• 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!


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.