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Green Guide to Spring

With a little help, you can use the next five weeks to get your home and garden into shape for spring.

Green Guide to Spring

Inspired by this warm snap in the weather, I took to the great outdoors on Thursday. I cleaned up the backyard, a wreck from its winter slumber. Where the little dusting of snow we had gotten was melting, little puddles of mud were forming all around the yard. The kids were outside breathing in the fresh air and naturally, playing in the mud. While the temperatures are supposed to plummet again after this little spring-like break, before we know it, spring will be here for real.

There’s just shy of five weeks until spring begins. While the weather may not yet be conducive to planting your garden or mowing the lawn, there are many things you can do right now to gear up for a “green” spring. You can tackle this list by doing one thing each week or tackle them all at once—either way you’ll have your home and garden eco-friendly and beautiful in time for the first day of spring.

Reduce, reuse, recycle
Now is a great time to declutter your home. The holiday decorations are all put away. The kids are back to school. Spring is just around the corner. Before you do the big spring cleanup, make it a little easier, by making less to clean. Before you know it, it will be time to pull out that spring and summer wardrobe. Go through closets, drawers and even the garage now, while it’s still not ideal outdoor weather. No one wants to be rummaging through drawers when they can be outside enjoying the warm weather.

Before you throw anything away, consider whether it can be reused or recycled in some way instead of simply thrown out. You can bag up all of the items that you know are not going to be worn or used again next year and donate them to a friend or family member who might use them. Also, consider dropping them off to a homeless shelter or church. Purple Heart and VVA are two organizations that I mention often. They will come to your house and pick up all of your unwanted items with a simple phone call. After all, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Spring cleaning 
Spring is the most popular time of year to really deep clean your home. Now that you have cleared out the clutter, it would be a great time to change up your cleaning routine.

Get prepared for the upcoming spring cleaning by ridding yourself of all of the toxic and harsh chemical cleaners in your home and replacing them with safe, environmentally friendly alternatives. Store shelves everywhere are now lined with new formula, commercial cleaners which are made with little or none of the chemicals that we are so used to seeing in our cleaning products. If you want to be absolutely sure that you are using only 100 percent natural, non-chemical-derived ingredients, you can start now trying your hand at making your own cleaners. You’ll have plenty of time to perfect your formulas before the big clean-up. Check out my column on how to make your own cleaning products for pennies per use. A quick Google search can also turn up hundreds of “recipes” for make-at-home cleaners for everything from cleaning tile grout to freshening your laundry. 

Don’t forget about the paper. Forgo using an entire roll of paper towels to wipe surfaces and dry up cleaning liquids. Tear an old sheet or cut up an old shirt or towel into strips and use washable, reusable rags for clean-up jobs. You have no idea how much paper you save by doing this one simple thing!

Energy upgrades
In the last couple of weeks before the weather is warm enough to start your planting and sowing, it is a great time to do a quick energy upgrade in your home. This is a great time to replace any incandescent light bulbs with CFL or LED lights bulbs. This energy-efficient lighting can save the average household about 1,000 kiolwatt hours of electricity, and 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide, not to mention shave over $100 off of the average electricity bill. 

Now is also a good time to consider a programmable thermostat if you don’t already have one. A programmable thermostat will let you adjust the temperature of your house based on the time of day. This will allow you to properly adjust the temperature of your house while you are sleeping or away from home. Given the variance in climates, most estimates are that you can save 1 percent to as much as 3 percent off of your heating and cooling bill for each degree you set back with a programmable thermostat.

Do a quick home walk through. You can use this checklist provided by the Federal Energy Management Program to see if there are any more energy conservation measures you could be taking.

Compost
If you’ve cleaned out the clutter, cleaned up your home and checked it all for energy efficiency, you’re probably ready to move outdoors. Composting seems to frighten people. But it couldn’t be any easier, and it is a great way to go green for spring. Composting creates a beautiful rich soil perfect for enriching your spring and summer gardens, and it puts to good use so much organic waste that might otherwise just wind up in the trash.

“Adding compost to garden soil increases its water-holding capacity, invigorates the soil food web and provides a buffet of plant nutrients. Compost also contains substances that enhance plants’ ability to respond to challenges from insects and diseases.”
- Mother Earth News

It’s very easy to get started. It’s as easy as creating a compost pile or bucket on your deck or patio or out in your backyard and throwing in your leftover food scraps to get started. Or you can purchase a simple kitchen composter for around $20 to get you started. There are literally hundreds of options ranging from the simple to the elaborate and everywhere in between. You can also check out this column for a list of all the things that you can put into your compost.

Plant it
Once you’ve tackled these other projects, you’re ready to plant. Your house should be clean and energy efficient. And now you are on your way to a rich, dark soil to help you in yielding the perfect harvest this year. Whether you’ve already started from seed indoors, or you will be putting young plants directly into the ground, planting a backyard garden is a great way to live a greener and healthier lifestyle. Apart from the obvious connection with the earth, it is a fantastic way to control what goes on your plate and into your body.

The climate here in New Jersey is conducive to growing a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs in the springtime. When selecting your plants, you may want to consult a plant hardiness zone guide like this one from the US Department of Agriculture. Some I like for my own spring garden are tomatoes, cucumbers, green and red peppers, carrots, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon (which need lots of room), basil, chives, mint, parsley, and rosemary.

Allow this beautiful burst of spring weather to be your inspiration. Although the mercury may be dipping back down before the big spring thaw is finally here for good, remember that warmer days are just around the corner. Start planning now. Follow this 5 week winter guide to a greener spring and you'll soon be glad you did.

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