Advice for the eco-minded.
Is there a chemical-free way to get rid of slugs that infiltrate my garden?
—Andy Davenport, Arlington, VA
If telltale slime trails and ragged holes mar the leaves of your plants, you most likely have slugs munching on your garden. For some toads and snakes, a slug-infested garden is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. But if those predators have been slow to dine at your slug smorgasbord, there are a number of chemical-free ways to discourage these shell-less mollusks from eating your plants.
Shade gardens and wet soil make the perfect combination for a bumper crop of slugs. To deter the leaf nibblers, plant your shade garden with species less likely to attract slugs in the first place. A few examples include astilbe, bleeding heart, and cardinal flower. Ask your local extension office to recommend plants indigenous to your area that both repel slugs and attract wildlife.
If the slimers make their way onto your leafy greens, put on gloves and pick them off by hand at dawn or dusk, when you’re most likely to find them doing their dirty work. You can also put up barriers. Materials that work well include anything salty, like wood ashes or soap, or copper strips placed around your rows. Tempting the slugs with beer is another option. Poke slug-size holes about a third of the way up a plastic cup or old margarine container and plant it in your garden so that the holes are just above the soil line. Fill the cup to the holes with beer. A few days later remove the slugs that have crawled into the cup and drowned. “They check in and don’t check out,” says Whitney Cranshaw, a pest management professor at Colorado State University Extension. “But it’s not the alcohol, it’s the aspects related to brewing beer,” like the irresistible small of fermentation. What kind of beer will your slugs like best? Maybe you will want to experiment with a head-to-head taste test.
Back to Top
Are there options for green carpeting?
—Gloria Schlaepfer, Fullerton, CA
When buying a carpet, whether you’re looking for a cozier home or just more cushion under your feet, choose one that will have the least impact on the environment, for its entire life.
Although most carpets are made from some sort of oil product, like nylon polyester or olefin (a synthetic fiber), a handful are made of renewable materials, including wool, jute (vegetable fiber), coir (coconut fiber), and sisal (agave fiber). There are also carpets made of recycled materials, including textiles and plastic. Try not to spill on the natural fibers; they’re very absorbent, making them susceptible to mold and rotting if they get wet.
Chemicals in both natural and synthetic carpeting are often found in the adhesives that attach the carpet to the floor, in the substances used to repel moths, and in latex backings, which help keep the fibers together. These chemicals can emit small amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, styrene, toluene, and xylene, some of which, besides causing eye irritation, breathing problems, and headaches, are considered carcinogenic. Look for the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus certification, which ensures that the rug has low VOC emissions. Once the rug is installed, air out the room for 72 hours before settling in. (Although VOCs are present at low levels when rugs are first laid down, they do not affect air quality in the long term.)
Few people know they can recycle their old, threadbare rugs and keep them from joining the five billion pounds of carpets that end up in landfills each year. To see if you have a recycling center near you, visit Carpet Recovery.
When it comes to carpeting, think renewable and recyclable—and feel the change underfoot.
Back to Top
Does turning off a power strip really save energy?
—Kathleen Cobble, Salt Lake City, UT
The short answer is yes. Even when computers, stereos, and televisions are shut down, they can still siphon power if they’re left plugged in. In fact, their fanglike prongs will suck electricity the way Dracula drinks blood. Such electric vampires account for 75 percent of the energy used to power home electronics, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
For example, a mobile phone charger can waste two-thirds of the power it consumes by being plugged in when it’s not charging anything, according to a conglomerate of cell phone companies. A number of those businesses, including LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson, announced last November that they would rank the efficiency of the chargers they offer on their company websites.
Sleeping desktop computers consume significantly less electricity than their active counterparts, but it’s best to turn them off when they’re not being used. Same goes for plugged-in laptops, which are generally more efficient than desktops. And if everyone in the United States used Energy Star–certified computers (energystar.gov), greenhouse-gas emissions would be reduced by 10.9 million metric tons a year—the equivalent of taking two million cars off the road.
In addition, digital monitors can help determine how much energy a particular electrical device is drawing. When it comes to slaying those energy suckers, you have two choices: Pry each set of fangs from their sockets when the devices are not in use, or force them back into their coffins with a flip of a switch on a power strip.
Back to Top
Send your most vexing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.