Posts tagged eco

Tax Refund: Investing in Your Home

So you just finished standing in line at the post office, trying to get that dreaded paperwork off the the IRS in time to get your tax refund this year.  At least it’s easier to take when you think of all the green that will soon be coming your way.  

Tax refund check

If you’re really thinking, you can use that green to green another area of your life… your home.  Here’s a link to a great article from Forbes about how the Federal government allows for tax rebates when you remodel or improve your home.  It’s worth a look through to see in which ways you can actually make that refund work for you in the long run.  While the focus of this article is not expressly on green technology, you can easily apply green building principles to any of the remodeling projects you do decide to undertake.  Just remember to check the list to see what qualifies.

If you’re not looking to start knocking down walls, perhaps you can look into upgrading ceratin appliances in your house to Enrgy Star rated versions, or consider making small investments toward off-grid power use, such as buying a clothesline for your back yard.  (What?  You’re not even getting that much back?  Times are tough…)  Or you could consider spending a day at the local garden store buying plants, which will add value and utility to your house.  The apple or peach tree you plant today will be a welcome respite from the future sun and also provide you with food for barter or decreased dependence on the supermarket. 

Keeping your house in shape will also pay off in the long run because you won’t have to put major funds toward total replacement of items that you keep in good repair.  If we ever hope to green the world, we’d do best to start with our own spaces, leading by shining example, rather than, as the bible puts it, sweeping our neighbors porch when our own remains dusty.  So make an investment in YOUR environment, and put Uncle Sam to work for you.

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BioChar: Agriculture’s “Black Gold”

Here’s a quick nugget of information for today. 

BioChar from bones and plants

Scientists have discovered that adding charcoal or other charred materials to soil is a much more effective fertilizer than any methods currently in use.  The main reason for this is that though land is naturally carbon-rich, over time and with increased use, retillage, etc, the carbon-rich materials break down into carbon dioxide and are released into the atmosphere.  Most fertilizers available today, even composts, break down quickly and are therefore only short-term solutions to soil depletion.  However, using charcoal in the soil adds a component that easily absorbs water, holds nutrients for thousands of years, and provides rich minerals to plants that access it.  The study, released by the American Chemical Society, must not have been music to their ears.  BioChar, or “black gold” for agriculture, as they term it, has been shown to remain in the soil for long periods of time and to retain its nutrient rich status.  Read the whole article below for more details.

I wonder myself if this is why American Indian populations used fire periodically to renew agricultiral areas.  Not only does this clear underbrush, leaving the land open for cultivation, it also provides a thick layer of BioChar available to be tilled into the soil.  If so, as is often the case, our native brothers and sisters were far ahead of the ecological curve in sustainable garden design.

Read more here: American Chemical Society (2008, April 15). Ancient Method, ‘Black Gold Agriculture’ May Revolutionize Farming, Curb Global Warming.

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Into the WILD: remembering your journey

A broken wireless internet card has been all that’s between me and a few postings here lately. So this post will be a little down & dirty on formatting. But it’s been a busy few days nonetheless. Yesterday, I found my journal from the wilderness trip that I did in college, complete with a grocery list of the food supplies that thirteen of us carried into the woods for two weeks. For your enjoyment, I’ll reprint that list below. Besides the obvious humor in peeking back in on my newly minted adult mind (I left home for the trip on my 18th birthday), I truly enjoyed refreshing the inspiration for what eventually led me down the road to this blog. You see, even though it was a very important time in my life, it wasn’t until I read my old words that I remembered the daily excitements of it, no matter how hard I’d tried to remember. Reading ten pages of foods I wanted to eat when I got back to civilization, listed as I sat alone in a field of blueberries on my two-day “solo” at the end of the trip, was as entertaining and revealing as any life lesson I could hope to relate from the experience without aid of a book.

What does this have to do with off-grid living, you ask? By keeping a journal of my progress throughout that trip, I created a living document that I can return to multiple times in life, that others can also use, should they have the opportunity, to inspire and learn a lesson or two about the experience. Of all the myriad papers I wrote in college, this first one, the one I wrote for myself, is the most relevant and important to me. When you start your walk away from the grid, or even just a new project along the way, you have a prime opportunity to keep a journal of your activities. It’s easy to wonder why you bother when taking time from your day to write something down that already happened. This is normal. The gem of journal writing is best recognized after that journal has sat in the back of your closet a few years, and you honestly can’t remember who your inspiration was when you were (insert age here). That’s when the refresher course can save you having to make mistakes over again because you’ve wandered off your path.

Solarious is my off-grid energy journal, which doubles as a repository of great ideas and inspirations I see along the way. No doubt, I’ll be looking back at this great experiment in alternate living one day with similar emotions as to the trip in college. Of course, this is a different forum from an 18 year old’s diary, and personal details are necessarily a bit more brief here. But the point is that when you have that day (and you will, we’re all human) when you wonder, “How the heck did I get here? Why is this so important to me that I’m willing to forgo thirty minute showers, an Escalade, and Big Macs?” you’ll be able to go back and talk to yourself from a more rational mindset and check yourself back into the program. Unless you’re superman and you never have doubts or forget anything, in which case, stop reading now and start saving the world. The rest of us hapless humans need people like you on the case!

Here’s the grocery list (for 13 on a zero-impact trip of 2 weeks) from Project WILD: (1=can, mostly)

1 sweet peas
1 maple syrup
1 butter
2 tuna
1/2 bagels
Bag rice
3 blocks cheddar
1 strawberry jam
2 spaghetti
3 tomato paste
1 lima beans
2 bags prunes
1 smoked eel
1/2 bag peanuts
2 blocks monterey jack
Bag cous cous
Bag refried beans
3 boxes graham crackers
2 packs pesto sauce
4 cans tomato sauce
3 bags pita bread
Bag veggie chili mix
Bag grits
Bag animal crackers
Bag oatmeal
2 beanie weenies
11 bags cocoa mix
Bag banana chips
1 pineapple
Bag macaroni
Bag granola w/ raspberry
1 fishsteaks
2 pinto beans
1 mayo
Bag tang
1 soy sauce
Bag cream of wheat
Box rye crackers
1 english muffins
7 oranges
2 bags dates
1/2 bag raisins
bag pancake mix
1 apple butter
1 sardines
1 hot sauce
1 black beans
3 cans carrots
1 peanut butter
1 can mandarin oranges
bag jell-o
1/2 bag apple rings
1 spice kit
Bag pretzels
1 dijon mustard
1 green beans
13 pop-tarts
Bag plain granola
Bag mashed potato mix
1 onion
Bag apricots
1 marshmallow fluff
1 “mystery can”
11 packs spiced cider
1 vegetable oil
1 honey
1 honey mustard
3 slices bread
Bag powdered milk
Bag tortillas
Bag fruit punch mix
Bag lemonade mix
Bag brown sugar
2 cans corn

And iodine for water

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Water – the flow of life

Well, back to the presses. Out in the wilderness, I had a lot of time to think about the importance of… water. Read up about the good ole frontier days and you’ll surely come across stories of unfortunate souls who trusted their senses to mother Nature and were in turn gravely mistaken. Water is so essential to life, it quickly beats out food as a survival determining factor.

In the mountains, I packed in water this time, but in the past have relied on purification at the source, when I knew such sources to exist year-round. If you are running from the grid, or even just remotely thinking that the world might be headed in a bad direction right now, it would do you well to know a bit about consuming water from nature.

There are, of course, several methods of purification from which to choose, and many devices too. Some opt to boil water, sterilizing it. In a warm sunny climate, you can do this with your solar cooker. Studies have shown that setting water out in the sun even for a few hours can effectively purify it for drinking. So set a windowshade around it and see how fast you can achieve the same effect.

Or you can buy a filtration device that fits onto a standard bottle, designed with campers in mind. While this option is quite effective, you will need to plan ahead and buy some. So don’t wait for doomsday to hit before relying on this tactic. A nice option is the Clear Brook Portable Water Filter Bottle.

Or you could go old-school and purify your water with iodine. Again, buy ahead. The thing to remember about iodine is that you need the kind sold at camping gear stores, not the kind sold in your local drugstore with a TOXIC tag on it. The pharmacist I spoke with couldn’t remember what the difference was, but the vehemance with which he said it convinced me that using the regular kind was not good at all. If you do this, your water will taste funny, or at least a little funnier than the other options. Use orange peels, tang, gatorade powder or something of the like to tint the water and make it tastier. If you’re surviving in the desert, opt for something that replaces electrolytes so you don’t get sick from salt loss in your sweat.

While we’re on that subject, try to minimize water loss by staying in the shade, wearing hats and other protective clothing, and putting on sunscreen of some sort. You WILL get dehydrated if you get overexposed to either heat or cold. Don’t eat snow or drink saltwater, smoke cigarettes, or eat lots of sugary candy.

Where do you find water when you don’t have any? Well, if you have the luxury of a nightfall, you can collect water from the condensation in the morning. Either use a tarp or something that will channel the water into a vessel. Some places recommend dragging your legs with heavy socks on in the morning to collect dew and wringing them out. You can also take advantage of plants’ natural process of emitting water at night by tying a plastic bag around a leafy tree branch overnight. Or you can use creeks, if they are flowing. You can also dig in creek beds that have recent looking covers of algae or places that are more lush than their surroundings. Usually there will be water below. Seek out root vegetables, coconuts, melons, fruits, and other foods that have a high water content. Just be sure to do a little taste test before eating the whole thing if you don’t already know what type of plant it is.

Of course, most of the time, we aren’t running headlong from civilization, we’re inching out there by enjoying what nature has to offer on our terms. When you’re hiking and packing in, bring foods that provide both water and nutrition. I like carrots, because they withstand the beating of being in a pack, they taste good and require no prep, and they retain moisture for a long time without rotting. But other good options are oranges, small apples, fruit cocktail cups, canned meat such as tuna, and things like grapes. Try growing what you will take, if you’re able to plan in advance, or tailor your garden to include such plants.

If you are implementing a hydro collection system for your home, the same principles as above apply. You simply amplify your design to work on a large scale and plan for optimal long-term placement of devices. You’ll either dig, collect, desalinate, divert, or pump your resources. And of course you can also generate power or heat from it! Think long and hard about the quality of water that you consume. Wars are fought over this very issue, and societies have fallen or disappeared in response to changes in water conditions. It is the very building block of life, and becoming self-sufficient in this department will be an enormous step away from the powers that dictate how you occupy your space on earth.

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EcoBridge: Chicago Tames the Windy Waters

EcoBridge Design Profile

EcoBridge Chicago

Another fine design example from Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill (see their “energy-positive” design here). This circle in the lake serves two purposes: to create an area of calm water, known as breakwater, that can be enjoyed by tourists and enthusiasts, adding aesthetic value to the city. Additionally, the ring supports wind turbines that generate power for the city using the particular weather there to the city’s advantage. All the while providing a place to stroll out for a great lake-front view. This is a nice application of a city coming together to think on an integrated level about space usage. With proper focus, making a change in even one area of the green spectrum can be amazingly far-reaching.

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