Archive for March, 2008

Xeriscaping the Dead Sea – A Case-Study

Click Here to See Geoff Lawton’s Dead Sea Restoration Project

Geoff Lawton, Xeriscaper Extroardinaire

This EXCELLENT presentation gives you a nice video overview of a successful xeriscaping and land restoration project carried out in the Dead Sea area of Jordan. You can actually watch the progression from desert to a lush canopy of green and edible foods. And to see that the salt levels of the soil dropped so dramatically is quite a convincing argument to try it yourself. Geoff Lawton and his team are genius to have done this. If you are considering doing your lawn with drought-friendly plants, or in converting waste-space to something much more beautiful while restoring the natural balance of the soil, please check out this site!

Here is SoCal, the Salton Sea is a popular tourist destination, as it is a similar environment to the Dead Sea. In fact, like the Dead Sea, the Salton Sea is getting saltier every year as its water evaporates. Given the hot temperatures (there is a reason that all the spas of Palm Springs are so popular!), there is a lot of sandy desert for every patch of green. Do you live there? Try this and send us pictures!

Leave a comment »

SUCCESS: My First Solar-Cooked Meal

Mmmm! My first home-cooked solar meal.

The other day, being Easter, seemed like a perfect day to set up the cooker for a test run. As I mentioned previously, when I set up the unit the first time, the window-shade was so flexible that it had trouble standing up, much less resisting wind. So, as you can see, the oven now sports a cardboard shell which I attached with vel-cro and safety pins for ease of disassembly. It’s not as pristine as the older version, but it DOES work.

The Reworked Oven Design Reworked Solar Oven Taking the Temperature

Initially, I placed my oven thermometer in the oven bag without a pot, and put everything in the sun at 11:50 am to see what would happen (right picture above). Twenty minutes later, the temperature showed 175° F! Wow! Another 15 minutes, and the temperature was… 150°? Hmmm, I did remember reading that it was the black pot, not the cooking bag, that created heat. Next, I went to the store to buy a round black baking pan to use as a top for my pot (or, in this case, the bottom), and by 2pm, everything was ready to actually COOK something.

First Meal Cooking Food in the Pot

Since the satisfaction of success seemed critical, I chose to stick with an oldie-but-goodie food staple, grilled cheese sandwiches. At 2:10 pm, I stacked two sandwiches in the pot and put them out. The temperature still registered at 150°, placed in front of the oven bag. By the time I came out to check on everything 15 minutes later, they were done! Pop them off onto a plate, and a quick wipe of the non-stick surface, and preparation and clean-up were finished. Now that’s my kind of cooking.

My First Meal

After the success of Easter, which convinced even my skeptical friend that this COULD work, I set out to cook something a little more ambitious. Today’s menu: carrots. I’m reading a book on solar food drying right now (you’ll be seeing a review here very soon), which listed carrots on the “great for drying” list. Well, the processes for cooking and dehydrating are a little different, but I had some carrots that needed immediate love, so I figured I’d just see how things went if I dumped chopped carrots into a pan and put them out sans water.

Result? Mixed. This time, I put everything out at about 12:30 pm, and left it there for about 45 minutes to an hour. The pot tipped off its stand once somewhere along the way, and I set everything up in a new location, which didn’t seem to get as much light, even though there were no shadows obstructing anything. So I compensated by keeping a better eye on the oven and rotating it a little over time. It didn’t seem like the pans were quite as hot to touch when I took them off the “burner”. When I opened up the bag, the smell was WONDERFUL. A big billow of warm steam that smelled like veggie soup. That alone let me declare the experiment a success. The food itself? Not very cooked (the carrots were still crunchy, though they were softer), but overall, good flavor. If I’d had longer to wait around the house today, I think they’d have softened up just fine. Next time, I’ll add a little water, too.

So, there you have it. Not a total success, but enough so to keep me very motivated toward refining this whole solar thing. And it’s seriously gratifying for an afternoon’s work of setting everything up. Even if you’re a glutton for success, you CAN bring solar into your life today!

Comments (2) »

DIY Solar Heater

It’s only March, but the sun is already beating hot and heavy on us here in SoCal. But here’s an easy project for you to try in the colder regions of the world: a solar heater that converts the visible light spectrum to usable heat using pennies! Yep, pennies. So I hardly need to tell you that this solar heater doesn’t cost too much to construct. It’s yet another good idea from the folks behind greenupdater.com, a site that shows you DIY projects that can enhance your life using alternative energy. Visit their site for the full instructions, but here’s the equipment list so you can collect before jumping in head-first:

2x 20″ x 30″ Foam Board – at your local hardware or craft store.

About 300 pennies (Ross uses 304) – Start looking in the couch.

Flat Black Paint – Benjiaman Moore Eco-Spec paint which is a low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) latex paint. Many hardware stores will sell you small sample jars.

24″ x 36″ Plexiglass – At your local hardware store.

Spray Adhesive

Hot Glue Gun

Packing Tape

Utility Knife

And here’s a picture of the completed unit: DIY Solar Penny Heater

Happy Easter everyone!

Comments (1) »

Solar-Powered Robot Lawn Mower

I so need one of these!  Oh, wait, no grass to mow.  But you probably have some, and just look at this beauty!  At $4,000, it’s no yard-sale find, but with built-in sensors that detect yard obstacles, it reduces the amount of work you have to do down to simply setting the thing out and turning it on.  Swimming devotees will recognize this approach as like that of the pool Simon, and it also falls close to the Roomba technology.   And of course, like many products featured here, it’s totally powered by the sun.  With one of these and a few free hours to watch it wander, you might actually be HAPPY when your spouse tells you to mow the lawn!

Leave a comment »

RESULT: My First Solar Cooker

My First Solar Cooker

Me and the Box Here it is, my first solar oven. One successful project down, and many, many to go! This solar cooker required almost no investment, took about five minutes to make, and looks pretty much like the result shown in my previous post about windshield shade solar cookers.

For the stand, I used the blue bin pictured above, which conveniently enough was on the trash in an alley this morning. I also managed to scrounge up an old wire grill surface from a naught-used corner of my house, and it just so happened that it fit into the blue container perfectly. Must be a sign. This is important, given the windshield shade’s flexibility, because it provides a solid cook surface on which the pots and pans can rest.

In fact, the windshield shade is SO flexible, I decided I will have to glue some cardboard to its rear sides to provide enough stiffness to withstand wind before attempting to actually cook a meal. Los Angeles has plenty of wind, and it wasn’t more than a minute before a naughty little gust had crumpled up my cooker beyond all hope of reflection. Which just makes me want to further investigate wind power, but, one thing at a time… In deference to the wind, I also decided to place a chunk of 4×4 wood in the blue bin, under the oven, in order to add weight and provide optimal support for the reflective surface under cooking vessels. So there it is! Now that everything is ready to go, and I’m dreaming of sun-baked breads, success is smelling sweet already!

Comments (2) »

EVENT: Communikey – In Harmony with the Earth

Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts

Music and art lovers, get ready to travel! You won’t want to miss this year’s Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. Coinciding with Earth Day weekend (April 18-20, 2008) it’s going to be three days of performances, workshops, and art installations, all designed to inspire and educate about sustainable living in a technological world. If you’ve never been to Boulder, you owe yourself this green respite from the daily city grind. The scenery is breathtaking, and Communikey’s festival takes full advantage of their ideal location, scheduling events at cultural and community landmarks around town, such as the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Best of all, Communikey organizers are implementing a zero-waste policy at the festival, offering recycling at all venues, placing events within easy walking or biking distance from each other, using hydro and solar power generators to power the events, and offering festival-goers the chance to buy carbon offsets for their travels to and from Boulder. Add in a panel discussion on how to create sustainable green arts communities, and you may receive as much education as enjoyment. But with the international line-up of cutting-edge electronic art performances scheduled, it won’t be stuffy, that’s for sure!

Communikey has an excellent reputation for creating events that promote the myriad possibilities of electronic art while fostering organic community growth both locally and on a global scale. Since 2004, Communikey has presented thirty unique events working with pioneering local, national, and international emerging artists [1]. David Last, a producer in NYC, had this to say about their events:

High quality, high energy, professionalism and good taste. New York, L.A., and San Francisco could actually learn a thing or two from what happens at Communikey events.

For this festival, Communikey has partnered with a variety of green sponsors, including Waste-Not Recycling, Pangaea Organics, the Boulder Arts Commission, and ATL&S.
So pack your bags, save trees by buying your festival passes online here, and get ready to have some nice green fun! See you in Boulder!

Comments (1) »

Getting together with your neighbors

A Whole Neighborhood goes Solar

Here’s an inspiring story: up in San Jose, these neighbors got together to install solar systems at their houses. By working together, they were able to bulk-bid solar installation companies for the lowest possible prices. Using this approach, they were able to get 26 houses wired and ready for a fraction of the cost. Read the full story above, and get ready to go knocking on a few doors. After all, it could save you thousands toward your solar living dreams! Now that’s a good reason for a block party!

Leave a comment »

%d bloggers like this: