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
Jun 29, 2017 | 07:15 am
A year ago, the U.S. House tried to block the military from preparing for climate change. Now, several GOP members have voted to support studying the security risks. The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee took a quietly momentous step Wednesday by passing an amendment requesting a Defense Department report on the security risks posed by climate change. The importance lies less in the details of the measure—an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act—than in the political statement from a body that only one year ago tried to block the military from spending money to prepare for climate change. "The truth is that the department can study this on their own, as they have a wide berth when it comes to assessing threats to national security," said Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island and the amendment's sponsor. "But this amendment shows that Congress has the department's back. It signals that we are not naive to the dangers of climate change to our defense strategy." The amendment asks the Defense Department to issue a report within a year identifying the 10 military sites most vulnerable to the many manifestations of climate change, and what steps are needed to protect them. It also asks for a discussion of how climate change will affect top commanders of fielded forces who may have to deal with instability brought on by a climate crisis. The military has conducted extensive studies on the risks and impacts of climate change to its operations for more[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Jun 29, 2017 | 06:30 am
The House subcommittee’s bill would still kill ARPA-E but restores some funding for science and renewable energy. Budget writers in the House of Representatives said Wednesday they were willing to support some cuts to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, but they wouldn't approve all of President Donald Trump's proposed deep slashes to the Department of Energy's budget. The House Appropriations energy subcommittee met to mark up their bill for funding the department. The bill represents the first time Congressional purse-string holders have formally clarified their priorities and is the first step in a long process, but it suggests that Republicans will support many of Trump's cuts to clean energy. Trump's proposal, released last month, calls for cutting the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E—the government's incubator for clean energy technologies—by 93 percent. The House spending bill allocates nothing. The draft bill endorsed by the subcommittee sets the overall agency budget at $37.6 billion, giving it about $209 million less than in fiscal 2017, but $3.65 billion above Trump's request, according to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the subcommittee's chairman. The bill would have to be approved by the full Appropriations panel before going to the House floor and also would have to be reconciled with any action by the Senate. "Increases over last year are targeted to those areas where they are needed most—-to provide for our nation's defense and to support our nation's infrastructure," Simpson said. "The bill recognizes the administration's effort to reduce federal spending and the size[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Jun 29, 2017 | 05:45 am
In April a new global initiative called Mission 2020 was launched by Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who oversaw the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in late 2015. The aim of Mission 2020 is to bring “new urgency” to the “global climate conversation” with a call to begin “rapidly declining” global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Today, in a co-authored commentary published in the journal Nature, Figueres sets out further details about Mission 2020’s six central calls to action. The commentary is endorsed by 61 signatories, which include climate scientists as well as a range of NGO, religious, political, and business leaders. Emissions peakFigueres and colleagues argue that, if global warming is to be limited to between 1.5C and 2C by 2100, global emissions must peak before 2020 and then begin to rapidly decline. Over the past three years, global CO2 emissions have leveled off, driven in part by large declines in coal use in China and the US. While it is likely too early to say for certain if CO2 emissions have peaked, there is a reason to be cautiously optimistic. However, peaking global emissions is in many ways the easy part. Scientists say that to stave off potentially dangerous levels of warming later in the century, global emissions need to decline quickly to near-zero. Read more at Mission 2020: A New Global Strategy to ‘Rapidly’ Reduce Carbon EmissionsRead more...
Climate Change News
Jun 29, 2017 | 05:00 am
According to ... statistics ... extreme climate events, similar to the heatwave that affected large areas of western and central Europe in the summer of 2003, are only supposed to occur around every 100 years. But as global warming pushes average temperatures higher, the frequency of several extreme weather events is set to increase, experts claim.Concurrent extremes more frequentPerhaps the statisticians need to check their figures. Researchers have traditionally studied extreme climate events such as heatwaves and drought in isolation, producing separate forecasts of how frequently each one is likely to occur. But when these extremes coincide -- a combination of hot and dry summers, for example -- their impact is far greater.ETH researcher Jakob Zscheischler and Professor Sonia Seneviratne from the ETH Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science have now calculated the probability of compound climate extremes, as the co-occurrence of severe heat and drought generally depends on the correlation between temperature and precipitation in the summer. The results of their study have just been published in the academic journal Science Advances.Co-occurrence as much as five times greater than expectedIn their study, Zscheischler and Seneviratne have calculated that the combination of heat and drought is as much as two to four times more frequent than if these two extreme climate events are studied in isolation. In America's mid-west, for instance, the probability of this combination occurring is even up to five times higher.Calculating the probability of these two extremes separately and then combining them is not the same as[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Jun 29, 2017 | 04:15 am
In the past two decades, the Greenland ice sheet has become the biggest single contributor to rising sea levels, mostly from melt across its vast surface. That surface melt is, in turn, driven mostly by an uptick in clear, sunny summer skies, not just rising air temperatures, a new study finds. What’s causing the decline in cloud cover isn’t yet clear, but the work shows that understanding what’s behind the trend and developing ways to better represent clouds in global climate models will be crucial to predicting how much Greenland will melt in the future. The nearly two-mile-thick Greenland ice sheet covers an area about three times the size of Texas and holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 23 feet if it were all to melt. While that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, even smaller-scale melt can raise sea levels to the point that large swaths of coastal land will be claimed by the oceans by the end of the century, including many major cities, such as Miami and Shanghai. Global sea level has already risen by about a foot since 1900. Greenland’s contribution to that rise has jumped since the 1990s, accounting for about 30 percent of sea level rise since then. While some of the water Greenland is flushing out to sea comes from warming ocean waters lapping away at the glaciers that drain the ice sheet, most is due to the melt across its surface during the summer.Read more at Sunnier Skies Driving Greenland[…]Read more...
- Climate Change News Jun 29, 2017 | 02:55 am Read more...
Climate Change News
Jun 28, 2017 | 22:29 pm
Some states and electric power companies are rolling out a new weapon against fossil fuels — giant batteries. A growing number of states are requiring large batteries to be used to store electricity to help expand wind and solar power. The trend is catching on quickly as at least three states have created energy storage targets or incentives so far this year.Lawmakers in New York passed a bill last week requiring the state to create an energy storage target. Nevada passed a bill incentivizing energy storage in May, and Maryland passed an energy storage tax credit in April. Those measures follow California, Oregon, and Massachusetts, which have mandates for electricity storage in batteries. Electric power plants have historically been America’s largest source of carbon pollution contributing to climate change. Today, electric power plants that run on both coal and natural gas emit large volumes of carbon dioxide — the primary cause of global warming. But as more wind farms and solar power plants are built to help reduce climate pollution, electric power companies encounter one of the fundamental challenges with renewables: The flow of electricity from wind and solar farms isn’t steady — it fluctuates as the wind blows and the sun sets. Sometimes excess energy they produce goes to waste. “We only produce solar electricity when the sun shines. We consume energy 24/7. We need to have means of supplying the electricity to consumers 24 hours a day. That’s one of the basic roles of energy storage,” said Janet[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Jun 28, 2017 | 16:40 pm
The more effectively we suppress fires, the worse they become. As climate change makes the world more combustible, we need a new approach. Aerial fire fighting is a critical but expensive tool for managing wildfire. Because wildfires will become more frequent and severe due to climate change there is no question we need aerial fire fighting technology – particularly helicopters and specially trained crews that can be inserted into remote areas. But uncritical belief and investment in aerial fire fighting technologies alone is a road to fiscal ruin. Thoughtlessly investing in aerial fire-fighting will not meet the formidable fire management challenges that are being amplified by climate change. A fraction of the US investments in aerial fire fighting redirected to preventative fire management, such as planned burning and strategic vegetation thinning, retrofitting poorly designed housing and training ground crews could yield a much bigger bang for the buck, as well as providing year round employment for rural communities. The media optics of aerial drop of bright red fire retardant from a thundering fire bomber comes at considerable environment and social costs and engenders a dangerously false sense of security in a rapidly warming and more combustible world. Read more at Even Boeing-747 Tanker Jets Can’t Win Our Total War on FiresRead more...
Climate Change News
Jun 28, 2017 | 04:15 am
Carbon dioxide concentrations are heading towards values not seen in the past 200m years. The sun has also been gradually getting stronger over time. Put together, these facts mean the climate may be heading towards warmth not seen in the past half a billion years. A lot has happened on Earth since 500,000,000BC – continents, oceans and mountain ranges have come and gone, and complex life has evolved and moved from the oceans onto the land and into the air. Most of these changes occur on very long timescales of millions of years or more. However, over the past 150 years global temperatures have increased by about 1℃, ice caps and glaciers have retreated, polar sea-ice has melted, and sea levels have risen. Some will point out that Earth’s climate has undergone similar changes before. So what’s the big deal? Scientists can seek to understand past climates by looking at the evidence locked away in rocks, sediments and fossils. What this tells us is that yes, the climate has changed in the past, but the current speed of change is highly unusual. For instance, carbon dioxide hasn’t been added to the atmosphere as rapidly as today for at least the past 66m years. In fact, if we continue on our current path and exploit all convention fossil fuels, then as well as the rate of CO₂ emissions, the absolute climate warming is also likely to be unprecedented in at least the past 420m years. That’s according to a new study[…]Read more...
- Climate Change News Jun 28, 2017 | 03:55 am Read more...