Thursday, September 30, 2010

Random Acts of Green

I love Lehman's. They sell all the wonderful old fashioned goodies and appliances I adore. I can easily wile away an evening perusing their online catalog.

The more I seek ways to reduce energy use and green my life, the more I find myself looking at the old appliances I grew up with as a child. The energy those appliances utilized were human energy, not manufactured energy purchased from suppliers at increasingly exorbitant costs.

The solar backlash to this gouging by energy companies was bound to happen, but the companies are already preparing to counteract it via clever marketing strategies that convince you to tie-in your personal energy production to their grid on the promise of a buy back of your excess, unwanted energy. Unwanted energy? Really? You would have to have a seriously major setup to ever get to that point given energy hogs such as refrigerators and air conditioners. Check out this online Average Daily Loads estimator to see what I mean. It helps estimate a home's wattage needs based on your existing appliances. Right now an 80 watt solar panel at one of my local retailers is going for $700 (before installation). It's pretty doubtful the average homeowner will have a ton of extra power to sell back via a tie-in.

The carrot of a potential buy back is a brilliant maneuver on the part of energy companies. They keep you connected and dependent. The consumer also assumes 100% of the financial investment - hardware, installation and maintenance of solar and wind energy generators - and the energy company reaps the benefit. I am imagining all those taxes and mysterious fees that are bound to whittle down one's "potential profits."

Personally, I don't see the wisdom of this arrangement. If you are creating your own energy, why do you need a middle man to use it? How will you ever audit your energy output and compute their cut? Isn't it smarter to install excess battery backups to store your energy for overcast days rather than to remain connected to a system that you already feel at the mercy of? If one really becomes a personal power plant of note there is always the option of sharing your excess with your neighbors in a random act of greening. 

Lehman's offers some useful solar primers and sustainable gardening books that are a handy reference for beginners. Lehman's also has a Country Life Blog now. Today's post is by writer, Mary Jane Butters, who writes about Random Acts of Green. One innovative act of recycling is called Book Crossing, where books are passed on to total strangers and the trail the book travels is followed on a website. Interesting concept. Maybe some solar power books are out there circulating right now. Click here to read her article. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Break It Up You Guys

This is what comes from not thinning carrot seedlings. My seeds always go into the ground at the correct intervals, yet seem to stray once planted. Perhaps it is the over-exuberant watering.

I have a problem with thinning and I suspect I am not alone in this. Choosing one seedling over another is like Sophie's Choice to me. I love my seedlings like a doting mother. Picking the stronger over the weaker is so arbitrary a thing anyway. Who is to say which will be the stronger in the long run? Plants are like people in so many ways.

A good part of this day was spent using up the perishables before they went to waste. I made grape juice from grapes that were not going to be eaten. Applesauce and a pie from the remainder of the apples and another coleslaw from a red cabbage that needed to be harvested. Between these tasks I spent hours on the Internet researching sustainable energy sources and reading up on the exploits of other gardeners and urban farmers who are making strides toward self sufficiency. I'm starting to become absolutely militant about front yard edible gardens. Grass is a water hog, a time waster to keep and an expense that doesn't feed anybody. It's a waste of land. There are some very beautiful front yard vegetable gardens out there. We have to rethink what true beauty is in home design.

The recent salmonella egg outbreak (half a billion eggs recalled!!) is one reason why. Our food source has become so industrialized that these contamination episodes are going to continue. It's a wake up call for everyone to start taking charge of their own food. I think we have to do this for energy too. The grid is taxed and we are gobbling up energy like there is no tomorrow. So many people are much farther ahead of me on this, but I am determined to catch up, and to spread the word that we all need to do the same. My garden is entirely solar lit, but that commitment to solar power needs to go inside as well.

After living in California for over 20 years and watching a manipulated energy crisis nearly bankrupt the state (and consumers) I knew that solar and wind power was not just a wise eco-choice, but a sound financial one. Now, as I read about more and more off-the-grid pioneers, I am starting to wonder if we'll all be living the Amish lifestyle in the end as a means to survival. For many years I had $800 DWP bills. That's just plain unsustainable. I stopped heating the pool, using the jacuzzi, turned off lights constantly, unplugged all appliances that weren't in use and cut back my other energy use drastically and still the energy bills increased. I knew there had to be another way. So now I'm learning about bio-diesel generators, inverters, turbines and copper coils. The prospect of creating one's own personal power plant is invigorating.

This Sustainable House offers an online virtual tour of an experimental home room by room. The basement is worth a look. I found it interesting to learn about how they are recapturing heat from showers, laundry and dishwashers to preheat water in the water heater.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Berries Never Get Old

This morning's breakfast pick.


The roofer was here yesterday to shingle and made his way into the garden, as all visitors tend to do. He paused to marvel at the cache of strawberries and raspberries that are thriving, "Hey Jimmy, come look at these berries!" he called out to his worker. "That's unnatural," he said. "Those strawberries are supposed to be done in July, and look at those raspberries." 

I wish I could say that I had something to do with this lovely crop, but I really can't. Other than watering and regular weeding, I've done nothing special to them. I added only a smidgen of compost to the holes I dug when I planted the canes and seedlings. Perhaps the soil was already perfect for them, or maybe it's the global warming. I don't believe these are ever-bearing. All I can say is, no one ever gets tired of berries.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Extending The Season

Began work on getting some hoops up today. Need to hit Home Depot for some more PVC and heavier duty plastic sheeting. My hoop houses are pretty makeshift. I've dabbled with different designs, but since they are temporary structures, I don't go full on carpenter with them. They work quite well though. I started my garden a good 6 weeks earlier than any of my other neighbors this year and hope to extend just as long thanks to the hoop houses. The tomatoes are already beginning to lose their flavor. They need the encouragement of added protection from the cool nights (and likely soil amendments).

The watermelon is certainly loving it. He doubled in size in a day. I've also started to move some container vegetables inside. These potted carrots are the first.

Along with the tomato seedlings I've been nursing (born from TPS - true potato seeds).

I would love to get a crop of winter potatoes from these. Wouldn't that be cool?

Speaking of cool. On one of my book crawls today I found this lovely book, Landscaping with Fruit
by Lee Reich, Storey Publishing. This just seems like such a nobrainer to me. Why aren't we all doing this?

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Sunday morning usually starts this way.

KCRW on the radio, tea and hot bread from the oven. It's how I ease into the day. I'm going to need that ease today because I have a rather large gift to deal with. Yes, it's the mother of all white Zucchinis, and there are three of them.

My good neighbor has bestowed these gifts on me, and I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. So what to do... minestrone (not a fan), Zucchini bread (also not a favorite), stuffed Zucchini (yuck). Okay, the simple truth is, I've never much liked Zucchini. That's why none was planted in my garden this season, or last, or the season prior. But darned if I haven't been given the chance to learn to like it. I welcome all inventive recipes.

Well, I took on the task of tackling the torpedo-sized zucchinis, getting them at least to the prep stage for baking breads. (That's only half of one zucchini in that picture. I don't how how he got them to this size, we don't live anywhere near a nuclear power plant.)

There's something very centering about spending hours preparing food you have no interest in. In the end, the effort was satisfying... if only for the fact that you could once again see counter top.

Besides, I had an exceptional Burrata cheese from Italy and slices of Parma Proscuitto to keep me company in the endeavour. Killer delicious. There's always a way through.

The finished product:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Never give up. Never give up. Never ever, ever give up!

Winston Churchill's motto... and mine. Apparently it's my garden's as well. I was mourning the demise of a beautiful watermelon that had rotted mysteriously before maturing, when I saw that this little fella had stepped in to take its place and give it another shot. It may be late in the season (he's the size of a tomato) but hope springs eternal.

Meanwhile, the harvest continues. Steady as ever. A daily cornucopia of delights.

I finally harvested the rose hips this week. Bit of a chore, but nothing like the peeling and seeding I have ahead of me. These particular rose hips have scant flesh and tons of seeds inside, all of which must be removed before processing. Each seed is surrounded by these nasty little hairs that resemble fibreglass. Eating them is tres unpleasant. The rose hips, however, are subtly delicious. I plan on making jelly and candy. 

I'd like to share a book I've been reading this week that is informative for planning your plots. Small plot, high yield gardening. Authors: Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan. Published by Ten Speed Press. It provides layouts and even cost analysis with seed to bounty ratios. Quite useful. 

So is this website: Gardener's Supply Kitchen Garden Planner. This site allows you to design a plot right online for free, and will even set up your prep and instruction guide and allow you to print it. You can set your plot size, pick your veggies or use a pre-planned garden plot plan. They offer 8, with names such as All American, Salad Bar, Cook's Choice, High Yield, or Plant It and Forget It, for those who don't enjoy the work of gardening. Something for everyone. There's even a Vegetable Encyclopedia. Fantastic!

I've also been cruising through You Tube visiting the video diaries of other urban farmers and gardeners. This really is a movement. It's exciting to see so many people interested in tilling land and replacing grass lawns with vegetable gardens that will feed their families.