March 2008

General25 Mar 2008 07:33 pm

Last year I complained about one of Sprint’s policies.

It seems that someone at Sprint was listening, and got the problem fixed. Kudos!

Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources and Life and Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency20 Mar 2008 09:09 pm

Collecting rain water from your roof for use as “gray water” is a great example of something you can do to reduce your footprint on the environment.

I’ve never been someone who waters or fertilizes the lawn, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve washed my car in the last decade (okay, due as much to laziness as to concern for the environment). So collecting water for use around the yard, or to prevent chemical runoff, was never on my radar screen.

But when I decided to start a little gardening project, I became concerned about water use and decided that a rain barrel was in order. After doing some research and a bit of math, I realized that I would do better with several.

I set up the first one a few days ago, and a day later we got a decent bit of rain (a half inch or so). That puppy filled right up — yay!

The multiplier effect is amazing… The cross section of my barrels is roughly 2.6 square feet (and they are about 34 inches tall). The section of roof feeding into that particular barrel is about 900 square feet. So a rainfall of only (2.6 / 900) * 34 inches = 0.1 inch will fill up the barrel. Given the average rainfall in our area, I could collect over 2000 gallons per month from that downspout! I’m not sure what I’d do with it all.

I got four Urban Rain Barrels from the good folks at the Urban Garden Center. So far I’m very happy. Three are now set up at the back of the new room, because the downspout there collects rain from over half of our roof. The fourth barrel collects rain from the downspout nearest the garden. Here’s the threesome:

Rain Barrels

For what it is worth, here was my must-have feature list when shopping for barrels (the URBs meet all of these requirements):
* Has a hefty barrier so that small animals cannot fall in.
* Has a screen so that mosquitoes cannot breed inside.
* Has a removable top so that it can be periodically cleaned.
* Made from a food-grade barrel (not used to store nasty chemicals).
* Can be daisy-chained together, preferably with a large aperture.
* Has a hefty overflow (at least on the last barrel in the chain).
* Everything pre-drilled, and includes all fixtures.

I would have also liked to have some way of trapping sediment (ideally a trap tank upstream of the first barrel, otherwise a tap at the bottom of the first barrel). The URBs don’t have anything here. Looks like my end-of-year routine will include a cleaning prior to draining for the winter (which you should do to prevent cracking due to frozen water).

Life and Peak Oil and Self Sufficiency20 Mar 2008 07:30 pm

Lately I’ve been thinking that our family should become more self-sufficient. As a result, I’ve decided to try my hand at permaculture, foraging for wild foods, and traditional gardening.

I’m still very much in the reading and research stage for the first two topics. My favorite books:
* Edible Forest Gardens, by Jacke and Toensmeier. While these two volumes certainly aren’t the first books about permaculture, they seem to be the premier reference. I’m really enjoying them, and learning tons; that said, they contain a lot of information and are not a quick read.
* The Forager’s Harvest, by Thayer. Fun to read, with lots of detail and great photos, from someone who clearly knows his stuff. He only covers a few dozen species of edible wild plants, but he focuses on those that are really worthwhile and that he has access to, and devotes several pages to each one.

Gardening has a rather shorter learning curve than either of those subjects, and I’m ready to jump into it straightaway. Sometime around January I looked around the web a bit, and Square Foot Gardening was pretty well regarded. Since I had an old copy of (the earlier edition of) that book laying around, I decided I’ll try that approach.

Here’s a picture of my modest little plots, all ready to go:

Square Foot Gardening

I’ve also got a few plastic planters that I’ll be starting in the house and moving to the deck once it is a bit warmer.

Deer are a real challenge for gardeners in our neighborhood. We back up to some woods, and the deer will eat just about any tasty green bit they come across, including plants on the edge of your deck. We’ve also seen a few rabbits around. So I’m going to see how things go with some low-rent chicken wire cages around the plots.

Alex thinks it is all for naught, and the wildlife will still figure a way to clean me out. We’ll see, I guess.

Chris vs the other hungry animals… let the games begin ;-)

AOL11 Mar 2008 10:58 pm

The fog was very thick when I started my ride in to work this morning, but had mostly burned off by the time I arrived. The sun looked very pretty rising above the pond behind HQ.


Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources and Life and Peak Oil01 Mar 2008 08:55 pm

While cooking tonight’s dinner, I cracked open a 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans (I was making whole wheat pasta, topped with onion sauteed in olive oil, garbanzos, salt, pepper, and sage — yum!).

The price that I paid to have those garbanzos grown (planted, watered, and otherwise tended), harvested, canned, and transported to my neighborhood store, was about 70 cents. 350 calories for 70 cents. That’s only $4 for a day’s worth of (garbanzo) calories.

Roughly speaking (within a factor of 2 or so), every 5 minutes I earn enough to buy a day’s worth of calories. Of course the cost per calorie varies considerably for different foods, but you get the idea. Amazing…

There seems to me to be something fundamentally unreal about that fact. I won’t call it wrong, but it certainly is unique (both for our species and in our time) and probably not something that can be sustained in the long term.

That surreal cheapness — which surrounds us, and to the significance of which we’ve become blinded — is due to the present (and temporary) availability of nearly free energy in the form of fossil fuels.

While renewable sources of energy can replace some of the function of fossil fuels, and in some cases are free, I’m not convinced that we as a society will get our collective !@#$ together soon enough to replace fossil fuels. Nor should we, given the environmental implications. In any case, we will certainly lose significant carrying capacity as the fossil fuel inputs to agriculture become increasingly expensive.

As fossil fuel become increasingly unavailable, I’m prepared to spend far more than 5 minutes a day securing a day’s worth of calories.