Fungus Among Us

Last week’s rains persuaded our backyard’s underground mycelia to bear fruit.  Mushrooms popped up in the mulch pile, the compost pile, the dirt pile…everywhere!

So, what are mushrooms? Here’s a quick explanation by Steve Bender, The Grumpy Gardener:

“Mushrooms, no matter their size or color, are but a very small and visible part of an underground fungus that survives by breaking down organic matter in the soil. In many cases, this organic matter is dead roots or buried wood. In a sense, mushrooms are the fruit of the fungus. They rise from the ground to spread spores so that the fungus can reproduce. The body of the fungus, called the mycelium, sometimes covers the ground with a whitish film, but usually remains invisible underground. It can be huge, too. The mycelium of a single Armillaria fungus discovered in Oregon covers about 2-1/2 square-miles, making it the largest living thing on Earth. Godzilla is a distant second.

Fungi thrive in moist conditions, so that’s why mushrooms appear after a heavy rain. There is no fungicide you can put on the lawn that will kill the mycelium below. When the mycelium has completely consumed the organic matter in the soil, there will be no more mushrooms.”

Next time we have heavy rain, take a walk in your backyard. How many fungus are among you?!

Stop Idling Around

Did you know idling your car for longer than 10 seconds actually wastes more fuel than restarting? Just two minutes spent idling is equal to one mile of driving.

Sustainable America’s “I Turn It Off” campaign raises awareness about the negative consequences of idling and educates drivers about small changes that can make a large impact. The campaign aims to eliminate the 3.8 millions gallons of fuel that is wasted every single day from unnecessary idling. Learn more, and pledge to curb idling at

1. It saves gas: If you idle for 5 minutes warming up your car in the morning, 3 minutes at the bank drive-thru, and 4 minutes listening to the end of an NPR story in your driveway, you’ve burned enough gas to drive 24 miles.

2. It saves money: Americans spend a whopping $13 million every day on unnecessary idling. (That’s 3.8 million gallons of fuel, wasted!) Also, idling is actually illegal in some states, and violators can pay steep fines if caught.

3. It saves the planet: For every 10 minutes of idling you cut from your life, you’ll save one pound of carbon dioxide — a harmful greenhouse gas — from being released into the atmosphere.

4. It makes us healthier: Idling is linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease and cancer. Kids are especially vulnerable because they inhale more air per pound of body weight, and lots of idling happens near schools.

5. It makes us smarter: Breathing exhaust fumes can damage brain cells and may be linked to autism. A study in New York City showed that kids with a high exposure to combustion engine byproducts had lower IQs by age 5.

6. It’s good for your engine: Idling can damage engine components. According to the California Energy Commission, “Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption.” And did you know that today’s cars warm up more efficiently when they’re driving than sitting in a driveway? They do.

7. It’s quieter: Noise is pollution, too.

8. It’s contagious: Turning off the car sets a good example for your kids and other passengers, and gives a chance for you to educate them about the dangers of idling.

9. It doesn’t stink: Do you enjoy breathing in exhaust fumes? Yuck.

10. It’s easy: Just turn the key when you’ll be stopped for more than 10 seconds. That’s all there is to it. Sustainable America is committed to helping the United States reduce its oil consumption by 50% by 2035. Big changes like more electric vehicles and smarter traffic technology are necessary to getting there, but conservation measures like hypermiling, ecodriving, and curbing idling are all important ways individuals can do their part on a daily basis. Be part of the solution by taking our pledge to Turn It Off when you’ll be idle for more than 10 seconds. You can even order a bumper sticker so you can help spread the anti-idling message in your community. See more at:

It’s your turn to turn it off, this small action can foster big change.

Check out Sustainable America’s infographic for their I Turn it Off campaign:


The Tiny Mole

Today, Tim found a tiny mole in our backyard. I have never seen a real mole before. I mistakenly imagined them being as big as beavers, based on my reading of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: “Moles were Talking Beasts that were smart, intelligent and peaceful animals. They were also excellent diggers and gardeners” However, they’re not big at all. This garden creature fits in the palm of your hand!

Moles are small mammals with velvety fur, small eyes and ears, small hindlimbs, and powerful forelimbs with large paws positioned for digging. A mole’s diet consists of earthworms and other small invertebrates found in the soil, and a variety of nuts. The underground “mole runs” are in reality ‘worm traps’, the mole sensing when a worm falls into the tunnel and quickly running along to kill and eat it.As our backyard’s organic status matures, its inhabitants become more abundant and diverse. A tiny mole portends big change.

Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture

Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture, a guide created and distributed by New American Dream, explains how the rush to turn our  kids into consumers is consuming our kids.

Research shows that children under the age of eight are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased. How convenient for the griant marketing and media machine that exposes kids to to an estimated 40,000 television commercials a year — over 100 a day!

According the Michelle Stockwell, author of Childhood for Sale, “As tens of thousands of those flickering messages melt together into a constant, nagging, whisper in children’s ears, specific harmful effects can run the gamut from increased parent-child conflicts to strained family budgets, distorted value systems, and both physical and emotional health problems.”

The guide exposes the media frenzy lurking for minor attention. By understanding the forces at work, parents can protect their kids and teach them to be conscious consumers. It also gives tips on how to stem commercialism, such as:

  • Creating TV-Free Family Rituals
  • Say Yes to What Your Kids Really Want — Your Time
  • Rediscover Nature

The purpose of the guide is to give adults a greater understanding of what children face today, and to offer resources to help parents and concerned citizens band together to protect children from intrusive and harmful advertising.

Click here to get Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture.

For Your Apple a Day, Pick Organic

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. We all know eating fruits and vegetables is good for our health. But how healthy is the food we eat?

Humans aren’t the only ones with a taste for nature’s bounty. Creepy crawlers love to crunch and munch on the fruit of the earth as well.

Although living in harmony with nature’s creatures is an integral component of small-scale, organic farming, pests pose a major threat to commodity farms where bottom lines take precedence over lifelines. Despite mounting evidence linking pesticides to chronic health disorders, current practices permit pesticide residues to remain on produce in levels “low-enough to be safe for consumption.”

How safe is safe?

Pesticides control pests by interfering with their life processes. They cause harm to humans, animals and the environment simply because they are designed to do so. Because they are inherently unsafe, pesticides are subject to regulation.

Section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set tolerances, or maximum residue limits, for pesticides on foods. (Interestingly, the same law also gives EPA authority to grant exemptions to the rule.)

EPA establishes tolerances based on the potential risks to human health. Risk assessment techniques project the effects of single chemicals in low doses. However, these projections can not predict the real-world effects of low-dose exposure to pesticides over time. In addition, since pesticides are regulated on a chemical-by-chemical basis, the combined and cumulative effects of a mixture of pesticides are not accounted for. In the absence of adequate data, “safe” levels of dangerous pesticides end up on our plates.

For example, according to the USDA Pesticide Data Program, apples contain residues of 7 known or probable carcinogens, 19 suspected hormone disruptors, 10 neurotoxins and 6 developmental or reproductive toxins with names like Thiabendazole, Diphenylamine (DPA) and Acetamiprid. Safe, red and delicious?

The Dirty Dozen & Clean 15

The most effective way to limit pesticide exposure is to eat local, organic produce. Sarasotans are lucky to have a bounty of organic choices including organic farms, farmers markets, natural food stores, conventional supermarkets and CSAs. A great resource for finding locally-grown, organic produce is Sarasota’s Eat Local Guide at

If buying organic is difficult or confusing, consumers looking to make conscious choices in the produce aisle can reference “The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” published annually by the Environmental Working Group (EWG*). The Guide, now in its ninth year, ranks pesticide contamination on 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of more than 28,000 samples taken by the USDA and FDA. The 12 most contaminated are the Dirty Dozen. The 15 least contaminated are the Clean Fifteen. Pesticide intake can be lowered by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and choosing the least contaminated produce.

Although the EWG clearly states in the Guide that “eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all,” food shoppers familiar with the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists can be proactive and limit pesticide consumption.

In a recent letter to EWG supporters, renowned health and wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil wrote, “I turn to EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce – it’s referenced in my cook book True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure – to reduce my exposures to toxic chemicals. In fact, just switching from foods on the Dirty Dozen list to foods on the Clean Fifteen list can lead to a significant drop in the number of pesticides you are exposed to on a daily basis.”

Next time you reach for your daily apple, make sure it isn’t toxic, pick one that’s small-scale organic.

> Download the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Guide. Print the guide an post it in your kitchen for top-of-mind awareness about the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. Copyright ©Environmental Working Group, Posted with permission.


Eco-Friendly Wetsuits. Can You Say Guayule?

Eco-conscious surfers can now say “No” to petroleum-based neoprene garb, and say “Yes” to Yulex biorubber wetsuits.

Patagonia is now making wetsuits made with Yulex biorubber. Derived from the guayule plant, the suits mark a shift away from traditional, non-renewable neoprenes. “By designing and developing a homegrown alternative that performs better in the water and has a far less toxic production process, we’re staying true to our long-term mission: build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis,” states a Patagonia press release.

“When we started making wetsuits, we quickly identified neoprene as a material that needed improvements to lessen its environment impact. So we met with the folks from Yulex who wanted to leverage the unique properties of the guayule plant, a hearty desert shrub native to the southwestern United States. Thus began a collaborative long-term project to develop a wetsuit material from guayule rubber.”

Compared to traditional neoprene made from petroleum (or limestone), guayule rubber is a renewable resource that provides improved elasticity and softness and can be replaced faster than the product wears out. The agriculture is low-impact and the extraction and processing uses little energy and few chemicals.

Patagonia’s wet suit is the first widely available consumer product derived from Yulex guayule rubber. The new suit, for men only, has added features like a thermal lining made from recycled materials and a slick external coating that keeps the wind out. Eventually, the company plans to use 100 percent biorubber in its surf gear.

Guide to BPAs

Environmental Working Group’s Guide to BPA. BPA is found in cans and containers used for food and drinks. BPA is a synthetic estrogen that can disrupt the endocrine system. It has been linked to a wide variety of ills, including infertility, breast and reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, and  behavioral changes in children.