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the 2013 cicada invasion hits our backyard

If you live on the Eastern seaboard, you’ve heard about the impending cicada invasion. Supposedly there are about a billion of these little red-eyed buggers emerging from the ground every square mile. They start their rise to the surface, after being dormant for 16 years once the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees. That must have been what happened on Wednesday evening, because we went out into our backyard and found them everywhere. While not exactly biblical in numbers, they are bountiful and easy to spot. They especially seem to enjoy parking themselves on our daughter’s swingset. They come out of the earth small and brown nymphs, and then crawl onto to something where they can “hatch” out of their exoskeletons. It’s pretty trippy to discover them mid-hatched. They come out looking like white albino bugs, but then turn dark and almost, dare I say, beautiful. Their wings are iridescent and their eyes are indeed beady and red. Our girl has been having great fun corralling them for my photog husband, who is documenting them in all their glory. We’re currently investigating cicada recipes — apparently they taste a bit like corn and are high in protein. We’ll do some experiments and report back here.

Is your yard being overrun by cicada’s yet? Would you eat them? Share your tales here!

Photo by Chad Hunt Photography.

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backyard decor: indian lounge chairs to sit and dream

Is the proliferation of sleek, neutral-toned lawn furniture getting you down? Does it seem like everyone on your block shopped at the same Pier One outdoor sale? Well, these vibrant chairs from Play Can will not only save you from boredom, they’ll take you on an adventure to India. Each canvas and wood folding chair features an India-inspired illustration. Shown here is Pagi (turban), which serves as headgear for an ego boost and a veil for quick getaways. Nandi the bull is a powerful and dependable ride transport for Shiva. These chairs conveniently fold up when not in use and can be tucked into your garage or basement when the season winds down. Kursis chairs available on request via email, for approxiamately $92. Email [email protected] or visit playcan.com.

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dog poop composting — yes or no? a topic revisited

We share great recipes, muse about building the best playsets for our children, and delight in objects that add a little beauty to our days. But what post from more than five years ago is still getting regular comments from readers? Dog poop composting! With that kind of interest, we decided it was high time to revisit the topic.

My dog poop composter: no longer in business

First, my update: we stopped using our DIY dog poop composter after a few months. (If you’re not the DIY type, you can purchase dog waste composters, too.) Reader comments had tipped me off to some potential hazards of the compost, and as I said in my original post, two big dogs = a lot of output. Our bin filled up fast, and it seemed the waste wasn’t really going anywhere. So we went back to bagging. I’ve done more reseplace for this post, and here’s what I’ve found out.

Dog poop composting: the negatives

Maybe it’s because the Pacific Northwest is full of environmental types and ample waterways, but it seems a lot of the negative press on dog waste composting originated here:

  • The Public Works department in nearby Snohomish County, where a four-year study was conducted on pet waste composting, flat-out calls dog poop composters a bad idea: “They may seem practical, but they do not kill hazardous pathogens that may be in the waste and can pollute water. Landfills are designed to safely handle substances such as dog waste, cat litter, and dirty diapers. Yards are not.”
  • King County (where Seattle is located) is officially okay with it, but Tom Watson from King County’s Recycling and Environmental Services was less than enthusiastic in this 2009 article for the Seattle Times.
  • The City of Eugene, Oregon is cautiously okay with burying the waste, but discourages against using the actual resulting compost. Their study found that harmful bacteria and disease is present even when dog waste has turned to compost. Compost Gardening sums it up well:

Compost specialists obtained samples and tested them for salmonella, coliform bacteria, and other nasties. “We then allowed the material to sit for another six months and tested it again, hoping time and microbial competition would bring the material into the ‘safe’ level,” wrote compost specialist Anne Donahue. “It didn’t.”

Eighteen months after the crumbly-looking compost was set aside to cure, it still contained enough microbial pathogens to contaminate a planting of leafy greens.

Dog poop composting: the positives

That’s not to say opinions out there are 100% negative:

  • The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District offered dog waste composting as a solution for sled dogs. This publication from 2005 gives a detailed how-to, along with troubleshooting tips. (Note: PDF at the link takes some time to load.)
  • How-to articles from National Geographic and the Sierra Club are also pretty good endorsements for the practice.
  • This CNN/Mother Nature News article is for composting, but not for using the resulting compost: “bury it deep” is the advice (there are also some good links to more information in the article).
  • Sharon Slack at City Farmer, where I first got my compost bin how-to, has had practical success. Because Slack lives in a part of Canada where putting dog waste in the garbage is forbidden, she has been composting it for more than 15 years and says she’s only had to empty the bin once in that time.

Pet waste composting caveats

It’s a simple fact that pet waste composting poses more potential hazards than regular food and yard composting. These are the big cautions:

Don’t compost pet waste anywhere near water sources or edibles gardening

Keep the bin away from your growing vegetables, fruits and any water sources (one source said at least 100 feet from water sources). Once the waste has broken down, you can use the compost on ornamental plants, but never on something you intend to eat. (Or as the City of Eugene recommended, bury the waste, but don’t use the resulting compost at all.)

Cat or other animal waste?

Do your reseplace on other types of waste, but make sure any cat litter is biodegradable. This Root Simple post may help.

Make sure your pet waste compost will heat up consistently to 145ºF

As Tom Watson said in the Seattle Times, pet waste composters must reach high enough temperatures to kill hazardous pathogens — the USDA report says this means the bin must reach 145ºF at least once a day for several days. The Sierra Club article recommends adding other materials to keep things hot. If you’re willing to take your compost’s temperature several times daily, the USDA report has this advice:
Temperatures in fresh compost mixtures rise quickly—up to 160º F and greater—then decline slowly until the compost temperature approaches air temperature. If you do not see this rapid rise and gradual decline of internal temperatures, the compost recipe may need to be adjusted.
That same report includes suggestions for getting your compost mix correct.

The bottom line: whether you compost doo or bag it, ALWAYS PICK IT UP

The worst thing you can to do the environment is just leave your dog waste lying where it is. Check out this dog waste infographic at Mother Nature News: dog waste left on the ground can contaminate water up to 20 miles away. Dog waste contains parasites that can sicken humans. Decomposing dog waste in the water robs fish of oxygen. And on and on.

So, dog waste composting wasn’t right for me, but what about you — what will you do with the doo?

Photo by Flickr user Nick Herber; used by Creative Commons License.

 

 

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post off: what’s your take on backyard firepits?


Last Sunday our neighbors hollered over the fences and invited us to come sit around their fire pit in the backyard. It was a chilly but gorgeous, evening with glowing skies. The kids romped around, occasionally swinging by for warming laptop pit-stops, while us grownups nursed a few beers and savored the last few hours of the weekend. Later back home, I loved the smoky smell that clung to my clothes, and I suddenly realized, fires aren’t just for winter anymore!

Before we rush out to HomeDepot to pick up one of our own, or invest in something as stunning as the Daze ($689 from Haskell), above, I’d love to get your take on backyard fire pits.

So tell me, fire pit owners: Are they safe? Where’s the best place to put them — on the grass? On a patio? And most importantly, what’s the secret to making perfect, gooey s’mores? ;-)

From our partners

blik’s new surface skins: decals for furniture — yay or nay?


As I type this I am looking at a plain, pine desk surface. It’s about as exciting as a bowl of cereal without milk. After seeing what can be done with Blik’s news Surface Skins, I’m beginning to imagine a bright future for my dull office. A new line of durable, cleanable, self-adhesive art work, it is re-imagining “contact paper” of our past: This is is meant for the outside of the drawers. Blik has launched Surface Skins with 12 designs to choose from, but there will be more coming soon. I personally, would love to see one that looked like this (spotted in artist JR’s studio on Artsy.net. My favorites from the current line are Broadway (not sure why Broadway means beetles?) and Homage (it has a little Damien Hirst vibe to it). From watching the video they look simple to install, but what I want know is how does it hold up to a hot mug of coffee?


What you think? Decals for furniture: Yay or nay?

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