Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rising temperatures, lower electric bills

Here's another little gem from the CNN Money e-newsletter, this time about saving energy:  enjoy!

Rising temperatures, lower electric bills

Triple-digit temperatures are roasting the Northeast. If you're trying to cool down without increasing your electricity bill, try out some of these strategies.

Take a look at heat sources in your home. Replace any incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs produce the same light, but use a fraction of the heat and energy.

You should also try to avoid using your dishwasher, oven or clothes drier at peak heat time during the day. Remember to wash only full loads of dishes and clothes. In fact, you may want to consider letting your clothes dry on a clothesline.

Also, using smaller appliances like microwaves or toaster ovens whenever possible will both save energy and keep the heat out of the kitchen.

Don't place lamps or TVs near your air conditioning thermostat. The heat from these appliances will cause the air conditioner to run longer.

During the day, close your curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day so the sun can't beat in through your windows. And try to place your air conditioner in shaded locations too. If an air conditioner has been in direct sunlight all day, it's going to have to work that much harder to cool the air inside your home.

And think shade! Deciduous trees -- these are trees that produce leaves in the spring and then lose them in the fall -- shade your house from the sun during warmer days and let the sun warm your house on cooler days. Shading your home could save up to 8% on cooling costs.

You may also consider plugging your TVs and computer or stereo into power strips, and then turning those power strips off when equipment is not in use.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Maintain your car!

A few weeks ago I had a slow leak in one of my car tires caused by a dryrot crack in the sidewall... which has got me paying more attention to auto maintenance in general.  Have you hugged your car lately?  If not, here's another installment on car maintenance, some green and some about saving you green, from the CNN Money newsletter...
1. Check the tires
When your tires are inflated properly your tires will last longer and you'll get better gas mileage. Because of summertime's higher temperatures, the air pressure in a warm tire rises. So make sure you check the tire pressure when its cooler out.
Set the tire pressure to the manufacturer's recommendations. You can generally find this figure on a sticker on the door or inside the glove box. You should also check your owner's manual.
You'll also want to do a visual once-over to make sure your tires are in good condition. If you see a bulge or blister on the sidewall, you'll want to replace that tire immediately. These weak spots could lead to tire failure, according to Consumer Reports.  (ALM note:  sometimes trouble areas are invisible to the untrained eye!  Watch for lower-than-usual inflation:  do at least a visual check every time you put gas in the car.  My tires were relatively new, but the mechanic who replaced the problem tire told me that it could've been sitting on an autoshop shelf for a few years beforehand, which would explain how an age-related dryrot crack occurred.)
You should also take a look at the tread. Here's a simple way to test the treat. Put a penny into the tire groove -- make sure Lincoln's head is toward the tire. If you can still see the top of Abe's head, the tread is too worn.
2. Get the right price for repairs
Did you ever wonder if that $300 mechanic bill was way out of line? Check out This free website gives price ranges for common repairs, like brake shoe replacement or wheel alignment. You can search by model, year and where you live. You may also consider going to an independent shop to get your car repaired instead of going to your dealership.
3. Keep your car hydrated
Check the level of all of your vehicle's vital fluids. We're talking about your car's engine oil, brake fluid and windshield washer fluid. Your engine oil will be near the front of the engine, close to you, and sometimes has a brightly colored handle. If the engine oil is below the hash mark on the dipstick, you'll want to add more oil. If you have an older vehicle and have been running a lighter "winter" oil, now is the time to switch to an oil designed for hot weather.
4. Check the battery
A battery gives little warning before it goes dead. And it'll likely do so when you least expect it. Hot weather can put additional strain on a battery. I
lf your vehicle battery is more than three years old, have it tested and check for corrosion. If you're thinking about a road trip this summer, you may just want to replace the battery if you're not sure how old it is. It's good insurance.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to pump gas

Thanks to my friend Ellen for sharing this forward...


Only fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground, the more dense the gasoline; when it gets warmer gasoline expands, so when buying in the afternoon or in the evening....your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role.

A 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.

When you're filling up do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode. If you look you will see that the trigger has three (3) stages: low, middle, and high. In slow mode you should be pumping on low
speed, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some other liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you're getting less worth for your money. 

One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY. The reason for this is, the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine. Gasoline storage tanks have an internal floating roof. This roof serves as zero clearance between the gas and the atmosphere, so it minimizes the evaporation. Unlike service stations, here where I work, every truck that we load is temperature compensated so that every gallon is actually the exact amount.

Another reminder, if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, DO NOT fill up--most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you
might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom.

ALM note:  In case you've seen this forward, you'll notice that I omitted the end part about buying gas from certain companies rather than others in order to avoid supporting Middle East oil companies.  I looked it up on and learned that the information was out of date, if not inaccurate to begin with.

Here's a link to the US Energy Information Administration website, which has current data on petroleum, natural gas, and other energy sources:

P.S. Just today was poring over some GHG data and found this pdf with information about petroleum imports and exports per country, among other factoids, from the International Energy Agency:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Baltimore farmers market days and locations

From the Johns Hopkins University's sustainability listserv, here's a list of farmers markets in the Baltimore area.  You can subscribe to this listerv here:

Or contact the authors at:
The Johns Hopkins Sustainability Office
3001 Remington Ave
Baltimore, MD 21211

Our Mission:  To make Johns Hopkins University a showpiece of environmental leadership by demonstrating smart, sensible and creative actions that promote the vision of sustainability.

The farmers markets, by day:

Baltimore City Farmers’ Markets: Eat Sustainably!
Sunday Markets:

Baltimore Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 8:00am- 12:00pmNoon (May 2 - December 19)
Location: Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay Streets
Tuesday Markets:

Village of Cross Keys Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 10:00am- 2:00pm (June 1 - October 26)
Location: 5100 Falls Road, Parking Lot
University Farmers' Market
Dates/Times: 10:30am- 2:30pm (May 11 - November 23)
Location: Plaza Park, Paca Street
Wednesday Markets:

Park Heights Community Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 9:30am- 2:30pm (June 2 - November 24)
Location: 5201 Park Heights Avenue (Pimlico Race Course Parking Lot)

State Center Community Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 10:00am- 2:00pm (June 2 - October 27)
Location: 201 West Preston Street

Mt. Washington Whole Foods Market Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 4:00pm- 6:30pm (June 9 - November 17)
Location: 5800 Cottonworth Avenue

Thursday Markets:

John Hopkins Hospital Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 10:00am- 2:00pm (May 6 – November)
Location: Jefferson Street pathway near Cancer Research Buildings

Saturday Markets:

32nd Street/Waverly Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 7:00am- 12:00pm (All Year)
Location: 400 block of E. 32nd Street

Howard Park Community Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 7:30am- 3:00pm (May 22 - December 18)
Location: 4700 Block of Liberty Heights Ave

Highlandtown Farmers' Market
Date/Time: 8:00am- 12:00pm (July 10 - October 9)
Location: The corner of Bank St. and S. Conkling St.
Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI) Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 9:00am- 1:00pm (June 5 - September 25)
Location: 1415 Key Highway

Monday, August 2, 2010

Garden update

The usual July jungle season is passing in our garden.  Sunflowers are dying off (aided by the nibbling squirrels) and the tomatoes are hitting full force.  Anybody want some cherry tomatoes??

We planted some extra basil last month, and it's coming in handy to accompany all those cherry tomatoes in salads.  Still got plenty of rainbow chard and kale in the shadow of the fence, but ripped out the red sail lettuce last month when it bolted and got slimy around the edges.  This type of lettuce is very soft and succumbs to slime quickly:  will not plant that one next year.  I just read an article in an old issue of House and Garden mag that profiled different lettuce varieties:  recognized mache from one of my favorite dishes at Miss Shirley's in Roland Park... that's what I'll plant next year!

My okra experiment is going well.  Over the past few weeks, the two okra plants have grown about a foot, and are now producing huge pods that curl like elf shoes.  Note it's better to pick them when they're less than 4" or so:  more tender and tasty when small.

The eggplant and pepper plants have also shot up, but no fruits yet to be seen.  Got jalapeno peppers but no bells, not sure why.  Overshadowed by the giant flowers nearby, perhaps?  I planted an extra pepper, testing the old Italian school of thought that peppers like to be "so close that their roots touch," but this doesn't seem to have helped.

I thought it would be another sad cucumber year, but boy was I wrong!  Apparently they just needed some loftier architecture to climb:  a four-foot-tall black obelisk in the middle of the garden is proving much better than last year's fence-mounted trellis.  The surrounding marigolds might be helping too, who knows.  Picked up some back issues of Mother Earth magazine last month, one of which contained an article that suggested companion planting isn't so much based in science as in folklore.  I guess it doesn't matter what it's based in as long as it works!

Also growing brussel sprouts and pole beans, which aren't doing much yet, unlike the crabgrass and clover weeds that keep popping up.  A gardener's work is never done.

So it's time to start thinking about fall plantings:  lettuce, peas, maybe some squash and garlic?  What I thought was a zucchini plant turned out to be a pumpkin, so we have one big orange gourd to show for the 20-foot vine that wound its way through everything for a few months there.  Wish it had been a zucchini instead.