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Gardening with Charcoal and Epsom Salts

A few weeks ago I did a post on gardening with baking soda. I recently came across more clever organic gardening tips using common household products – charcoal and Epsom salts. Read on….


And yes, I’m talking about the charcoal you'll barbeque with this Memorial Day weekend, as long as it’s additive-free (natural hardwood charcoal, not briquettes)!

1. Activated carbon and water remove pesticides from the soil. This is good to know if you are putting in a vegetable garden and are not sure if the area was treated with pesticides in the past. Combine 1 pound charcoal with 1 gallon water, transfer to a spray bottle and mist directly onto the soil. The charcoal/water combination absorbs the chemicals.

2. Use charcoal as mulch. It keeps the soil moist and deters weed growth. Anything that helps control weeds is worth a try! Simply break the charcoal into small chunks about an inch in diameter and sprinkle around the plants.

3. Charcoal helps cut flowers last longer. Put a charcoal chunk in the bottom of a vase to extend the freshness of the water and flowers.

Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate)

Like baking soda, Epsom salts is an economical and unbelievably diverse product. Throughout time, not only has it been used to treat a variety of human and animal ailments, but is has also been known as a great garden supplement, especially with organic gardeners.

Tomatoes, peppers and roses need high levels of magnesium for optimal growth and are particularly responsive to Epsom salts. Tomatoes are prone to magnesium deficiency later in the growing season and you’ll notice this with yellowing leaves. Epsom salts help with plant chlorosis in general, the loss of chlorophyll in the leaves, even your lawn’s yellowing leaves. According to the National Gardening Association, “Don’t rely on Epsom salts to correct large soil magnesium deficiencies, but rather use it as a supplement to soils with adequate or slightly low magnesium levels to boost plant growth, flowering, and fruiting.”

Epsom salts enhance the soil’s and fertilizer’s capabilities in much the same way a gourmet salt enhances the flavor of food. Your houseplants, vegetables, herbs, (with the exception of sage – don’t ask me why), flowers, shrubs, trees and lawn will benefit from their application. You can either apply 1 tablespoon of granules around each plant or spray a solution of 1 tablespoon Epsom salts diluted in 1 gallon of water. As a foliar spray, it is taken up more quickly by the plants. Apply after the initial planting, about a month later when the plants begin to grow, and then one more time as the vegetable matures. For detailed information about specific plants, visit

Another great property? Epsom salts also deter slugs!

Learn from the organic gardeners who consider Epsom salts a “secret ingredient” to a lush, bountiful and affordable garden.
Try both the charcoal and Epsom salts and let me know you think!

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Information compiled from:, and

Plant a Tree for the Future

The social, aesthetic, and environmental benefits of trees are numerous. They manufacture oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. They provide shade in summer and windbreak in winter. The beauty and serenity of trees have been shown to help hospital patients recover more quickly. Trees reduce crime in low-income urban areas and increase property values. Trees help us save energy and improve air quality, conserve water and provide homes to wildlife. Large and majestic trees are an important part of the community.

According to American Forests, the national urban tree deficit now stands at more than 634 million trees. Unprecedented environmental stresses are making it more difficult for trees to grow and flourish in today’s world. Because trees sequester carbon and offset our carbon footprint, or the amount of energy a person consumes in their day-to-day activities, it is more important than ever to plant trees. The average person produces 26 tons of CO2 per year. 6 twenty-five year old pine trees absorb 1 ton of CO2. 36 twenty-five year old maple trees absorb 1 ton of CO2.

Planting trees is a way for people to give back to the environment for future generations and to offset the damage done by their carbon footprint. Spring is the perfect time to plant. Plant a tree for a new grandchild, in memory of a beloved pet, or to honor a special anniversary. When it comes to planting, the smaller the tree the better. Smaller trees develop a better root system and you’ll be amazed how quickly they grow. If you live in a condo, an apartment or have no place to plant a tree, there are organizations like or where with a small donation they will plant a tree in your name. I can’t think of a better gift!

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Have You Joined a CSA?

CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, have grown in popularity over the years. In a CSA, consumers can buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer. The farmer offers a certain number of shares, or boxes of vegetables or other farm products to the public. Customers in turn pay in advance for a share and receive a box or bag of seasonal produce each week during the farming season. There are several different CSA formats – half shares, seasonal shares (even winter shares are available with more produce grown in hot houses), biweekly shares, or market shares where you choose your own produce. Fish, local meat and flower CSAs are also available.

There are advantages for both the farmer and the consumer with the CSA model. For farmers, they receive early payment, which helps with their cash flow at a lean time of year, and they have the chance to meet the people who eat the food they grow. For the customer, they eat just picked produce, which is at its most flavorful and nutritious. They are often introduced to different kinds of produce and new preparation ideas. They have the opportunity to get to know the farmers who produce their food, a rare option today with conventional supermarkets where produce is cellophane-wrapped and has traveled 1500 miles from farm to plate.

I’ve been a member of several CSAs over the years, but the spring CSA I am participating in now is clearly the most unique. Fresh produce is limited in spring in New England, but my CSA bag is full of thoughtfully chosen and unusual items. Run by a nutritionist and her farmer boyfriend and based out of Sandwich, Nicole Cormier and Jim Lough, their bags of “locally sourced, fresh picked, handmade, sustainably grown, non-toxic, real food” are designed to be nutritionally complete. They contain items like sunchokes, pea greens, fresh chevre goat cheese, homemade almond milk, local cornmeal, black beans, herbs, spices, honey, farm fresh eggs and locally grown mushrooms and grains. I have received locally made skin salves, delicious homemade granola and dried fruits, green juice drinks and even a locally made reusable sandwich and snack bag. Nicole also includes recipes and nutritional information. Her CSA model is a little different from the typical one in that she uses many different farmers who all grow something different.

I can hardly wait to see what’s in my CSA bag – it’s apparent each bag is packed with love and care. Check out the CSAs in your area. You’ll not only enjoy eating the freshest and most nutritious produce possible, but the convenience of pre-chosen food too. And, you’re helping to support local farmers.

Information compiled from and

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Gardening with Baking Soda

Cheap, effective and OG (the original “green”), baking soda bakes, cleans, heals, disinfects, scrubs, deodorizes, exfoliates, and brightens just about everything in the home. But did you know baking soda works in the garden too?


I recently came across the following fabulous tips from

1. Make a Non-Toxic Fungicide
Mix 4 teaspoons of baking soda and 1 gallon of water. Use on roses for black spot fungus and also on grapes and vines when fruit first begins to appear.

2. Spray to Treat and Prevent Powdery Mildew
Powdery mildew is causing major problems with impatiens this year, but also can be a problem for other plants, like lilacs, cucumbers, squash and zinnias.
Spray Recipe: 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1 gallon of water, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid
Mix all the ingredients together and spray plants weekly. Apply on overcast days to prevent any potential foliage from burning.

3. Discourage Gnats In Soil & Fungus on Leaves
Mix in 1 gallon of water, 4 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon biodegradable soap. Mix well, spray infected foliage or soil as needed.

4. Discourage Weeds
Pour or sweep baking soda in a thick layer into cracks on a sidewalk or patios. The baking soda should kill any small weeds already sprouted and prevent new ones from coming up.

5. Kill Cabbage Worms
Mix equals parts flour and baking soda and dust plants (cabbage, broccoli, kale) being eaten by cabbage worms. They munch on the leaves and die usually in a day or two. Repeat as needed.

6. Kill Crabgrass
Simply wet the crabgrass, pour a heavy dusting of baking soda on the weed. The crabgrass should start dying back in 2 or 3 days .CAUTION: When applying baking try NOT to get it on your grass as too much baking soda can burn and kill it.

7. Clean Your Hands
After a day in the garden and dirt, clean your hands by rubbing and scrubbing wet hands with baking soda. Rinse.

To those comprehensive tips, I add:

8. Garden Mildewcide
Another simple recipe to combat powdery mildew on cucumbers, zucchini, melons, roses, and lilacs. Fill a spray bottle with 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 pint water. Spray as needed.
Baking Soda Bonanza by Peter A. Ciullo

And I really like this ingenious tip:

9. Test your soil PH.
Wet the soil and take a small amount of baking soda and sprinkle it onto soil. If the baking soda bubbles, your soil is acidic with a PH level under 5.,

You clearly can’t go wrong with tried and true baking soda, in the home and garden!

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Hot Tea!

Tea is tasty, nutritious, medicinal and “hot” right now. So is compost tea for your lawn, trees, gardens and shrubs!

What is compost tea?

Compost tea is a natural organic fertilizer made from compost, or more specifically a water extract of compost that is brewed to give the bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes a chance to increase in number and activity using the nutrients present in the water. It is also a highly effective natural insect and disease inhibitor. Compost tea is inexpensive and often an easier method of applying compost, especially to your trees and shrubs.

How is compost tea made?

Aerobic water steeps the biology off of the compost through an extraction process. Food-grade molasses, garlic, kelp, and fish emulsion are then added to the mix. The foods activate and cause the biology to multiply, creating a powerful, nutritious food for your plants.

How do you apply compost tea?

Compost tea can either be applied as a foliar spray or as a soil drench.

As a foliar spray, nutritious compost tea deposits beneficial organisms to plant surfaces so disease-causing organisms cannot find infection sites or food resources.

As a soil drench, compost tea develops a biological barrier around roots to prevent root disease-causing organisms from being able to find the roots. The tea introduces organic matter, which provides nutrients for the roots to improve plant growth and moisture retention.

Where can you get compost tea?

If you are in the Boston area, our tree care company, Boston Tree Preservation, offers compost tea treatments and serves as a tea center where homeowners can purchase the tea to apply themselves. As the organic movement grows, many tree care and landscape companies understand the value of compost tea and are starting to offer compost tea treatments. You can also find recipes on line to make it yourself if you have access to healthy, rich compost.

Click on the video below for a demonstration on how to make compost tea.


Compost tea is vibrant, alive and wakes up your soil! This spring, give your garden a treat with compost tea. 

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Information compiled from 

Celebrate Earth Day!

Mark your calendars for Earth Day next Tuesday, April 22, a day to commemorate the earth, celebrate green acts, raise awareness and work towards a more sustainable future. If you read my blog regularly, I imagine you already practice green acts. Earth Day is a good time to commit to adding new green habits.

What else can you do?

Adopt “meatless Mondays”. The meat industry is responsible for nearly one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Spring is a good time to start composting your kitchen waste. This time next year your compost pile will have turned into dark, rich compost with which to pot your spring plants or to spread on trouble spots on your lawn. By contrast, when food goes into the landfill, it rots and emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

In addition to your reusable water bottle, bring along a reusable mug when you buy a coffee or tea. (Many coffee shops charge you a reduced price when you do so.) Paper cups are less toxic than polystyrene cups, but they still use a significant amount of resources. Twenty million trees (a renewable resource) are cut down annually to manufacture paper cups, most of which are coated with a fossil fuel-derived plastic, and 8,095 gallons of water are used to make 10,000 paper cups with sleeves.

Think about the amount of electricity you use every day – the coffee maker, blender, hair dryer, hair straightener, electric toothbrush, iron, computer, printer, tv, air conditioning, lights, etc. Try and reduce your usage by unplugging your appliances when not in use; consider power strips to help control vampire energy. Encourage your family and friends to do the same.

Test drive a hybrid or electric car when you are next in the market for a new car. I drive an electric car and feel so good driving my carbon emission free car and love not paying those high gas prices !(and it doesn’t significantly increase your electricity bill.)

Start an Earth Dinner tradition serving local, organic foods, using real cutlery and cloth napkins, and eating by candlelight to save energy. Find how who grew your food and the history of the recipes you are cooking from. Connecting to your food makes the experience more meaningful. Of course you will be washing your dishes with non-toxic detergent, right?

With every passing year, I notice greener living becoming the new way of life. That’s encouraging!

Want to know your ecological footprint? Click here to find out (and how to reduce it).

Some information compiled from

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Organic Lawns – What Kind Do You Want?

About this time of year, we’ve had enough of winter and are anxious to start gardening and working on the lawn. There are lots of creative options for lawns and now is the time to start planning.

Though conventional lawns are a perfect medium where kids can play as well as provide a nice, kempt look to your landscape, to get that perfect, weed-free golf course look requires time, expense and unnecessary chemicals and nitrogen-based fertilizers. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and linked to health problems in children, pets and adults. These chemicals get tracked into our home, seep into our waterways and kill beneficial life in the soil.

Turf grass is our largest irrigated “crop” using as much as half of all fresh water used in urban areas each year. With drought striking much of the country, this is an awful waste of water. Lawns also use 20 times more pesticides per acre than farms. Additionally, the fuel used to power mowers and other fume-belching equipment required to maintain a perfect lawn emits toxic emissions into the air.

You can have a beautiful, lush, green lawn where your kids and pets can play safely without the use of chemicals, and save money too.  How?

• Feed your grass naturally with organic fertilizers available at your local nursery.
• Spread a thin layer of compost over the turf, particularly on the trouble spots. The beneficial bacteria in the compost wake up your turf miraculously!
• Throw down some extra seed.
• Add plenty of calcium to your turf.
• Leave your grass clippings, a natural source of nitrogen, after you mow. Cornell researchers have shown that mulching leaves on to the lawn in the fall results in faster green up in the spring.
• Mow high. Longer grass encourages longer roots, which require less water and food.
• When you water, water deeply and infrequently.
• Learn to live with a few weeds, or wild herbs. Dandelions actually add a bit of color, don’t last long, and in fact are a highly nutritious, edible weed (only on an organic lawn). Monocultures like a lawn are not typical in nature and only invite problems.

Alternatives to Conventional Lawns

• Edible Landscapes with sustainable, self-perpetuating vegetables, herbs, fruits and nuts. There are edible landscape companies available to consult and/or install.
• Wildflower and perennial gardens that attract beneficial bees and butterflies.
• Cool season or warm season ornamental, drought-tolerant grasses that need no mowing.
• Low maintenance ground covers like myrtle or nitrogen-enriching clover that stays green even in the driest part of the summer.
• Trees and shrubs
Xeriscapes, or landscapes with an emphasis on water conservation, soil improvement, limited turf, native plants, proper mulching and low-maintenance
• Or a combination of the above

This spring, take a safer and healthier approach to your lawn!


Some information compiled from:, and

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Oil Pulling

I recently discovered oil pulling. Oil what?

Oil pulling is an age-old remedy started in India thousands of years ago that uses oil to clean, detoxify, and nourish teeth and gums; it also whitens teeth. Oil pulling removes excessive and bad bacteria from your mouth, which also helps with detoxification of the entire body. It is well known that bacteria in the mouth can lead to other health related problems besides gum disease.

How Do You Do It?

Basically you swish a teaspoon or two of oil – coconut, sesame and olive oil work best – in your mouth for up to twenty minutes. Ten to fifteen is okay too, but twenty is optimal to break down plague and root out bacteria. After you spit out (in a paper bag if you are concerned about your plumbing), rinse with warm salt water and brush as usual. Oil pulling is best done first thing in the morning before breakfast. Twenty minutes is a long time to spend swishing, so I use that time to go about my morning routine, all while swishing, and before you know it you’re done. My husband loves the peace and quiet while I swish!

How Does It Work?

Unlike mouthwash, oil is viscous and therefore picks up saliva and pulls out bacteria while it works its way deep into the crevices of your gum tissues. The oil cuts through plaque and removes toxins without disturbing the teeth or gums. Be careful not to swallow the oil because you will reintroduce the bacteria back into your body.

My dentist is always mentioning my inflamed gums and deep pockets, so I decided to give oil pulling with coconut oil a try. I swished for several weeks before a second appointment with my periodontist. She noticed that my gums were less inflamed than previously, and when I mentioned that I had been oil pulling, which she had never heard of, she wouldn’t necessarily attribute the decrease in swelling to the oil pulling. She did say however, to keep it up if I thought it was working.

Oil pulling is an easy practice to help heal teeth and gums and one that possibly benefits your entire system. I love how clean and glossy my teeth feel after swishing! Why not give it a try and let me know what you think!

Information compiled from and

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If You Can't Garden, Clean!

Happy Spring! Whether it feels like spring or not, there is a psychological lift to just spotting a crocus or two and knowing that winter is officially over. It may be too early to start gardening, but it’s not too early to start a thorough spring cleaning!

If you don’t already use non-toxic cleaners, now is the time to switch! Indoor air pollution, partially caused by the use of chemical based cleaners, is a much more serious problem than people realize and one of the reasons for increased cases of asthma and allergies among other diseases. Fortunately you can find several brands of non-toxic cleaning supplies at your local grocery store and many of the conventional brands are now making a less toxic product. Be sure to read the ingredients though; some products claim to be “natural” when they really aren’t. Visit Environmental Working Group’s Cleaners database “Hall of Shame” for the worst offenders in cleaning products.

Seventh Generation, Mrs. Myers, Shaklee’s full line of biodegradable concentrated cleaning products, and The Optimist Company, a local Cape Cod company whose owner makes pure cleaning and laundry products in her own kitchen with cool biodegradable packaging, are all effective “clean” (toxin-free) products. Start with an all-purpose cleaner, an abrasive scrubber, and a toilet cleaner. You really don’t need a different product for each surface in your home.

Making your own cleaning supplies using baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice is a fun and easy option too! Baking soda cleans nearly everything from stained kitchen sinks to mildewed showers to tea stained coffee mugs to flatware to fruit or even teeth, and it’s cheap! White vinegar works great on hardwood floors. Easy, long-lasting microfiber cloths lift off dirt, dust and grime with no need for additional products. Don’t be fooled into thinking that if there is no “clean” smell, then it’s not effective – fragrances are part of the chemical danger. (There are some organic cleaners containing safe, essential oils as a fragrance.)

Happy spring cleaning!

Recipe for All-Purpose Cleaner

All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, countertops etc. Keep out of reach of children.


Some information compiled from and

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Is Your Shower Curtain Toxic?


Don’t be fooled by the “new shower curtain smell” emitted when you buy a new one. That smell is actually an indication of the toxic substances that are being released, or off-gassed. Most shower curtains and curtain liners are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, which contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and metals, all of which cause a host of problems like respiratory irritation, damage to the central nervous system, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and even worse. You also want to avoid shower curtains with anti-mildew treatment, antibacterial or antimicrobial claims. Who knows what’s been added to make these unregulated claims and you don’t want to be inhaling chemicals in the shower curtain!

In a study recently published by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice entitled “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell”, claims more than 100 chemicals are released into the air when consumers open the curtain packages. The level of total VOCs measured was over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council and Washington State Indoor Air Quality Program. Seven of the chemicals released by shower curtains are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act. The heat and humidity in the shower may make the VOC concentrations even worse.

Alternatives to toxic PVC shower curtains?

Cotton, (organic cotton is even better), duck cotton, recycled sailcloth or hemp shower curtains, are best and available on line. If you can’t find cotton ones, synthetic materials are okay as long as they are made of the more environmentally friendly EVA, PVA, nylon, polyester or microfiber. Retail giants like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond are now aware of the problem with PVC and are carrying non-PVC shower curtains and liners. I just bought an inexpensive curtain liner made from 100% EVA Vinyl produced without chlorine. So – stop inhaling toxic substances and replace your shower curtain now! You’ll be happy you did!

Some information compiled from

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