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
Oct 22, 2017 | 04:15 am
“Nothing More than ash and bones.” That grim description of how some victims were found underscores the horror of the wildfires that swept through and devastated Northern California. At least 38 people were killed, including a 14-year-old boy found dead in the driveway of the home he was trying to flee, a 28-year-woman confined to a wheelchair and a couple who recently had celebrated their 75th anniversary. In addition to the lives lost, approximately 5,700 homes and businesses were destroyed, including entire neighborhoods turned into smoldering ruins. Some 220,000 acres, including prized vineyards, have been scorched, and the danger is not over, as some fires are still burning and officials fear the return of winds could spread more catastrophe. Fire season is part of life in California, something that residents know and prepare for after the hot, dry summer months. But the events that began last Sunday have been unprecedented, and so the question that must be confronted is what caused the deadliest week of wildfires in the state’s history. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) pointed the finger at climate change. “With a warming climate, dry weather, and reducing moisture, these kinds of catastrophes have happened and will continue to happen and we have to be ready to mitigate, and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” he said last week. No single fire can be specifically linked to climate change, and certainly other factors, such as increased development or logging and grazing activities, are involved. But scientists say there[…]Read more...
- Climate Change News Oct 22, 2017 | 03:55 am Read more...
Climate Change News
Oct 21, 2017 | 18:33 pm
Last Friday, the European Space Agency Sentinel-5p satellite went into orbit above the earth. Onboard is an imaging spectrometer instrument called TROPOMI, led by SRON (Dutch Space Agency) and KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) to monitor the amount of methane, ozone and other air quality-related pollutants in the atmosphere. There has been quite a buzz around this unique advancement in space, and the valuable data it will provide on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that accounts for a quarter of the warming our planet is experiencing today. Curbing anthropogenic methane emissions is one of the most efficient and economical options available to slow the rate of warming over the next few decades, while efforts continue to reduce CO2 emissions worldwide. Detecting methane from spaceMethane sources include both natural and manmade emissions from livestock, agriculture, oil & gas operations, and landfills. These sources are distributed around the world and vary widely at local, regional and temporal scales—which makes it challenging to quantify emissions from diverse sources. This is where satellites come into play. They bring together the unique capability of continuously monitoring the entire planet, measuring critical geophysical variables, and mapping change by collecting long-term datasets. The TROPOMI satellite sensor brings significant advances in the monitoring of air pollution in terms of better resolving methane, and other major pollutants affecting air quality (e.g. NO2, SO2, formaldehyde, aerosols). For instance, data from TROPOMI will be available at 7 km x 7 km grids around the world, on a daily basis—which has never[…]Read more...
The Connecticut Green Bank: Innovation in Finance Sparks New Model for Public/Private Investment in Clean EnergyClimate Change News Oct 21, 2017 | 06:35 am
The Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation announced in July that the Connecticut Green Bank had won this year’s Innovations in American Government Award. The Ash Center award recognizes excellence and creativity across a wide range of government initiatives, from technology and public health programs to conservation and education. That Connecticut’s pioneering clean energy financing model won this prestigious award, selected from among thousands of entries, speaks to the important role of states in accelerating the renewable energy transition. Connecticut first established the Green Bank in 2011 through Public Act 11-80 as a key part of the state’s strategy for achieving its energy and climate goals. The main objective was to have cleaner, cheaper, more reliable sources of energy while also creating jobs and spurring local economic development. Leveraging private investment dollars with limited public funds is at the heart of the green bank’s operation. Since its inception, the Connecticut Green Bank has attracted over $6 of private capital for every $1 of public funds committed. Overall, the Connecticut Green Bank has achieved nearly $1.1 billion in clean energy investment across the state. This investment has supported almost 25,000 projects and more than 230 megawatts of clean energy, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 3.7 million tons. Over 13,000 jobs have been created, translating to an estimated 7.5 to 20 percent of total job creation in Connecticut, and clean energy prices have declined by about 20 to 30 percent. Among the Green Bank’s most successful[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Oct 21, 2017 | 06:35 am
Working closely with industry partners, University of Delaware researchers have developed a new method for constructing offshore wind farms and proven that it is cheaper, faster, and could make possible offshore wind deployment at a scale and pace able to keep up with the region’s scheduled retirements of nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The researchers calculated that their innovative process will cost up to $1.6 billion less per project than conventional approaches and take half the construction time. “In planning for offshore wind power, the big question is how we generate electricity cost-competitively, and at a scale that is both a relevant replacement for aging power plants and also applicable to climate change,” said the project’s principal investigator, Willett Kempton, professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE). “We’re the first people who have shown the engineering details, step-by-step, how to achieve that.” FindingsThe key insight that allowed Kempton’s team to make such considerable optimizations in cost and deployment speed was that the entire structure, from seafloor mounting to the top of the turbine, can be assembled in one piece in port, moved as a unit, and in one step placed into the sea floor. It may seem like a simple idea, but it was by no means obvious that it would work with existing equipment until completing the detailed engineering and cost analysis. The reference design used 10-megawatt turbines with support structures, together standing twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty and weighing 2500 metric tons,[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Oct 21, 2017 | 05:46 am
Cli-Fi refers to “climate fiction;” it is a term coined by journalist Dan Bloom. These are fictional books that somehow or someway bring real climate change science to the reader. What is really interesting is that Cli-Fi books often present real science in a credible way. They become fun teaching tools. There are some really well known authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi and Margaret Atwood among others. A list of other candidate Cli-Fi novels was provided by Sarah Holding in the Guardian. What makes a Cli-Fi novel good? Well in my opinion, it has to have some real science in it. And it has to get the science right. Second, it has to be fun to read. When done correctly, Cli-Fi can connect people to their world; it can help us understand what future climate may be like, or what current climate effects are. As I write this, we are getting a steady stream of stories out of Puerto Rico the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. It is hard to imagine the devastation, what life is like without electricity, food, or water. What is life like on an island of 3 million people, each fending for themselves, just trying to survive. Another thing that is hard to imagine is the future. What will the world be like decades from now when Earth temperatures have continued to rise? What will agriculture be like? What will coastal communities be like? What will international relations and armed conflict be like? It is[…]Read more...
Climate Change News
Oct 21, 2017 | 05:00 am
Target, one of America’s leading discount store retailers, has this week announced a new climate policy and goals based on the Science-Based Targets initiative, including a commitment to source 100% renewable energy in its domestic operations.Target published its new climate policy and goals on Tuesday, created with the Science-Based Target initiative “in mind” in an effort to “keep making progress” on its existing global and local environmental efforts. As Target highlight in their announcement, the company is a two-time ENERGY STAR partner of the year, and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) 2016 top corporate solar installer in the US.Target’s new climate policy opens by simply stating that “Target acknowledges the scientific consensus that the climate is changing, that our business is contributing to that change, and that our supply chain, operations, and customers will continue to be impacted by the effects of climate change.” As a result, Target is “committed to reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint, and to engaging constructively with industry peers, value chain partners, external stakeholders, and policymakers to help accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy.”Read more at Target Announces 100% Renewable Energy Target Amidst New Climate PolicyRead more...
Climate Change News
Oct 21, 2017 | 04:14 am
Following its successful demonstration of the Highway Pilot and Highway Pilot Connect systems (earlier post)—the latter making truck platooning possible—Daimler has demonstrated automated snow removal operations on the site of the former Pferdsfeld airbase. This application of autonomous commercial vehicle operation was based on a specific customer requirement. Under the project name “Automated Airfield Ground Maintenance” (AAGM), four Mercedes-Benz Arocs tractor units demonstrated automated airfield clearing in a remote-controlled convoy. The benefits are obvious: Airfield clearances are hard to predict and thus difficult to plan, especially in winter. This makes snow removal units operated with pinpoint precision by a single vehicle operator to remove snow from runways especially crucial when extreme weather strikes without warning during the winter months, and they require no additional vehicle and staff scheduling. Read more at Daimler Shows Off New Self-Driving Snow Removal TrucksRead more...
- Climate Change News Oct 21, 2017 | 03:55 am Read more...
Climate Change News
Oct 20, 2017 | 02:57 am
Rising temperatures can make the U.S. West dangerously combustible. We saw it this year in California wine country. The deadly fires that swept through California's wine country made one of the state's most destructive fire seasons on record even worse. As global temperatures continue to rise, scientists say the risk of extreme fire seasons across the West is rising, too. Wildfires are hugely complex events, complicated by human activity, including rampant development and decades of fire suppression strategies that left too much dry timber and underbrush for fires to burn. Add the effects of climate change to the mix, and California's already fire-prone landscape grows increasingly combustible. What's the link between fires & climate change?An increasing body of research finds that the hot and dry conditions that created the California drought were brought on in part by human-caused warming. Higher temperatures pull moisture out of soil and vegetation, leaving parched landscapes that can go up in flames with the slightest spark from a downed utility wire, backfiring car or embers from a campfire. California's average temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the second half of the 20th century. Altogether this has led to more "fuel aridity"—drier tree canopies, grasses and brush that can burn. "There's a clear climate signal in these fires because of the drought conditions connected to climate change," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. Hot, Dry Years Becoming More Common in California"As long as there's fuel to burn, your chances of having large[…]Read more...