Archive for garden

Finally, the proof! Trees help save you green

From the folks over at the Forestry Sciences Lab of Oregon and the National Institute of Standards and Technology comes proof that planting trees around your home will save you money in the long run on your electric bills.  This is something that has long been suspected and anecdotally promoted, but this is the first study to take people’s actual electricity bills and compare them with the amount of growth of trees near the home.

Its official, trees save energy!

It's official, trees save energy!

If you’re headed for off-grid living, chances are that you’re implementing some sort of solar or wind technology in your power mix, so careful siting of the trees you plant and the panels or turbines you place will be necessary.  But if each tree you plant makes the job of those alternative technologies that much easier, it would be hard to go wrong!  Other studies have shown that a single mature tree can produce as much cooling effect as five, yes that’s FIVE AC units.  For each tree.  Now that’s a powerful plant!

Also, don’t forget that other studies have shown that planting trees in your yard actually raises the property value of your home to prospective home buyers, even without factoring in energy savings.  So in today’s lackluster home market, a few well placed trees could make the difference between a listing that sits or sells. And also, every tree you plant in your environment helps to filter the air that you breathe every day, making your lungs and body that much healthier and promoting biodiversity.  For an example of a nice tree distribution program, check out the Los Angeles organization Tree People, who partner with the city to give away free trees to city residents who agree to care for them.  This weekend, they’re giving away fruit trees like peaches, nectarines, and apples.  Yum!

Here’s the link to a Discovery News article outlining the methodology of this latest study.  Planting Trees Saves You Cash.

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Healing Yourself Naturally Part Two

Okay, time for the second installment of our healing naturally series.  Now that you know all about the different hazards conspiring to keep you from healthy happy living, let’s focus on what you can do to keep yourself in tip top shape when flu season or the cold n’ nasties hit your town.

First, eliminate as many sources of needless electromagnetic radiation as possible from your environment.  Turn off your cell phone when you’re not taking calls, unplug appliances when not in use, turn off your computer whenever possible, and generally try to avoid having more wireless gadgets than you really need.  I know, easier said than done, right?  This is as good a reason as any to try to spend some quality time at the park or other natural spaces where limited numbers of electronic devices dwell.  Not only that, but you’ll be supporting our faltering National Park system, which is crumbling under the weight of budget cuts.  But given that you do probably spend a lot of time at home, consider creating an EMF (electromagnetic frequency) free zone.  This can be done by picking a room and having it outfitted with a screen mesh designed to block such frequencies.  BlockEMF.com sells a “budget radio shield” curtain that only costs $6.  Hard to beat that!  They also sell Flectron copper fabric which can be used to coat an entire room using instructions available on their site.  You can also just protect your person by wearing EMF blocking clothing such as the garments available to LessEMF.com, which are a lightweight silver mesh that slips easily under other clothing.  Check out the page here to see their designs: www.lessemf.com.

EMF shielding clothing

EMF shielding clothing

Now that you’ve eliminated some of the errant frequencies in your daily environs, we can move on to diet, where we spent a great deal of yesterday’s article dissecting the dangers of eating food in the new millennium.  First, and foremost, you should eat locally whenever possible.  While locally produced food is no guarantee that it will be grown organically, by choosing small farmers who personally represent their wares at Farmer’s Markets, you not only get a better sense of where your food comes from and the work that goes into it, you are helping to support varieties of plants that are best suited to your climate, which helps to preserve biodiversity.  And trust me, the food at such markets TASTES so much better than what you get in the Ubermarket.  So if you can’t grow your own, go for this route or the increasingly popular CSA delivery programs instead.

Now that you’re committed to going local, what to buy when you visit the market?  There are a whole host of “superfoods” cropping up (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in markets today, all promising to make you look like Gisele with the skin of a twenty year old.  Hey, I’m all for beauty too, but let’s keep things in perspective.  Here are some foods that WILL help boost your immune system.

1. fresh garlic: garlic stimulates the production of white blood cells in your body, which increases your ability to fight off infections and diseases when they attack.  While eating a whole raw clove is supposedly the best for you, understandably, you may not be up to the taste or ensuing vampire (and loved one) repellent qualities.  So try stir frying a little fresh garlic into your next dinner without overcooking it and you can expect a similar immune boost.  Personally, I like baked garlic, which gets all nice and mushy and sweet as it cooks, paired with fresh tomatoes and some mozzarella cheese with balsamic vinegar.  Mmmmm!  And remember, garlic is an incredibly easy plant to grow, so if you’re willing to venture into gardening, this is a great candidate on many fronts.

2. citrus fruit: yep, good ol’ vitamin C in a convenient to carry biodegradable case.  Citrus is nature’s doctor in a ball.  If the idea of lots of orange juice has you blahed out or feeling heartburn, consider Acai, strawberries, kiwi, cantaloupe, cherries, and other fruits which pack the vitamin C punch without some of the acids.  And when you do feel something coming on, a big dose of vitamin C such as that found in Emergen-C packets will help your body to gain enough strength to cut it off at the pass.

3. zinc-rich foods: shellfish are very high in zinc, but you can also get a respectable amount from legumes such as beans.  You can supplement zinc, but beware overloading on it.  Zinc helps your body produce t cells, the agents that fight off disease in the blood.

Above all else, eating fresh foods as compared to those in cans or frozen will go a long way to making sure that the nutrients that are naturally present in the foods will still be available to you when you eat them.  Don’t overcook, eat raw when possible, and as I just said, avoid canned foods which often leach metals from their containers into the food you you eat.

So now that you’re avoiding EMF and eating right, the next step is exercise.  If you’re an off-grid enthusiast like I know you are, you’re probably already above the average when it comes to the amount of daily exercise you get.  After all, those solar panels aren’t going to clean themselves, and you realize that short trips are a great reason to walk instead of taking that pollution spitting car.  By exercising daily in some form or another, you’re not only keeping your muscles healthy and staying in cardiovascular shape, you’re probably also getting a nice healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun.  Studies have shown that vitamin D plays a large role in determining how well our bodies can fight off disease.  And unless you live somewhere in the arctic circles or a constantly rainy clime, the sun is the most consistent way to get this super nutrient.  In winter months, the sun doesn’t shine for as many hours a day, so its extra important to grab rays where and when possible.  This goes for those of you in recovery too.  Florence Nightengale found that the single best indicator of how well a patient will recover is the amount of direct sunlight to which they were exposed.

So there you have it, three easy ways to make sure that this year you won’t be the one sniffling at the board meeting, all without resorting to prescription drugs.  This is especially important as studies roll in indicating that our world’s water supplies are becoming tainted with a cocktail of drugs, many of which are harmful to those who don’t need to be on them.  And you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you don’t support the multinational conglomerates who charge so much for their wares that people in developing countries can’t afford to even take advantage of the lifesaving properties of the drugs that COULD help them.  And that’s a very healthy way to approach your consumerism, indeed!  Here’s to your health!

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Community Gardens in Los Angeles

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, I have created a Google map of all the community gardens in the county.  Simply click on this link:

MyMaps at MapBuilder.net

This list was compiled using data from the UC Cooperative Extension Office maintained by wunder gardener Yvonne Savio. I will be keeping this list updated and eventually expanding it far and wide so if you have word on another garden or would like me to cover your town, comment below! Happy gardening~

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BOOK REVIEW: Mycelium Running

Mycelium Running: Paul Stamets, Google Books Listing

Mycelium Running

This book is very inspiring!  I can’t even remember how it ended up on my library list, but since starting it, I haven’t put it down.  I also haven’t stopped talking about the wonders of mushrooms, much to my friends’ chagrin.  Yesterday even found me stooping in a neighbor’s yard, trying to figure out how to extract a cool-looking mushroom from their lawn without damaging the manicured turf!  Did you know that a cubic inch of earth can contain about 8 miles of mycelium, the fungal thread that matures into familiar mushrooms?  Or that some species of mushroom can survive on crude oil, breaking down the hydrocarbons into fertile soil in a matter of a months?  Other species of mushroom have shown promise in destroying neuro toxins, absorbing heavy metals, even killing the HIV virus.  Whoa, Shitake!

Seriously though, this book is excellently written with plenty of nice pictures for visual reference and a decidedly scientific style.  The author really knows his stuff, too, and he has the patents to prove it.  Everything is covered here from using mushrooms to repopulate logged forests to starting your own backyard mushroom garden or mycelial water filtration system.  The types of fungii and the environments in which they operate are also eloquently discussed.  There are charts galore showing which species can be used for different applications such as removing certain toxins or digesting certain wood species, even how to battle parasitic fungii with other species which are more environmentally benign.  Bottom line is that our oft mistreated fungal friends may hold the key to saving our planet more efficiently than we humans ever could.  Also, their unique medicinal properties, which though known in the Far East for centuries have only recently entered exploration by Western scientists, may be the key to the cancer and viral cures of the future because many fungii protect their hosts from infection and disease in a microscopic act of “you scratch my back…”.  Now that’s a pretty good reason to eat a heaping plate of fungii!  Five big shroomy stars.

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Plants Need Rescuing Too!

The other day I was out for my morning run when I happened upon an all-too-common urban sight: gardeners pulling up plants to make room for the next season’s flowers in commercial flower displays.  To be precise, the gardener was pulling up young boxwoods which over the course of the growing season had lost their perfect lollipop shapes, and replacing them with rounder versions of the same plant.  Anyone who has boxwoods in their yards will know that they are perennial plants which grow slowly and make excellent living borders.  Certainly not landfill material after a growing season.

To replant the same thing and toss the old plants seemed like such a waste for a little aesthetic symmetry, so I stopped and asked to rescue as many as could be carried.  The gardener said sure, and in fact, wouldn’t I like to come back the next morning, too, when they would be pulling all the marigolds and replacing them with mums?  Of course I would!  So the next morning I bundled up early and went to retrieve the flowers.  Though marigolds are annuals, and were near the end of their lives, they were heavy with seeds, and easily yielded at least 2000 for planting in the spring.  Not bad for a morning’s work!  And in two months, the whole process begins again as a new season’s colors take over the beds.

This is pretty much the norm for commercial landscaping services.  If you are looking for inexpensive (usually free!) plants for your garden, consider asking your local plaza who does the gardening and contacting them about rescuing unwanted plants.  They usually keep a regular schedule which you can put on your calendar.  Even almost-spent annuals can make great displays of color for entertaining before yielding seed for future plantings.  If you have a compost pile, this organic matter will greatly aerate your pile, increasing the speed at which the soil is formed.  And, of course, you learn a little more about what goes into creating the perfectly manicured version of the world that we urbanites take for granted.

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Living Roofs: A Little Greener than Usual

When installing a photovoltaic, solar heat, or wind generation system, one concept with which you’re sure to become familiar is that of structural load. The concept of a twenty foot wind tower on your roof spinning down free energy all year is nice, but in practice, you’d more likely rip a hole in your house without some careful consideration.  Therefore, sustainable roof design has adapted to include a variety of green techniques, each requiring their own load profile.  When used in combination, the elements can add a visual and technological depth to a space that is almost hard to describe.

Living roofs are required by law in some European cities, so it’s strange that so few people in the US have ever even heard of them.  Basically, in a city, roofs cover between 30-40% of the available land acreage. Streets cover a good percentage more.  By building a living roof, you offset the loss of porous surface area by simply elevating the layer above the structure.  New sustainable design firms tend toward relatively autonomous plantings so that care needs are minimized.  Varieties of drought resistant grasses or low-water plants like ice plants for a more spectacular display.  Traditional examples of living roofs often display a more cultivated cover.  Some are actually used as rooftop garden spaces, with fully functional plant beds in frames. They slow down water across their surface area and help promote local biodiversity.

The largest challenge in making a rooftop garden (besides keeping the frame watertight so it doesn’t leak onto your roof) is one of structural load.  Obviously, cubic feet of dirt are heavy – just ask anyone who’s done construction or landscape work lately.  On your roof, they bear down on the surface, creating stress on the seams between fastenings and structural supports.  It is important to find ways to relieve this stress either in the building phase, or, as is more common, in the design phase of a remodel. Soil scientists have designed artificial soils that weigh less than traditional soils, and other growing mediums such as local crushed brick can be used. But usually this involves restructuring the load on beams so that the roof avoids carrying actual weight.

As mentioned earlier, a living roof may not be the only alternative energy installation vying for structural load bearing on your house.  If you install solar panels or a solar heat collector, the same weight issues come into play, and careful siting along strong structural axes or retrofitting are necessary.  With wind, add in the force of the tower’s rotation and the wind profile of the actual tower and it’s probably better not to site a tower on your house at all unless you like weird noises and warped beams.  Save that for the back yard.

If you are considering installing one technology already which calls for boosting the load structure of your roof, why not design for the (future) implementation of another complementary technology now? As hurricanes so aptly illustrate, a little extra roof support ain’t gonna hurt you.  With as much roof space as we have in this country, we could probably meet half our food needs if everyone started a garden today.  Victory Gardens for a new millennium.  Even just switching from a traditional tar shingle roof (made from petroleum) to a gravel-based cover slows water loss considerably across your whole property.  Take a look at these examples of how nice living roofs can look, and consider integrating a little (more) green into your next roofing project.

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HOW TO: Create a Seed Bank

As another hurricane bears down on the gulf coast, one has to wonder whether the glass half empty crowd which has been predicting increased damage in upcoming years due to natural disaster is correct. Nature does go in cycles, and we may end up laughing off current pessimism about the planet’s inability to regulate herself. But current data does suggest that we are facing at the least a massive migration of plants and animal species to inhabit new regions of the planet. Global environmental organizations are already seeing plant and animal species move to new elevations of previously frigid territory and dead zones showing up in previously fertile areas.

Perhaps the hardest adjustment we as humans will have to make, provided we don’t all take each other out first, is that of food supply.  When the local soils no longer support the crops to which we’re accustomed, we’ll be faced with two choices: move, or learn to cultivate something new.  This migratory period will be critical to the existence of all life on earth.  By creating and maintaining seed banks, we are helping to sustain the biological diversity of life on earth.  This is the aim of the latest biological depository established in Scandinavia, into which governments from around the world are locking seed samples in preservatory conditions in case of Doomsday.

But while the establishment of such seed banks are admirable, the greatest potential for preserving biological diversity lies with the individual.  After all, your grandmother’s mint patch that grows in your backyard probably isn’t on the seed registry’s radar, and neither are your neighbor’s prize heirloom sunflowers.  For any planet to sustain a wide diversity of genetic material, it is we, the people, who will have to stash away the genetic legacy of our lives thusfar as a gift to the future.  So why not get started now?

Making a seed bank is ridiculously easy.  You could well go from a single set of seeds to more than you could ever plant within the span of a single growing season.  Of course, seeds are most fertile when fresh, but stored under the right conditions, most seeds will last for years.  It is a good practice to plant from your seed bank each year, and replenish the stock with fresh seed over the growing season.  This way, most of your seed stays fresh at any time.

Now, how to get started?  First, buy an pack of little brown paper envelopes, or even just a package of writing envelopes.  Then stash a few in your pocketbook, briefcase, or car, and start hunting!  Every time you see a particularly beautiful tree in fruit, a really nice flower, or healthy looking seed grasses, take a handful of seeds, pat them dry if they are wet (say from being removed from their protective fruit coverings to prevent rot), and place them in the envelope.  Be sure to label the outside of the package with what type of plant (if you don’t know, just describe it as best possible), the date on which you collected it, and ideally, where you found it. Then transfer your sealed envelopes to a cool dry storage place next time you are home, to keep the seeds from germinating and then dying from lack of soil nutrition. Then you simply hit the road again and look for more!  Most people won’t mind you taking a handful of anything from their lawn, but certainly some tact and discretion are in order always.

The next step in a successful seed bank is to increase the diversity through exchange with others. In most towns there are groups of seed savers who get together periodically to have exchanges, in which you give a little to get a little of something else.  This is the true gem of seed collection. You are gaining access to the best of all local areas, all of which should be relatively well suited to cultivation in your area, simply for having an eagle eye in your own neighborhood.

As with all great ventures, the best time to get started is before everyone else catches on. That way, when seeds become more scarce, you’ll already be a practiced veteran of the seed trade.  This is truly a return to the simpler life our parents parents experienced, and is a selfless act of philanthropy you can complete without spending a dime.

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