Archive for February, 2009


Get a Jump on the Planting Season: Build Your Own Cold Frame, Part 3

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Here’s the third part of our post in three parts about building your own cold frame to extend your growing season and help shake the winter gardenless blues.

Read “Winter Gardening: Build Your Own Cold Frame, Part 1″
Read “Winter Gardening: Build Your Own Cold Frame, Part 2″

The Cold Frame Light

The light sits on top of the frame just like a lid on a pan. If it is glazed with plastic or another lightweight material, you will want to use clips or hooks and eyes to hold it on when the wind blows. The advantage of lights glazed with glass is that they are heavy enough not to be blown off under most conditions. If your garden is in a particularly windy spot, you may still want to take precautions. The simplest method is to fasten a raised border around the outside of the frame so that the wind can’t catch under the edge of the light.

If instead of using old storm windows you wish to build your own lights, the best design is one used for many years in Holland. Glass cold frames were a traditional feature of Dutch commercial horticulture. Recently, they have died out in favor of huge greenhouses, but a few old-time market gardens probably still use the traditional technology. The feature that makes them worth copying is the simplicity of the Dutch lights. They were made specifically for horticulture and avoid the problems that arise with storm windows.

Storm windows are meant to be used in a vertical position. When used horizontally, as on a cold frame, the wooden crossbars that hold the panes inhibit the flow of water off the frame. The trapped water can weaken and rot the crossbars and loosen the putty that holds the glass in place. As the putty deteriorates, the lights may drip water on the crops below.

The Dutch lights are designed for horticultural use. They consist of a simple wooden rim, approximately 2 1/2 by 5 feet, with slots on the inside edges into which a single pane of glass is inserted. A small wooden stop at each end prevents the glass from sliding out. With the exception of the small stops, there are no crosspieces above the glass surface and thus nothing to inhibit the free flow of water. No putty is used, since the glass is held by the slots in the frame. Simple systems are always the most fascinating and satisfying. The Dutch design for lights is a classic example. Hemlock was the wood traditionally used for framing the lights. We make our light frames out of Maine white cedar. Any good western cedar, southern yellow pine, or spruce also should be suitable. The lights are not in contact with the earth and, if carefully stored when not in use, they will last a long time.

Although the traditional Dutch lights are 5 feet by 2 1/2 feet, they are a little too heavy for many people to handle without practice. Therefore, we suggest that most home gardeners make them smaller, say 2 by 4 feet. Our cold frames are separate from our 30-inch-wide garden beds, so their size is not contingent on garden layout. If, however, they were planned to cover the 30- inch-wide beds, then both frames and lights would be made to fit those dimensions. Conversely, if you already have some 36-inch-wide storm windows and wish to use them in the garden, you could make your garden beds 36 inches wide.

To construct Dutch lights, you will need four pieces of wood to make the rim that holds the glass. Let’s say you wish to make the lights 2 by 4 feet. The two sides (each 4 feet long) are made from 2×2 stock (actual dimensions 1 1/2 x l 1/2). A slot 3/4 inch deep, cut with a table saw (called a kerf) runs the length of each piece. Make that cut 1 inch above what will be the bottom edge of these side rails. The two ends of the wooden rim are cut from a 2×2 to an actual dimension of 1 by 1 1/2. They are 21 inches long. They hold the rails apart and support the glass at either end. Attach them at the corners with 4-inch galvanized drywall screws. The finished wooden rim of the light has outside dimensions of 2 by 4 feet.

The glass for that light is a single pane measuring 46 1/2 by 22 3/4 inches. It slides into the kerfs in the side rails and rests on top of the end pieces. (You need to determine beforehand whether the kerf made by the saw blade is wide enough to accommodate the edge of the glass. If not, run the side piece through the saw again at a slightly different setting to widen it.) The glass quality should be double strength. Even better if it’s tempered. Tempered glass is more expensive but is ten times more resistant to breakage. Attach a small piece of wood measuring 3/4 by 1/2 by 3 inches in the middle of each end piece as a stop to hold the glass in place.

If glass breakage is a major concern for you or tempered glass seems too expensive, you could use one of the rigid greenhouse covering materials such as Lexan or Polygal. You can purchase these double-layer glass substitutes from greenhouse suppliers and cut them to size with a saw. The two layers are held apart by internal ribs. From an end view, they look like many square tubes glued side by side. If you use these materials for Dutch lights,you will need to cut a wider kerf into the side pieces, as these materials are thicker than double-strength glass.

Almost any of these options, and others yet to be conceived, will work. If you can find good storm windows, use them. If you can’t and are fascinated with simple design, you can build lights according to the Dutch model. Or you can purchase one of the many cold frames sold by garden catalogs. If you are more ingenious still, you will come up with an even better and simpler design and pioneer the next step in cold frame development. The evolution of this classic horticultural technology has resulted from the ideas of gardeners in the past and will continue through the inspiration of gardeners in the future.

WATCH: No One Can Be Told What the Gort Cloud Is—You Have to See It for Yourself

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m actually going to go ahead and tell you right now what the gort cloud is.

From Wikipedia:

The gort cloud is the name coined and given to a concept that describes “a vast, largely invisible and growing (environmentally-aware) ‘community’ that sieves, measures and exchanges information on environmental (green) products and services”…

According to [author Richard Seireeni]: “The inspiration for that moniker lies in the Oort cloud, named after the astronomer Jan Hendrick Oort. The Oort cloud is a vast field of stellar debris that orbits the Solar System. We can only detect it electronically and view its effects, mostly in the form of the occasional comet it tosses back into our neighborhood. This seems to perfectly describe the gort cloud, a vast green network made up of untidy bits that is most easily detected through electronic means and that has a huge effect on the evolution of green business.”

With this video from The Brand Architect Group, Seireeni announces his YouTube presence. It may look like bacteria multiplying in a petri dish, or perhaps the DNA of a nanotechnologically-advanced hyper-evolved superorganism, but it’s actually an animated visual model of the gort cloud phenomenon, which is described in Seireeni’s book, The Gort Cloud: The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands. Press play and smoke if you got ‘em.

Green Guide to Climate Change Now Available! And Five Reasons You Should Buy It for a Friend…

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Our latest Chelsea Green Guide is now available! Climate Change: Simple Things You Can Do to Make a Difference by Amanda Cuthbert and Jon Clift is the newest addition to our (positive) action-packed series of environment-saving tips.

This book puts the power back into your hands in the face of the doom and gloom of climate change. You don’t have to wait for someone else to sort it out; rather than worry and feel helpless, you can get up and do something.

In honor of this new release, we’ve put together a list of Five Reasons You Should Buy It for a Friend:

  1. He flushes 8 times…every time!
  2. He put monster truck tires on his smartcar.
  3. He drills for motor oil.
  4. He thinks Chelsea Green is someone he went to high school with.
  5. When you told him to use a clothesline, he punched you in the neck.

Now it’s your turn! We’re giving away free copies of Climate Change (including free shipping) to the first five people who comment on this post with their own list of Five Reasons You Should Buy It for a Friend. Have fun!

Get a Jump on the Planting Season: Build Your Own Cold Frame, Part 2

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Yesterday we introduced you to cold-frame gardening—an easy and fun way to extend your growing season through the winter. Today we’ll dig in to building the actual cold-frame box. Tomorrow, we’ll show you how to top it off with the cold-frame light.

The following is an excerpt from Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman. It has been adapted for the Web.

The Cold Frame Box

Any cold frame design that protects plants will serve you well. To be enjoyable to use, however, the design must be simple, attractive, pleasant to work with, and dependable. Having tried them all, we settled on the traditional design. The simplest cold frame is a rectangular wooden box, 8 feet long and 4 feet front to back, with a slight slope to the south. We build them out of 2-inch lumber to make them strong, but 1-inch stock would be adequate. Three 8-foot boards are necessary: two boards 12 inches wide and one board 8 inches wide. One of the 12-inch-wide boards is used for the back wall. The 8-inch-wide board is used for the front wall. The second 12-inch board is cut into two 4-foot pieces, which are each cut diagonally lengthwise so that they are 8 inches wide at one end and 12 inches wide at the other.

It is easiest to put the frame together with the boards sitting on a flat surface and the diagonal cut edge of the side walls facing up. When you do this, you will notice that the bottom edge of the frame is flat, whereas the upper edge has a slight discontinuity where the diagonal cut meets the front and back walls. In order for the lights to sit on the flattest surface, you should turn the frame over before using it. Any discontinuity of the other edge is then hidden by contact with the soil. The frame will slant slightly to the south, allowing more light to enter.

Attach a 4-foot-long 2×2 to what is now the top. This piece extends across the middle of the frame, running front to back. You will want to cut notches in the top of the front and back walls so this cross piece sits flush with the top. (See drawing.) This helps keep the sides spaced and also provides a handle that one person can use to lift the empty frame and carry it to a new location. If you use 1-inch wood, you might want to place more of these stiffeners across the frame.

We use standard pine or spruce for our frames. We purposely do not use treated wood, nor do we treat the frames with a preservative. Even the supposedly safe products should not be used in close proximity to food crops. Wood rots where it is in contact with the earth, however, so we attach a strip of scrap wood about 1 inch thick to the bottom edge of the frame where it touches the soil. In a few years, when this strip begins to rot, we replace it with another. The rest of the untreated wood frame will last for many years.

We also do not paint the frame. Yes, if the interior were white, it might reflect a little more light than the gray weathered wood, but paint is just one more complication. Rather than having to scrape and paint every few years, it’s best to keep things simple.

Tune in tomorrow for the third and final installment of “Build Your Own Cold Frame”: The Cold Frame Light.

Photo courtesy of Homegrowers Exchange.

Bill McKibben: Why I’m Planning to Get Arrested on Monday (and You Should, Too)

Friday, February 27th, 2009

The first major protest against global warming in this country will be taking place in Washington, D.C., this Monday. This Washington, D.C., coal-fired power plant is the perfect target: it’s old, it’s dirty, it’s owned by Congress, and it can be retrofitted for natural gas relatively easily. Put on your pants-suit, skirt-suit, and/or power tie and help Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, and others bring this issue to the forefront of the climate change policy debate.

From Bill McKibben’s Alternet article:

It may seem odd timing that many of us are heading to the nation’s capital early next month for a major act of civil disobedience at a coal-fired power plant, the first big protest of its kind against global warming in this country.

After all, Barack Obama’s in power. He’s appointed scientific advisers who actually believe in… science, and he’s done more in a few weeks to deal with climate change than all the presidents of the last 20 years combined. Stalwarts like John Kerry, Henry Waxman, and Ed Markey are chairing the relevant congressional committees. The auto companies, humbled, are promising to build rational vehicles if only we give them some cash. What’s to protest? Why not just give the good guys a break?

If you think about it a little longer, though, you realize this is just the moment to up the ante. For one thing, it would have done no good in the past: you think Dick Cheney was going to pay attention?

More importantly, we need a powerful and active movement not to force the administration and the Democrats in Congress to do something they don’t want to, but to give them the political space they need to act on their convictions. Barack Obama was a community organizer — he understands that major change only comes when it’s demanded, when there’s some force noisy enough to drown out the eternal hum of business as usual, of vested interest, of inertia.

Consider what has to happen if we’re going to deal with global warming in a real way. NASA climate scientist James Hansen — who has announced he plans to join us and get arrested for trespassing in the action we’re planning for March 2 — has demonstrated two things in recent papers. One, that any concentration of carbon dioxide greater than 350 parts per million in the atmosphere is not compatible with the “planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” And two, that the world as a whole must stop burning coal by 2030 — and the developed world well before that — if we are to have any hope of ever getting the planet back down below that 350 number.

Read the whole article here.

 

Related articles:</p

Green Your Home and Cash in on Stimulus Money

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Tax breaks in the stimulus bill, not to mention state rebates, are making it downright lucrative for homeowners to install renewable energy systems in their homes. With this bill, President Obama has begun to make good on his promise to help move us forward to energy independence and a reduction in carbon emissions.

If you’re a homeowner, look into your state’s particular incentives and decide which ones are right for your home. But remember: stopping your home from losing heat—sealing leaks, insulating drafty attics, etc.—should be your number one priority. Conservation has the highest rate of return on your investment.

From Alternet:

Energy-saving systems for the attic, basement, and in between have effectively gone on sale, courtesy of the United States Congress.

But whether shoppers will take advantage — or even notice available discounts — remains an open question.

Tax incentives to encourage investments in energy efficiency took effect last week when President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. That means homeowners with drafty windows, old heating systems, or other root causes of high energy bills can be rewarded in tax season if they make improvements in 2009 or 2010.

“This is by far the most the federal government has done in the past several decades” to reward energy-efficiency investments, says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. “In many cases, this will make the high-efficiency product cheaper than the low-efficiency product. [For consumers], this is pretty lucrative, and I’d be surprised if it gets extended into 2011.”

New incentives increase the size of tax credits for homeowners who buy qualifying products. For instance, those who invest in highly-rated insulation, replacement windows, duct seals, or high-efficiency heating and cooling systems can now receive a tax credit worth 30 percent of the upgrade cost (maximum credit value: $1,500).

Previously, homeowners could get a tax credit worth just 10 percent of an upgrade cost, up to a maximum of $500. Now, taxpayers who spend $800 on an efficient water heater, $1,000 on insulation, and $2,000 on windows could lop $1,140 off their federal tax bill.

Awards for switching to renewable energy sources have become especially generous. Congress this month did away with caps on 30 percent tax credits for homeowners who install solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, or windmills. Now a $24,000 investment to make a home solar-powered would generate a federal tax credit worth $7,200. (Before the stimulus, credits were capped at $2,000 for geothermal and solar; $4,000 for wind).

Read the whole article here.

Here are a few articles on improving your home’s energy efficiency to help get you started:

Image courtesy of Quadra-Fire.

The Exxon Valdez Disaster, 20 Years Later: The Social and Environmental Scars

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The twentieth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill will be coming up soon, on March 24. Meg White looks back at the effects of the disaster—from oil “land mines” in the beaches, to post-traumatic stress disorder, drug abuse, economic ruin, and depression—in a series of articles for Alternet. This article is third in the series.

John Platt, a third-generation fisherman who lost almost everything in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, said that his pride in his hometown of Cordova persists.

“It is beautiful to this day,” he said.  But on especially hot days in the Prince William Sound, he can still see the effects of the disaster bubbling up, especially on the shoreline. “Some of the beaches will have a little oil sheen.”

That’s because most of the 11 million gallons of oil spilled in the Prince William Sound in March 1989 is still there. Cordova was one of the towns most affected  by the spill. Yesterday, I wrote about the financial impact of the spill on the area, still being felt today.

However, the social and environmental echoes are still reverberating as well. Platt said that still bubbling up to the surface are instances of suicide, bankruptcy and divorce. But while debt forgiveness, reinvestment and legal settlements can work to ameliorate economic pain, the answers are much more elusive when it comes to the physical and mental landscape of the area hit by the Exxon Valdez two decades ago.

In a recent interview with In These Times, local fisherwoman and marine biologist Riki Ott talked about the toll the disaster took on the community:

“The stress manifested itself in all manner of horrible things, including substance abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, depression, PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], isolation, divorce and suicide. These are the so-called ‘non-economic losses’ in a court of law.”

Professor Steven Picou of the University of South Alabama and Professor Duane Gill of Mississippi State University conducted a study from 1989 to 1997 on the psychological effects of the spill, funded mainly by The National Science Foundation and the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. The study found that while high levels of avoidance behavior and intrusive stress marked the first 18 months of life in Cordova after the disaster, problems persisted for years. In groups studied as late as 1995, levels of severe depression and anxiety, as well as PTSD were found in double-digit percentages.

The environmental degradation and profound economic loss were compounded by what Picou called the “secondary disaster” of the prolonged and shady legal dealings.

Read the whole article here.

Related articles:

Get a Jump on the Planting Season: Build Your Own Cold Frame, Part 1

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The trees are bare and the ground is cold, hard, and forbidding in New England. If you’re an amateur gardener who wants to grow his own food, it can be a little intimidating. But if you’re feeling those wintertime gardenless blues, there are a couple of things you can do about it. There are plenty of hardy plant breeds that will grow in winter, as seen in Eric Toensmeier‘s Perennial Vegetables.

Or you can do something a little more fun and science-y. For centuries, farmers and gardeners have used a simple device called a cold frame to extend their growing season, using the natural heat and light of the sun to keep plants healthy and warm with relatively little effort or expense. And you can build one yourself. Here’s how.

The following is an excerpt from Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman. It has been adapted for the Web.

Gardeners should dedicate a monument to the cold frame. It is the simplest, most flexible, and most successful low-tech tool for modifying the garden climate. It’s simple because it is basically a box with a glass top and no bottom that sits on the soil. It’s flexible because it can be made as long, as wide, or as tall as the gardener wishes. And it’s successful because it is a tried-and-true garden aid that has been used in one form or another since ancient times (sheets of mica predated glass). The cold frame was the foundation for the early development of intensive commercial horticulture.

How the Cold Frame Works

The cold frame lessens climatic stress in a number of ways:

Temperature. A single layer of glass creates a microclimate in which the nighttime temperature inside the frame can be as much as 20° warmer than the temperature outside, although the average difference is 7° to 10°F The daytime temperature inside the frame, even on a cloudy, early spring day, will be 10° to 15OF warmer than outdoors. On a sunny spring day, the temperature can rise high enough to cook the soil and the plants if you don’t vent off the extra heat. Both daytime and nighttime temperature differences depend on the time of year, the angle and intensity of the sun, the rate of outdoor temperature change, and the initial temperature in the frame.

Moisture. Much of the havoc that freezing can wreak on winter vegetables is a function of how wet the plants are. High humidity helps protect plants from cold but plants sitting in a puddled soil just soaked by a rain before freezing will be more stressed than one that is drier. The glass roof of the cold frame protects the crops inside from pounding winter rains.

Wind. The wind can make a cool day feel very cold. Weather forecasters always mention the windchill factor. The same conditions affect plants. Wind cools by removing ambient heat and evaporating moisture. The stress of winter wind alone can mean the difference between life and death for hardy vegetables. Even the slightest windbreak will help. That was proven by two beds of spinach planted a few Septembers ago to winter over outdoors. One was covered lightly with a mulch of pine boughs and the other left uncovered. Even though you could look through the thin layer of pine boughs and clearly see the spinach, that minimal amount of wind protection was significant. Ninety percent of the protected spinach survived the winter, compared to ten percent of the unprotected crop.

Building the Cold Frame

As previously mentioned, a cold frame is a bottomless box that sits on the soil and has a glass cover. Thus, there are two parts-the sides (the box) and the top (the glass). The sides can be made of almost any material-boards, concrete blocks, bales of hay, logs, and so on, all of which have their virtues. From our experience, we suggest making the sides out of boards. This will give you a frame that is long-lasting, easy to construct, easy to use, reasonably light, and movable.

The top covering is called a light. In the old days, lights were 4 to 6 feet square and made of overlapping panes of glass. They were heavy and required two people to carry them. Today’s home gardeners often use old storm windows as lights. Storm windows are easy to find and the size is right for covering cold frames. Modern lights can be glazed with translucent materials other than glass, such as plastic, polycarbonate, or fiberglass. Depending on its size, a cold frame is covered with one or more lights.

A cold frame can be any width that the lights will cover and any length or height. Traditional home garden cold frames measure 4 to 6 feet front to back and are 8 to 12 feet long. They are laid out with the long dimension running east to west. The frame should be just tall enough to clear the crops you plan to grow. In the standard design, the back wall is 12 inches high and the front wall 8 inches high, so that there is a slight slope to the south.

Some experimenters have built frames with the lights at a 45° angle facing south to maximize midwinter sun input. Such frames don’t work as well as the traditional low-angle models for two reasons. First, you don’t need maximum heat in midwinter for hardy crops. All they require is the protection of the frame. Second, there seems to be some benefit to having the glass roof near the plants as if it were a covering of snow. The environment inside the traditional low-angle frames better meets the needs of hardy crops.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: The Cold Frame Box.

Image courtesy of factoidz.com

A Call to Action on Global Warming

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

On March 2, Capitol Climate Action plans to hold the biggest ever protest against one of the biggest contributors to climate change, coal-fired power plants. Help make history by joining Wendell Berry and thousands of others at this historic event.

Oh, and dress nice.

Make history March 2, 2009 in Washington, D.C.

Be part of the largest mass civil disobedience for the climate in U.S. history.

You know there is a climate crisis. You know we have to solve it. It’s time to take our action to the next level.

With a new administration and a new Congress, we have a window of opportunity. But we have to open it — together.

On March 2, join thousands of people in a multi-generational act of civil disobedience at the Capitol Power Plant — a plant that powers Congress with dirty energy and symbolizes a past that cannot be our future. Let’s use this as a rallying cry for a clean energy economy that will protect the health of our families, our climate, and our future.

This will be a peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you.

It’s time to take a stand on global warming. We can’t wait any longer for the changes we KNOW we can, and must, make today.

For more information, go to CapitolClimateAction.org or click the widget below.

LISTEN: Matthew Stein Talks to the Extreme Society

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Inspiration or “blast from above,” when the outline for his book, When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, was dropped into his head like a nuclear bomb, Matthew Stein set out to write the bible of emergency preparedness and green and healthy living, an encyclopedic tome with a little bit of everything needed to survive a disaster: with information on everything from making your own bow and arrow to disinfecting your water on the run to emergency childbirth, this is the indispensable guide for getting through a catastrophic technological Fail.

In this clip, Mat talks to the folks at The Extreme Society Show about his book and gives a few basic tips to help you survive.

LISTEN NOW: Mat Stein on The Extreme Society Show


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