Rain Barrels: A Win-Win for All

By: Jeannie Voeks

Happy Earth Day Month!  Let’s talk about one simple thing we can do for Mother this year in promoting sustainability.  That is saving her gift of rainwater. There are different reasons to want to do this.

There are Economic reasons as well as Ecologic reasons that saving and using rainwater is beneficial.  For lack of space and in keeping with Earth Day, I am going to focus on the Ecological aspect only.

Eco-logical benefits:

Collecting rain in barrels helps slow runoff and encourages rain to soak into the soil more efficiently, to recharge groundwater supplies and protect sensitive ecosystems.

Overloaded municipal sewer systems can cause untreated sewage to flow to lakes and rivers, thus causing pollution to our valued lakes and rivers.

By saving rainwater from wetter seasons, you’ll have plenty to use without taxing the municipal supply, or your well during the summer, helping out during times of not-so-rainy days.

Eco-facts to consider:

Gardens, trees, bedding and house plants are more likely to flourish when they always receive Mother Nature’s pH-balanced rainwater. What could be more simple and natural?

Have you ever noticed how green a good rain turns lawns and gardens?  This is not just “a good cleaning up” by the rainwater.  The soil is replenished by this natural pH water, nitrogen is delivered to the soil and plants thrive.

Rainwater is a constant renewable resource to Earth because of its continuous production cycle and is very pure due to the water cycle it goes through.  Although there are some similarities between rainwater and tap water, there are also many differences.

Tap water contains contaminants due to the many substances collected in the environment.  These contaminants, such as pesticides, prescription drugs, sewage, bacteria, metals, oil, etc. then need to be filtered out, so it can be used for drinking and cooking.

So WHY is rainwater better than tap water for our plants and lawns?  Well, there are a few reasons…

Simply said, it is what Mother Nature intended.  Rainwater is purer, more easily absorbed because it is naturally soft and free of minerals. This allows for healthier growth.

► Salt exists in the soil naturally. In areas where the water is naturally full of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, sodium (salt) is used in municipal water and in water softeners to soften water to reduce deposit buildup. Too much salt is bad for plants, and as it builds up it starves the roots of water. Rainwater dilutes the salts in the soil and pushes them further down, away from the plant’s root system.

► Municipal water services add a lot of chemicals to the water supply to keep it clean as it flows through pipes. Fluoride and chlorine are very common additives. Fluoride is put into the water in an effort to keep people’s teeth healthy. Chlorine is used to kill off harmful bacteria in the water supply. Both of these chemicals affect the pH of the soil, often making it too acidic for maintaining healthy plants. Rainwater contains neither of these chemicals, having been filtered by evaporation, and is pure.

I hope this has helped you understand the benefits and importanceof harvesting rainwater for your plants, gardens, trees and lawn.

Try rainwater for other uses, too.  You’ll be surprised how much you’ll like it for washing your car, bathing your pet, or washing your own hair…you might find that you wont need to buy conditioner, as rainwater is naturally soft.

Many of us are finding ways to go back to a simpler way of life.  This is one of those smarter, simpler ways that make sense, save money and save on the environment.  Give it a try…oh, and if you do, please remember to choose a rain barrel that is good for the environment and won’t end up in a landfill.  Mother Earth will thank you!

Green Planet Rain Barrels, LLC



Do the Solar Math

By:  Joe Maurer, Next Step Energy LLC

Why install a solar PV system? You can hedge against rising fuel costs! You can own your energy up front! You can offset your own fossil fuel consumption! You can have energy independence!

You probably have heard some of what a solar PV system can do for you, but what about the costs? What does the math of a solar PV system say? A baseline PV costing exercise usually begins by looking at your kWh/per year usage. Here is a sample exercise you can do at home.At our home business, the energy usage is 8,300 kWh per year. To estimate my PV system size, I will begin by dividing my kWh per year by 1.2. This gives me an estimated PV system size of 6,917 watts or a 6.9kW system. To calculate my installed cost, I multiply the PV system size by the cost per watt for a roof mounted system, which in this case is $4.00. This gives me an installed cost of $27,988. Not exactly chump change, I know. But wait! There is more to this equation.

If I am a rural business owner, I can apply for a 25 percent USDA REAP grant. To figure this amount, I multiply myinstalled cost by 0.25. This puts me at $20,991. If my utility participates with Focus on Energy, I can take an additional $2,400 dollars. This Focus on Energy grant is taxed at 33 percent (-$792), so the cost of the system is now at  $19,383. The federal tax credit is considerable at 30 percent. To calculate this, I simply multiply my installed cost minus the USDA grant by 0.30. This puts me at $14,693.70! I know exciting, right? We are not done—let’s look at depreciation. Depreciation indicates how much of an asset’s value has changed. For tax purposes, businesses can deduct the cost of the tangible assets they purchase as business expenses. To figure depreciation, multiply your installed cost ($27,988) by 0.21. Our net solar system cost is $8,816.22! This isn’t chump change either—but it’s a considerable difference from where we started.

So, what’s the payback time? To calculate this, divide the net solar system cost by the solar energy value in year one and multiply by 1.35. To calculate your solar energy value in year one, multiply your annual electric load by your utility rate. For example, for my solar energy value in year one, I multiply $0.11 x 8,300 to get $913. So to find payback, I divide my net system cost ($8,816.22) by solar energy value ($913) and multiply by 1.35 to give weight to module degradation, property insurance escalation, inverter replacement etc. My payback time is 13 years. Or I could say after 13 years, I make money with my system! System life is expected to last at least 30 years.

Check with your tax professional and solar site assessor to find out if you qualify for solar enegy tax incentives.

Growing Minds Growing Gardens

by Sarah Franc

A parent can buy all the toys and electronics in the world for their child, but one should never underestimate the endless hours of fun in playing in the dirt. For children and adults, the rewards of growing your own garden are immense. From sowing the seeds to witnessing your flowers or vegetables/fruits emerge from the earth, gardening is one of the best ways to actively teach your child essential life skills.

We live in a society that spends more time smiling at their screens than smiling at their children. Setting up a family garden will be a great opportunity to put the electronics away and spend some quality time with your child doing something productive. Your children will enjoy spending time outdoors and will develop a love and appreciation for nature while putting their curiosity to good use (rather than getting into mischief).

A study by the Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) investigated the impacts of gardening in school. By replacing the white board with active learning, the study reported three core areas in which the children’s lives improved:

1. Readiness to learn
2. Resilience
3. Responsibility

More specifically, according to the RHS, gardening encouraged children to:

• Become stronger, active learners capable of thinking independently
• Gain a more resilient, confident, and responsible approach to life so they can achieve their goals and play a positive role in society
• Learn vital job skills such as presentation skills, communication, and team work, and fuel their entrepreneurial spirit
• Embrace a healthier, more active lifestyle
• Develop the ability to work and communicate with people of all ages and backgrounds

Keep It Interesting
The growing process can be long, and some young ones may get discouraged when the results are not immediate. Make sure to keep your children involved and interested in the project. Let them get dirty! The basis of a garden’s appeal for a child is getting to play in the dirt, so encourage it! Also, it is important to allow your child to make some decisions. Perhaps let him or her choose the flowers or vegetables/fruits to cultivate, or choose crops that your child will enjoy. If your little one loves strawberries, plant strawberries! Planting flowers that attract butterflies, ladybugs, and other interesting creatures will be an added bonus for children. This will allow them to spend more time in the garden investigating and learning about nature.

It is vital that your little one learns and practices garden safety. Keep all fertilizers or sprays away from your child and stay away from the use of pesticides in your garden. One of the major benefits of growing your own garden is that you control all aspects of the growing process. Therefore, you will know what is going into your body. Stay away from pesticides; grow organically. Also, teach your child how to properly use the garden tools and be sure children are properly supervised while using said tools. Lastly, spending hours in the garden in the summer can get hot. Stay properly hydrated and wear sunscreen or protective clothing.

Whether your garden flourishes or not, your children will cherish the memories you made while spending time in the garden. As long as you keep it a relaxing experience and have fun, you and your children will continue to learn through the journey, and hopefully have some beautiful flowers and delicious food to show for it.

Sara is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s journalism program.

Honeybees: What You Need to Know

by Amber Erickson Gabbey

Even though you can’t legally have bees in Eau Claire proper, Drew Kaiser is working to change that. Looking to cities like Madison as an inspiration, the Eau Claire chapter of Save the Bees, spearheaded by Kaiser, is hoping to pass ordinances to legitimize urban beekeeping and small family apiaries. While there isn’t a current ordinance banning honeybees in Eau Claire, it is considered illegal based on the understanding of other ordinances.

Culturally, we’re beginning to understand just how much honeybees matter and the dire situation of the species. Honeybees, often considered a nuisance by worried neighbors, are vital to the health and well-being of our planet and ultimately, us. Colony collapse disorder is a new but serious threat to honeybees, affecting nearly 30 percent of their numbers every year. Honeybees are necessary to pollinate fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and without pollination, the food supply is in danger. A country without an adequate food supply is in trouble. This isn’t just about honeybees, says Kaiser, this is about the broader view of life.

We’re not talking large-scale production here, says Kaiser. We’re talking about small-scale family productions that help the honeybee population survive. The bees help pollinate area plants and provide the family with fresh, local honey. Who doesn’t like getting a jar of honey from their neighbors?

For opponents of urban beekeeping, the local honey isn’t enough. They have other reasons for resisting the motion. “The biggest barrier is getting over the misperception that bees are yellow jackets are wasps are hornets,” says Kaiser. Many people don’t know the difference between bee species and imagine they are all aggressive and deadly. Yes, there is always a risk of stings and allergic reactions, but beekeeping doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of strings or general bee nuisance. Normally very docile creatures, honeybees kill themselves in the process of stinging.

The other public perception is that honeybees will frequent neighborhood yards. Kaiser said common urban beekeeping practice is to install flyaway barriers. Since honeybees fly in a straight line, these barriers push the honeybees higher into the air, meaning there is no noticeable increase in honeybee activity in the vicinity. Kaiser believes these misconceptions can be alleviated with direct and explicit education on the life and behaviors of honeybees.

According to Kaiser, there are signs of environmental distress everywhere you look. Honeybees are part of the solution to this environmental design. We need them; they  need us. The USDA estimates every 1 of 3 mouthfuls of food is attributed to honeybee pollination. That is a big deal to this nation’s food system, and without honeybees we’ve got a major problem. “Pollination is an indicator of the health of the environment,” says Kaiser.

The current state of the ordinance in Eau Claire includes education, signature collecting, and talking with public officials. Kaiser and team are now working with the newly formed Sustainability Commission for the city of Eau Claire and hope to produce something actionable to give to the council in the coming months.

Outside of signing the petition and getting involved, there are a couple things you can do to help the honeybees. First, minimize or eliminate your use of chemicals. If you farm, consider transitioning to more organic and environmentally friendly practices. Then, plant flowers that attract honeybees. Even global issues like this start locally.

Amber Erickson Gabbey, MA, RYT, is a freelance health writer and yoga teacher. She enjoys the simple life in the mountains outside Boulder, Colorado. Follow her healthy living blog at www.mindfullywritten.com/blog.

SOURCE: Drew Kaiser, kaiser.drew@gmail.com, 715-834-4747.

Stay in the Garden (and Out of the Clinic!)

by Dr. Emily Smith, DC, DICCP

Spring can be a busy time for gardeners (and for those who take care of gardeners!).  Spring marks the time of year when plants emerge from their winter slumber.  It’s important to remember that our bodies too have been hibernating and need some tender loving care in order to enjoy spring without injury.  Read on to discover a few simple exercises that can prepare your body for what is to come. (Please consult your doctor or health care professional before beginning this or any exercise routine.)

The #4 Stretch

This is a simple exercise that can be done while sitting or lying down.  Place the left ankle on top of the right knee and if sitting, lean forward with a straight back.  If you prefer to do this stretch while lying down, position yourself on your back on a flat surface.  As above, place your left ankle on top of your right knee and grasp under your right knee and pull toward your chest.  Repeat this on the other side.  You will feel the stretch in the outer hip of whichever leg is on top, which is a common tight spot in those who sit a lot.

Chin Tuck Exercise

This is an exercise that can be done almost anywhere.  First jut your chin forward as far as you can and then immediately pull the chin backward as far as you can and simply hold it in that position for as long as you can.  The time may vary but will steadily increase as you practice.  This helps to stretch the muscles that attach the head to cervical spine (sub-occipital muscles).  Aggravation of this area usually occurs from keeping your head held in front of the rest of the body or from looking down (e.g., reading, putting together puzzles, working on the computer or phone, weeding, etc.).  This posture can most commonly lead to headaches and neck/upper back pain.  By simply tucking your chin whenever you are looking down or forward you can stabilize the cervical spine and prevent injury.

Arm Pulse Exercise

This is a great exercise to counteract the effect that gravity has on our upper body.  Stand up and place outstretched arms by your sides.  Open the shoulders by rotating palms outward and extend arms behind you.  Now pulse arms backward, as if you are trying to touch the wall behind you.  This will help to strengthen the muscles of the upper back, better align the shoulders to prevent injury and reduce/eliminate pain/numbness that may travel into one or both arms.

When beginning your spring gardening work, it’s also important to keep these points in mind:

• Stay hydrated. When your body is low on fluids your muscles will become tense and are more prone to injury (picture twisting a piece of jerky!)  Though heat/environment may increase your need, typical fluid intake should include half of your body weight in ounces of water on a daily basis (e.g., if you weigh 100 pounds you should attempt to consume 50 ounces of water daily).
• The most dangerous activity for the low back is a bend/twist/lift. This activity (e.g., raking, unloading items from the trunk, weeding, etc.) can place the joints of the lumbar spine in a vulnerable position and cause excess pressure on the lumbar discs.  It is always best to move your feet to rotate, rather than twisting your spine.  With raking for instance, it is best to use short strokes while holding the rake close to your body and switch from side to side (as opposed to planting your feet and bending/twisting to one side to reach the rake as far as you can).  The same goes for weeding (focus on the area in front of you rather than reaching off to the side).
• The body loves symmetry. It is difficult to always be symmetrical with gardening activities but do your best to switch sides and take turns from right to left.  This will help to minimize injuries by building strength bilaterally and avoiding overuse of one side of the body.
• Utilize the proper tools and equipment. This can make the yard work not only more efficient but also more enjoyable.  Stools, kneelers, or knee pads can help minimize stress and strain on the knee joints and allow you to spend more time in the garden.
• Take breaks frequently. Being in one position for more than thirty minutes can lead to muscle cramps and degrading posture.  Move around the yard or garden and change up your activity whenever possible.

For those who love to garden but are unable due to available space, body limitations, etc., there are options!  Check out https://es87578.towergarden.com/ to learn more about the Tower Garden, an aeroponic, vertical garden. The unit can be used outside or inside and requires no dirt and no weeding!

Dr. Emily Smith, of Smith and Prissel Chiropractic, has a specialty in Chiropractic Pediatrics but loves working with patients of any age.