Tag Archives: Flowers

California is turning farms into carbon-sucking factories

In a grand experiment, California switched on a fleet of high-tech greenhouse gas removal machines last month. Funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program, they’re designed to reverse climate change by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These wonderfully complex machines are more high-tech than anything humans have designed. They’re called plants.

Seriously, though: Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. They break open the tough CO2 molecule and use the carbon to build their leaves and roots. In the process, they deposit carbon into the ground. For years people have excitedly discussed the possibility of stashing carbon in the soil while growing food. Now, for the first time, California is using cap-and-trade money to pay farmers to do it on a large scale. It’s called the California Healthy Soils Initiative.

In April, trucks full of fertilizer trundled into Doug Lo’s almond orchards near Gustine, California, and spread composted manure around his trees. He then planted clover to cover the ground between the trunks. In theory, these techniques will pull 1,088 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year. Lo’s is one of about fifty farms getting money from the state of California to pull greenhouse gas from the air. California is paying him $50,000 to try it out.

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“We’re trying to sequester some carbon,” Lo said. “It should also help with the water-holding capacity of the soil, and the flowers in the cover crop should feed bees after the almond bloom is over.”

This is the first major utilization of farms as state-sponsored carbon-sucking factories. (To be fair, Oklahoma, of all places, has been experimenting with soil carbon since 2001, albeit on a smaller scale.) Agriculture and climate nerds — we wonkiest of wonks — have been anticipating this for the last decade as the scientific evidence accumulated.

In 2014 we wrote about the people pushing this research in California. And Grist told the story last year of how scientist Jonathan Sanderman put together key pieces of this puzzle after finding jars of old dirt, long forgotten in storage. And just recently, the New York Times Magazine ran a story summarizing the state of the science. But for years it’s felt like a lot of talk and not much action. That’s changing with the Healthy Soils Initiative, which makes money available for farmers like Lo, and monitors the results.

So how do you turn a farm into a carbon-sucking machine? Lo figured the money from the state would allow him to experiment without risk. He made a deal with a compost company to truck manure from dairies across California’s central valley then spread precisely 5.3 tons per acre under his almond trees as required by the state guidelines. An inspector from the California Department of Food and Agriculture showed up on the day the trucks arrived in April to make sure Lo was actually doing the work and not just doing the paperwork. Next, Lo planted clover and other cover crops in the rows between the trees.

A lot is riding on this, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that it will work. In theory, compost and cover crops should get carbon out of the sky and into the ground. But will it work in practice on Lo’s farm? With the farm’s particular soil structure, irrigation pattern, as well as the dirt’s microbiome? We don’t know how fast carbon will accumulate in his soil, or how long it will stay there.

When I asked Lo how confident he was that he was going to get exactly 1,088 tons of carbon into the ground he responded: “Well, that’s just what the soil scientists said. We’re going to see I guess!”

As of last Thursday the soil samples on Lo’s farm haven’t shown an increase in carbon content, but it takes about three years for compost to break down, he said. Other farmers and state officials will be watching this rollout of carbon-sucking farms closely. And if it works, and these farms manage to capture enough carbon, program could scale up massively. California’s Healthy Soils Initiative could serve as a model for other states.

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California is turning farms into carbon-sucking factories

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Edible Landscaping: A Delicious Way to Garden


Edible Landscaping: A Delicious Way to Garden

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You can expect Neil Gorsuch to be bad news for the environment.

Catherine Flowers has been an environmental justice fighter for as long as she can remember. “I grew up an Alabama country girl,” she says, “so I was part of the environmental movement before I even knew what it was. The natural world was my world.”

In 2001, raw sewage leaked into the yards of poor residents in Lowndes County, Alabama, because they had no access to municipal sewer systems. Local government added insult to injury by threatening 37 families with eviction or arrest because they couldn’t afford septic systems. Flowers, who is from Lowndes County, fought back: She negotiated with state government, including then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, to end unfair enforcement policies, and she enlisted the Environmental Protection Agency’s help to fund septic systems. The effort earned her the nickname “The Erin Brockovich of Sewage.”

Flowers was continuing the long tradition of residents fighting for justice in Lowndes County, an epicenter for the civil rights movement. “My own parents had a rich legacy of fighting for civil rights, which to this day informs my work,” she says. “Even today, people share stories about my parents’ acts of kindness or help, and I feel it’s my duty to carry on their work.”

Years later, untreated and leaking sewage remains a persistent problem in much of Alabama. Flowers advocates for sanitation and environmental rights through the organization she founded, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE, for short). She’s working with the EPA and other federal agencies to design affordable septic systems that will one day eliminate the developing-world conditions that Flowers calls Alabama’s “dirty secret.”

Former Vice President Al Gore counts himself as a big fan of Flowers’ work, calling her “a firm advocate for the poor, who recognizes that the climate crisis disproportionately affects the least wealthy and powerful among us.” Flowers says a soon-to-be-published study, based on evidence she helped collect, suggests that tropical parasites are emerging in Alabama due to poverty, poor sanitation, and climate change. “Our residents can have a bigger voice,” she said, “if the media began reporting how climate change is affecting people living in poor rural communities in 2017.” Assignment editors, pay attention.

Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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You can expect Neil Gorsuch to be bad news for the environment.

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The Eco-Friendly Reason Rio’s Olympic Medalists Didn’t Get Flowers

The Olympic Games are held every four years, and although the medals change, the award ceremonies are usually very similar.

Olympic medalists typically receive a bouquet in addition to their medal, but flowers werestrangely absent from the podium in Rio. Why? Turns out it was part of the Rio Olympic Committee’s efforts to make the massive event more eco-friendly.

Flowers are not very sustainable, said Christy Nicolay, the executive producer of the victory ceremonies, told the New York Times. We give it to an athlete, and very often they just throw it away.

Even those of us who aren’t Olympic athletes know this to be a painful reality of life. We get flowers for special occasions or perhaps simply cut them from our own gardens to bright up the house, but it seems they wither and die almost instantly.

Like any crop, growing flowers is a resource-intensive process. “Seventy percent of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from Latin America,” reported Diane MacEachern for Care2. “Though the hot climate is just what the flowers need, those constant high temperatures are also conducive to bugs and disease. Consequently, growers in Columbia, Ecuador and many other countries rely on pesticides that have long been banned in the U.S. to produce flowers worth selling in international markets.”

Related: Why Buying Local Flowers Is Just As Important As Buying Local Food

With all that in mind, Rio’s decision to nix the bouquets seems very noble…until you hear about what they gave athletes as a replacement souvenir.

Those who managed to finish in the top three of their events at this years Summer Games receivedsmall sculptures of the Rio 2016 logo,designed in three dimensions for the first time in history. It’s said that the figurines can double as a display stand for the medal. Sadly, the sculptures were made ofresin, polyresin and PVCnot exactly the most eco-friendly materials. It remains to be seen whether future Olympic host cities will follow this example.

While the athletes are far less likely to toss their sculpture in the trash, it’s worth noting that fresh flowers and plants were still used to decorate the podiumsI wonder, where did they end up?

Related: 5 Simple Ways To Recycle Your Fresh Cut Flowers

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


The Eco-Friendly Reason Rio’s Olympic Medalists Didn’t Get Flowers

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5 Simple Ways To Recycle Your Fresh Cut Flowers

Whether selectedfrom your own garden or purchased from a florist, there’s something undeniably beautiful about fresh cut flowers. Always the most perfect blooms, they bring color and a wonderful scent into our lives for a short time.

It’s that last partthe very short period of time they lastthat bothers me, though. It seems such a shame to spend all this time and energy growing flowers, just for a few days as a table arrangementor a bridal bouquet.

But maybe cut flowers don’t have to meet their fate so soon. Here are just a few ways that your special occasion flowers can be recycled, upcycled and repurposed to that their joy and beauty stick around as long as possible!

1. Donate Them

This is the simplest way to extend the life of your cut flowers, especiallyafter a wedding or similar large event where you have more arrangements/bouquets than you can give away to friends or family. Retirements homes, homeless shelters, nursing homes and even some independent restaurants are always happy to receive donations of fresh flowers to improve the appearance of their facilities. In fact, if you work out an arrangement with them beforehand, they may even come and pick them up!

2. Dry Them

If you’re looking to recyclea bouquet that had special meaning, you might not want to give them away, and that’s fine too. Drying flowers is a great way to enjoy their benefits long after the freshness has worn away. Properly dried flowers can be used to make your ownaromatherapy formulas, popurri blends and even edible embellishments! Check out this Care2 post on How To Dry Flowers And Botanicals to learn more.

3. Press Them

Pressing is a very particular style of drying flowers that allows them to be displayed or incorporated into handmade crafts. All it takes is a few blossoms that are still fairly fresh and a stack of heavy books! Check out this Care2 post on How To Make Beautiful Botanical Art With Pressed Flowers for an easy tutorial.

4. Preserve Them

Professionally arranged wedding bouquets aren’t cheap, so it’s always disheartening to think about tossing them in the trash a few days after the wedding. If you’re looking for a way to enjoy your bouquet indefinitely, you should know there are options, but they too will cost you a little bit.

“If you aim to have your bouquet preserved in its original shape,I suggest either silica-gel drying or freeze-drying, which are done by professional preservationists and will help keep the natural, three-dimensional shape of the flowers. The difference between the two methods is just technical: Silica-gel drying involves burying the flowers in a granular substance until theyre totally dry, while freeze-drying entails slowly dehydrating the blooms in a cold,vacuum-sealed machine. The bouquet is then sealed inside a glass container like a shadow box or a glass dome,” expert floristEric Buterbaughtold Martha Stewart Weddings.

5. Transform Them

If none of those options appeal to you, consider transforming your special bouquet or flower arrangement into something else altogether. There are several companies who specialize in turning flowers into beautiful beads that then become earrings, necklaces, bracelets that can be worn forever. Check out Blossoms Into Beads and My Flowers Forever Jewelry to learn more about this amazing upcycling process.

What’s your favorite way to make fresh cut flowers last a little bit longer? Share it in the comments!

Image Credit: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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5 Simple Ways To Recycle Your Fresh Cut Flowers

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How to Make Cut Flowers Last Longer

While supporting the behemoth known as the factory farmed flower industry is no way to celebrate a special occasion, there is nonetheless an undeniable beauty in having cut flowers around. Their fragrance and color and intricate grace are sure-fire happy makers. Thankfully, there are sustainable flower farms! As well, it’s a pleasure to grow flowers in one’s own garden that can be brought inside when the desire calls.

Whether you grow your own flowers or get them from acertified sustainable flower farm or you received flowers as a present making them last as long as possible is the best way to give them the respect they deserve. They may just be flowers to some, but they are a gift from nature and should be regarded with some reverence!

So with that in mind, the following steps can help keep your flowers fresh. These come from the folks at the non-profit scientific group,American Chemical Society, who approached the task through the eyes of science. Basically, follow the process outlined below, but be sure to watch the video for details and extra tips.

1. Clean the vase.
2. Use warm water that has been allowed to sit for a few minutes.
3. Feed the flowers using the food provided.
4. Cut the stems.
5. Keep the arrangement away from fruit.
6. Keep the flowers cool.

Written by Melissa Breyer. Reposted with permission from TreeHugger.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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How to Make Cut Flowers Last Longer

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Best Drought-Resistant Plants for Your Garden

What should you plant in your garden in case we have a very dry spring, summer and fall? How can you beautify your landscape if you can’t water it?

The key is to plant drought-resistant plants that will do well on a minimum amount of moisture. Plants that don’t require a ton of watering make sense whether there’s a drought or not. Water for a yard or garden is expensive no matter where you live, so the less you need to create a beautiful yard, the better. Plus, watering takes time if you don’t have automatic sprinklers set up. You’ll end up wasting both water and time if you don’t choose plants that can get buy on a minimum of H2O.

Here’s a guide to choosing the least thirsty plants, along with some suggestions for flowers, bushes and ground covers that won’t require a downpour to do well.

How to Find the Best Drought-Resistant Plants

One approach is to fill your landscape with drought-tolerant specimens and save thirstier varieties for containers that can add a pop of color to a hill or bed without dominating the entire space.

But more importantly, choose the right plants for the amount of rain you’re likely to get. Contact your county extension service to get their recommendations; they will probably have a list you can download and use when you shop.

Browse the plant aisles at a local nursery as well. Big box stores will sell a lot of plants, but they won’t necessarily know anything about them. The local nursery will be more expensive, but you’ll get better advice there and probably a better selection of perennials that will do well in your region.

Shop for plants at farmer’s markets, too. Local farmers will be able to tell you how much moisture and sun a plant needs, as well as what pests it might be susceptible to. Remember that any plant you buy, you can propagate and turn into many more. Even if one plant seems expensive, it’s an investment in the future, as long as you care for it well.

Don’t forget to check out native plants. Natives to your region have evolved to do well in your climate. PlantNative.org offers this excellent guide to planning, planting and maintaining a native plant garden.

Finally, consider your soil. Does it retain moisture, so you can water it less and still keep your plants happy? Or is it sandy and dry and not capable of providing moisture to a plant’s roots when needed? You can often send soil samples to your county extension office for testing; they’ll also let you know what nutrients or soil amendments you need. Plan to add compost, which will enrich the soil and increase its ability to hold moisture.

Examples of Drought-Resistant Plants

As for plants to look into, here are some suggestions, depending on where you live:

Cactus – If you live in the American southwest or in another particularly dry but sunny part of the U.S., cactus has got to be on your list. These plants come in an infinite variety of shapes, sizes, textures and colors. Many of them flower, and some of them even produce fruit. They’re gorgeous when planted in a bed that mixes up varieties to create visual interest.

SedumSedum are considered a succulent; they store water in their leaves to help them survive dry spells. Sedum makes for a wonderful ground cover, especially on a slope.

Purple SagePurple sage is a member of the genus Salvia. It’s native to the western U.S., which historically is a dry habitat. Some varieties produce showy purple flowers. There are also shrub varieties. Flowers can be quite large and fragrant.

Joe Pye WeedEupatorium purpureum, or Joe Pye Weed, is a tall, majestic plant with airy pink-purple flowers that last from mid-summer through fall. While the plant does best in a moist environment, I have it planted in dry shade and never water it. It proliferates, but doesn’t get as tall in dry shade as it would if it were in moist sun. It attracts a bevy of insects and butterflies and is beautiful towards the back of the garden.

Sempervivum – This is a big group of alpine succulents. Their natural habitat is typically 3000-8000 feet above sea level in a cooler, drierclimate. There are about 50 species and over 3000 varieties, so you have a lot to choose from!

Echinacea – Also known as Purple coneflower, this plant is a native of the great plains of the U.S. It thrives in dry, sunny conditions, where its big beautiful flowers attract birds, butterflies and bees.

Lavender – It’s hard to go wrong with this beautiful plant. The flower is gorgeous and fragrant; it resists hot summers and cold winters, repels deer and resists most pests. It will add color and variety to your landscape for many years; you can also cut flowering stems, dry the flowers for potpourri or pulverize it and add it to your favorite lotion or liquid soap.

Russian SageWayside Gardens describes this plant as having “super tolerance of heat, humidity and drought.” It will attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and bloom all summer long. What’s not to love?

Gardening for Butterflies
Fool-Proof Tips for Container Gardening

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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Best Drought-Resistant Plants for Your Garden

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It’s April: What to do in the Garden

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It’s April: What to do in the Garden

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Whole Foods Announces Program for The Conscious Consumer

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Whole Foods Announces Program for The Conscious Consumer

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Tom’s Kitchen: Fried-Egg Taco With Fried Snap Peas and Radish Flowers

Mother Jones

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To garden is to accept chaos. Soil, seeds, weather, fauna—these are just a few factors that interact in complex and unpredictable ways, generating results we can influence but ultimately can’t control. Add the frailty of human judgment to the mix, and gardening is a kind of crapshoot. For the kitchen gardener, when the harvest disappoints, you have to react creatively—in short, to turn your errata into something delicious to eat.

This spring here in Austin, we planted snap peas too late. The tendrils gamely snaked their way up their trellises, but by the time the plants flowered, the weather had become too hot for the buds to set much in the way of fruit. Something similar happened with the radishes, planted on the same late date: They grew robust tops, but very few of them had sufficient time to develop full root bulbs before the heat set in. Harvesting them became a low-odds gamble: for every four you picked, just one presented a crunchy, spicy red orb. The other three showed a spindly root, earning a trip straight to the compost pile.

Well, not always. For a couple of weeks, the radish tops have been so green and healthy that I’ve been sautéing them like I do kale or chard. They cook fast and have a pungent flavor, easing the sting of the largely failed root harvest. Then the remaining radish tops went to seed and sprouted pretty purple flowers. When I snapped off a bud and tasted it (in the garden as in the kitchen, one should Always Be Tasting), I found it peppery, reminiscent of mustard greens (a related plant) and tender. And so, another unexpected harvest—for several days, I’d go out to snip a few to add, chopped, to salads.

Finally this weekend, the time came to pull out the lingering spring garden, removing the pea and radish plants from the garden to make way for new crops. (I put in a second round of tomatoes, hot peppers, melons, and cucumbers.) As I uprooted the pea shoots, I noticed a few more remaining snap peas than I expected. I tasted one. It delivered a burst of sweetness and the bright flavor that I can only describe as “green”—the thing that makes sugar snap peas maybe the most beloved spring vegetable. The problem: The pod had become slightly wizened in the hot sun, a bit too fibrous and impossible to chew all the way. Nothing that a bit of cooking won’t fix, I noted as I snatched a couple of handfuls worth of delicious-but-tough snap peas out of the foliage.

Then I snipped all the remaining flowers from the radish plants before yanking them, too. Among the roots, I collected more keepers than I had expected. I immediately brought my motley treasure into the kitchen for a quick breakfast. (Note: these ingredients would also work well in a stir fry or a pasta.) Of course, you probably don’t have access to aged snap peas or radish flowers; but if you garden, I bet there are some exciting flavors lurking out there in odd places, waiting to be liberated.

Fried-Egg Taco With Fried Snap Peas and Radish Flowers

Makes 1 taco

1 radish, chopped (garnish)

1 clove of garlic, crushed, peeled, and chopped fine
A good handful of slightly tough sugar snap peas, stem ends removed, and chopped coarsely
A good handful of radish (or other brassica) flowers, chopped coarsely
Olive oil
Sea salt
A pinch of crushed chili pepper
Black pepper
Red chili pepper

1 quarter-inch slice of butter (cut from a stick of it)
1 egg
Sea salt
Black pepper
A pinch of crushed chili pepper

1 tortilla (I use whole-what ones from Margarita’s Tortilla Factory of Austin)

Heat a cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium flame. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom and stir in the garlic, the chili pepper, a pinch of salt, and a grind of pepper. Stir for a minute, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Add the snap peas and toss, cooking them for a minute or two. Add the radish flowers. Cook, tossing and stirring, until the snap peas are tender (they should retain a decent crunch). Marvel at the interplay between the sweet peas and the mustardy radish flowers.

Meanwhile, place a small skillet over medium heat and add the butter. When it has melted, swirl the pan to coat. Let the pan get good and hot. Crack an egg and add it to the pan. Give it a dusting of salt, black pepper, and chile pepper. Turn heat to low and cook until whites are fully set. Flip the egg and cook to desired doneness (I like the yolk to be a little runny.

Meanwhile, heat the tortilla in yet another small skillet or comal (or over the open flame of a gas burner) over medium heat, flipping it to brown on both sides.

Assemble the taco: Slip the fried egg into the folded tortilla and enough of the radish-flower/snap pea mixture to fill it. Serve the remainder on the side. Garnish with the chopped radish.

P.S.: Happy 40th Anniversary to my beloved Watauga County Farmers’ Market on the opening of the new market season. I’m delighted the two young landless farmers who have joined Maverick Farms’ FIG Program were able to sell edible brassica flowers at their very first market—here’s hoping for a great 2014 season to all the High Country farmers, and welcome aboard Kathleen Petermann with Waxwing Farm and Caroline Hampton with Octopus Gardens!

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Tom’s Kitchen: Fried-Egg Taco With Fried Snap Peas and Radish Flowers

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