Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mobile Veggie Garden....?

Saw this on Treehugger, and though a little silly, might be good for the snacker on the go...

UrbanBuds: Mobile Suitcase Garden For The City Dweller
In tightly packed urban settings, finding places to produce fresh food in close quarters can be quite frustrating for the conscientious urban dweller. Even more frustrating is wondering how to move one's carefully-planted balcony or window garden once moving day comes. Eindhoven, Netherlands-based Italian designer Gionatta Gionno proposes a clever package, however: UrbanBuds is a mobile garden in the form of a suitcase filled with soil, designed to grow thirty-six different types of edible plants in all types of spaces. It's a simple idea, yet invokes more meaning than a bag of soil on wheels.

'UrbanBuds' uses the concept of food as a sign of cultural identity... The design of the project involves the metaphor of a suitcase as a symbol of cultural background. We all are used to saying that wherever we move we bring with us our backpack of culture, background, our bag of experiences. The design takes influence from this picture and it transforms the products in movable suitcases, filled up with soil. Families can grow vegetables and fruit on each side of the bags: each one of them allows growing about thirty-six different plants, which can grow vertically along the fabric.

It's a neat idea, and with modern lifestyles becoming more and more mobile, why shouldn't our food too?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is your Swimming Pool Water Rising?

It's raining, it's pouring...And according to the meteorologists' the Bay Area will have received as much as 8" of rain in some locations after this storm system is done. So, what about all those swimming pools? Due to the environmental implications from releasing pool water into our storm drains, it is illegal for pool professionals to do so. To my knowledge, this law has not yet caught up with homeowners, yet.
As a Green Building Professional and my attempt to be an all around environmentally conscious person, my design methodology strives to reduce impact to the environment. So for the pool owners out there, I wanted to provide you with some information on what to do with that overflowing pool as an educational tool towards environmental stewardship. Clean-outs on the house are often an access point for the freeing the clogged pipes when the drain backs up. These are also access points to disposing of the chemically treated pool water. Visit San Jose's Environmental Services page on the subject for additional information.

An important fact to remember is that the storm drains read 'No Dumping, Flows to Bay' because whatever enters the drain reaches the bay untreated!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

First Flush......Time For Action!

In a couple days the Bay Area is scheduled to see a significant amount of much needed rainfall. I for one will have a few containers out for rainwater collection as, many of my plants, orchids in particular, seem to prefer pure rainwater instead of city water. But my first course of action will be to take care of a few simple tasks before the rains come.
First flush is the term given to stormwater from the first rain that dislodges pollutants from the ground surface i.e. driveways, sidewalks, roads, etc. This stormwater typically carries with it a higher initial contaminant load and is a major source to the pollutants in our creeks, rivers, bays and oceans. There are ways to minimize the pollutant levels ordinarily found in a first flush event and strategies to control the stormwater runoff in order to reduce the effects on the environment.
There are steps you can do at home to minimize pollutant levels. Analyze the area and judge what possible effect rainfall will have on that area. If your are still using chemical fertilizers, sweep up any granules from the impervious driveway and sidewalk to minimize the opportunity that it gets washed down the stormdrain. Oil spots in your driveway, parking stall or street in front of your house should be soaked up with kitty litter and disposed of properly. It may be necessary to sweep the street gutter free of debris, leaves or soils. Anything you may think of that does not belong in our watershed, find a way of preventing it from going there.
Controlling stormwater runoff can be a more difficult and in-depth solution requiring planning and technical knowledge. Collection, treatment, and discharge systems can be part of the solution to handling stormwater runoff. My preference is to work with nature and create vegetative bioswales to collect, treat and discharge stormwater. The swales are both an eye pleasing landscaped solution and functional in stormwater runoff mitigation. I enjoy designing them for parkways in place of the useless lawn between the street and sidewalk.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rainwater Harvesting Workshop

The California Landscape Contractors Association: San Francisco Bay Area Education Committee presents our next informative workshop, Rainwater Harvesting for the Landscape Professional.

The residences of California use 5.6 million acre-feet of applied water annually and the growing population puts further strain on this limited resource. With the Bay Area now in its third drought year, we are finding ourselves having to do more with less. With landscape being the larger contributor to the strain on our water supplies, there is an increased need to incorporate water conservation strategies including; lawn reduction / removal, drought tolerant plantings, high efficiency irrigation systems, and rainwater catchment systems otherwise known as rainwater harvesting.
Some benefits of rainwater harvesting include having a reliable water source, the ability to store water for emergency purposes, on-site stormwater retention, and recharging of our aquifers. Additionally, with water rates on the rise, rainwater harvesting offers the opportunity to offset those rising water bills.
Given the increased demand, this rainwater harvesting event is expected to fill quickly so make your reservations now. The workshop will be an invaluable resource!
The event is set for Friday November 6, 2009 at Foothill College in Los Altos.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Your Landscapes Water Needs By Month

As temperature, humidity, and solar orientation change from month to month throughout the year, so do the needs of your landscape. It is my experience that the general population makes only two adjustments to the timers that control the amount of water the landscape receives. On and off. It is estimated more than 50% of landscape water is wasted by wind drift, evaporation and overwatering.
If you have an irrigation controller with a 'Seasonal Adjust' feature, this chart can help guide you towards performing the proper adjustments to conserve water. Note that July is the basis with watering times at 100%. Being this is September, your irrigation controller should only be about 60%. When the time comes for the controller to be set lower than 50%, my recommendation is to actually increase the duration at that point and reduce the days watered. The roots appreciate a deeper watering so watering deeper with less frequency is advantageous to the flora instead of small, shallow watering.

Wind drift is a term to describe overspray due to breezy/windy conditions. Many irrigation valves have an adjustment screw on them for flow control. Typically I find that new controllers are in the 'wide open' position. Most sprinklers, however, mist heavily when receiving that much pressure so dial it down to reduce evaporation, but make sure you still get adequate coverage. Adjusting the direction the sprinkler heads are aimed so that you are not watering your patio, driveway or sidewalk is helpful too. Changing the sprinklers themselves to a more efficient style like MP Rotators can help dramatically.
The time of day the irrigation controller comes on is important as well. The middle of day is the warmest so watering during that time only leads to increased evaporation. A large part of the water is lost. 40-50% of it I read in one article. Watering at night is better but often the ground is still warm leading to higher evaporation again. Additionally, many bad bacterias and molds like warm, moist conditions so start growing. These can harm your plants and grasses. My recommendation is early morning waterings, before the sun comes up. Between the hours of 4am and 6pm, the sun is not quite awake yet giving an opportunity for the ground to take in the water.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Decline of the Honey Bee

The reality of the important role the honey bee plays in our survival is delivered in the popular kids flick, Bee Movie. It is not just that the writer is telling a story but, as in many movies, there is a message being delivered. The problem is so severe in London that residents are encouraged to become bee keepers! Following is a portion of an interesting article I came across.

Bee populations are changing.
It's thought that there used to be 25 species of bumblebee in the UK, but now three are known to be extinct (Bombus cullumanus, B. pomorum and B. subterraneus).
Seven more species are listed on the Biodiversity Action Plan list as being in danger.

Honeybee numbers in the UK have fallen by up to 30% since 2007.

The 70% fall in Bumblebee numbers since the 1970s is largely attributed to the growth of industrial agricultural practices resulting in monocultures of crops, without suitable wildflower habitats for bees, and many other insects, to live on.
But some farmers are helping wildlife on their land and an increasing number of food products are now made from crops grown in a way that protects the countryside and provides food for bees.
Sadly, original wild honeybees (Apis mellifera mellifera) are now thought to be extinct in Britain, but literally millions of domestic strain honeybees are managed by beekeepers each year, which are familiar to all of us buzzing about parks and gardens.
Honeybees in Britain, however, are having a tough time and are increasingly affected by a range of problems including foulbrood; varroa mite; viral diseases and dysfunctional immune systems.
Colony collapse disorder, although widespread globally, does not yet seem to have arrived in the UK.
But just like bumblebees, honeybees are also suffering from the loss of widespread and varied foraging habitats, especially in the countryside.
The value of bees through pollination of crops is thought to be in the region of £1 billion a year and 35% of our own food crops are estimated to be directly dependent on honeybee pollination.
Bumblebees pollinate crops too, especially fruit like tomatoes and apples as well as other crops including oilseed rape and beans.
Some farmers even keep bumblebees in their greenhouses to pollinate crops that are grown all year round, and import southern European bumblebees raised in countries such as Slovakia and Holland.
The concern of conservationists is that this could potentially introduce further pest and disease risk to native British bumblebees.
Evidence in the US shows wild bumblebee numbers have collapsed since the 1990s - following the introduction of parasites carried by European species brought in to pollinate greenhouse crops such as tomatoes and peppers.
As well as decreasing numbers, there are also changes being observed where bumblebees live and how they behave.
The buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) for example has recently been recorded in flight in December and January along the south coast as far east as Ramsgate, as far north as Leicestershire and even North Wales.
This is really unusual, as typically only the queen bee overwinters in holes in the ground.
The suggestion is that global warming is affecting bee behaviour - which may, in turn, affect pollination, flowers, plant survival, fruit, crops and ultimately numerous species of wildlife...including us. -BBC London

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Creek Water Not Safe

Yesterday I took my 2 1/2 year-old son and 4 1/2 year-old daughter to the park for a picnic and to play for a while. They were so excited to cross a bridge and see the trickle of water in the creek. Of course they wanted to play in the water....there kids! It is a park after all. I showed them the sign posted in a couple areas along the creek and told them simply that it said no playing in the water. The picture was enough for them, "but why" I thought to myself. Is this an issue of pollutants from our parking areas and streets entering our creeks and rivers through storm drains? Perhaps if that were the case the sign would urge caution due to "contaminated water" but it specifically reads" bacteria levels".
I called the number on the sign and will finish the post when I hear back......

Monday, August 17, 2009

America and Our Lawns

Green lawns are the staple of America's residential and commercial landscape. We spend $27 billion dollars a year - ten times more than we pay for text books to grow and maintain 20 million acres of grass. Forty million lawnmowers cause five percent of the nation's air pollution and at least thirty percent of our water is used to irrigate lawns, washing fertilizers and pesticides into rivers, lakes and streams.

Now, corporations, universities, government offices and parks around the nation are looking at an alternative to Kentucky Blue Grass. They are going back to their roots to find native prairie and wetland plants.

These grasses, flowers, forbs and sedges have adapted, over hundreds of years to our climate. They survived heat and drought, extreme cold and fire, their long roots tucked deep in the ground. They provide habitat for native birds and butterflies.
- United States EPA

Friday, August 14, 2009

Proper Disposal of CFL Light Bulbs

PG&E and others like to promote the use of the CFL bulbs, and it is a great energy saver, but what really troubles me is that they do not put effort in educating the public that these bulbs must be disposed of differently than the light bulbs we are accustomed to using.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Benefits of Compost

Most folks are familiar with compost as a soil amendment for general landscaping purposes in planting beds and establishing new lawns. There are several other benefits and applications for compost and the use of compost continues to grow!

Compost can be used as a mulch; a top dressing to blanket the layer of soil the plants rest their feet(roots) in. Utilized in this fashion, it suppresses weed growth, holds soil moisture, lowers soil temperature than without it, and improves the organic structure of the soil as the mulch breaks down. This supports an entire system of life typically referred to as the soil food web, but I digress, that is another post. Compost is instrumental in plant establishment when back-filled into the planting hole with the root ball of plant material. The roots of the plant have a softer and nutrient rich medium to begin their new development of growth. And by the way, without an adequate root structure, even the plants that require less water need a root system to support them first and foremost.

Coffee Drinkers, Keep Those Grinds!

Coffee grinds can be a great alternative to chemical fertilizers. Some of your local coffee houses even give their used grinds for free. That's an opportunity to prevent it from becoming an addition to your local landfill.....and it's free fertilizer!
For some reason, I am less than enthusiastic about eating food that chemicals were poured onto and apparently more and more people feel the same way as I notice an increase in the availability and selection of foods labeled with the word ORGANIC.
If you're already a composter, you probably already add coffee grinds as well as other fruit and vegetable waste to your compost bin (See the City of San Jose's site to get one for yourself or if you are not a San Jose resident, check with your city or county). As an alternative, that is to say if you don't have a bin, sprinkle the coffee grinds onto the soil around the plant so that it is within the plant's root zone. Although you could mix it into the soil, leaving it on the surface works just as well and saves you time. Either way as the grinds are slowly absorbed into the soil we waste less and nurture more.