Fall Home and Garden Bonanza

The Bees Needs + Beekeeping Tips
Yards of Tomorrow
DIG It. Five foolproof fall gardening tips
Real Estate 101
Get Your Home Eco On
Order From Chaos. Organized4Success
The New Interior

The Bees Needs

One local bee guardian teaches Cruzans how to save the endangered species in our own backyards.

It’s a hard-knock life for a honeybee. Faced with a commercial food industry that is forcing bees into obscurity via mono-cropping, local ecological educator Palika Benton is taking matters into her own hands.

The self-proclaimed “bee guardian” has been a backyard beekeeper in Live Oak for 10 years. When she’s not tending to the six hives in her own backyard, Benton, under the moniker Mama Earth Matters, offers community workshops—ecological backyard beekeeping, gardening and food production, and greywater permaculture and design—in the hope of educating the masses about the importance of protecting bees.

cover_beez“It’s a direct opportunity for human beings to have a nature connection,” Benton says. “It’s a grassroots movement—regular people taking control not only of the food supply, but of the relationship between people and the earth.”

Benton teaches a low-tech beekeeping technique using one-story, trapezoidal Top-bar hives, rather than the Langstroth rectangular box model used by commercial beekeepers, because, she says, it’s “safer, easier for backyard beekeeping, and there’s an observation window so you can look in, which prevents over-intervention.”

Minimal intervention is key in Benton’s ecological approach, which teaches people to keep bees only in wild-like conditions. That means, allowing bees to renew and repair the bee stock themselves. “We’re creating locally acclimated, genetically resilient, bee stock,” she says.

To accomplish that goal, Benton teaches students to let the queen bee mate with 10-15 drones (male bees) to make genetic diversity. Since the drones live in Santa Cruz, the queen will produce bees that are well-acclimated to the conditions of the area, and, in turn, create a strong, diverse hive.

Unlike commercial beekeepers, who do not let the queen mate as it would in the wild, and instead split hives artificially, kill the queen bee, and replace it with a genetically modified queen, Benton believes in the natural process.

“The contrast between commercial and ecological beekeeping is night and day,” says Benton. “Some beekeeping classes may reproduce harmful protocols and reinforce degrading commercial practices without realizing the effects.”

Since 2006, when Colony Collapse Disorder wiped out honeybees in the U.S., over one third of domestic hives have died every year, says Benton, who blames the commercial food industry.

“In commercial beekeeping, the beekeeper’s primary goal isn’t to harvest honey, but to pollinate food crops,” she says. “Thousands of hives are Saran Wrapped and pallet stacked … fed GMO corn syrup and taken to inorganically grown, pesticide laden, and chemically fertilized mono-crops across thousands of miles. The bees get incredibly stressed and weakened further still by constant treatment with antibiotics, miticides, and fungicides, and overbreeding in a false environment.”

To ensure their longevity, Benton feeds her bees organic, local honey, and does not put chemicals in their food or give them antibiotic, pesticide, or fungicide treatment, so that they’re strong genetically. She also teaches her students to be judicious and conservative when harvesting honey through a crush and strain method, so that the bees have enough to last through the winter.

“The first question I always ask at my workshops is, ‘Are you here to get something? Or to give back?’ I teach how to be guardians, not to be consumptive,” says Benton.

While backyard beekeeping isn’t for everyone—hives need to be at least 25 feet from neighbors’ yards, and cannot be located within the direct flow of a door, window, or foot traffic—there are many other ways to be a bee guardian, according to Benton, including planting native and Mediterranean plants, treating homegrown food with organic fertilizer, and not buying products that are chemically-based or using pesticides.

Still not convinced? Benton describes the benefits of beekeeping as threefold: “there will be more flowers and an abundant landscape, more fruits and foods, and we will be happy because we’re contributing to the well-being of the earth.” | Jenna Brogan

Palika Benton will offer a beekeeping workshop from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at Maha Mandala Homestead, 2591 Mattison Lane, Santa Cruz. $59 with sliding scale. To pre-register, call 464-9664, or email [email protected]

Backyard Beekeeping Tips. Palika Says:

1. It’s good to place hives under or near tree shade
2. South and East are the best-facing directions for hives
3. Afternoon shade is ideal for hives
4. There needs to be a local water source

Three Types of Backyard Beekeepers
1. You can have a hive that serves as a sanctuary. You can plant flowers that are good forage for bees, and the bees can come and go without you managing it.
2. You can hire someone like Palika to tend to your hive.
3. You can get a hive and be an apprentice by studying beekeeping and taking classes.

Palika’s Rules for Natural Backyard Beekeeping:
1. Don’t use antibiotics, pesticides, fungicides
2. If the hive is really weak, you should let it die, to mimic survival of the fittest
3. If you have to feed the bees, only use organic, local honey
4. Let the bees swarm; let the hive split on its own

What Can You Do for Bees?
1. Stop treating your gardens and landscape with pesticides—they are killing bees, butterflies, and birds, and they get into food
2. Look at what products you buy and see if they are chemically based, like cleaning products, hair dyes, shampoos—all that goes into the water
3. Plant native plants first, and Mediterranean plants second
4. If you grow food or have fruit trees, treat them with organic fertilizer

Yards of Tomorrow

Grass lawns are so 20th Century. Take a look at these ecological alternatives.
“I’m not 100 percent against lawns,” says Brett Graf, owner of Habitat Gardens, an ecological landscape design company in Santa Cruz. “If a lawn is really getting used a lot, then great.”

But on the other hand, he adds, “If you just want a green spot to look at and only go out there once a year, there are other alternatives.”

cover_yard2The lawns that have become suburban American mainstays—you know the type: improbably green year-round, perfectly manicured, and hardly used—don’t stand up so well to today’s environmental standards. They gobble water, crave fertilizers, and require serious maintenance. “They take a lot of time and resources to maintain,” says Graf, adding that most people who use lawn fertilizers aren’t using organic varieties, which means they’re sending pollutants into our creeks and oceans.

So whether it’s time, money or water they’re looking to save, some homeowners opt for lesser-known landscapes. The Food Not Lawns movement has cropped up across the country, from Santa Barbara to Kansas City. The Santa Cruz outpost, which is headquartered at the Laurel Street Manor near the Laurel and Mission streets intersection, promotes replacing lawns with vegetable gardens. And still others go for the zero-maintenance, zero-water “eco turf” (fake grass).

But Habitat Gardens offers a slew of other ecological alternatives to Santa Cruz residents, as well. Putting his background in habitat restoration, permaculture, and holistic medicine—Graf is also a massage therapist and Certified Western Herbalist—to good use, Graf has built a business that caters to the customer’s needs while also promoting sustainable, native, and habitat-friendly services. “Everyone has their own idea of what they want their yard to look like, and I help them to do that in an ecological way,” he says.

cover_yardHabitat Gardens’ lawn replacement option removes the existing lawn and reshapes the landscape to create contour, shape and elevation changes—this allows for rainwater to naturally flow down to storm drains, getting filtered and cleaned in the process. It specializes in native plants, but Graf says they can also plant non-natives, such as plants from other Mediterranean climates around the world. It also offers mulches as a low-water, low-maintenance yard solution.

Or, if a customer still wants a lawn, Habitat Gardens can replace a standard one with native grass. The most popular variety amongst their clients is the “Mow Free” native grass from DeltaBlueGrass.com. “Because it is native, it’s a little bit better for wildlife,” says Graf. “You might see more birds and more interesting insects in your yard. It only needs to be mowed between zero and two times a year, and it uses 50 percent less water than a traditional lawn.”

While making either of the above switches means uprooting your current yard and investing in a new one, Graf says it will mean cost savings in the long term, noting that, “if you spend a few thousand to take out your lawn and put in a beautiful new landscape with drip irrigation, [for example], that would cost more than leaving it as it is. But if you add up your monthly expenses over the year of watering, fertilizing and maintenance, then you’d be saving money over time.”

Further alternatives include planting thyme or chamomile instead of grass (“It smells good, and it takes even less water than native grass,” says Graf), or installing a rainwater catchment system (which, at full-scale, can be quite large) in your yard—both of which Habitat Gardens is happy to make happen.

“There’s an expectation people have that, first of all, they want a lawn, and second, it has to be perfect, but they don’t even go out and use it,” says Graf. “There are many other options that are so much more enjoyable.” Learn more at habitat-gardens.com. | Elizabeth Limbach


Five foolproof fall gardening tips courtesy of DIG

Design Interior Garden (DIG) aims to be a garden shop unlike any other. It is the perfect place to find contemporary gifts, as well as a variety of gorgeous indoor and outdoor plants. They also specialize in urban farming with supplies like organic vegetable starts, canning equipment, organic feed and vertical gardening supplies.

cover_diggHome and garden workshops are held every month for those looking to get involved in canning, creating Succulent Wreaths, Artisan Bread Making, Terrariums, and more. Friday, Sept. 30 will kick off the series of fall dinners that DIG is doing in collaboration with Lightfoot Industries. This five-course organic meal and dessert will be highlighting “soul food for a new generation” with chef Loren Ozaki. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and costs $35.

In the meantime, DIG owner Cara Meyers has the following advice for planting your luscious fall garden:

1. Plant Now: Fall is the best time for cold, hardy perennials, shrubs and trees. Planting now will keep your plants well established and consequently they will require less watering next spring and summer.
2. Mulch: Mulch is good any time of the year, but is especially important in the fall to protect plant roots before winter. It also helps prevent weeds. Apply a two to three inch layer at minimum to get the best results.

3. Don’t Forget the Veggies: You might think it’s too late to

do anything else in your vegetable garden but planting veggies for the fall can be easy. Now is the time to plant lettuce, kale, broccoli, and cabbage as well as so many other leafy greens. It’s also a great time for many root vegetable crops such as carrots, radishes and beets.

4. Outside In: It’s a great time to think about bringing the outside indoors for the rainy cool months ahead. Adding houseplants to your indoor spaces can cheer you up for the gloomy months ahead as well as add oxygen and refresh your air quality indoors. DIG specializes in and offers a huge assortment of beautiful houseplants in all sizes.
5. Try Something New:

DIG Gardens has a variety of plants from the Southern Hemisphere, that will add unique beauty and structure to a garden and thrive in our Central Coast climate. Leucadendrons and proteas and many others are starting to bud and bloom and are available at DIG. | Jenny Simeone
Learn more at DIG Gardens, 420 Water St., Santa Cruz, CA, 466 – DIGG (3444), diggardensnursery.com.

Real Estate 101

Six smart tips for buying and selling your home in this ‘Buyer’s Market’

When asked about today’s housing market in Santa Cruz, Keller Williams Realtor Melody Russell cites one of the world’s wealthiest men: “Warren Buffet recently pointed out that when everyone else is selling is the time to buy,” she says.

cover_forsaleFrom historically low home prices and interest rates to a favorable “affordability index,” which looks at the percentage of a median family’s income consumed by the median mortgage, Russell says that all signs point to now as the best time to buy or sell a home. “It is not the time to kick the tires or to wait hoping the market will go lower,” Russell says. “The waiting is over.”

And Russell knows a thing or two about doing both: she was ranked in the top 10 residential agents in the county in 2009 and 2010, and was the No. 1 agent in dollar volume at her agency in 2010. Here, she shares some useful insights to help make your real estate experience as smooth as possible.

3 Tips for Sellers:

1. Many home sellers make the mistake of confusing what was paid for a property, how much was spent to improve a property, or the price of listed but unsold homes in the area with the fair market value. “There are many variables that determine fair market value and the best way to reach that value is to hire a full-time local realtor who knows the inventory and market values,” Russell says. “This will save you from over pricing and chasing the market down.”

2. Finding the right agent is key. “Ask people whose opinion you trust to recommend a couple agents to you and compare their level of service and marketing plan in addition to the resources and reach of their company to ensure you have the best representation for your valuable asset,” says Russell. The agent you pick should know the market inside and out and have a thorough marketing plan that includes advertising, staging, professional photography and more.

3. Clutter won’t help your house sell. In order to sell your home in the shortest amount of time and for the highest price, make sure to consult a professional home stager. “Professional staging sheds a home in its best light and is a critical key to a success,” Russell says.

3 Tips for Buyers:

1. Buying a home is no small purchase, so take the following steps in finding the right realtor to work with: ask for referrals, interview agents you are referred to, and then choose the one who you feel can best represent you. While lots of people pick an agent “because they are nice,” Russell says it is equally important to select a realtor based on their experience, reputation and “their ability to best represent you in terms of what is important to you in your real estate transaction.” Additionally, Russell suggests avoiding working with the listing agent of the property you are interested in. “Having one agent represent both sides is a conflict of interest,” she says.

2. Make sure to ask your agent for advice about lending. “Full time agents work with the best mortgage loan officers on a daily basis and can advise you on which lenders have a reputation for performing on their loans and for providing unsurpassed service,” says Russell. “The mortgage loan officer is a critical person in terms of you closing escrow on the home that you want.”

3. Make the time to communicate your wants and needs early on with a Home Buyer Consultation. “Many home buyers feel they are too busy to meet with the agent, and as a result waste weeks or months that could have been saved by all decision makers taking the time to communicate all of your wants and needs up front,” Russell says. | Elizabeth Limbach

Get Your Eco On

Green your home—it’s time

Greening one’s home can be a daunting project. Whether you’re starting from scratch with a new house or trying to improve on what you already have, it can be difficult to know where to start. Luckily, Josh Salesin from SantaCruzGreenHome.com has a few words of advice.

Before you buy anything that will supposedly lower your environmental footprint, Salesin suggests being wary of anything and everything with a “green” sticker on it. “Keep an eye out for ‘greenwashing,’” he warns. “Green is so trendy that everyone is claiming something to gain market share.” This includes both products and professionals.

That being said, there are plenty of things one can do that will guarantee a greener home. Using Energy Star-qualified products and installing programmable thermostats and energy-efficient lighting with motion sensor timers are good places to start. So is using carpets, rugs, and windows made with sustainable materials.

SantaCruzGreenHome.com also suggests generating electricity from renewable energy, such as solar and wind. Rainwater catchment, a system that traps rainwater on one’s roof and leads it into storage through gutters and pipes, is a great way to conserve and reuse water. You can also use greywater—water used while doing laundry, washing dishes, et cetera, for landscape irrigation.

For those looking for more simple and affordable tips, Salesin recommends Santa Cruz Freecycle, an online group that allows people who have things they want to get rid of and people in need of different objects to connect, so that things may be given away as an alternative to being thrown away.

Other low-cost and money-saving ways to green your home rely on plain old common sense: turning down the thermostat by even one degree at all times can reduce energy costs by 4 percent, and fixing a leaky faucet can save gallons and gallons of water. Along those same lines, low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads could save Americans 2.1 million gallons of water every day, according to TreeHugger.com.

Although a lot of ways to green your home can seem too expensive or not worth the trouble, Salesin encourages everyone to look at the bigger picture. “Spend more upfront for longer-lasting products that save you money in the long run, and create less waste during their lifecycle and after,” he says. | Blair Stenvick

Order From Chaos

Why one local wants you to be Organized4Success

Shannon McGinnis is “a natural born organizer,” a skill that’s certainly not shared by everyone. But, luckily for those of us who aren’t so inclined, McGinnis has made a career out of sharing her organizational talents.

In 2003, she started Organized4Success, a Santa Cruz-based organizing consulting business. Since then, the business has grown from just her to a team of organizers-for-hire. However, McGinnis remains the sole “Certified Professional Organizer” in Santa Cruz—a title given by the National Association of Professional Organizers and earned by completing more than 500 hours of hands-on experience and passing a comprehensive exam crafted by the same folks who write the MCAT.

cover_organizedShe’s also the author of two books, “10-Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Home Quickly” and “10-Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Office Quickly.” For the latter, which was just released in July, McGinnis will hold a book signing at the Capitola Book Café on Oct. 12.

Organized4Success caters to clients’ specific needs, but McGinnis says there are some common problem areas—namely paperwork. But there are also seasonal themes that crop up: for example, people tend to want to clean out their garages during the summer and need help organizing their kids’ schoolwork during the fall. And as the holidays approach, McGinnis helps many local families with “clutter clearing” and getting guest rooms “to actually look like a guest room, not a storage space,” she says.

But whatever the task, her real service is helping people with decision making. “My definition of clutter is something you haven’t made a decision about,” she says. “Once you’ve made a decision, it’s no longer clutter. It’s either trash, recycling or something you want to keep. From that point it’s much easier to move forward.”

Whether a client does one session with her or is a weekly regular, McGinnis hopes they take away a new methodology for deciding. “[It’s about] really taking the extra minute to decide ‘is this something I want to keep?’” she adds. “If the answer is no, then how does it get out of your house? If the answer is yes, then where does it go?”

Five Ways to Get Started:

1. Keep a garbage can, recycling bin and a paper shredder within reach of your desk or home office area. Get in the habit of sorting through paper and mail before they become daunting stacks.

2. Manage the amount of stuff you have. “One definition of organized is ‘everything in its place, a place for everything,’” says McGinnis. “The truth is that being overwhelmed comes from having too much stuff or not knowing where they go or not being able to find them. There is wisdom in everything being able to be put away, and keeping your possessions at a manageable level.”

3. Make parting with unused items easy: “Always have a place where everyone in the family can put things that can be donated—a household donation location—so that there’s a constant option to let go of the clothes that no longer fit or the book they’ve already read,” says McGinnis.

4. Set up a mailing station with “active piles” for bills to pay, things to schedule, etc., and have set places for items like stamps, return labels and your checkbook.

5. One of the chapters in McGinnis’ latest book is titled “The Importance of Subfolders” and stresses the need for organizing your email inbox by creating different folders. | Elizabeth Limbach
Visit organized4success.com to learn more, to find free tips, or to contact McGinnis. The first hour is free for new clients, and returning clients receive one free hour per referral. McGinnis’ book signing for “10-Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Office Quickly” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola.

The New Interior

Absorbing the art of design by sponge

cover_interior_gracebonneyIf you aren’t reading the hottest interior design blog in the world right now, well, let us introduce it to you: Design*Sponge. With a million readers a month, this little blog got its kick start in 2004 when founder Grace Bonney decided to whip up some words to support her creative interests—namely, design. Now, the blog, designsponge.com, has morphed into the hand down go-to shelter site around. It offers before and after features, home tours, DIY tutorials and more. It is the place to go if you want to be inspired, pick up some ideas, learn how to refinish a dresser, or ogle over what your house could look like.

Earlier this month, Bonney released her first book, “Design*Sponge at Home.” Clocking in at nearly 400 pages, the beautiful tome is full of everything that makes the blog so addictive—sneak peeks like the home of actress Molly Sims; DIY projects including how to stamp fabric curtains; DIY basics such as how to sew a gathering stitch; floral arrangement tips and more.

cover_designbookThe bright orange covered book features an introduction from design guru Jonathan Adler and inside readers and fans of Bonney will find that the famous blogger has done a tremendous job of packing this book full of tips and clever ideas, as well as offering plenty of examples on how to re-create the design concepts seen in the book. On. p. 22, you’ll find Bonney’s charming fabric covered headboard alongside her owl-wallpapered closet. From a painted diamond patterned wooden floor, to modern furniture, creative shelving, or revamping a junky desk, this book is being hailed as a modern design bible for today. Even if you can’t afford to redecorate your home right now, the book offers affordable and cost-friendly options.

And as for the website, designsponge.com, check that out, too, for daily postings on interior ideas, as well as a thorough crafting section and compelling posts on independent business tips for women. But beware, opening this book or viewing the website will not only make you want to design—you’ll also become a sponge. | Heather LeMieux

“Design*Sponge at Home” by Grace Bonney sells for $35 at bookstores. Visit designsponge.com.

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