Saturday, July 31, 2010

Genius Upcycling

On one of my walks to the forest preserve, I pass by a house I love. It is what appears to be a really nice prairie style rehab of an old house. It's gardens are fantastic. I should post a photo so I can remember them in the dead of winter. At the sidewalk entry to this house are two planting urns, and the homeowener uses wine bottles as a self-watering tool. I personally love the aesthetic and it seems to work reasonably well, depending on the amount of water in the soil. I'm not sure I'd leave my plants unattended for a week with one, but as a stopgap to my forgetfulness, I rather like it. And, best of all, it's free!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quote: "Isn't growth for the sake of growth the philosophy of cancer?"

- John Langerak, Chester, ME as quoted in Scientific American, August 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Garden Gossip: What I (tried to) grow in the summer of 2010

My mentor once told me that she didn't need to remember anything she can look up.  I'm not sure that's entirely accurate because a lot of what I do involves thinking on my feet.  But with the advent of blogs, looking things up has become so much easier.  So, because I am like my mentor and have a hard time remembering specific details, I am veering off of the sustainability course a bit to discuss wine and gardening, two things I love.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Stories for my Grandchildren

What stories would you like your great grandchildren to know about you someday? 

i was recently asked this question on an essay application i submitted.  i think it speaks to my viewpoint on environmentalism and how vital it is to our survival.

I am an environmentalist because I’ve always felt at home in natural environments and destroying beauty is a tragedy.  Environmental catastrophes such as the Gulf oil spill bring to the forefront of my mind that our society of rampant consumption and short-term gratification cannot sustain itself.  I hope future generations know I was a woman who loved her family fiercely and worked to make the world a better place for them.  I would like the legacy I leave to be one where I worked with a network of like-minded individuals and groups to inspire others to make the hard changes that will be necessary to sustain our species.  I would like to succeed in that goal by working hard, continually learning and drawing inspiration from nature, and teaching others to work together to improve the world.  My grandfather always told his family to “live, learn, and pass it on.”  I hope they say that I fulfilled his wish.

Garden Gossip: 4th week in July

The garden is in full swing now. We are eating all of the greenbeans that the rabbit chooses to ignore. We had our first cherry tomatoes a few days ago. We are growing a hybrid sweet orange variety from Stokes. It is TMV F (Tobacco Mosaic Virus and Fusarium wilt) resistant, which is important to me because I've lost whole seasons to nematodes in the past. They are bushy and crazy wild, though. We left for a long weekend and returned to find that one of the plants had overturned it's cage! The bunny is still around. I won't be able to get rid of it until I put up the chicken wire fence in the fall.

My greatest pleasure with the garden isn't eating the food myself but watching my 3 year old daughter pick and eat the cherry tomatoes right off the organic vine. I grew them for her.

Gods, I love summer in Chicago.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quote: "have they no grandchildren?"

Excerpt from Tom Friedman's Op Ed in the NYT today:

"The last word goes to the contrarian hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who in his July letter to investors, noted: 'Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for ... what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible 'conspiracy theory': the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: "Have they no grandchildren?"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Suburban Backyard Garden

When we decided to move to the Chicago area from New York, we chose a suburb with great schools for our two little kids. We chose this house for its walkable, downtown location but also for its south facing back yard. After years of container gardening, I was looking forward to growing food in a large, ground-based location.

The yard had "great bones" when we purchased it - a large maple shade tree centered on the back door and medium sized bushes planted by the previous owner. We added the fence to create a safe place for the kids to play. We removed about one-third of the backyard grass in favor of a french style square foot garden, a cedar playhouse, and garden beds to surround the minimized turf. The garden itself is approximately 150sf of annual beds, 200 sf of perennial herbs, 50 sf of berry bushes, and ample space for decorative flowers and trees and bushes for privacy.

Practical Sustainability

i've been doing a lot of thinking about what i want this blog to be: interesting, fun and interactive. i want it to help connect a community of similar interests. while my expertise is sustainable architecture, i want it to be more than that -

connecting people in practical sustainable lifestyles

i don't always live up to my ideals. i live in a large house in the suburbs of chicago. i bought this house so that my kids could go to great schools and i could have a yard to grow my own food. but because of these choices, some of the things i do are really just putting "lipstick on a pig." will my hybrid cars, rainbarrel and organic garden ever make up for the embodied energy to build this house that is really too large for my family of four? no, but we did join a walkable community where everything we need is within walking distance so we rarely use the cars. life is about compromise. we make choices that we feel will give ourselves and our families the best chance in life, and sometimes this does not agree with other principles we try to live by.

i think we all do the best we can with what we have. and that's what i'll try to showcase here. practical sustainability.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Garden Gossip: 3rd Week in July

I have a garden in my back yard. It was the first thing I did to my back yard when I moved into this house last year. After many years of living in high rises and container gardening, I selected this house in large part because of its south facing rear yard where I could grow my own organic food.

Last year, I planted a little bit of everything: corn, tomatos, squash, pumpkin, watermellon, blackberry, raspberry, and many types of herbs. I had some successes, but since I was pregnant and largely ignored the garden, I had a lot of failures. We had a cherry tomato plant that produced a lot of little tomatoes that my then 2 year old daughter loved picking and eating. And the raspberry bushes did well. The rest got eaten by pests or disease.

This year, I've been more attentive to its needs. So that's where this entry comes in. I'd like to record weekly the successes and failures in my garden adventure.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

why is environmentalism through architecture important?

buildings consume or are responsible for:

* 40% of the world’s total energy
* 25% or the world’s timber harvest
* 16% of fresh water withdrawl
* 35% of all carbon dioxide emissions
* 60% of the electricity generated in the US
* 30% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

Additionally, more than 210 million tons of solid waste is generated and disposed of annually – a substantial portion of which is attributed to construction site and building-use waste.

green design can counteract this, with the following benefits:

* results in a high-quality, healthy living environment
* lowers residents’ utility costs
* enhances residents’ connection to nature
* protects the environment by conserving energy, water, materials, and other resources
* advances the health of local and regional ecosystems

source: green communities criteria