Tag Archives: compost

Pertinent Lessons from Our Recent Past

A little off the beaten path for tourists in London is the Imperial War Museum.  It’s still a quick tube ride from the central part of the city and it is just a two stops away from the always tasty Borough Market.  Plus, depending on the line you take you will get to stop at the Elephant & Castle station.  I think that name is just smashing.

The museum has all the usual exhibits that glorify the British Empire—one quarter of the world’s landmass, one quarter of the world’s population, the sun never sets on the British Empire, etc.—through World War I and II with a small, yet quite impactful, exhibit on the Holocaust.  However, the part of the museum that I found most interesting dealt with the home front during World War II.

The home front usually gets short shrift in any analysis of a war effort.  World War II in Britain was a little different because the horrors of war made it across the English Channel in German raids on London and other cities.  Children were shipped to the countryside where it was deemed safer and Londoners huddled in shelters as bombs or rockets rained down.  With a stiff upper lip, so to speak, the nation kept calm and carried on.

My daughter and I probably spent close to an hour in the home front exhibition looking at the types of food that were available or not available and why or the measures taken by households to conserve materials in order to supply troops.  The impression that my ten year old daughter was left with was how little a house could make do with if it had to. Her seven year old brother, naturally, loved the display of World War I grenades.

As we face an uncertain climate in the coming decades and the attendant consequences of that climate change we may be forced into a situation where our everyday begins to resemble the home front during an armed global conflagration.

Victory is in the Kitchen

Victory is in the Kitchen

It is my belief that we can make some of the biggest impacts from the comfort of our homes and the center of our homes is the kitchen.  It is the place where my family spends the most time together and it is probably where I spend the most time teaching my children.  Some parents play catch or go on hikes, I teach my kids how to dice onions, mince garlic, deglaze pans, and build flavors.

Change starts at home.  The food we choose to make and eat forms the core of our value system as self-described environmentalists.  If you are not trying to be a better human in the kitchen you might as well stop sweating the other stuff.

Food: Don’t Waste It

Food Dont Waste It

In the United States it is estimated that 30 to 40% of food goes to waste.  Given the impact of agriculture on climate change this is unacceptable.  Furthermore, given that in this age of abundance when we are dealing with diseases of over consumption, e.g. obesity related illnesses, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend

Repair is the forgotten action that we can take to conserve.  Almost everything, save for our homes and automobiles, is basically disposable in modern capitalist economies.  Even big ticket items like appliances are seen as disposable, which blows my mind.  Here’s the thing, repairing stuff has never been easier.  The internet is literally chock a block full of people posting repair instructions, wiring diagrams, parts lists, etc. that can help even the least handy of us repair many of the items we once viewed as disposable.

Can I do Without It?

Can I Do Without

Is there a better question to ask yourself about any purchase that you make?  The most environmentally conscious purchase is usually one that we do not make.  Sure, there are the obvious wins like replacing high usage light bulbs with the most efficient LED bulbs or replacing a fifteen year old refrigerator with a more efficient model.  However, many of the “green” purchases we make are just adding consumption to the system that is destroying our planet.  It may be made of organic cotton, but do you really need another t-shirt?

Self-Indulgence at This Time is Helping the Enemy

Self Indulgence

I just love how direct some of the messaging was during World War II.  This poster is basically saying, “Don’t be a dick, we’re fighting a war here.”  How many of our problems, with regard to climate change, could be solved if people were just somewhat less self-indulgent?  I will let you stew on that thought for now.

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Friday Linkage 8/11/2017

Heading out on vacation in a few hours because nothing says relaxing like Orlando in August with your extended family.  There is absolutely nothing quite like late summer Florida heat and humidity to really bring people together.  At least there will be Dole Whip.

On to the links…

Utah Commission: Keep “Negro Bill Canyon” the Same—Between the zealots who cannot stop fighting the Civil War by idiotically flying what they assume is the flag of the Confederacy—when in truth it is bastardization of a battle flag flown by either the Army of Northern Virginia or the Army of Tennessee—to maintaining symbols of hate like this we will never grow as a nation.

How Midwestern Farmers Could Help Save the Gulf of Mexico—It will never happen with the current White House and most of the governors being Republicans, but there should be a national program to pay farmers to deploy cover crops.  No single action would be better for the health of the Gulf of Mexico and our nation’s water quality.  It is a proven solution.

How Fossil Fuel Money Made Climate Change Denial the Word of God—Be wary of the man who claims to be godly, but spends his time talking about earthly matters.  It usually means that he is hiding an agenda and using a veneer of piety as a shield against criticism.  As I tell people all the time, “I do not remember a single passage in the bible where Jesus talks about the rights of oil companies to drill on public lands.”

Americans Are Using Less Electricity Today Than A Decade Ago—The key caveat here is per capita.  There are more people, but we are using less electricity per each person.

Thanks To Co-op, Small Iowa Town Goes Big On Solar—I went to a wedding this summer just outside of Kalona and the solar panels were all over the place.  Ground mount arrays were at almost every farm that was not owned by an older order Amish or Mennonite family.  If everyone could embrace solar like the customers of Farmers Electric Cooperative the world would be a better place.

Dirty Energy’s Quiet War on Solar Panels—They can try and stem the tide but solar panels will win in the end.  The guys who put the panels on my house this week were booked solid with jobs for the rest of the summer and fall.  Solar power is real and it is here.

To Solve ‘Duck Curve,’ Missouri Utility to Pay Bonus for West-Facing Solar Panels—It’s not just about south facing roofs anymore.  As someone who has installed a west facing array—270 degree azimuth baby—I cannot wait to see how my peak production lines up with the duck curve.

Shell Oil CEO Stunner: ‘My Next Car will be Electric’—The worm has turned.

More New Yorkers Opting for Life in the Bike Lane—Bikes are amazing and can be a major component of the mobility solutions puzzle we, as a nation and species, are trying to solve.  Seriously, if people are willing to bike in New York City you should be willing to bike in Cedar Rapids.

A Perfect Illustration of the Spatial Inefficiency of the Automobile—Remember, if you work in a cubicle your parking space is bigger than your office.  What do we truly value?

Pedal Power: How Denver Bike Crews are Rescuing Food from Landfills One Ride at a Time—I love this business model.  Collect scraps—for a fee—with a no-emissions bicycle and create wonderful compost to nourish the soil.

Here’s Proof the Average U.S. Household Isn’t the ‘Dumb Money’—I spent twenty one months in business school listening to the icons of “smart money” tell aspiring investment bankers how they were the masters of the universe and what not.  The financial crisis in 2008 was a total nut punch to these guys, but it obviously did not make them humble.

Papa John’s has Made a Gluten-Free Pizza that Gluten-Intolerant Diners can’t Eat—Here is proof that the gluten free trend is not about people with celiac disease and more about marketing.

Impossible Burger’s ‘Secret Sauce’ Highlights Challenges of Food Tech—Soy leghemoglobin may be an allergen, but I love the government’s concern.  I also find it stunning that the FDA has acted so quickly when other problems in our food system are persistent and pernicious going on for years and decades without any government intervention.  Do you think big meat is behind this?  Oh yeah…

Friday Linkage 9/18/2015

Tom Brady supports Donald Trump. Peyton Manning is starring on the field as a weaker armed version of the Hall of Fame quarterback. Jay Cutler is doing Jay Cutler things again in Chicago. You could say that I spent some time this last week watching football and just plain zoning out. Go Hawks!

On to the links…

How Much Of Your Retirement Fund Is Tied Up In Fossil Fuels? Now, You Can Find Out.—A person’s 401k will be one of the two largest investments in a portfolio, with a home being the only competitor. How much of that money is going to support fossil fuel interests?

Half Of California’s Electricity Will Come From Renewable Energy In 15 Years—California passed a major climate change related bill recently. Although it was watered down by fossil fuel interests at the last minute there is still a lot of good things in the legislation.

A Third American City Is Now Running Entirely On Renewable Energy—It is still one the most pretentious ski towns in the world—go Steamboat Springs!—but it is now 100% fueled by renewables. There is a lot of marketing involved in the effort, but it is commendable nonetheless.

Meet the New National Geographic and Weep—The same people who bring you the sheer horror that is Fox & Friends will be the same people who publish one of the most amazing magazines in world history. Rupert Murdoch ruins everything that he touches and National Geographic will be no different.

AB InBev plans takeover bid for SABMiller—You want to talk about mega-merger. This is it. Nine of the world’s twenty largest breweries would be controlled by a single entity. Now, a lot of that volume would be made up of junk macro beer that has seen flat to declining sales for the past decade. So, maybe this is a doubling down on a losing bet hoping for a nag to come through.

National Grid CEO: Large Power Stations For Baseload Power Is Outdated—The distributed model—think the internet—has supplanted the traditional centralized model of most industries save for electrical power generation.

Siemens Looks Toward Next-Generation 10–20 MW Wind Turbines—Think about a 10 to 20 MW wind turbine for a moment. At the mid-range it could be the equivalent of 10 GE 1.5 MW turbines that dot the American landscape. Wow!

The Palm Oil Plantations Powering Communities and Tackling Climate Change—Why aren’t all large scale agricultural operations taking such a holistic approach to their energy use and lifecycle? The number that got me was reducing the diesel use from 2.8 million liters per year to under 500,000 liters per year.

10 Ways to Get Rid of That Awful Smell in Your Kitchen Sink—If you cook a lot in your home you are quite familiar with the strange odors that can come from the disposal drain in the kitchen sink. I use a combination of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint liquid soap and hot water. It takes care of any funk lickety split.

8 Things to Never Bring into Your Home—We are always looking for those quick hit things to make our homes a little bit greener. Here are eight easy things to avoid.

25 Things you Should Start Adding to your Compost Pile—How many of these things do you throw away that could be put into the compost?

This Southern State Made A Big Commitment To Start Teaching About Climate Change—Welcome to the modern age Alabama. Roll tide!

These Two Genius Tricks to Improve School Food Have Nothing to Do With What’s for Lunch—Simple and cost effective. These are the changes that we can make on the local level that will really impact our children’s lives.

Sad Side Yard Transformation

I have truly struggled with my southwest-ish facing side yard. It’s where my two compost bins are located because the afternoon sun really heats things up and it’s a convenient trip from the kitchen to dump scraps.

My first attempt to bring some life and color to this space was a series of butterfly bushes. Epic fail. After the first year I lost one of the bushes. I replaced the lost bush, but by the end of year two all of the bushes were dead. I cut them to the ground and let the bed lay barren for a year while I thought about what I wanted to do.

My second thought was to build a hop trellis and grow some hops for my homebrew. My recent reduction in beer drinking and the subsequent stoppage of homebrewing made that an irrelevant idea. Back to the drawing board. Here is what I was left to work with:

Sad Side Yard

Why not vegetables? Since vegetables are generally annuals I would not need to worry about losing plants to the inevitable winter wind. It’s not a bed that people spend a lot of time looking at, so the aesthetic value of flowering bushes is diminished. Hmmm…..

The first challenge was removing the god damned river rock and landscape fabric. Seriously, this stuff is the worst. The rock just retains heat and provides no benefit to the plants other than keeping weeds down. The landscape fabric actually lets water run off rather than percolating into the soil and it traps dirt on top where weeds eventually take root making the landscape fabric irrelevant. Ugh.

With that dirty, dusty job done things went pretty smoothly. The dirt in the bed was fairly rich, but I still amended it with heaping handfuls on compost and coconut coir. In went three cherry tomatoes, three paste tomatoes, two sweet peppers, two hot peppers, two edamame plants, and four cauliflower starts. A thick layer of shredded cypress mulch on top finished everything off:

Happy Side Garden

What was once a barren and sad side yard has become a vibrant little garden. The picture above is a somewhat dated as the tomato and pepper plants are really taking off with the perfect mix of rain and sun we have been getting in eastern Iowa this spring.

Now imagine how much food we could grow if every house in America just converted one neglected bed alongside their home into a small vegetable garden. Amazing potential.

Friday Linkage 3/6/2015

I do not know if is a function of human derived climate change or the fact that weather in the Midwest can be schizophrenic, but we have seen the temperature go from 35 on Monday down to negative 5 on Thursday and back up to 35 by Friday afternoon. Whiplash anyone?

On to the links…

Ringling Bros. Eliminating Elephant Acts—After much public pressure and bad behavior on Ringling Bros. part the misuse of elephants as entertainment appears to be coming to an end. It is too bad that these animals are still going to live in a facility run by Ringling Bros. More pressure is needed to get these animals to a real sanctuary.

How Global Warming Helped Cause the Syrian War—If you do not believe that global warming and climate change are a threat to national security you are probably a stooge getting payments from the Koch Brothers or Exxon.

The U.S. Just Got One Step Closer To Regulating Airplane Carbon Emissions—Air travel is a huge source of carbon emissions. Regulating these emissions is a big deal. There is progress being made. If you ever doubt the importance of the election in 2016 remember that a Republican president would roll back any of the progress that has been made on issues like these. Those are the stakes.

Solar Energy’s Unexpected Conservative Backers—The price is right and the technology is available. It finally looks like the political roadblocks to widespread solar adoption are falling as conservative—just not the right wing of the right wing—politicians and pundits are jumping on the bandwagon.

Google Invests $300 Million in SolarCity Rooftop Solar Installations—So, $300M supports at least 25,000 solar installations. Imagine if we just stopped subsidizing oil and gas to the tune of billions of dollars and funneled that same amount of money into funds deploying solar? I know, it’s crazy talk.

Solyndra’s Fall was Great for Solar, Just Ask Henry Ford—The shakeout in the solar industry was good for the industry as a whole and consumers because it got rid of the weaker players or non-competitive technologies. It is the sign of a maturing market.

Why Utility-Scale Solar is Booming on the East Coast—Solar is not just about the sunny climes west of the Mississippi.

“Countertop” Flow Battery Is Coal-Crushing Energy Storage On Steroids—Cheap and abundant energy storage is the killer technology for distributed renewables. With this technology the peaks and valleys of energy production and demand can be leveled out without the need for fossil fuel base load power.

Deepwater Gets Financing for First US Offshore Wind Farm—Cape Wind’s financing appears to be in trouble, but this wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island might go forward. It’s a small project—only five 6 megawatt turbines—but think of it as a proof of concept that could lead to a lot more deployment.

Electricity Cost Decreases By 30% In Kenya Due To Geothermal—Where available and appropriate, geothermal is a wicked good renewable energy choice.

Is Grass-Fed Beef Really Better for You, the Animal and the Planet?—The moral of the story is that we should eat a lot less meat, especially a lot less beef.

Minneapolis Compost Rules Scrutinized with Pets in Mind—Someone’s pet gets into a compost bin that is not their own and it is the fault of the compost program that the dog got sick. How come no one asks the question about the dog owner’s responsibility to keep their pet from ingesting scraps bound for a compost facility?

Amsterdam is Out of Bicycle Parking Spaces, so it’s Building 40,000 More—If I ever had to pick someone other than the U.S. to live it would be the Netherlands. It’s the only place I have seen with high tech bike parking right next to a train station and a giant parking ramp for bicycles in the city center.

10,000 Elephants in the Room: I Made It Through CPAC Without Puking—Granted, every major political conference brings out the crazies. However, CPAC seems to have more than its fair share of whack jobs in Duck Dynasty garb, gun nuts, John Birch types, and whatever is left of the Tea Party.

3 Vile Myths too Many Food Companies are Shoving Down our Throats—Like urban legends, these food myths refuse to die.

Starve a Landfill: Efficiency in the Kitchen to Reduce Food Waste—Everything but the oink became a sign of the lengths the industrial food machine would go to extract profit from the slaughter of animals, but the same principle needs to be applied in our homefront war on global warming. With so much food waste in the U.S. it is imperative that we waste less in order to live better.

11 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Waste Today—Sometimes we forget about the little things that we should be doing to make this planet a better place. Just a friendly link reminder.

Is it a Better K-Cup?

I drink a lot of coffee.  Sometimes it even worries my six-year-old daughter who will ask, “Daddy, what do you drink besides coffee and beer?”  Fair question, little one, but the answer is probably not much else.

Normally, to satiate my desire for coffee during the five days a week I spend in the office I use a Keurig single serve machine to brew one cup at a time.  Instead of using disposable K-cups on a regular basis I use Solofill refillable cup.  It works pretty well and I get to choose the type of coffee that goes into my cup.  It also eliminates the waste associated with K-cups.

However, on the occasions where I want an additional cup of coffee and I am out of Solofills there is a cache of K-cups in a desk drawer.  On a recent trip to the store I noticed some inexpensive K-cups from Cameron’s Coffee and decided to give them a shot.

Cameron’s Coffee, a roaster out of Minnesota, is actually not producing K-cups but an alternative:

Camerons Pod

It’s a rigid plastic ring with a simple filter suspended from the aforementioned plastic ring.  Unlike actual K-cups these little guys are only punctured at the top, where a foil seal is present, and the filter hangs above the needle that would normally puncture the bottom of a K-cup.  The claim is less waste is produced with this system.

Regardless of which coffee brewing mechanism I use all of the wet grounds go right into the compost bin.  It’s pretty easy to separate the filter from the ring—just a quick wrist flip with a paring knife produces ready to compost grounds:

Camerons Composted

All that is left is the foil seal and rigid plastic ring.  The coffee was okay and the system seemed to work so I see no reason why Cameron’s Coffee alternative K-cups cannot be the regular reserve in my coffee cache.

My home solution for a coffee fix is the deceptively simple Aeropress which produces some of the best coffee for the least work.

Friday Linkage 1/3/2014

Man, writing 2014 is a trip.  It happens every year, but the first few weeks of putting down a new year always throws me for a loop.  I digress.

On to the links…

California Installed More Rooftop Solar In 2013 Than Previous 30 Years Combined—What do you follow that up with?  Think about the acceleration of rooftop photovoltaics over the past couple of years.  Even better, think about what this means in cumulative terms as more PV arrays come on line in 2014.

Massive Minnesota Solar Project gets Legal Boost—It’s important to remember that solar is not just important in California.  In Minnesota, not exactly known for sunny days on end, solar is getting to be a big deal.

Fossil Fuel Industry and Koch Brothers Align to Kill Extension of Wind Energy Tax Credits—Anytime you read a story about some group opposed to renewables it always seems to come back around to the Koch Brothers.  Do these guys like anything besides money and Fox News?  Heck, they probably do not even like Fox News that much.  Just money.

We Want You for the Repair Resolution—Repairing things has become a lost art and skill in our modern society.  Devices become “obsolete” so quickly that replacement just seems like a better option.  It’s a pretty tired story, but committing to repair is maybe the greenest thing you could do in 2014.

World’s Smallest Laptop Adapter could Lead to More Efficient Electronics— How many laptops are out there sucking electricity right now through under-engineered power bricks?  Millions?  Tens of millions?  More?  Like inefficient cable boxes this is one of those unseen vampires of power.

The United Watershed States of America—I love alternative maps that do away with current political boundaries.  We are so wedded to the boundaries of states in our minds that it colors our decisions on issues that have absolutely no regard for where people in Washington D.C. though borders should be.

California Gripped By Driest Year Ever—Drought is just nasty because it is so persistent.  Granted, any historian of the American west will tell you that California is a state defined by extreme weather and natural events so to judge anything over a short period of time is just asking for trouble.  Nonetheless, I do not want to be someone counting on rain in the Golden State.

Hawaiian Garden Being Brought Back to Paradise—Hawaii is a strange place botanically.  A lot of the plants that we identify with the islands are non-native and/or invasive.  A vision of a pre-invasive species Hawaii is interesting.

The Easiest Way to Tell if You Have Healthy Soil—Sometimes we become too enamored with fancy tests.  Just open your eyes and nature may provide you the answers in a relatively easy to understand format.

Millions Of Acres Of Chinese Farmland Too Polluted To Grow Food—China’s list of problems keeps growing and many of them are self-inflicted.  The air is just awful.  The land is so polluted in some spots that it is no longer capable of growing food safely.  If there is a place headed for a nasty ecological crash, it has to be China.

The Mysterious Story of the Battery Startup that Promised GM a 200-mile EV—This story is just fascinating and as it made the rounds over the break everyone said it should be used as a primer on startups.  I think it speaks to a lot of issues involving startups, mature industries, the government, etc.  Enjoy it.