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Archives for June 3, 2014

The 10 things we can learn from Europe about energy efficiency

Across Europe a green building revolution is under way. Germany and Austria, the home of the Passive House standards, may be leading the charge but there is a reassuringly pan-European feel to Powerhouse Europe challenge – a project that aims to boost the number of “nearly zero energy” homes across the continent by sharing ideas and expertise between social housing professionals.

Run by Cecodhas-Housing Europe, with partners including the National Housing Federation, the project is at the halfway stage. It’s a good time to take stock and understand what our neighbours can teach us about boosting energy efficiency in our own housing stock. Here are the 10 lessons we’ve learned so far:

1. Housing associations can retrofit at scale
With 70% of Europe’s 2050 housing stock already built, any attempt to deliver energy efficiency must look at retrofit. However, individual homeowners do not represent a large enough market to develop retrofit technology at scale. Housing associations with their large stock portfolios, either individually or in partnership with other, are best placed to make retrofit happen.

2. We can now retrofit off-site
Off-site manufacturing has long been used to build new homes, while retrofit has focused more on incremental improvement to existing properties. The Dutch Energiesprong (literally, energy jump) system changes this by delivering retrofit in one off-site manufactured package. It recognises that, from a property management perspective, you want to refurbish a building only once every three decades rather than in small steps over many years. As the retrofit principally adds a new building envelope to the existing structure it can take place in a week, and without residents needing to leave their home.

3. Funding matters
The lack of available finance for new development or refurbishment is the biggest barrier to implementation of nearly zero energy housing. Funding models identified in a recent Powerhouse and National Housing Federation report included loans, pay-as-you-save schemes, guarantee programmes and energy service companies established to find finance. Energiesprong, for example, utilises fixed energy allowances (as opposed to meaningless energy performance labels) with 10-year performance guarantees from contractors and their suppliers which allow the creation of tradable, structured finance products to reduce the risk of investment in housing.

4. Economic fragility need not hold us back
The Brussels L’Espoir project created a community land trust to house 14 low-income families in energy efficient houses built using wood and other ecological materials, on a plot of land in one of the city’s most disadvantaged areas. Thermal solar panels, an extensive green roof, a rainwater cistern, as well as climbing plants are all part of the ecological arsenal of the building.

5. Think outside the building
From shading in summer to grey water recycling, integrated landscaping plays an important role in energy efficiency. If you only look at the building you’re failing to capitalise on all your assets. Hammarby Sjöstad, a 10,000 home eco-friendly town extension to Stockholm, is thought to be the most sustainable urban development in the world. Better land use was prioritised as one of six goals for the development. Similarly, Ackermannbogen in Munich used landscape to decrease the urban heat island effect and integrated renewable energy sources into the surrounding area.

6. There is a market – and it’s growing
We need to talk about energy prices. There is some good news: UK energy prices are low compared with mainland Europe. But the bad news is that prices are predicted to rise substantially in the next 20 years. Nevertheless, low energy building materials and micro-generation technologies are continuing to decrease in cost. For far-sighted organisations, developing the skills and understanding required to make use of these emerging technologies now could pay dividends in the future.

7. Energy consumption might actually go up
Too often, citizens across Europe are forced to choose between rent, food and heating. By reducing the cost of energy, nearly zero energy housing can help take the pressure off household bills. However, even the 15-50 kWh/m2/year required for passive housing is higher than not turning on the heating at all. This leads to a rebound effect: where residents have previously made ends meet by not heating or electricity, there can actually be a rise in energy use as it becomes more affordable.

8. Train your contractors in new tech
Training and certification of building professionals is essential to deliver at anything beyond demonstration scale. “Nearly zero” is an innovation technology and as such requires the right skills to guarantee its delivery.

9. Train your residents in how to save energy
“I sometimes have the impression that low energy housing engineers feel that people should stay outside, so that they do not interfere with the perfect energy-efficient house they have created,” says Ralf Protz of Kompetenzzentrum in Berlin. Housing should be people led. Residents must be able to understand the technology used in their home and feel comfortable making decisions about the house. The new-build Lodenareal estate in Innsbruck offered resident training not just at the point of moving in but six months later to account for seasonal variations in climate and energy needs.

10. We’re on a common journey – but we’re travelling at different speeds
It’s important to remember that progress towards energy efficiency is moving at different speeds and subject to very different political, fiscal, sociological and geographic conditions across countries. Projects such as the Powerhouse challenge provide a great opportunity for housing providers across Europe to share learning, gather accurate performance data and make progress on energy efficiency throughout Europe.

Steve Cole is the Neighbourhoods Green project coordinator at the National Housing Federation.

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2014 Toyota Highlander Limited review notes

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited

The 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited receives an EPA-estimated 20 mpg combined fuel economy.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited

The recent redesign of the 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited is rather solid.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited

Inside the 2014 Highlander Limited, the new infotainment setup is easy to use and the climate controls are simple to understand and operate.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited

The 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited

The 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited comes in at a base price of $44,450 with our tester topping off at $46,156.

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Following the Corolla, Toyota has another very solid core vehicle redesign on its hands with the Highlander. Exciting it isn’t, but everything a premium three-row crossover shopper could want is available, particularly in this Limited with Platinum Package edition.

Let’s talk interior, since the outside is typically inoffensive — you’ll neither love it nor hate it, thus removing a potential purchase objection by default. Where my previous Highlander experience was one of nasty plastics, this Limited is a lovely place in which to spend time. An expansive open shelf runs 2/3 the length of the dash in one of those simple yet ridiculously useful ideas no one else uses — it’s perfect for cell phones, wallets and other items occupants might want to stow yet have easy access to.

In the rear, folding and sliding second-row seats offer tons of legroom when the third row isn’t needed (90 percent of the time) yet allows you to customize the interior space for the needs of various occupants. An easy seat-side slider permits third-row inmates to easily tip and slide the second row for ingress/egress, and once they’re reclined a bit those rear seats are reasonably comfortable and spacious for the occasional use they’re likely to see.

On the open road the Highlander is, in a word, unobtrusive. Everything is just a little better than the segment average — it’s quieter, feels slightly faster and handles bumps and curves with just a bit more confidence. Those who know me know I’m not prone to waxing eloquent about the merits of Toyota transportation appliances, but the Highlander’s utter competence is remarkable in its completeness. It’s like the world’s best accountant — it’ll never make the opposite sex swoon, but you can count on it absolutely in every situation.

Yes, our tester was expensive but it was also about as loaded as one could option a 2015 Toyota Highlander — realistic transaction prices for a nice one will likely parallel those of the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe in the high $30K range, and the Highlander is arguably better than any of them.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited with Platinum Package

The 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited is a solid core vehicle redesign for the Toyota lineup.

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I was pleasantly surprised by this 2015 Toyota Highlander — this is a hell of an improvement and way less boring than the outgoing Highlander. No, it’s not cheap, but is illustrative of the length and expense people might go to so they don’t drive a minivan.

The exterior looks a lot better being far more handsome and angular. On the inside there is better build quality and interesting shapes plus more soft-touch materials on the dash and armrests and such. I really like the little shelf running the width of the dash, which is handy for storing small stuff. All the controls are perfectly logical to use and feel like decent quality — it took about a minute to figure out the functions. That’s nice for a change.

It’s unremarkable to drive (that’s why I mention the minivan above), though is almost Lexus-quiet on the road and feels quite a bit more solid/robust than the outgoing model. The body motions also feel a lot better controlled than I remember in previous Highlanders.

In sum, it’s not thrilling — it’s about as inoffensive as these things get. Plus it’s less Sienna-like and as I said, quite a bit less dull. And no doubt it’d last a long time.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited

The 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited comes in at a base price of $44,450 with our tester topping off at $46,156.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: “Didn’t realize you took home a minivan last night,” my roommate told me as he was getting ready to take off for the day. He wasn’t trying to be snarky — he simply didn’t realize that the 2015 Toyota Highlander is totally, definitely an SUV and not a minivan.

Or do most Highlander buyers not realize that their three-row people-hauler is a minivan, not an SUV? I’m not sure. The Highlander isn’t too sure, either. Its unibody construction meant it was always more Sienna than FJ Cruiser. Yet its styling was decidedly trucklike, at least when it was introduced in 2000.

Now in its third iteration, the Highlander — whatever it is — has settled down to become a handsome vehicle. Its interior coddles like a nice van: Quiet, functional, not too much hard plastic. Exterior sculpting is more butch from nose to tail, though, and driving position is somewhat more upright.

Driving is an un-taxing experience, with the smooth V6 punching well above its stated 248 lb-ft of torque. It never sounds particularly stressed; perhaps Toyota has figured out how to perfectly dial in its eight-speed gearbox.

The Highlander isn’t going to see rock-crawling duty any time soon, and there are no silly “sport lines” in this loaded model’s build sheet. But it’ll handle whatever suburban task you hand it, whether that’s carting people, groceries or landscaping supplies.

If you’ve absolutely loved what we’ve had to say about our long-term Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec tester, but can’t or won’t stomach the $81,705 as-tested price, this Toyota Highlander Limited with Platinum Package is a possible compromise. You won’t get that massive Tristar on the grille or the premium-feeling interior, and the Toyota’s not quite as big inside (though you don’t lose as much cargo capacity as its substantially shorter wheelbase would suggest).

But you will enjoy a smooth powertrain, a shape that is not unpleasant to the eye and three-row functionality without the stigma of minivan ownership.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited engine

The 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: I went on the launch of this car in California, and found it adequate in every area, but excelling in none. It’s an average SUV for someone who wants good view of their surroundings, decent mileage and relative comfort, along with some family and storage space.

The third-generation Highlander got a redesign, which adds a little bit of flair into an otherwise tame blueprint. The big front intake makes it look a little more aggressive, and the fog lights on the Limited trim set the look off well. In back, it’s very similar to the last generation. I will admit that the profile view looks sharp. The side sheetmetal looks muscular and the window shape adds to the sleekness.

Power is fine from the V6. It’s better if you keep it in sport mode. The eight-speed transmission is basically smooth, and fuel mileage seems acceptable for this class of vehicle.

Inside, the seats are comfy — taking a page out of the Lexus book — and you really do get a good view of the road. The new infotainment setup is easy to use and the climate controls are simple to understand. I like the cord pass through in the dash for phone chargers and the panoramic sunroof, too.

This particular SUV is still a little too plain for me, but it’s a fine vehicle in all other respects. Would I buy it? No. I still like the Ford Explorer better, and if I was thinking cheaper and smaller, the Mazda CX-5.

2014 Toyota Highlander Limited with Platinum Package

Base Price: $44,450

As-Tested Price: $46,156

Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6; AWD, eight-speed automatic

Output: 270 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Curb Weight: 4,508 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 18/24/20 mpg

AW Observed Fuel Economy: 17.5 mpg

Options: Tow hitch with wiring harness ($699); remote engine start ($499); glass breakage sensor ($299); body side mounting ($209)

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Facebook Garden Junkie


Yes, I have to admit it; I am a Facebook junkie. Not a stalker. Let me be very clear on that part. I am an equal opportunity Liker/Sharer of fun, interesting and possibly never able to be accomplished, cool gardening and landscaping ideas. It is just so easy to “like” something and then post it to my own FB page with a “for later” or “cool idea” or more than likely “need this.” Heaven help me if I ever really get going on Pinterest.

However, I have come to the conclusion to get any of these cool ideas initiated, built or otherwise established in my yard, I am going to have to lay off Facebook and get going with the actual starting of the projects. To that end, here are my top three “too cool” projects I want to accomplish before fall.

Potato Box

The caption reads “How to grow 100 lbs of potatoes in four square feet.” Love it; sign me up. Oh wait. I have to build it from instructions? Oh boy. But I really want it. Colleague at work suggested using old pallets for this project as the dimensions would work. We also have leftover wood from the parents’ house project. The premise is to keep building the box around your potato plants and add soil as the plants get taller. With each addition of soil, the plants will grow more potatoes on that level. You harvest from the bottom.

Get your potato slips together and plot out where your 4-foot-square box will be in the garden. Potatoes like sun but can tolerate afternoon shade, so keep that in mind as you scout out your location. Once you decide where to put the box, assemble your supplies of untreated wood either from existing stock, old pallets or purchased wood for the project. The online instructions gives you all the details including size of wood needed, nails, screws and exactly how to construct the box.

Make Your Own Plant Fertilizer

When I clicked on this link, I was hoping it was all about compost tea (which I do pretty frequently) and I could say “Yay, I am already doing this!” Well, it was compost tea and many more fertilizer recipes including manure tea, Epsom salt fertilizer and even fish tank water as fertilizer. Great ideas; not too much work. Sounds like a plan.

Once again, I would like to mention the website as a great reference tool. They post gardening info on Facebook and send out a good newsletter not too frequently, so it doesn’t bog down your mailbox.

And last, but not least:

The Garden Journal

When I first started writing these articles, I did keep a journal. I recorded what worked where in the garden; if seeds germinated and when; when it rained and how much rain water I managed to use before the next rain, etc. This last year, I haven’t kept up a journal and sometimes I struggle for things to write about as the memory is not what it used to be. Keeping a garden journal will aid the gardener (including me) in plotting next year’s plantings and harvest; what grew best where; what did not grow anywhere and what was attacked and which attacks were successfully thwarted with what. (Yes, that last sentence may only make sense to a few of you, but I am sticking by it.)

Next time you are at Brace Books or office supply store, grab a cute notebook and attach a pen to it and start writing. Take a few minutes once or twice a week to jot some notes on your garden, be it flower or vegetable, and start recording your successes as well as your failures. You will find you learn more from the failures, but the successes make you willing to try something new next year. Like sowing wildflower seeds where the cannas were supposed to be because, sniff, they are not coming up this year. But the wildflowers and buckwheat are coming up all over the place and the bees are buzzing.

Here’s to trying something new and Happy Gardening.



Potato box Instructions:

Garden fertilizer recipes:

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Garden activists call on City of Kelowna to work community plots into …

With growth of the community garden program running wild, the society behind the Central Okanagan’s 15 garden sites wants councils to lean on developers to build plots into new housing.

“I think the city owes it to the public to encourage developers to do this,” said Sandy James, Central Okanagan Community Gardens coordinator. “It’s a beautiful space that they can provide for the residents in that building and, by doing that, those people will meet each other in their garden and they will become a stronger building and get to know each other. This is not just about growing a tomato and having a yummy tomato. It’s the social connections.”

James has worked with the COCG since 2003 and takes charge of building new garden sites. The non-profit organizaiton now has more than 350 plots between Oyama and West Kelowna, but there are more than 200 people in the City of Kelowna alone waiting for a place to plant the fruits, veggies and flowers.

“Back in 2010, when I built Sutton Glen (in Glenmore), that’s when it really took off. That one was over-subscribed from the outset,” said James, noting people saw how well it was run, how little it costs to have a plot and demand skyrocketed.

Calls for more gardens follow development COCG has noticed.

“They’re building so many condos and apartments, but there’s no place for people to garden,” said Ruth Mellor, COCG president, noting its a key form of recreation for a large portion of the population.

Mellor is personally in charge of the gardens on Barlee Road and says there was only one apartment building in the vicinity when it was built eight years ago; today it is surrounded by condos and townhouses.

“It seems like when someone is building a multi-family development they really are going to have to plan for gardens,” she said.

Consultants have suggested the City of Kelowna incorporate planning policies that hone in on urban agriculture, Mellor said, and she cannot see why developers could not be given a break, zoning variances or development cost charge reductions, in exchange for planned community gardens.

COCG is tallying up all the developments that have put in garden spaces, who built them, whose in charge of them and how much people pay to garden in the privately-run spaces in order to prove the extent of demand.

“There’s this feeling like: Who would take care of garden plots? Or that the gardens might be unsightly,” she said. “But it would actually, probably, cost buildings a lot less to have the tenants caring for their garden plots than it costs for landscaping.”

With people downsizing from houses to condos, gardening offers a way to meet and connect with a neighbourhood, Mellor pointed out.

“So much of it is beyond the actual garden,” she said.

Luke Stack agrees. A Kelowna city councillor and the founder and executive director of Society of Hope, he’s built community gardens into many of the social housing projects he runs and says he prefers a carrot versus a stick approach.

“If somebody has a little bit of a wait list, it isn’t such a bad thing because it encourages people to look after the existing plots well,” he said.

He has encouraged the COCG to look beyond the city and even beyond government for grants to find other forms of support to make the program more sustainable, and says he isn’t fond of the idea of dictating gardens into bylaws or development guidelines.

With this said, Stack says he would gladly encourage developers and non-profits to build gardens in, if it’s an option the developer selects independently.

“No one has forced the Society of Hope to build in a community garden,” he said. “We do it because we can see the benefit of it. We’re using our existing land, but in my opinion, using it more wisely. We’re using it to create more food and to create a community environment. For me, it’s like whether I planted a bunch of trees and plants or a community garden—it doesn’t cost me anymore either way.”

His gardens have become meeting places where residents share a coffee and one resident is even farming enough potatoes to share them with his whole building—a win, win in his view.

James said she believes the generation just starting to garden is more socially conscious and understands that urban agriculture offers a better alternative to cheap organic produce from Costco, which is produced off the backs of cheap labour. She believes demand will only continue to grow.

Plotline behind gardens:

  • there are over 350 community garden plots in the Central Okanagan
  • some 200+ individuals are wait-listed for gardens
  • a plot costs $20 plus a $5 key deposit to access a shed full of tools on each site
  • gardeners are paying for the insurance costs of running the plots and supplies
  • water is covered by the municipalities (at low agricultural watering rates), the three churches where located on church property, one well for the private land plot in Oyama, and the Oyama Community Centre
  • the society accesses grant dollars from municipal governments throughout the Central Okanagan, in-kind donations from businesses, the Central Okanagan Foundation and Interior Health Authority

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Startups hope to address Phoenix’s problems

One business wants to teach kids how to skate after school.

One plans to connect donated goods to socially conscious shoppers.

And another wants to help people find water-bottle refill stations to reduce reliance on plastic bottles.

The three will compete against several other startups Thursday, June 5, for a chance to win $5,000 to further their efforts. It’s all part of Seed Spot, a Phoenix-based non-profit incubator for social entrepreneurs, aspiring business leaders committed to solving societal problems.

“We really believe that entrepreneurs can solve major societal problems,” said Courtney Klein, co-founder and CEO of Seed Spot. “We believe if we read about it in the headlines, we can solve it through the innovation of entrepreneurs.”

The local entrepreneurs will pitch their solutions to some of Phoenix’s societal problems at Seed Spot’s Demo Day from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St.

The fledgling business owners will share their business plans with more than 700 people. The audience will vote via text for their favorite venture.

Demo Day is the culmination of Seed Spot’s four-month, full-time program, which has secured more than $1 million in capital and created more than 60 jobs in the Valley since launching. Klein said Seed Spot social entrepreneurs will be leaders in Phoenix’s future economic development.

“We have everything from entrepreneurs that developed an app to better diagnose epilepsy to a landscaping company that’s developing pretty specific garden-planning tools using their app,” she said.

Seed Spot launched in 2012 and provides startups with office space, a curriculum, mentors, financial modeling, media exposure and other capital opportunities to those wanting to launch businesses that benefit humanity. More than 100 people apply each cycle for anywhere from 10 to 15 slots.

Seed Spot was founded in part because finding success in social entrepreneurship can be difficult in Phoenix, Klein said.

“Sometimes it takes a while to sell a product or raise initial investment capital,” she said. “It can take anywhere from several months to a few years depending on the sophistication of the business, the capital that’s required or how hard it is to enter that market.”

Seed Spot businesses emphasize health, education, energy, environment, human rights, civic engagement and community impact.

“We support both for-profit and non-profit startups but we exclusively focus on social entrepreneurs. It has to be a product that’s improving peoples lives,” Klein said.

Phoenix leaders and entrepreneurs have worked hard to develop a startup culture for several years. Organizations like Seed Spot, CoHoots and JumpStart Phoenix have popped up in the last several years in central and downtown Phoenix to encourage entrepreneurship.

While not the Bay Area, the mecca of startups, Klein said Phoenix’s startup culture is not going unnoticed.

“We’ve actually won some prestigious awards and honors and rank quite high for entrepreneurial capacity, so people are paying attention,” she said.

Demo Day details

Reserve your free ticket for the June 5 Demo Day at

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6 Ways to Update An Outdoor Space This Season

As a landscape contractor, you know the advantages of updating your clients’ yards and gardens in accordance with their needs. A recent Houzz study revealed that 56% of homeowners are making updates to their yards and gardens for entertaining purposes. Likewise, another 55% are updating their outdoor space to solve problematic issues such as sun exposure, privacy and flooding.

Now is the ideal time to offer your landscaping expertise to clients who wish to have their outdoor space updated but don’t have time to do it themselves. Here are six ideas that will make their outdoor spaces pop and serve their functional and entertainment needs this summer.

Ideas for Outdoor Space Updates

Outdoor Bar and Grill. A deck or patio can become an extension of someone’s indoor living space with the addition of an outdoor bar and grill. Your professional knowledge of landscaping and design allows you to listen to what the client is envisioning and make suggestions. The addition of an outdoor bar and grill makes it easy for homeowners to entertain family members, friends and other guests.

Multi-Tasking Storage Space. Lack of storage space in a person’s yard results in the frustration of trying to figure out where to put garden supplies, kids’ toys and other frequently used items. Storage benches placed on a patio or deck can take care of removing clutter and also provide additional seating. Suggest storage and seating combinations that work well with clients’ existing patio decor or that will complement the overall design you’re working on.

Automated Watering. It’s a real treat for homeowners to be able to come home after a long day at work and relax outdoors. Automated watering is an effective addition for busy couples or families that have a large yard, a garden or landscaping that needs regular watering. Use your expertise to explain the benefits of automated watering and how it can add to the quality of your clients’ lives.

A Comfy Outdoor Living Space. Turn a “nice patio” into an outdoor living space that’s inviting, comfortable and functional. As you plan along with your clients, offer suggestions for seating areas that complement the rest of the area, as well as your clients’ lifestyles. Show them how particular seating arrangements or styles can add to the enjoyment derived from their outdoor space.

Landscaping and Gardening for Non-Green Thumbs. Not everyone has a green thumb. Suggest easy-to-care-for plants that are hardy during dry weather or will thrive with little care, while still adding to the beauty of the yard or garden. Your professional knowledge will be highly appreciated by people who want their yards to make it look like they’re master gardeners.

Light the Way. Lighting around patios, garden pathways and other areas allows homeowners to enjoy their outdoor space long after the sun has gone down. Suggest various types of lighting that fit in with the yard design.

Professional Landscaping for Beauty and Function

By working with your clients and really listening to their needs and dreams, you can help increase awareness of the benefits of professional landscaping. Many homeowners used to feel that they could or should do the landscaping themselves. But times have changed and homeowners are interested in enlisting the help of a professional to solve their outdoor problems or help them create the outdoor space of their dreams. The above ideas, along with the ideas and services you have to offer, can assist clients in obtaining the yard, garden or patio they can enjoy throughout the seasons.

About the author:  Jeff Caldwell is Brand Manager of Superior Shade in Carrollton, GA. Superior Shade provides protection that matters—umbrellas, shade sails, and shade hips—all that provide protection from the sun and harmful UV rays. We provide custom products for parks, schools, auto dealerships, and more, and our engineers can custom build shade for your unique space.

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Want to Help West Virginia Honeybees? Here Are Five Gardening Tips

While Honeybee Colony Collapse  Disorder (CCD) is relatively uncommon in West Virginia, bees and pollinators are still threatened in the region and all across the country. About a third of all of our foods (and beverages) come from crops pollinated by these insects. There’s growing concern that pesticides and certain farming practices are at the heart of the crisis, so more and more gardeners are stepping up to support pollinators in their own yards and fields.

Emilie and Bill Johnson of Morgantown are Master Gardeners, meaning they’ve been trained and either volunteer or teach horticulture through a national Master Gardener program. They have become passionate, quite accidentally, about supporting pollinators. Here are five tips to help you do the same:

1. Pollinators come in many shapes and sizes.

What started as a desire to encourage more butterfly visits became an interest in encouraging visits from all sorts of pollinators including honey bees and native bees, dragonflies, mayflies, and even humming birds and bats.

“We love the beautiful garden, too,” Bill said, “so it’s not just about gardening for insects. It’s about gardening for people as well!”

Bill also points out that a butterfly is only an adult butterfly for a small portion of its total lifespan, and many early incarnations of butterflies require very specific plants.

The Johnsons grow milkweed for Monarch Butterfly larvae, for example. Monarchs are the big black, orange, and white migratory butterflies in grave danger of disappearing because of loss of habitat and other factors.

2. Keep it wild—or as wild as you can handle.

In fact, the Johnsons grow a variety of milkweeds as well as other native and wild plants because, apparently, bugs love the native stuff.

“Find a part of your garden that you can let go wild, or as wild as you can stand it and put native plants in or plants that people might think of as weeds,” Bill said. He cautions others about introducing plants that might be (or become) invasive.

3. Don’t keep a lawn, keep a “clipped meadow.”

While the Johnsons won’t claim coining the phrase, “clipped meadow,” it gets to the point. From about 20 feet away, you might be able to discern some clover or a dandy lion in the yard, maybe. Johnson shrugs when he says he’s given up a monoculture-grass lawn.

“Clover is a legume and legumes are the only plant family that I know of that actually fixes nitrogen out of the air and puts the nitrogen into the soil. So there’s a synergy between the clover and the grass. Why put chemical nitrogen on your lawn when you can have clover do the job,” Bill said.

The Johnsons admit that they aren’t organic gardeners. But they, like many, are worried about pesticide use. According to a recent study by Harvard’s School of Public Health, pesticides are at the heart of colony collapse disorder (CCD). And the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that there is data to implicate one of the most commonly used pesticides, called neonicotinoids. The agency reports that residues from the pesticide, “can accumulate in pollen and nectar of treated plants and may represent a potential exposure to pollinators.”

4. Pollinate your own food.

Thirty percent of our food effusively depends on honeybees alone. The value of their pollination services is often measured by farmers and economists in billions of dollars. And the Johnson’s have come to learn that they, too, can take advantage of this free service to grow their own apples, blueberries, raspberries, and lots of herbs, too.  The Johnsons report that pollinators love herbs like thyme, lavender and basil.

5. Anyone can do it.

Emilie said, as more and more information is being circulated on the subject of pollinators and gardening, Farmers Markets are a good place to get educated. And you don’t need a green thumb to grow some pollinator-friendly foods and plants.

“Anybody can help,” she said. “Anybody can plant a few things. Everyone can get in on this. It’s a fun thing, especially for kids! Kids love bugs!”

From a community garden, to a box of herbs on your deck or in a window box, Emilie said, the pollinators will find you.

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Pesky pests taking over your garden? Tips for saving your crops

No place for a garden bed? No time or energy to work up the soil? Buy bagged potting soil and grow right in the bag! You don’t even have to buy the pots. It’s cheap, easy, and can be done on any sunny spot, patio, balcony, or porch.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and all of their many relatives attract tiny, hopping, black beetles called flea beetles that chew millions of tiny holes in the leaves. Young seedlings of radishes, turnips, mustard greens and kale can be destroyed before they even get started if these pests aren’t controlled. Find out what you can do to save your crops.

Spring asparagus season is almost over but it is still important to control asparagus beetles that can reduce next year’s harvest.

You can head to the Milwaukee County UW-Extension Horticulture page for more gardening information.

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Sit Pretty with High-Design Outdoor Furniture

Your backyard chair is much more than just a seat. It’s a crucial object that connects you to your outdoor world—one that should be beautiful, comfortable, and in sync with its surroundings (both architectural and organic). To prep you for summer lounging, Portland-area garden designer Vanessa Gardner Nagel, author of The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings, shares some tips and tricks for enhancing your outdoor domain.

You see a lot of garden furniture. What common mistakes do people make?  Mixing furniture styles that don’t agree. Mixing, say, a Japanese bench with a Victorian table usually results in a complete disconnect, not a charmingly “eclectic” look. Also, not paying attention to the scale and proportion of the furnishings in relation to the surroundings. A beefy house with lightweight, pixie furniture looks unbalanced. And then there’s the Adirondack chair problem.

What’s so bad about the Adirondack chair?  First off, it’s become trite from overuse. Granted, it’s fine if gazing across a sweeping lawn toward a distant lake. But its vast footprint makes for stumbling in small urban gardens, and it’s hard to lift, move, or position around a fire pit. Above all, it’s awkward for conversation: the angle of the back makes eye contact tough. 

So if Adirondacks are out, where should people start? There are four main factors to consider: Do the furnishings physically fit in the space? Do they properly fit the people using them? Do the materials work with the use they will receive? And do they suit the setting stylistically? 

How important is color? It’s huge! We usually think of color as “hue,” but it’s also intensity (bright or dull) and value (light or dark). Thinking about all three helps you pick the right color. And remember, not everything can be a statement—something always has to take backstage. Got a plain table? Make the chairs striking!  

Where do you like to shop locally?  I love Digs Inside Out and Garden Fever. And there are also great larger retailers specializing in outdoor furnishings, like Hive Modern, Design Within Reach, Fishels, and Ludeman’s.

Five space-changing chairs

Vegetal by Vitra (above): This 100 percent recycled polyamide chair is weather-resistant, sustainable, and well-suited to a ranch, midcentury modern, or contemporary garden and home. $650 at Hive Modern, 820 NW Glisan St

Luxembourg Chair by Fermob: These bright, comfortable retro chairs dry quickly (great in the Northwest) and suit a broad range of midcentury and contemporary settings. $347 at Digs Inside Out, 1829 NE Alberta St 

Aman Dais by Westminster Teak: With a nod to historical style in the legs and back detail, this modern lounge would sit well with a traditional, contemporary, or even Asian-style house or garden. From $1,361 at 

Lago Chair by Loll Designs: Taking its cues from the midcentury aesthetic, the Lago chair is particularly well-suited to contemporary or Japanese-themed spaces. $496 at Garden Fever, 3433 NE 24th Ave

Louis Ghost by Philippe Starck: Inspired by Louis XVI, this chair’s scale and simplicity mix well with many styles: contemporary, traditional, colonial, classical, Victorian. $410 at Design Within Reach, 1200 NW Everett St

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