Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Review: The Bees in Your Backyard

I am behind on reading with the holidays, but I am finally getting around to looking at some new books sent to me by Princeton University Press.

I have reviewed several books about bees in the past year, so it might seem another one would be superfluous. Not so! For those interested in knowing what kinds of bees they have in their yards, this guide, The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America's Bees, by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril, will help identify which of the common species of bees you see. There are 4,000 bee species in the US and Canada, but thanks to the key in the introduction, you'll at least be able to sort the bee to the appropriate family, and perhaps to the species.

The book has 900 full-color photos. The chapter on the natural history of bees is fascinating and for those of us who are trying to entice bees to our yards and gardens, there is a fair amount of information on plants and other actions you can take to provide appropriate habitat for your bees. Personally, I liked the little boxes of interesting information set off from the main text--a lot of interesting tidbits there.

This book was published December 16 and can be purchased from Princeton University Press for $29.95. I checked Amazon, and it is available there in both paperback and kindle versions for a few dollars less. Remember our local charities by purchasing through

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Living Green(er) in 2016

It's that time of year again. A new year is just around the corner. I have been thinking lately about my New Year's resolutions for 2016. Yes, I am one of those people who make New Year's resolutions, and generally, I tend to stick to them. Mostly because I frame them as goals, not aspirations.

Anyway, in thinking through 2015 and looking toward 2016, I decided that I needed to include one or two goals relating to living more sustainably. I have been doing that the last few years, so this is nothing new, but if I don't include it as one of my goals for the year, then I'll lose focus.

One event that has me really looking at this area a little more is the recent decision by Progressive Waste to stop single stream recycling in Wichita Falls. This means there really isn't a good place to recycle plastics. I have heard Wal-Mart will take most plastics. I am going to check that out and if so, that will be a help. However, wouldn't it be better to reduce at the front side? So my focus for 2016 is going to be to reduce trash. We do reasonably well at this already. We were putting out 1 curbside trash bin a month because we could put most of our waste either in our own compost bins, the city's organics recycling and the single stream recycling. The amount of waste we are putting out has jumped dramatically--mostly in plastics, although there are some metal food cans. I can see that if I don't take control, the amount of trash we put out will double. That's not acceptable. That means I need to look for non-plastic packaging options and ferret out recycling options. I am going to try to can more--I can now, but not enough to make a big dent in the metal cans going in the trash. I can reuse my canning jars.

So that is focus #1.

The next item is this blog. I post fairly regularly to the Facebook page, but have been woefully lazy about this blog. However, many people who have access to this blog do not have Facebook accounts. I can always share the link from the blog to Facebook, but it would be difficult for blog readers to check Facebook posts. I plan to still do a lot of sharing of interesting articles to the Facebook page, but will do a better job of having some more detailed information about topics of interest here.

Lastly, I plan to do more gardening. This is another carryover from previous years. I have a good-sized garden for a residential lot and I have been gradually introducing permaculture. I haven't been very disciplined about it though. So I am going to finish my permaculture course on line and raise a higher percentage of my own food this year. Good exercise, better tasting food and at the same time, removing more of the environmental toxins from our family.

So those are my 3 sustainability goals for 2016. What are yours?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Product Review: J. R. Liggett's Shampoo

I have been a little dissatisfied with shampoos and conditioners lately. Not only do most shampoos and conditioners have chemicals in them I would prefer not to have on my body or in my water supply, neither have I felt ready to tackle the "no poo" approach. My understanding is that it takes some weeks before that works, and I don't think I could arrange more than a few no-customer days in a row. Shampoos and conditioners also generate a lot of plastic waste I could do without.

So I was in Natural Grocers looking over some of the shampoo and conditioner options, trying to convince myself to cough up the additional money and trying to decide among an array of options. But there, tucked inconspicuously at the end of a high row, there was a little bar of shampoo. It looked like a small bar of soap. It was only $3.68, so I thought, "What the heck? I'll give it a try."

At my husband's request, I have long hair that is also abused with color every 2 weeks (yes, I know that hair color is NOT green--we all do some things to please our spouse). That's what happens when your hair is pretty much white. It doesn't take long for the roots to be very noticeable. I also have oily hair and wash it almost every day. So I use a lot of shampoo and conditioner and my hair takes a lot of abuse.

When I read the ingredients on the back of the soap (see photo to the right), it appeared there was nothing there to be concerned with. 

The fragrance is nice. I am not a fan of overpowering rose scent, but the scent was light. The shampoo makes a nice lather. Although the label says "most" people need no conditioner, that is probably the one thing I am still not sure I like. I have used the shampoo twice now. I don't know that I need conditioner, but some sort of detangler would be nice. Long hair is a pain when combing it out afterward and without conditioner, it was more of a chore. My hair also took a lot longer to air dry and seems heavier. Although after shampooing, my hair felt harsh, when it was dry, it felt soft, enough, but still not as smooth and soft as it does after a good conditioner.

Overall, the shampoo appears to work well, although the jury is still out on whether it will be a good option after several shampoos. I am going to keep using it for a while and see what happens. In the meantime, I need some ideas for chemical-free detangler. If I can whip that, I will probably be a fan.  I found some recipes on the web and will have to try them out.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sustainability in Action

Today I had the opportunity to see an innovative company putting sustainable practices to work in their business. Clayton Lane, James Lane Air Conditioning and Plumbing, invited me to see their rainwater harvesting and solar systems.  I hope their practices catch on with other businesses.

3000 gal storage tank
Currently, they have a 3000 gallon water tank, although they have plans to install additional tanks. Just 1/4 inch of rain will fill this tank. This tank provides water to all of their toilets and urinals and also provides water to clean parts and to fill mobile water tanks which are taken to work sites for hydraulic excavation and other applications. If they had 25 or fewer employees, they could purify the water on site for drinking. 

Control area with pump, filter and meter
Wash area with potable and non-potable water hoses
Leo Lane, Vice President,  likes the convenience of being able to fill their mobile tanks on site instead of having to drive elsewhere to fill their tanks with non-potable water. The construction industry cannot use potable water for construction, so must haul water. He feels that for them, the savings in labor costs from having his employees drive to purchase non-potable water more than pays for the system. Leo Lane holds the certification now required to install such systems. He feels other business may also benefit from the convenience of having a rainwater harvesting system. In addition, homeowners who do not have access to city water or other reliable water supply could benefit. This system might also be useful for pool owners.

Only non-potable water is used in toilets and urinals
Next, Clayton showed me their solar power system. James Lane has 4000 sq ft of solar panels installed on their roof. In March, they had a credit on their electric bill. They still pay a distribution charge, but they are actually sending electricity back into the power grid. They also did an upgrade to more efficient lighting. They purchase power at 7.2 cents and sell it at 7.5 cents. If they were producing more electricity in March than they used, it will be interesting to see what happens in August.

Converters for solar power
When their system was installed, they iued a company from the DFW area. However, Clayton reported that local company Davis Electric is now able to do solar installations. 

4000 sq feet of solar panels supply energy
Clayton said that their installation of solar and rainwater systems is about making the company more resilient. In cases of power outages or other natural disasters, they have to remain in operation to get homeowners and businesses back in operation. People need heat, water and air conditioning. Therefore, their business has to remain in operation. These systems are one more way to ensure they can be there when needed.

I would love to hear about what other companies are doing to be more sustainable.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Odds and Ends

I am not blogging about a specific topic today--more just a series of notices about various things.

May 2, 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM: Trail Appreciation Day. Sponsored by the City of Wichita Falls. This is an opportunity to see sections of the trail you may not have discovered yet. I'll post more details closer to the date, but put the date on your calendar now.

There is a new interest group on Facebook that may be of interest to some readers: WF Urban Homesteaders. This is a closed group. This group will also meet on the first Friday of each month at noon. The first meeting last month was at Luby's but there hasn't been a decision yet on the meeting location for the April meeting. More to follow.

Wild Bird Rescue is continuing their education programs at their facility on the second weekend of the month. This upcoming weekend your family can enjoy seeing hawks and/or owls up close on Saturday at 10:00 AM or Sunday at 1:00 PM. The handler determines which birds are shown. These programs are free, although donations are always appreciated. The organization's annual Baby Bird Shower will be Saturday, March 28, 11:00 - 1:30. This is the only day each year that the facility is open to the public for tours.

Sustainable Small Farmers Online Event next week. Although focused on small farmers, there are some sessions many many be interested in. I want to watch the mushroom growing session myself. The event is free and the sessions are in the evening. The sessions will be available for a couple of days online for those who may not be able to attend at the time the session is scheduled.

Don't forget River Bend's Science Saturdays.

The Wichita Falls Museum of Art has the Andrea Rich, An Abundance of Riches, woodcuts on display now through April 4. This is a free exhibit.

The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist training class "made" and is underway. I'll be doing the class on birds Thursday night.

If you know about events, products, groups, etc. that may interest readers, please send them to me at We can't support what we don't know about. Earth Day is coming up in April. That's not normally a big deal in our community, but if you are aware of events, please let me know! I checked the Choose Wichita Falls website and nothing pops up....bummer!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Texas Master Naturalist Spring Training Starting Soon!

Me, Laura and Tami collecting and
documenting freshwater mussels
for the Texas Master Naturalist
Yes, I know I have been remiss in keeping up with this blog, which is sad, since there really is a lot going on. I have been keeping up a little better with the Facebook page, but not everyone is on Facebook.

If you would like to learn more about the natural resources in our area, get involved with helping us learn more about the flora and fauna, and want to help others learn about nature, the Texas Master Naturalist Spring training course may be for you. Whether you want to become a certified Texas Master Naturalist or just want to learn more for your own enjoyment, the local Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist program provides a fun way to learn a lot and associate with others with similar interests.

The program starts in March and goes through May. It consists of a number of classroom programs and several field trips. You can get a copy of the application at the Rolling Plains chapter website. The class schedule is still being finalized, but if you are interested in seeing the draft schedule, send me an email at, and I'll send you one.

I have been a member of the local chapter since it started. I enjoy the projects and the people. Hope you'll consider the program.