Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Green Art

I’m an artist and for the past few years my art-of-choice has been jewelry design. Since I started my blog, I’ve been playing around with the idea of how to make my business greener, my jewelry say, “I care about the environment”. I wanted to show that you can have wonderful, beautiful things that are eco friendly. That "new" doesn't always mean "better". Then I got an invitation to participate in the Pleasanton Green Scene, a local environmental fair. This seemed like the perfect excuse and opportunity to try working with recycled, re-purposed and scrap materials.


Sunday comics beads

My goal was to create a simple line of upscale jewelry, made from trash. I planned to use discarded (cleaned!) soda cans, plastic bottles, old clothes (also, cleaned!), recycled glass beads and newspapers to make wearable art in the same style as my traditional pieces. Then I scoured the internet for ideas and to see if people had already tried my ideas. I didn’t find nearly as much as I expected, but it was fun to see what other people are doing.

Recycled bottle glass
I was able to purchase recycled bottle glass beads, but the majority of what I needed – all of the paper and plastic beads-I had to make by hand, one at a time. I tried to use reclaimed materials whenever possible, though I still had to use some new metals and stringing wires. For some items I used hemp cord, which is new, but sustainable. I guess my new jewelry is something like 98% post consumer waste.

Recycled plastic bottle beads
& recycled glass
I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with the new materials. Since I got the green fair invite I’ve made a whole line of seriously upcycled jewelry, like pop can earrings, recycled glass wire wrap, plastic bottle bracelets, newspaper necklaces and a lot more. Sounds like a bunch of junk! Well, I guess it is…or was.




Paper, hemp & recycled glass

City of Pleasanton 2nd Annual Green Scene
Thursday, October 6, 2011
400 Rosewood Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588 
10:30 am – 1:30 pm 
 






 
“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Week I Will Plant Seeds



How does my raised garden bed grow.
(Photo: RC)
 Growing Food
What better week to plant seeds and get this summer’s crop underway than the week we celebrate Earth Day. Even if the weather is still cold, April has the exciting feeling of spring and new starts. Many plants are blooming where I live and the hills are still green from the winter rain. It’s just beautiful! Unfortunately, my backyard isn’t quite so beautiful, but I’m working on it. I have a vision of what it will be in a couple of months and right now I’m still optimistic. I actually started many of my vegetables in March, so I will be planting a combination of seeds and seedlings. I’m curious to see how the seeds I plant outside compare to what I’ve started indoors. I also already planted cold weather vegetable seeds in my raised bed, which was new for me. Well underway are radishes, turnips and snap peas. I hope we get some good eating from the box, but even if we never get a bite, it looks fantastic. And this week, I’ll keep working on my garden and I will plant soy bean, zucchini and lima bean seeds.
Basil in a Jiffy pot. (Photo: RC)

My garden doesn’t have much of a layout. If there is a spot I can dig and gets some sun, I’m sticking things in the ground. I’ve sprinkled marigold and cilantro seeds (Or was that basil? Oh well, I’ll find out later.) in clay pots, dug a hill to help with drainage for winter squash and mixed great quantities of compost into my heavy clay soil for the tomatoes. This is the first year my son will actually dig a hole where I want it, and he’s been happily digging perfect circles all week. I find I’m moving a lot of soil around to level areas, add amendments and build hills and ditches. It’s really been very good exercise.

 


Marigolds in peat pots. (Photo: RC)

If your soil isn’t workable yet, just remember that in the summer my dense clay will be so hard you can’t tell dirt clods from rocks. I have to work on it now while I can and you probably have plenty of time. Check the frost dates for your area and seed package instructions to know what to start indoors and what to start outside and when. Many regions will be starting seeds indoors now. It’s also a good idea to decide what plants you want to add to your garden as natural pest deterrents. I always plant marigolds around my veggies to help keep the insects away. This year I learned that planting basil with tomatoes is also effective, so I’m trying that as well.  

The Basics
For indoor use, I use a variety of pots to start my seeds, but my favorites are the ones I make myself. These are just empty yogurt containers with a few holes drilled in the bottom. I stack them to drill and they’re done in seconds. They’re very sturdy and can be reused and recycled. I also like jiffy pellets, which are super easy – and fun to expand. Peat pots and paper cups are okay, but not my personal favorites. They tend to get too soggy to handle easily. Any good potting soil will do – I get what’s on sale. And any non-leaky tray(s) works to put the filled pots on. I saved up clear plastic food containers to use as mini greenhouses. Even soda and milk containers with the tops cut off were great for containing the pots. I never buy more plastic (pots and trays) for gardening anymore.

Then just fill pots with moistened soil. Poke a hole to the depth given by the seed instructions and drop in 2-3 seeds. Push the dirt back into the hole or sprinkle some extra soil to cover the seeds. Water gently and well.

An unused terrarium makes a
great greenhouse. (Photo: RC)


Set all the filled pots into tray(s) to contain drips. Now, you can either set the trays aside and wait, making sure the soil is always moist, or cover with plastic to create a greenhouse. Again, there’s no need to use plastics just for this purpose and throw it away. I used a combination of used dry-cleaner bags on their way to the trash and trash can liners that will be used in garbage cans afterwards.

As soon as sprouts appear, move seedlings to a sunny spot.
Squash seedlings in a milk
container. (Photo: RC)

When seedlings get their first true leaves, use a scissor to cut away all but the strongest seedling in each pot.


After that, it’s pretty much up to you and the weather when you start bringing them outside a few hours a day (hardening off the seedlings)
and transplanting them in your garden.

Above all, have fun. Seeds want to grow. Precision and special equipment are totally unnecessary. And sometimes a little adversity creates the strongest seedlings.

What to plant when

A few seed sources
and, of course, local retail stores

Lots about companion crops

Find Master Gardeners by you – and lots of help, too


“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.
I was so happy to see this visitor while
digging in the garden. (Photo: RC)


Monday, April 18, 2011

This Week I Will Participate In An Earth Day Event


A couple of months ago I was asked to develop an activity to demonstrate the benefits of being a locavore for my city’s local Earth Day event. This was pretty exciting to me, especially since it’s only been a half a year since I decided I really needed to do something about climate change other than worry and started this blog. Since this was to be a family event, my plan was to motivate kids to eat local foods – and maybe inspire a few grown ups along the way, too. The original plan was to show a side-by-side comparison of local versus imported cherry tomatoes. I would show the environmental costs of buying Chilean tomatoes, buying farmer’s market tomatoes and tomatoes grown at home to create a concrete example of what we save by eating locally. However, while I really liked this idea and so did the city’s sustainability manager, I ended up helping at the sustainability manager’s booth - which turned out to be a great opportunity for a newbie advocate like myself. (Though, if anyone wants to do the cherry tomato math, I promise to use the data!)

The Family Earth Festival was Saturday. And what a gorgeous day it was, just the kind of day that brings people to northern California. And makes us want to preserve what we love about where we live. A perfect day for an Earth festival. It was really informative to me because I got to be on both sides of the booth. I got to tell people about how to be more environmentally conscious and I got to walk around hear what others could teach me. It was also really interesting to me to see who came to the festival and where they were as far as climate change issues.

We asked people to make one commitment toward sustainability and we heard every thing from “I’ll recycle my cans” to “I’m planning to go 100% solar”. Most people were more like me and committed to riding bikes more, not use throw-away bottles, buy more local food. Surprisingly, young children often said they would clean up litter. I guess they’re being taught to make the planet cleaner by picking up trash. We told them that’s great as long as trash goes in the right containers so it can be recycled and gave them 100% reclaimed materials wrist bands. There were many teens around, too. They surprised me in a different way. Many of the teens at the Earth Festival were part of their high school environmental clubs. They had already made so many positive changes it was hard for them to come up with a new sustainability commitment. This was so reassuring!

When I left my booth and walked around to other booths I learned many things from the gardeners, environmentalists, naturalists and even utility representatives. A few of the tidbits that got my attention were:

  • That a worm bin doesn’t have to stink. The one the worm farmer brought actually smelled pretty earthy and good. However, you probably will get a lot of fruit flies, which he told me are harmless to your garden.

  • That depending on the variety, you can grow an oak tree 30 feet in only ten years. Gardeners were giving away three varieties of young oaks that grow well in my area.

  • That the water department gives out little tablets to drop in your toilet tank to see if it leaks (into the bowl) – which is apparently a huge source of wasted fresh water. The also had attractive drought tolerant plants on display to show your yard doesn’t have to look like a desert, even in this arid region.

  • That the City of Pleasanton, where I live, has a program in which trained 15-22 year-olds come to your home and do a sustainability and energy assessment – for free. They also do simple jobs like replacing all your incandescent bulbs and installing a retractable clothesline and they make recommendations for bigger projects you can choose to do.

I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in this event. I strongly urge you to take advantage of the Earth Day activities offered by your city. You never know what you might find there!

Earth Day is this Friday, April 22nd

Earth Day Info

Earth Day events and activities through the Nature Conservancy


“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.



Thursday, March 31, 2011

This Week I Will Eat Sustainable Fish





I almost missed it, but March 22nd was World Water Day. I got lots of email about freshwater scarcity (hard to imagine this time of year with mudslides and flooded roads), looming droughts and acidification of our oceans. Like with global warming I found the environmental issues concerning fresh and ocean water completely overwhelming. I basically just looked at the pretty pictures of fish and frogs sent by the Nature Conservancy and crawled under a soon-to-be-dry rock. Then I heard a radio show on the Oceana organization, whose sole focus is ocean conservation. They talked about the problems of over fishing and destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling and how one way we can help is by eating sustainable fish. Now, that I can do.


I realize that for many people what fish to eat is not a frequent issue, but as I’ve mentioned before, I rarely serve red meat. Add to that, my ten-year-old is crazy about fish. I want to give him food that both sustainable and healthy, so it’s time for me to look into this.

Why Bother?
“The oceans supply us with food, help regulate our climate, and supply a livelihood for millions of people…But our seas are not the infinite bounty they appear to be. Today, no part of our oceans remains unaffected by human activities. And among the many factors influencing our ocean ecosystems, none has a greater impact than fishing…Over the past five decades technology has allowed us to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently than ever before. In 2003, the Pew Oceans Commission warned that the world's oceans are in a state of ‘silent collapse’ ” – Seafood Watch, Monterey Bay Aquarium

How Will It Help To Change The Fish I Eat?
I actually might not need to change what I serve my family, but I do need to check what’s okay and what’s not. For example, I was surprised to learn that farmed salmon is much worse for the environment than wild-caught Alaskan salmon. According to Sea Watch, wild-caught Alaskan salmon is among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and fisheries and their freshwater sources are relatively pristine. On the other hand, most salmon farming is done in open pens and cages in coastal waters. Waste from these farms is released directly into the ocean. Parasites and diseases from farmed salmon can spread to wild fish swimming near the farms. Also, it generally takes three pounds of wild fish to grow one pound of farmed salmon. This is a huge problem for wild fish populations and the environment. And if that’s not bad enough, I found that Environmental Defense Fund has issued a health advisory for farmed salmon due to high levels of PCBs. Well, my son will be happy to learn that this week he’s getting wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

How Do I know What’s Right?
It’s a lot easier than ever before to keep on top of what fish to eat. There are printed materials, online information and even a phone app to get up-to-date recommendations for sustainable fish choices including ocean-friendly restaurants and businesses. This sounds great to use while I shop, since I don’t usually know what’s available.

I started off overwhelmed, but now I’m looking forward to getting some tasty, sustainably harvested fish. It’s a relief to know I don’t have to feel guilty and that there are good choices to be made.



Sustainable seafood phone apps

Monthly sustainable seafood recipes


Growing your own update: It’s time for many of use to start our herb and vegetable seeds indoors. I’ve already got most of mine sprouted because I just couldn’t wait. I started almost everything in empty plastic food containers, so hang on to your used yogurt cups and muffin clamshells! They make great pots and trays.





“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Friday, March 4, 2011

This Week I Will Build a Raised Garden Bed


Since I ordered some cold-weather vegetables seeds, I better have somewhere to plant them. And since the cold-weather vegetables I plan to grow are root vegetables they can’t go in my regular garden spot. The soil where I live is dense and clayey, lousy for root veggies, which is why I haven’t grown any before. The solution is to build a raised bed and fill it with looser turnip/radish-friendly soil. Many raised beds are only 6” – 8”, but what if I want carrots later? I’m making mine 12” deep.
I find it interesting that in trying to do good for the planet; I keep coming back to gardening. Most environmentally conscious actions are actually inactions. I won’t drive. I won’t use plastic bags. I won’t buy meat from New Zealand. But growing food, especially growing food without chemicals, is a positive action I can take that reaps many benefits. It is actually good for the planet and for us, not just “less bad”.  So, until I can design a new solar car engine, I will write about growing food. And this week I will build a raised garden bed.

Here's the bed. I threw stuff on top to keep out
the neighborhood cats until I can plant
After looking at prefab garden beds, I decided to build my own because it would be a fraction of the cost. I already bought the wood (sorry, I don’t know where it came from, other than, “my region”) and 3” galvanized screws. The lumber yard cut my 2” x 12” x 16’ board, which cost $16, into four foot lengths. I recruited my dad to help me assemble it. We used simple butt joins and the work was quick and easy. The biggest problem was that dad wouldn’t let me drill. I like to drill. Anyway, I leveled the ground while he made pilot holes and the whole thing was done and in place in under 45 minutes.

Why Bother?
I should have much more control over gardening conditions with a raised bed. My choice of soil, easier watering, no soil compaction from walking near the plants. I should be able to plant very densely in the four by four box. If you don’t have a lot of planting room this is supposed to be a great solution. I’m thinking about making a grid and trying the four-square method in which 1’ x 1’ section is treated as its own garden, often with a different kind of plant. And for me, I’ve never been successful with root veggies in the ground. Now I’ll know if it’s really my soil, or just me.

Part of the rest of the
garden. There's still a
lot of work to do.
Even so, I consider this an experiment. I built one 4’ x 4’ bed and I’m planting the rest of my garden straight into the ground, like always. I’ll see how much difference the box really makes for me before I go building raised beds all over the yard. This experiment cost about $60, mostly for the soil. I bought a recycled, composted mixture from Costco at $7.79 per bag. If I had a pickup truck it would have been cheaper and bag-free.

My seeds arrived this week and I can’t wait for a calm time to do some sowing!

P.S. I’ve been saving clear plastic clamshells and lidded containers from food to use as mini greenhouses for seed starting.

DIY Raised Garden Beds




What to Plant When


“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.




Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This Week I Will Read My Mail

What a crazy week. I don’t have time for much and couldn’t figure out what to write about when I noticed my accumulation of environmental mail. Since I’ve started this blog I’ve been slowly adding organizations that I want to hear from. I’m interested on keeping up with the environmental news; new research and findings, political updates and ideas for fighting climate change. Some organizations send a newsletter once a month, some send email almost every day. At first I would inspect each piece, gleaning what I could and feeling guilty if I didn’t take the advised actions. Lately, I barely get a chance to read anything and feel guilty about that. Well, I really need to catch up, so I will prioritize my inbox and this week I will read my mail.

What I Currently Get
Union of Concerned Scientists

The Nature Conservancy


ForestEthics
To learn about their campaigns against deforestation in the US and Canada and get updates got to http://forestethics.org/about-us

The City of Pleasanton’s Climate Action Plan
If you live in Pleasanton California you may not even know we have a plan. If you want to get updates subscribe here: http://www.pleasantongreenscene.org/contact
And check out the homepage for more information. http://www.pleasantongreenscene.org/

JNF
Register to receive updates here: http://www.jnf.org/

In addition, I try to keep up with new news in magazines and books and on podcasts, but I’m sticking with the mail this week!

“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

This week I Will Buy Seeds

It’s freezing this week. Even here in northern California I can see snow in the hills and there’s a wet, raw chill everywhere I go. I haven’t been warm for days. So, it feels crazy to be planning my vegetable garden and ordering seeds already. But order I must. I didn’t have tomatoes until almost August last year, because I planted too late. Last year I bought plants from the nursery and put them in the ground late in the spring. This year I’m going to start my plants from seed, so I really need to get a jump on things. This would be the case even if I had a shorter growing season or lived someplace colder – I’d have to be ready as soon as the frost danger passed. Anyway, here it is February and I already feel like I’m behind the curve.

I decided to plant from seed this year for a few reasons, mostly environmental and partly nostalgic. It also should be a lot cheaper – I’ll see how that goes. As I’ve expounded upon before, growing your own food has far, far less environmental impact than getting store-bought produce (and it tastes so much better!). Even so, commercial seedlings are still an agricultural crop that must be grown and transported, usually come in plastic throw-away pots, and the deliveries I’ve seen at nurseries come on flats secured with dozens of feet of plastic wrap. Alternatively, I can have seeds mailed to me directly from a seed company. I’ve started cleaning and saving plastic containers from milk, yogurt etc. to grow my seeds in, which I’ll still be able to recycle when I’m done. The other part is that I enjoy growing plants, or at least I did when I was a kid. My parents divvied up most of our side yard and gave each of us kids a piece. We were allowed to plant whatever we wanted. I don’t even know if seedlings were available, we just always started with seeds.

I could buy seeds at a local nursery, but since I always ordered from Burpee in the past and that was my plan now. Unfortunately, Burpee’s prices have soared and they’re charging almost a dollar per packet for shipping. In a way this was a good thing as it forced me to research other companies. I found such an interesting diversity of choices; from companies that specialize in varieties for a particular region to university seed banks to seeds just for growing sprouts. I ended up choosing a seed company that supplies small, less expensive packets of both standard and unusual varieties. This is a great way for me to try some new things like soy and spaghetti squash and heirlooms I’ve never grown before. And since I have a fairly small space for planting and have chosen over a dozen vegetables, I won’t need more than a small number of each plant. The seed company is Pinetree Garden Seeds which I’ve listed below, though as I mentioned, this is the first time I’m ordering from them.


Notes:
Check for planting times in your area and buy plants or seeds accordingly.
Don’t forget marigolds. They help keep pests away, so use them as a pretty border around veggies or to mark rows.
If you don’t have much space, think about square foot gardening. Plan to use small unused spaces and pots if you don’t have a real garden area. I will probably need to extend into my front yard (in fact, this is already where I keep my herbs.)

Awesome resource for figuring out what to plant, when, for any US region:

This big book from Burpee is the most clear and complete organic gardening guide I’ve read. It has extensive information on how to pick the right seeds and plants for your garden and everything you need to know to grow them.
The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener - A Guide to Growing Your Garden Organically


“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.