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.

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Workshops 2013 with Silver Seed Farms

I like to play in the dirt

There is a lot of excitement building for more sustainable housing and living, as we become aware of the hazards of acquiring, manufacturing, and using modern building materials. Also, when we develop an awareness of the beauty of what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “chopping wood, carrying water” – that is, appreciating the beauty of life in the simple things in the moment – we feel closer to life itself, which gives us a feeling of wholeness. We started on our path of sustainability (it really is a path to be enjoyed, not so much just a goal to attain) over 20 years ago, when sustainability was more of a “fringe” idea, left to idealists and survivalists.  Now that many in the mainstream are beginning to see the pitfalls of “The American Dream”, more and more people are moving towards a strong environmental ethic and humanitarian concern – The New American Dream.

With all of this in mind, we are excited to announce our current slate of workshops for the 2013 year!

In addition, if you have a workshop you would like to host and for us to teach, please contact us at silverseedfarms@gmail.com, and we will work with you.

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Belmont oven finished!

Cob (Earthen) Oven Workshop ~ May 3, 4, & 5, 2013 ~ Class will be held at EEC Teaching Center, Bourbon, Missouri.  On-site camping, showers, meals and book included.  

For More Detailed Information

See the Flyer

To Sign Up

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Cob Elements:  Sculpting With Earth ~ June 2013 ~ At Silver Seed Farms, Leasburg, Missouri.

For More Detailed Information

To Sign Up

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natural plasters and finishes

Natural Paints and Finishes ~ July 13 ~ Class will be held at EEC Teaching Center, Bourbon, Missouri.

For More Detailed Information

To Sign Up

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Solar Photovoltaic Energy Introduction ~ July 27 ~ Workshop to take place at EEC Teaching Center, Bourbon, Missouri.  This class is prerequisite to the Advanced Solar Installation July 28-31.

For More Detailed Information

To Sign Up

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Charge Controller and Inverter 2 (480x640)

Advanced Solar PV Installation Workshop – July 28, 29, 30, 31 –  Follow along and help install a 3,000 watt grid-intertie, battery back-up system.  Free Photovoltaics book, camping, outdoor showers, all meals included.  Workshop will be held at EEC Teaching Center, Bourbon, Missouri.  Prerequisite: Solar PV Energy Introduction.

To Sign Up

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Straw Bale Building Workshop ~ October 4, 5 & 6 ~ at EEC Teaching Center, Bourbon, Missouri

For More Detailed Information

See the Flyer

To Sign Up

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Gravel Bag Foundation Workshop – October 3 – Workshop will be held at EEC Teaching Center, Bourbon, Missouri.  Come learn the skills to get your foundation right!  Free with Straw Bale Building Workshop.

Living Roof Workshop – October 19, 20 ~ Free with Straw Bale Building Workshop.  Workshop held at EEC Teaching Center, Bourbon, Missouri.  

See the Flyer

To Sign Up

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For info on straw bale building or natural building in general, go to our website.   

To see the full natural building offerings (including Building a Cordwood Sauna) at EEC, go to their website at environmentalenergyconsultants.com.

Check out our website, and let us hear from you.

🙂  Happy Adventures into Sustainability!

Peas Please Me

The peacocks and chickens love to free range on this beautiful mid-winter day in Missouri. They particularly enjoy hanging out in front of our south-facing glass on the sunny patio.

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Our straw bale cottage forms a barrier from the northerly winds, and the sun shines happily.  That’s why our patio is so feathery! Yes, we do give it a regular spritzing-off.  In the summer, oregano and small stray petunias grow between each of the flagstone pieces – happy – thanks to what our feathered friends leave behind. It’s all part of the natural cycle.  🙂

4 Favorite Easy Tips for Winterizing Your Home (Saving Money and the Planet)

If you are serious about changing your carbon footprint or about saving money, then this article is for you.  Rex and I are big believers in energy audits, because you would be surprised to know how much a “regular” house leaks.  However, I like knowing that there are ways that I can personally accomplish something that will save us money and time and is ultimately good for the planet.  I especially like knowing there are easy ways.  I can imagine that I have options, and they seem attainable.

Within this informational slide show by The Daily Green, there are ways to clean out or tweak your current large, energy-consuming appliances and ways to get the most out of what you already have, and many of them for the DIY’er.  There are many important weatherizing improvements listed, such as caulking, sealing, and insulating around windows, and cleaning out or replacing appliance filters.  You should always determine if your improvements are covered by state or federal rebates, tax deductions, or if you qualify for low-income weatherization programs in your area.  You can Google that for your state.  Here in Missouri, we have several.  So in addition, I have a few favorites on this list of weatherization tips.

Okay, now the fun part.  My favorite Top 4 Weatherization Tips:

images Possibly the first thing we do in the fall in Missouri, is to get out our sweaters and jackets.  We really look forward to the autumn change in weather, in part because it generally follows a pretty hot summer, and also because of the beautiful autumn colors.  However, sweaters are not just for the outdoors; a light-weight sweater-type layer (over a sleeveless shirt or t-shirt) works beautifully inside the house to help maintain a comfortable body temperature without having to pay $ for it daily, as you would by turning UP your thermostat.  And it just feels right, like you could be snuggled up with a kitty in your lap, drinking a piping hot cup of tea.  For you die-hard t-shirts-and-flip-flops-in-winter folks – remember, it’s also better for your health to keep your room temperatures lower, and it’s better for the planet.

Another one of my favorite suggestions for winterizing your home is using an energy monitor.  ted-winterize-lgAbsolutely a favorite!  Especially, if you like to read gauges and thermometers, you will get a thrill from monitoring your energy usage.  We have a voltmeter in the house, which tells us how much solar energy we have stored in the batteries.  Also, our inverter tells us how much AC it is creating, which translates into how many watts we are currently using.  It helps you keep your usage in check.  Our batteries get more of a challenge during winter, so a monitor really helps us stay on top of things and adjust our usage.

**A sidebar: .  AC is Alternating Current, that which is grid electricity and DC is Direct Current, which is produced by solar power.  The inverter allows DC to switch into AC to be used in the house with regular electrical appliances.  We use both AC and DC in our off-grid application.  DC appliances tend to be more expensive and less available, but they are more efficient than AC appliances.  It’s a trade-off.  Our inverter is fairly efficient, inverting 93% of incoming DC current to AC, but inverters are different, some more efficient than others. **

This is a super-cool idea!  Get creative with your refrigeration to save energy and money.

air-fridge-winterize-lg (1)  Take advantage of the cold winter air outside to cool a hand-built insulated cabinet attached to your house, through a door or even through a window (which we used to do!).  This blog article says all you need is some wood, insulation and a couple of computer fans (or socks!).  Get detailed with the super-frig. 

And last but not least – my #1 favorite, because it requires some creativity and sewing on my part.  😉  A Draft Snake ~  You can find many different styles to purchase too.

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Dodging Drafts:  According to the U. S. Department of Energy, doors and windows can waste 5% to 30% of your energy.  That’s a lot.  As a tribute to what may have started back in the Great Depression, we can see some very artistic modern versions of this tried-and-true method, some with a lot of personality.

colin-draft-snake-lg green-draft-snake-lg

These draft snakes can be as subtle as the fabric they are made with,  such as this beauty on the windowsill, buttons-draft-snake-lg or they can be bright and lovely like this patchwork snake.

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It’s especially fun when children can get in on the action, maybe even helping to make one.  Or, you may have to make a special snake just for your little one, since it may be moved all about the house, doing a different job – that of companion snake. 🙂

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One blog post states:  “In the fight against cold drafts (not to mention pollution and global warming), draft snakes can be real superheroes.”

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Enjoy your process of weatherizing your home!  By all means, get an energy audit and save yourself some dough; many states offer rebates for weatherization if it involves an energy audit.  Inspire others, and share your photos and ideas here.  I will be sharing photos of my draft snake soon.

Cheers!

Lorian


The Power of Phantoms

This article concerns anyone who is into being more sustainable, solar powered, or just generally more energy efficient…

We remember those awesome appliances that didn’t hide anything.  They did what you expected them to do  Toaster Lady (once you got over the excitement of the fact that they actually *did* those things).  And they didn’t have any “sensing” abilities or black boxes. Ever wonder about those little black boxes that are attached to our power cords and what our appliances are “sensing” about us?

Phantom Dr_CaligariStandby power, also called phantom load, vampire power, vampire draw, or leaking electricity, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode.  

Any device that includes a remote or a little black transformer box is always on.  Home theater systems and other remote control “sensing” equipment draws on electricity 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.  These sensing devices are always on, watching…waiting…literally searching…for a signal, a sign of life from the couch.  Phantom load, as this is referred to, is approaching 15% of the electrical usage in the U.S.  Imagine all of the fossil fuels needed to run stuff we don’t even think about or know is turned on!  In Missouri, coal supplies most of the energy, then nuclear and hydro.  Many new products have phantom loads, products which may be inventive but are unnecessary, such as light-up picture frames.

The wasted standby power of individual household electronic devices is typically very small, but the sum of all such devices within the household becomes significant. Standby power makes up a portion of homes’ miscellaneous electric load, which also includes small appliances, security systems, and other small power draws.

Fix Those Phantoms!

One way to get around the phantom load issue is to plug equipment into $3 power strips, U.S. power stripand you can turn off the switch for the 2/3 of the day the equipment is not in use.  Also, cell phone chargers, camera chargers – anything with the little black transformer box on it – uses power when left plugged into the outlet.  These chargers also work well on a power strip.  We like to use the kind of strip that has a little red light.  It is much easier to see if it’s been left on.  Another option is to have an electrician wire your miscellaneous electronic devices to wall switches.

A Small Change in Habits…

Standby power can be as high as 10 to 15 watts per device, and occasionally more. A 2005 study estimates the number of standby appliances in the EU at 3.7 billion.  Although the power needed for functions like displays, indicators, and remote control functions is relatively small, the fact that the devices are continuously plugged in, and the number of such devices in the average household means that the energy usage can reach up to 22 percent of all appliance consumption, and around 10 percent of total residential consumption.  It’s up to each of us to make a difference, so turn off those phantoms!

 For something a little more technical…

Research on Phantoms

Alan Meier, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, noted that many household appliances are never fully switched off, but spend most of the time in a standby mode. His 1998 study estimated that standby power consumption accounted for approximately 5% of total residential electricity consumption in America, “adding up to more than $3 billion in annual energy costs” (this is calculated at current 2010 cheap electricity rate per kW/hr).  According to America’s Department of Energy, national residential electricity consumption in 2004 was 1.29 billion megawatt hours (MWh)—5% of which is 64 million MWh. The wasted energy, in other words, is equivalent to the output of 18 typical power stations!  Meier’s 2000 study (2 years later) showed that standby power accounted for around 10% of household power-consumption, twice as much as he estimated 2 years prior.

On a personal note, we are fairly frugal with our energy usage and have absolutely no phantom load, except for the occasional “I forgot to turn off the power strip last night!”.  Being aware of what appliances are running or being used and when really gets you involved with your energy usage.  It’s a good feeling, this Awareness.  🙂

February Landscape Tasks for Nature Lovers

February is an excellent time to work outside – cool temps, no bugs, no hurry.  Here in Missouri Zone 6, in the time of Imbolc (an ancient Gaelic celebration of Spring), just after The Day of Marmota Monax (according to him, Spring will be early this year)

Imageand well into the Mayan New Year,Image the sun is shining, the temperature is in the upper 40’s, and it is quite pleasant. Which brings us to how now is a good time of year to do a few things for your landscape, and your trees and shrubs will thank you.

Prune for Structure

If you haven’t already done so, corrective pruning works well now because the plant’s energy is still in the roots.  It is much less stressful for the plant or tree if you do a more vigorous pruning when the plant is dormant.  You can easily see the branching structure of your trees and shrubs, and at this time of year, you won’t have to dispose of all the leaves.  Be careful that you do not cut off your spring flowers, because many of the spring flowering plants are budded and just waiting for enough warmth to open up.  These particular plants (viburnum, lilac, azalea, etc.) should be pruned after flowering.  So, you don’t want to tip-cut the early blooming plants like this, but it is okay to remove old canes that are less vigorous. Cut those canes back as close to the ground as you can.   Keep in mind that maple pruning at this time will cause a lot of sap loss, unless you want to collect it in a bucket and cook it down for maple syrup!  It’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for dead wood and remove it when you see it. Dead limbs provide an entry into the live wood for insects and rot.

Cut Back Grasses

Now is a good time to cut your grass!  Ornamental grasses (such as liriope/monkey grass, maiden grass, fountain grass, etc.) should be cut back to about 6″ from the ground for larger grasses and about 2″ from the ground for smaller monkey grass.  When the dead or old grass blades are gone, the soil will warm up faster; the plant will begin to grow sooner Liriope Muscariand will look lovelier.

Transplant Plants

The spring digging season is about to begin.  Now is a good time for transplanting deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, and to make arrangements to plant larger trees and shrubs that will be field dug at the nursery.  This timing will help you get better choices, as quality plants can get picked over by spring.  Also, early planting eliminates transplant shock when no foliage is exposed.  You will also be able to take advantage of the spring rains and have less watering and maintenance work.  If you have very little experience, I recommend you consult a Horticulturist for advice on transplant information regarding your specific plant or tree choice and your location and/or help in accomplishing your goals.

For the DIYer, some things to bear in mind, which is not total but will give you a good start when planting a new nursery tree or shrub:

1)  “Call Before You Dig”, that is, dial “811”;

2) Be certain that the plants you have chosen will work well in your landscape – Does it need well-drained or moist soil? Will the plant like the intense heat/sun on the western side of your house or does it prefer the sunny south or cooler north side, or what?

3) The width of the new hole you dig should be twice the size of the root ball, and the depth should be a little bit shallower.  If the root ball is planted in too much depth, the tree could drown; too high, it could dry out.  Create a little ring of dirt around the root ball that will bring some water to the roots and not dry out too fast.  Mulch and water it in.

4)  When digging out a shrub, keep as much of the soil and root base intact as possible.  Move root ball and place it in a newly dug hole that is well-aerated and larger than the root ball.  Then, you can fill it in with amended soil, if the original soil is not adequate.  Keep the base of the plant slightly higher than the surrounding dirt.  Mulch and water it in.

A Word About Natives

We really want to encourage  native plants and edibles instead of large areas of mono-culture non-native lawns.  In fact, check out this blog about starting a veggie garden (with great resources too!).  Also, read this article if you would like to know “How to Start an Organic Garden in 9 Easy Steps”.  Try to buy or grow as many native plants, shrubs and trees as you can; rudbeckia and echinacea (640x480) (2)they will attract all manner of birds, butterflies, bees, and dragonflies, will resist drought and require less water once established, and they do not require chemical inputs to survive.  Many natives are perennials or will reseed, giving you years of enjoyment from the original plant or seed.

Take Time for the Small Pleasures

Implementing these suggestions now will help you stay caught-up in your landscape gardening.  Instead of hurrying through spring with the usual business of over-burdened schedules and appointments and last-minute gardening, you can approach the excitement of spring in an unhurried manner, able to pay full attention and smile. 🙂

Warmer Days and a Happy Tree Frog

Warmer Days and a Happy Tree Frog

All holed up in our warm straw bale cottage on this *very* cold January afternoon, and in temporary avoidance of some of my home duties, I find my thoughts going to hot summer days and festive evenings when we light the torches and swim with Tree Frogs in the moonlight.

Now, we do not have air-conditioning, since the straw house stays fairly cool during the Missouri summers, peaking at 83 degrees inside when it’s 103 degrees of sustained heat outside. However, we feel most comfortable when we can cool our body temperatures down by swimming or just lounging for a bit in the lake down the hill or up here in the little pool. Of course, the walk uphill is less desirable in the heat of the day, so the pool ends up being our next-best-thing to air-conditioning. It turns out that frogs feel the same way we do – desiring escape from the heat, the pool is a very convenient body of water. We find little Spring Peepers and Tree Frogs who spend the day peeking out at us from in the liner of the pool (in our daughter’s photo: under the side rail where you see the frog sitting), and they spend the overnight hours swimming, mating, and laying eggs. In the evenings when we swim, the frogs are hanging out on the rails, floating on the pool mattress (imagine that for a moment!), propelling themselves through the clear water, or are attached to the sides of the pool, all joined together in their chorus of song. Often 10 or 15 of them! They do not worry about us, and we enjoy their serenades and little froggy antics.

From this vantage point and looking out at the frosty gray-blue sky, I am enjoying memories of and looking forward to the long summer days punctuated by iced sun tea, cob oven pizza and bread, cool garden salads, and refreshing dips with some of Missouri’s cutest amphibians.

We have been involved in some fun and exciting projects, and news of these will follow soon. Right now, it’s good to dream. 🙂