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Nontoxic Pest Control

As you know, we have a tiny garden in self-watering planters on our porch. This makes caring for our herbs and veggies easy. We only need to refill the water reservoirs about once a week, and we get much better results than we did with the old pots. However, we hit a bump in the road in our mini garden paradise  last weekend: tons of tiny, long-legged, red bugs all over the tomato plants. After a little research, I found out they were red aphids, and although they don’t usually kill full-grown plants, they can destroy new growth. Not on my tomato plants.

Aphid-free

Aphid-free

I’d rather avoid pesticides, if possible, so I started looking online for organic ways to get rid of aphids. A gang of ladybugs would be great, but failing that, the most common suggestion was spraying the leaves with a mixture of dish detergent and water (a couple tablespoons per gallon, spray both sides of the leaves, and rinse off after a couple hours). Even better, some people suggested just blasting the plants with a garden hose, or in my case, a particularly powerful spray bottle. And it worked! I sprayed away all the aphids that I could see, then did the same every other day for the few stragglers left. A week later, I don’t see any aphids at all. Who knew it would be that easy?

I suspect the aphids may have been drawn to the high nitrogen content in the vermicompost that we used this year. Our greens to browns ratio is always a bit top heavy. Now we have more of an incentive to keep it balanced: not wanting to deal with disgusting bugs!

Easy Limeade

It’s almost embarrassing to call this a recipe because it’s so simple, but it’s a great thing to have in the fridge on hot days like this weekend.

Mmm...refreshing.

Mmm…refreshing.

Easy Limeade

(Adapted from Martha Stewart – sorry, Cheryl!)

3/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups water

1.     Make simple syrup by boiling 1 cup water in a small saucepan, adding sugar, and stirring until dissolved.
2.     Add lime juice and the rest of the water. Stir.

Yeah, it’s that easy. We usually buy bottles of lime juice at the store, but if you want to get fancy, you can juice 6 limes instead. It *does* taste better that way.

MyEnergy Home Dashboard

I’ve been tracking my energy use with the MyEnergy Dashboard for about a year now, and it’s a really easy way to parse data. You just save your username and password for your utility’s site (electricity, natural gas, or water), and each month it automatically updates on MyEnergy. Then you can browse through the information however you want. One way is a chart with usage over time. It illustrates very dramatically the drop in our gas usage when our landlord replaced the furnace.

The difference the new furnace made is dramatic.

The difference the new furnace made is impressive.

MyEnergy also lets you compare your energy usage with others who have signed up for the service in your town, with a handy dandy continuum that shades from green to red to give you visual cues. You can even set “friends” to compare yourself to. Proponents of community-based social marketing say that social norms (basically, peer pressure) are an effective way to get people to take environmentally friendly action, like saving energy, and I have to admit that I’m a little embarrassed that my gas usage in the winter is so much higher than the norm in Cambridge. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually taken action on it yet. We did a lot of weathersealing when we first moved in here, and I think the next step would be something more drastic, like convincing my landlord to do an energy audit and add more insulation. I’m working myself up to it.

Ouch.

Ouch.

MyEnergy was just bought by Nest. I don’t know what that means for MyEnergy (other than them pushing the thermostat on the website), but I’m hoping Nest will integrate their technology with it so you can track your energy usage even more granularly. I don’t have a Nest yet, but Massachusetts does have a $100 rebate…

LED Lamps Redeemed

I felt so bad writing a horrible review of the Greenlite LED 5W Desk Lamp that for a bon voyage present when I left Berklee, my boss gave me a new lamp: the Softech DL-90 Multi-Function LED Desk Lamp. It’s so wonderful that it’s cleared the name of all LED lamps in my eyes. So I had to take a moment to sing its praises.

Now doesn't that look better?

Now doesn’t that look better?

  • It’s sturdy. It’s made of plastic, but heavy-duty plastic. The arm hinges seem like they’ll hold up over time.
  • It’s flexible. It swivels 180 degrees and bends at two hinges. I have it on a side table next to an armchair, and it swings back and forth between them, and folds up into a slim tower when I’m not using it.
  • It has a USB charging port, so it has become our default cell phone charger.
  • It has multiple color temperatures: a sunlight color for reading, a blueish-white color for studying (it’s supposed to trigger the math and science parts of your brain), a dim yellow for relaxing, and an even dimmer yellow for bedtime, with an automatic shutoff after an hour.

And it only consumes 11W at its brightest (1100 lux—or lumens per square meter), with another 3W if it’s charging something. Suck it, Greenlite. Oh, yeah, and thanks, Rob.

Cambridge Bicycle Map

I’m happy to report that I just attended my first meeting as a member of the Cambridge Bicycle Committee. Part of what the committee does is advise the City of Cambridge about infrastructure improvements to make the city safer and more convenient for bicyclists—things like bike lanes and bike racks. This map shows current and planned bike routes.

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Cambridge has a five-year plan for street reconstruction, and bike facilites are added bit by bit as part of these projects, which is why looks sort of piecemeal right now. But there is a greater plan.

What do you think of the plan? Do you have any questions or comments for the bike committee? I’ll be happy to pass them along.