By Candice Allouch
Social distancing during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is challenging but also presents families with a unique opportunity to develop new habits and start new projects at home.
Researchers at the FIU Institute of Environment suggest now is a great time to implement some Earth-friendly projects that can be fun and educational.
Backyard or balcony gardening
FIU horticulturist Amir Khoddamzadeh suggests starting a vegetable garden. A few pots and some seedlings are all that is needed.
For those looking for a low-cost option, take seeds from fruits and vegetables already in the kitchen. When families plant what’s already a part of their normal diet, growing fresh produce helps save money long-term. It can be as simple as saving one slice of that tomato and planting it.
FIU associate professor Quentin Felty also recommends gardening as a fun social distancing activity. He speaks from experience, as he’s grown veggies that have made it onto his family’s dinner table.
“We harvested and made dal from our own Pigeon Pea plants which we planted in the ground. They fix nitrogen and thus are great for amending the soil. We got one pound of peas from just one plant we had in the ground for 6 months,” he said.
Planting with grow bags
As an alternative to a traditional garden, Felty advises using grow bags for planting.
He uses the brand Root Pouch, which are made from natural fibers and recycled plastic. In grow bags, roots are air-pruned, resulting in a highly branched root structure so the plants can absorb more nutrients from the soil. Grow bags also use less soil making them cost efficient. When watering, it’s important to remember that water moves differently in a bag versus a raised bed.
“Do the ‘bag test’,” Felty says. “Lift the handle on one side of the grow bag. If it moves easily and feels light, then water the soil. If not, wait until the bag feels light before watering.”
Eating more home-cooked meals is also a great time to learn how to compost, according to ecologist Cara Rockwell.
A sizeable portion of household trash includes yard trimmings and food waste. By combining green materials such as cut grass and kitchen scraps with brown materials including dead leaves and paper in a compost pile or bin, families can reduce the amount of trash they send to the landfill.
Aerating the compost on a frequent basis and keeping the material moist eliminates the rotting food smell. Amazon can deliver a variety of compost bins including ones perfect for the backyard and more compact options for the kitchen.
By creating a healthy compost environment, the decomposing organisms can break down the compost in a matter of weeks, Rockwell said. The compost can then be used as fertilizer.
No more one-time-use
“More time at home means an opportunity to limit our use of paper products,” ecologist John Kominoski said.
Ditch paper napkins and paper towels for cloth ones. Use glassware instead of paper cups and silverware instead of plastic utensils. With shortages of toilet paper, Kominoski even suggesting reducing toilet paper use.
Spending time outdoors has become a priority for many who are remote learning and working. While walking around the neighborhood, FIU Botanist Chris Baraloto, suggests becoming a scientist for a day. The International Center for Tropical Botany in the FIU Institute of Environment hosts a project for registering trees in local neighborhoods called Grove ReLeaf.
Here’s how to get involved and contribute to scientific data collection.
Looking for something even simpler?
- Put a bucket in the shower to collect water while it warms up. Use that water to water the plants or for mopping.
- Use reusable grocery bags when you go to the grocery store. It’s better for the environment and reduces contact during this period of social distancing.
- Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth.
- Be mindful of your electricity-use. Turn the television off if you’re not watching. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Power down the computer at the end of the day.
Have you started a garden, compost bin or practiced going green during this time of social distancing? We’d love to share your efforts! Tag us on Twitter or Facebook at @FIUEnvironment and @FIUCASE.