The toilet of the 21st century factors in water conservation and includes spiffy instructions on a stainless steel decal.  Lo, the toilet of the future, installed thus at UCLAtoilet!

For the purposes of mitigating the drought in California, this is salvific.  For those of us who are hypochondriacs, this is admittedly nerve-wracking, but never fear!  You can always wrap your finger in toilet paper before activating a button!

 

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Leslie Backus.  You Rock!

wenchWelcome Wenchie’s New: Spring Eco-Rings!

This line of spectacular rings is almost entirely comprised of vintage upcycled elements! These elements have been lovingly renewed and given new life, capturing the very essence of the Spring season!
Each ring is either Limited Edition or One-of-a-kind.

Upcycled Charity Fundraiser

50% of the proceeds from each purchase (not including shipping) are donated to Don’t Feed the Animals to help us fulfill our mission.

Thank you for your support!

By Cyndi Hubach,  April 3, 2015

I got stung by a bee the other day, a painful event both physically and emotionally. I was, after all, tending the flower garden I had planted for them to forage in, plus the bee had launched its assault from the very nice home which I helped provide for them. It seemed ungrateful, to say the least—although the swelling did give my face a fullness it has lacked in recent years, but that’s another story…

Our beekeeper told me the bee might have been testy because the hive was stressed from overcrowding, and within a couple days she stopped by to take out a few frames in order to give them more room. I’ll get to the walking bee in a minute, but generally speaking, backyard bees are thriving these days, and if you’ve got any rosemary or lavender in your yard, you’re probably wondering, “What’s all the fuss is about over so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?” Looks like there’s nothing but (occasionally angry) bees out there to me!

The answer is—which is true for so many questions—unchecked, soul-crushing, bee-killing capitalism (lol). The media has been beebreathless in recent years with news of the imminent extinction of bees, followed by the soon-to-follow extinction of the rest of us. But it turns out these stories really only applied to Apis Mellifera—the ubiquitous European honeybee—and only those honeybees that are trucked all over the country to pollinate the multi-billion dollar almond, apple, citrus, etc. industries.

Working bees continue to be in peril, though after years of frustratingly fruitless (how ironic) research into the cause of CCD, scientists appear to be finally closing in on the answer (Surprise! Pesticides!). What you seldom hear though, is that the honeybees that are kept in backyard hives, as well as most native species, are generally abundant and doing fine. A recent state census shows there are an estimated 4,000 bee species around the country, including about 1,600 in California alone. Research into these native bees has been intensifying recently, as industry looks for a possible replacement should the honeybee go the way of the dodo. Sigh.

In any case, aboriginal bees are incredibly rich in diversity and function, and they are almost nothing like their honey-making cousins. For one thing, most don’t live in colonies, which is what makes honeybees so easy to manage and exploit. Instead, they tend to be solitary creatures, making their nests in the ground or in wood, and I might add, rarely stinging. Most will still pollinate your various fruits and veggies of course; there’s even a species that specializes in squash.

Like all wild creatures, native bees are susceptible to habitat loss due to human development (bumblebees seem to be faring the worst), but you can help out by setting up easy, do-it-yourself bee nests in your yard, and by maintaining a pesticide-free garden with plenty of bee-friendly plants. In some cases, bees actually do better in urban environments because of the year-round food and water we make available to them.

They still die because the life of a bee is difficult and brief.  Most of them live just a few short weeks. We’ve all seen the worrisome sight of a bee walking or even lying dead on the ground, and if you’re like me you think, “Is this Colony Collapse Disorder writ small?” But no, this is just what happens with bees. “Mature bees literally work themselves to death,” says LA beekeeper Leonardo Chalupowicz. While disease or parasite attack is a possibility, “if they’re at the end of their life span, they just die.”

So, don’t worry about that poor bee heading to its doom.  Just do what you can to make things nice for the ones that will follow. The survival of all of us may just depend on it.

Bees are among a group of insects known as “pollinators” that help many plants reproduce and are a vital part of the food chain and human agriculture. Without pollinators, the world food supply will diminish catastrophically.

Once upon a time there was a pesticide called glyphosate, developed by Monsanto.  Glyphosate is one of the most controversial chemicals in the news, often discussed along with GMO crops. Scientific studies and research exploring the harmful effects of glyphosate on humans, plants and animals has an impressive chasm of missing data spanning more than 30 years.

Given that glyphosate has been in the news for decades and is used globally, the scientific community for the past 30+ years should have been actively investigating its effects on humans and the environment.  There should be hundreds if not thousands of scholarly articles published worldwide. Just look at the volume of scholarly articles on nicotine, caffeine, or any other chemical. Then examine the patterns of corporate PR from Monsanto, its political activity–and compare these patterns to Philip Morris.

Suspect: Glyphosate

Alias: “Round-up”

Recent News: The World Health Organization reported that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer–which was hotly contested by Monsanto.

So–which pesticides may be the culprits in sabotaging the immune systems of our humble pollinators and causing them to become weak and susceptible to viruses and parasites? NeonicotinoidsSulfoxaflor? Round-up? All of the above?

The investigation continues…

4.6.2015: At sublethal doses, these insecticides adversely impact honeybee health.

Read more about it in this article here.  Scientists are developing more comprehensive assessments on the harmful effects of pesticides on honeybees and other wildlife.  This study involves the evaluation of enzyme activity in honeybees after pesticide exposure.

4.6.2015 – More News

SUSPECT: Neonicotinoids

Chronic Impairment of Bumblebee Natural Foraging Behaviour Induced by Sublethal Pesticide Exposure.  So here’s a study showing how Neonicotinoids impair bumblebees.

EPA’s Pesticide Evaluation Techniques Considered Biased and influenced by industry.  

4.7.2015 – Back to Wiki

Here are some substances that can impair the locomotion of buzzy worker bees.

 

by Cyndi Hubach,  March 20, 2015

It’s such a vivid insult. Although it implies age, “going to seed” carries the added, unflattering connotations of being generally rangy and spent, untended and unkempt, and something of an eyesore. An internet search will turn up photos of celebrities who have seen better days. The epithet originates from garden vernacular, of course, and a yard finding itself in a similar state of “seediness” would likely provoke a visit from a concerned neighbor, the local homeowners association, or even the fire department.

KomatsunaBut why is this so (for humans or a garden)? When applied to people, it’s abject ageism, but I would argue that it is actually worse when directed at plants. While we humans might suffer a bit of embarrassment from the stigma associated with “going to seed,” a plant is likely to be unceremoniously ripped out by the roots in order to “tidy up” one’s garden. This insistence on a rigid ideal of “garden perfection” is actually an interruption of the critical cycles of plant life, and the lives of the creatures that depend on them.

Plants reproduce in a variety of ways, but the ones that inspired the saying “going to seed” do so by pulling energy from the leaves, and putting it all into a great burst of flowers, pollen and seeds. In some cases it’s beautiful; in some it’s not (by our standards anyway). But to thwart that part of the cycle is to break crucial strands in the web of life. Those flowers produce nectar and seeds, which feed myriad birds, bees and butterflies. When we pull our plants at the point when they are just going to seed, we are literally sterilizing–destroying the fertility—of our gardens. It’s like a war crime in our own backyards!

Of course, those places “going to seed” that are considered the greatest eyesores are the radishones full of weeds—but that’s another entity that may be worth reconsideration. “Weeds” are often native plants that simply don’t meet our current standards of beauty (sound familiar?), but can provide another important food source for native creatures. I’m not suggesting that we endure a landscape of tumbleweeds and crabgrass, but allowing for a certain number of aesthetically acceptable “volunteer natives” might not be the worst thing. And think of all the time it will save you from having to weed.

The benefits of letting nature take its course don’t end with providing a meal for your local critters. Many herbs and vegetables past their prime can make gorgeous bouquets (arugula, purple basil, chives and other onions among them), and if you let the plants go long enough, you can collect the seeds to sow next season. Some, like arugula and cilantro, are excellent self-seeders: just leave them alone, and they’ll keep coming back, season after season.

Less obvious plants, like lettuce, chard and other leafy greens tend to seed in less attractive ways, but the animals don’t care. We’re all going to seed anyway—why not just accept it, and embrace the cycle of life?

 

How to Hack Your Toilet – Reduce Water Usage – And Save the City of Los Angeles

by Noelle Vincent,   March 16, 2015

Toilets use the most water out of any appliance in the home.  The amount of water it takes to flush a toilet can be as high as three or even seven gallons with every flush for older toilets.  Newer toilets have been standardized to empty 1.3 – 1.6 gallons per flush.  That means older toilets waste 3 – 5 gallons of water during each use!  If you are in Southern California and other areas subject to drought, you know how valuable it is for the 22 million people to each conserve the water in their homes and end wasteful practices.

Think of it this way: all the water in the tank is the amount of water that gets flushed.  So if you want to upgrade your toilet to be “low-flow”, you need to reduce the volume that the toilet tank holds.  Watch the video below to learn how to hack your toilet tank!

If you don’t already have 8oz. glass bottles in your home, be sure to save the bottles the next time you purchase a drink that has a screw-on lid (metal lids preferred).  After you’ve consumed your drinks, fill them with water and put them in your toilet tank.  Depending on the size of the tank, you can use one and up to three bottles.  Test it out.  See how it works, and then you don’t need to do anything more.  Over time, you’ll even forget that they are there.  Meanwhile, you’ll be saving gallons of water every day.  More than a thousand gallons each year!

When everyone in Southern California participates, that’s more than 22 billion gallons!

NOTE: Please use glass bottles and not plastic bottles.  Many types of plastic may contaminate the water supply while they linger in the tank.  Chemical contamination is the very thing we are trying to prevent.

 

Reduce your daily water usage and make a significant difference.  Respect your water!

And for those in Southern California—take action before we run out of water in 2016. 

 

Click here and here to find out more about water consumption and conservation for your home and business.

Water Conservation

Clean water and water conservation practices have become increasingly important for everyone to take part in, not only the government.  Since the government can’t regulate how the public uses water, except for specific cases such as limiting water usage for lawns and washing your car—we each must take a role in conserving our precious, life-giving resource.

Some of the most effective activities for conserving water include the following:

  1. Turning off the faucet while not in use
  2. Using low flow shower heads
  3. Adding bottles to your toilet tank to reduce water usage (Video Next Week!)
  4. Upgrading landscaping to water-conservative native plants and/or a rock designs
  5. Not pouring toxic chemicals down your drains
  6. Employing create ways to reuse water in the household

 

Not Pouring Toxic Chemicals Down the Drain – Water Conservation Principle #5

There are a variety of items that people should avoid pouring down the drain.  These include most common varieties of shampoo, conditioner, detergent, hair styling products, toothpaste, make up, soap, and commercial drain-unclogging chemicals.  Some ingredients in home products that are toxic include: sodium fluoride, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, hydrated silica, aromatic amines (hair dye), Parabens, Isopropyl Alcohol, Petrolatum, Phthalates, Ethyl acetate, Talc and so many more!  Here is another list of toxins in household products.  Here is a list of common toxic chemicals in our environment.

Before you pour, think about the effects.  Once those toxic chemicals are added to our drinking water, they are pumped back to the water plant.  Then a tremendous amount of energy is consumed to get the water clean enough to drink again.  We can save energy and money by making better choices with the products we put down the drain.

One of the most toxic household items are chemical drain-unclogging agents such as Drano because they use Sodium Hydroxide as a main ingredient.  This causes chemical burns when it comes in contact with the skin, eyes, teeth, and hair.  It is also flammable and can result in permanent blindness and life-threatening symptoms just by being in contact with the it for only a short time.  Do you want something that caustic in your home?  Why would you want to put that down the drain into what will eventually become our drinking water?  Is it worth having hazardous chemicals in the home, especially given the risk it poses to pets and children—when there is another cheaper, more efficient method to clean out the clogs in your drain?

Click here and learn how to unclog your sink without using Drano and its brethren!

 

Review

In our video, we demonstrate how to use baking soda (edible), vinegar (edible), and a sink plunger (inexpensive).  You can also use a drain snake to pull out the debris and avoid adding Sodium Hydroxide to our water supply.

 

Thank you for participating!  We’ll feature more videos that demonstrate clever ways to conserve water.

by Cyndi Hubach,   March 6, 2015

Once you’ve got monarch butterflies in your life, it’s actually kind of difficult to get them out. At the moment, for example, I’ve got three chrysalises metamorphosing away in my kitchen, one on a railing outside my front door, and two newly hatched monarchs flitting about in the backyard—all of which suggests more caterpillars (and hence more butterflies) are on the way. As I’ve mentioned, they’re difficult to get rid of. Depending on your point of view, these events occurring in late February/early March are either great news for a species in decline, or a travesty against nature. Yes, welcome to the butterfly wars!

In a world without human interference, there would likely be no breeding monarchs in Los

butterflyAngeles over the winter. Instead, they would be setting off from their hibernation grounds to the north and south.  Mating would still be a little ways off. These newly minted butterflies are here only because meddlesome people like me have planted a tropical variety of milkweed (the only plant monarch caterpillars can live on) that grows here year round and encourages year-round breeding. As I explained in last week’s post, this tropical milkweed may interfere with the monarch’s migration patterns and lead to the buildup of disease, predators and parasites. On the other hand, there be butterflies!  So, what is the best course?

There are purists who insist that we should all find out what species of milkweed are native to our area, and plant only those. I asked this native vs. tropical question on a respected butterfly site and received a curt response: “The only type of milkweed you should be planting is native. Period.” Not long after this, I reposted a link on Facebook for t-shirts that read, “Milkweed—if you plant it, they will come,” and once again, a friend posted “It should say native milkweed!”

In a perfect world I guess that’s what we’d do. We would have native plants in all of our yards, and native species frolicking about in a happy little Eden. But, spoiler alert, “a perfect world” left the station a few million stops ago. We need to deal with the fractured, urbanized, artificially landscaped and irrigated world that we actually find ourselves in, and more importantly, the world that these hapless creatures, through no fault of their own, find themselves in.

This exotic vs. native dilemma is really a microcosm of the civilization vs. wilderness debate that grips the environmental movement today. Many old school environmental organizations have devoted themselves to setting aside pristine wilderness, safe from the insatiable human assault. I myself for a long time subscribed to that way of thinking. But there is a school of thought that finds this characterization destructive in its own way, limiting our perspective as it does, to an either/or, wilderness or civilization duality. Environmental historian William Cronon argues that if we see ourselves as killing nature, we are inexorably doomed. “If we allow ourselves to believe that nature, to be true, must also be wild, then our very presence in nature represent its fall,” he says. “If nature dies because we enter it, then the only way to save nature is to kill ourselves.” Which doesn’t seem like a very workable solution.

There are some in the butterfly world who would agree that the purist, “natives only” approach is not necessarily the best. The fact is that (for now anyway) the tropical variety of milkweed is much easier to find than the native varieties. It’s also easier to grow, and interestingly, less invasive than some native varieties that spread through underground rhizomes. After the New York Times and others raised the alarm about exotic milkweed last fall, some monarch groups and amateur butterfly wranglers, citing their own experience, pushed back. For West Coast dwellers, this was all doubly confusing because the articles, pro and con, almost exclusively focused on problems around the Gulf States. It wasn’t at all clear if these dangers applied to those of us in Southern California.

I have had sleepless nights over these damn butterflies. I have cried over them. I have dreamt about them. I am doing everything I can, in my own small way, to help them.  So what then—for the love of god—is the answer to this vexing question in my native burg: tropical or native? I finally made contact with a local butterfly expert, Julian Donahue, retired curator of lepidopterology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and here’s what he had to say: “I don’t worry about tropical milkweed in my yard at all.”

Wait, what? All of that, and he just doesn’t worry about it? “The urban environment is so full of non-native plants already that I’d prefer to see any butterflies rather than none at all. I let the plants and the Monarchs do their thing without any interference from me.”

He does add a caveat though. Julian tells me he can just ignore his milkweed plants because when the monarch caterpillars feed on them, they tend to eat it down to the stems, so no milkweed, no butterflies, no disease. But if the milkweed persists over the winter it can invite repeated breeding on individual plants, and that can to lead to the buildup of parasites, and other bad stuff. So the advice from Julian and other experts is, let the plants die back. If they don’t die back, cut them back over the winter months to remove foliage that may be harboring disease, and to remind the butterflies to be on their merry migrating way. And by all means, plant the native milkweed if you can find it and get it established in your garden (find one source here). That’s the ideal, but it’s painfully clear at this point on planet Earth, we are far from the ideal.

Without a doubt, these are difficult questions. We do so much damage as a species, the last thing we want to do is wreck things even more when we’re trying to help. But if we need perfection to define success, we will most assuredly fail; and if all we can do is fail, why make the effort at all? Seeing those glorious orange butterflies in the yard is a sign of success. If we did it with the wrong kind of plant, well that’s not great, but as Julian says, “I’d prefer to see any butterflies than none at all.” Imperfection is better than nothing, and for the most part, the monarchs don’t really seem to mind.

 

by Cyndi Hubach  February 27, 2015

“I’ve got two caterpillars and a chrysalis in my freezer right now, heading to their doom.” That was how a friend of mine thought I should start a blog about my misadventures in raising monarch caterpillars. It was the end of a litany of disasters I’d shared with him, and he thought it was the most hysterical thing he’d ever heard. “You’ve got to write this stuff down. All you want to do is help them, and you’ve got them dying in your freezer. You’ve got to admit it’s kind of funny.”

So, not everyone is a bug person.

Even when it’s something as lovely as a butterfly, it can be hard to relate to bugs in the same way we do to most birds and mammals. They’re so “other”—with their multiple legs and

Monarchcompound eyes—their articulated bodies, and I’m sorry but yes, often horrific mien. Butterflies may be great ambassadors to this foreign bug world because of their beauty, but it’s clear from my friend’s comments that even they are often low on the human empathy scale.

That being said,monarchs with their striking orange and black coloring and epic, multi-generational migrations have always held a special place in most people’s hearts. So news that their numbers are plummeting has received significant attention. In case you haven’t heard, the iconic butterfly is facing a double threat:

  1. Destruction by logging of its traditional overwintering grounds in Mexico
  2. The rapid, near obliteration of its summer breeding grounds in the Midwest by the widespread agricultural use of Roundup. (See abstract of article here)

The devastation has been so swift that butterfly populations plummeted by an estimated 90-percent from 1996 to 2013 (numbers rebounded a bit last year).

As if this were not enough, the butterflies now face a surprising third threat: me—and the thousands of well-meaning people like me across the country, who are trying to help.

The problem is that monarch caterpillars feed only on one type of plant—milkweed—which is what is being killed off by all that Roundup, and what people like me are busy planting in our gardens to replace it. What nobody tells you is that there are more than 140 species of milkweed, and there can be problems associated with planting the wrong type for your region. So when I went to the nursery, I bought the only kind they had—the only kind most nurseries have—a tropical, non-native variety called Asclepiascurassavica. Before I knew it, I had nearly two-dozen monarch caterpillars gobbling it up. So, success, right?

This gets to be a long story, but suffice it to say, before long I was asking questions like: Why is there a puddle of green liquid around that one? Why is that one turning black? Why is that one just hanging like that? And finally, how do I put them out of their misery — which is how a few of them ended up in my freezer (they’re cold-blooded and slowly shut down and die, or so they say). It turns out there are myriad things that can go wrong with monarch caterpillars, and planting the wrong milkweed can exacerbate them.

The issue was, the ones that did survive never seemed to go away. “Aren’t you supposed to be migrating or something?” I’d say to them as October gave way to November and on to December. But there they’d be, flitting about, laying more eggs, begetting more caterpillars, and causing me to seek out more of that tropical milkweed. And as this cycle repeated itself, the caterpillars seemed more prone to illness, were increasingly plagued by predators and parasites, and gave me the distinct sense that I was doing more harm than good.

It was at this point I got wind of the great native vs. exotic milkweed debate that was raging in the butterfly world.  As it turns out, this is an issue of remarkable complexity and nuance. It is also an issue that has people intensely polarized. I was determined to get to the bottom of it.  I wanted to find out more than just what was expedient, and what was ideologically pure.  I wanted to discover what was the best way to raise and care for this poor, beleaguered butterfly. And I’ll tell you what I found out—in next week’s posting…

 

 

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There I was traipsing through the snow the day after I summitted Mt. Baldy in order to procure more wilderness photography, since Los Angeles has an indigence of opportunities to experience “real winter”–as some may deem it. In other words–winter with actual snowfall, hail, sleet, and other “dreadful” elements is rare lest one is willing to seek it out.

Not too many people have a chance to indulge the marvels of nature, so I brought the banquet back for the eyes to relish. Enjoy!