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Entries in outdoor (22)

Tuesday
May242011

how to: plant a modern topiary

A topiary is basically a sculpture made of bamboo, wire, etc, that either guides plants—or they’re trained—to grow into the 3-D shape.

Usually perennial plants are used since it can take years to complete larger versions—and ivy is a favorite since it grows fast and its vines can be easily wound around forms.

Weather across the country has caused a slow start to the growing season so this weekend could be the perfect time to get one growing.

Simply add a kiss garden sculpture to a properly sized potted plant and help it along. It’ll pop in contrasting red so, for added texture and visual interest, try multiples in landscapes.

photo by: puuikibeach

Friday
May062011

material world: eucalyptus

Eucalyptus is a diverse type of flowering tree within the myrtle family. There are over 700 species, most of which are native to Australia, and only about 9 can’t be found there.

Eucalyptus are favored as a fast-growing sustainable resource, similar to bamboo, and all of the tree—it’s wood, leaves, flowers—are broadly used.photo by: Umesh Behari Mathur

First, the flower blossoms provide nectar for insects, birds, bats, etc. and essential oils from its leaves contain natural disinfectants so it’s used in cleaning products, deodorants, toothpaste, decongestants and cough/cold medicines.

Its also a key food source for some koala and possum who are tolerant of those chemicals which can be toxic in large doses.photo by: puuikibeach

On both a positive and negative note, eucalyptus trees require lots of water.

In swamp-like areas, planting them can reduce soil erosion and malaria bearing mosquitoes—ironic considering its inherent insect repellent properties—but in normal to dry or non-indigenous areas, they can prohibit other plants and native plants from thriving.

Such is the case in California where eucalyptus trees were introduced in the mid 1800s with the hopes that their fast growth would offer a vast supply of railroad ties as miles of new tracks were laid during the Gold Rush.

Unfortunately, wood from younger trees warped dramatically and wood from older trees was so dense that nails couldn’t easily secure them in place—both characteristics sealed its fate.

Although its favored as a windbreak and for curbing erosion, it’s disliked for its role in feeding forest fires (read on) and regenerating from mere trunks, so currently measures are being taken to reduce its population there.

Types of eucalyptus plants and trees have been carbon dated to tens of millions of years ago—around the time charcoal deposits have been dated as well—which is interesting since they share a common trait.

As a living plant, and at high temperatures, eucalyptus oil can be emitted as a vapor—which creates the characteristic blue haze of Australia’s landscape, shown above—but it can also be highly flammable, like charcoal.

But the wood becomes more dense—and therefore stronger, much like teak—so it’s also prized for its durability outdoors while those same natural oils help protect it from the elements.

Like most woods, eucalyptus weathers to a soft silvery grey but tung oil can be applied periodically to help preserve its original patina.

Friday
Apr222011

tweet tweet, feed feed

As trees begin to bud, the sounds of songbirds
of all varieties can be heard while venturing out
of their nests in search of food for their young.

Just like everyone else, different birds prefer different types of foods. To learn what bird seeds or blends specific birds like best, check out the National Bird-Feeding Society—with a focus on research and education of backyard birds, they’re dedicated to helping make the bird feeding and bird watching hobby a better backyard experience.

There are a few standard ingredients in bird food such as sunflower seeds, corn, thistle, milo, safflower seeds, millet—other types are suet, nectar, fruit or insects. For example, orioles and mockingbirds are attracted to fruits like apples, oranges and raisins while bluebirds are partial
to insects like mealworms.

Once you’ve determined what types of birds are indigenous to your area, and which ones you’d
like to attract, visit your local pet or garden store
for the proper mix to make sure they’re well fed. The tweet bird feeder holds one quart of seed
but packages come in many blends and sizes.

Happy bird watching, Happy Earth Day and
Happy Easter!

Wednesday
Apr202011

sunlight = vitamin D

Did you know that vitamin D is produced naturally in the skin when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays? Similar to a steroid in molecular composition, vitamin D circulates as a hormone and promotes healthy bones and muscles while boosting the immune system.

According to research by the Mayo Clinic, it’s believed that “vitamin D may offer protection from type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis by reducing inflammation and strengthening the immune system.”

The trick is getting enough rays for a good supply of vitamin D, but using sunblock as protection against too much sun—if you’ll be in direct sunlight for an extended period of time. It’s all about balance—and getting outdoors.

Tuesday
Apr052011

material world: aluminum

Aluminium, or aluminum, is a silvery white chemical element that happens to be the third most abundant element after oxygen and silicon. It is however the most abundant metal since it accounts for about 8% of Earth’s solid surface weight.

Similar to iron, aluminum is extracted from other elements—mostly bauxite ore via electrolysis—and can be found combined in almost 300 different types of minerals.

photo by: libbyrosot

It’s one of the most versatile materials—lightweight and pliable as a thin sheet of foil, or dense, sturdy and heavy when cast.

Cast aluminum, left and below, is a fairly Medievil process where aluminum is heated to a liquid form, then carefully poured into a mold—or packed sand which has been shaped by a mold pressing.

It does however take time and talent to create the molds, to shave or sand off excess aluminum, to solder pieces together, then to polish the rough casting to a mirror-like finish.

photo by: außerirdische sind gesund

As an extruded aluminum tube, shown right, it falls in the middle since it’s lightweight and incredibly sturdy—making it an ideal material to use for furniture and bicycle frames.

With a melting point of 1220°F, aluminum is perfect for cookware and bakeware. Whether as a muffin cup, anodized aluminum pots or foil baking pans, they all conduct heat well but remain fairly cool.

Salts can oxidize the finish—actually creates a protective surface, passivation, which acts as a barrier and protects the aluminum underneath; and aluminum doesn’t rust so it’s particularly favored by the aerospace industry, for many types of outdoor furniture, and as aluminum siding and trim for buildings and homes.

photo by: blondewarningAluminum has been produced for commercial use for just over 100 years but during Napoleon III’s time—1848-1852—it was considered a precious metal even more valuable than gold.

During Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, beer can collections gained popularity and value when his brother Billy Carter introduced Billy Beer.

It was around that time that fully detachable tabbed openers gave way to the current attached version since many had been ‘stored’ in the can, then swallowed accidentally.

Since the late 1960s, when beverages switched from tin cans, aluminum has again achieved superior status since transportation costs are less due to the lighter weight and more recycling can be done instead of mining virgin aluminum.

100% recyclable with very little prep or stripping to be done, aluminum is one of the most recycled materials since it’s easy to gather, cost-effective to recycle—it takes about 5% of the energy to process vs producing virgin material—and when recycled, aluminum maintains most if not all of its natural properties.

Because of these inherent characteristics, a high percentage of cans, vehicles and construction materials, like siding, are consistently recycled throughout the world.