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Composting – Plain and Simple

by, Liz Rutledge

The official definition of “Composting” sounds, well, pretty gross.

According to Dictionary.com, composting is:

noun

a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. A composition; compound.

verb (used with object)

to use in compost; make compost of:to compost manure and kitchen scraps.to apply compost to (soil).

verb (used without object)

to make compost:Shredded leaves will compost easily.

But, here’s what I’ll tell you…Mother Nature has her way. Naturally, bio-degradables break down, get eaten, processed and regurgitated as amazingly nutrient-rich stuff.

If you compost, your contribution to the landfill will decrease DRAMATICALLY. And, thanks to city-wide composting programs like the one in Denver, it’s super easy. If you don’t have such services, perhaps you can ask your landlord or apartment complex to set up a small tumbler composter – reducing the impact space-wise and reducing nasty smells, waste to the landfill and more!’

A fellow green thumb contributed this fantastic guide to composting if you want to get started. Check out Kevin Rodrigues’ article on How to make your own Compost.

Raised garden beds recently installed at Newport Street Retreat by Denver Scout Troop 62

This week, Sustainable Three will be setting up composting at Newport Street Retreat in Denver (home of Sustainable Three). Now that they have raised garden beds, thanks to Denver Boy Scout Troop 62, they will have beautiful vegetation growing to help support their Dinner Church on Thursdays. Who knows what this will grow into, but they will need a composting system for peelings, leaves and other garden waste. That will, in turn, become nourishment that will go back into the garden.

Watch for my blog series on composting in the coming weeks!

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More Monarchs!

Our second morning in Valle de Bravo, we got up again at 7:00 and went out to the patio for a quick buffet breakfast at 8:30. 

Pablo and Colorado hard at work

We were back on the bus and headed to Piedra Herrada Butterfly Reserve.  My Horse was named Colorado (coincidentally, as I’m from there) and his handler was Pablo…a hard working man who did his very best to motivate the horse up the steep hill.

Monarchs clustered together in droves

This area of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere was more like what I expected from seeing the documentary. Thousands and thousands of butterflies clustered in the trees in a most magical way.

One of our guides, Carlos, is a Biology graduate student who provided us these great links to more details about the flora and fauna in the Valle de Bravo region:

http://www.iies.unam.mx/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Guia-Plantas-Mariposa-Monarca.pdf

https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/577/57707304.pdf

http://132.248.172.3/comunicacion-cientifica/materiales-%20disponibles/guias/

https://www.naturalista.mx/guides/5728?page=1

We need to be planting butterfly-friendly flora to help these incredible creatures survive and thrive.

Lunch was a unique experience at roadside restaurant La Cabana del Oso (Home of the Bear)….. Seta Mushroom Soup, Squash Blossom Quesadillas and rice with agua minerale.

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Mariposa, Mariposa, Will You Marry Me?

Monarch Butterfly in Valle de Bravo

Our next morning was Valentine’s Day and we were headed to the butterfly sanctuary. 

When my children were little and taking Music Together classes and watching “Dora the Explorer”, I heard this folk tale about a butterfly, “La Mariposa”, in which animals enamored by the butterfly would say “Mariposa, Mariposa, will you marry me?” (There’s a bilingual children’s book you can check out that tells the story HERE if you’re interested). That sing-songy phrase was in my mind as we headed to see the butterflies.

We got up at 7:00 and then were out in the patio area of the restaurant by 8:00a.m. for a buffet breakfast of fruit, granola, fresh squeezed juices, fresh hot coffee, and waffles.  By 9:00, we were boarded in the bus and on our way to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.

The path to the monarchs
My guide on this journey, Francisco

It took about an hour and a half to reach the reserve.  Once there, we paid to pee and then were assigned our horses.  My horse for the day was named “Rosito” and his handler was Francisco.  The handlers lead the horses up a two mile trail (going up a few hundred metres) to a clearing where we saw thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering around.  Trotting along the rocky, dirt path, we were in a flow of orange and black flitting. 

Monarchs enjoying the sun rays

Our guides said they had never seen so many just flying around like that.  After a lovely, long rest enjoying the Monarchs, we remounted our horses and continued up the mountain to a trail where we dismounted our horses and hiked down and over to a most amazing viewing spot.

Taking a Mindful Moment with the Monarchs

The butterflies, clinging like barnacles on the tall, old growth forest trees blended in in perfect camouflage, while others fluttered around, some seeking water in the river below and some seeking nectar in the salvia.

Monarchs clinging like barnacles to an old growth tree

We can help the monarchs with their survival, growth, migration and breeding by planting milkweed, tithonia, salvia, rabbit brush.  Here are 10 suggestions of flora to plant to help and attract butterflies:

http://www.costafarms.com/get-growing/slideshow/top-plants-to-attract-butterflies-to-your-garden

Planting butterfly-beneficial plants will help these Monarchs survive and thrive

That evening, we enjoyed watching the locals mingling in the town square of Valle de Bravo.  It was great to see the lively town pulsing like a Saturday night with love on this Valentine’s Day.

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¡Viva Vanilla!

By Liz Rutledge

On Day 3 of our Reefs to Rockies exploration of Mexico, we toured a vanilla plantation in Guiterrez Zamor (about a four hour drive north of Veracruz).  A lovely señora, Sylvia (with our guide Jorge’s translation), explained in loving detail how the vanilla plants are grown, harvested, beans processed and sold.

When we arrived in our 18 person van, we unloaded and walked up a steep walkway past beautiful murals and cypress trees stretching towards the heavy, grey sky.  The vanilla plantation was founded by “finca” (estate boss) Orlando Gaya who immigrated to Mexico from Italy in 1873.  Since then, the plantation has been operated with organic quality and purity as the highest priorities.

When we visited the orchid museum in Coatepec, we learned that vanilla is an orchid (which means “testicles” because of the shape of the bulbs).  The two vanilla orchid plants grown at the Orlando Gaya Vanilla Plantation are Planifolia and Pompona.  Planifolia’s flavor is a bit bitter, but the aroma is like chocolate.  Whereas Pompona smells like prunes and tastes sweet.  Vanilla likes to grow on two types of trees: Phichoco with its red seed pods (which we saw at the botanical gardens outside Coatepec) and the pequeena (a.k.a. Mexican bamboo).  They can also grow on coconut trees (or Erythrina lanceolata) Sylvia described the vanilla plants as the “princesses” and the trees they like to grow up as the “princes”. They have a very mindful, symbiotic relationship in which the female vanilla plant nurtures the
protective male trees.

These vanilla plants are very sensitive and will actually switch genders if they are exposed to too much stress.

As we walked further along the path, we saw the shade houses where these plants are painstakingly nurtured and tended.  These plants have become extremely high maintenance over time and must be hand pollinated one flower at a time.  The tenders use a thin bamboo stick to spread pollen from one bloom to the next and it takes about a month to hand pollinate 6,000 plants.  They say that these vanilla plants have become “lazy”.  The hope with some of the experimental plantings at this vanilla plantation is to make these precious plants more resilient.  Interns are working to assist in this process.

The vanilla orchid, once planted, takes 2 ½-3 years to produce flowers.  Then, once pollinated, the flowers take nine months to produce the vanilla pods/beans.   Only the healthiest are harvested and as the workers find fungus, worms or other disease, those plants are sterilized to prevent the spread of the disease.

The newer 19 to 25-year-old workers at the vanilla plantation get on-the-job-training as they are taught to pollinate, investigate, nurture, pick, inspect, separate, process and package the vanilla pods.  Separation happens along a long conveyor belt and the pods are divided into hierba “grass”, pezon “nipple”, quebrados “broken”, and entero “complete”.  The less perfect ones are used for ice cream and other vanilla products where appearance is not as important.  Every step along the way, they are making sure it is a good, disease, pest and chemical-free product.

Once picked and separated, the beans are dried on mesh racks, put in a sort of “sauna” for three days, then dried further over the course of six months in a large room, regularly inspected, wrapped in blankets and kept safe.  Once they are perfectly ready, they are divided yet again by level of quality and processed into bags of seeds, powder, pods, etc. and “vaulted” in stainless steel boxes behind cages, in a building with bars on the windows and electrified wires.  Finally, the vanilla is inspected in a laboratory for a final inspection.  At US$5/vanilla bean, we can now understand why they take such painstaking care to protect them.

After touring the processing facility, we were given a sample of a drink made with equal parts vanilla liquor and sweetened condensed milk (and ice) called beso totonaca (from the name of the Beso Totonaca Kingdom).

As you would expect, our tour ended in the gift shop where they sell many vanilla products (extract, beans, candles, ice cream and a liquor (Xanat is a brand they sell here)).

A good Mindfulness practice includes gratitude so it is good to acknowledge and thank the vanilla and its tenders for the patient process which it goes through to arrive in our chocolate chip cookies, cakes, coffees, ice cream and more.

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Oysters and Orchids, Oh Mole!

The first day was just travel and we arrived in Veracruz without incident (although my mother had to throw out her apple since you can’t bring stuff like that into other countries for fear of spreading disease and pestilence).  We were greeted at the airport in Veracruz by our American guide Mike Vondruska and our local, Mexican, English-Speaking guide, Jorge Alberto Vidal Lopezolivera.

Bags were transferred to a large van and we met our fellow tour attendees like deer in the headlights (as often happens when you put a bunch of people together who have just met for the first time but know they have to spend nine days together having no idea how this is all going to go).

We arrived and were checked into the Gran Hotel Deligencias.  My mother and I were in room 419, each in our own bed.  A quick “snack” dinner of oysters, guacamole and chips, and cold cervezas at the hotel restaurant later and we were ready for sleep.  The passionate locals were enjoying loud music until at least 1:00a.m., but we were so tired, we faded into dreamland.

Next morning, we were up at 7:00a.m., showered, repacked and in the elevator back to the hotel lobby by 8:00a.m.  We loaded our baggage in the tour van and walked across the street to Gran Café del Portal Veracruz for a breakfast of café, orange juice and Machaca (eggs with “dried meat” and salsa) and warm corn tortillas.

Bellies full, bill paid and money exchanged, we were in the van on our way to a local town, Coatepec.  Our first stop was an Orchid Museum (Museo de la Orquidea), established by Dr. Isiaias Contreras Juarez over the course of 40 years.  There are over 350 species of orchid from 2mm tall to about a foot tall.  Most were not in bloom, but the ones that were stretched their beautiful blooms (even the ones we had to use a magnifying glass to see). J

Some important things we learned about orchids are:

  • They have a symbiotic relationship with the plant they grow on
  • The changes in temperature they experience throughout the year help them bloom
  • Climate change is affecting their natural growth rhythms
  • They need mostly air (and some water) to live
  • Vanilla is an orchid!
  • The word “orchid” means “testicles” (from the shape of their bulbs)

After the orchid museum, we walked to see a jade plant in bloom.  Then, we drove down the road and ate lunch at a very nice restaurant and enjoyed artisanal bread and dark beer.  Mom had grilled chicken and I had snapper, rice and vegetables with a fresh, salad.  At the end of the meal, the wait staff bought a large bottle of tequila (a casa (“on the house”)) and we all partook.

Then, we were off to our next hotel, a boutique-y place near the town square called Casa Real del Café.

We peeked into one of the local Iglesias (churches) and chuckled at the statue to Santa del Café (the patron saint of coffee).  Then, we walked around the town for a bit and enjoyed people watching a typical Sunday evening in the town square, complete with live singing, couples dancing, artisans selling their wares, children playing and other street performers.

Our final activity at the end of a full day was a cooking class with Art Cuisine, a local mother, Tanya, and her family taught us how to make picaditas (masa cooked on the griddle, pinched, and topped with frijoles and queso, or rojo salsa), chicken and mushroom mole dish, and coffee lemonade (made with local coffee with just the right technique).  And, we finished with coffee gelatin and vanilla and raisin ice cream.

The bed felt so welcoming after such a colorful and adventure-filled day!

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CHALLENGE DAY 15

Today’s challenge is to start composting – or at least look into it.

Part 1 of this challenge  – instead of putting your peelings and other food waste in the bin, save it for this one day and see how much you would divert from the landfill, then consider starting composting at home or with your city’s composting program (where available).

Maybe keep the peelings and such in a bag throughout the day and then weigh the bag at the end of the day.  Take a photo of it and share it on social media.  Then, if you multiply that times 365 that’s how much your household is contributing to the landfill each year.

Part 2 of this challenge is to actually start composting. If you have five to 10 minutes today, research what it would take to start composting.  So much of what ends up in the landfill is wasted food.  Something like 40% of food in America is thrown away.  Composting not only diverts food from going to the landfill, it also nourishes the soil making it healthier for growing more healthy food and the cycle continues.  So, you can find out if your city has a composting program.  Or, if you have the ability and space to have compost in your own yard and start a garden this summer, this is a good time to get it started.  Feel overwhelmed by the idea of starting your own compost?  SustainableThree.com offers consulting services for this very thing.

 

If you already compost, congratulations! 

You can either take the day off or do one of the Optional Challenges today! 

Thank you for reducing your waste!

 

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Getting Your Garden to Bed

Garden to Bed for Fall, Harvest

Each autumn, there is a harvest.  Harvest of food, harvest of grades, harvest of family time.  It’s a natural process.  Animals do it by instinct.  Plants and trees do it automatically.  If we follow nature’s rhythms, we naturally feel a sense of needing more down time and rest in autumn.

Putting your garden to bed is also a natural process.  Plants have done their jobs producing food and, when they have finished, they naturally go inside.  Their leaves turn brown and fall off, their stems dry up.

All that is involved is harvesting any last fruits or vegetables and then use large pruners or shears to cut down the plants.  Then, spread them evenly like a blanket and that’s it!

The remains will naturally break down over the winter and in the spring, you can mulch it all into the soil.  Easy peas-ey.

Herbs can be dried.  Simply cut them, bind them with twist ties or string and then use clothes pins/pegs to hang them from hangers in your kitchen, laundry room or garage.  Once dry, you can put them in jars and use them for recipes or teas.

Too cold for your tomatoes?  Green tomatoes can be ripened by putting them in brown paper bags in a pantry, garage or mud room.

For more detailed information on how to put your garden to bed check out these links:

http://www.almanac.com/content/putting-garden-bed

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/winter-garden-zmaz88sozgoe.aspx

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/checklist-putting-your-garden-bed-winter

We could all take advice from nature…go inside, get retrospective and introspective.  Rest.

It’s only natural.

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To Compost or not to Compost?

I don’t know about you, but I cannot stand the smell of a stinky garbage bin.  All that rotting food gives off such a nasty stench.

One easy way we’ve lowered  our family’s carbon footprint is to start composting. And, as an added benefit, we no longer have the smelly trash issue.

I was shocked to learn that 1/3 of what goes to landfills is compostable.  Have you thought of reducing the amount of waste your household contributes to the landfill? Landfills emit methane as well as Carbon Dioxide and other gasses*.  Methane is a gas that is 20+ times more damaging to the Ozone Layer and traps up to 100 times more heat over a 5-year period than Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Some cities, like our city of Denver,  have composting programs, which is a great option if you are not a gardener or if you rent an apartment or condo where composting is not allowed. You can reduce your trips to the dumpster and reduce your contribution to the landfill.

If you have your own property or rent in a property that has a community garden or landscaping, you can have your own compost!  Even if you live in an apartment, you can (usually) still have a worm farm.

Our family has been composting since 2000.   I can tell you that I do not miss having to go to the garden center and buy heavy, bagged-in-non-biodegradable-plastic bags.  Putting peelings and such in our kitchen collector bucket is a very natural action now and taking it out to the compost bin in the alley is just “something I do” as I head out for the day.

One of SustainableThree.com’s offerings is helping with compost start-up. After a brief interview, I can help you find a composter in your budget and a collection bucket for your kitchen. Then, it’s just a matter of collecting the right materials and giving it a weekly or bi-weekly stir. We set up the composter and get your composter cooking. If you want to learn the setup process, we can work together. Or, I can set it up and give quick instructions on how to maintain it. Once it’s set up, keeping it going is easy – just feed it and stir it regularly.

Building a Compost Bin

Building a Composter is Easy

*Methane and carbon dioxide make up 90 to 98% of landfill gas. The remaining 2 to 10% includes nitrogen, oxygen, ammonia, sulfides, hydrogen and various other gases. Landfill gases are produced when bacteria break down organic waste. (Source: https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/air/landfill_gas.htm)

I like to keep things simple (easy as 1-2-3), but if you want  more detailed information on composting, here are some resources:

http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost.html

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/panning-black-gold

earth911.com/home-garden/composting-how/

onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/basic-composting-secrets/

planetnatural.com/composting-101/

Compost=Black Gold

Black Gold

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Food as Fuel – Green Smoothies

“I will not eat them, Sam I am!”**

Have you ever said that you hate green vegetables?  Or, vegetables in general?  My kids have had this challenge.  It’s just a color like red, purple, blue or brown.  Green food has gotten a bad rap over the years.  But, the fact is, we should be eating mostly vegetables in all colors of the rainbow.

The great news is that thanks to the invention of the blender and some incredible creativity on the part of those who thought to put green veggies in with fruit, fruit juices, yogurt and such, you can ingest your veggies with ease and best of all – it tastes delicious!

Enter the green smoothie.  It may not look like something you want to drink and it certainly won’t taste like a chocolate shake, but you can learn to love it!

A green smoothie consists of:

*two to three (or more) types of fruit

*a cup or two of green vegetable (spinach, kale, collard greens and such)

*liquid (water, milk, almond milk, coconut water, etc.)

*optionally, a “boost” (protein powder, almond flour, chia seeds, peanut butter, etc.)

Blend and serve.  Too easy!

My biggest inspirations have come from the following cookbooks:

Deceptively Delicious by, Jessica Seinfeld (the comedian’s wife)

http://www.doitdelicious.com/cookbooks/deceptively_delicious

Nourishing Meals by, Alissa Segersten & Tom Malteerre, MS, CN

http://www.nourishingmeals.com/

Simple Green Smoothies by, Jen Hansard & Jadah Sellner

You can sustain your health easily with one nutrition-packed “perfect food” green smoothie every day.  To make it easier, you can prepare the ingredients in the single serve blender cup or a Mason (or similar) jar.  Just put the ingredients in – all except the liquid and refrigerate (for up to a week).  When you are ready to make your smoothie, pour in the liquid (water, coconut water, almond milk or other dairy-free milk, or milk) and blend.  Too easy!

 

**From Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs & Ham”
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Save Water, Time and Money – Part 3

Another step deeper in the exploration of SmartSprinkler controllers:  again, the goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

By focusing on the residential products, since I don’t have 24+ zones, I get down to a list of a few manufactures whose products I will choose from. Rachio, RainMachine, and Cyber Rain (residential). The Cyber Rain controller has some good functionality, but its price tag of $500 will eliminate it from further consideration since competing products are $200 or less and provide virtually the same functionality. Several municipal water systems offer rebates up to $100 for WaterSense controller, which helps lower the price, but not enough to bring $500 units back into consideration. Rachio and RainMachine both have very good reviews on Amazon, which is important as there is nothing quite like getting feedback from hundreds or thousands of existing customers. Additionally, both controllers have open APIs that allow for IFTTT (If This Then That) control and therefore access from devices like Amazon’s Echo (a.k.a. “Alexa”). Alexa is by no means a smart home controller, but until I take that leap it is nice to be able to control my devices all via voice.
It appears as though you can’t go wrong with either of these controllers. The RainMachine controller offers control from the unit itself, which could be helpful. It also has the option to not use its cloud service. However, Rachio recently released its 2nd generation controller which very clearly address feedback provided by customers. In addition, they are taking steps to ensure customers are happy with their purchase, and publicly standing behind their product will make the difference for me to give it a try. I have no doubt that even with extensive research, I may need some post sales support, and that gives Rachio at edge for me. After installation and usage, I will report back on progress.

By Rob Rutledge

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