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Umbra on killing your lawn

Dear Umbra, I just moved into a house with a large backyard. I would like to xeriscape 90 percent of it, but I must first learn how to kill and remove the grass. I'm not a fan of chemicals and would like to find an alternate solution. Most of the yard is very, very brown these days due to the drought. Will a rototiller do the job? Frank Dearest Frank, For befuddled readers, a xeriscape is a water-saving garden, usually installed in a dry climate. Here are Three Fun Ways to Kill Your Lawn: Dig up the grass with a …

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Umbra on environmentally friendly communities

Hello, Umbra, I have been a firefighter for 23 years in Florida and have been reading Grist for the last couple of years. I am very environmentally conscious (probably why my nickname at the fire station is Captain Planet) and am starting to look for a place to move with mountains, small and friendly (preferably environmentally conscious) communities that still have reasonably clean air and water and a lack of huge malls, power plants, and environmentally damaging companies or toxic waste dump sites. Good schools for children would be a plus. I've been trying to find ways to research but …

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Umbra on forest fires

Dear Umbra, My husband says that Rush is blaming the Sierra Club for the huge forest fires raging in Colorado and Arizona. He says that because environmentalists oppose logging, the forest is too full of fuel. I told him that as far as I know, the Sierra Club is really trying to prevent logging in roadless areas and wilderness areas, not areas where people are living and building developments. But he pointed out that with the fires the size they are, they could have burned through some of both kinds of areas. I also told him that the U.S. Forest …

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Umbra on wooden pallets

Dear Umbra, I've scrounged some old wooden shipping pallets for garden projects -- compost piles and raised planting boxes. They appear to be untreated wood, but I'm feeling paranoid. Is there any way to know? Do companies that make pallets routinely spray them with any preservatives? Thanks,Jim Dearest Jim, Great nations consider your humble garden pallets to be of vital economic importance. As world trade expands, the global market often rests, literally, on shipping pallets. Goods visit many shores before reaching the stores, and tiny little hobos -- wood-boring insects such as the pine borer and the Asian longhorn beetle, …

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Advice on eco-friendly grilling

Dear Umbra, What sort of grill (charcoal or gas) is the fairest of them all -- speaking from an environmentalist's viewpoint, of course! R. Widiss Dearest R., Gas. I gather that lively debate exists in the barbecue set over which yields better flavor: the briquettes, with their flavorful smoke and irregular heat, or boring old gas, which cooks evenly and imparts fewer smoky (aka burnt) flavors to the object de grill. Not much debate over the environmental results, though: Burning charcoal gives off more nasty particulates and chemicals. And if you're carnivorous, you're doubly culpable: cooking beef can be worse …

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Umbra on diesel engines

Dear Umbra, Longtime reader; first-time writer. Love the column. My partner and I recently bought a small station wagon to replace our 4WD pick-up and '83 sedan. After some debate, we chose a turbo-diesel engine that boasts about 45 miles per gallon instead of a gas engine, which gets about 30 MPG. Our thinking led us to choose the higher fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions of the diesel engine, although the gas engine produces fewer particulate emissions, sulfur, and other nasties. Would you please comment on our decision, and also help us understand the other pollution and energy costs …

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Umbra on picking the right car

Dear Umbra, In 1981, I bought my first car, a Honda Civic. It was a great car, and despite what certain congressional leaders say about car size and safety, an excellent vehicle for handling winter snow and ice in mountain driving in Steamboat Springs, Colo. The problem is that now, living in Pennsylvania, my husband and I and our three children are looking for a car that will be able to carry the five of us for the next 10 years without destroying the planet. We had to buy a used van when the kids were younger because, try as …

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Umbra on cooling your car

Dear Umbra, Is it more efficient to drive down the highway with my windows down or the air conditioner on? I know the air conditioner decreases gas mileage, but I bet having my windows down at 75 miles per hour produces pretty good drag. Thanks,Sara Dearest Sara, This is July's Question of the Month for Grist readers, apparently. I received a passel of virtually identical queries with minute variations. ("How much drag do you get from a drooling dog?", etc.) Car air conditioning has obvious benefits, especially if you have a long commute in a sprawling all-road-all-the-time Southern city. With …

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Umbra on weeding

Dear Umbra, We moved into a suburban neighborhood in Ft. Collins, Colo., last year and I began my usual organic gardening practices. I created a beautiful flower garden in our front yard, but I still receive complaints from my neighbors because I refuse to apply herbicides to kill the dandelions and other weeds in the lawn. At least they are all green and neatly mowed! My scientific explanations about the dangers of herbicides and pesticides and the benefits of lawn biodiversity do not placate my picky neighbors. And they haven't even seen my milkweed butterfly garden yet. Can there really …

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Umbra on lawn and garden pesticides

Dearest Umbra, Goddess of Green Knowledge, A few years ago, a farmer friend of mine argued that more pesticides and chemical fertilizers are applied to suburban lawns and gardens than are used in commercial agriculture. I can see how this might be the case, given the massive size of the lawn and garden chemical industry, but I haven't been able to verify this information. Can you help? Ed Hunt Dearest Ed, Supplicant, The lawn and garden industry is massive, indeed. In 1997, U.S. households used 76 million pounds of pesticides. Of course, some of these toxic chemicals may have been …

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