provide cover (and thus increase the safety factor) for many birds after deciduous trees lose their leaves.
6. Increase the number of feeders:
Autumn is a good time to double the number and kinds of feeders you put out for the birds. Starting with the first cool fall days, the consumption of bird food will increase and continue to increase as the average daily temperatures drop.
Tip: To attract the greatest number and variety of birds, provide a variety of seed and suet feeders. Northern cardinals, for example, prefer tray feeders, where they can perch on a ledge, while chickadees are more adept at landing on small perches or clinging to wire netting that surrounds feeders. Other birds, including several species of sparrow, feed on or near the ground, while woodpeckers are drawn to suet hanging from tree trunks.

7. Move the action closer:
One of the main reasons for feeding birds is so that you can enjoy watching their behavior in a natural environment. If you move your bird feeders and birdbaths closer to the house, you can get close to the creatures without disturbing them.
 Tip: If there is not enough natural cover just outside the windows, plant some or place potted evergreens around the feeders and baths. The birds will adapt to being close to the house quickly.

8. Provide foods for insect eaters:
Many birds that frequent backyards will not eat seeds, but they will eat insects and fruits. Cedar waxwings, American robins, northern mockingbirds, some woodpeckers, and migrating thrushes, thrashers and tanagers will feed readily on chunks of apples, berries and jellies from containers. Bluebirds, robins, mockingbirds and some woodpeckers will eat live mealworms (available at pet supply stores) served in a tray feeder.
9. Bring bird sounds indoors:
With the arrival of cooler weather, people tend to close their doors and windows, blocking out the pleasant sounds of birds singing, scolding and chattering. If you like those sounds, consider installing a wireless baby monitoring device outside, and send the sounds of nature inside to a well-placed receiver.
10. Protect birds against collisions:
More birds collide with windows during fall than any other season of the year. Often migrating birds that are not familiar with the terrain will see the reflections of a woodland in a windowpane and fly right into it. If the reflection can be removed or muted with soap, netting, screening or by hanging streamers on the outside, the birds will veer away from it.

Tip: Whatever technique you use, do it on the outside of the pane. Pulling drapes inside will enhance the reflection on the outside. Pasting silhouettes of birds of prey, such as hawks and owls, may also help deter flying birds.

Adapted from "Avian-Attractions " by George Harrison, National Wildlife , October/November 2003.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

16 Surprising Uses for Pencils & Erasers

Around the House.
1. Ease a New Key into a Lock. Is your new key being stubborn. Rub a pencil eraser along the key’s teeth and the graphite should help ease it in.
2. Repel Moths. Pencil shavings are a great moth deterrent. Keep your sweaters hole-free  by placing a small cloth bag filled with pencil shavings in your closet.
3. Boost Phone Quality. Here’s an amazing tip: improve your cordless landline’s call clarity by removing the dust in the phone charger cradle. Use a pencil eraser on the metal squares.
4. Fix a Door. Here’s one the few tips that actually involves writing! To determine where your (wooden) door is stuck, scribble up and down the latch edge. Close and open the door, and check for the areas where the pencil has smudged.
Fashion, Beauty & Health.
5. Use an Eraser as a Makeshift Earring Back. Lost your earring back? Make a replacement with an eraser. As an added bonus, an eraser is easier on your skin than earring backs that contain nickel.
6. Roll Up a Toothpaste Tube. Don’t give up on that nearly-empty tube of toothpaste — roll the tube with a pencil to get every last bit of it.
7. Make a Splint in a Bind. If you’ve fractured a finger far away from a doctor, a pencil and a plastic milk jug can be used in a bind. Just get medical care as soon as you can!
8. Clean a Muddy Shoe. Boots can get muddy, and the million little treads can be a pain to clean. Ease the pain with the help of a pencil, both the eraser end and the sharp end, to get that gunk out.
9. Remove Sticker Gunk. You don’t need any special cleaners to remove sticker gunk — just rub a pencil eraser along the affected area to remove it.
10. Remove Crayon from Walls. So simple! Use a regular pencil eraser to remove crayon markings from a wall.
11. Get Rid of Scuff Marks on Vinyl Floors. Similarly, erasers work wonders on vinyl floor scuff marks.
12. Clean Keyboards & Cell Phones. Clean your electronics without damaging them with a pencil eraser.
More Great Uses.
13. Mend a Stubborn Zipper. Is there anything more frustrating than a stuck zipper?! Don’t worry, though, it won’t be a problem for long! Use your trusty pencil to solve it — just rub the eraser along the teeth of the zipper and it should lubricate it enough to work again.
14. Check if a Houseplant Needs Watering. Unsure if your houseplant is thirsty? Check how the soil is doing with a pencil.
15. Stop Tilted Picture Frames. Never have a tilted frame again with this clever trick: glue a few small pieces of an eraser to the bottom corners of the back of the frame.
16. Organize Sewing Kit. Safely store pins and needles in your sewing box with an eraser.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Plant a Tree, Pocket $57,000

In South Florida the dry season just began so unless you are committed to watering your tree daily for a while, it might be best to hold off until about April to plant.  But here’s something to think about when you are planting trees!


We often underestimate the value — to the environment and to our pocketbooks — of trees. Spring is a great time to plant a new tree.

By Dan Shapley
"The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, 'In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!'"
— John F. Kennedy
Planting trees is one of the most basic of environmental acts. It embraces the beauty of nature, helps clean the environment from the moment of planting forward, and sets one's mind on the well-being of future generations.
It also happens to be a smart economic decision. Studies show that trees increase property values and can significantly reduce heating and cooling costs if placed carefully. They also help to reduce air pollution, improve soil and water quality and shield living areas from noisy neighbors — whether those neighbors are people, school playgrounds or highways. The evidence:
  • Strategically planted, trees can reduce home energy use by as much as 30%. The Arbor Day Foundation recommends planting deciduous trees on the east and west sides of your home to provide shade in the summer, but allow sunlight through in the winter. Plant evergreen trees to the north and northwest to shield your home from cold winter winds without blocking winter sunlight.
  • Trees raise property values for the entire neighborhood; a 2010 Forest Service study estimated that "a neighborhood tree growing along the public right-of-way added an average of $12,828 to the combined value of all houses within 100 feet."
  • In 1985 dollars, the Forest Service estimated the value of an individual tree at $273 annually — well over $57,000 over its lifetime. The estimate includes the value of climate control, soil erosion and stormwater management, wildlife shelter and air pollution reduction.
Early spring and late fall, when the climate is moderate and trees are dormant, tend to be the easiest times to successfully plant trees. Look for offers of free and low-cost seedlings from local soil and water conservation districts, municipalities and environmental groups. Those little trees will take years to reach maturity, but that's part of the satisfaction; you can watch your investment — in natural beauty and dollars — grow.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

11 Clever Uses for Bubble Wrap

Unpacking? Receiving a lot of packages? Whatever the reason you’ve got plenty of bubble wrap around, don’t just toss it. Resist the urge to pop the bubbles, because there are plenty of clever ways to put bubble wrap to use. Click through to check out some ideas.

Around the House.
1. Insulate Drafty Windows. Here’s any easy fix for keeping your home warm and your energy bill down this winter: use bubble wrap! Spray some water onto the window and stick the bubble wrap, flat side facing you, on it. It’s an especially good trick for windows where you love the natural light, but also want your privacy.
2. Protect Walls. Do you have a door that hits a wall when it’s opened? Protect the wall from damage by putting a little bubble wrap where the handle hits it.
3. Protect Your Car Windshield in the Winter. When the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, the last thing you want to do in the morning is get all that snow and frost off your windshield. With a little bubble wrap in place before a winter storm, though, you won’t have to worry — not only will it insulate the windshield and prevent frost from forming, but it’ll also make snow removal a cinch.

More Great Uses.
4. Hold the Shape of Handbags and Purses If you’re not using a bag regularly, its shape can begin to sag. Keep it upright by lining the inside with bubble wrap.
5. Use as Sleeping Bag Padding. I love camping, until it comes time to actually sleep — the hard ground is no match for a comfy bed. No need to run out and by pricy pads — just save up some bubble wrap to place under your sleeping bag the next time you’re out in nature.
6. Protect Plants. Winter’s coming, and some of your outdoor container plants probably need some protection from the frost. Easily accomplish that by wrapping the container with bubble wrap and using string or tape to hold it in place. The soil will be warm all winter long!
7. Take on Shopping Trips and Vacations. Flea market maven? Thrift store junkie? If you love collecting delicate, breakable objects, bringing bubble wrap with you is a great way to securely bring your treasures home. You can’t be certain a seller will have any, after all. Bringing it along on vacation is a great idea, too, because nobody wants a snow globe to break in their luggage!

Food & Cooking.
8. Protect Delicate Produce. Peaches, pears, tomatoes and other delicate produce need not go to waste. Line your fruit bowl/crisper with bubble wrap to cushion them.
9. Keep Groceries Cold. Long trip home and don’t want the ice cream to melt? Line your reusable grocery bag with bubble wrap to insulate your food.
10. Keep Your Drink Cold or Warm in the car. Line your car’s cupholder with bubble wrap to keep your drink insulated.
11. Travel with Perishable Foods. Long drive on Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re tasked with making a hot appetizer? A friend asks you to bring a regional favorite back from your vacation, but you don’t want it to thaw or spoil? Just use bubble wrap to keep the food insulated

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Getting rid of unused Medications

How many of you have a medicine cabinet full of old, expired or just unwanted medications?  What is the best way to get rid of them?  Don’t flush them down the toilet because the drugs enter our water system that way and many of them aren’t removed during the water treatment system.  Since the late 1990s, the science community has recognized that pharmaceuticals, especially oral contraceptives, are found in sewage water and are potentially contaminating drinking water.  Some of these drugs enter through our waste but we don’t want to compound the problem by flushing unwanted medications down the toilets. 

You can go through a pretty tedious process of crushing the pills and mixing them with coffee grounds or cat litter and putting them in the trash but there are better ways. 

National Take Back Days
Take advantage of community drug take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government's household trash and recycling service (see blue pages in phone book) to see if a take-back program is available in your community. The Drug Enforcement Administration, working with state and local law enforcement agencies, is sponsoring National Prescription Drug Take Back Days6 throughout the United States.

A few weeks ago while shopping; I came across TakeAway Environment Return System (there may be other such products on the market that I’m unaware of).  I believe it was about $4 and includes a prepaid envelop that you use to mail your unwanted medications (even OTC) to this company and they dispose of them properly.  You can’t mail controlled substances but most everything else they will accept.  There may be similar products on the market.  This company does make drop off boxes for pharmacies but I haven’t seen any yet.  I think it’s a great concept for those of us that don’t usually make it to the Take Back Days. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Solar Panels Go Mainstream!

IKEA starts selling solar panels for homes

September 30, 2013

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish flat-pack furniture giant IKEA will start selling residential solar panels at its stores in Britain, the first step in its plan to bring renewable energy to the mainstream market worldwide.

The company started selling solar panels made by China's Hanergy in its store in Southampton on Monday. It will sell them in the rest of Britain in coming months, it said.

A standard, all-black 3.36 kilowatt system for a semi-detached home will cost 5,700 British pounds ($9,200) and will include an in-store consultation and design service as well as installation, maintenance and energy monitoring service.

"In the past few years the prices on solar panels have dropped, so it's a really good price now," IKEA Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard told The Associated Press. "It's the right time to go for the consumers."

The solar panel investment will be paid off in about seven years for an average home owner in Britain, Howard said.

"If you are going to be in your house that long, your energy will be free after seven years," he said.

Some retailers in the U.S., including the Home Depot and Lowe's, already sell solar panels. But in other parts of the world, consumers often have to research a myriad specialist firms before making a purchase.

Howard said IKEA aims to launch the products in other countries eventually. It picked Britain as its test market because it has the right combination of mid-level electricity prices and government-sponsored financial incentives that make investing in solar energy attractive to consumers.

"This is a market by market decision," he said.

The U.K. government offers private solar panel owners the opportunity to sell back electricity to the grid on days when they have surplus production and has a financing plan for solar power investments, which means residents can buy a system for no upfront cost and pay it off gradually.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tree Thursday -- Watch Why Do Autumn Leaves Change Color? - Instant Egghead

Lots of misconceptions on why leaves change colors but here's the real reason ---

Scientific American editor Mark Fischetti explains how the leaves of deciduous trees perform their annual chameleon act, changing from various shades of green to hues of bronze, orange and brilliant red.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

National Costume Swap Day!

A costume swap is a great first step in greening Halloween.  Swapping half the costumes kids wear at Halloween would reduce landfill waste by 6,250 tons, the weight of 2,500 mid-size cars!  It’s not too late to organize one in your neighborhood!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Monday, October 7, 2013

General ideas for having a Green Halloween

I’m glad my parents didn’t know about the Halloween fairy!  J

It’s really not about the candy. Kids have fun when their parents get involved and have fun themselves. Part of being green is focusing on people instead of things, so try to reduce the amount of ‘things’ you incorporate into your Halloween by increasing the focus on fun. Here are some ideas for making your Green Halloween fun for your kids and for you:
  • Make a big deal of your child’s costume – getting dressed, taking pictures, etc.
  • Have a neighborhood party and forgo trick-or-treating all together. Ask your child’s school to consider making their Halloween celebration green as well.
  • Have a charity-themed party. Instead of giving out prizes for games, allow children to pick from a list of charities and make a donation in their name.
  • Have a Halloween gratitude party. Deliver handmade cards to your local farmer and take a tour of his/her field. Arrange before hand for each child to bring a mini pumpkin home.
  • Talk to your neighbors about what they will be giving away in advance. One option is to trick-or-treat only at homes where you know Green Halloween items will be passed out.
  • Show your Green by displaying your own Green Halloween sign and ask your Green Halloween neighbors to do the same. Turn looking for the signs into a hunt for treasures. The Green Halloween sign on your own door will announce to trick-or-treaters that they’re in for a great surprise!
  • Give kids a full, healthy meal before they go out trick-or-treating so they are not hungry.
  • Talk to your kids about what is in candy and why it is not healthy. Ask them to come up with creative, kid and Earth-friendly alternatives that your own family can hand out and feel good about.
  • When trick-or-treaters come to your door, shout, “Happy Hallo-green!!!

If your child does collect candy:

  • Invite the Halloween Fairy to come to your home. Tell your child a story, or use our book to talk about how the Halloween fairy turns candy into magic fairy dust and so needs as much candy as she can get her hands on. Explain that if a child leaves his bag of candy outside on the porch, the fairy will gladly come to take the candy, and because she will be so grateful for the help with her fairy-dust-making, she’ll leave in the candy’s place a very special gift. Some parents make the exchange while their child is brushing their teeth, others wait until their child is asleep. Either way, make a big deal of it! Act surprised! You may also want to consider letting your child keep a small amount of candy and leaving the rest out for the fairy. Please don’t donate your leftover sweets to charity, though. Other people’s kids don’t need the candy either.
  • Have a candy trade: let your kids trade their candy towards other little gifts or give them a “pumpkin point” for each piece of candy they collect. Use pumpkin points to “buy” a toy or do a special activity with your child.
  • Let them choose a limited amount of candy to eat (for example, one piece for each year your child is old). In many cities, the leftover candy can be recycled and turned into compost! Just be sure to remove candy from its wrapper first.
Tip for parents: Model healthy choices. Remember that your children look to you for cues. When you take good care of yourself, others and the planet, your child is bound to follow in your footsteps. When you show your children that having a Green Halloween can be just as fun (if not more so) than one that is not-so-healthy, your children will be more likely to go along with the changes and may find themselves loving every minute of it.