I planted sugar snap peas on St. Patrick's Day this year, and four days later it snowed. It wasn't what we'd expect of the second day of Spring, but the weather this year has been anything but common. The pea planting was as much a hopeful gesture as anything else - a way to reassure myself that something edible will indeed emerge from the ground again, just as we will emerge from this heavy dose of winter.
The mailmen may be the only people in Arlington who know it's time to start thinking about the garden, as they deliver seed and garden supply catalogues to frozen gardeners who have probably forgotten how to call a spade a spade. But all it takes is a quick daydream about the taste of a fresh summer tomato with basil to get me to load soil into peat pots and start raising this year's vegetable garden. I claim complete amateur status when it comes to gardening, but that's the main point: it didn't take much effort to get myself up and going and self-sufficient with vegetables for two from June through September. Hopefully it'll inspire some similar experiments around Arlington.
One of the first things I did after moving here a few years ago - long before the furniture arrived - was to dig up the yard. I am not a huge fan of grass and am definitely not a lawn guy, particularly because they require attention but you can't eat them. At first I had plans to turn the entire place into a big terraced garden complete with paths and maybe a fountain or two. Then I discovered how hard it is to dig well-established grass, and my grand visions shrank. A lot. I started with two 11-foot by 6-foot raised beds, which I staked out, dug, and framed with untreated spruce 2X12s from Home Depot. In the second season I added a third.
I filled the beds with a few cubic yards of compost from Boston Bark that were dumped smack in the middle of our driveway. I was pleased until I discovered that the dump truck hadn't been cleaned out before it was loaded with compost, and so right at the center of the magnificent pile was a full two cubic yards of concrete mix. Boston Bark did come back, shovel up the mess, and provide a new load sans concrete but I would have rather seen them get it right on round 1.
The arduous digging of sod.
The compost - with a special concrete filling.
While this was going on, the seedlings watched from inside. Although I'd raised the odd cactus or two in my day, this whole vegetable thing was new territory for me. I tried all sorts of containers, from peat pots to cardboard egg cartons to old yogurt containers. In the end, although they're a one-shot deal, I like peat pots the most because they can be placed in a waterproof dish and watered from below. The peat will soak up the water and dampen the soil, which is a great way to avoid abusing your seedlings during watering.
Another suggestion is to label your seedlings clearly with something other than a post-it note. It's a bit of a surprise when you separate a bunch of tiny tomato seedlings only to find out later that they were actually...basil. In the first year I pre-seeded tomatoes, zucchini, kale, leeks, broccoli, parsley, and basil indoors on April 1st. Later I planted beans, swiss chard, marigolds, and a bunch of salad greens right in the garden. I liked this initial set, with the exception of the leeks, which looked like blades of grass when I transplanted them into the garden and took forever to mature into pitiful stalks.
All of my seeds came from Seeds of Change, which I chose because they are from organic plants. I've generally liked their supply, but their seed packs are pretty expensive and I've had problems with items backordered (summer doesn't wait around for the seeds to arrive) or canceled altogether (a couple of times without any warning).
The first set of seedlings.
A tomato gets a transplant.
All planted and ready to grow (Bed #1).
Tomatoes and salad greens (Bed #2).
My first year was the summer of 2009 when everyone's Ark filled with water from June 1st to July 15th. Irrigation wasn't necessary, and the cool-weather crops such as lettuces and broccoli did well. I did install a soaker hose (seen in the photo) but used it rarely, and found that by September it had rotted and had several holes, making it completely worthless. In 2010 I sprung for a drip irrigation system from a company called Irrigation Direct. The weather was warm and dry and with the system on a timer, all I really had to do was harvest, eat, and repeat. (Less work is always good, because unfortunately I am not a full-time yard gardener.)
I'm a fan of planting densely because it means less weeding, and this appears to work as long as crops are rotated from year to year. I border the beds with marigolds, which help deter pests, and interplant a lot - one plant of this, one row of that, and so on. The only pesticide I use is Bt, which stands for Bacillus Thuringiensis and is a naturally-occurring bacteria that takes care of cabbage moths on the kale and broccoli. In June the basil has been decimated by June bugs (go figure) so I cover them at night - problem solved. I was told that nocturnal investigations are the best way to figure out what's eating your plants, and this has been mostly true. Neighbors come in handy, too: ours told me he spotted a squirrel running away with one of my tomatoes in its mouth. I considered it my contribution to the squirrel fund in exchange for free acorn cleanup services the fellow provides in the fall.
From seedling to garden jungle in a matter of weeks.
Rows offer the illusion of order and method.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and even though many of my techniques were experimental and haphazard, when the sun shines in Arlington things really start growing. We had more salad greens than we could eat, and managed to can a bunch of tomatoes in the form of salsa. Butternut squash has lasted through the winter in the basement, and I think there's a loaf or two of zucchini bread still in the freezer.
It may seem a long way off, but soon we'll be in shorts and t-shirts and I'll be feeling lucky that there are 200 fewer square feet of my lawn to mow than when I moved in. If luck smiles on me again this year, I'll be feasting on another chaotic pile of plants that are as local as it gets.
1 ½ lbs of zucchini.
A late-season harvest: tomatoes, squash, beets, and everything else.
Summertime on a platter.
Climate Change News
Aug 21, 2017 | 07:24 am
But if the Republican Party is undergoing a shift on climate, it is at its earliest, most incremental stage. While President Donald Trump continues to dismantle Obama-era climate policies, an unlikely surge of Republican lawmakers has begun taking steps to distance themselves from the GOP’s hard line on climate change. The House Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan backwater when it formed early last year, has more than tripled in size since January, driven in part by Trump’s decision in June to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. And last month, 46 Republicans joined Democrats to defeat an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would have deleted a requirement that the Defense Department prepare for the effects of climate change. The willingness of some Republicans to buck their party on climate change could help burnish their moderate credentials ahead of the 2018 elections. Of the 26 Republican caucus members, all but five represent districts targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee next year. But it has also buoyed activists who view the House members’ positioning as a rare sign of GOP movement on climate change. “Strangely, President Trump helped us,” said Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman whose views on climate change contributed to his defeat in a South Carolina primary in 2010. “His withdrawal from Paris dramatically increased the number of [internet] searches about climate change and increased interest … People are getting more and more uncomfortable with the nuttiness of these positions.” In a[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Aug 21, 2017 | 07:13 am
We have to bury gigatons of carbon to slow climate change. We’re not even close to ready.The world’s nations have agreed, almost unanimously, to try to limit the rise of global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius or less over preindustrial levels. Is that still possible? Climate campaigners, scientists, and politicians frequently insist it is. All we need, they say, is political will. But that’s not all we need. There’s something else, something we talk about much less.You see, in order to have a reasonable chance of hitting the 2C target, modeling shows that humanity must go carbon negative in the mid- to late 21st century. Here are two scenarios developed by Oil Change International, one that offers a 66 percent chance of hitting 2 degrees, one that shows a 50 percent chance of hitting 1.5 degrees: As you can see, for a likely chance of hitting 2C, emissions have to go below zero in 2065. Going below zero means removing more carbon from the atmosphere than we are emitting, by capturing it and burying it beneath the earth’s surface. If we do not allow negative emissions into the models, they show that to hit our target, emissions have to decline at an absolutely ludicrous rate:Absent a meteor wiping out advanced civilization, that’s not going to happen. So, negative emissions it is! That means we must start burying and sequestering carbon (in some models as early as 2020) and rapidly scale up until we are burying more than we’re emitting.[…]Read more...
- Climate Change News Aug 21, 2017 | 05:07 am Read more...
Climate Change News
Aug 21, 2017 | 05:05 am
It had a good run. But the end is in sight for the machine that changed the world. The internal combustion engine's days are numbered. Rapid gains in battery technology favor electric motors instead. ... The Chevy Bolt has a range of 238 miles (383km); Tesla fans recently drove a Model S more than 621 miles (1,000km) on a single charge. UBS, a bank, reckons the “total cost of ownership” of an electric car will reach parity with a petrol one next year—albeit at a loss to its manufacturer. It optimistically predicts electric vehicles will make up 14% of global car sales by 2025, up from 1% today. Others have more modest forecasts, but are hurriedly revising them upwards as batteries get cheaper and better—the cost per kilowatt-hour has fallen from $1,000 in 2010 to $130-200 today. Regulations are tightening, too. Last month Britain joined a lengthening list of electric-only countries, saying that all new cars must be zero-emission by 2050.The shift from fuel and pistons to batteries and electric motors is unlikely to take that long. The first death rattles of the internal combustion engine are already reverberating around the world—and many of the consequences will be welcome. To gauge what lies ahead, think how the internal combustion engine has shaped modern life. The rich world was rebuilt for motor vehicles, with huge investments in road networks and the invention of suburbia, along with shopping malls and drive-through restaurants. Roughly 85% of American workers commute by car. Car making[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Aug 20, 2017 | 06:08 am
The New York Times had a big story on the the 11th about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s propensity to operate in secret. It offers a detailed and damning review of the evidence, but it stops short of drawing the broader conclusion: namely, that the approach of serving industry under cover of secrecy is not idiosyncratic to Pruitt, nor is it distinctively Trumpian. Rather, it is the standard approach of today’s GOP, as reflected in such recent initiatives as the failed health care bill. It is, in fact, the only approach possible to advance an agenda that is unpopular and intellectually indefensible. Before painting that bigger picture, though, let’s look more closely at Pruitt’s brief but memorable stint at the EPA so far. Pruitt is radically remaking the EPA, mostly in secretThings got off to an inauspicious start in February, when a story at E&E revealed that Pruitt was requesting a full-time, around-the-clock security detail — not the first act of a man confident in his agenda. In May the New Republic’s Emily Atkin, noting Pruitt’s refusal to meet with media or make his schedule public, asked, “What is Scott Pruitt hiding?” Another story in May found that political leadership at the EPA had begun “occasionally inserting new data and other information into public statements without final review from career policy specialists,” data and information officials inside EPA describe as “misleading and incompatible with extensive agency research.” Another covered Pruitt firing several scientists from the agency’s science review board, planning to[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Aug 20, 2017 | 04:28 am
Heatstroke can be deadly if not treated quickly. The luscious tomatoes and juicy peaches in your local grocery store were most likely picked by hand to prevent bruising. But that personal touch comes at a price. On hot days, the workers who pick these crops are at risk of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and other heat related illnesses. Linda McCauley, a professor and dean of the Emory University School of Nursing, says heat-related illness can sneak up on someone who is unaware of the signs. So it’s important to recognize the early symptoms in order to prevent serious complications or even death. McCauley: “So you’re working in a field and you’ve started having a headache and then all of a sudden you’re starting to feel dizzy and you feel like you’re going to pass out.” Once someone feels light-headed, quick action is critical. McCauley: “In general, the workers don’t have any sense about how dangerous a heatstroke is – in that you have minutes. You don’t have hours.” Heat stroke can be deadly, but it’s also avoidable. So educating workers and employers about how to recognize the symptoms is vital. And putting programs in place to protect workers will become even more important as the climate warms. Read original at Hot Days Put the People Who Grow Your Food in DangerRead more...
- Climate Change News Aug 20, 2017 | 04:15 am Read more...
Climate Change News
Aug 19, 2017 | 10:15 am
Before 2005 US carbon emissions were marching upwards year after year, with little sign of slowing down. After this point, they fell quickly, declining 14% from their peak by the end of 2016. Researchers have given a number of different reasons for this marked turnaround. Some have argued that it was mainly due to natural gas and, to a lesser extent, wind both replacing coal for generating electricity. Others have suggested that the declines were driven by the financial crisis and its lasting effects on the economy. Here Carbon Brief presents an analysis of the causes of the decline in US CO2 since 2005. There is no single cause of reductions. Rather, they were driven by a number of factors, including a large-scale transition from coal to gas, a large increase in wind power, a reduction in industrial energy use, and changes in transport patterns. Declines in US CO2 have persisted despite an economic recovery from the financial crisis. While the pace of reductions may slow, many of these factors will continue to push down emissions, notwithstanding the inclinations of the current administration. Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that in 2016…Overall, CO2 emissions were around 18% lower than they would have been, if underlying factors had not changed, and 14% lower than their 2005 peak.Coal-to-gas switching in the power sector is the largest driver, accounting for 33% of the emissions reduction in 2016.*Wind generation was responsible for 19% of the emissions reduction.Solar power was responsible for 3%.Reduced electricity use – mostly[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Aug 19, 2017 | 09:48 am
With a sweeping overhaul of the tax code on the horizon, two Senate Democrats believe this is the moment to broach the third rail of climate change policy: a carbon tax. The plan by the senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, to level a $49 per metric ton fee on greenhouse gas emissions is widely acknowledged as a long shot. But the lawmakers, along with climate activists and a cadre of conservative supporters, insist the tax reform is a way to create bipartisan support. The senators propose to use a portion of the estimated $2.1 trillion they anticipate in carbon tax revenue over the first 10 years to reduce the top marginal corporate tax income rate, something the White House has called for. They also hope to have an ally in President Trump’s economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn, who met in February with a prominent group of Republicans advocating a similar plan. No Republican lawmaker has signed on to the Senate measure. Mr. Trump, who routinely proclaims his affection for coal, during the presidential campaign flatly rejected via Twitter a suggestion that he might put a price on carbon pollution. The senators steering the effort admit they haven’t even broached a carbon tax directly with members of the administration, and the White House has distanced itself from the policy via Twitter a suggestion that he might put a price on carbon pollution. The senators steering the effort admit they haven’t even broached a carbon tax[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Aug 19, 2017 | 09:00 am
Not getting sick and dying from pollution is worth quite a bit, it turns out. Wind and solar power are subsidized by just about every major country in the world, either directly or indirectly through tax breaks, mandates, and regulations. The main rationale for these subsidies is that wind and solar produce, to use the economic term of art, “positive externalities” — benefits to society that are not captured in their market price. Specifically, wind and solar power reduce pollution, which reduces sickness, missed work days, and early deaths. Every wind farm or solar field displaces some other form of power generation (usually coal or natural gas) that would have polluted more. Subsidies for renewables are meant to remedy this market failure, to make the market value of renewables more accurately reflect their total social value. This raises an obvious question: Are renewable energy subsidies doing the job? That is to say, are they accurately reflecting the size and nature of the positive externalities? That turns out to be a devilishly difficult question to answer. Quantifying renewable energy’s health and environmental benefits is super, super complicated. Happily, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab have just produced the most comprehensive attempt to date. It contains all kinds of food for thought, both in its numbers and its uncertainties. (Quick side note: Just about every country in the world also subsidizes fossil fuels. Globally, fossil fuels receive far more subsidies than renewables, despite the lack of any policy rationale whatsoever for such[…]Read more...