Recycled Glass Bottles Could Replace Perlite & Pumice
A Santa Fe-based company is days away from opening up a very cool factory. Located at the Albuquerque city dump and recycling center, Growstone, LLC, is turning used glass bottles into a substitute for perlite, used in hydroponic growing applications and as a hygroscopic (water retaining) soil amendment. My guess is that their product will also soon be seen as an excellent alternative to pumice—at least when replacing the essential ingredient in one of may favorite passive water harvesting techniques, the pumice wick.
There’s a chapter in Harvest the Rain about pumice wicks, so you may have to buy the book (which will be out in two weeks) to learn how to install one. For now, just imagine an extra-wide, super-thick, and ultra-long, underground sponge. You plant on either side of this sponge (or wick) and the roots of your plants suckle up to the sucker like piggies on teats.
Due to the high cost of shipping, up until recently pumice wicks were only feasible for folks who live relatively close to pumice mines. But this may be changing thanks to Growstones’s ability to ship “anywhere” in 35 cu. ft. recycled plastic bags. I met with Pat Beare, Growstones’s factory manager the other day, and he had to admit that the main focus of the company’s marketing plan has been on getting into the perlite market, but we both agreed that there is extremely awesome potential when it comes to the possible replacement of pumice for growstone (which is a registered trademark, btw).
Both perlite and pumice are mined from the Earth and typically cause terribly negative environmental damage. I would always justify this damage because we were putting pumice to such great use as a water harvesting technique that requires no pumping (as in active water harvesting systems) and loses no water to evaporation (in passive water harvesting applications). Now that there seems to be a product that will allow us to not degrade our forests and streams while we simultaneously use a locally recycled material, my affection for the pumice wick, er, I mean glass-bottle wick, is growing fast like the belly of a happy young hog at dinnertime.
Harvest the Rain: An Inconvenient (but Fun!) Tour
At the outset of the Industrial Revolution, the protagonist of Voltaire’s Candide travels extensively in an attempt to discover “the best of all possible worlds.” In the end, Candide realizes that he and his party would have been better off if they’d never gone on tour in the first place. “What’s necessary,” the tired traveler declares in the last sentence of the novella, “is that we cultivate our garden.” Thanks to the slow-food movement made popular by Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingslover, and many others, 250 years later people are finally starting to get this message. From backyard gardens to downtown farmers’ markets, people are realizing the rewards of becoming truly productive human beings.
With about two weeks to go until Harvest the Rain gets released, I’m beginning to schedule a number of tours. Like Candide, over the next few years I’ll be traveling extensively in an attempt to get the word out about how a new appreciation for water should be understood as the basis not only for the slow-food movement but also for the changes in every other ecological industry. New urbanism, green building, home-based and localized energy production, alternative transportation, ecomanufacturing, socially responsible investment, community-based politics, and every other aspect of the growing movement to save society from itself needs to realize how fresh water is going to be the key factor that dictates our success or failure as a species.
Unlike Candide, I’ll be starting on my quest with the full knowledge that in the “best of all possible worlds” it would be better if I never left. But we don’t live in such a world today. It would be great if I could stay home and focus only on making my garden more productive: to always practice what I preach—instead of spending so much time preaching. As it stands now, thanks to the effects of an Industrial Revolution that replaced its well-meaning, creative, and industrious roots with purely avaricious tentacles, I will have to juggle both garden and book tour for the time being. There’s simply too much teaching (not preaching) that has to be done in order to divert our society from disaster….
Still…as much as I love public speaking (Give me an audience, and I’m one happy man!) and have tons of fun whenever I get to talk about water and sustainability, I already look forward to the day when I can stay home and focus only on the backyard, and my family and friends again.
Rooting for Bugs in the War on Backyard Blight
Ranging in size from basketball to softball and spanning the color spectrum between deep-forest green and tangerine, I just counted 20 pumpkins growing in our backyard. It’s unclear if any of these calabasas will grow much bigger this year. All of our pumpkin plants have the same nasty squash-and-tomato-oriented blight that we’ve been fighting here since the first season after we brought in several huge truckloads of ‘topsoil’ to go on top of the cistern.
The loads looked and smelled alright, and after all, we were on a budget, so we had to go with a cheaper product. We knew we’d have to have patience as we built compost on site and worked it into our garden beds, but it’s been a significant struggle ever since. Just a few weeks ago, we thought that it was possible that we had the blight licked thanks to all of our double digging and homegrown compost. But, alas, our cucurbitaceae (squash-family plants) have yet again been hit extremely hard. Fortunately, our tomatoes, from the solanaceae family (nightshades), seem to be doing much better than in previous years.
According to a couple of sources, in a worse-case scenario the blight is a fungal problem called Fusarium Wilt. This means we may have to “solarize” the soil by cooking it under clear plastic during the summer months, keeping the wasted space in the garden out of commission for at least a couple of years. Ugh! Before going to that extreme, we decided to try the effective microorganisms (EM) that Tom and Richard sell at Santa Fe’s own Dirtwrights Technologies. Having sprayed almost regularly for the last four or five days, we are happy to report that the problem may have stabilized, and our soil might be on the mend. At this point, it’s too early to tell, but we’ll keep at it and report back as the summer progresses.
Radioheads: Please Check Out These Two Eco-Shows
Had a blast taping two radio shows this week. On Thursday, Kate Manchester interviewed me for her Edible Radio program. She’s the publisher of Edibles Santa Fe, a magazine for Santa Fe’s local-food movement. Please keep an for eye out for my article in the Fall edition. (It’s about cold composting.) Kate’s a great interviewer and an awesome magazine publisher. I’m not sure when the show will air, but I’ll let you know as soon as it’s linkable. Please check out Kate’s work here: www.edibleradio.com and www.ediblesantafe.com .
Yesterday, Vicki Pozzebon and I chatted in front of a couple of microphones for her Locals First Radio show on AM 1260, KTRC. In 20 minutes we somehow talked about water, soils, sheet mulching, cisterns, local food, commuter biking, permacultural philosophy, my book, my Sept. 25th book signing at the Santa Fe Farmer’s market, our landscape design business, the Santa Fe Alliance (www.santafealliance.com), the Farm to Table Project, Shelburne Farms in Burlington, VT, so called “Sludgehammers” that clean up septic water, and my friend Doug’s awesome water-harvesting information website called www.HarvestH2O.com. This show airs this Sunday, at 11:00.
If You Can’t Be with the Bike You Love, Lock It.
I moved down to Santa Fe from Boulder, Colorado back in 1987 with a 20-year-old, one-speed Schwinn bungeed to the roof of my car. It was the best bike in the world: springy seat, beefy fenders, wide handle bars with hard, groovy grips. Best of all it was an adult bike with foot brakes. When I bought it at a garage sale for $20 bucks, it was striped like a green, yellow, and black zebra, but it also came with two half-jars of paint (green and yellow). The implication was that the new owner should make the bike his or her own. Before officially purchasing the masterpiece, I asked the owner if he still had any of the black, and the guy laughed and said, “Sorry. It’s long gone.” He could see that I was already sold on the beauty, which I ended up spray painting gold and blue and then used the remaining green and yellow in a thick-and-juicy Jackson Pollack style.
Until it was stolen (having been left unlocked) a couple of months after my move, that two-wheeler was the closest thing to a friend that I ever had outside of the animal kingdom—even higher on the list than some of my favorite hats! For years and years (especially during the retro-bike phase a decade ago), whenever I’d see a bike that looked anything like mine, I’d do a double take to make sure. Some days, like a homesick kid at sleep-away camp who briefly sees a car that looks almost like his parents’ ancient station wagon, I’d sulk a little and need to find some time alone.
Twenty-three years ago, cycling in Santa Fe sucked compared to Boulder, but for a dude in his early 20s in some ways the challenge was quite fun. You had to be more creative because there were no designated trails, no special lanes, no supportive signage, and certainly no politically powerful cycling advocates. Now, as a father, husband, and bike commuter, I must say that it’s extremely impressive how much things can change for the better over the course of a couple of decades. Santa Fe, although certainly not perfect, is nothing other than a bike-friendly community. And it seems that everyday, I see more and more of us out there. Old folks, young folks, and parents with kids are all beginning to realize the thrill of guilt-free two wheels.
I’ll be sporting tons of alternative-transportation advice as the months and years go by on this blog, but today I’ll leave you with a very important no brainer: If you can’t be with the bike you love, lock it before you leave.
Slow Honey May Taste Better than the Regular Brand
Yesterday at the farmers’ market, I bought a top-bar beehive from Steve Wall. He’s been selling me honey there for about nine years, but he also sells empty hives (more on getting the actual bees later) designed by top-bar proponent Les Crowder. Regular readers of this blog might remember that we already have a beehive. But evidently, about a year after my wife built our hive with Les (about 15 years ago), Crowder changed the design, which meant that our model ultimately needed to be replaced with the new design in order for imported bee colonies to properly fit in their new home.
When most people visualize a beehive, it’s a standard Langstroth design which looks like a chest of drawers. But, like lots of things around Santa Fe, we prefer to go about our business a little differently. Top-bar hives are accessed from the top rather than from the side and are especially appealing to the over-forty set because they don’t require as much heavy lifting. They produce a little less honey than Langstroths because the former requires that the bees put some energy into making comb. The later provides man-made comb, so the bees (who, as we all know are already quite busy) can get quickly to the matter at hand: making honey.
Some say the slightly slower honey from top bar hives tastes better than the stuff you get from Langstroths. Some say that’s baloney. I have no idea, but I would not be surprised if slow honey beats the industrialized version—the lazy-bee version—of one of the greatest tastes on Earth. The “sweat” (Yes, if bees perspire, I mean bee sweat. If not, I mean the metaphorical equal.) of all of the hard work that goes into comb making could be a critical ingredient bringing out the true sweetness of the honey by the sweaty brow of a bee.
Desert Turns Green on Client’s Side of the Fence
One of the interesting characteristics of high-desert storm-events revolves around how localized their epicenters can be. After Hurricane Alex hit land earlier this month, we (www.sfpermaculture.com) received three queries from folks who all lived within a radius of 2,000 feet of each other. Evidently, the northwest corner of the Eldorado subdivision got especially hammered during the wee hours of July 1, 2010.
“Looking out the living-room window at 3:00 a.m.,” an existing client in the affected area told me, “I not only couldn’t see the lights of my neighbor’s house, but I also couldn’t even see my own driveway.” I’m pleased to report that an April-installation of a straw-book swale system (located on either side of the aforementioned driveway) passed this extreme-rain test with verdant colors. “In my ten years here,” the same client said as we walked around together, “I’ve never seen this part of my property look so green.”
“Fine Gardening” Features Melissa’s Aesthetic Sense
In my previous post, we explored the power that sex (or at least talking about it) might have on the ever-growing backyard-revolution. Today, we’ll elevate the conversation from sex to attractiveness. The August issue of Fine Gardening is out, and in it (page 34 to be exact) you’ll find expert advice from my wife Melissa. The magazine asked her and six other experts from different regions to describe five of their favorite focal-point plants. Based the magazine’s desire to present a varied palette from all seven regions, one of the five plant descriptions, Fine Gardening said, would not be published.
For the Southwest, Melissa chose red-hot poker, globe thistle, century plant, blue-avena grass, and desert willow. Fine Gardening edited out the latter, so I’m including it here. It’ll be especially helpful for our dryland friends living at lower elevations.
Name: Chilopsis linearis
Zone: 6 – 11
Size: 12’ - 18’ x 8’ – 15’ wide
Conditions: Prefers well-drained soil, tolerates alkaline soil; full sun; low water.
If the scale of your garden or landscape is such that you would prefer a larger element as a focal point, try chilopsis linearis. Native to the riparian areas of the southwest up to 5,000 ft., it’s considered to be either a large shrub or small tree. Desert willows normally max out at about 15’ tall and 12’ wide, but in the perfect microclimate mature specimens level off at 25’. Loved for its long summer blooming period and lovely, prolific flowers, it flaunts a dramatic, twisted branching structure. Its somewhat shaggy bark can be cleaned up to reveal a beautiful undulating habit creating plenty of winter interest. Stop or significantly reduce watering in early fall to provide for a pre-winter hardening-off period.
Be they interesting plants, productive beds, “character boulders,”
sculptures that exude beauty, or outdoor activities that provide a fun challenge, focal points in our gardens are critical for getting people off of their computers and TVs and into their backyards. What’s your favorite backyard (or front yard or side yard) focal point?
Staff Writer at “The New Yorker” Enjoys My Book!
“Downey’s anthem to the rain could do for the backyard and the water table --and therefore, let’s hope, for the Earth and its inhabitants-- what the “Joy of Cooking” did for the kitchen, or what “The Joy of Sex” did for the bedroom. It’s one of those rare how-to books that, by way of the author’s wit, warmth, and passion, converts practical wisdom into a kind of transformational incantation.”
--Nick Paumgarten, Staff Writer at The New Yorker
To be clear, the above blurb has not shown up in the famed magazine, but Paumgarten’s nod is a huge honor given his stature near the upper levels of the writing food chain. More importantly, he worked sex into Harvest the Rain and for this I’ll be eternally grateful.
Speaking of the eternal, please check out Paumgarten’s latest “Talk of the Town” piece from the Whodunnit Dept. called Acts of God at: http://bit.ly/bZS07M . It’s about the reconciliation of faith and science in light of the Gulf of Mexico expulsion. As always, Paumgarten is fun, fast paced, and thought provoking. (Full disclosure: I passed the torch of arts-section editor to him more than 25 years ago at our high school newspaper.)
In other HTR news, tonight I am proofreading the thang’s two indices (for more info: www.harvesttherain.com), so let it be known in all churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, sanctuaries, and kivas:
Historic Bag ‘O Chips (Ch. 2): Worms Love the Stuff!
Six or seven weeks ago our friend Jobyl gave us a fully compostable potato chip bag. Dutifully, I tossed it into the sink-side “fly proof”kitchen scraps container, which takes an almost daily trip to the compost pile out back. The bag was so brightly colored and so extremely loud when crinkled (or even touched), I felt a little guilty when it came time to dump the stuff. It just seemed like I was putting something very, very wrong in our sacred pile of soil food. Later, along with the coffee grounds, smushed fruit, soggy rice-crackers, and all manner of muck, the Sun Chips wrapper popped out and onto the pile. Quickly, I covered it up with nearby compost.
I pretty much forgot about the bag until the other day when it was time to plant my Fathers’ Day gifts: eight (8) green seedless grape-plants. While loading compost into the wheelbarrow, I found Jobyl’s old bag looking good as new, so brightly colored, in fact, that the bag seemed to jump out at me like alien fangs in the latest 3D movie. The interesting part, however, is that the bag was also clearly fostering an extended family of worms! And at no time during that particular compost-using exercise was there a time when I found more worms anywhere in my extensive travels through the pile
What is it about junk food? What’s in it that both human culture and vermiculture crave so desperately? The answer, of course, is often corn refined to one of its sweetest and/or oiliest forms. I just wonder now, too, will my worms start fighting obesity after all of the compostable materials I’ll be feeding them in the future?
Give a Hoot! Bike Commute!
Every year some crisis comes up that makes me believe people might wise up to the fabulous freedom that bike commuting provides. This year it’s the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Last year, it was the economy. Before that it was two or three years of high gas prices. Going back further, it was the polar bear animation in Al Gore’s movie. I started switching over from driving to biking after my country picked a ludicrous fight in Iraq. But I don’t think I put the whole bike-commuting deal into full gear until reports started coming out of Abu Ghraib. That just pissed me off and turned me into the relatively hard-core commuter cyclist I’ve become. (Supporting war and torture for oil, even tacitly, just aint my thing.)
To clarify, I’m no mountain biker. Even as a teen, I lacked the agility and guts to be a serious hard-core mountain-bike guy, but I also lacked the desire. If I was going to spend time on a mountain, I would hike and enjoy the experience of nature on its own terms as opposed to whipping down a trail on a burly piece of ultra-carbonate technology. (And, btw, I’m also not talking about “road” biking where you pull up your spandex and hit the distant highway for the sheer thrill and exercise.)
I’m talking about bike commuting. For me this not only means biking to job sites all over the area, but it also encompasses errand-running on a bike with a trailer, or huge backpack (or both), plus pedaling to social/cultural/spiritual events, and cycling kids back and forth to school, Tae Kwon Do, or wherever.
Unfortunately for our planet, this outrageous catastrophe might be the tipping point that gets many more of us (not everyone, of course, I know) off our sliced-bread butts and onto the seats of bicycles. Fortunately, when they finally sit their tushies in place, they will find, on balance, there could be no single more exhilarating form of functional/practical transportation in the world. Biking is the bomb, and now is the time to realize it!