Archive for organic

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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Healing Yourself Naturally Part One

Happy New Year, Solarious fans!  Having just gotten over a nasty flu, it seems a perfect moment to discuss natural healing techniques.  The pharmaceutical industry is one of the largest in the world.  Yet despite the trillions of dollars that have been poured into research, marketing, and sales of these medicines, we as a planet are sicker than ever.  We may live longer, but we live on crutches, both physical and chemical, which limit the value of the lives we are leading.  How can this be so?  Well, ask a thousand doctors and you’ll probably get as many answers.  However a few things cannot be denied.  Today, we’ll look at the reasons we have to take better care of ourselves than ever, and then tomorrow, we’ll discuss ways to get ourselves back on our feet without supporting the drug companies, who are responsible for some pretty atrocious acts upon our earth.

The quality of the food that you eat today is nothing like the food your parents grandparents ate.  Even if you consider yourself a healthy eater, a vegetarian/vegan, follow a strict macrobiotic diet, whatever, the quality of the actual food that goes into your body has declined over time.   This is the unappetizing consequence of the industrial farming system, one in which plants and animals are bred purely for their appearance and ability to sit for long periods on store shelves, rather than their inherent nutritional qualities.  Of the hundreds of apple varieties available in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, commercial growers winnowed down to just five or six different varieties that were chosen for two characteristics: sweetness and the ability to look good on the shelf.  Given that apples are grown on grafted trees, all of the apples you enjoy today are identical genetic clones of or direct offspring of these clones of the aforementioned five varieties.  Seriously.  That Jonagold you crave?  A Jonathan apple and a Golden delicious.  For a really excellent discussion of this whole quagmire of genetic reduction in this noble fruit, check out “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan.  Actually, go read it anyway, you’re going to love it.

But back to the larger point: as we reduce the genetic variety available in the foods we eat, we reduce the possibly helpful combinations of nutrients available to our bodies.  We also increase the chances that our food supplies will all be stricken by some bug or another and never recover, therefore extinguishing that source of nutrition from our available diets forever.  There is talk that the banana plant, the most harvested fruit on the planet, may go extinct within the next fifty years because almost all commercially grown bananas are of only one variety, which has recently been attacked in Asia by a lethal disease that spraying cannot stop.  It is only a matter of time, scientists theorize, until that disease makes its way to South America and poof!  No more bananas for the world.  Scary stuff.  And of course this same scenario applies to things like cows, for you burger lovers out there.

So now you realize how important the quality of the food you put into the system is.  But have you ever thought about the processes to which your food is subjected before you ever get to lay hands on it?  When you microwave food, pasteurize it, can it, or freeze it, there can occur chemical and physical changes within the food that alter your body’s ability to utilize the nutrients within.  Some nutrients are outright destroyed by these processes, all of which are relatively new scientific techniques in the last hundred years or so. Eat a freezer dinner, which has probably been subjected to all of the above processes at one point or another, and, well, I THINK there are some nutrients in there, but…

So your body’s immunity is likely lowered simply because of diet, unless you are eating raw, locally produced vegetables and perhaps small amounts of locally and sustainably raised meats and fish.  Now, what about your cell phone?  What?  My phone, you say?  Okay, not your phone specifically, but the myriad of wireless and electrical devices that crowd today’s home and urban landscape.  Electricity moves in waves, and waves have frequencies.  Most people don’t think of humans as electrical creatures but we, too, vibrate at certain frequencies within our bodies, as electricity is conducted around our bodies.  Every nerve operates this way, and every thought in your brain is an electrical impulse.  Now the thing about waves is that they are affected by each other, either in a complimentary or destructive fashion.  So all that electromagnetic frequency flying through the air DOES affect you, whether you like it or not.  Remember when they started to wonder whether cell phone rotted your brain a few years back?  Well, they never really publicized the results of those studies, because the reality is that putting a wave-emitting device up to your head for hours a day just is not good for you.  The scariest implication of this is that in today’s world, there are really very few places you can go to get away from the invasive waves flying overhead.   Makes you look at that cell phone dead spot in a whole new light.

Add to the above the increased daily stress of living a high paced life in today’s society – we sleep less, work more, travel on germ infested planes, come into contact with more people, take fewer rest periods, and exercise WAY less – coupled with the fact that we have largely lost touch with the natural cycles of the earth such as getting up and going to bed with the sun each day as our ancestors have done since the beginnings of time, and it’s easy to see why our bodies’ defenses are at an all time low when it comes to fighting off what are increasingly potent viruses, bugs, and mutations that cause illness and death.

You can do a lot for yourself just by making sure you eat as well as possible and get plenty of rest.  And DRINK LOTS OF WATER everyone!  Your body has a higher water content than an apple, so if you’ve ever watched one wither away on your countertop, you know exactly what’s going on in your body when you eschew this wonder fluid.  But these are the basics.  Check back tomorrow, when we’ll cover medicinal herbs, electromagnetic frequency stabilization techniques, and other low-chemical ways to bring the temple that is your body back into greater harmony with yourself and the earth around you.

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BOOK REVIEW: Introduction to Permaculture

Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison

Introduction to Permaculture

Introduction to Permaculture

This is pretty much the classic textbook on permaculture.  Don’t believe me?  What if I told you Mr. Mollison INVENTED the word permaculture to describe the multi-tiered growing system he developed on his Australian land.  Yep, that’s the guy.  And although he can be credited with this amazing feat, he doesn’t waste time with jargon in his book.  Instead, he gets right down to the business of how to most effectively plan land for both environmental and personal maintenance.

To describe it in brief, permaculture involves the integration of native plants and animals in a system that eliminated the need for additional inputs such as fertilizers and outputs such as yard waste. To see things from a permaculture perspective, a goat is no longer just a furry animal that makes funny noises, but rather a recycling and fertilizing machine, that, when properly utlilized, can keep an orchard pest (and pesticide) free while providing milk, companionship, and dung for the garden.  So too with chickens, cows, horses, fish, even green mulches.  Everything in a system must be looked at in terms of its TOTAL needs and outputs, and a balanced system can be created that makes the best use of everything available.

Of course there is a lot of plant talk here.  After all, it makes perfect sense to use native flora wherever possible.  And though Mr. Mollison is located far from the US of A, there is lots of good information here for any aspiring permaculturist.  Especially interesting is the discussion of planting cycles which replace the traditional English planting system of crop rotation followed by fallow periods to recoup soil nutrients.  He shows that by properly mixing plants with different strengths (such as leguminous nitrogen fixers and natural pesticides), you can completely eliminate fallow fields while still improving yields.

There’s a nice discussion of water management too, with ideas for ways to increase the productivity of “transition zones”, those microclimates along the edges of land and water which are traditionally the most diverse of a given area.

Now, none of this information would be very useful if it weren’t also practical.  After all, you don’t want to hike five miles for water every day any more than a woman in Kenya does.  Nor do you want to be flooded out every time it rains.  To that end, there is a lot of discussion in the book about how to situate the various components of your permaculture system so that you have easy access to the things you need and living takes as little energy input as possible.  Bravo for that reality check!

Overall, the book covers familiar ground in many areas, though it’s important to note that in actuality, as it was written in the EARLY 90s, this was the pioneering work that others have since used as inspiration.   I would certainly recommend it to any gardeners, off-grid enthusiasts, botanists, or just plain nature lovers out there.  Everything is nicely illustrated and purely practical.  Even in reading, he keeps extra work down to a minimum.

RATING: 5 / 5 stars

LENGTH: about 200 pages of pretty easy reading

PRACTICALITY: lots of sage advice here for anyone at any stage of land development and also good theoretical discussion of the lifestyle.

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Resolutions for 2009

It’s that time of year again… time to dust off last year’s resolutions and slap a new title on ’em.  No, of course not!  To me, the best thing about writing down resolutions is revisiting them in the far future as a sort of diary of where you were in life at that moment. I’ve gone every way – make one and stick to it, make fifty and try to hit as many as possible, and pretty much everything in between.  In doing so, I’ve hit on a system that seems to work pretty well in terms of actual achievement:  these days, I make as many as will fit on the front of one piece of paper, then post it on the wall of my clothes closet.  In the mix are at least two very easy things to achieve, at least one hard one, and at least one long-term carry over from years past.  Oh, yeah, and ushering in world peace, which I can only hope will be achieved in my little lifetime!

So what does 2009 bring? The Solarious experiment has been going strong for ten months now, making this the first Jan 01 I’ve encountered here.  From a starting posting frenzy, posting has fallen into a few lulls as life business crowded its way into the forefront.  So my first resolution is to find a comfortable posting schedule that will allow you to get all the latest info while still keeping food on my table.  Isn’t that the great game of life anyway? But on to the good stuff… what’s new here at Solarious!

Interviews Galore!

I resolve to make this site a premier destination for people who are looking to reduce their burden on the planet.  I will introduce a monthly interview series with political and environmental leaders and with people who are making great changes in their own lifestyles so that you can hear firsthand how easy taking the green path can be.  I’ll also be profiling green (and not so green) cities and communities to show you real-world examples of places taking action against global warming and other such monsters.  If there’s someone you’ve been dying to hear from, let me know, and I’ll try to make it happen.

Second, I will be introducing an organic series discussing gardening tips, food purchasing tips, home decorating ideas and interesting low-cost ways to bring organic products into your home.  Check back every few weeks for a new installment.

I’ve been reading (and reviewing) books like crazy this year. And until the library runs out of titles, you can expect more of the same in the coming months.  Look out for an improved rating system which helps define which titles are good for general info versus one which give you practical tips you can implement now, and also a library page which will allow you to search reviews by topic.

Class Time!

Class Time!

The solar power class is up and running now (check out the Photovoltaic class page), but again, look for improvements such as a searchable list of places offering photovoltaic classes around the country and an expansion into wind and other renewable technology theories.  I’ll also be adding a practical projects gallery, complete with photos of completed installations and a rating system denoting how difficult each was to complete and how well it works. The other back pages will be getting more updating love too!

The summer sunshine seems like a distant memory right now after a week of rain, but the solar cooking section will also be getting its own page, complete with recipes and a larger variety of cooker and dehydrator projects for you to complete.  I’m hoping to get a few “beta testers” and a rating system for the dishes as well, so that you can get a better idea of how things taste.  My cats will be so disappointed to have their job outsourced, but sacrifices must be made in the name of science, no?

Thats a Lotta Carbon!

That's a Lotta Carbon!

I’ve also made a personal commitment to make this blog carbon neutral.  Every day, I will offset the carbon used while plugging in to post. Because there’s nothing I want less than to make MORE pollution!  If you want to do the same, check out my last post, “making you computer carbon neutral” for some tips on reducing your digital burden.

And the super long-term goal? Well, like many of you, I’d like to completely cut the power lines in life.  Having no power at home and having sold the car as outlined months ago, I’m already pretty far along with that goal… but until I get off my butt and install some real solar power, I’m still internet cafeing it (which entails eating some pretty long miles-to-plate meals, no doubt) and using municipal water for basic human needs.  So, those activities are on the chopping block as I look for ways to cut back even further.  Teaching people about the joys of alternative energy is one way I can reduce this burden without actually making life any more spartan. Every time you implement something you learned here or pass it along to someone else who does, the total planetary energy load is reduced by that much, which makes me so very happy.  So in closing, I ask you this: if you see something of interest here and implement it, share your experience with the rest of us or at the very least, tell your friends! Together, we can make 2009 the tipping point for renewable energy and sustainable living to bring both into the mainstream for a brighter, cleaner future. 

Blessings to all of you, and thank you for a wonderful year here at Solarious.

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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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BOOK REVIEW: It’s a Long Road to a Tomato

It’s a Long Road to a Tomato (Google Books) Keith Stewart (2005)

Any home gardener out there know that the title of this book is indeed truthful. For every fruit or vegetable harvested from your garden, hours of time and plenty of resources went into cultivation. As Keith Stewart so eloquently describes, things get even more extreme when you turn to commercial gardening, and even more so when you commit to gardening organically.

This book was extremely entertaining and educational. What I liked best was the honest depiction of the amount of work it takes to be a farmer in the 21st century. Next time you go to a farmers’ market, take a moment to talk to a vendor about their farm: you’ll really appreciate how hard they work when you hear stories of 4am waking and hand weeding in a commitment to earth-friendly growing practices! Suddenly, paying $0.50 more for an avocado doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.

The story is a personal one, outlining Mr. Stewart’s journey from city-dwelling ad man to wildly successful organic farmer at NYC’s most famous farmers market. You’ll read about the stringent hoops one must jump through to call produce organic, the unglamorous life of digging in the dirt, current governmental and policy landscapes for the independent farmer, managing a staff of farm workers, and many interesting little unrelated tales from the journey. When the cover quotes “you’ll laugh out loud”, they aren’t kidding.

I was inspired from reading this book to plant some garlic, which Mr. Stewart praises as perhaps the best plant on earth. True to his word, the plants have done very well even under my inexperienced care. It was nice to see his progression from a hobbyist’s garden to a commercial venture… it makes the leap seem that much more tangible for those of us looking to break into that market.

All in all, I have nothing but praise for this book. If you’ve ever considered growing professionally, you really should read this book first. Not that it will scare you off (on the contrary, I found it very inspiring), but it WILL give you a much better idea of the things you need (a garden, a good accountant, and a dream) and the things you had better not need (like sleep and a social life!). And even if you aren’t trying to change careers, it will help you connect the food you eat to its source, and encourage you to buy local and support your local independent farmers as they battle the giant conglomerates who control our global food supply. So go on, savor that local tomato, it will be so much sweeter!

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