Five best low-tech garden tools

February 23, 2011

Home improvement warehouse stores are full of gadgets and devices aimed at easing your gardening work. However, many successful home gardens are cultivated with a handful of good hand tools — and the high-tech alternatives often won’t help you grow a tastier tomato or brighter begonias.

A gardener’s toolkit requires little more than a trowel, fork, manual weeder, rake, and shears. Each time-tested tool beats several high-tech alternatives.

1. Shears: A good pair of bypass pruning shears can keep many trees and shrubs neat and tidy, while also helping harvest vegetables and flowers, clear away dead leaves and cut weeds away from the plants you want to keep.

Power pruners such as the Alligator Lopper add chainsaw teeth and electric scissor action. They may seem like a great idea, but sharp hand pruners are plenty powerful for most home gardeners. The Alligator Lopper may be more hazard than help in many homes.

Another overrated alternative is the Garden Groom collecting electric hedge trimmer. It looks like an oversized high-tech iron, and it trims away hedges, then shreds and collects the leaves all in one device. However, users complain it is too heavy and may not do the job. It only cuts a small amount at a time, so it requires several passes on many hedges. It also doesn’t pick up all the debris.

2. Rake: Garden vacuums — either gas- or electric-powered — are popular among people anxious to keep a perfect yard. They suck up leaves and dirt, but that is the problem — dirt belongs in the yard. Instead consider raking the leaves and other debris, or simply leaving many of them where they fall.

This can create healthy mulch or compost and you don’t have to send all those bags of vacuumed leaves to the landfill.

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Japanese inventor creates machine that converts plastic bags into fuel

February 14, 2011


Plastic bags have been the enemy of environmentalists for pretty much as long as they have existed.  Not only are they made from oil, but they clog our landfills for hundreds of years.  Many cities, states and countries have banned plastic bags altogether, but for most of the world, they'll be hanging around for a while longer.

In an attempt to deal with the millions and millions of plastic bags used every year, Japanese inventor Akinori Ito has created a machine that can turn plastic bags into fuel in a carbon negative process.  The machine, which is now being sold by the inventor's Blest Corporation, heats the plastic and traps the vapors in a system of pipes, where the vapors are cooled and condensed into crude oil. The crude oil can be used in generators and even some stoves, but with one more refining step, it can be used in gasoline.

The very efficient machine can process two pounds of plastic (including polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene) into a quart of oil using only one kilowatt of electricity.

Obviously, once the fuel is burned, it will release CO2 into the atmosphere, but it's allowing the oil that created the plastic to be used twice instead of just once and then sent to a landfill.  That cuts down on the amount of oil we need to extract and keeps plastic out of landfills.

The machine is meant for households, but it currently costs $10,000, which is pretty steep.  Ito hopes that the cost of the machine will drop as production increases.

via CleanTechnica

Image via Blest Corporation

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Eight simple ways to get free heat from winter sun

February 14, 2011

mother & daughter in front of sunny window
(Photo: Getty Images)

Two of the most important ways the sun affects our surroundings are light and heat. In the winter months, when the earth is tilting further away from the sun, both are naturally felt at a diminished rate. That's when energy usage and costs rise, as people tend to use more electricity for indoor activities and burn more fuel because of chilly weather.

In many ways the only other alternative besides wearing more sweaters seems to be moving to a warmer climate, and don't we all wish we could just pick up and leave...

However, winter energy efficiency can be improved during the cooler months by utilizing the sun's rays, and one way to do this is through passive solar heating: the relationship between architectural design and how a structure receives energy from the Sun. That means a home or building constructed in this method maximizes the sun's potential vis-à-vis trapping energy and redistributing it indoors.

Now, not every structure passes the passive solar heating test because not every structure was built with the concept in mind. Nevertheless, there are things we can do and take into consideration that can change our level of warmth indoors during the winter:

1. Work from home? If possible make your office space or the room you spend the most time in the area that receives the most sunlight. Even if you work at the office all day this is a good suggestion that could change how much the heat gets turned up.

2. Don't fear the cold outside. When the sun has risen and is shining its rays, open the shades and let the light in. Make sure interiors of windows are not blocked by books, clutter or even hanging laundry.

3. Close doors. If only one room receives the majority of sunlight, close doors to adjacent rooms so the collected heat doesn't distribute itself elsewhere.

4. Seal windows. Close drafts, which are one of the leading causes of high heating bills. If the room in question receives a lot of natural light drafts can easily create the adverse effect when trying to trap heat.

5. Clean windows. Windows should also be clean both inside and outside. When dust settles on panes of glass even the smallest particles will block light and in return prevent heat from entering. The result will be turning up the thermostat while not getting the most out of the Sun.

6. Clear away. Remove branches of trees or anything else blocking the full exposure of your windows from the outside and halting sunlight from passing through.

7. Moving? If you're in the planning stages of moving to a new home or office, weigh heavily on the amount of natural light the potential space receives.

8. Building a home in a colder climate? You may consider using thermal mass materials such as concrete and natural stone, which instead of reflecting sunlight are dense and absorb heat, distributing it to cool areas. Because thermal mass absorbs heat it will also have a positive effect on your home's temperature during warmer seasons as it absorbs indoor warmth, making it cooler.

Jakob Barry writes for, where he covers home improvement, electrical accidents, home safety awareness, and galley kitchen ideas.

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc

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