I just found out about this plant and it's perfect for the inland empire. Moringa is often called the miracle plant because it is highly nutritious and every part of the plant is edible other than the bark. It grows extremely fast growing several feet per year and will start fruiting in the first year after it is planted from seed. The reason it is perfect is that it only requires 10 inches of rain per year, loves heat and can grow in poor soils. I plan to plant 20-30 trees and use them to make mulch as well as food for us and the chickens. When the soil has improved to the point we can grow other things, I'll thin them out and keep a couple.
You can read more about this amazing plant, at wikipedia.
Today I saw a story that once again reiterates that the things we do have unintended consequences. The almond crop in California currently produces 80% of the world's almonds. This would seem like a good thing and economically, it is. However to achieve this, California has approximately 200,000 acres of nothing but almonds in perfect rows. This makes more maximum efficiency in harvesting but this is essentially a dead ecosystem. Nature does not grow just one plant all by itself for thousands of acres. Almonds require pollination by honeybees to produce. However almonds only produce flowers in early spring therefore if there is only almonds for thousands of acres, any local honeybee colony dies from starvation. Also because there is no healthy ecosystem, thousands of tons of fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on the almonds to keep them alive. So how do we pollinate? Well, instead of allowing polyculture and a self sustaining system, they decide to ship honeybee colonies in. Every spring 1.4 million honeybee colonies are trucked in from all over the United States and placed in this 200,000 acres. So think about this. You have millions of colonies being shipped stacked one on top of another over thousands of miles of interstate breathing diesel fumes spreading parasites and diseases to each other while they are in such close proximity. They are also transported in early spring when they are at their weakest at the end of winter. Then they are released into a field that has been heavily permeated with pesticides and herbicides. Then they are trucked to the next crop they are to pollinate because the way we grow crops doesn't allow for natural pollination.
Luckily, there are things we can do to help the bees and in essence save our food supply.
There's a local group in socal called Backwards Beekeepers and they rescue local wild honeybees and allow them to be normal bees. I would do this myself but, I have anaphylaxis to bee stings so it's probably not a good idea for me but if you're interested, it's a good thing to do.
As it turns out, what you eat may be more important than what you drive. Industrialized agriculture is very fuel intensive. Millions of gallons of diesel are used to grow and harvest corn of which 76 percent go to feed animals. This corn is then shipped to feedlots. Animals are then shipped to slaughterhouses. Carcasses are shipped to packing plants. Meat is then shipped to your grocery. Animals also emit lots of greenhouse gases. So, as you can tell, there's a lot of fossil fuel burning going on in the name of a hamburger for lunch. Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin have been studying the environmental impact of dietary choices and being a vegan is not surprisingly the most sustainable diet. In fact, the carbon footprint difference between a vegan and someone who gets 50% of his/her calories from meat is similar to the difference between driving a small car and an SUV.
We all knew that being vegetarian was better for our health and less cruel to animals - now we know that its better for the planet as well.
So what's the first thing you do when you have a house with a lawn and you want to plant a garden? Dig it up right? This is done with a rototiller or a shovel. The ground is usually rock hard clay which is really hard to dig and pretty poor soil to grow a garden in. So after you till it, you have to put in fertilizer, compost, peat moss, etc, etc, etc. Tilling also spreads weed seeds and increases soil erosion because there is bare soil with nothing holding it in place. Let's me honest - it's a lot of hard work and no one wants a lot of work. Remember, this is supposed to be less work than having a lawn.
That's the beauty of sheet mulching. Sheet mulching aerates the soil, kills the weeds and grass, enriches the soil with organic material and prepares for garden planting all with ZERO digging. The basic idea is very simple - you layer 4 different layers right on top of your existing lawn and it will compost over time right into the ground.
The first layer is shown as compost but I will use horse manure. There are a lot of people around Redlands with horses and I'm thinking they will likely be happy to have someone shovel up and haul away the manure. This layer should be 2-3 inches thick. You then spray some water on this layer to soak it through and wet the soil underneath.
The next layer is the weed barrier layer. You can use 6-8 sheets of newspaper, burlap, organic carpet, or cardboard. I'll use cardboard because its very easy to get. This layer keeps the grass and weeds underneath from growing through the manure. The sheets of cardboard must be overlapped by at least 6 inches.
The next layer will be leaves or hay or compost. This layer needs to be as free from weed seeds as possible since there is no barrier above this layer. I plan to see if i can get some rotten hay from local livestock growers. If that doesn't work, I'll buy some hay and spread that around. This layer should be 3-4 inches thick.
The last layer is to basically make the whole thing presentable to your neighbors. I'll buy some straw or find a tree trimmer that wants to get rid of wood chips or find a wood working shop and get sawdust and put this on top. This layer should be 3-4 inches thick as well.
Doing this should take one person less than a day once you have the materials collected to cover a decent sized plot. Now you wait several months. At the end of several months, there will be thousands of worms and trillions of beneficial soil bacteria in an area that used to be devoid of almost all soil life. The worms will dig up the soil and aerate the soil and it will be perfect for planting.
There's several good places to read further about it - here's one.
When we actually do this, I'll put up a post with pictures of it every step of the way start to finish.
I saw this article on yahoo this morning and it reminded me of yet another reason that everyone should grow food at home. When we walk into a modern supermarket, there is this illusion of diversity. There are thousands and thousands of different food products available for purchase and it is easy to think that there is alot of variety to choose from. This is a lie. All the products we see are engineered in a laboratory out of very few basic starting materials. Industrialized agriculture chooses the crops that give the highest yield and is the easiest to transport and store. Therefore we as a planet have reduced our food diversity.
Historically, people grew and ate over 7,000 species of plants. Today, only 150 species are cultivated to any extent and most humans live on only 12 species. This is not taking into consideration different varieties of the same species. There used to be thousands of different kinds of apples. If you went to different parts of the world, or country, or even a different orchard, you would get a different apple. Today, most people have only seen or eaten one of 4 or 5 varieties (Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious, Cameo, etc). There are thousands of kinds of lettuce, but over 95% of what is grown is iceberg lettuce. There were thousands of varieties of corn but just three varieties account for over 90% of the corn grown in the world. Same goes for soybeans, potatoes, rice. It goes on and on. We have decimated the biodiversity of our food in the name of production and profit.
Crop diversity is food security. A monoculture food supply is very vulnerable to disease. If we grew thousands of kinds of corn, any single disease would only wipe out a small fraction of the corn grown, but if a fungus or something were to attack one of the varieties of corn we grow, it would cause a tremendous collapse of our food system. Same for rice, potatoes, soybeans. Not only that but the food we grow has sacrificed nutritional value and taste for the sake of easy production, harvest, storage and transport. That is what these foods are bred for - not for taste, not for nutrition, not for anything else.
So the work that is done by the Global Crop Diversity Trust is very important but having seeds locked up in a vault is time consuming. If everyone grew food at home and grew different varieties of things than their friends and neighbors, there would be built in biodiversity in food that is actively used. We could all taste better and different foods and it would be healthier for us and finally would provide food security for all.
Green building is quite in vogue these days with everyone talking about LEED certification and energy efficiency and renewable building materials. Earthships take green building to extremes. These structures are built predominantly of trash. The outer walls are made of old automobile tires and dirt. The walls are 4 feet thick and weigh several tons each. This make them almost indestructible and gives them tremendous thermal mass which stabilizes the interior temperature. The inner walls are made of dirt and empty cans and bottles.
This gives a unique look to the structure. But beyond that, it is a passive solar design that uses a large south facing glass wall to provide lighting, heat, and a greenhouse to purify greywater.
This building is completely self contained. It collects and purifies rainwater for drinking and washing, then it purifies the greywater to use in flushing toilets and then also processes the blackwater for use in irrigating outside landscaping. All heating and cooling is provided by the sun and thermal mass. All electricity is from a small solar array and wind turbine. Therefore you can build one of these in the middle of nowhere and never pay a single bill to any utility company and generate almost no environmental footprint other than the trash you removed from a landfill to build the structure.
You can see some websites of owners who built their own earthships here and here.
At some point, almost everyone in the US needs a car. You can only carry so many people on a motorcycle or a bike. For a long time I was very interested in the car shown above. It's call the Aptera and it was built with a single purpose in mind - efficiency. There are several factors that efficiency in cars but the two most important are weight and aerodynamic drag. Human powered bicycles can reach over 80 mph powered by a human with about 1/2 horsepower but cars require almost one hundred horsepower to reach equivalent speeds. Why? Because cars are much heavier and have tremendous drag. The shape of today's cars are not ideal for reducing aerodynamic drag. At 55mph, over 50% of a car's power is not used to propel it forward but to fight drag and this increases exponentially as speed increases. If you change nothing else on a car but its shape, you can dramatically improve fuel efficiency and performance. In fact, someone took a regular 1992 Civic CX and did nothing but change the shape of it to this:
Yes, its ugly but making it this ugly improved fuel efficiency from 47mpg to 95mpg. Simply amazing. The Aptera has an even more aerodynamic shape, has only 3 wheels to reduce rolling resistance and was originally set to weigh half the weight of a typical small car. Unfortunately, the company seems to have hit some snags and I'm no longer sure that they will be able to deliver a viable vehicle anymore.
40 degrees and sunny today in Pittsburgh. It's the perfect weather for biking into work but let's face it, sometimes you need more than a bicycle. If you're commute is over 10 miles, it takes alot of dedication to ride a bike. Or if the roads you travel have no shoulder and has alot of traffic that moves at higher speed, biking is probably not safe because every car that passes you is a car that could hit you. In those cases, you need a vehicle that can keep up with the flow of traffic. This means a car or a motorcycle. I think we've gotten to the point now that an electric motorcycle is an economically viable proposition. The technology in electric vehicles is rapidly evolving these days, most importantly in the area of battery technology. Batteries are still the largest cost in any electric vehicle now. In a heavy car, a large amount of batteries are needed to give the car any appreciable range but in a small light vehicle like a motorcycle, the battery investment is low and electric motorcycles are now almost cost competitve with gas bikes. The Brammo Enertia pictured above is about $6000 after state and federal incentives. A somewhat comparable Ninja 250 is about $4000. Now the gas bike is faster and goes farther per fillup but for most commuting purposes, a range of 50 miles and top speed of 60 is good enough. And there are numerous benefits to an electric motorcycle:
They have no transmission so they are much easier to operate.
They are much simpler mechanically therefore there is less to break down.
No oil changes, no coolant changes, no tuneups, no changing the plugs, etc. Maintainence is just keeping the chain lubed. That's it!
Much quieter - some people think of this as a safety concern but plenty of loud motorcycles get hit. Being loud is no substitute for riding smart.
Never have to visit the gas station. Even if you get your electricity from a coal plant which is currently the dirtiest way to generate electricity, you still are twice as efficient in terms of CO2 as a gas motorcycle. Of course if you get your electricity from solar or wind, you are infinitely more efficient.
Weighs much less (about 300 lbs) so it is much more nimble and easier to handle which makes it safer.
They are much cleaner for the air - smog, particulates, noxious fumes, etc. No emissions locally and less emissions even if the electricity is from coal or gas or oil.
There are several other manufacturers and I expect more to come onto the market. Some others are Zero and Electric motorsport.
We all know that exercising is good for us. I hate going to the gym. I find it boring and I can't get myself motivated to do it. Most of us work jobs where we don't get alot of exercise and my job is no different. I basically sit or stand all day and do relatively little moving around. But in the interest of not turning into a flabby slob, I knew I had to force myself to get some exercise and the only way I was going to do that was to incorporate it into something I have to do. It couldn't be something optional like going to the gym or going for a run.
Enter bicycle commuting. We all have to go to work. If you don't have a car, you have to either walk, ride the bus, or bike. When we moved to Pittsburgh, we sold two of our three cars and just kept the minivan for long trips. We found a place that was about 3 miles from work. It also happened that my house was higher elevation than work. This worked out beautifully because I could get to work door to door in about 15 minutes and it was basically coasting the whole way. I was very alert and awake by the time I got to work and I never got sweaty because it was mostly downhill. Of course, on the way back home, it would take me 30 minutes all uphill and on hot days, I was in serious need of a shower when I got home.
There's benefits beyond the 45 minutes of guarenteed exercise every day. So far, I've racked up over 2000 miles on my bike just commuting to work for the past year and a half. At the estimated rate of 50 cents a mile for gas and car expenses, that works out to 1000 dollars saved. Also, that works out to about 100 gallons of gasoline that we didn't have to import. Last year, the US imported 4.35 BILLION barrels of oil to the tune of almost 300 billion dollars. Bike commuting would solve many of our country's major problems: the obesity epidemic and resultant healthcare problems and costs, air pollution, dependence on foreign sources of energy, and trade deficit.
Things I've learned in the past year about bike commuting:
It's alot easier than I thought. I can get to work even faster than I would be car and once you're on the bike, it's fun.
Weather isn't really a problem. In modern society we are so cut off from our natural environment surrounded by our air conditioned or heated cars and houses that many of us feel like if we get some rain on us, we'll melt - or that anything that is not 75 degrees is either too hot or too cold. It's actually quite refreshing to get rained on and once you get to work and change, you feel fine. When it's pouring rain or when it's cold a rainy, I use a Gore Tex shell and Polarguard tights, but if its warm and the rain is light, just T shirt and shorts work great. You do need to get at least a rear fender on your bike though because otherwise, you'll end up with a big strip of road grime up your back.
Snow isn't a problem either. I actually get better traction on my bike than in my car. Probably because I have alot less momentum and inertia. You just have to learn to ride without making quick turns or stops. Now, when it snowed 2 feet, I had to walk but people weren't really driving their cars either.
Use the smaller residential roads and not the main roads - it's alot safer and much more pleasant.
Assume every car is out to hit you. I've read that you should assume that you're invisible to drivers when you're on a bike. After getting hit by an SUV last year, I just assume that everyone is out to get me. That mentality keeps you hyperalert and I haven't been hit since.
Drunk college guys will throw stuff at you - usually empty beer cans.
Rear tires wear out REALLY fast. They last about 1000 miles from what I can tell. I've never worn out a bicycle tire until I started commuting. I'm on my third rear tire but still on my first front tire.
Passing cars in traffic on a bicycle is funny.
Passing cars who are not in traffic is even more funny.
But really, the book that really pointed out the stupidity of our situation was Food Not Lawns which points out that we have over 25 million acres of residential lawns in the United States. We spend 30 BILLION dollars a year on fertilizer, herbicide, etc to take care of these lawns. We mow these lawns with lawnmowers that spew more pollution in an hour than a car driving 50 miles. In southern california, we water these lawns with sprinkler systems and this represents more water use in the average household than everything else combined. And for what? Mainly, it's to conform to societal norms that tell us that we all must have uniform green lawns around our house. Lawns serve little purpose than a forced aesthetics. Most people in surburbia have enough yardspace to grow the majority of food they eat. When done right, home gardens take less work, less money, and less water than lawns and can provide several thousand pounds of food that is fresher, tastes better, and is healthier for you and the planet. Seems like a no brainer doesn't it?