Southern California environment news and trends

Native land: Campaign offers free seeds to smart California gardeners

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docentjoyce via flickr

This is a majestic view of Montana de Oro State Park near Morro Bay, Califr., with California Poppies lining the Bluff Trail.

The new “Go Native” campaign launched by Apply Responsibility is encouraging California gardeners to be vigilant in the responsible use of pesticides and water conservation, especially as we face soaring summer temperatures and potential water shortages. To that end, an online water conservation questionnaire will reward high scorers with seed packets for plants native to California, including poppies and tidy tips.

“Most California homeowners use the majority of their water caring for their gardens, plants and lawns,” said Fred Pearson, chairman of the Urban Pyrethroid Stewardship Group, the pesticide industry alliance behind Apply Responsibility. “With the snowpack only about 40 percent of normal this year, we felt it was a perfect time to broaden our water message this year to include conservation.”


Natural high: Is soil an antidepressant?

Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust

Community members explore the Raymond Avenue Neighborhood Garden.

Gardeners are a dedicated lot. My father was one, committing himself to a battery of flowerbeds and vegetable gardens upon retirement. He never seemed happier than he did when he was up to his elbows in dirt, tending to a patch of tomatoes or marveling at his beloved jalapeno peppers.

According to a report by Discover magazine, there was a definite reason for it. Scientists at the University of Bristol in England have identified a particular soil bacterium — Mycobacterium vaccae, to be exact — that just might naturally help alleviate depression.

Through experiments on laboratory mice, head neuroscientist Christopher Lowry and his team have evidence that the bacteria triggers the same serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain as Prozac.

“What we think happens is that the bacteria activate immune cells, which release chemicals called cytokines that then act on receptors on the sensory nerves to increase their activity,” is how Lowry explained the findings to Discover.


Sustainable buzz: Reusing coffee grounds and tea leaves

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Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Freshly-roasted espresso coffee beans cool in a refurbished 1918 Probat coffee bean roaster.

For many of us, caffeine is a managed addiction. It could be that routine trip to a local teahouse for a particular blend, or a certain bean that makes the perfect cup every time. Regardless of your degree of coffee/tea snobbery (or lack thereof), the countless masses sifting though the stuff on a daily basis adds up to a lot of used grinds and leaves. For the more sustainability-conscious consumer, the inevitable question arises: What can I do with it? According to Treehugger, the answer is quite a lot.

The piece goes on to detail no less than 20 uses for both used coffee grounds and tea leaves, many of which of are unexpected, to say the least. While things like adding coffee grounds to soil for plants that crave acids (like roses and evergreens) might be common knowledge among gardeners, coffee grounds can also be used to deter ants and when mixed with orange peel, have the same effect on cats. They’re also good for cleaning fireplaces, as the damp grounds weigh down the ash and helps reduce dust.


Mike Lieberman: The mad urban organic gardener of Mar Vista

“Being originally a New Yorker and having a brother who is nine-years older than me, I was fortunate enough to be raised on The Howard Stern Show,” Mike Lieberman writes on his site, But how did Lieberman, eminent Southland urban organic gardener, get from Stern to green food guru?

Lieberman started his first fire escape garden in NYC during the spring of 2009. Finding most gardening books “mad boring,” he decided to just dive in and blog about the experience. was born. In April of 2010, he moved to southern California. Now, he aims to inspire and empower people to start growing some of their own food and reconnect with their food source.

We recently spoke with Lieberman, who cultivates both a balcony garden and a gardening movement in Mar Vista, California.