• Permaculture in Practice: Straw-Book Swales Make Meadows Easily Here's my August column in the Santa Fe New Mexican. It's a how-to primer/preview to a video that I will be releasing tomorrow.

    Since erosion control and land restoration are a couple of Santa Fe Permaculture’s specialties, we typically get anxious phone calls from property owners after major rainstorms. Sometimes, due to a vicious monsoon or two, they’ve lost a chunk of a backyard patio. Other times, they report a flooded garage or a vestibule that came “this close” to full-blown inundation. Most of the time, however, there is less drama in their stories, and people are simply trying to do their best to prevent the continued slip-sliding-away of their real estate.

    One of the interesting chacteristics of high-desert storm events revolves around how localized their epicenters can be. After Hurricane Alex, we received three queries from folks who all lived within a radius of 2,000 feet. None of them knew each other, but each was clearly rattled in their own way by what they discovered at dawn. Evidently, the northwest corner of Eldorado got especially hammered during the wee hours of July 3. “Looking out the living-room window at 3 a.m.,” one 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 straw-book swales (just like those described in my May column) passed this extreme-rain test with verdant colors. Located on either side of the aforementioned rain-whacked driveway, the straw books held up perfectly as they simultaneously did their job of retaining native seeds, soil, bugs, mycelium, and moisture. About a week after the storm, I was scheduled to sow a mix of grass seed on the same job. “In my 10 years here,” the client said as we walked around together, “I’ve never seen this part of my property look so green.”

    Thanks to the straw-book swales, the place did look much greener, but there were still vast swaths of exposed soil. Mostly unrecovered from the overgrazing of long ago, you could almost hear the ravaged land begging for blue grama, alkali sacaton, galleta, and all of the other seeds in Plants of the Southwest’s “Dryland Blend” seed mix.

    Around the disturbed areas of the project, I had waited to sow because I knew much of the seed would have blown away between our spring windy season and our sometimes rainy (and sometimes not) summer season. The revegetation job also had to work around a path that led to seven bird feeders on the south side of the property, so waiting to sow until just before monsoon season made sense to keep the seeds from being eaten.

    Even though we installed a roof waterharvesting cistern at my client’s home, no supplemental irrigation would be directed to the seeded areas. With nothing but a natural binder mixed in with the seed and a light straw mulch strewn on top of it, the seed will be on its own. But given the healthier microclimate we’ve jumpstarted, the grass will not be even greener on the other side of the fence.

    Nate Downey is president of Santa Fe Permaculture, an ecological landscape-design, -consultation, and -installation firm. His book, Harvest the Rain, will be (has been!) published by Sunstone Press this year.

  • Greenhouse Bust Backfires on Cops, Us Here is my recent "Permaculture in Practice" column, which is published in the Santa Fe New Mexican's monthly real estate magazine. You can find it on page 40 of the November issue of this link or in the text below the link.


    It was a typically permacultural day at Camino de Paz School and Farm. The students had tended the chickens, goats, sheep, and horses. They’d weeded and watered vegetable beds, picked fruit, made cheese, canned tomatoes. They’d taken math, English, Spanish, and history. Two students, Sasha and Sarah, prepared campus-grown potatoes, cheese, applesauce, and a medley of fresh greens. Under the shade of an old apricot, Ben and Reyes set 25 places for lunch.

    It was a normal day until our tax dollars showed up — not some long-awaited grant or rebate; sustainability-based education isn’t subsidized like big banks and oil conglomerates. Instead, our tax dollars flew in by means of a U.S. Army helicopter, four entrance-blocking vehicles, and various “personnel” donning guns, ammo, bulletproof vests, and at least a little attitude.

    “Did you know we’re open to the public?” school director Patricia Pantano asked a DEA agent who claimed possession of a search warrant. “With these 11-year olds here, do you think this demonstration of force is appropriate?”

    “What?” countered a state trooper, “Are your kids afraid of cops?”

    Afraid? Nah. Cops, drug agents, soldiers, SUVs, and helicopters in attack mode. Fortunately, kids these days can’t avoid a hefty dose of ludicrous violence on big screens, TVs, and telephones. There’s not a true American kid who wouldn’t love to be raided by special ops, especially if it cuts into music class.

    But whether or not kids are uncomfortable is of much less importance than whether or not adults express their anger in a loud and constructive manner. As much as I deeply appreciate the need for police, as citizens it is our duty to question authority in situations like these, and the easiest way to do this is with financial accounting.

    On the expense side, you have one gasguzzling helicopter, four environmentally unfriendly vehicles, endless on-site and off-site personnel (of at least four government agencies, including the judge and the staff of the judge who signed the warrant), countless drug-war trainings, numerous expensive technological gadgets, plenty of guns, ammo, and protective gear, and a requisite number of reports and other paperwork.

    For what? They were hoping to find a large amount of marijuana growing in the school’s greenhouses. What they actually produced — heirloom tomatoes — has become an embarrassing and distracting public-relations nightmare, a problem that could have been avoided given five minutes of web surfing. In a democracy, even the “What-were-they-smoking?” mistakes of the police and the military are also the mistakes of those who relinquish power to the lawmakers, judges, and executives who manage law enforcement and our armed forces.

    Has the prohibition of marijuana in our fast-food culture come to this? That probable cause includes the possession of a greenhouse? In permaculture, we say “the problem is the solution.” In this economy, it’s a big problem to be wasting resources on such a gratuitous war on a weed. The solution simply depends on when will we grow up and admit this.

  • Earth Care International's Sustainability Guide Publishes My Piece on Water Harvesting I tried to find my recent article in the 2011 Sustainable Santa Fe Guide (about the blessings of bike commuting), but it’s not online yet. Here’s last year’s article in the same annual magazine published by the wonderful youth and staff at Earth Care International.


  • Community Water Harvesting: Alive, Well in SFe This one is about the positive effect on our local economy due to Santa Fe’s community-wide and vigorous “water-consciousness.” It was first published in Green Fire Times in October.

  • "Compost This" Here’s the first in a series of seven or eight articles I’ve published since "Harvest the Rain" came out in August. This one about compost appeared in the Fall issue of Edible Santa Fe:

  • Bioneers Day 3: Not as a God, but as a God Might Be*

    On the third day (a wonderfully wet Sunday Morning), the Lafayette Bookstore (the bookstore at the conference) graciously let me sign books. One might think a 100-person line at a signing would be impossible for a new author like me, but in fact it actually happened! The catch was that the line was made up of early birds waiting for Jane Goodall.


    Oddly, it wasn’t at all surreal to have one of the environmental movement’s founding mothers scheduled to sign books right after me. All of us in the movement seem to be doing the best we can do given our lots and talents. Sure, she’s borderline godhead, but so are YOU! (And she’d probably be the first to admit this.) Plus, when all was said and done, I noticed stacks of Goodall books that were NOT purchased, whereas we came a mere two books shy of selling out of Harvest the Rain!


    *from “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens

  • Bioneers Day 2.1: Green Jobs? Toxicologists Wanted. (The Sad Tales & Real Promise of a Green Scientist)

    A longtime Polaroid employee addressing thousands of cutting-edge environmentalists? Sounds like a concoction for conflict, but it turned out to be a fabulously successful experiment yesterday. John Warner told his story about becoming the founding father of Green Chemistry with one part optimism, two parts tale of innocent death, three parts useful information, and four parts humor (ranging from deadpan to verbalized slapstick).


    While taking Chem101 merely to fulfill a college requirement, Warner stumbled into extra-credit research because he suddenly found hours of  time on his hands. The drummer of his busy rock band (which he said, “sounded a lot like The Cars—but with better lyrics”) died of Leukemia, and Warner needed something to do. Warner said he would have probably held on to his preconceived notion that science is boring and uncreative if it were not for the death of his friend.


    Years later, a more terrible sadness would overcome him. While vaguely pondering his life and his career and his awards and his success at bringing “green chemistry” to industry, he looked up at the ceiling during his two year-old son’s funeral and wondered if something he had touched, some chemical, had caused the birth defect that killed his child.


    Mourning the fact that he had never taken any toxicology during all of his years as a chemist, he added an important fact: “Not one college chemistry program in this country requires a course in toxicology.” Fortunately, the chemistry landscape is changing, he said, as more and more young people come in with a desire to use chemistry for sustainable purposes. “You’re no longer laughed at for talking about sustainability,” he said. The industry is slowly turning its focus to green chemistry not only due to societal and market pressures, but also because mimicking nature (as opposed to creating materials that combat nature) tends to work better than the industry previously expected.


    Warner’s tale is terribly sad, but his message is ultimately a very entertaining one—filled with a keepable promise to help us save civilization from itself using biomimicry, green chemistry, and intellectual ecology.

  • Bioneers Day 2: Walkin’ the Walk to a Lipkis Talk

    Woke up this morning and found two flat tires on the bike I’m borrowing for the conference. The tires had been losing air slowly, but after last night’s goat head attack, the situation was grim. I pumped up the tires got dressed, shaved, called the family, responded to some emails, loaded my computer, bike pump, and books into my back pack, and strapped on my helmet. When I grabbed the bike, I immediately discovered that both tires were miserably soft.


    Fortunately, my spirit deflated only for a brief  moment, as I immediately realized I could easily walk to the conference. If John Francis (one of yesterday’s speakers) could walk for 22 years of his life, I could take the half-hour walk from the Sheraton. And I would still make it with plenty of time to catch Andy Lipkis’s incredibly inspiring talk about how he and his colleagues have greened Los Angeles over the last 40 years--turning the city into an ecological example for other major metropolitan areas around the world.


    Thanks Andy for you awesome work and for the wonderful blurb that you gave to my book. Here’s what he said about Harvest the Rain over a year before publication:


    “This book will not only make you a true believer in the regenerative power of harvesting rain—it will show you how. Harvest the Rain  is full of practical solutions to our water shortages and points the way to a climate-resilient future. If we want thriving landscapes, abundant food, strong communities, and sustainable economies, we should start by treasuring rain.”


    Yes, indeed!

  • Bioneers Day 1.1: YERT Provides Hope and Humor

    After chowing a few-too-many organic sandwich-cookies found on a plate on a table in the media room, I strolled over to the “Leading-Edge Climate Initiative” panel featuring David Orr and four other power-grid whizzes. The biggest threats we face are not technical. It seems they center around our lack of cultural and political will. Meanwhile, the Clinton-era media consolidation, the costs associated with Bush’s Wars, and the Robert’s pro-corporate court all make a difficult situation worse.


    For the next few hours, it was hard for me to imagine the critical mass of people necessary for a meaningful revolution, but by the end of the night, it was pretty easy again. I had the honor of introducing a new film called YERT and then emceeing the Q and A with two of the three filmmaker-costars. YERT, which stands for Your Environmental Road Trip, will be complete early next year, and I (who rarely recommends you watch anything on a screen) highly recommend it. It’s funny, heart-wrenching, and very inspiring. In fact, I haven’t seen an audience as jazzed about a movie in 33.3 years. (Do you remember where you were when Luke first blew up the Death Star? I do!)


    Seeing my friend Larry Littlebird get the penultimate quote in the screening was a blast, too. Larry’s presence meant that even though the movie-watching experience was completely entertaining, it was also grounded in the spiritual aspects of the movement, the indigenous, regenerative, and extremely powerful part of human nature that will someday thrive in the detritus of composted tea bags.


    Can we human persons organize now before it gets much worse? If enough people got to see YERT, it sure would help. Picture a spontaneous and joke-filled “Inconvenient Truth.” This might be just what our culture needs now. Check our www.yert.com for more info.

  • Bioneers Day 1: An Ultratransformative Conference!

    I must have been about seven years old when my Gramma Adams got together with some friends and they stopped the construction of an interstate highway that would have run across the west side of Connecticut, through Massachusetts, and all the way up to Burlington, Vermont and beyond. The death of the Super 7 project was a great political victory, and I think I’ve been an avid and positively focused environmentalist ever since.


    Having evolved from being a mere environmentalist into a practicing permaculturalist-cyclist-activist-water-harvester-in-the-desert, I have to say that I was not expecting the Bioneers conference to be extremely transformative. But within a couple of hours of the three-day conference here in San Rafael, California, it certainly had been more than merely transformative! In fact if there is a word for “ultratransformative,” I’d like to use it.


    I was especially moved by Alec Loorz, a 16-year-old activist who is taking climate degradation very seriously. His organization is called Kids vs Global Warming, and his “I Matter March” is scheduled for Mothers’ Day, this May, 2011. Be There!

  • Little Earth School Planning Next Year’s Garden Now

    My younger son goes to a cool school called Little Earth. Tonight they had me as the first speaker in their series of practical talks for parents and educators. I called my presentation “Garden Design with Children in Mind,” and I focused on five garden components that students of all ages love.


    1) The Bean Tipi, an edible playhouse made out of scarlet runner beans and five-to-ten long sticks, posts, or poles.

    2) The Sunflower House, a playhouse (or tunnel) made out of mostly giant sunflowers, that teaches kids of all ages about microclimates and makes for a nice afternoon snack in the fall.

    3) Edible Plants, these are very important in a children’s garden for a wide variety of reasons.

    4) Sheet Mulch, an easy way to build soil, suppress weeds, and harvest rain in the soil, it uses cardboard, manure, and straw as its main ingredients,

    5) Worm making, no kids garden is complete without a compost pile, and no compost pile is complete without worms.


    I plan to elaborate on each of these in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned.

  • Friends, Clients, Colleagues Bend Me an Ear: THANKS!
    In preparing to thank every New Mexico-based person, organization, and business that had a hand in the creation of my new book "Harvest the Rain," I discovered that there are over 120 of these entities ranging from cover-art photographers Charles Mann and Jennifer Esperanza to envelope-pushing people-leaders Miguel Santistevan and Roberto Mondragon. To keep this blog post to a reasonable length, here I’ve decided to limit my thanks to a list of the locals who I did not mention in my previous post and who were also able to make it to Wednesday's book-launch party.

    In alphabetical order within each category they are:

    Reese Baker
    Consuelo Bokum
    Bette Booth
    Laura Brown
    Mark Duran
    Richard Jennings
    Jeremiah Kidd
    Tom Knoblauch
    Pamela Mang
    Greg Nussbaum
    Patty Pantano
    Doug Pushard
    Peter Wilson
    Xubi Wilson
    Rick Word
    Mary Zemach

    ORGANIZATIONS (non profit):
    Camino de Paz School and Farm
    Earthworks Institute
    Green Party of Santa Fe
    Oshara Village
    St. John’s College
    Santa Fe Community College
    Santa Fe High School
    Semi-Arid Café
    WildEarth Guardians

    BUSINESSES (for profit)
    Earthwrights Designs
    Net Zero Design
    Raincatcher, The
    Regenesis Group
    San Isidro Permaculture
    Santa Fe Permaculture

    Thanks to all who made my night such fun the other night. It was great celebrating with you among the greywater and rainwater harvesting systems tucked away in the backyard. Please know how much I appreciate all that you do for the betterment of this Earth! See ya soon, I hope!

  • Book-Launch Party Brings Rain, Fun, Song, & Sales!

    Thanks to all who came to my book-launch party the other night! Everyone who was there knows what a blast it was, and even I (who did most of the inviting) was surprised at the size of the multitude. Even though some of my favorite people in the Santa Fe area couldn’t show up, most of them did. We’re guessing we had between 200 and 250 people packed into our backyard, but a doctor in attendance told Melissa today that it was more like 300 including all of the kids. Whatever. What’s important is this:

    1. After an hour-long very-light drizzle, it rained like crazy for a couple of minutes at the exact time the event was scheduled to start, and then it cleared up completely for the rest of the night. Since it was obvious that there was little chance of pulling the event off under our roof, many guests saw this as an auspicious sign of something-or-other, something big. (In contrast, I think I saw it as a shame that we weren’t going to get even more rain into our cistern.)
    2. Everybody seemed to be having a great time, and many stayed late into the night (including signer-songwriter Nelson Denman who is even working on a catchy anthem—appropriately called Harvest the Rain—for the book tour and beyond)!
    3. I got to sign and inscribe books for nearly four hours straight! Writing the inscriptions was a total blast. In order to keep the line moving, I had to write pretty much the first thing that came to mind. Some of the pithy phrases came out perfectly. Others…maybe not so much…But at times someone would say something halfway through that would cause me to change the whole direction of the inscription in mid sentence. Pulling off those exercises in spontaneous creativity may have been the most fun of the whole book-writing process (which ranged from almost gruesome to pretty darn fabulous on any given day)!

    The only time I wasn’t signing books occurred just after 7pm when it was my turn to take the microphone. My plan was to thank everybody who played a role in the creation of the book, but with 30 people waiting in line, I decided to truncate the talk. I’m not very good at waiting in lines, so I was quite afraid of losing a potential reader to a too-wordy speech. So I went to plan B, which meant be sure to thank all of the teachers in my life, all of the farmers in northern New Mexico, Gramma Adams who taught me how to compost, cover photographer Charles Mann, portrait photographer Jennifer Esperanza, long-time cohort Tom Knoblauch, illustrator George Lawrence, proofing editor Barbara Doern Drew, copy editor Steven J. Schmidt, and my wonderful wife Melissa McDonald.

    Ironically, my plan for this blog entry was to make sure I thanked those who didn’t quite make the above list, but alas I’ve gone on too long already here, so it’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s blog post.

  • Catch Our 16 Minutes of Fame on HGTV Today!

    When I was my kids’ age (5 and 7), every child had goals. Highest among them was being on TV. One time my sister and I got on “Wonderama,” a show where kids were picked out of a large audience to be contestants in a quasi game-show. I wasn’t chosen, but I sure relished the one glimpse of my madly waving arms in an ecstatically joyful sea of madly waving arms.


    My kids have a different supreme life-achievement: They’d like to be well-behaved enough for their parents to buy a TV. We killed our boob tune when our eldest was about a year old. Sure, the misses misses Leno, and I miss Letterman, but we have loved almost every minute of not having an idiot box in our face, incessantly tempting us with mundane shows, faux news, and ads. This isn’t to say that our children never “watch.” Thanks to the prevalence of computers in modern life, the kids probably get more than their fair (or healthy) share of screen-viewing time, but at least it takes more effort to get a video going than to push a button on a clicker. At least they have to maneuver through a few hoops for something special that they have chosen instead of immediately slugging through the endless process of channel surfing through 98%-pure garbage.


    In order to comprehend how the new media has changed the world, one need not look past our family’s plans for today. We’re going to our close friends’ house (Joe and Julya Sembrat’s) to watch some TV, and all 8 (the four of us plus the Sembrats have two kids, too) of us will be on the same show. Called “Bang for Your Buck,” it airs today on the Home and Garden Channel at 3:30pm Eastern and Pacific Time, which I take to mean 1:30pm Mountain. With so many screens everywhere in this new-media era, I think I’m less excited about seeing myself on TV than my children will be excited to get to watch an actual TV.


    The concept behind this episode of “Bang for Your Buck” is this. Three Santa Fe couples are chosen to brag on international television about their landscapes. Then, two critics come in and critique each property. Next, each couple is filmed watching (and reacting to) a short version of “the talent’s” criticism.  Finally, the critics choose which couple got the best deal on the retail price of their landscape. All tolled, they take about 15 hours of footage. Including the brief “family roll” (where they filmed us eating an egg breakfast courtesy of our backyard chickens!), editors will squeeze everything into one eight-minute segment.


    The reason we will have 16 minutes of fame today as opposed to only eight is that the Sembrats are also our clients. Although they played a huge roll in the design of their property, they let us take a fair amount of the credit for their amazing landscape. Melissa and I are not expecting to win today’s contest, but we won’t be surprised if the Sembrats do.


    Although “the talent” loved our place, we put a lot of money into systems that are difficult to see. Some of the best features of our landscape are completely inexpensive (our chicken coop, for example), but other parts are pretty pricey (such as the underground cistern system). We were impressed by how modern television actually decided to promote our yard and all of its permaculture, but we get it. We get the fact that what we do here is not quite ready for primetime—or rather that primetime is not quite ready for us—but that’s okay. We’re thrilled to be able to promote our version of sustainability in any way we can. Plus, we get to be on TV!

  • Catching a Homegrown Buzz, Smoking Out Sting Ops

    Late yesterday, as the sun was beginning to hide behind some tall trees, I became a beekeeper again. I grabbed my box of apicultural supplies, climbed into my bee suit, and fired up the smoker. I would be moving a bee colony from a two-foot long top-bar bee hive into my four-foot long top bar. According to instructions my friend Paul Cooley gave me when I picked up the colony the night before, I was to leave the full hive on top of the empty hive overnight. “Just make sure you move the bees at some point tomorrow,” he cautioned.


    It had been a busy day. As I tried unsuccessfully to refire up the smoker (which had gone out by the time I got across the driveway to the hives), I was actually all full of myself for even remembering to move the bees.  With a quick look West, I snapped out of my baleful pride and got to work. The whole job could have squeezed into ten minutes had I not had technical difficulties associated with my smoker, the lighter, the sticks, the newspaper, the shreds of bark. I was even juggling dried balls of rabbit poop because I heard on YouTube that rabbit crap makes great bee-smoker material. Cool, I thought, another use for our bunny! But no. No matter what I tried, my smoker took a full 10 or 12 minutes to finally get cranking.


    People have divergent theories as to why dosing a bee colony with smoke makes working in and amongst the colony easier. But the question of why something works is often less important than the questions concerning how to get it to work. Meanwhile, several of the bees were quite obviously unhappy with my presence. As one dove incessantly into my thinly veiled face, I started doubting the whole process.


    What am I doing here? Am I too late? With the sun going down, am I placing myself in an unduly precarious position as my colony of busy, already-disoriented commuters tries to make it home to eat, sleep, and do it all over again? Why can’t I just buy honey at the store like any normal person? Do 100 bee stings hurt 100 times more than one bee sting? If they start chasing me, where is the safest place to run?


    But before I knew it, the job was done, and for the third time in my life I became a beekeeper. I’m psyched because beekeeping is a real, fascinating, and fun buzz to catch. It’s real because of the very rare but ever-present possibility of being stung that permeates the extremely important work of increasing bee populations worldwide. It’s fascinating because the bee universe is so bizarre and so difficult to predict, but it’s clearly well organized and highly efficient. It’s fun because you get to enjoy the pride of your own precious and exquisitely delicious, homegrown honey!

  • Nate's Book, "Harvest the Rain," Is Now Available as Iraq War Starts Wrapping Up! The great news is that I finally got the shopping cart to work at www.harvesttherain.com, so you can now buy my book on our totally secure website! I’ll even sign it, inscribe it, date it, bless it, and send it off with a light misting of rainwater if you want me to. (HINT: For the latter, all you have to do is type "Please mist me.” in the little inscription box, and I’ll know the code.)

    The better news of the day is that president Obama extracted the last of our “combat troops” from the needless war in Iraq last week. For this, we should all be grateful. As the father of two boys who will be approaching draft age in ten years, I have to say I’m pleased. Finally, at least one of the two wars that have been raging the whole time since my sons were born seems to be ending. “Oorah!”

    The sad news is that Obama gave a detail-free, platitude-heavy speech on the campus of Texas University in Austin on August 9. Billed as “Remarks by the President on Higher Education and the Economy,” evidently our president is a better commander in chief than educator at large. An opinion piece in Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/cwBSGl) by Tom Palaima (MacArthur Fellow and 'Harvest the Rain' reviewer!) complains that Obama’s prescriptions for higher education are “on the order of a doctor telling a patient with cancer to take aspirin.”

    The sadder news is that if Obama had only gone to speak at Texas A & M where professors and students are getting deeply into all sorts of rainwater harvesting research (http://rainwaterharvesting.tamu.edu/), he might have been able to come up with specifics as to the huge number of jobs that we could create if we helped to jumpstart the rainwater harvesting industry in this country. These would be good, green jobs in the construction industry at a time when we need them most.

    Got a direct line to the adminstration? Please pass this on....

  • With Book Release on Tuesday, Here’s My Schedule

    August, 2010

                    TUESDAY, AUGUST 17 (AFTER MIDNIGHT), HARVEST THE RAIN IS AVAILABLE! Nate releases Harvest the Rain: How to Enrich Your Life by Seeing Every Storm as a Resource at www.harvesttherain.com
                    SATURDAY, AUGUST 28 (3:30 PM e/p), HGTV'S BANG FOR YOUR BUCK FEARTURES NATE & MELISSA Nate Downey and Melissa McDonald's Backyard Institute is featured on the popular cable TV show. Somewhere between game show, educational documentary, and an episode of pro wrestling, this will surely be fun to watch...What will mainstream television think of our cistern, greywater system, chickens, fake lawn, and edible garden? Tune in to find out! The same episode will also feature the gardens of some landscape-design clients who've turned out to be two of our great friends in Santa Fe, Joe and Julya Sembrat.


    • September, 2010
                      WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8 (6:00 PM - ???), QUASI-PRIVATE BOOK RELEASE PARTY If you'd like to get invited to this party, please contact us. We just want to keep track of the numbers, and it's also officially a meeting of a great group of local water harvesters, which calls itself The Semi-Arid . Please join us (and if you want bring $30) for your signed copy of Harvest the Rain. The address for the gig will be 1104 Don Gaspar Avenue, Santa Fe, NM.
                    FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, EDIBLES MAGAZINE PUBLISHES IN ALBUQUERQUE, SANTA FE, and TAOS An article by Nate about permaculture, soils, compost, and toxic oil spills is featured in this issue.
                    THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16 (6:00 PM) PRESENTATION at LITTLE EARTH SCHOOL. Nate is proud to participate as the first speaker in the series, Parent Education Night at his son's school. His talk is called “Fall is for Planning: Garden Design for Children."
                    SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18 (6:00 PM - ?), CAMINO DE PAZ SCHOOL AND FARM Advisory Committee Banquet. As an outgoing, term-limited board member of this wonderful school, Nate will be joining the advisory committee at this fun-filled event full of campus-grown food and local wine.
                    TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21 (5:00 PM), KSFR (101.1 FM) RADIO'S JOURNEY HOME w/ DIEGO MULLIGAN. Nate will be interviewed for about half and hour about his book Harvest the Rain and his speaking schedule during Diego's ever-popular daily radio program and (in particular) his long-running "Sustainable Tuesdays" segment.
                    SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25 (10:00 AM), BOOK-SIGNING EVENT AT THE SANTA FE FARMERS' MARKET--SPONSORED BY COLLECTED WORKS BOOKSTORE. Nate is honored that his first major public book-event will be sponsored by Collected Works and our local farmers' market!
                    SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25 (TIME = TBA), BOOK-SIGNING EVENT AT ST. JOHN'S COLLEGE, 1160 CAMINO CRUZ BLANCA, SANTA FE, NM Nate is looking forward to bringing his pretty-damn-awesome book to his alma mater known for its "Great Books Program."
                    WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 29 (4:10 PM - 5:00 PM), WORKSHOP/PRESENTATION
                    AT THE NEW MEXICO WATERSHED FORUM, ALBUQUERQUE MARRIOTT, 2101 LOUISIANA BLVD, NE, ALB. Nate' s talk is titled "How Watershed Sensitivity Will Guide Us from the Brink of Disaster."
    • October, 2010

                    MONDAY - WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4 - 6, WORKSHOP/PRESENTATIONS at the ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE AMERICAN RAINWATER CATCHMENT SYSTEMS ASSOCIATION (ARCSA) AT THE AT&T CONFERENCE CENTER, AUSTIN, TEXAS. Nate will be presenting twice during the fabulous conference for anyone interested in water issues and how to improve the situation in your community. One of his talks is called "Landscape Design with Catchment in Mind." The other is titled, "Water, Soils, and Abundance: A Permacultural Approach to Water Harvesting."


    THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14, THRU MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, BIONEERS CONFERENCE Nate is hoping to set up a book-signing event at the conference and plans to attend a number of inspiring events including eco-movement greats like Jane Goodall, James Hansen, Andy Lipkis, and many more!

    • November, 2010
                      FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 7TH ANNUAL SUSTAINABLITY GUIDE PUBLISHES. An article Nate wrote about bike commuting will be published in the gem of a magazine put out by a local nonprofit for youth want to make a difference. It's called Earth Care International.

  • Bush Provides Great Investment for Friends & Family

    Golden currant berries are not golden. They’re a deep, dark purple-blue bordering on black. I suppose we call them “golden” because of the bright yellow flower that if boasts in the the spring, but maybe it’s the golden-red hue that some of the bushes get when they head toward bed in autumn. This year, when I bite into the ones in our backyard that are nice and plump thanks to all of the rain that we have caught in our cistern system, they taste like something exquisitely powerful, like gold. A little on the sour side of the spectrum, golden currants are not the favorite of mega-store food buyers, but they can be a surprising favorite in in any year’s crop of fruit. Ripening well after the strawberries and just ahead of the pears and apples, this rare gem is one of the most drought tolerant of all fruit-bearing bushes. Truly, currants are an element of our backyard that we cherish much like Wall Street portfolio managers cherish gold. It’s not the snazziest of investments, but it’s an old stand by that can come in handy when times are tough and resources are not flowing as much as they once did.

  • Feeding Farmers Well & Enjoying the Fruits of NOW

    Just had a wonderful surprise visit from my friends Greg and Patty, the owners of Camino de Paz School and Farm. They had to drop something off on their way to dinner, but next thing we knew we were all making dinner right out of the garden. Ironically, I start at their booth every Saturday at the farmers’ market. As a member of the Montessori-based school’s board, it’s the least I can do. Feeding these farmer fiends from my own garden was a total treat—I need a happier version of the word “surreal” to describe it…(Anyone?)


    Anyway, as soon as we decided on our almost-all-garden dinner plans, they got right on it! Patty made the most deliciously sweet salsa with tomatoes, mint, onions, parsley, and plums (from Tuesday’s market). Greg hopped on harvesting kale and the first pumpkin of the season. While getting things going in the kitchen, out of the fridge I grabbed a box of tofu (the only seriously foreign dinner ingredient) and some yummy leftover chive-and-oyster-mushroom* dish. By simply slicing the squash and sautéing it in a little oil along with the kale, dinner couldn’t have been much more local and quick. (What a fun dinner it was, too…full of lively, happy, and productive conversation!)


    But was it tasty, you ask? Tasty isn’t a good enough word for the fantastic fresh flavors that we crave all year long. I think it’s the mint that’s lingering most. Over an hour later, its tingle soon reminds me of dinner in ALL of its savory essences. Each flavor is NOW popping back out of my taste buds for a triumphant refrain that blares like a tight and proud marching band as the home team scores the winning touchdown, or maybe an “Uncle John’s Band” encore circa November 30, 1980, or…insert your favorite happy song here.


    The tune itself is irrelevant; it’s a mood were after here, and it’s summed up thusly: These are the moments we really live for. We can say we like the other seasons, and I’m sure we do, but harvest time really, really, really rocks—plain and simple. Please make sure you enjoy it as much as you possibly can this year! (More info about Camino de Paz, an awesome school for girls and boys in middle school can be found www.caminodepaz.net.)


    *NOTE: Sadly, Danny, the shroom dude at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, will be soon no longer selling mushrooms, but he wants to teach others how to grow oysters, lion’s mane, and other fabulous fungi in the comfort of one’s own home, and I might just have to take him up on that! (Let me know if you want his contact info, but I’ll try to remember to post his it when I have his card in hand….)

  • Sport Utility Bicycle To Haul (My) Ass & Then Some

    Yesterday, my 10 minutes of gradual greening occurred when I walked down to New Mexico Bike and Sport to pick up my new “xtracycle.” A simple bike extension, called the “FreeRadical(TM),” hooks onto the back of almost any bike to quickly create what Xtracycle, Inc., calls  “the world’s first S.U.B.” That’s right, friends, I’m now the proud owner of a “Sport Utility Bicycle.” And why shouldn’t I be proud? According to company literature, my xtracycle can haul 200 pounds, and the manual shows an illustration of an xtracycle handling what looks like an 8’ or 10’ ladder. With the help of an accessory called an “H-rack,” long loads like “ladders, flagpoles, kayaks, or lumber,” can be delivered.


    One of my many plans is to haul 50 lbs. bags of lay pellets for our six backyard chickens. Coincidentally, having run out of food, I had to drive my truck down to the feed store on Saturday for what I hope was my last time wasting gas to buy lay pellets for our hens who are now, quite wisely, fast asleep.

  • Municipal Bonds Could Save the Planet

    Thanks to my old friend Michael Kramer, Melissa and I had the pleasure of having Woody Tasch, the author of the relatively new book “Slow Money,” over for dinner last night. The slow-money concept is based on the slow-food movement’s idea that local food is much better for people and the planet than fast food (imported from far-off places). With this in mind, it was fitting that nearly everything on the menu came either from our backyard (kale, chard, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, chives, and other herbs) or the farmers’ market (burger, mushrooms, and pecan pie).


    Woody and many folks like him believe that the challenges we face as a society are mostly financial challenges. If we could figure out a way to direct money toward more worthy goals, such as localized agriculture, we’d be far better off. It’s an obvious idea, but it’s one that our society is far from comprehending. Most people believe they want their food to be cheap, tasty, and predictable rather than healthy, flavorful, and interesting, and most investors want their money to grow very quickly—no matter the costs in terms of our society and environment.


    Michael is managing partner and the director of social research at Natural Investments, LLC, and he has known Woody ever since they attended a socially responsible investment conference years ago. During a presentation by Woody, Michael raised the prospect of creating a new investment product, a municipal bond for local-farming practices. It seems now that although there are still myriad hurdles to overcome, the idea will soon be growing out of its incubation stage and into a phase of slow and steady growth.


    In an age of messy financial systems, it’s great to know that there are people out there willing to take a different kind of risk, one that lets investors do what is best for the Earth and her inhabitants                                                                 

  • Plant with the Cycles of the Moon! (Or not.)

    By shrinking the Moon to the size of a grapefruit, Gru, the evil-but-lovable protagonist in the new movie Despicable Me, wants to be the greatest villain ever. In the plot, as in gardening, timing is essential. Today, even though the Moon is in its fourth-quarter “resting phase,” I plan to spend 10 minutes sowing a few fall crops: carrots (Chantenay, 70 days, and Lady Finger, 60 days), radishes (24 days), and a mix of micro greens (25 days). 


    Some gardeners swear by the positive effects of planting according to the phases of the Moon. I’ve had success with this planting style. Leafy greens (and other crops that produce seed outside of the fruit) are sown and/or transplanted during the new-moon phase, annual crops that grow with their seeds inside the fruit go in during the second quarter, and root crops get planted in the third quarter as the full moon starts to wane.


    (More info here http://www.gardeningbythemoon.com/phases.html.)


    My problem is that even though the carrots themselves can be stored in the ground in the winter, they must go in soon in order to beat the first frost of the season. Since the greens and radishes are shorter lived, they could go in later with a more auspicious moon phase, but for three reasons I’m planting some of my seeds right now:


    1) I’m planning a little experiment to see is if the cycles of the Moon affect yields. Since there are so many other factors that could be at work in the garden, I don’t expect final proof of the effectiveness of moon-cycle planting, but it’s always fun to try.


    2) We want fresh greens and radishes in late summer,  through the fall, and even into the winter, so we figure that we should plant early and often.


    3) In this day and age, one can never be sure if your schedule will be uprooted and all of your great plans to get stuff done in the garden will fall apart, so if I don’t get out and plant today, I might blow the fall-crop plan completely!


    Stay tuned!

  • 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:

    Launch looms.

  • 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!

  • One Lesson Learned from Double Digging: It Works!

    As you may have already read, I spent a heap of time this spring double digging our garden beds. Following John Jeavons’ techniques (described in “How to Grow More Vegetables”), I mixed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of homemade compost deep into the soil. Although I never got the six-pack abs that I had hoped to gain from all of the upper-body exercise, I’m happy to report that the work itself has paid off.


    Having just gotten back from a 12-day trip (my 25th high school reunion, the 2nd Annual Slow Money Conference, and my sister’s fantastic Buddhist wedding) in northern New England, one thing is clear. Double digging works! Plants in the the double-dug beds are now twice the size of the plants we planted in the other beds (which got soil amending with the same homemade compost but were not double dug to a depth of 24”). Tonight we feasted on a garden-grown dinner: tomato, cilantro, and scallion omelet coupled with huge sides of luscious chard and fortifying kale.


    Tomorrow, the first of three 30-yard loads of Soilutions’ compost will be delivered to a job site down the street where we will be doing the mechanized version of double digging. With a little help from a backhoe, we will begin the transformation of one terribly compacted dirt-and-gravel parking lot into a lush, forested landscape. Unlike our food-producing veggies, the plant material we will plant in this 24”-deep soil mixture will screen a neighboring church and a busy city intersection (with 16’ to 18’-tall trees) while it simultaneously provides shade, wind protection, beauty, and comfort for my clients.


    Although the end results are different, the basic concept of each digging process, its lesson, is the same: Mix organic material thoroughly and deeply into the top two feet of existing soil in order to bring the land

    back to life and, ultimately, to regenerate the local watershed for generations to come.

  • Chicken-Coop Addition Provides Shade, Curb Appeal

    We had various vague notions as to how to proceed with our months-long goal of increasing the size of our chicken coop. In the end, we wanted to create an almost invisible fenced area under an existing evergreen tree right outside our chickens’ 110 sq. ft. abode. Whenever we let the chickens range free, if they were not in our compost pile, they were typically kicking around under this one tree next to their coop, a tree that we can easily see from many parts of our backyard. If successful, the project would not only add 50% more square feet to the coop, but it would also do so in a visually appealing way. Just as the functionality of our backyard is paramount, aesthetics are equally supreme for us—in part because we do not see the sustainability movement happening if it is seen as anything other than beautiful.


    Today, my four-year old and I started by moving fencing materials out to the northwest corner of the backyard. As soon as I got there, I immediately rejected a plan I’d been leaning toward and started sketching (in the dirt) an even-more-round-about plan. Finally settling on the direct route that I had rejected weeks ago, we got to work using only found materials. (This is one of the times that it really helps to be involved in the landscaping industry. We always have all sorts of scrap fencing materials stashed somewhere, begging to be used.)


    After lining out the basic structure and getting the project half-way up so Melissa could see it and grant us her official aesthetic approval, we proceeded to bust out the job in a couple of hours (And the ladies only escaped once!). As the sun was getting ready to set, we let our hens explore their highly improved digs. Given the way that they enthusiastically scratched and found all sorts of good things to eat, we could tell that they loved their new scene. But it was late and chickens are as groggy at nightfall as high school students are at dawn, so we encouraged them to retire to their bedroom. This they did grudgingly but somehow, too, they hit the hay, in their own goofy-chicken way, gorgeously.

  • Not in Anyone’s Backyard! Critical Public Hearing 6/9

    The Santa Fe City Council will vote June 9 on a proposed telecommu-nications law. If it passes, the ordinance will authorize hundreds of antennae towers to be built all over town. The problem is that if your house happens to be near a new cell tower, the signal will be so strong that your health could be negatively impacted. These would not be the kind of low-grade signals that emanate from your typical Wi-Fi. The waves associated with the system will have to travel to your distant neighbor’s home at the other end of your street many blocks away. Do Santa Feans really want to risk the health of our entire community in a Guinea-pig style test? If you question the antenna-tower approach in the same way that you wonder if we trust our technology too much (in light of, say, the Gulf oil disaster), please attend this hearing.




    Please also call your city councilors before the hearing, and let your concerns be made known. I will make my calls but will be unable to attend the hearing. For more information contact:

    Arthur Firstenberg
    PO Box 6216]
    Santa Fe, NM 87502
    (505) 471-0129


  • Sorrel Tortillas Make Perfect Home-Grown Burritos!

    Stepping out of our back door, the first thing you might see is a huge patch of sorrel, the leafy green that most people have no idea what to do with. On line, you’ll find lots of recipes for sorrel soup and sorrel punch (a favorite Caribbean rum drink), but its too strong to put large quantities into a salad. Steamed-green dishes featuring sorrel can be incredibly tasty, but in too-large doses its simply overwhelming. A great substitute for both salt and vinegar, sorrel has a lemony taste that quickly makes your mouth pucker if you eat too much of it.


    One of the best uses of sorrel is as the tortilla part of a burrito (or for all ya’all on the other side of the Mississippi, the wrap part of a wrap). This week, I been making scrambled egg burritos, pinto bean burritos, and farmers-market-beef-mushroom-garlic-red-chile burritos. They’ve all been wheat free, full of minerals, perfectly flavorful, and wrapped in a delicious dark-green package from just outside the kitchen door.

  • Dog Bites Me. (Is It Hubris to Be a Talking Mime?)

    Almost anyone who has had me as a landscape consultant knows that I have a tendency to pretend to be a future tree, bush, rock, pathway, or any number of physical objects.  Picture a much-too-talkative pantomime. I do this to help people visualize what they will get when we are “done” with the project. (Picasso said, “to say a work of art is ‘done’ is to kill it,” and I say this is even more true outdoors than in a studio.)


    But there I was yesterday, minding my new clients’ business. Dogs were barking behind a tall iron fence. The clients were calmly telling them to be quiet. I’d seen it before. Having been introduced to Apollo and Max, lovingly I said, “Hello,” to them, but then quickly ignored the two pooches and started consulting about the desperate need for shade trees in the area. The thought of being able to use their kitchen patio in the daytime—not just morning and night—made my clients’ eyes light up, so I soon transitioned into how a vine against the fence would help make the dogs more comfortable, too.


    Turning quickly, as I often do in talking-pantomime mode, I wagged my ass just a little to show how a trumpet vine (with flowers as big as my branched-out hands) might wiggle up a post. Suddenly Apollo, the German Sheppard bit my right butt-cheek, dead center. Although no blood excreted from my fatty flesh, and even though I was able to finish the consultation and bike back from my clients’ home not far from Lone Butte, my cheek is still swore as I write this the next morning.


    My clients apologized profusely and said they were surprised because he’d never done that before. When they later said they almost never entertain people in their backyard and certainly not near the dog fence, I started to take the offense less personally. But still one has to ask? Was the universe trying to send me some message? Is is wrong to make a living as a talking pantomime?

  • For Bike Safety & Sake of Ocean: Take to the Streets!

    Since I often bike my kids to school, Little Earth, where Keenan goes, asked me to speak to the student body about “Bike Safety for Kids.” As one would in a “Bike Safety for Adults” class, we went over the critical themes: be aware, be visible, be equipped, be careful. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the big difference is that people 9 and under are typically safer on the sidewalk, while people 10 and up should ride on the street. This, of course, depends on the child, the neighborhood, and sometimes even the time of day, but it’s very true that almost every cyclist should take to the streets. As driveways pop out behind bushes and concrete slabs get lifted up by tree roots, sidewalks translate into danger. The biggest problem is that no one is expecting fast-moving humans on the sidewalk. If you wear bright colors, out on the street everyone can see you, instantly judge your speed, and be sure to stay away. For more information on kids safety and the sidewalk/street debate, here’s a good place to get started:




    I wrapped up my talk by asking the kids, “Why is it a good idea to ride a bicycle?” Three answers quickly came from the raised hands in the crowd: It’s fun, great exercise, and it helps save the world. That about sums it up, but it also provides kids with a sense of independence that is very important given their now-sheltered lives that are too often scheduled to the minute by grown ups.


    On a recent ride down Don Gaspar Avenue, Keenan screamed from the tag-along bike that he sits on (firmly attached to mine), “We’re Ocean Savers, Dad!” I liked that very much…By riding our bikes this kid—not knowing at all how far away the ocean is or how essential it will prove to be in his lifetime—knew that for at least a little while we were doing our part to protect the ocean from all of that nastiness he’s heard about in the Gulf. For him, the act of biking became even more than mere independence. It became a kind of moral empowerment that makes an eco-freak daddy like me proud.

  • Synergy Pervades a Journey Home in Oshara Village

    It couldn’t have happened to anybody, but it happened to my friend Diego Mulligan at a new-urbanist village called “Oshara.” One minute he’s on a backhoe excavating a two-foot-deep footer for his solar dream home. The next minute he’s digging a nine-foot-deep hole for the ceremonial kiva that he’s always wanted.


    So what if such a diversion wasn’t on the plans?


    A kiva is a cylindrical hole in the ground with a roof on it. Used by Pueblo Indians of the Southwest for centuries, you typically enter and exit a kiva via a ladder.  Embedded within the Earth, a good kiva will exude healing powers while providing spiritual strength to those who enter.


    Getting final approval for the addendum to his plans cost Diego countless hours of sweat equity, but in the end he and his wife Jen were able to have their kiva for a mere $10 per square foot. I had a wonderful experience touring their unfinished house and kiva the other day. Down in the hole, you feel a profound vibe. The acoustics are remarkably soothing, gentle and powerful at the same time. Then, in the quiet, calm protection of the place, my soul suddenly felt grounded and clear in a way that’s mostly unfamiliar to me.


    The couple named their future home The Synergy House because it is designed so that every component serves multiple functions. From the solarium and the root cellar to the composting toilet and the cistern, this affordable home may be one of the most ecological structures I’ve ever seen (and as an ecological landscape designer, I see lots of structures). Perhaps more importantly, it looks as if the house might become one of the most comfortable structures that I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.


    When their home is complete, Diego and Jen will broadcast their popular afternoon drive-time radio show from a circular studio located directly over the kiva. “The Journey Home” can be found at www.ksfr.org or from 5:00pm to 6:00pm on the FM dial (at 101.1 anywhere between Taos and Albuquerque). I’m sure it will be a challenging journey for both of them as their building site evolves into a famous eco-home, but now that their kiva is complete, their personal journey home will have a reasonably dependable fountainhead of inspiration—thanks to a bolt of creative confidence and the strength to follow through.

  • Army Gets Permaculture Training before Deployment

    I had an inspiring chat with a national guardswoman this morning at the farmers’ market. Specialist Kennedy was taking a permaculture class at Camino de Paz School and Farm (CPSF), and she would soon be deployed to Afghanistan for 11 or 12 months. Unlike the unfunny joke about the soldier who meets interesting people in far-out places and kills them, Kennedy was planning to do the opposite.

    Today, she was helping out behind CPSF’s booth at the market. Tomorrow, she’ll be feeding chickens, weeding crops, spinning wool, making soap out of goat’s milk, and doing whatever it is women in dry, mountainous places do in order to survive. The plan is to send in Kennedy and her team of 14 agricultural specialists to rebuild communities that have been in a state of war for the better part of three decades.

    I was no fan of President Obama’s decision to increase troop sizes in such a challenging theater, but our commander in chief’s choice of Kennedy and her team seems like the best one he could have made given the historic failures of foreign invaders in the area. It could have even been the first-ever example of military intelligence but for one small detail: We ought to be doing the same thing here in the United States, and we are nowhere near doing so.

    Compared to the average Afghani, very few people in our modern culture have a clue as to how to grow our own food and produce our own energy. Fortunately, we are slowly pulling our heads out of the sand on the issue, but our situation is as precarious as they come, and most people are decades away from fully getting it.

    The good news is that those of us doing sustainability-based work in the “civilized” world do not need an additional 50 people in our team to serve as security forces for our socioecological missions. On average, Kennedy said, her agricultural colleagues and she get four bodyguards a piece to keep the peace on the farm/battlefield.

    I didn’t ask Kennedy her age, but my guess is that she is easily 20 years younger than I. I didn’t ask her weight, but she was easily 60 pounds lighter than I. She must be strong because including body armor, she’ll often be carrying about 70 pounds of gear. Me? Tomorrow when I hop into the garden to finish a drip irrigation project, I’ll be burdened by about five to seven pounds of tools, materials, and clothes (depending on if I choose shoes or work boots).

    When the sun gets hot tomorrow around mid morning, and I think I’ve had enough time out in the backyard, I hope the thought of Kennedy—her worthy mission, her dangerous surroundings, and her 70 pounds of stuff—comes to mind. Maybe then I’ll be motivated to push even harder toward a more digestible backyard.

  • Getting Outside = First Step toward Gradual Greening

    My former neighbor Mari Hahn just sent me this helpful question coupled with a gradual-greening update from lovely, wet, and green Indiana:


    Hi Nate,

    Is this where I write my 10 minutes of green stuff?

    Today I hauled all my neglected houseplants outside to repot and trim and fertilize and water. They will spend the summer out on the deck, literally greening our space out there.

    Hope you’re well!



    Dear Mari:

    Glad you found the “Share Here” button! I know it’s odd to be happily bouncing around a colorful blog only to realize that to “Share Here” means to send a decidedly unglamorous email. Sorry!


    YES! Yours is probably the most fundamental of all gradual-greening activities, namely, drawing people out into their backyards, side yards, or front yards. We must start by simply enjoying the world as it is, without the protection of shelter and climate control and without the meaningless distractions we get from television, YouTube, facebook, and most corners of the blogosphere.


    Especially during this growing season, I hope you, Doug, and the kids get to enjoy many magical moments out on your deck and that you bring your friends and neighbors into the abundance of your life outside the four walls of your home. I remember your veggie garden when you braved the challenging soils of Santa Fe. Are you planning to harvest some edibles this year?


    Thanks for sharing!


  • Saturday Mourning and the Peace of Wild Things

    Melissa waltzed right by the Kleenex boxes sitting on a music stand in the middle of the aisle. I hesitated. She had her hanky, but all I had was a day full of gardening and feeling pretty darn brave about Gail Ryba’s death. A brilliant, energetic, and highly effective clean-energy activist departed this world too soon, leaving behind a loving husband and a wonderful young daughter. She grew edibles in her garden; she kept bees and chickens; she even made possible the bike trail that Melissa and I had just ridden to get to her memorial service.


    “Nah,” I thought as I walked on. “Tissues are for sissies.”


    Unfortunately, I forgot to consider how inspiring the story of Gail’s life would be. We heard from a best friend, two close colleagues, and her two brothers. In his or her own way, each described the urgent need to intensify our struggle for a world of more bikes, solar panels, and windmills, and no more desecrations like the one going on and on and on in the Gulf of Mexico. I think I first started getting the sniffles when I realized that Gail went into hospice about the time that revolting sea-bottom oil-spew began. Gail had fought long and hard for a year-and-a-half with a very rare form of cancer, and I guess I wished she didn't have to live to see the day of such hideousness.


    The spew started around the 40th Earth Day, and this will likely elevate the day’s importance during the years to come, but it might also drive some of us to despair. That’s why, it seemed to me, her brother Dave summed up the service with this poem by Wendell Berry:


    The Peace of Wild Things

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


    We can use sad times to our benefit. Grief has a purpose. Despair can provide unexplainable opportunity to cherish life. Gail would want us to understand this benefit in these tough times, to find this grace of purpose and to discover the freedom that comes with the opportunity to try to live up to her high standard.

  • Black Box Dept.: What Might the Gulf Spill Reveal?


    My friend Steve Schmidt sent me this story he wrote for Roll Call magazine. He figured out that there should be more data (evidence) as to what went on just before the catastrophe in the Gulf. Supposedly, real-time or close to real-time information exists, and the question becomes who is hiding it and why?




    Thanks to Steve’s investigative reporting, a media frenzy will hopefully ensue and we will soon know a lot more. In the meantime, it’s off to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, backpack on my back, bike tires full of air, and heart full of hope that this outrageous disaster prompts much better regulation and monitoring of oil and gas wells under the sea and below the surface of the Earth (where they often pollute underground sources of freshwater with much less fanfare than what we are seeing today in the Gulf).

  • As Newspapers Struggle, “Green Fire Times” Thrives

    I’ve been impressed with Santa Fe’s newest eco-periodical since it sprouted up a year ago, and the current issue is a total gem. It simply overflows with inspirational information and positive solutions. You can read a PDF here http://greenfiretimes.com/ or pick up a physical copy in the Santa Fe area. Here’s a list of some of the topics found in this, its first-anniversary issue:


    Water is Life

    2010 Sustainable Santa Fe Awards

    The Potential of a Green, Local Economy

    Protect Our Public Lands

    Touring a Green School

    Why Use Green Building Materials?

    Affordable Housing

    Dig and Eat Local

    Only Healthy Soil Grows Healthy Plants


    My favorite is Where does your food come from? Produced by a group called Dreaming New Mexico, it’s a sharp piece that envisions a time when “Every New Mexico citizen and elected official knows, and every school teaches “Where does your food come from?” which agro-ecoregion they live within. They know its weather, soils, sources of water, five agro-ecoregional crops and the best dates for planting and harvesting. They learn the specific constraints on crops, and a few cultivars custom designed for an eco-regional and eco-friendly agriculture.”


    I agree, and the good news is that serious political will is constantly building toward these ends. Usually, I’m pretty abreast of elections and the candidates running, but this year I’ve let those interests lapse a little. Please feel free to tell us about candidates you are supporting, especially if he/she/they have any agro-ecoregional thoughts (i.e. slow-food goals, permacultural plans, or any ties to small-scale agriculture, edible gardening, local energy, sustainability, etc.). Who knows? Readers of Backyard Digest might be in need of some timely guidance toward your political perspective or persuasion.

  • Preventing Future Oil Spills 1 Big Backpack at a Time

    They, the cashiers at the Feed Bin, said it couldn’t be done. “NO WAY” could I shove a fifty pound bag of chicken feed into my backpack and bike away. I would have to buy my lay pellets in one-pound-bag increments, they told me emphatically. They were wrong. On my second attempt, I was able to slide the clumsy sack into my super-sized “bike bag.” Years ago, I’d stuck an entire case of beer in the thing, so I fully expected the feed to squeeze in somehow or other.


    “Now, what’s gonna happen when you gotta turn?” asked one of the still-skeptical cashiers as she eyed the bag-within-in-a-bag protruding 6 or 8 inches out of the top of my wide-open satchel.


    “It’s not goin’ anywhere,” I replied as I attempted to prove my point by swinging my shoulders back and forth. By her quizzical gaze, I instantly realized that she wasn’t worried about me spilling 50 lbs. of lay pellets in the middle of St. Francis Drive. She was worried about me losing control of the excess weight on my back and spilling my ass over my elbow in the middle of St. Francis Drive. “Don’t worry about us. We'll be fine,” I smiled, headed for the door, and barked, “Let’s go Liam!”


    Fortunately, we were fine and made it back with my son riding bravely along side. The only time we had to hop off of our bikes was on the last steep stretch of dirt road right around the corner from home. When we got to the top and turned, it was a thrill to see our newly replanted “We Support Bike-to-Work Week” banner that the late Gail Ryba had given us years ago. (We typically leave it up for two weeks before and after bike-to-work week.)


    Sure, our chicken feed came to Santa Fe by truck from 450 miles away but at least we got our lay pellets home without the aid of fossil fuels. Hopefully, Gail is looking down at us with pride tonight because (as I said a post or two ago) her successful work on bike issues was a major motivating factor in getting us out on our gas-free and Gulf friendly vehicles today.

  • Historic Potato Chip Bag Feeds Worms, Builds Soil

    Thanks to our friend Jobyl, our compost pile currently contains, according to Sun Chips, “The world’s first 100% compostable chip bag of its kind.” If we’re not home, Jobyl, who lives in a downtown apartment with no room to park, let alone compost, sometimes leaves leftover salad and moldy bread at our door. The other day we were home, so she hand delivered the aforementioned bag. While turning my pile today, I came across the two-day old experiment and almost detected a slightly lackluster sheen off the thing.


    Although our entire food system is currently placed in the dangerous hands of companies that own crap like Sun Chips, I must say I was delighted and inspired by Jobyl’s gift. Sun Chips even says they’ll teach you how to compost if you go to their website. In my upcoming book, Harvest the Rain, you’ll find a chapter about composting, but in the meantime, I’d encourage you to get this kind of info wherever you can. Composting is great fun and great exercise, too! But don’t forget to check back for reasonably regular reports on the decaying process of the bag.

  • Thank You, Gail! We’ll Miss You!

    I took to the streets thanks to Gail Ryba. If it had not been for her, I might never have gotten off of my ass and into my bike. Today, when there isn’t a foot of snow on the calles and by ways of Santa Fe, I ride to work, stores, schools, potlucks, and pretty much anything this side of Pojoaque. I love taking the bike on the train to Albuquerque, hopping off, getting in a quick ride, doing a landscape consultation, and then turning right around and making it back up to Santa Fe in the same day. (Someday, I’ll have to relate my epic trip to Atlanta by bike, train, bus, plane, train, bike, and back, but now is not the day.)


    Without Gail, who worked in Albuquerque and lived in Santa Fe, this would never have happened. Without her, I’d probably be 20 pounds heavier and 20% less happy. Did you know that biking to any place where you would normally drive is not only fun and exhilarating, it’s also spiritually enlightening? Why not get into it in honor of Gail, who died yesterday after a tough bout with cancer. Survived by her husband Tom Robey, their young daughter, Lynn, her mother, and three siblings, Gail was 47.

  • “Ask Nate” Feature Continues with Cistern Query

    Nate --

    I just got back from southern Arizona where I saw those tall, 3' wide, metal, spiraled, water "barrels" that I had also seen in slides from Brad Lancaster's presentation (also AZ). Does anyone use those here? If so, do you know who makes them? Should we be worried about freezing at this elevation?

    Thanks so much.

    Christi Newhall


    Thanks for asking, Christi! I’ve never tried the vertical culvert trick, but I’m aware of success stories as well as legendary failures. The basic problem is the seam created at the bottom of the culvert. Cisterns function best if they are made of one seamless material. The majority of successful culvert systems will probably prove to be those that have a plastic bladder inside of them. The problem is that these mega water balloons leach out many more toxins than their more popular hard-plastic relatives.


    You do have to worry about freeze/thaw effects at the bond between culvert and concrete slab. If you bury the thing to reduce these negative effects, you run the risk of a leak that you don’t notice for a long time and then the prospect of having to remove a failed water storage tank. I’ve never had to do this, and I hope I never will. I’ve heard of culvert-style cistern systems lasting a long time underground when a waterproof coating has been liberally slapped along the seam between culvert and  concrete base. Unfortunately, my friend who swore by these tanks is no longer with us, so I can no longer vouch for their longevity.


    My knee-jerk reaction has always been to avoid culverts for water storage. I’m all for innovation, but I’m not into experimenting with thousands of gallons of water in some nice client’s backyard. Unless you are working with a research grant, better to go with proven and tested materials when it comes to storing something as heavy and pervasive as water.

  • HGTV’s Bang for Your Buck: Take 3

    The fun part about HGTV’s Bang for Your Buck is the third part when the contestants (in this case Melissa and me) get to rebut the criticisms of the “talent.” We were very lucky insofar as one of the expert critics was from Australia, and the other was from Boulder. Both really understood the importance of water conservation, backyard chicken tending, and sustainability in general. Jamie Durie, the Aussie, even raved about how our bunny lives elevated above our compost pile, so his poops can land right where we want them. Fontella, the dynamic real-estate agent, was pretty concerned about whether or not we will ever recoup our investment in our underground cistern, but with every season of a homegrown veggies in the desert, we believe the question is almost moot.


    Stay tuned! When they tell us when the show will air (in about 8 weeks, they said), we’ll let you know!

  • HGTV Play-By-Play: Take 2

    I ‘m sitting out on the front porch chatting with Josh, a production assistant with Bang for Your Buck. Melissa is inside getting made up, while the talent is out in the backyard planning their critique. Ooops, gotta go get made up now. ... WOW! Melissa looks GREAT! Let’s see what Candace can do with my age spots! …. SHEEESH! She’s GOOD. Melissa says I look 10 years younger… Now it’s show time, the part where we watch our critics criticize us. I’ll let you know how that went tomorrow.

  • Snow in Garden Television (HGTV): Take 1

    When the crew from Home and Garden Television (HGTV) showed up yesterday afternoon, it had already snowed three times, but due to our high and dry climate and the fact that it was May, the white stuff only stuck around for about 15 minutes in between each minor onslaught. Just when we were all set to get started, a bigger epicycle of light, puffy hail (or was it sleet?) rained down on us. The way the little balls bounced off our ersatz-grass lawn, if they had filmed the event, people would have thought it was a lame Hollywood attempt at making fake snow. But it was real, and unlike the other events of the day, it kept coming, so they took some fun family-in-action shots of the four of us eating a backyard-egg breakfast, but soon everyone realized that we were going to run of daylight for the shoot.


    Fortunately, with plenty of sunshine in the forecast, HGTV (or should it now be SGTV for “Snow in Garden Television”?) are scheduled to come back today for another take. This is great for us because with no cold fronts in the 10-day and our last frost date coming up in 12 days, we’ll get out and plant more (and more diverse) eye candy for the camera!


The final frontier.

These are the musings of an engaging enterprise.
Its thirty-year mission:

To create a greener planet.

To seek a better life in our lumbering civilization, and

to slowly go where we are all are headed anyway.


Is an unproven system for generating wide-spread sustainability.

it asks for 10 minutes a day for a year. At the end of the year, it asks for 10 more.

So in the second year, you spend just 20 minutes a day, in the third year, 30 minutes.

If you keep up this pattern, 27 years later you spend over 4 hours per day being extremely green.

Share Here!
Describe your attempts At a sustainable life.