Projects for the New Year

Take on one project this year that will help improve the earth. Just one. If you can manage more, fantastic. However make sure that you are fully mindful of all aspects of your project so that is it done as well as it can be.

For instance, decide to use greywater. If you can physically and legally connect your household non-toilet water pipes to a water composting system and use it to irrigate plants, then do so. If piping is impossible, then hand-carry the dishwater, shower water, bath water and cooking water out and dump it on your plants as often as you can. Make a smoothie for yourself, then clean the blender by filling it with water, blending it, and pouring that nutrient-rich residual around your plants. Yet that is not enough. Use environmentally friendly soaps. Be aware of the plastic content and chemical treatments for fireproofing or insecticide of the clothes you are washing. Plastic is in synthetic fleece, in microdermal skin treatments, in polyester bedding. You don’t have to not use greywater if you are washing synthetic fabric, but you should be mindful of what you buying. Avoid microbeads. Avoid glitter and mosquito-proofed outerwear. Choose your purchases with open eyes, thereby reducing your usage of these toxins. Build good soil to help clean the toxins from the water. 

Compost. At the very least, use blender compost.    That means, take a handful of soft kitchen scraps, put them into a blender, fill with water, process, and pour the very liquidy mixture around your plants. Don’t throw away any food scraps, egg shells, leftovers, sour milk, moldy refrigerator mysteries, paper towels, tissues, paper napkins, cotton Q-tips, cotton balls, cotton dental floss, hair, or anything biodegradable. If you can’t blend it up and pour it onto the earth as fertilizer, then dig a small hole and bury it, or make a pile and compost it, or layer it in a raised bed or in a lasagna garden. What leaves your house in the form of trash should only be recyclables and undecompostable items. Your garbage disposal should be rarely used if ever. Put this raw fertilizer into the ground, not into the dump. Be mindful of what you are buying and whether it can be composted or not. 

Plant trees. If you are in an area with too much rainfall, you need the trees to take up the water, hold the soil and buffer the onslaught of the weather. If you are in a dry area you need trees to shade the ground, to capture ambient moisture and rain it down, to cover the hard earth with leaves. All areas need perches for animals. All areas need the oxygen supplied by the trees converting carbon dioxide gasses. All areas need reforestation with natives that thrive in indiginous locations. Be mindful of what kind of landscape you are planting. If you choose non-native trees that offer no food for animals and harm the native flora, then you are not helping. In San Diego, if you plant eucalyptus, ficus, Washingtonia palm trees, Brazilian or California peppers (not from California, but Peru), or many of the sterile fruitless versions of ornamental trees, you are taking away from the landscape rather than adding to it. I can’t begin to count how many neighborhoods I’ve been in with old plantings of ornamental plants and trees, and the area is so sterile of animals that they are like wastelands. Only survivor crows and sparrows (and loose cats) can be seen. Instead, areas with native trees are rich in many species of birds, and the insect population is under control as well. Water use is low, pollinator habitat is high, and the neighborhood feels alive and well, especially if the cats are safely tucking inside where they belong, as mine are.

Recycle. I am constantly stunned to see recyclable bottles and cans thrown into regular waste. The percentage of what is recycled that actually processed is low, too. So choose glass over plastic. We bought camping utensil sets to carry with us, refuse straws, and this year I’ll work on bringing containers for leftovers when we eat out rather than take a clamshell plastic container or Styrofoam one. I already wrap banana peels, leftover pastries, apple cores, and whatever is biodegradable in a paper napkin, bring it home and compost it. If you have a plastic water bottle, soda can, glass bottle, or anything recyclable, please put it in the appropriate container. Recycling has been around since I was a schoolgirl, and I can’t believe everyone still doesn’t do it.

Switch makeup. My daughter is particularly good at finding vegan, Fair Trade and non-GMO skin care products for reasonable prices. Neither of us use many cosmetics, but the lip and cheek color, eye color and moisturizers we use, as well as our daily soaps, are ethically and environmentally sourced. Why rub harsh chemicals into your eyes and mouth? The choices grow every day, and the prices lower all the time. Do your homework. Be mindful of what you pick up in the store. Remember that what you put on your skin is also washed down the sink and into the water table, or into your greywater. Support the businesses who have ethical business practices. This goes for men, too. Shaving cream, after shaves, toner, scent, hair products, etc. Your skin will be healthier for the change.

Shop local. Pick one or two local businesses that you know practice sustainable, ethical and conscientious business practices, who give back to their community, and give them all of your support. Buy from them, advertise for them, befriend them, give them moral support. Rate them highly on Yelp, Google, or other rating systems. Watch out for them to be sure that they can succeed. Work for them if possible. Adopt them so that they have success.

Go animal and dairy free at least one day a week. I cannot go into the scope of the damage to the environment and the horror of the treatment of food animals here. Dare yourself to find out for yourself. Read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Find out what happens to cows and their calves in dairies, and the heartbreaking lowing of the cows -always kept pregnant to produce milk- as their young are hauled shrieking away to be slaughtered for veal. If you think that fish and shellfish somehow have no nerves or instincts, then think again. Lobsters who are by nature competitive being held in freshwater tanks, their claws bound, among their competition, starved, and then boiled alive. If you shrug and turn away from the suffering from others, then perhaps you should analyze your food sources more. You condone practices if you support them with your wallet. So set aside a meatless and dairy-free day once a week. If  the entire U.S. did not eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. The UN  has said that a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from the worst effects of climate change because of the heavy environmental impact of raising livestock. Not to mention the health benefits that come from a plant-based diet; diabetes, cancer, hypertension, high blood pressure and so much more is rooted in diet. Make a Meatless Monday, or a Vegan Wednesday, or whatever, and avoid pouring cheese sauce all over some steamed veggies and calling it a good meal.  Have a curry, a Turkish Eggplant Stew, a dairy free mushroom stroganoff, spring rolls, veggie lasagna, heavenly steamed eggplant, a portobello sandwich, stir-fry, bean and avocado burritos, try some non-GMO meat substitutes like those from Gardein (particularly their fish!) (no product placement, just a recommendation), or make your own seitan. Make your own vegan butter. Let your body and the environment have a break for a day.

Help Out. Choose a local charity, or a needy neighbor, and provide what they need. Don’t just give them what you want to get rid of , or what you think they should have. Often people just need reassurance or a friend to talk to, or possible solutions, or a hand for a day. Donate what your charity needs, and if that is money then do it. Help with a fundraiser. Volunteer your time. Do something to truly help someone else out, without asking for praise or cosmic bonus points in return. Don’t be a pain; be a blessing. Volunteering and helping out make you feel worthwhile and surrounds you with like-minded people who can become your friends.

 I have found many of my closest friends through volunteering.  Be aware of large, nation- or world-wide charities who use most of your donations for salaries and infrastructure, and very little on what they are supposed to be supporting.  Don’t let the big names fool you. Use your money to help honest charities in your area, or by just sending money to people who need it, anonymously.

Whatever you choose to do, do it mindfully. Pay attention to the details, to where products come from, to the business practices of the charities and stores you support, to how animals and people are treated in the making of the products, of what is in what you handle every day. You don’t have to, nor can you, take on the world’s problems, but you can focus on one thing and stick with it; make it part of your day-to-day until it is habit. Then move to a second choice. What you do, what you buy, what you say and how you spend your time cause ripples across the earth, and being mindful of your influence will send out help rather than harm.

Happy New Year. Be healthy. Be kind. Be happy. You matter.

5 thoughts on “Projects for the New Year

  1. Hi Diane,
    Yes I wondered how close you were to the last lot of fires and the terrible mudslides. Also I did read a report that said California would probably be at risk of fires all year round due to climate change. I am glad Finch Frolic was ok.
    Eucalypts are thought to be alleopathic, but I find grass and some native flowers and shrubs grow under them in some parts of the property but the soil under the trees is not good and very dry. Also jonquils, bulbine lilies and agapanthus do well with them. I have several times bought flowers native to this area only to be amazed at how quickly they died! Possibly because there was not enough variety of native trees, or climate change has already made an impact. I have planted quite a few native trees over the last year and will gradually add more as budget allows. Maybe that will make a difference.
    I hope you stay safe in you oasis. I think I will never forget your video on rain in the food forest on a day when it was not raining. I was already standing at the beginning of forest thinking and that video gave me the push to really get started. I thought I want that! Still got a long way to go but thanks to you and a couple of others I’ve made a good start.
    Thank you,
    Jane.

  2. Jane, we’ve had late and devastating fires around here in December, some close to us. Then when we received our one rainstorm it was 3-4 inches and caused mudslides in the burned areas near Los Angeles that killed 20 people. Fires and deluges… it looks like your weather pattern and mine are the same.
    Good to hear how well your swales work. Every inch of rain we capture the better. It makes such a difference.
    As eucalyptus is native to your area, I’m sure your soil and understory plants all work with it. Perhaps alyssum and others in the brassica family work well for your soil microbes. It’s a Mediterranean plant, though. We have a high alkaline soil, about 8 pH. I hope that the next two months see you safely out of fire season.

  3. Hi Diane,
    At the moment we are almost in the peak of our fire season. There have been some fires, but none near me thank goodness and none that have caused loss of life. It has been very hot here for about the last 10 days with temperatures in the 30-43c . The weekend is forecast to be 41c and 40c yet again.February is also a hot month for us after that hopefully the worst will be over. Last autumn I discovered small scale swales and dug a few to catch the winter rains. Well, we had the driest start to winter ever, in spite of frost every morning until the start of summer, we had the warmest winter on record. However we did have some rain at the end of autumn and again at the end of November and the first week of December. It came down hard and fast and did some damage to the creek banks and washed away my and a few other people’s causeways, but, my swales worked well, filled and held water and drained gradually. I am really really glad I dug them, as without them most of the water would have run straight into the creek and I would have had to start watering again within a week. I took a photo when I started to dig the swales and I will take another one at the same time this year and will probably continue the photos each year so I can see the changes.
    I love eucalypts but cannot understand why people plant them near houses or in an urban setting at all. Unfortunately my house is surrounded by them as my area is in remnant ironbark forest, I just try not to dwell on what could happened as I can’t afford to do anything about it. I probably have hundred or more on my property. They were already here when I bought the place. I have planted some others natives, as well as fruit trees. interesting about the alyssum, I have it growing round my grapevine and it seems to be a happy combination, but I will see if I can find a native alternative. The kangaroos have not eaten my grapevine since it has been growing there.
    Regards Jane

  4. Hi Jane, Happy New Year to you, too. How was your summer season heat-wise? We’ve had very little rain this winter when we are supposed to have it; we have about a month and a half left for rain to come, but its been warm. I have a food forest with lots of non-natives in it, and I also have a lot of natives scattered throughout it with more swaths along the fenceline and below. I used to allow non-natives such as mustard, radish and alyssum grow, believing them to be helping. Then I found out that they were killing the soil microbes that help natives grow. I’ve been replacing them with natives that have the same purpose in the environment, but there are still others that I will eventually have to remove and replace such as ficus and eucalyptus, and down in the seasonal streambed there is papyrus, palm trees and many more from seeds washed downstream when it rains. I embrace your criteria and find them admirable. Good for you. Good to hear from you, too! Take care. Diane

  5. Hi Diane,
    Happy New Year.
    I have planted a few trees over the past months, but not all native. I have planted fruit trees as well as native. Certainly our native birds here in Australia are very partial to my peaches and apricots. Also I have lots of agapanthus and the other day I noticed some of our native honeyeaters visiting the flowers. I admit I don’t have a great deal of expertise in growing plants and trees, but it seems to me, that with some climate changes happening now, that diversity is very important, who knows what will survive where? I think we need to experiment and go with what works. Here where I live agapanthus is currently frown upon. I love it, it grows no matter how hot, cold, dry or wet the weather stabilises the creek bank erosion and needs absolutely no attention from me, and certain native bird love it. My criteria for growing something is – does it feed me, does it feed and shelter native wildlife, is it beautiful and will it grow on my patch.
    Regards Jane.

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