Minute, Morning, Month

There are so many simple ways to save money, protect health, preserve the environment and better daily life. Use the filters to the right to find the actions you can take in the time you have.

Avoid using toxins in the garden. Reduce pests the organic way.
Month

First thing every morning, check your plants for bugs, damage or other signs of ill health, including circular spots or rings on leaves, spots on fruit, wilting or discolored foliage and stems, and slimy or decaying roots. Remove damaged leaves or branches. Then try these low-cost solutions to common pest problems:

* Plant different species side by side in your garden, and choose a few different types of the same species. This sort of diversity provides many benefits. It will keep unwanted insects and fungus from destroying all of one sort of plant, and the variety will attract beneficial insects. Some plants also promote the health of others. For instance, growing carrots and leeks will drive away both the carrot fly and the leek moth, while tomatoes will keep asparagus beetles from your asparagus.

* Reduce the chance of late blight destroying your tomatoes by planting a variety of tomato types, either from seeds or from seedlings bought from a local grower or nursery. If late blight occurs in a small nursery, it’s relatively easy to isolate it before it has a chance to spread.

* Wash off aphid infestations with a strong blast of water from the hose.

* Diatomaceous earth has sharp edges that kill insects. Sprinkle it around plants in need of protection.

* Employ pheromone traps to rid your garden of peach twig borers, which can kill perennials, shrubs and trees; and to fight codling moths, which infest apple trees.

* Install wire mesh around tomatoes and other plants to deter critters.

 

 

Reduce toxic runoff. Use earth-friendly fertilizers.
Morning

While natural fertilizer may bring manure to mind, compost and worm castings are practical options and don’t pose the ammonia problem that manure can. Both are far more earth-friendly than conventional fertilizers, which contribute nitrogen runoff to waterways, feeding algal blooms and killing off large swaths of aquatic life. Compost is all that most soil needs to keep it healthy and productive, but for quicker results, spray a mix of worm castings and water on your plants. Compost and worm castings cost less than conventional fertilizer since they help to build up the healthfulness of the soil.

Breathe easier. Muscle-mow the lawn.
Morning

Believe it or not, the power mower in your garage is more polluting than the car you just washed to a spanking-clean shine. According to the California Air Resources Board, gallon for gallon, lawn mower engines from 2006 contribute 93 times as much smog-forming emissions as 2006 cars do. Mowing for an hour with a gasoline-powered lawn mower can produce as much air pollution as a 200-mile drive. And consider this: Whether you are sitting on a mower or pushing it, your nose is within a yard of the tailpipe.

What to do? Dust off the reel mower in the corner of your garage and work those upper-arm muscles pushing it around the lawn. If your family doesn’t have a push mower, consider getting one. You can find a reel mower online at planetnatural.com for as little as $85, far cheaper than a gas or electric mower.

Save the bees. Plant a pollinators' garden.
Month

Honeybees are crucial to producing about one-third of all the food we eat. The list of crops that simply won’t grow without honeybees is a long one: apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds…and it goes on. (Download NRDC's Bee Facts for a full list). Without bees to pollinate many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, the United States could lose $15 billion worth of crops. Are we speaking hypothetically here? Well, no. Researchers estimate that one-third of all honeybee colonies in the United States have already disappeared.

Plant a garden attractive to pollinators, bees in particular. Here’s how:

Include a wide variety of plants. Ideally, your garden should have blooms from early spring into late fall or, if possible, for the entire year. If you choose plants with a variety of shapes and colors, you will be more likely to attract different types of pollinators. Planting in clusters will make them easier to for the insects to locate.

Plant native species. This is the best way to attract and nurture bees. The following plants are particularly rich in pollen or nectar:

* Aster (Aster) * Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) * Blazing star (Liatris) * Caltrop (Kallstroemia) * Creosote bush (Larrea) * Currant (Ribes) * Elder (Sambucus) * Goldenrod (Solidago) * Huckleberry (Vaccinium) * Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium) * Lupine (Lupinus) * Oregon grape (Mahonia) * Penstemon (Penstemon) * Purple coneflower (Echinacea) * Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus) * Rhododendron (Rhododendron) * Sage (Salvia) * Scorpion-weed (Phacelia) * Snowberry (Symphoricarpos) * Stonecrop (Sedum) * Sunflower (Helianthus) * Wild buckwheat (Eriogonum) * Wild lilac (Ceanothus) * Willow (Salix)

Avoid using pesticides. There are many natural ways to control pests in your garden. If you must use pesticides, read the labels carefully in order to avoid spraying chemicals that are highly toxic to bees, such as most neonicotinoid pesticides. Be sure to spray your plants after dusk, when pollinators are least active. You should also be wary of using multiple pesticides at once. Many active ingredients are more toxic when used in combination with other pesticides.

Here are some of the pesticides most toxic to bees and what they’re commonly used for.   * Clothianidin: Corn, canola * Dinotefuran: Cabbage, bell peppers, cotton, grapes, melons * Imidacloprid: Cabbage, pumpkins, cotton, blueberries, citrus, grapes, melons * Thiamethoxam: Bell peppers, cotton, cantaloupes, cherries, pears, strawberries, watermelons.

To learn more:

Download Bee Facts from NRDC (in PDF format)

See “The Vanishing Bee,” a cover story in NRDC’s OnEarth magazine.

Save the bees. Urge USDA to invest more in research.
Minute

Although honeybees are crucial to producing about one-third of all the food we eat, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed to meet crucial research needs to determine the cause of colony collapse disorder, which is devastating hives across the country. Scientists studying the disorder believe a combination of factors could be making bees sick, including pesticide exposure, invasive parasitic mites, an inadequate food supply and a new virus that targets bees' immune systems. Others add that with global warming, crops are coming into flower earlier than the pollinators are ready to pollinate, or vice versa, decoupling a critical link in nature’s great web. Without bees to pollinate many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, the United States could lose $15 billion worth of crops, so it is an imperative that we figure out what is causing colony collapse and prevent further damage.

Use this quick and easy email tool to send a message to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to act right away to save bees. (For more information, download NRDC's Bee Facts here).

Build a nesting block for bees.
Morning

Honeybees are crucial to producing about one-third of all the food we eat. The list of crops that simply won’t grow without honeybees is a long one: apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds…and it goes on. (Download NRDC's Bee Facts for a full list). Without bees to pollinate many of our favorite fruits and vegetables, the United States could lose $15 billion worth of crops. Are we speaking hypothetically? Well, no. Researchers estimate that one-third of all honeybee colonies in the United States have already disappeared.

One of the biggest challenges bees face is finding suitable nesting sites. The majority of our roughly 4,000 species of native bees (honeybees are a European import) are solitary—essentially, single mothers raising their young alone. Having no hive to defend, they’re not aggressive and rarely sting.

About 70 percent of native bees are ground nesters. A small patch of bare earth—as little as 1 square foot—in a sunny spot is all they need. The remainder are mostly wood nesters: they will occupy holes in trees bored by beetles or will move into nesting blocks like the one shown here. Female bees will lay their eggs in the holes, then seal them; their offspring will emerge the following spring to carry on.

Recruit your kids to help you make a nesting block to put in your garden or yard. It’s easy. The Xerces Society offers these simple instructions:

  1. Start with a piece of wood at least 4 inches thick and 8 inches long. Use untreated lumber and avoid cedar, which is toxic to insects.
  2. Drill a grid of holes varying from 3/32 inch to 3/8 inch in diameter, spacing them approximately ¾ inch apart. Drill deep holes, even going all the way through the block, to maximize the nesting depth.
  3. Attach the block to a backing board and install a sloping roof that extends in front of the block to shelter the holes from the elements. Mount the backing board on a sturdy fence, post, tree or building in a site where the holes will get only gentle morning sun.
  4. As an alternative, prepare nesting tubes: Any hollow plant canes, reeds or stems with an internal diameter of 2 millimeters to 1 centimeter can be used for this purpose. Even cut bramble and rose stems have pith into which tiny bees can burrow. Cut canes and stems into sections 10 to 20 cm long. If using bamboo canes, be aware that they have sealed nodes, and cut them so that long hollow sections are exposed. 
  5. Bundle the tubes with garden twine, string or wire.
  6. Hang them up. Place and anchor your nest on a sunny or partly sunny shelf in a shed, or improvise a similar situation. Make sure the nest is protected from the rain.
Keep kids safe. Test wooden decking and yard equipment for arsenic.
Morning

For decades nearly all outdoor wooden structures—play sets, picnic tables, fences, decks—were made with "pressure-treated" wood injected with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). This insecticide and preservative is 22 percent pure arsenic, a known carcinogen that can also cause nerve damage. CCA may keep wood from rotting, but the arsenic can leach from the wood onto kids’ hands and into the soil below. Making matters worse, this arsenic leaching doesn't decrease with time. Structures 15 years old release just as much arsenic as newer ones.

With studies showing that soil from 40 percent of U.S. backyards and parks exceeded the EPA's Superfund levels for hazardous waste cleanup, manufacturers agreed to halt production of CCA-treated wood for home use and playgrounds beginning in 2004, though they were allowed to sell existing stock.

If your home play set, outdoor wood furniture or decking is five or more years old, test it for arsenic. Test kits for wood and soil are $20 each from the Environmental Working Group. Test during dry weather because rain can wash surface arsenic away.

If the tests indicate there is leaching, the safest step is to replace all CCA-treated wood as well as the top few inches of soil or wood chips under and around it. If full replacement isn't practical, at least replace wood where there is high traffic, like railings and steps. The rest should be sealed with a solid or semitransparent deck stain. AFM Safecoat recommends low-VOC Durostain with low-VOC Safecoat Watershield (www.afmsafecoat.com). If you have young kids or pets, keep them away from treated wood, and don’t let them play under decks until you have had the soil replaced. Don't eat food off any treated surface, and don’t store toys under the deck.

When shopping for new outdoor wood furniture or decking, ask retailers for proof that what you are buying is CCA-free. Look for naturally rot-resistant wood (Forest Stewardship Council–certified cedar and redwood are good choices), wood composites, recycled plastics or less toxic pressure-treated lumber. To learn more about FSC certification as well as other claims, check out Label Lookup, which compares various labels, explains what they mean, and tells you which you can trust.

If you end up replacing all or part of the CCA-treated wood from your yard, handle it like hazardous waste and call your sanitation department to ask how to properly dispose of it. Never burn it, and avoid sawing it or sanding it. Inhaling arsenic dust or gas is worse than swallowing it and can cause acute poisoning. Contain any demolition dust with a tarp.

Reduce runoff. Install roof gutters and rain barrels.
Month

Stormwater runoff is a major cause of beach and water pollution (see the annual rating of water quality at 200 popular beaches in the NRDC report Testing the Waters). It is also something we can help prevent through simple changes at home.

If your house doesn’t have roof gutters, rainwater streaming off the roof will only compound runoff from your driveway, patio and other surfaces. Adding rain barrels at the downspouts of your gutters eliminates rooftop runoff and provides a supply of non-potable water for irrigation. Barrels made from recycled food-grade containers are widely sold and help reduce waste and plastic production. Barrels are available at Clean Air Gardening and Aaron’s Rain Barrels, among others.

Look for other ways to reduce stormwater runoff in Got a Minute? A Morning? A Month?

Also, check out this NRDC slide show with examples of communities across America cleaning up their water—and saving money—with low-impact development.

For more, see what these Smarter Cities are doing to protect water quality: Burnsville, MinnesotaNorwalk, Connecticut; Kansas, City, MissouriSanta Monica, California; and Denver, Colorado.

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Keep water clean. Wash your car on grass or gravel.
Morning

Not only does every coastal state suffer from polluted and contaminated beaches, but those problems resulted in more than 20,000 closing and swimming advisory days in 2008 alone. Such is the sorry state of affairs noted in the NRDC report Testing the Waters.

The hopeful news is that one of the major causes of beach pollution is stormwater runoff, which we can help prevent through some simple changes around the home. Some western states and cities already require that car owners wash their cars on grass, gravel or other permeable surfaces to prevent the runoff of oil, grease and metals into our storm drains. By switching to one of several waterless car-washing products on the market, you’ll do even more to prevent water waste and keep pollutants out of the environment. If you find they don’t clean your car as thoroughly as you’d like, visit a commercial car wash. The Clean Water Act requires that commercial car washes send their wastewater to a treatment plant.

For other ways to reduce stormwater runoff, back-click to Got a Minute? A Morning? A Month?

Also, check out this NRDC slide show with examples of communities across America cleaning up their water—and saving money—with low-impact development.

For more, see what these Smarter Cities are doing to protect water quality: Burnsville, Minnesota; Norwalk, ConnecticutKansas, City, MissouriAnn Arbor, MichiganSanta Monica, California; and Denver, Colorado.

(Photo credit: iboy_daniel/Flickr)

Protect your family. Dispose of toxic cleaners responsibly.
Morning

Cleaning products are the second most common cause of household poisonings, resulting in 7.5 percent of all incidents involving children under age 5, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. (Cosmetics and personal-care products are the most common cause, responsible for 10.7 percent of poisonings.)

Some of the chemicals in cleaners have the potential to cause long-term reproductive harm such as decreased fertility, changes in the onset of puberty, miscarriage, premature birth, and cancers of reproductive organs. And because they are washed down drains during use and disposal, they pose additional harm to aquatic life.

Many alternative household products that don’t contain hazardous ingredients ar on the market today. By switching to these cleaning products, you can make your home safer and reduce the risk of accidental poisonings, long-term health effects, and harm to wildlife. 

Use this link to find cleaning products and paints that are safer and better for the environment. Or make your own cleaners out of inexpensive materials. Click here to learn how.

When ridding your home of toxic chemicals, check with your community’s sanitation department or Earth911.com to find out where in your town you can recycle or safely dispose of toxic cleaners.