Every Plant has its Place: Low-Maintenance Gardening

Whew!  Just back from almost 3,000 miles of adventure and glorious landscape viewing!  We saw some awesome sights -

lushmissouriforest

from the lush Missouri summer,

to the behemoth windmills of Kansas,   windmills

to the spruce, fir and aspen altitudes of Colorado mountains,    aspeneyes

and to the otherworldly desert arches of Utah. Arches

We were struck with how some plant species survive the most extreme conditions!  Some plants are familiar to Missouri, such as juniper, serviceberry, willow, prickly pear. PricklyPear

Some are not familiar to Missouri, such as sagebrush sagebrush, stick cactus, pinyon pine and gambel oak (‘scrub oak’).

We could see these plants are more-than-surviving, creating much beauty and even diversity, in the very harsh conditions of high heat and relentless sunshine, relative lack of water, cold winter temperatures and almost-soiless red sandstone.

archesyellowflower This gave us pause to think of how much water, care and pampering we give our plants to help them survive. Some plants require a lot more care than others to survive, especially non-native plants. It is hard to imagine moisture-appreciating plants like dogwood trees growing in the desert, or even the lupine we try to grow in Missouri, when lupine actually prefers cooler temperatures and higher elevation! coloradolupine

We are marketed to by companies trying to sell their beautiful plants, but every plant has it’s place, some more varied than others. Water, soil and weather conditions are the largest considerations for growing successful plants, and water usage is of primary concern in modern times.

In nature, plants come up from seed in the ground – the leaves and stem grow with the roots, establishing a balance of growth. When we do a garden landscape, we usually want to see the plant looking beautiful the first year.  This requires some TLC from the homeowner, due to the imbalance of the large amount of foliage and the potted up root system. Once established, native plants – with mulch and weed suppression – do very well. We have a wider array of beautiful native plants around us in Missouri than those in the desert conditions of the west.  Missouri’s lush variety is due to the various microclimates – prairie, forest, swamp, glade. As a designer, the key is to fit native and ornamental plants into the microclimate of someone’s home – sun/shade, southern slope/northern slope, different soil types – in addition to height variations, texture and color. I like to provide people with the plants and color they desire, balanced with the desire to use as many native plants as possible, due to their many benefits to the natural world. Such benefits include low water usage, no need for chemical fertilizers, pollination opportunities for plants, birds and insects, and habitat for wildlife. Chemical inputs, such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, can cause problems in the watershed and disruptions in the life-cycles of the natural world.

The natural world needs all the encouragement it can get from us, which is why I hope to encourage greater use of native plants in landscape gardening. We also like the idea of edible landscape gardens that actually produce something we can consume. The mantra “Grow Food, Not Lawns” is a fun way to think about how we can use our personal landscape space to create food for ourselves and the pollinators, thereby creating a better world.

eat-your-yard-599x314

And, take time to smell the flowers. ~ Rex

>>>>> Here’s a little of our car-stir-crazy poetry (and no, we won’t quit our day jobs!):

Kansas
Traveling across the great plains autobahn,
where 85 miles per hour is the norm,
and the landscape is dotted with bright green corn*.
In blue-sky dust storm and spidery lightning display,
ghostly windmills glow in the big sky corridor.

duststorm

*We decided that some discussion of corn is called-for, in a future post.  

 

Cob Oven Building Workshop June 13, 14, 15th!

finished! Belmont oven

Somehow, time has gotten away from us.  It does that.  We move from day-to-day, activity-to-activity, moment-to-moment, and things slip through.  Such is the case for this blog post, since it’s rather last moment.

This Cob Oven Building Workshop will occur in Bourbon, Missouri, about half-way between St. Louis and Rolla on I-44 – an easy drive for most in this area.  You can come for all three days or just some of the days.  Camping and showers are available and free.

A cob oven is a traditional earthen oven, using materials from nature, such as earth, sand, and straw.  Earthen ovens are often built in three layers – thermal mass, insulation, and the outer finish/sculpted layer.

The beauty of working with cob is the connection to the earth, the connection with each other in the building and in the natural wood-fire cooking of food for many years to come, and in the connection with our ancestors, using this ancient building process, much as they did. :-)

Mixing Cob

Our hands-on workshop will teach you how to build with this most ancient building material to create a beautiful, natural outdoor oven in which to cook your food.  You will learn everything you need to know to re-create an oven in your own backyard.

For more information, go to our website:  http://silverseedfarms.com/workshops–events.html.

Hope you can make it!  Email us at silverseedfarms@gmail.com.

Alex and Kieran added their artistic Australian touches to the oven!  :-)

 

When Are We Going to Have a Real Shower?

There is an ancient charm to heating and cooking with wood.  The irresistible draw of tending a fire on a cold winter day, and the cozy warmth of our natural home encircling us, gives us pause to be thankful and to feel the connection to our ancestors through our contact with the land and nature ~ through the straw, mud, rock and wood of our home and hearth.

tie dye fire 2

We have always wanted to use the wood stove to fire our hot water.  We wanted to use the wood we burn wisely and efficiently and always thought we could get more out of the wood we use. When heating our home, there is always heat on the stove top, which allows us to cook soups and stews and stir-fry veggies.  Inside the wood stove, we cook potatoes or cobbler among the coals. Still, couldn’t we devise a way to capture heat for our hot water tank, so that we could shower and bathe from the wood heat?  Of course, this has been done by others in different ways, but we wanted to do it affordably and with little, if any, electrical output.  Up until a few years ago, we heated the water in our water tank with propane.  We always knew that was a temporary solution, but once you settle on one way of doing things (especially a way that requires no work, other than the monthly service fees, ad infinitum!), it is harder to find incentive to change it. 

Nature is Perfect

When we lived in the tent (back in 1994) and for many, many lovely summer evenings over the years, we used black camp shower bags down the trail, which was definitely more work!  We had to think ahead – plan our day, refill and hoist the bags full of water over our heads, and give them time to heat up. The beautiful part of this method is that the sun heats the water in the bags and, by virtue of natural law, gravity allows the shower water to flow effortlessly over us.  Nature really is perfect. We try to respect and take advantage of the laws of nature in a lot of what we do.

The “Simple Life”

Oftentimes, the “simple life” is romanticized by those of us who yearn for times unencumbered by modern (in)conveniences.  The truth is, the “simple life” ain’t really that simple!  It can be a lot of work, but it can also be satisfying and full of joy.  This applies to our desire to bring awareness to natural resources and how we use them.  In the summer, to keep the house cool, we shut off the propane stove in the house kitchen, and our Summer Kitchen is open for business!  Thanks to the beautiful nature of straw bale and earth architecture and some well-placed fans and shades, our home stays pretty comfortable year-round, even in winter and in summer. Outside in summer, we use a propane camp stove, the cob oven, the sun, and a campfire for cooking or any hot water needs.

Kitchen 1

But what about hot showers and baths?  For the summer, we cool off in the pond or the pool.  We also enjoy hot-ish to cool showers, and for that we will stay with outdoor shower bags until we come up with a solar batch heater that is pressurized and heated by the sun. We also have our hillbilly hot tub, in which we can enjoy hot, therapeutic baths under the stars, even when the evenings are quite cool.

hillbilly hot tub 1     hillbilly hot tub 2

But during the autumn, winter and spring, we wanted to use the residual heat from our wood stove for our indoor shower.  And we had special encouragement.

We decided not to change anything until our propane water heater broke, because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  It’s hard to tell just how many projects and how much child-rearing and cooking was accomplished in those 13 years that our propane tank worked for us, but we can say unequivocally – a lot!  It worked well for us – and for that we were very appreciative – but it was time to move on and do what we had always wanted.

The Complicated Life

Once the tank gave out, our showers consisted of hanging a shower bag over the bath and drawing it up or down with a rope and pulley. We heated water on the wood stove during late fall, winter and early spring to fill our shower bag. During the times of year with no indoor wood fire, we heated a kettle up on the propane stove in the kitchen or on the camp stove out in the summer kitchen and brought it into the bathroom to fill the shower bag. Taking showers inside the house had replaced our outdoor camp showers over time, due to convenience and the fact that our trees have grown bigger over these 20 years, and the showers down the trail had become more shaded!

Now, inside the house, our family of 4 became accustomed to heating water in a large pot and showering with 1 to 2 gallons of water per person ~ now that sounds efficient!  But unfortunately, that meant very short showers, and no one but Rex was real happy with this!  This was a temporary (almost two-year-long!) solution, which allowed us to continue all of our day-to-day activities and still be able to shower.  We all tried to be game for this new adventure, but on occasion there were a few refrains heard around here, such as “When are we going to have a real shower”?

All the while, we toyed with different ideas for heating our water.  We didn’t want to go back to propane, and most of our options carried with them some major drawbacks.

Pros & Cons

402px-The_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin small Weighing the pros & cons went like this:

  • A regular propane water heater was certainly the easiest option and had the least start-up cost, but it would have kept us dependent on (“Frack and Iraq”) propane, which is a 50/50 blend of natural gas and crude oil.
  • The tankless propane heater was the next easiest option, but it still uses propane and has to be cleaned out every 6 months to a year due to the lime build-up inside the narrow tubes.
  • Solar Thermal 1 bending aluminum absorption plates smSolar thermal was our choice at first – Rex and two friends, Barry and Paul, built a solar thermal panel for just this purpose. While solar can be a great option, there were some big drawbacks for us. Our one-or-two panels would only pre-heat the water in the winter; we would still need a back-up system, as most people have unless they have several solar thermal panels.
  • We considered the heat wand, a $600 copper tube that goes down into the electric tank. Checking the rated BTUs per hour, it seemed like it wouldn’t get the water hot enough just on its own by the sun, and a few of us like really.warm.showers. You can buy tanks that have internal heat exchangers built in, but they run about $1500. Another option for solar is an external heat exchanger.  For us, being off-grid, these external heat-exchangers require more electricity than we would prefer to use.  If we had grid-connected solar, we might be inclined to rethink this one.  Our goal is to still use the solar panel/s in conjunction with wood-fired heat, if we can work that out.  Otherwise, we will use it during fair weather on the summer kitchen or one of our other part-time buildings.
  • For wood-fired heat, the biggest hold-up for us was where to place the hot water storage tank.  We needed for it to be up in the air to take advantage of natural convection, but we didn’t think we had enough room with a conventionally-sized hot water tank. However, once we found the tank we were looking for that would fit, it was smooth sailing.  :-)

And the Winner Is….Efficient Use of Wood Heat for House and Water!

Ultimately, there was enough heat coming from the wood stove during at least 6 to 7 months of the year, and we wanted to be able to use it, allowing it to perform triple-duty heating the house and the water and cooking some of our food. Ultimately, this also ended up being our least expensive option, we have no monthly fuel charges, and we live in the forest (with lots of dead wood available). We wanted a smaller electric hot water tank, one that was shorter and would fit into the space we had envisioned, so we had to purchase a new tank. We went with 30 gallon capacity, due to the tank’s size dimensions.  The copper pipe was the only other big expense for this system.

We made a thermosiphon loop of copper coil spiral-wrapped around the stove pipe. Rex forming coil  The key to the coil is: cold water goes in at the bottom of the coil – travels up the coil via natural convection, heating along the way – and hot water goes out and into the top of the water heater tank for storage. A big part of the thermosiphon loop lay in the placement of the hot water tank, because it needs to be high enough in the air to receive the heated water from the copper coil. A real bonus is the fact that this system requires no moving parts, which means there is less opportunity for mishap and it won’t be a constant drain on the electricity our solar PVs produce!

Hot Water Tank 2

We elevated our tank above the bathroom sink and just above the thermal mass brick wall dividing the wood stove and the bathroom.  We built a cob wall between the stove pipe and the water heater to allow heat transfer but to also protect the wood framing and equipment from excessive heat (see photo with coil below).

bathroom thermal mass 2

Water in the coil rises due to the natural flow of heated liquid in a thermosiphon loop.  The heat from the stove provides the mechanism to move the water upward.  This really heats up the water in the tank – really hot…which is why you want a Temperature Pressure Relief Valve (T & R valve), so that you don’t have an explosive situation on your hands! Unfortunately, a mixer probably would not work well in this system, due to the fact that internal mixers work with stable temperatures; whereas, our stove temperatures vary, based on how much or little we feed our fire.  ***Therefore, with our system, we have to mix hot and cold water manually. Turning on hot water at the faucet must be done thoughtfully so as to not get scalded! 

coil stove 2

We have been using this system for a year now, and it works great!  We have modified it, with the most notable difference after insulating and covering the copper coil recently, during this really cold winter.  The unfaced  fiberglass insulation (“unfaced” so that it has no paper backing to be a fire hazard!) allowed us to better capture and hold heat from the stove pipe, raising the pipe’s temperature significantly! The insulation did not diminish the heat radiating into the house; quite the contrary, heat actually radiated out further into the room than before! It also caused our fires to burn much more cleanly and efficiently, with no noticeable creosote build-up in the stove pipe now.  

Also, our initial concern about using a 30 gallon tank instead of a 40 gallon has not been an issue, because water in the tank reheats pretty quickly, especially now with the insulated coil. With a hot fire, we easily get 5 luxurious showers and can also do the dishes!  We will probably have to clean out the copper tubing at some point, just like the tankless propane heater, but all other factors make this a very promising solution for people who heat their homes with wood. 

As long as there is a fire in the wood stove, the water continues to circulate and heat up. Even a small fire provides enough heat on a marginally warm day. What would have been wasted heat going out the chimney, has now become an efficient use of the energy embodied in the wood, now heating our water for a delicious shower or bath. Expectations exceeded!

wood fired heat 1

**We will cover more detail about the copper coil wood-fired hot water system as well as detail about the solar hot water panel in upcoming separate blog posts.  :-)  Happy Adventuring!

A Big Winter Hug

Lantern

In Missouri on February 5, 2014, we have a few inches of snow, and the afternoon temperature is 14 degrees with a -18 wind chill factor.  But, inside our straw bale house we have 72 degrees, a toasty fire and a piping hot cup of java heated from our wood stove.

Brrrr…This is the coldest winter we have had in Missouri in a good while!  We feel so thankful to have a cozy, warm home! Ari Warm and Cozy Our Casa’s highly insulated and thick r 30 straw bale walls make us feel like we live in a big hug. Of course, our Casa’s hat (attic) is insulated, and its boots (foundation) has some insulation in it and around it. Wood heat centrally located in the house keeps us very warm, and we use approximately 1 ½ to 2 cords of wood per winter to keep us warm.  This wood stove works double-duty heating our water for the hot water tank, which will be covered in an upcoming article.  

Weatherization is a *hot* topic close to everyone’s heart…well…pocketbook, anyway. If it isn’t, maybe it should be. One look at a Plant Hardiness Zone Map, and you will know exactly where you stand with cold temperatures.  So really, don’t underestimate the importance of insulation here in Missouri!  Concrete, cob, earth, rock, sand, and brick are not insulators, and cold finds its way through these very easily.  

We feel badly for people who are having trouble staying warm, especially if they are paying for the privilege. The quality of the available housing stock is questionable.  Some houses, especially older homes, have minimal insulation.  Leaky doors and windows, recessed ceiling lights, and other unsealed penetrations in the house exchange far too much warm, conditioned air for cold, dry, winter air. It seems that some of the poorest housing stock has been turned into rental property. Renters will move in, unaware of previous utility costs, and find themselves unable to pay the high heating bills, so there is a huge turnover in these rentals.  One great option is to take advantage of the low-income and other weatherization programs where available.

Folks who heat with propane must have been in for quite a shock when the price of propane doubled this last month!  For rentals or older home purchases, propane companies do not have to tell you how much propane that house was using, unlike with electric.  Also, it can be hard to tell exactly when propane was used and how much was left in the tank.  Be sure to check before you purchase!  Having a walk-through and a peek into the attic or crawlspace done by an energy auditor is also advisable before you purchase your new home. At least, you would have a much better idea about what you are getting into!

Many older homes and some newer homes have HVAC duct work with gaps and poor fitting connections in unconditioned spaces, which are areas of the house that are not insulated as part of the thermal envelope, such as crawlspaces under the floor, uninsulated basements or in the attic. This duct work needs to be sealed with mastic (recommended) and then insulated, because much of the heating capacity is being diminished by the unheated space, adding significantly to the cost of heating. Also, hot water pipes should be insulated at any place accessible, along with the first 5 feet of the cold water pipe above the water heater.

Passive Solar should not be overlooked or underestimated.  Passive solar uses sunlight without active mechanical systems.  Passive solar would include technologies such as heat collection, thermal mass, thermal insulation, proper window glazing, proper window placement and shading.  These same design principals would also apply to reducing your summer cooling requirements.  Active solar includes mechanical systems such solar thermal heating systems. Employing passive solar techniques in your house design can save from 20% to 50% and even more in your day-to-day energy costs!  If you can save annually upwards of 50% using passive solar, then why not?

Building Green really is the smart, fiscally sound option. Let us know if you would like to talk energy conservation in your home!  If you want to build with straw bales, we can help you stay warm and dry.

cup o joe 2Cheers!

Straw Bale vs. Cob Building

What is the difference between cob and straw bale building?

Cob  Good question – we get it a lot!  Give a Lift web large

We assume you want a comparison of building method, insulation, and function/wear.  There are several aspects that need to be addressed to answer this question.  Basically, a home can be built with either cob or straw bales, or both. Their function is different, though.  Straw bales are insulators, holding in the temperature and keeping the interior of your home warm or cool, depending on time of year.  Cob functions differently, not as an insulator but as thermal mass, in that it absorbs any radiant heat or cooling and then slowly releases it as it cools off.   

When you are building with straw bales, you are essentially using the bales as your framework, especially when building a load-bearing, Nebraska-style structure.  Straw bale building is done with straw bales (not hay bales), which then need to be covered – usually with earth plaster, lime plaster or cement stucco**.  A covering is just that – a cover material (generally, layers totaling about 1″ or so thick) that protects the bales.

Cob is a lot like earth plaster, although it is much more specific. You want the right amount of clay-soil (binder), sand (aggregate), water, and straw or horse manure (tensile strength).  Cow manure also makes a nice additive binder to clay-soil, creating a nice texture that functions differently from horse manure, more as a binder but not a strengthener.  You want your mix to hold together, for the individual clay platelets to cover each of the tiny bits of sand. Clay binds it, sand (or other aggregate) keeps it from cracking, and water makes it all possible. Straw/manure/fiber makes it stronger.  You want to get your cob mix right so that it doesn’t crack too much when it dries out.  If you rely on water to bind your materials without getting the mix right, you might be disappointed with the results.  Also, clay and water is really pleasant to work with, but too much clay and not enough aggregate will definitely crack too much and fall apart.  You have to have a lot of aggregate – a lot more than clay, generally 2 or 3 parts aggregate to 1 part clay-soil.  All of this specificity is important when building a cob oven or something structural.

When building with cob (or cobb, as some refer to it), you are making the balls or loaves into the actual building material, essentially sculpting your house with no framework; the cob is the framework.  Cob can also be used within framework, such as within stud walls.  One application might be to use cob in a south-facing wall for heat absorption when the sun is lower in the autumn, winter and spring, allowing for slow release of heat on cool nights. Also, cob can capture the cool of a summer night and slowly release that cool into your home during the day.  With these bitter cold Missouri nights, a really good application is to use cob on the interior of your straw bale house – in the form of a bench or trombe wall - capturing and absorbing the sunlight pouring in through your south-facing windows.  An earthen floor will also capture solar gain.  Everything works best if your foundation is well insulated, as well as good ceiling insulation and weatherization techniques.

Straw bale building really performs optimally.  We personally love the marriage of straw bale and cob architecture. You can have the insulation you need for colder winters by building with straw bales, and cob can be used on your home’s interior for absorption/thermal mass, to round out straw bale walls and/or to add sculptures and depth.  How you use these materials just depends on the climate where you live and the dreams you want to manifest.  Missouri is the perfect place for a marriage made in heaven, a love between two “naturals” – clay and straw.  :-)  

 decorative_sun**About Cement Stucco:  We aren’t really recommending cement stucco for covering bales anymore, now that we have more experience and knowledge about the function of earth plaster vs. cement stucco.  Here in moisture-rich Missouri USA, large roof overhangs or a covered wrap-around porch adequately protect straw bale walls from water. Further, if earthen walls become moistened/wet, the hygroscopic properties of the clay/earth kicks in. Clay gets wet and tiny clay platelets expand; as clay dries out, platelets shrink. If your bale wall takes on some moisture (using precautions mentioned), the clay will literally suck/absorb any moisture back out of the bales. This is the “breathing” process often referred to – straw bale walls need to be able to “breathe”so that moisture doesn’t get trapped in the straw, causing rot. This is why you do not paint with synthetics on your interior walls (see Natural Paints and Finishes).This is also why we would not now recommend using cement stucco as a cover material for straw bales (or cob or anything natural, for that matter). Cement will absorb water, but it does not release water very quickly or in the same way that earth plaster does.  We have cement stucco covering our house – so far, so good, but we live in a protected woodland, and our house has large overhangs; due to Missouri’s moisture, we would recommend having an earthen exterior. Even though clay/earth (not topsoil) is well suited to absorbing and releasing water, you still need to have good roof overhangs (approximately 2 feet). As a final cover, lime plaster (with or without colorant) will give a lot of added protection to your walls. 

Solar Power: Renewable Energy for the 21st Century

Solar Power: Renewable Energy for the 21st Century

solar web small 

**This is on our website, but in an effort to meet more readers – and hopefully, actors for the planet – the general information bears repeating, in that it may help you decide that you too can go Solar!** 

Solar photovoltaics provide the electrical energy that we can use to power our appliances ~and our dreams!  With manufacturer warranties of up to 25 years, PVs are a long-term reliable investment that buffers us from a volatile energy market. Since most people in America are already connected to the electric grid, a photovoltaic grid intertie system makes a lot of sense. Net metering (Prop. C in Missouri) allows for us to produce energy at our own home and then use that energy, measured in kW hrs, to offset – at the consumer price rate – what we consume from our electric supplier.

In remote locations, or if one wishes to be off-grid, PV solar panels combined with batteries provide us with energy independence and years of off-grid pleasure! Solar electric power is clean, reliable, affordable, safe, long-lasting and requires very little maintenance.

Germany and Japan have been on the solar energy forefront, leading the way by example and showing us that we can significantly decrease overall energy consumption if each house will offset their energy usage with solar power and energy conservation. With the decreasing prices in solar equipment, Federal Tax Credits and electric provider rebates, solar power is a very attractive and earth-friendly option for anyone wanting to reduce their carbon footprint and be green.

Three Types of PV Systems

The three basic types of photovoltaic systems include: grid-intertie, grid-interactive (with battery backup), and totally off-grid. A grid intertie system allows you to make your own solar power, feed any excess back to the utility grid at the consumer rate, basically using the grid as your storage bank; therefore, excess energy accumulated during the day goes back to the grid, to be used at night or on a another day. In most states, including Missouri, the utility company will offset your PV system production dollar for dollar, until you produce more than you use (avoided costs). Net metering can reduce a utility company’s peak load demand.

A grid interactive system, or grid-intertie system with battery back-up, is different, in that when the electric grid goes down, your essential home electric needs, as determined by you, can be satisfied, through the use of batteries as storage banks.

In a system that is completely off-grid, you are not connected to the electric utility company and all electricity needs are supplied with solar panels and batteries. Occasionally, a generator is needed to fully charge the battery bank.

We have lived off-grid and mainly powered by solar energy here at Silver Seed Farms, Leasburg, Missouri for well over a decade (since 1998). We started out with a very small system and have added to it over time. Our system is still small by some standards. We are fairly frugal with our energy usage and have absolutely no phantom load. It has been an enjoyable and satisfying experience to be using the amazing power of the sun.

decorative_sunLearn more about solar electric power, photovoltaic systems, and energy rebates and incentives at Silver Seed Farms’ website.

Creating Solutions Through Sustainable Landscapes

Rex waterfallAccording to a recent symposium of Landscape Designers and Architects (link below), water is the critical issue facing humanity. Water resources are becoming increasingly burdened, with high population growth, water shortages and changing climate. I would also add that soil is paramount as well. We have lost much of our topsoil already, and water and wind erosion contribute greatly to our loss; however, soil loss and water run-off is really about our (human) practices. This, we can change.

Each of us must learn about water resources and make some changes: in how we use water and, in what water-intensive resources we use. We must also teach our children – well. Begin to implement small changes at home – by collecting rainwater for watering gardens and by using permaculture techniques, which protect water and soil. Educate ourselves about the manufactured products we use, the amount of water and chemicals inherent in their production.  Opt for recycling and upcycling wherever possible.  Choose wisely.

If you live on some wooded acreage, allow leaf mulch to collect and leave some standing dead wood and some fallen wood on the ground.  This is good for the decomposers, birds and mammals, and erosion control.  If you graze animals, please use good stewardship practices, such as grass finishing and pasture-rotation.  Try to grow native too!

Wildflower creek walk 2013Keep in mind entire systems – how everything works together.  I like to think – how would Nature do it?  Truthfully, if we do nothing, nature will take care of itself. However, we like our veggie gardens, shrubs and flower beds, as well as pathways that are not only aesthetically pleasing but that serve a purpose – allowing us to walk unimpeded by ticks, chiggers and snakes (at least, here in the country!).

2832917We now also need to remove invasive species of plants in order to help our natives survive and thrive , which includes some selective harvesting of trees.  My treehugging soul has fought admitting this for many years, and I still prefer to err on the side of keeping the trees and weeds as much as possible! Thankfully, Rex is patient with my process, always balancing our ethic of helping the earth with our ethic of “do no harm”. :-)   Go here to see our Rogue’s Gallery of invasive plants.

rudbeckia and echinacea (640x480) (2)I would also suggest that big yards should be a thing of the past, opting for encouraging our vital pollinators with native – and sometimes ornamental – flowers and grasses, and importantly, for growing some of our own food plus a little extra. After all, more than six billion people rely on food grown on about 11% of the global land surface!  (from National Geographic “Our Good Earth”, September 2008).  Why not be a little independent of the box stores by growing our own greens?  Of course, try to buy at your local farmer’s market or small local stores when necessary.

U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The history of every nation is eventually written in the way in which it cares for its soil”.  And Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1746, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water”.

Let us all determine ourselves to be part of the solution – for the water, for the soil, for ourselves and for each other.

~ Lorian

For more information on the water resource symposium, read up on it in The Dirt. http://dirt.asla.org/2013/04/24/what-is-the-most-critical-issue-designers-dont-even-know-exists/#like-13588.