What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Judeo Christian bedrock of environmentalism

If you "Love your neighbor as yourself" how is it that you can destroy the foundation of his/her existence, the planetary ecosystem.
"What you do to the least of us, you do to me", climate change is already killing upwards of 300,000 people a year, mostly poor, "the least of us".

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Climate Denial Crock of the Week

"One of the enduring classics of denialism, "Global warming stopped in 1998", is of course,
nonsense. Here's why."

Saturday, 26 June 2010

AKG #5 - Hickory at last

Robb - After almost 3 years of pondering and planning, debating and deciding, we have at long last come home to Hickory North Carolina. Or to put it more accurately, we’ve come to Hickory to make a home. From Seattle, to Bermuda, to England, with several visits to Hickory over the last 12 years, we have not yet had a real place of our own, a place to settle, a place to put down deep roots. Now, finally we have a home to practice the basic permaculture principle of long thoughtful observation, in our rocking chairs, on our front porch.

Jacq - But we’ve found our house, rented for the last ten years, trashed. The gutters were non functional which meant the crawl space was getting wet.  We found all the carpets ruined, the laundry room a moldy wreck, and every surface in the house caked with grease and grime. The landscaping around the house was littered with plastic bits, cigarette butts, screens from the windows, and beer bottles. A portion of the lawn had been used as an extra drive and the grass was destroyed, the earth compacted and topsoil washed away.

Robb - But there were also happy discoveries, most of the gardening tools and and other equipment left with the house are still present and functional. The stove, ceiling fans, refrigerator, plumbing, while filthy, all still work. None of the double glazed windows we installed are broken. As our managing agent says, “the place has been hard lived in”.

Jacq- It goes without saying that Hickory is very different from England, we have already had temperatures ranging from near 90ºF or 32ºC to 48ºF or 9ºC, blistering sun and driving rain. We’ve seen violent thunderstorms with close lightning strikes as well. America is a dangerous place!  Having visited many times before, the deep South held no fears for me, but life is always full of surprises.  Within two days I had almost stepped on a four foot Black Racer snake, I had been stung on the belly by a hornet and was dodging bees the size of helicopters!  Within three weeks I disturbed a snake by my front steps, albeit a non-venomous garter snake; said snake ended up in next door’s bird box up a tree later in the afternoon chomping on a chick; our neighbour casually climbed a ladder, caught and relocated the snake and laughed at my alarm.  Next, taking in the laundry from the line at dusk a week later, my alarm turned into terror, as a pair of Robb’s boxer shorts came alive as I began to unpeg them, flapping violently in my face!  Robb heard my squawks of astonishment as a large bird exited one of the legs at speed, expostulating at having its roost disturbed.  I await the next assault upon my person and have recently succumbed to paying out for health insurance.  But we’ve also seen bluebirds, baby rabbits, and my favorite, hummingbirds, all from the comfort of our rocking chairs on our front veranda. But don’t believe that sitting around in long thoughtful observation is all we’ve done, we have been hard at work.

Robb - So in the first month, excepting the few hours we slept, bathed and nourished ourselves, we have created about 500 square feet of growing area about 80% of which is currently planted. Here is how it breaks down:
We’ve built 4 raised beds, mostly from timber sourced onsite or scavenged, and filled them with 6  cubic yards of compost enriched topsoil we had delivered and 1 yard of well composted horse manure we scavenged at a friend’s barn. They’ve been mulched with hay we scavenged as well.  Following the permaculture principle of stacking functions, each raised bed is carefully planned to create terracing in our sloping site and thereby reduce rainwater runoff and increase absorption and storage in the soil. The biggest bed has been built behind the first major terracing project built out of upright sawn pine logs. We will construct a stone wall in front of the logs as they rot over the next year or two.

Jacq - We’ve  created a nursery area under the carport where I’ve brought on over 500 plants in various recycled pots and scavenged seed trays. Robb also built a small wire enclosure for protecting vulnerable seedlings from the local bunnies.

Robb - I planted a bamboo bed with a barrier to keep it contained and Jacq added some veggies to share the space. Nearby, under an aging dogwood tree we’ve established the herb bed which is close to the kitchen.

Jacq - We’ve put in 80 feet of corn, beans and squash  in 4 sections out by the road and on the west boundary. The corn will support the beans and also screen the road and the ugly cinder block wall beyond. The squash will provide ground cover and keep down the weeds while the beans will provide nitrogen to both.

Robb - A gift of comfrey and nettles from a wonderful herb seller at the farmers’ market was a boon.

Jacq - And recently we’ve planted 9 bush cherry trees, 3 blueberries, 11 raspberries, 3 blackberries, 1 pecan tree,  25 strawberries, 10 perennial flowers, and 3 grape vines.

Robb - In addition to the all the planting, we’ve trimmed, pruned, mulched and generally tidied up the yard including the first thinning of the magnolia, which we thought was just a tree but is actually a grove. All prunings are either used to build frames and lattices for climbing plants, composted or put in the firewood pile. We are using scavenged cardboard under all beds and as sheet mulching, and around our holly hedge we’ve sheet mulched and  topped it with pine straw in an attempt to lower the soil ph for the blueberries and peppers we will plant there.

Jacq- Robb established a compost pile and a leaf mold pile, which is already full, started a second one and we have a healthy turf pile building up. He has also started excavating clay from under the house to enlarge the workshop and generate clay for cob building projects.

Robb - As our clothes washing machine is currently our of order we developed a clothes washing method utilizing a 5 gallon bucket and a plunger.  There is a rather interesting story behind this that you can read about on the blog at: Almost the lowest Tech Washing Machine

Jacq - We cleaned and reattached the gutters and set up four rainwater harvesting barrels to store around 120 gallons.

Robb - We loaded about 15 van loads of household stuff from the family storage unit into the house. This is all stuff from my parents’ house left over after the yard sale when we sold out. It includes a variety of tools, clothing, books, electronics, furniture, plywood, 2x4s, and kitchen items which have made our lives easier and more comfortable.

Jacq - Robb set up a preliminary workshop under the house where the crawlspace is head high and has managed to get his old car running.

Robb - I’ve mowed the lawn 6 times with my human powered push mower; thankfully every time we add a growing area the mowing area decreases.

Jacq - We purchased some electronics necessary to get a small solar electric system up and running which should soon take all household computer use off grid.

Robb - Oh yes, and lest I forget, I most humbly bow down, Jacqui has done a massive clean up of the house. I helped strip about 350 sq ft of very nasty synthetic carpet and vinyl flooring. But the real work was all Jacqui. And all that scrubbing has done wonders for her arm muscles.

Jacq - We’ve also been helped along the way by neighbors, friends, and family. I arranged a car share with my sister and she has been most helpful in many other ways including a gift of 10 bags of straw for mulch, the next door neighbor has given us all the logs from a tree cut down on her country property and taken us there to pick them up with her truck and trailer. Our insurance agent has become a friend, given us horse manure and hay and helped us transport furniture from the storage unit. We could not have come this far without all this assistance and we are very grateful to everyone. We are rediscovering southern hospitality and finding ourselves welcomed into a community, surely the basis for personal growth and for the growth of our sustainable living project in the years ahead.

Robb - Our permaculture principle for this episode is from “ The Permaculture Home Garden” by Linda Woodrow and it goes right to the heart of what we have been doing since we have been here: scavenging.

Jacq - “In natural systems there is no such thing as waste. Everything is food. Everything is a resource for the next part of the cycle. A major tool in my kit is an eye for the resource value of everything that once lived. Organic matter helps prevent erosion, conserves moisture, provides a buffer against extremes of temperature, and is one of the main forms of currency with which I pay my co-workers. Everything that once lived is food for something that inhabits the garden - either the chooks, the compost micro-organisms, the earthworms or one of the thousands of other species. Through them, and sometimes through a sequence of them, it can be converted back into food for crop plants and thus for me.”

Robb - You can keep track of our project and see photos as well at sustliving.blogspot.com. Thanks for listening and until next time, remember, if it doesn’t forward your personal or community sustainability, it’s probably not worth paying for.

Raised Bed Gardening the Organic Way

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Are you sure you are not eating GM tainted food?

"A recent poll shows that 53 percent of Americans say they won't purchase foods that have been genetically modified. But, as Armen Keteyian reports, many Americans are unaware that they already do." - Organic Consumers Association

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Bamboo and first cucumber

After just over 6 weeks we are making progress. I've just had a sandwich made with our first harvested basil accompanied by our first harvested cucumber.  Yesterday I harvested Bamboo at a friends house and today I trimmed it and hung it to dry. This batch is destined for our grape arbor. 12 pieces at 20 feet by an average 1.5" in diameter. It also produced a goodly pile of trimmings for the leaf mold pile as well as some small stuff for plant stakes, rebar, and pins for bamboo construction.

Friday, 18 June 2010

GOP corporate hack apologizes to BP!

This is astonishing! Clearly there are some in government that can't seem to do enough to see to it that transnational corporations have the rights to plunder American resources but is ashamed that our government is expecting one of these most profitable corporations of all time to take care of the people they are ruining through their reckless incompetence.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The Skeeters are out! Use the no spray way.

Here in Hickory the mosquitoes are buzzing. I try to keep my rain barrels covered when rain is not forecast and of course I don't use any poisons on our property which kill birds and predatory insects. Here are 5 other things, thanks to Re-Nest,  you can do to deal with the mossies, as Jacqui calls them, naturally.

1. Make friends with bats. Some bat species can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour! You can attract these beneficial bug eaters by installing a bat house in your yard. Visit Bat Conservation International for installation advice and to buy a shelter or get plans to build your own.
2. Grow catnip (and other plants). Plant some catnip (Nepeta cataria) in your garden; not only will it repel mosquitoes, but you'll get some pretty flowers, too. Other mosquito-repelling plants include rosemary, marigolds, citronella grass, and lemon balm.
3. Light a candle. If you're averse or allergic to citronella, or want something more beautiful (and, yes, more expensive) than the typical citronella candle bucket, you might like these mosquito repellent candles from Hillhouse Naturals. Made with soy and ingredients like eucalyptus, lemongrass, and mint, they come in concrete containers that can be reused as planters.
4. Buy a natural bug repellent. Conventional repellents contain the chemical DEET, which may be toxic and harmful to the environment. We've had good luck with the plant-based Repel Lemon Eucalyptus. For more alternatives, see the Daily Green's list of 7 Natural Insect Repellents.
5. Or blend your own. For a DIY mosquito repellent, you'll need essential oil and something to mix it with, like vodka, olive oil, or witch hazel. For best results, combine a few different essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, citronella, cinnamon, cedarwood, and juniper. For instructions, visit About.com and Mother Earth News.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Don't Panic, Go Organic

 Rodale is on the cutting edge of research to determine the best farming techniques for rebuilding our soil, sequestering carbon, returning nutrition to our food, and health to ourselves.

"If you do just one thing to change the world, go organic."
"Going organic is the single most critical (and most DOABLE) action we can take right now to stop our climate crisis. Every acre of ground that's farmed organically has the potential to pull thousands of pounds of warming greenhouse gases out of our air."
"Organic farming is a real, attainable solution to our current global climate crisis! Organic farming can actually remove greenhouse gases from the air - helping to reverse the climate crisis!"
"Organic living can stop the climate crisis. When you combine the impact of protecting the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi in the soil (which absorb and neutralize carbon) and eliminating all the toxic chemicals (and their packaging and the energy spent producing them), the carbon problem in our atmosphere is practically solved. We still need more renewable energy, but restoring the earth's ability to sequester carbon is a good place to start. And you'll do it while eating."
-Maria Rodale, Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe
Thanks to Organic Consumers Association for the quote.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Video - A food Desert in the Delta

Since I moved to North Carolina I've really noticed the distance one has to travel to get to a Farmers Market, twice a week in downtown Hickory, or a supermarket. I'm fortunate, I can walk to a supermarket through neighborhoods, many are accessible only via large roads and are clearly designed to accessed by car. I've also noticed that the underprivledged areas of town seem to have mostly convenience stores, for them it is a food desert. I've heard there is a community garden growing food for the soup kitchens but it is way out of town. I hope to find out more about it soon.

Read more about food deserts at the Agricultural Law site and watch the PBS video.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

cooking efficiently

It's 5 am, 66º and foggy here in Hickory. Thunderstorms are forecast but they were forecast yesterday and we didn't get any rain, I think I'll have to water the gardens this morning. My water barrels are almost empty from all the extra washing I did yesterday, I was expecting rain to quickly refill them, maybe today.

I've made my first cup of tea this morning and I pondered the system Jacqui has set up in the kitchen. She prefills the kettle with non refridgerated filtered water. This is just the right amount for her and my morning cuppa. She also prefills the stainless vacuum flask next to the stove. So when the first kettle boils, I pour the cup and turn down the burner to it's lowest setting, we have a gas stove, while I refill the kettle  from the flask. Turn the burner back up and put the kettle on  again. When it boils I fill the flask and pour Jacq's tea. The water in the flask is used to make more tea later in the morning. In this way we only use one match to light the burner for all the tea of the morning. Also, some portion of the heat energy of the burner goes to heat up the stovetop itself, the kettle and some is lost in the lighting process. Our routine means this only happens once thus saving gas. It is a small saving but lots of small savings add up to significant savings.

There are other ways to make your stove more efficient when cooking with gas; use large flat bottomed pans and kettles to keep the heat under the pan. Round bottom pots and pans let the heat disperse along the sides instead of rise up through the item you are cooking. This allows you to use a lower setting on your burner. The larger the pan the more heat you will force to rise up through the food before it escapes along the sides. Of course, use lids on your cookery. Try not to be in a hurry, use medium to low settings when possible, more flame means more heat escapes.

We also try not to cook in the hottest part of the day. We close up the house when it starts to get hot to keep the cool in and the hot out. The last thing we want to do is to heat up the house and to fill it with the waste gases from natural gas combustion while it is closed up. If you use air conditioning it has to work harder to cool down the house from all that cooking and may not be properly ventilating the kitchen. Be sure to use your extractor fan as those waste gases are not good for you.