April Antics

April is a very busy month for anyone who gardens in the Northeast. Lawns need to be raked and de-thatched, growing beds need to be uncovered and tidied, and some early plantings need to be made. How fitting, then, that Earth Day is celebrated this month, when we are again engaging in all things green. 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which was instituted by Se, Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) in 1970. He envisioned an environmental teach-in to raise awareness of many of the concerns for the health and well-being of our planet. Passage of the Wilderness Act in 1960, and the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962, were two indicators of the increasing recognition that there was a need for action to preserve and protect our natural resources before they were damaged beyond repair. Twenty million Americans participated - mostly on college and high school campuses. My own high school - Doherty Memorial in Worcester, MA - was one of those involved, setting time aside for speakers and clean-ups in the area. I remember being excited to be a part of a national movement to "save the planet", and it was also nice to get out of classes for a day!

The date of April 22 was set by Nelson as a time he felt most colleges would be able to set time aside for such activities. It would occur after spring breaks and before exams, and the weather would be conducive to outside forums. It is interesting to note that April 22 is also the birthday of St. Francis of Assisi (one of the first "environmentalists") and of Julius Sterling Morton, originator of Arbor Day, which began in April in 1872. It is also the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, proving we should probably not read anything into any of this.

Today, going "green" is becoming more common and accepted. Back in 1970, it was only the beginning of the awakening of the emergent environmental issues that technology and industrialization had caused. People embraced their new microwaves, dishwashers, and the like and saving the land was reserved for those people on the fringe. Hippies and the back-to-the-land folks were seeking a return to a simpler lifestyle, uncorrupted by so-called "improvements". Fortunately, Earth Day was not a single, one-time event, and has grown into a global holiday in which many people around the world are involved in helping to mitigate past damages to the planet we call home.

There are many ways we can adjust our lives to become more green. Using a clothesline - even some of the time - instead of a dryer can not only save energy but also give your clothes a fresh, clean scent better than any fabric softener. The effects of the sun on your clothes can even help bleach out some stains,  especially if you use lemon juice on them first.

The dangers of household chemicals are driving more and more people to use natural alternatives or make their own cleaning products. One concoction I have had success with is "Four Thieves Vinegar". It is wonderfully antiseptic, and can be used on many surfaces. I find it especially useful on very grimy, dirty windows, as it cuts through layers of grime and leaves the surface crystal clear. The herbs, while antiseptic themselves, also add a little fragrance to the vinegar. The name of the formula (also known as Grave Robbers Blend) supposedly came from the use of it by thieves during one of the many instances of the Black Plague. The robbers used the vinegar (soaked in rags and placed upon their person) to allow them to enter and steal from the homes of those dying of the dreaded plague. The preparation gave them immunity from the disease. There are many variations on the recipe, but I have used the following:

one gallon of apple cider vinegar

1 handful of each of the following dried herbs: sage, lavender, wormwood, thyme, rue, mint

Let sit in a warm place for about 6 weeks. Strain out the herbs and place in bottles. Can be used full strength or diluted with water.

This is NOT  to be ingested or used on food preparation surfaces, as wormwood and rue are potent herbs that should not be taken internally. Some recipes call for garlic, and you could leave out the wormwood and rue if it worries you. I include them as it appears in most of the recipes I've seen. Vinegar, by itself, kills more than 80% of mold, so it can be used for that purpose, as well.

There are a lot of articles, books and more information on making your own home care products. If you would like more, please contact me and I will give you some of the sources I have used.

Happy Earth Day!