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A 'Green' Green Thumb

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Greenthumb allan mas

Make Your Garden Environmentally Green

We hear so much about "going green" that we sometimes forget one of the best ways to be environmentally friendly is through a green thumb! Whether a careful design of a major landscape renovation or small changes to a few habits, making your garden green can be as simple or complex as you want. In fact, don't expect to make major changes in how you care for your yard overnight. Instead, consider some ideas you can implement now, and then slowly add to them. As you begin to implement new gardening techniques, you will also discover that making your landscape environmentally friendly is not just about saving mother nature - it can also save you money!

Here are some ideas to get you started on your new green garden:

Pesky weeds: Yes, dousing them with weed killer is easier. However, most are not children, pet or nature friendly. Some old fashioned weed pulling can be great exercise or a way to get the kids to earn their allowance.

- Try to get weeds early in the year as this will mean less pulling later on.
- Pulling a little at a time as you walk down a path is much better than a whole day of work.
- Putting down mulch can help prevent weeds.
- If you have an area that is overtaken by weeds instead of lawn, you might want to consider replanting the area with low native plants that need little attention.

Return of the native: Using native plants in your landscaping is a great way of choosing plants that are accustomed to the climate and resistant to pests in your area. Although not foolproof, you will find native plants much easier to care for than many imports.

- Also, many imports can be harmful to the native plants of the area. For example, English Ivy may look pretty when you care for it, but left on its own, it is a weed that quickly overtakes native plants and even trees! Research non-native plants beforehand to make certain they are not really noxious weeds for your environment.

Homebrewed compost: Adding a compost bin is a great way to recycle food and yard waste and get something in return for it! Composting does take about 3-6 months before you get to use any results, but once you get the cycle going you will have a great way to decrease your garbage and increase your plants.

- There are many styles of compost bins from indoor to outdoor, homemade to store bought
- You can even find stylized ones that give character to your décor!

- If you don't have a garden but have yard removal, check with your waste company's policies; many companies now offer to take the same items you would put in a compost bin (i.e. vegetable and fruit skins). They in turn use this to make compost for city parks. Even if you aren't using the compost, it is a great way to get this type of waste out of the landfill and to areas where it will be more beneficial.

Harvest the rain: While you're out picking up a compost bin, add a rain barrel too! These barrels can be placed directly under your gutter downspout or out from under the eaves. It is ideal to use the water regularly to keep it circulating. Overall this will help save on your water usage and bills!

Water thoughtfully: Watering your plants properly will avoid unnecessary waste.

- Use drip hoses for more even watering and to help decrease your water bill.
- When watering plants, pay attention to their roots and water them before the sun is high so the plant has time to drink before it evaporates.
- Using mulch around your plants can keep natural moisture in. Just make sure the mulch is not too deep and you leave some space at the base of the plant stem.

Grow your groceries: What could be more green than eating from your own garden? If you have never gardened before, start with a small plot and easier to grow veggies. For local advice, check out your neighborhood gardening associations, which often offer free classes. Getting garden fresh foods on your table not only helps the environment but offers you better flavor and ease of mind as you know exactly what went into your produce.

- Don't have a large yard? Urban community gardens are a fun way to build a sense of community, get free gardening help, and again, harvest some great tasting produce.
- Another way to garden in small spaces is through container gardens. Using containers to grow herbs and smaller vegetables like onions or spinach is a great alternative.
- As you garden more, you will begin to start your veggies from seeds rather than buying starts at the store. When making starts of your own, use old milk cartons or other containers that you can recycle and use again and again.

Invite the birds and the bees: Utilizing plants in your garden that are naturally appealing to beneficial insects and birds is a great way to improve the life of your plants. These good allies will help cut down on bad bug pests and can be fun to watch too!

- Plant flowers and plants that are attractive to butterflies, bees and other naturally beneficial insects. Encouraging natural pollinators and cutting down your use of pesticides is a great combo for these natural little friends.
- Some nurseries even sell lady bugs as they are a great natural defense for bug problems.
- Invite birds into your yard with berry plants, flowers, and a water bath. Birds are some of your best pest reducers.
- If you have berries you want to keep for yourself instead of the birds, there are safe netting options out there that don't trap birds but keep them off your berries!

Plan your garden: Mapping out a garden can save you a lot of headache and money down the road. But it can also allow you to be more green. When planning your layout you may pay closer attention to what areas of the yard get more sun or rain and install plants that are suitable for different locations.

- You can also minimize your gardening chores by planning certain "wild" areas or buffers using native plants that require little upkeep.

Hardscapes: Finally, when planning or renovating your yard, consider the non-organic features. From the paths to the containers, consider what impacts the materials you use will have on the environment and your garden's health.

- Recycled materials are becoming more readily available for constructing everything from paths to patios. Take a look at all the options and give these recycled materials a chance.
- Try to get planters and containers made of recycled material. Some people get very creative with old items that they turn into planters (i.e. an old sink or wheelbarrow).
- Try some of the new solar lights to add lighting features to your yard. They are earth friendly and can save you money!


Environmental Protection Agency
This resource provides information about going green from the US EPA. Includes greenscape ideas for homes, businesses and recreational areas.

US Department of Agriculture
This resource will help you find state-specific plant information. Each state and territory has an office at its land-grant university and a network of local or regional offices staffed by experts who provide useful, research-based information to agricultural producers, small businesses, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities.

American Horticultural Society
This resource provides a map that links to Master Gardener websites in the United States. You will be connected to regionally-specific advice on gardening tips, the best plants for your area, classes, and more.

Photo by Allan Mas from Pexels
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Peeling Off The Layers Of The 'Onion' That Is A Structural Pest Inspection.

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Termites jimmy chan

Wood pests, wood destroying organisms, structural pests, termites and dryrot, or, fungus, whatever or however you refer to them, they are the uninvited, unwanted guests that can degrade the wood structure of your home, or, the home you are interested in purchasing. What is interesting is how these conditions are addressed in the various states. Some states allow Home Inspectors to identify and report on these issues if the inspector is properly certified/licensed. Meanwhile, other states (California is one) do not allow Home Inspectors to identify wood destroying organisms unless that inspector is also licensed as a Structural Pest Inspector, of which there are very few. But, if the inspector is properly licensed, then the reporting will be done on a report form mandated by the Structural Pest Control Board located in Sacramento, and the reporting process falls under a whole slew of regulations administered by the Structural Pest Control Board. In California, a Home Inspector can only mention a “wood pest” or “white growth” condition and note it in his or her report, and then, can only refer/defer to a licensed Structural Pest Inspector/Company for further details, proper identification of the wood pests involved, and, recommendations necessary to correct/repair the issues present.

This practice is unfortunate as that process breeds (in California anyway) a huge conflict of interest situation that revolves around the home sale/purchase activity. In California, the Structural Pest Companies perform the “termite” inspections (the term commonly used to describe a Structural Pest Inspection) for little or no money with the intent of getting their “foot in the door” to do the chemical treatments and repair jobs, which can be very expensive. So, lets peel off the first layer of the onion. The scenario goes: The inspector/company you call to make the inspection is the same person/company who provides you with a report that outlines the repairs and chemical treatments that he/she says are needed, which is the same person/company shoving a pen and a work contract into your hands to sign, which is the same person/company that sends out their repair crew to perform the work, which is the same person/company that “inspects” the completed work and then issues a Notice of Completion and certifies the property “free and clear.” I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, that is a big conflict of interest.

But wait, lets take it one more step further. Lets peel off the next layer of the onion. How about the fact that many of the “termite” companies pay their inspectors straight commission on WORK PERFORMED/COMPLETED! Might that smack of a little conflict of interest? How comfortable would you feel having your home inspected under those conditions? How objective and impartial do you feel the outcome of the “termite” report will be, knowing that the “termite” company/inspector lost money the moment the tailgate of the inspectors’ truck went through the shop gate on the way to the inspection and now they need to recoup?

Time to peel the next layer off of the onion (are your eyes watering yet?). Now lets throw the real estate agent into the mix. The agent calls the “termite” company for his client (purchaser) and orders the inspection. All fine and good unless this agent happens to be one of those who has a predetermined idea as to what the outcome of the inspection should be in order to close the deal quickly and with no hassles even though the inspection report may have no basis of reality as to the conditions present. This is why, on occasions too numerous to count, two inspections of the same home are worlds apart. The rule is: both/all reports of the same home should contain the same findings, but the recommendations to repair may differ as inspectors may have different methods to correct the conditions found. It is very disturbing when comparing two reports of the same home, that, the diagram, as well as the findings, are as if the two inspectors looked at two different homes. But, this occurs all too often because of the pressure applied by the agents by “black balling” inspectors that are perceived to be “deal busters” because they actually do their job and accurately report conditions present.

Please don’t feel that this discussion is saying that all real estate agents or termite inspectors/companies are “shady.” More are good than bad, but the questionable still exist and you need to be aware and "do your home work” so you don’t end up in a situation for which you didn’t bargain.

So, lets peel another layer off of that onion, but in a positive way this time. ALWAYS, I REPEAT, ALWAYS interview the real estate agent before engaging them. Just because the agent meets you at the door of the office doesn’t mean you are “stuck” with him/her. If the agent is the listing agent of the property, be especially wary. They will not legally be working for you or have your best interest at heart. That is where the questionable termite inspector/company may suddenly appear. You want to ask the hard questions and get the proper answers! You want to know names and phone numbers---- not of sellers, but of purchasers of property handled by the agent so you can find out how their (the purchaser) experience was. Of course, this is a good time to find out how satisfied they were with the pest work that was performed. You would be surprised by how many buyers are very unhappy with the quality/completeness of the pest repair work but don’t have the stamina to “fight the system.”

In closing, referrals from qualified sources are your best way to find the inspector and real estate agent that will best serve you. Remember, the ones charging the least are most likely the ones to give you the least. A home purchase is probably the single largest investment any of us will make in our lifetime, so don’t shortchange yourself by falling into the age-old trap of the “cheapest.”

Photo by Jimmy Chan from Pexels

Ron Ringen owns and operates Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections, which is located in Sonora, California. Ringen’s Unbiased Inspections serves the beautiful gold country of California that includes the foothills and Sierra Mountains in the counties of Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amadore. Ron has been involved with the Structural Pest Control business for 56 years and has been a licensed Structural Pest Inspector in California since 1968. Ron is a licensed General Contractor (B) in California and has been since 1977. Ron is certified with the American Institute of Inspectors as a Home Inspector, Manufactured/Modular Home Inspector and a Pool and Spa Inspector.

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Earn Cash Spring Cleaning Your Home!

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The days are longer, the temperatures are becoming pleasant and our energy levels are up as we begin to stretch out of our winter hibernation - spring is here! Time to harness some of the new energy and get the spring cleaning out of the way. Although some demigods may have immaculate households and not heed this tradition, most of us do have a bit (or more) of collected clutter and dust around the home. Spring cleaning is a great opportunity to remove dust, mold, toxins and clutter from our households. And as we clean, we notice a pile emerge of unused and unwanted "stuff."  This gathered hoard of old décor, books, electronics, clothes, exercise gadgets, etc. should not be squirreled away for another year! Instead, incorporate into your spring cleaning the determination to get this "stuff" out the door by donating it, having a garage sale, or selling it online.

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning for most households is a family tradition. According to the contributors to Wikipedia, evidence of spring cleaning can be seen in ancient civilizations - from the Jewish tradition of cleaning the house before Passover to the Iranian "khooneh tekouni" or "shaking the house." Many Americans grew up in households where there was a yearly purge of dust and "bad air" from the winter months. This too comes from earlier times when fires of coal and wood were the primary source of heat, and rural households sometimes bundled down with the livestock indoors. For this reason, some argue that spring cleaning is not a necessity with our modern furnaces, solid windows, and cleaner spaces. Consider this a time, then, to do the very best cleaning of all your living spaces, appliances, and work areas. We all skimp on cleaning out the fridge or stove, so now is the time to hit these areas thoroughly. And don't forget to go through your attic, closets, storage areas, and basement and purge unused, unneeded, and unwanted belongings.

Common Spring Cleaning Tasks:

  • Dust ceilings, walls, corners, light fixtures, base boards, vents, and furniture.
  • Wipe down walls, light-switches, outlets, doorknobs, and handles.
  • Clean blinds, curtains, drapes, window sills, and windows.
  • Clean doormats, bathmats, and area rugs.
  • Shampoo the carpets.
  • Clean the hardwoods and vinyl.
  • Dust and wipe down furniture, cabinets, shelves, and countertops.
  • Clear the clutter and get items back where they belong.
  • Consider items for a garage sale, to sell online, to donate, or even to re-gift!

Other important items (while you're at it):

  • Update important documents in the safe or safety deposit box.
  • Update emergency plans and contact numbers.
  • Review emergency plans with family members.
  • Review all medications in your household for expirations.
  • Review first aid kits - these don't last forever, and you may need to replace some items or the whole kit Also review any other emergency kits.
  • Test and change batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Spring Cleaning Bounty

Now that you have cleaned your house, you have gathered "stuff" that you no longer use, need or want, which may include:

  • Clothes
  • Toys / Board Games
  • Furniture / Lamps
  • Wall Art / Mirrors / Clocks
  • CDs / DVDs / Games
  • Books / Magazines / Comics
  • Collectibles
  • Dishes / Glasses / Cups
  • Kitchen Gadgets / Small Appliances
  • Exercise Equipment
  • Craft Goods
  • Small Electronics

Now what?

You'll want to have an organized plan of action to determine what to sell or donate. Here are some basic guidelines as you take inventory of your miscellaneous items:

  1. Be firm on your choices: If you haven't used an item in a year, there's a very good chance you won't use it again. Let go of any emotional attachments to items - even if your mother gave you that clock, which you never use, you can let it go. Instead, keep the more personalized items, such as photos or handmade objects. Every gift is not a treasure! Remember - it was the thought that counted - not the unworn tie!
  2. Consider items for donation: If you have some highly valued items, such as gently used winter coats or clothing, consider giving these to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or a local charity. You may prefer to try to sell your items and then donate what doesn't sell. However, don't use your charity of choice as a dump - be realistic and donate only usable items and not broken toys, games with missing pieces, appliances that don't work, etc.
  3. Consider items for a garage sale: List the items as you place them in boxes to temporarily store until the weather is nice for a garage sale. Organizing items ahead of time when you do your spring cleaning will save time on the day of the garage sale.
    • a) Set a date and time: Choose a day when you can rest well the night before and commit your full energy to the day of the sale. Keep the time reasonable - if you aren't a morning person - don't open a garage sale at 8am. With the right advertising, you should be able to set your hours and stick to them.
    • b) Know the going rate: Review other garage sales in your area to see how similar items are being priced. Check online for prices on trade sites such as eBay.
    • c) Showcase your items: Hang clothes, put small items in baggies, etc. Keeping your selection clean and neat and visible will help buyers decide quickly and will lessen the need for items to be handled too much. Also, clearly mark each item with a price label. One or two boxes of "25 cents each" may be okay, but try to keep most items individually priced with a label.
    • d) Advertise and make signs: These days, advertising a garage sale shouldn't only be done in the print version of your local newspaper. It can be posted online, as well. Even most Penny Savers have an online option.  You should also post announcements to online localized sites, such as Craigslist, and post the sale on social media.  Finally, when you make signs for the sale, keep the print clear, big, and simple. Make certain to take them down as soon as your sale is over.
    • e) Change from the bank: Before the day of the garage sale, make sure to get some change for the cashbox. Decide beforehand if you will accept checks or cash app payments, and under what conditions or for which particular items.
    • f) Prep your sales table: Besides your cashbox, prep your sales table with bags, boxes, newspaper to wrap fragile items, paper and pens, calculator (if you don't want to use your cell phone), maybe a few good munchies, definitely a beverage to keep hydrated, and something to keep you entertained during the slow periods (if you don't want to drain your cell phone battery).
  4. Consider items to sell online: Perhaps you have items left over from your garage sale, or maybe a garage sale doesn't appeal to you and you'd rather sell things from the comfort and convenience of your home office, kitchen table, or sofa?  Either way, you still have stuff that needs to be sold.  Just keep in mind that selling items online will require more time as you write detailed descriptions and take clear photos of each item to be posted. In addition, you'll spend time checking online to see if anything has been purchased, packaging items that have sold, and shipping them off to their new homes.  If you have the patience or enjoy the idea of a virtual garage sale, these sites will help you get your unwanted items moving out the door!
  •      Amazon Marketplace: If you're a bit of a bibliophile and need to thin out your collection, Amazon Marketplace is a great option to sell used books, CDs, DVDs, and more. To list is free, but there are fees when an item sells.
  •      Craigslist: A mishmash of services, used goods, and announcements. You can find used items for cheap prices. It can be the ordinary, like used furniture, to the not so common. For example, I found someone who had new pavers left over from a patio project. They were willing to sell at a discount just to get them off their lawn. You may also find bargain services, such as yard work done cheaply. However, be careful; there are no regulations and you should take precautions when working with anyone on this list. This site definitely has a mixed history of great successes and terrible wrongs.
  •      eBAY: One of the most popular and well known online auction sites, eBay has been around since 1995.  It's the biggest garage sale online.
  •      Etsy: Buy unique, creative pieces or sell your imaginative, handmade items.  A great source for crafters and home artisans of all medias.
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