Tag Archives: compost

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.

Walt Disney World’s Eco-Hypocrisy

No one is going to claim that Walt Disney World is an eco-friendly destination.  Ever.  It’s built on what is essentially swamp land in the middle of the sprawl of Orlando, which has to be one of the most unsustainable developments in the history of mankind.

Some of the hypocrisy just gets to me.  Particularly at Animal Kingdom.  All throughout the park you are preached to about certain elements of eco-centricity.  There are no straws at Animal Kingdom because those are a common item that ends up polluting the animal enclosures at zoos all over the world.  I am down with that, but then explain to me why each tray of food at the quick service outlets had a small plastic card begging people not to litter?  Why not just print the message on the trays rather than include a disposable plastic card?  I cannot explain this conundrum.

However, you are given a paper straw with dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  So, not all straws are bad I guess.

Then there are balloons.  A common souvenir is a balloon that encases another balloon shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head.  Cool right?  Except at Animal Kingdom you cannot get balloons because they might float away and end up in an enclosure.  Okay, but a balloon released at any of the other parks—Magic Kingdom is the farthest park away at less than 5 miles—could easily end up in Animal Kingdom.  Why not ban the balloons at all parks?  Oh wait, dollars…

There are dozens of examples of eco-hypocrisy that I witnessed in my five day trip to the resort.  I do not want to sound like a grump, but wrapping yourself in the flag of self-righteousness when everything else runs counter to that image is just wrong.

At least the toilet paper has 25% post-consumer recycled content:

Magic Kingdom Toilet Paper

You can understand my fascination with toilet paper considering that I started this blog talking about toilet paper so long ago.

One place where the resort does a better job than most other parts of the country is in terms of mass transit.  In the middle of Florida, which seems to hate mass transit because it just smells like some kind of socialist conspiracy, there is plenty of mass transit on the resort grounds.  You can spend your entire trip from airport and back in the embrace of Disney operated mass transit.

Even more impressive than its ubiquity is the organization of the mass transit.  There are no disorganized bus stops with people trying to figure out what queue to stand in.  Nope.  Each destination has clearly marked stops and where the frequency merits there are actual employees assigned to assist people in finding their way.  Even at the busiest of times the wait is rarely twenty minutes.  Granted, you are paying a premium to stay on-resort but getting to where you are going without renting a car is pretty sweet.

Now, about that monorail…

Friday Linkage 10/4/2013

The government is shut down, the debt ceiling is about to be reached, and all we hear is politicians crowing on the news shows about how no one wants to “compromise.”  Note to any tea party Republicans, when you only control one chamber of the legislature and do not occupy the office of the executive compromise does not equal getting everything you want.  As it was said so many times during the second Bush’s dastardly administration, elections have consequences.  I also remember a lot of these same blowhards saying “love it or leave it” but that sentiment seems to be one that only bloviating Rush Limbaugh types like to bust out.

On to the links…

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions down 11 Percent Since 2007—There are a lot of interesting graphs to drive home the point, but comes down to some pretty simple facts—we are burning less coal, driving fewer miles, and getting more miles per gallon from our cars.

America’s First “Legal” Hemp Crop in Almost 60 Years—It’s legality can be questioned because the federal government probably does not view it the same as state authorities.  Granted, the feds have other things to worry about right now.  It’s a small step, but hemp could be an interesting crop for farmers to add to the rotation.

Can the Economy go Full Circle—The idea of a circular economy—where new goods are produced from old goods without using new resources—is the holy grail of the green community.  Instead of downcycling, things are truly recycled.

Tastes Like Chicken—Is non-meat meat the future?  If you read this article by uber food dude Alton Brown there might be a glimmer of hope for faux meat to reach the promise of replacing the conventional meat in the future.

The Benefit of Frozen Foods—I do not get why people hate on frozen foods so much.  Sure, it seems like buying reusable bags full of fresh food all the time is the best solution but there is a place for frozen foods in the equation of healthy living.  I am not talking about frozen pizzas or T.V. dinners.  Think about the utility of frozen vegetables or fruits.

The Nacho Dorito Taste—Do you want to know why you crave a half dozen Doritos Los Tacos at 2 AM?  Watch this video from Michael Moss and find out.  Or, just stay blissfully ignorant about the ways that our brains are manipulated by food scientists.  Hmmmm, tacos…

IKEA to Sell Residential Solar Panels in Britain—A lot of analysts talk about something meeting the China or India price.  That is the point when things become affordable in emerging markets.  Well, for the developed world I think it should be called the IKEA price.  Now you are going to be able to buy a solar PV system at everyone’s favorite purveyor of flat pack furniture.

Xcel Energy Opens Way to Solar Gardens—Solar gardens are a sweet idea.  A lot of people do not live in homes that can take advantage of roof mounted racks of solar panels.  These people would probably like to take advantage of renewable energy.  This is where a solar garden comes in.  You buy into a portion of the power produced and the array is built in a location that is suitable.  It’s a great idea because it expands the pool of people who can participate and it scales up projects to take advantage of cost efficiencies.

Iceland Seeks to Cash in on its Abundant Renewable Energy—Iceland is always a fascinating country to me.  Something about it just intrigues me.  Already the country gets most of its electricity from renewable sources, geothermal and hydro, and it is looking to export that power via an undersea cable to Europe.  I guess international banking was a bust, so something had to give.

Composting Made Easy—Besides making your children do it, I dig the idea of just burying kitchen scraps in the garden.  A lot of permaculture gardens use a similar method of burying organic matter to decompose deep within beds.

How to Grow a Food Forest—I just love food forests.  There is something magical about a lush landscape that produces food.  It’s like living in Pixie Hollow.

Siberian Tigers Making a Comeback in China—It looks like one of the most endangered apex predators in the world has a shot at survival.  If an animal can make a comeback in China, it can probably be something that is repeated just about anywhere else.

Elephant Says Goodbye to an Old Friend—As elephants are slaughtered in Africa, it is essential to remember the humanity of these majestic creatures.  Here is a picture of an elephant standing guard over an old friend who has passed away.  It’s gut wrenching and touching at the same time.

Is it Green or Brown?

One of the great things about living in Iowa is sweet corn season.  A quickly grilled or boiled ear of sweet corn picked just hours earlier is one of those simple culinary treats that is hard to describe for the uninitiated.  I do not even want to try lest I venture into the arena of food porn.

One of the downsides of sweet corn season and, in particular, preparing sweet corn is that fourteen ears produces a load of kitchen scraps:


It’s hard to get an idea, but that is a large mixing bowl overflowing with husks and silk.  The easy answer is to compost the husks and that’s what I do.

The problem with corn husks is that the volume of material may upset the ideal balance in your compost bin.  Ideally, you want to have an even balance of “green” or nitrogen rich material and “brown” or carbon rich material.  The colors of the material being composted are not necessarily representative of their carbon or nitrogen content.  It’s just sort of gardener shorthand.

Corn husks are a “green.”  Therefore, the husks are heaping piles of nitrogen waiting to be put onto your compost pile.  My compost bin tends to be heavy on the nitrogen because the primary source of material is kitchen scraps—coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, etc.

You will need to balance out the ratio of nitrogen to carbon.  Luckily, you might already have the answer when you finish eating the corn because the cob is a “brown.”  Throw those onto the compost pile as well.  Some people swear by breaking them into smaller pieces and this will aid in decomposition, but I am a lazy composter and just throw the whole cobs onto the pile.  Horror stories of eternal cobs lasting for years in active piles seem to be the stuff of garden legend.  After about a year the cobs that remain are fairly well broken down.

You Must Read—Rebuilding the Foodshed

Ultimately, the size of our individual contributions matter much less than the scale of our multiplied efforts.  Page 222

Do you ever finish a book and realize that it hits on all of the salient points you feel are important to an issue?  Do you ever flip through the pages and realize you have dog eared dozens of pages with statements that you want to go back to ruminate on later?

9781603584234Well, for me the book that most recently did that was Philip Ackerman-Leist’s Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable and Secure Food Systems.  Ackerman-Leist is an associate professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Farm and Food Project at Green Mountain College in Vermont.  So, the book has an academic tone throughout but that is more than compensated for by the fact that he just nails the issues confronting the burgeoning “food movement.”

Creating community- based food systems is one of the most intellectually challenging tasks of our age. Page 2

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Creating the local, sustainable, and secure food system that we need to be successful in the future is going to be a challenge.  Great.  This is a country that has a hard time kicking the habit of soda and Big Macs.  How exactly are we going to build a new food system?  I digress…

But if we ignore the less obvious and more disconcerting aspects of our food systems, then we certainly cannot begin to understand the full scope of the realities we face.  In the end, rebuilding local food systems requires us to connect with the neighbors we’ve never known as much as it does to share the bounty with our comfortable acquaintances.  Page 100

This why it’s going to be hard.  We are going to have to face the ugly reality that the problem is us and we are going to have to interface with people that we are not comfortable around.  It may take a village, but you need to know your village first.

One thing the Ackerman-Leist is very clear on throughout the book is that local, in and of itself, is not necessarily a virtuous thing.  I think as the food movement has matured more and more people have come to the realization that food miles, easy to conceptualize but fraught with shortcomings, is not the be all and end all to define food.

In the end, it’s not just about where the food was produced.  We must also bear in mind the impacts of its production, processing, storage, distribution, marketing, preparation, and even reclamation.  Where matters immensely in the food system world, but so do how, why, by whom, and for whom.  Page 23

What this book does supremely well is link the changes in our food system to changes in our patterns of behavior at home.  As we cook less in the home, we have outsourced that task to factories and restaurants.  This represents energy that is embodied in the meals we consume that we do not prepare for ourselves.  Most people do not think of food this way, but the author is very clear that food represents energy.  Once you break down food this way it is easier to see the flows through the economy.

The health of the soils that we grow our food in also represents energy because synthetic fertilizers are primarily derived from fossil fuels.  The current standard practices in agriculture are too energy dependent to be sustainable in the long run.  Ackerman is even more alarmist:

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you are compelled by a sense of urgency for local self-reliance or for national security.  Soil fertility is key to both.  Page 62

I cannot imagine seeing a right winger bloviate that soil health and fertility is a key component of our national security.  But, soil health and fertility are about more because reclamation of those attributes represents an economic opportunity:

…compost can be locally produced under local control with local dollars creating local jobs and resilience.  Page 82

This is an argument that is lost when the food movement brings its case forward to a national audience.  The creation of these local, sustainable, and secure foodsheds is about our economy just as much as it is about our heath and our environment.

Like all conversations about the food movement, the discussion inevitable turns back to the kitchen.  Why?  Because this is the one place where there is a tangible connection between our actions and the impact on the food system:

We can’t lose sight of the importance of the kitchen.  Hours spent in the kitchen and our time at the table are both critical elements in relocalizing food systems. Page 213

As you can tell, I am a big fan of this book because it brings home so many of the threads weaving through the food movement in a coherent way.  Tying it all together is critical to the future of the food movement because it is easy for these efforts to become Balkanized into rival factions that fight for pyrrhic victories. In some ways, this is where I feel the environmental movement has found itself fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

One part of the book that I just loved was the placing of the bicycle at the pinnacle of energy efficient transportation:

Bicycle transport wins the efficiency game in linking local farms to consumers right in the neighborhood. Page 50

Can you just imagine fleets of two wheeled delivery people fanning out to distribute fresh produce across a city?  I cannot either, but it’s one hell of a compelling image.

NOTE: I read an uncorrected proof copy of the book, so my citations may not line up with the actual pages in the final sale version.

Good Use for Old Newspaper

If you workplace is anything like mine then people are still attached to getting their daily news on dead trees.  Every morning stacks of newspapers are dropped off for distribution.  I do not know what the business model of the Wall Street Journal is but those guys drop off at least one extra stack of newspapers every day.  How do I know?  Because the stack is moved beside the large recycling bins without ever getting cut from its binding.

What a waste!  Now, you could argue that even printing the Wall Street Journal was a waste considering it is part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire and I will stand you that opinion.  I thought there had to be a better use for these dead trees besides straight up recycling.

Enter the compost pile.  A lot of people who compost will have no trouble ensuring the right mix of carbon and nitrogen in their pile—the sacred mix of brown and green that you hear compost cognoscenti speak about—but I lack some of the best sources of carbon rich material, namely fallen leaves.  Living in a house that is less than five years old means that my trees are also less than five years old and do not drop a lot of leaf litter.

Newspaper is carbon rich, but you do not want to just throw sheets of the latest business gossip into you pile because the material will become a matted and soggy mess.  I use the paper shredder that we have in the home office to turn sheet after sheet of newspaper into perfect little crosscut confetti that is perfect for mixing into the pile:

Compost Newspaper Shredded

You have to be careful to really mix the newspaper in because I can form balls of mushy pulp even in a finely shredded form.  The stuff will break down eventually, but the process will be slowed considerably.  This is true, however, for just about anything in your compost pile.  The larger the pieces, the longer the wait for rot.

By the way, those are torn up pieces of pizza boxes mixed in with the paper.  The greasy cardboard is not acceptable for our curbside recycling, so I separate the panels that are not greasy–usually the top of the box–and tear up the rest for composting.  Although most compost guides tell you not to compost oils and dairy I have never had a problem with rodents or other animals getting into my bin for those tasty morsels.

I have two compost bins set up in my yard.  My plan is to fill one up and have it “percolate” for a period of time so that I can have a bin full of rich compost for revitalizing my yard’s soil come spring.  The picture above is from the bin that I am going to let sit all summer and rot.  The alternating bin will be the active dump for the year.  Come spring 2014 my hope is that I can sift the compost from the one bin and use it as the active dump while the previous season’s active dump “percolates.”

One of the amazing things about the compost pile is how much the freeze/thaw cycle breaks down the material.  Before the winter, this bin was probably two-thirds or more filled with primarily kitchen waste.  It was less than half full when I mixed in a bucket of shredded newspaper.  Nature is amazing.