Summer weekends in Minnesota remind us all why we brave the 8-month long winters. After being stuck inside for so long, we want to get outside. Whether it’s spending a day on the lake or walking around a farmers’ market, there are plenty of ways to play more sustainably.
Saturday morning: Farmers’ market
One of the most quintessential weekend activities is to stock up at the farmers market. The Twin Cities is home to more than 70 farmers’ markets. Find one close to you in the Minnesota Grown Directory and try to bike, walk, rollerblade, or run there!
Farmers markets are great places to buy local foods, cut down on packaging waste, and reduce the hefty transportation emissions caused by the food industry. Stick with that trend by bringing reusable tote bags to carry your goodies.
Buy smart. Americans waste 40% of the food they buy. Minimize the impact on the planet and your wallet by buying only what you need. Determine what you actually need before you head out by writing a menu for the upcoming week.
Saturday afternoon: Prep your garden
With summertime comes growth – of trees, flowers, and…weeds. Whether you have a few potted plants or a half-acre large garden, here are some tips on greening your garden and lawn.
Ditch the chemicals
Chemical herbicides and toxic pesticides show short-lived effects on pests, but linger in the environment long after being applied. When you choose greener methods of weed and pest control, you improve your health and the health of the soil. Read about the harmful effects of chemical pesticides. Learn more about organic weed and pest control methods from Do It Green.
Befriend the bugs
Only 1/10th of 1% of all insects are pests. But, for those that are chewing up your tomatoes, beneficial insects can control pests in your garden while maintaining soil health, your health, and letting your plants thrive. Start by checking the leaves, especially the undersides, when you water to see the kind of pest you’re dealing with. Then determine the right insect for your pest problem.
Native plants are adapted to local conditions. They are more resistant to pest problems and need less water, which makes them great for improving air and water quality around your home. Native plants are a key to a healthy ecosystem and removing them removes a key food source for insects and birds. Head to a native plant nursery near you to decide what natives to plant this year.
Learn how to choose native plants from a previous Living Green 365 newsletter.
Mow high, mow less
Save yourself time and effort by cutting down how often you mow. While it may look nice to have a buzzed lawn, it actually creates the right conditions for the weed seeds in your lawn to germinate and grow. Mowing only every 2-3 weeks creates a better pollinator habitat and keeps moisture in the soil. Mowing “high”, raising the height of your mower blade, will lead to less time pulling weeds and watering your lawn. It’s a win-win.
Saturday night: Recreational fire
Summer nights means bonfires and fire pits. To build a greener backyard fire, try alternatives to firewood that release 80% fewer emissions. Wood smoke contains toxic substances, like carbon monoxide and fine particles that can impact the health of you, your family, and your neighbors. Wood fires can make air quality worsen, and some Minnesota communities have ordinances to restrict or prohibit backyard fires. Check your community’s air quality index and rules. Fortunately, firelogs made with renewable materials and bioethanol are both options for reducing smoke emissions. To minimize harmful air pollutants, consider switching to natural gas or propane.
If you do burn wood, make sure it is dry and untreated. Yard waste can produce smoke that causes health problems for those with respiratory issues, like asthma. Waste from your garden is best disposed of by composting. Some communities offer organics recycling. The Minnesota Composting Council lists communities collecting organics.
Once your fire is going, keep it small and burning only for the time you are using it. Cook those hot dogs or earth-friendly vegetarian alternatives, and s’mores while sharing some spooky stories. Before heading in for the night, extinguish the fire completely by pouring water over it every five minutes until extinguished — do not bury hot wood with dirt or sand as it can continue burning for 24 hours.
Sunday morning: Lake time
Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 lakes, and summer is the perfect time to appreciate our natural landscape. Head to the beach early on, before it gets too crowded, on bike or foot. Instead of hopping on a motored boat, which can pollute the air and water and can harm marine life, enjoy the water by heading to a beach and splashing around in the designated areas.
Challenge yourself to “leave no trace” by carrying a lightweight reusable tote filled with reusable utensils, a thermos, and a water bottle. If you pack snacks, buy in bulk or make your own to cut down on packaging. Don’t forget the towel and sunscreen. Chemicals in regular sunscreen can wash off in lakes and harm marine life. Protect your skin and the environment with an eco-friendly sunscreen. Look for one with UVA and UVB protection, but without toxic chemicals like parabens, phthalates, synthetic dyes, sulfates and chemical UV absorbers.
Sunday afternoon: Picnic time
After spending some time lounging in the sun, give your skin some shade on a hike to a picnic lunch. The Twin Cities’ Parks and Recreation facilities took top honors in the Trust for Public Land’s park systems rankings. So, find a park and bring your beach crew along on a picnic hike…or bike…or bus ride.
Pack a sustainable array of snacks, check out some vegetarian recipes and use veggies from your farmers’ market trip or garden. Don’t forget the reusable, or compostable, plates and utensils!
To protect your skin and your ecosystem, remember your bug spray. Now all that delicious food might attract some wildlife. Instead of DEET-based repellent, opt for a natural alternative. The CDC recently included oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE, not to be confused with lemon eucalyptus oil) or PMD in their list of repellents. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (30%) can be applied directly to the skin, every 4-6 hours to repel mosquitos and ticks. It is safe to apply topically, but dangerous to ingest, so be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after each application.
Use EPA’s Find the Repellent that is Right for You tool.
Breastfeeding and pregnant women as well as children under 3 are advised against using oil of lemon eucalyptus products.
While you enjoy the afternoon outside, make sure your family and pets play responsibly to keep the surrounding ecosystem intact. You have the opportunity to make this outing a time to learn about nature in Minnesota. Make a game of collecting a few leaves to press at home or bring along binoculars to search for birds.