• Purposefulness on a Slippery Slope On the thick-fog, fresh-snow drive down the road to Hamaatsa yesterday, a political discussion ensued about the supremes’ bad decision to call money “speech” and corporations “persons.” As driver, I had to remain aware of the skinny tire tracks ahead, and since I knew the day’s event, Larry Littlebird’s “Hunting Sacred” workshop, was going to be about listening, I wasn’t able to squeeze my thoughts out about the cyclicality of political movements. Although much improved thanks to the powerful inspiration of Mr. Littlebird, here are those thoughts: The more corporations grow out of control the more people like us will voice our opposition, and when there are enough people like us, our day will come. In the meantime, it may be wise to combine two of Larry’s thoughts. The first came as he started the workshop, “We're like that snowflake,” one of zillions from the storm. The other came as the sun set: “Every action of every [sacred] hunter is purposeful.” In other words we MUST take action (however small), while we simultaneously remember that our actions are part of an infinite continuum of cyclical patterns.

  • Stop the Corporate Takeover of Democracy! I'll do my best to prevent this blog from becoming overly political, but on days like today, something has to be said! Something must be done! Whatever we call our organizations and events regarding this issue, it's critical that we act NOW to take back our nation from the greedheads!

    In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to toss our democracy to the pack of mega-corporate wolves, I'm not sure that a “funeral for democracy,” like the demonstrations some groups are organizing, is the right way to approach the mess. Funerals are final and often depressing, so I worry that such rallies might just become the final nail on the coffin. What about a New Dawn for Democracy rally? Or a Rebirthing of Democracy rally? Or perhaps something sexy (but classy) playing on the "conception" of democracy concept. Something related to medicine might work, too, and could be used to name the groups organizing these rallies i.e. the Democracy Doctors or Defibulate the Nation…I think more people might show up and more people might get jazzed to do more 'after' the rally if it were billed a part of a campaign to save democracy rather than to bury it.

    In the meantime EVERYONE please sign the petition here:


    It takes ‘no time’ and it could ultimately save our democracy from death by corporations.

  • Dead-of-Winter Meal Teems with Local Life We had a great slow-food pot luck last night with friends. Some folks brought local buffalo; others northern New Mexican mashed potatoes, while a third family had made pasta by hand only a couple of hours in advance. Melissa and I brought a chicken, beet, feta, apple, carrot, lettuce, sprouts, and apple cider salad plus a butternut squash stuffed with sunchokes, onions, and garlic—smothered with Munster. All of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, cooking oil, and cheeses came from either the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market or our own garden. Courtesy of the food co-op, the Munster was trucked up from Las Cruces, and the cow feta was imported from Tucumcari—both clearly in-state food sources and therefore much more slow and local than they could have been. Although the meal was exquisite, we weren’t crazy, so we toasted the whole thing with a delightful, low priced Italian cabernet.

  • Backyard Algae Comes to Backyard Digest! 2nd GUEST POST...THANKS, JONATHAN!

    I am focused on the power of photosynthetic algae to consume carbon dioxide and, using the sun's rays as a power source, rebuild long chain carbon compounds that contain useful energy for "recombustion".

    This can be done in backyards, in towns and communities, and also at commercial scale. The fats and oils in the algae biomass can be extracted and processed into biodiesel and other fuel products that can be used in conventional engines. The algae biomass also contains proteins, starches, and other components that can be used in other ways. For example, algae biomass can be used as a fertilizer, soil amendment, and/or livestock feed. In addition, the algae biomass can also be burned as a coal substitute, to create heat and/or electricity.

    Jonathan L. Gal
    Founder & President
    Texas Clean Fuels, Inc.
    419 McKinney Trail
    Rockwall, TX 75087
    Tel: 214-771-0565

  • Learning to Compost -- The Hutchinson-Young-Ray family, Denver, CO HERE IS "BACKYARD DIGEST'S" FIRST GUEST POST!
    Will YOU be next? I hope so!

    Who would have thought that making compost could be fun?! Our 14-year-old boy appeared to enjoy the process of assembling our compost bin (essentially a large, black, square box that we keep in the yard, made of durable plastic, which includes a lid that can be fastened down and which was given to us by the city of Denver. This style of bin is sometimes known as a "high rise composter"). He also pitched in to help us till a few inches of earth below the bin so as to help introduce the microbes that live in the dirt to the organic material that would be added to it. Since then, every member of our five-person family has been known to add various odds and ends to our scrap bucket (a small green plastic container with a flip-up lid that we keep near the sink and which was provided by Denver Recycles as part of a program to educate our community on the benefits of composting and recycling). We’re definitely glad that our scrap collector includes a charcoal filter in its top – as we create a pretty fecund mish-mash that generally includes items such as banana peels, apple cores, avocado peels, dryer lint, finger nail clippings, dog hair, used paper towels, house plant trimmings and more. It can get a little funky at times, but that's part of life's process and with just a little regular maintenance, the smell can be reduced. It's sometimes amusing to open up the lid and watch a fruit fly come spiraling out as you toss in what will eventually be rich, brown compost for the summer’s herb garden. And we've actually figured out how to eliminate flies and smell (by rinsing all sides of the bucket well after each bin dump). And the end product, compost, has almost no odor, other than the faint aroma of earth and the promise of fresh vegetables and green grass. So, with a little effort and by engaging in a process that has helped us tune into life's cycle of growth and decay, we have saved quite a bit of "garbage" from the landfill. Organic waste does not have to leave your home! If you don't already compost but are interested in learning, just Google it -- there's lots of helpful information on the topic available online.

    The following Composting for Dummies article is just one of many helpful links you can find:


    Next up for us: Water Harvesting

  • Harvest the Snow, and Reap a (Radio) Show Here in our high-alpine, wind-swept desert, our gardens need all of the water they can get. When shoveling paths and driveways, those who appreciate the importance of moist soils shovel toward the root zones of plants, into veggie beds, or onto the compost pile. Since about nine inches of snow equals about one inch of rain, you can add an extra year’s worth of precipitation to a three-by-three-foot compost pile simply by delivering snow from a 60-foot by three-foot path after a six-inch snow storm. Of course, it’s much more convenient to dump snow in the immediate vicinity of the path you’re making, so I typically chuck it as close as I can to the root zones of nearby plant material. The compost pile is just too far away from the front walk. Another benefit of harvesting snow in this manner is that it’s great exercise, and so it’s a perfect way to spend your gradual greening time. One busy session of snow shoveling can save you a trip to the neighborhood gym, and this will save on gas and gym fees while it makes your home a more safe and comfortable place to be.

    Also: Please catch me out on KSFR (101.1 FM) Saturday, January 22, 2010, at 10am. I’m being interviewed by the president of the board of the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute, Robert Ross, who hosts a show called, “Gardens, Food, and Santa Fe.”

  • Questions during Wartime: Tom Palaima in Action! This blog is about what we can do in our own backyards to tread more carefully on our planetary home. With eight inches of snow on the ground and more in the forecast, there isn’t much to do in the garden. So instead, let’s take this opportunity to gaze out the window and consider critical questions of our day. In the dialogue attached, two professors discuss our current cultural approach to war. They both agree that we’ll always have war but in the end MacArthur Fellow Tom Palaima, who happens to have written some nice things about my book, urges us to discuss with our fellow citizens of all political stripes Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Without vilifying people with opposing views, he encourages us to ask, “Is it sensible?”

    In my tactful-as-possible opinion, blowing tons of money and lives in Afghanistan in an unwinnable, imperialistic conflict is a very far cry from the administration’s most brilliant achievement to date, Michelle’s garden! Here’s the insightful discussion in its entirety (40 mins.):


  • What is Beauty? Ask Melissa. “Fine Gardening,” for its July issue, invited my wife and business partner Melissa McDonald to write about her favorite focal-point plants for the southwestern landscape. “These kinds of plants help 'ground' garden beds while simultaneously attracting lots attention," she told me. I like to think of them as the necktie of a stylish suit or the jewelry that goes perfectly with an evening gown. But that’s not all: sometimes these special plants are even more essential than such accoutrements—as important as a melody might be to a symphony. According to the lead designer at Santa Fe Permaculture, “it’s important not to choose focal-point plants if they have a short blooming period or possess a typical branching structure. Avoid tall trees, but expect that most of your focal-point plants are among the tallest in their immediate vicinity.” Focal points also fail if they get hidden or by other plants or if they clamber on top of other plants. Combinations of bright color and striking texture reign supreme because in the end such plant material should dazzle, excite, and inspire like great poetry and when they are at their best these plants become something akin to high art.

    With the horrible news out of Haiti, I must say it was nice to be forced to hear Melissa pontificate about the structure of beauty. Stay tuned for more as her article develops.

  • MLK Daydream The strongest criticism of my upcoming book will probably come from those more radical than I, those who fear the worst, and folks who claim, “If we don’t change NOW in a HUGE way, all will be lost.” As we celebrate MLK Day, they could even quote the good doctor’s "I have a dream" speech in which King rightly complains about the “drug of gradualism.” Immediate measures were necessary in 1963, and it appears as if a sudden revolution is needed now.

    So what’s the difference between the 1963 justice movement and today’s green paradigm shift? First, most victims associated with 2010 materialism are less obvious than the targets of yesterday’s racism. Second, thwarting universally BAD behavior seems slightly easier than inspiring a particular form of “good” behavior. Third, people get turned off by extremist environmentalism quickly, but they LOVE the idea of greening our culture GRADUALLY. If we stay focused on regular increases of time spent being ecological, then we have a chance to make it to the Promised Land. I may not get there with ya, but I dream I do!

  • Bye-Bye Bell Peppers. (See Ya next Summer!) Made it to the farmers’ market a little later this week. To use last week's 'first-tracks' analogy, the best stuff had been skied off. Fortunately, I did bump into many more people I hadn’t seen in awhile, and there were still PLENTY of booths teeming with fresh and/or naturally-preserved foods. There were even some bell-peppers from the same folks who surprised me with them last week. Although visibly less firm compared to last Saturday’s January-crop, I scooted eagerly over at first glance. Turns out Ross Bird of Estancia Valley Produce had planted them in August but “I got froze out the other night, so I had to pick ‘em,” he said. “It’s tough keeping my 11,000 sq. ft. greenhouse warm at night. Next year I’ll do more cold-tolerant crops like most everybody else. Even though I can charge a little more for peppers this time of year, it just doesn’t work to get froze out.”

    Ross also mentioned that he plans to install a cistern off of his huge greenhouse. An hour southeast of Santa Fe, he’s looking at capturing between 60,000 and 100,000 gallons per year—which implies a very big tank. At only a buck a pepper, I hope he has a friendly, patient banker or a talented grant writer.

  • Roof-Reliance Rocks! Yesterday at the Semi-Arid Café I sat down next to a colleague who had recently printed out the State of New Mexico’s “Roof-Reliant Landscaping,”™ a free online, how-to manual for people who want to install landscape-oriented cistern systems with the goal of never using "make-up" water (that is, water from a private well or a public utility). Produced by New Mexico’s Office of the State Engineer and written mostly by me, you can find the whole shebang at:


    Although not as "unfathomably enjoyable" as the upcoming “Harvest the Rain,” my completely unbiased opinion says, "It rocks!"

  • Water-Security Forum Format Gels Well It wasn’t Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Hamilton at the Semi-Arid Café tonight, but thanks to the facilitation of Doug Pushard, we now have a viable plan for our 2/9/10 candidate Q&A at Inn of the Governors, 7pm-9pm. First, we’ll provide a packet about rainwater and wastewater harvesting and include a one-page statement outlining the Semi-Arid Guild’s water-security goals and objectives. Prior to the event, the candidates will get a list of probable questions. If you want to submit a question, please post it here by 1/19/10, and I’ll pass it along. So far, only Miguel Chavez has not gotten back to me about attending the forum. The rest of the candidates have said, "Yes, we can!"

  • Sacred Hunting? Paypal Me Up! For $85, which includes an elk-stew lunch, I just signed up for a "sacred hunting" workshop with Larry Littlebird of Laguna/Santo Domingo Pueblo. Having been mugged several times in the concrete jungle of New York City, my experience with hunting growing up was much more a kin to prey than predator. Thirty years later and after a professional life full of "natural-systems thinking," I am looking forward to connecting with my deep genetic roots as a hunter.

    On the pdf I could forward to you, Littlebird describes hunting as "spiritual practice" in which "hunters do not take life, they receive life....They seek to understand their own place and purpose within a great circle of Creation. Their personal action is to give back, which is crucial to being part of the natural order of all things. Now more than ever, our survival depends upon reconnecting to this sacred hunting, for finding a path of intimacy with the animals, mountains, desert, sky, and one another."

    The one-day workshop on Saturday, January 30, 2010 will be held south of Santa Fe “on the aboriginal lands of Hamaatsa,” and I'm definitely looking forward to it. Register online here: www.hamaatsa.org

  • No Egg is an Island After a 20-week sabbatical, our chickens started laying eggs again. Found one green-shelled and one brown this morning. Both were 2/3” longer and significantly wider than any of the Trader Joe’s “Large” eggs in the fridge. If experience is any indicator, they’ll be twice as delicious, too!

    One of the sad parts of this story is how our birds quit laying. As soon as I accidentally bought a bag of “scratch” instead of “lay pellets,” our flock of six large ladies all shut down. Even as we try to bring sustainability closer to our modern lives, it seems we still are inextricably linked to big companies that make a particular recipe of chicken food. (At least there's "The Encyclopedia of Country Living" that'll tell you what to feed your chickens in the even of economic collapse.)

    Another sad part is that I don’t think our fine-feathered friends would have restarted their laying without the incandescent light that we have been leaving "on" for them in their coop during these cold nights...which reminds me...better get out there now and turn the sucker on. They say it’ll be another chilly one.

  • Catch "First Tracks" at the Farmers' Market! Skiers often dream of getting out early for “first tracks” on a powder day, and once in a while I’ve had that awesome experience of cruising through fresh, knee-deep, winter precipitation in total bliss. Today, I had a similar experience at the farmers’ market: fresh, waist-high, deep-winter products from local farms. Although I usually bike (kids-in-tow) later in the day, our regular Saturday morning schedule changed when my friend Alex, a childless first tracks farmers’ market shopper, showed up early and we drove down to market for a luscious first-tracks equivalent.

    In alphabetical order, here’s what I bought: apple cider (1/2 gallon), Armenian cucumber (1 huge), baby carrots (2 bunches), bok choi (1/2 pound), broccoli (1 big bunch), chicken (1 whole, free-range, 6 pounds), collard greens (1 pound), eggs (1 dozen), green and red bell-peppers (two large), lettuce (1/2 pound), oyster mushrooms (1/2 pound), potatoes (10 medium-sized), salsa sabrosa (8 oz.), sunflower sprouts (1/4 pound), tomatoes (1 very large, heirloom/hydroponic), veggie and pork tamales (10 count), and winesap and braeburn apples (1 dozen)—all for $94, not bad for cold-season prices! But that wasn’t all…I could have gotten about twenty other types of food (beef, lamb, yak, pork, several types of root veggies, radishes, turnips, goat cheese, nuts, jams, breads, and much, much more!

  • 2010, A Backyard Odyssey's To-Do List: ITEM #1 -- Order Bees Here's my first flavor-based task of the New Year: Call Zia Queen Bee Co. to order a bee colony. For two years, my bees have disappeared. As if confused by too much cross-continental travel or kidnapped and murdered by some powerful, poisonous pesticide, the busy critters have twice vanished from our almost-urban backyard. Yet I’m still way psyched for the experience of producing honey again. YUM! Plus, tending bees is an extremely soul-stimulating experience. It’s as if you’re working in another dimension or visiting some distant planet because these ultra-focused beings completely ignore you as soon as you spew ample smoke on them. There you are: suddenly communing with thousands of stinging insects, who couldn’t care less about your sorry existence!

    Although it'll cost $75 bucks for a new queen (complete with throng), this year we could reap bottomless honey jars for the family AND Christmas presents for nearly everyone else on our list. (Comment below, and I’ll consider including YOU, dear reader, on said list!)

  • Character Counts even when you’re a Chicken Earlier this evening, I went out to pour a hot tea kettle over the chickens’ waterer-turned-ice-lick, but the birds were already settling down for a long winter's nap. In the morning I’ll have to do the old cold-weather water-pour all over again because that once-scalding liquid will have concretized. I’m sure our six feathered-friends will be very enthusiastic since my last hot-water pour will have been 48 hours ago. Might I add, "It’s nice to feel wanted'?

    What? Dumb birds don't need character building?

  • Maude Barlow, Water Warrior, to Inspire Santa Fe Just got great six-dollar seats for a February 17 event at the Lensic. The 7pm talk is certain to inspire positive thinking—and action—in our watershed and far beyond. Staring the President of the United Nations General Assembly’s Senior Advisor on Water, Maude Barlow will shock and awe you with her real-life stories about the commoditization of water via corporate greed and human desolation. Fortunately, she’s also all about how we can create “water justice” in every river system simply by organizing at the grassroots level.

    Get your tickets now, www.lensic.com , before they sell out! (These high-quality Lannan Foundation-sponsored events often do.)

  • Date Set for Water-Security Forum My cohorts and I (of Semi-Arid Cafe fame) just scheduled a "water-security" forum, and so far, two of the three mayoral candidates and three of the five city council candidates have agreed to attend!

    Please join us at the Inn of the Governors (W. Alameda bet. Don Gaspar and Galisteo) on Tuesday, February 9, 7-9pm. A mere 22 days before our city-wide elections (36 days from now), you can participate in an important dialogue about the future of our water supply.

    To get invited to future events sponsored by the Semi-Arid Guild (such as the next cafe on January 13th when we will hammer out details about the forum), please stay tuned to this blog and/or email Dana Simmons via danagsimmons@gmail.com .

  • Cistern-Rebate Program Begins in Santa Fe On January 1, the city started a program that pays 25 cents for every gallon of cistern that you install (or have installed) on a piece of land.

    For more info, please check either the City of Santa Fe's website or my column (below)which appeared in the December 09 issue of the Santa Fe Real Estate Guide. (Please note the spending question I raise at the end.)

    "Water, NOT Space, Is the Next Frontier"

    Like a mythical centaur (half human head, half horse ass), last October NASA’s Centaur rammed the backside of the Moon on a mission to extract water from the heavens. Houston, we have a problem. When nearly one billion earthlings lack clean water supplies, what God-fearing nation would spend a dime on crushed ice for a few astronauts?
    What if more tax dollars were spent on down-to-earth programs like Dan Ransom’s? As water conservation director for Sangre de Cristo Water Company, Ransom recently developed a simple rebate program designed to encourage the installation of cisterns throughout Santa Fe. Picture the city’s bygone rain-barrel program on growth hormones.
    Officially launching on January 1, 2010, the program allows water company customers to get cash back for purchasing roof water storage containers. The difference this time is that size matters: As the volume of the cistern increases, so does the rebate. Depending on their capacity, rain barrels will earn between $12 and $50, but real money comes into play for tanks larger than 299 gallons, which the city will consider to be cisterns as opposed to mere rain barrels. At 25 cents per gallon, a 1,000 gallon roof-water storage system reels in $250, and a 10,000 gallon system nets $2,500 in rebate money. “It’s not meant to be a reward,” Ransom said in a recent phone interview. “We see the program creating a real incentive for increasing water-storage capacity for customers in the market for rainwater collection systems.”
    Although Ransom has taken great pains to keep the program simple, one important exception complicates matters. To get a rebate, your tank can’t automatically receive makeup water from the city system. When your cistern is empty, you can water your landscape with a hose or a separate irrigation system. You can install a switching system connected to city water that completely by-passes the cistern. You can even add city water to your tank manually. But you can’t do what most do in the water-harvesting industry.
    In most systems, a small amount of makeup water automatically drops into a cistern when a float switch tells a valve to release auxiliary water. The valve shuts off when the float indicates that a sufficient amount of water (usually enough for a few days) has entered the tank. “I’ve seen a lot of floats fail,” Ransom lamented. “And it would kind of defeat the purpose of increasing storage capacity if we gave out money to people who just filled up that same extra capacity with city water.”
    Often clouded by politics, greed, fear, and myth, water issues are a murky bunch, but one thing is clear: We should support imperfect programs like locally-focused cistern rebates, while we end our very expensive plans to harvest water from the shadow of the Moon. Will we rise and climb toward a higher level of moral consciousness, or will we fall and crawl into the future, seriously damaged by our love affair with Captain Kirk and our currently wasteful and misdirected “quest for knowledge.” (END of COLUMN)


    What do you think about spending tax dollars to look for water in space?


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.