Clean and Odorless Composting

Portland, OR recently joined the growing list of cities like San Francisco, Ottowa, and Minnesota that offer curbside compost pickup. In select neighborhoods, trash pickup will be cut back from weekly to biweekly, while compost/yard debris and recycling will continue to be picked up on a weekly basis.

Response to this new ordinance has been largely favorable in all aspects but one. When the city distributed the plastic, two-gallon pails meant to take weekly food scraps, some Portlanders had their complaints. Many were concerned about the smell and the inevitable congregation of fruit flies.

Whether your city collects compost or you personally are composting, Useful Things has you covered. We offer a stainless steel compost pail that allows you to go green without the odors or the bugs of a cheaper compost container.  The 11×7 pail fits easily under the sink, on the countertop or next to your existing garbage pail, making composting at home a breeze.

The metal compost pail is dishwasher safe in the case something really goes awry, but the built in charcoal filter system will neutralize most odors. The compost pails replacement filters are made of carbon coated nylon. They can be replaced every 4 – 6 months, or as often as needed depending on the unique stench levels of your kitchen compost.

Want more information on composting before starting your own home operation? Check out these helpful websites.

Recycle Now: Home Composting

Have your own tips on composting? Are you using a Useful Things compost pail to help the environment? Let us know in the comments.

Keep Your Herbs Worth Eating With The Prepara Herb Savor

Think back to a time you bought a bunch of fresh, green herbs to cook into your favorite dish. You chopped or snipped a quarter of the bunch into your food, and we all know what happens next. The rest of the herb bunch go back into the refrigerator where they are doomed to go bad in two or three days. It’s a waste of delicious herbs, and a waste of money.

Before you give up and succumb to lifeless dried herbs, know this. There is hope. Effective, well-designed, convenient hope: the Herb Savor by Prepara.

This herb saver comes with three primary components: the water well base, the plastic shell, and the stainless steel herb basket. To use, simply rinse the herbs in the basket, fit the basket with the herb tips facing down between the two piece plastic shell, and fit the shell into the water well base. Fill the base with water and refrigerate. Come back two days later – your herbs will still be fresh. Come back two weeks later and – yep! – your herbs are still fresh.

Still need convincing? Oprah called the Prepara herb savor the most exciting thing to happen to her in 2010. I don’t know about you, but if it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for me.

10 Easy Maintenance Plants for Indoors and Outdoors

You bring a plant home from the nursery, lovingly replant it, place it in a sunny spot, and water it, but a week later, it dies. Sound like you? Or maybe you have a green thumb, but you don’t want plants that require a lot of time and effort. These easy to care for plants for both indoors and outdoors will help you green up your house or garden without too much effort.

Indoor Plants

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants are among the easiest house plants to grow. They are hardy, tolerate light to full sun, and can withstand neglect. The leaves of a spider plant grow up to 15 inches long and an inch or two wide. Some leaves are variegated in color while others are solid green. Mature spider plants will produce “babies”—smaller plants that grow off a shoot and produce flowers. They can be cut off and planted in their own containers.

Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata)
The Dragon Tree, also known as a Red Edged Dracaena, resembles a small palm tree. It can grow up to 15 feet tall, and its long, slender trunk can be trained to bend. It can also be pruned to control growth. The leaves of a dragon tree are dark green with red to purplish stripes along the outer edge. New leaves grow out of the top of the leaf mass, while mature leaves on the bottom drop away. The dragon tree is best grown in bright light, but it will tolerate low light. It likes to dry out between waterings, and if allowed to wilt, it will recover. Dracaenas have been shown to help remove formaldehyde from the air.

Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens oxycardium)
One of the toughest houseplants to kill, the heartleaf philodendron can take much abuse. The one thing it cannot tolerate, however, is cold temperatures. Its light requirements are low, and it is a very profuse spreader. The heartleaf is perfect for hanging baskets, as it has long trailing stems. It’s also attractive as a climber. Prune if you wish to control its growth.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum floribundum)
The beautiful glossy green leaves and graceful, white blooms make the peace lily a popular yet easy to care for houseplant. Peace lilies grow in little to bright light. For best results, place within 8 feet of a window, but keep out of direct sun. They do like water, but will let you know when it’s time to give them a drink by drooping. Peace lilies also look and work great in fish bowls. Let the roots dangle in the water, but keep the plant stalks dry.

While many people grow impatiens as annuals outdoors, they also make wonderful indoor plants. They are small, container plants, and add a splash of color to your home. Impatiens like well-drained soil, so add a few pebbles to your pot. Keep the plant moderately watered, and near a sunny window. In the winter, make sure the window doesn’t get too cold for your impatiens, or it will die off. With those few, simple rules, you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful blooms in a variety of colors all year round.

Outdoor Plants

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
Bleeding hearts are an attractive perennial that grow 2-4 feet in height, and with a similar spread. In April or May, they bloom pink or white flowers that resemble hearts. They work well in shade gardens, but can also withstand full sun if it is morning sun. In late summer or early fall, the foliage dies completely back, so don’t be afraid to plant other shade loving plants close by to fill in the gaps. Bleeding hearts require little care, and will often survive uprooting and transplanting.

Creeping Phlox [Plox subulata]
Phlox is a semi-evergreen flowering perennial that makes an ideal ground cover for sunny spots, edgings, and rock gardens. It grows 3-6 inches in height, and spreads 2-3 feet. Its flowers are available in pink, lavender, and white hues that bloom in April or May. It prefers well-drained soil and full sun, but will tolerate other conditions if not too drastic. Phlox is hardy, will survive cold, frost, and snow, and has little to no pest problems.

Shasta Daisy [Leucanthemum x superbum]
An all-time favorite for gardeners, Shasta daisies are hardy, low-maintenance plants that provide numerous blooms that bloom for an extended period of time. Plant in full sun to partial shade, and provide rich, moist soil for best results. Deadheading is advised, so the plant has amble nutrients to survive the winter. Cutting the flowers regularly will not harm, but encourage them to grow. Shasta daisies multiply rapidly, and grow 2-3 feet tall.

For mild, damp, and humid climates, you can’t find plants much easier to care for than the rhododendron. These plants grow as shrubs and small trees, so provide them with adequate room to spread. They prefer light shade to partial, filtered sun, and like well-drained soil. The evergreen version of the rhododendron keeps its large, leathery leaves all year, and flowers large, showy blooms in spring. The blooms come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, and white.

The genus Hosta consists of about 45 species of plants native to Asia. Hostas are well-known shade lovers, but some species can handle sun. While some species produce flowers, most hostas are grown for their foliage, which comes in a wide range of shapes, colors, and sizes. Some are also variegated, with the leaves containing different combinations of whites, greens, golds, and blues. Most hostas grow 1-3 feet tall with a similar spread. Slugs and deer like to feed on hostas, so you may have to take action to keep your plants safe.

How-to Create a Deer Resistant Garden

If you live in deer habitat and like to garden, you know that plants and deer don’t co-exist, at least not easily. You’ve probably walked out to your garden to snip some flowers or harvest vegetables for the dinner table only to find them gone. How can you protect your plants from being devoured by deer? There are four main prevention strategies:

1. Fencing
2. Scare tactics
3. Scent repellents
4. Plant selection

Fencing is fairly effective, but only if you build your fence at least 8 feet tall. Anything shorter and deer can jump it. Also, you’ll need to use material such as wire mesh, which doesn’t block the sun, and this isn’t particularly attractive. Another aspect to consider is cost. If your garden is large, fencing materials could easily run you several hundreds of dollars, if not more.

Margaret Roach, of Martha Stewart Living, suggests a different type of fence–two parallel fences, each about four feet tall and about four feet apart. Apparently, the deer can’t jump high and broad at the same time, so this type of fencing deters them. Again, however, you will need to take cost and your own personal accessibility into consideration.

Scare tactics, such as noise, and scent repellents, such as human hair or urine, are only effective for so long. Deer acclimate to their surroundings, rain washes away scent, and you’re back to square one. Besides, do you really want to visit your garden under these circumstances?

The better way to ward off deer is through plant selection. There are dozens of plants that deer are naturally repelled by. The list includes annuals, perennials, bulbs, trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, herbs, and other crops. Did you know, for example, that deer don’t like dahlia, sweet basil, thorn apples, lavender, lupine, mint, butterfly bush, rhubarb, or shasta daisies? Or bleeding heart, sage, rosemary, and fern? For more ideas, check out this list compiled by Cornell University scientists, or these 22 plants featured in a Popular Mechanics article. Shop the Deer-Resistant Nursery catalog for even more ideas, and to check what plant zone you live in. With the options available, you’ll have a deer resistant garden in no time.

Deer Resistant Plants catalog

Read: “How to Stop Deer From Eating Your Garden (With 22 Plant Ideas!)” from Popular Mechanics

“Deer-Proofing Your Garden” from HGTV

Catnip is a Natural, Effective Mosquito Repellent

With the prevalence of mosquito borne diseases, such as West Nile Virus, it’s important to wear a protective mosquito repellent. Unfortunately, nearly all repellents contain DEET, a chemical which is dangerous to humans, especially children. According to a study conducted by Duke University Medical Center, DEET can cause brain-cell death and neurological damage. But what other options do you have? How about catnip? Iowa State University researchers report that nepetalactone, catnip’s essential oil, is about ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET.

As a member of the mint family, catnip is primarily known for its intoxicating effects on cats. It is also used in tea, and as a natural remedy for fevers, colds, cramps, and migraines. With this latest research indicating its effectiveness as a mosquito repellent, it’s surprising that companies manufacturing repellents haven’t produced a green alternative to DEET. Fortunately, catnip is an easy to grown perennial herb, and you can make the mosquito repellent yourself. Check out these two recipes provided by the Seattle PI, but be advised that the Iowa State researchers warn that pure catnip oil is too strong to put directly on your skin. You only need 1-5% of the essential oil for it to be effective.

Seattle PI: “Grow your own mosquito repellent”


Science Daily: “Catnip Repels Mosquitoes More Effectively Than DEET”