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Which Type of Mulch is Best for Your Garden?

Next time youre in nature, try looking at the ground. Its usually covered in old leaves, fallen branches, rocks and other debris. This layer is vital for soil health. It helps regulate moisture, provides nutrients, suppresses weeds, prevents erosion and supports resident microbes and insects.

You can recreate this effect by mulching any bare areas in your garden. Mulch is essentially anything that covers your soil. And its meant to stay on top of soil as a buffer, not to be dug in like compost or fertilizer. Organic types of mulch will break down and release nutrients over time, but keep them on the soil surface for the most benefit.

There are many different types of mulch you can use. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on your site. These are some of the most common mulches available.

Wood Chips and Shredded Bark

Wood chips are primarily branches and wood fiber cut into small pieces. Whereas, shredded bark is only bark with no wood pulp. Both make excellent mulch in areas youd like to keep clean, such as under strawberries or other low-growing crops. You can also use them in pathways or around perennial plantings.

Wood chips retain water better and break down faster than shredded bark. This means that chips may be a better choice in areas like a vegetable garden where you want more moisture and nutrients. Bark may do better in long-term areas where you want better drainage, such as underneath shrubs.

Rocks

Covering the soil with large rocks counts as mulch. Rock gardens may look dry, but the moisture stored under rocks helps sustain the surrounding plants.

Rocks will also capture heat from the sun and create warm microclimates around them, which can be very helpful in cooler regions. Rocks can also prevent erosion when used on a slope.

Yard Debris

Dont be too quick to clean up your yard. Lawn clippings can be left on the lawn to compost in place, or gathered and spread over your garden beds. You can do the same with any plant trimmings, especially leafy greens from vegetables or flowering plants. These can be left next to the plants to cover the soil and allow the nutrients to be recycled.

Fall leaves are a great opportunity to add extra organic matter to your beds. They also help keep the soil warm and safe over winter.

If you have your own compost pile, your finished compost can be used as mulch. Depending on how rich your compost is, you may want to spread a small amount throughout your garden and then cover it with a less nutritious mulch like dried leaves.

Gravel or Pebbles

These small stones are typically used for pathways or driveways. Unlike pavement or cement, they allow water to pass through to the soil underneath. Like larger rocks, gravel and pebbles will absorb heat during the day and release it at night.

Its best to contain gravel or pebbles within a frame or solid edging material. They often scatter into your garden beds or lawn if theyre left loose. This is annoying for bed maintenance, and can be a hazard if your lawnmower catches and throws loose gravel.

Wine Cork Mulch

Almost 13 billion wine corks are produced worldwide every year. Unfortunately, many of these end up in landfills. A much better use for corks is to repurpose them as mulch.

Wine corks are a natural material made from bark of the cork oat tree, native to the Mediterranean. Corks are dried and compressed to be water resistant, so they need to be broken into smaller pieces to make a good mulch. These are full instructions on how to make your own wine cork mulch.

Newspaper

Mulching is a great way to reuse newspaper. Newspaper blocks sunlight from reaching the soil, so its excellent for controlling weeds. These are some helpful tips on how to use newspaper mulch in your garden.

Newspapers that are only printed with black ink are safe to use. The black ink contains a carbon-based compound thats biodegradable. On the other hand, colored inks may contain harmful metals or other compounds, such as lead or sulfur. Not all inks are harmful, but its hard to know exactly whats in each one. Its best to avoid any colored flyers and inserts from your newspapers.

Straw

Straw is the dry stalks left-over from grain crops after the grains have been harvested. Not to be confused with hay, which is usually a mix of grasses, legumes and other plants that are grown to feed to animals. Hay includes all the seeds from these plants, which would create a huge weed problem if you used it as mulch.

Straw will have less seeds in it than hay, although some of the grain and other possible weed seeds will be present. Its good organic matter and will provide lots of carbon to your soil as it breaks down.

Although, avoid using straw if you have any rodents on your property. Rodents like mice, voles or rats love nesting in straw and will make homes in your mulch.

Landscape Fabrics

The most common landscape fabric is made from woven polypropylene, which is a type of plastic. Its typically laid directly on top of soil. The fact its woven allows water to go through the fabric while providing a solid barrier to prevent weed growth. You can cut individual holes in the fabric where you want to plant shrubs, trees or other plants.

Other mulches can be put on top of the fabric to make it look better, such as bark mulch or gravel. Although, weeds often take root in between the mulch and the fabric as the fabric breaks down over time. These weeds can be difficult to remove in older landscapes as they become entangled in the fabric.

Synthetic Lawns

Many mulches are good in garden beds, but what if you have an area you want to keep open for recreation or other uses? Thats where synthetic lawns work well. They dont require the water and maintenance of a real grass lawn, and they still provide the benefit of protecting your soil.

A synthetic or artificial lawn is made from different types of plastic materials to create a mat that looks and feels like real grass. It can be shaped to fit any area you need to fill.

Living Mulch

If you have a bare edge in your garden, try planting something low-growing to fill the space. Perennials like thyme, sedum, rock cress, snow in summer or candytuft can make excellent ground covers that will return every year. Annuals like alyssum, lobelia, begonia, bacopa or petunias will bloom all season as well as cover your soil.

Related
10 Bee-Friendly Plants That are Easy to Grow
9 Beneficial Bugs & Insects to Welcome in the Garden
12 Ways to Get Rid of Aggressive Weeds Without Resorting to Roundup

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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Which Type of Mulch is Best for Your Garden?

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3 Essential Zero Waste Items to Keep in Your Car

No matter where you go, taking a zero waste trip can be pretty challenging.Disposables are king on the road!

If you want to make it tothe end of your trip without gathering up a collection of paper coffee cups and throwaway plastics, youhave to be prepared. Luckily, (now that the weather is getting warmer) I’ve had the chance to test out my very own Zero Waste Car Kit. And let me tell you, it has saved me a number of times.

You never know where the open road will take you; these amazing, portable, lightweight zero waste items will ensure you’re always prepared for whatcomes your way.

Here’s what I keep in my car.

3Essential Zero Waste Items to Keep in Your Car

1. Mason Jar

Why I Love Them

I honestly believe that amason jar is one of the most versatile items on the planet. Theyseal water-tight, making them perfect for solid foods, soups and cold drinks. Perfect for restaurant leftovers! Need to use it for coffee in a snap? Pack a mason jar cozy to protect your fingers while you sip your coffee.

Where to Find Them

Mason jars are very easy to find. I highly recommend checking out your local thrift stores to see if you can find a range of sizes for your pantry and your to-go kit. Not interested in buying secondhand? Save and wash jars from sauces and nut butters or visit any of your local big boxstores.

What You’ll Spend

Mason jars are definitely your most affordable jar option out there, especially if you choose to buy secondhand. Expect to spend between $0.50 and a couple of dollars. Nice!

2. Cloth Napkin

Why I Love Them

If you eat out a lot, definitely stasha cloth napkin or dish towel in your car or purse. This item will come in handy if you needto pick up a sandwich or a pastry, or need to wrap something for transport. Most places will gladly hand you your food item on your clean cloth napkin. They’re also great for wrapping bulk goodieslike crackers or nuts.

Where to Find Them

Odds are you already have plenty of cloths to choose from in your kitchen. Pick one that isn’t too thick (you want to be able to tie it closed) and that is made froma natural fiber that washes up well. If you don’t have any kitchen cloths to spare, pick one up locally.

What You’ll Spend

If you’re buying new, expect to spend between $5 and $15 for a pack of 3-5. However, you can definitely find secondhand linens as well! Just be sure to sanitize and wash them before use.

3. Cutlery Kit

Why I Love Them

Few fast fooditems sneak up on me more than plastic straws and disposable cutlery. This is why I keep a cutlery kit that includes bamboo fork, knife, spoon and chopsticks, and a stainless steel straw in my purse. Pick one up and start refusing those disposables at restaurants!

Where to Find Them

Amazon.com has a number of lightweight, nicely wrapped cutlery kits to choose from. You can also opt to make your own, or assemble some silverware from home. Just make sure it includes all the items you need. Feeling even more minimalist? Look for a convertible multipurpose tool that is a fork, spoon and knife all in one!

What You’ll Spend

Most of the cutlery kits I’ve seen range between $12 and $20 online. I purchased my To-Go Ware kit for about $15. If you want to save money, just stash a few pieces of silverware from your kitchen.

What do you think? Will you create a Zero Waste To-Go Kit like this one?

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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3 Essential Zero Waste Items to Keep in Your Car

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9 Beneficial Bugs & Insects to Welcome in the Garden

Bannon is…

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9 Beneficial Bugs & Insects to Welcome in the Garden

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Americans Have Officially Reduced Their Beef Consumption by 19 Percent

Turns out, Americans may be making smart, eco-friendly decisions in the grocery store after all.

The National Resources Defense Council recently released a report on American food consumption, which found that Americans reduced their intake of beef famously the most carbon-intense food on the planet by 19 percent between 2005 and 2014. For anyone who cares about the environmental footprint of their food choices, this is decidedly good news.

Americas Changes in Consumption

Americans chose to eat a lot less meat in 2014 than they did in 2005. In fact, they ate about ⅕ less meat in the former year than they did in the latter. According to the NRDC, this will result in a huge reduction in carbon emissions from the US.

Americans consumed 19 percent less beef, avoiding an estimated 185 MMT of climate-warming pollution or roughly the equivalent of the annual tailpipe pollution of 39 million cars, the report states.

And it wasnt just beef that saw decreased consumption. Milk, pork, high-fructose corn syrup and shellfish consumption also went down.

Image via NRDC

The reason behind the shift is still up for debate. According to the New York Times, some industry experts attribute the changes to steeper prices of red meat. Droughts that plagued the region increased the cost of beef, as did increasing rates of export to other countries. Additionally, about one quarter of consumers attested that it was concerns about cholesterol and saturated fat that had them reaching for alternative protein sources.

Beef vs. Alternatives

Beef is notoriously horrible for the environment. In addition to the methane gasses released by cattle, numerous other factors make beef an unsustainable option (at least, beef as it is raised today). In order to feed cows, farmers must harvest millions of acres of corn and soy, resource-intensive crops that are often heavily treated with fossil fuel-based pesticides and insecticides. Then, of course, there is the loss of arable land associated with massive Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, often known as CAFOs.

In fact, even just switching from beef to chicken can have a massive positive impact on the environment. In simplified terms, beef production emits 26.45 kilogram equivalents of CO₂ for every 1 kg of beef, which chicken only emits 5.05.

What Foods to Eat (And What Foods Not to Eat) To Save the Planet

When it comes to a diet that can improve the state of the planet by reducing carbon emissions, the waters are murky. One thing, however, is certain: Eating mainstream beef is bad for the planet. Swap out beef for plant-based proteins whenever possible, but dont swap it out for dairy. (In fact, most types of dairy have a C02 emissions rating higher than chicken or pork!). You should also avoid some resource-intensive vegetables, like asparagus (big shocker: asparagus is worse for the planet than chicken!), as much as possible. Here are some swaps you might consider making, according to the EWG:

Swap out salmon (11.9 kgs carbon emissions) for beans (2 kgs)
Swap out cheese (13.5 kgs) for eggs (4.8 kgs)
Swap out pork (12.1 kgs) for tofu (2.0 kgs)
Swap out turkey (10.9 kgs) for peanut butter (2.5 kgs)
Swap out canned tuna (6.1 kgs) for lentils (our clear winner at 0.9 kgs)

Finally, eating local should be your first priority if youre trying to go gentle on planet Earth. Even if you just cant give up eating a burger once in awhile, youll be doing the earth a huge favor by simply choosing a local, grass-fed producer.

Most beef cattle in the United States today are finished on grain in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), states the NRDC report. Growing this cattle feed (primarily corn and soy) requires large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers, which, in turn, require significant inputs of fossil fuels. Alternative models of beef production, such as intensive rotational cattle grazing, can help sequester carbon in the soil and provide numerous other health and environmental benefits compared to CAFOs.

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 Use the Moon’s Power to Help Your Garden

Planting crops based on the phases of the moon is an ancient practice thats said to increase plant vitality and increase vegetable yields. It can also help guide you on the best times to harvest crops, maintain your garden and care for indoor plants. These are some of the basics to get started.

How does the Moon affect your garden?

We know the Moons gravitational pull is strong enough to influence the Earths oceans and cause tides. Lunar gardening suggests that the Moons gravity also affects the water within soils.

Its said ground water rises as the moon waxes (becomes fuller), and then drops as the moon wanes (gets smaller). This means that plants and seeds planted during a waxing moon phase will have more water available for upward vegetative growth. Whereas, the waning moon phase is better for below-ground root growth as ground water recedes.

Very little research has been done around this concept, but you can do your own test on how the moon affects moisture levels in your soil. Many gardeners who consistently use lunar gardening techniques swear by its results.

How does lunar gardening work?

Lunar gardening recommends what you should do in the garden during each phase of the moon. The Moon goes through a complete cycle every 29 days, which is then broken into quarters as shown in the diagram below.

The primary phases of the moon are known as waxing and waning. The waning moon starts when the moon is full and ends when the moon is the smallest, known as the new moon. The waxing moon starts with the new moon and ends when the moon is full.

Most calendars have symbols that show the full moon, new moon and often the quarters in between. This is all you need to start planning your lunar gardening activities. If you want to explore this method in more depth, various lunar calendars and gardening almanacs are available. The Farmers Almanac is one of the best-known resources on planting around moon phases.

Gardening Tasks in Each Moon Phase

1. First Quarter (Waxing)

This quarter starts with a new moon and goes until the moon is half-full. Water is rising in the soil and more available for seeds and young plants.

Plant vegetables grown for their leaves and above-ground parts, such as cabbage, lettuce, grains and celery. These vegetables also produce seeds on external flowers instead of fruit.
Plant annual flowers and ornamental flowering shrubs.
Water your garden well, including your compost.
Graft or take cuttings of fruit and ornamental trees.
Transplant and repot houseplants.
Later in the season, pick fruits and vegetables intended for immediate use, such as salad greens. Water content should be higher during this moon phase, so your fresh veggies will be crunchier and juicier.

2. Second Quarter (Waxing)

This quarter starts with a half-full moon and ends when the moon is full. Moonlight is becoming stronger during this phase, which can promote vigorous leaf growth in seedlings and other plants.

Plant above-ground vegetables that produce their seeds inside fruit, such as beans, squash, tomatoes and peas.
Plant berries, such as raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries.
If needed, give your crops a light fertilizing with compost or other organic feed.

3. Third Quarter (Waning)

This quarter starts with the full moon and ends when it is half full. Strong root development is a key part of this moon phase as ground water starts to move downwards.

Plant vegetable root crops, such as potatoes, beets, melons, parsnips, carrots, peanuts and onions.
Plant ornamental bulbs as well as biennial and perennial flowers, including strawberries.
Plant trees to encourage strong root growth.
Divide perennial plants.
Spread mulch where needed.

4. Fourth Quarter (Waning)

This quarter starts with a half-full moon and ends with the new moon. The ground water table is lowest during this moon phase and plant growth is slowest, making it an excellent time for maintenance tasks. It is also a good time for harvesting because the low moisture levels reduce the likelihood of rotting.

Remove weeds and unwanted plants.
Mow your lawn because mowing will retard its growth during this moon phase.
Start your compost, or turn your existing compost pile. This moon phase promotes decomposition.
Prune and trim perennials, shrubs and trees.
Spray fruit trees if needed.
Till or cultivate your gardens soil.
Harvest flowers and seeds for next year.
Dry herbs, flowers or fruit for later use.
Harvest long-term storage crops, such as potatoes, cabbage, or apples.

Related
Grow Your Own Salad: 5 of the Easiest Vegetables to Plant
Weeds That are Good for Your Garden
How Light Pollution Affects Wildlife and Ecosystems

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