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I’m a strong supporter in real solutions.  In every aspect of our lives, the natural environment continually surprises me with its resilience and persistence.  The more our society pollutes, the more I search for the natural component that’s ready to step to the plate and heal the wounds inflicted by so many unconscious decisions.

The BP oil spill left me again looking for its healing counterpart.  I’d remembered reading it somewhere: the eater and healer of petroleum hydrocarbons, but the “what” continued to allude me.  As solution driven as always, I finally came across the “what” that I had once read, and I decided to share it with my fellow seekers.  

Hidden in one of my most beloved books, The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, I reread the sought remembrance on pages 56-59 under Compost Miracles.

“Compost microorganisms not only convert organic material into humus, but they also degrade toxic chemicals into simpler, benign, organic molecules.  These chemicals include gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, oil, grease, wood preservatives, PCBs, coal gasification wastes, refinery wastes, insecticides, herbicides, TNT, and other explosives.[1]

“In one experiment in which compost piles were laced with insecticides and herbicides, the insecticide (carbofuran) was completely degraded, and the herbicide (triazine) was 98.6% degraded after 50 days of composting.  Soil contaminated with diesel fuel and gasoline was composted, and after 70 days in the compost pile, the total petroleum hydrocarbons were reduced approximately 93%.[2]…In the absence of composting, this biodegradation process normally takes years…

“Fungi in compost produce a substance that breaks down petroleum, thereby making it available as food for bacteria.[3]  One man who composted a batch of sawdust contaminated with diesel oil said, “We did tests on the compost, and we couldn’t find the oil!  The compost had apparently “eaten” it all.[4]  Fungi also produce enzymes that can be used to replace chlorine in the paper-making process.  Researchers in Ireland have discovered that fungi gathered from compost heaps can provide a cheap and organic alternative to toxic chemicals.[5]

“…Compost is also used to filter stormwater runoff.  Compost Stromwater Filters use compost to filter out heavy metals, oil, grease, pesticides, sediment, and fertilizers from stormwater runoff.  Such filters con remove over 90% of all solids, 82% to 98% of heavy metals and 85% of oil and grease, while filtering up to eight cubic feet per second.  These Compost Stormwater Filters prevent stormwater contamination from polluting our natural waterways.[6]



[1] US EPA (1998). An Analysis of Composting as an Environmental Remediation Technology. EPA530-B-98-001, March 1998.

[2] Haug, Roger T. (1993). The Practical Handbook of Compost Engineering. P. 9. CRC Press, Inc.

[3] US EPA (Oct. 1997). Innovative Uses of Compost – Bioremediation and Pollution Prevention. EPA530-F-97-042.

[4] Logan, W.B. (1991). “Rot is Hot.” New York Times Magazine. 9/8/91, Vol. 140, Issue 4871. (p.46).

[5] Compost Fungi Used to Recover Wastepaper. Biocycle, Journal of Composting and Recycling, May 1998. p. 6

[6] US EPA (Oct. 1997). Innovative Uses of Compost – Bioremediation and Pollution Prevention. EPA530-F-97-042.

 

 

With the recent flooding throughout the Americas these last few months, I thought to address a little known, but extremely important, forgotten grass: bamboo. 

Bamboo is an arborescent (treelike) grass belonging to the family Poaceae, subfamily Bambusoideae.  The family Poaceae, true grasses, is thought to comprise 20% of the known vegetation covering the Earth.[1]  Grasses are extremely important to both the ecology at large, as well as to humans specifically.  Grasses provide us with a host of benefits, three of which are supplying staple food crops, conserving soil moisture, and preventing soil erosion.

Like common lawn grasses, bamboo spreads by roots called rhizomes and must be removed by digging up the roots themselves.  An entire grove of bamboo is usually just one plant, for the roots are all connected and grow from the mother clump.  Bamboo is classified as either a clumping bamboo or a running bamboo. 

Clumping varieties grow slowly and spread through very short rhizomes that keep the bamboo stocks close to the mother clump.  These varieties are easy to contain and rarely get out of hand before the property owner notices.  Running varieties grow more rapidly and spread far and wide, growing very long rhizomes that can be unmanageable when left unattended for years on end.  Clumping and running bamboos can be herbaceous (foliage stocked) and deciduous (woody stocked), as well as tropical and temperate.

Unlike common lawn grasses, woody stocked bamboo is stronger than hardwood and softwood timbers in both tension and compression.  The tensile strength of the fibers of a vascular bundle of a giant bamboo can be up to 12 kilograms per square centimeter, almost twice that of steel.[2]  Even the rhizomes are much thicker and stronger than typical lawn grasses, needing an ax for separation, harvesting, and removal. 

Bamboo roots only grow between 6 and 20 inches into the topsoil and can comprise several thousand meters in length in a very small, densely packed area.  In a Japanese study conducted in 1960 on several groves of two Japanese varieties, the total length of living rhizomes per one-tenth hectare (two-tenths of an acre) was between 6,300 to 18,740 meters for Phyllostachis reticulate, and 47,000 to 57,920 meters for Pleioblastus pubescens.[3] 

This root density gives bamboo a trait unlike any other plant: it prevents soil erosion to such a degree as to stop landslides.  This is extremely important for river banks with frequent flooding and for areas prone to earthquakes.  It is commonly known throughout Asia and Latin America that the safest refuge during an earthquake is in an established bamboo grove, which is usually considered any stand that is over ten years old.

I’ve been growing bamboo for seven years now and have acquired a wide range of varieties.  The oldest of my stands was established from a mother clump of just three stocks and a root ball less than one square foot.  Seven years later this grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) is 28 feet long, 7 feet wide, and this year’s growth has topped 50 feet in height.  When it reaches full maturity, it will be difficult for rabbits to penetrate.

Temperate varieties, those which I grow, only send up new stocks from early April till late May.  The rest of the year its roots absorb nutrients for the next season’s growth.  As the roots expand, the number of stocks produced increase exponentially.  The average growth rate for our temperate varieties is two new stocks for every one existing stock for the first five years, and then begins to expand from the exterior layer only. 

For example, 1 stock produces 2 new stocks the first season; these 3 stocks produce 6 new stocks the second season; these 9 stocks produce 18 stocks the third season; the 27 stocks producing 54 stocks the fourth season; with 81 stocks producing 162 stocks by the fifth season.   This growth rate then continues only from the exterior layer of bamboo, reaching over 500 stocks by the tenth year.

More than just preventing soil erosion and landslides, bamboo attributes are immense.  Depending on the specific variety, bamboo is an excellent building material; offers edible rhizomes and leaves; provides wind breaks, sound barriers, privacy fences, and bird sanctuaries; can be manufactured into a host of consumer products, such as plastics and textiles; desalinates (removes salt) and purifies contaminated soils; remains leafy and green year-round; and is the only living thing known to withstand the nuclear radiation of an atomic bomb.

On August 6th, 1945, Hiroshima, Japan was hit by the atomic bomb that produced incinerating heat, a concussive shock wave, and a towering cloud that cast day into darkness.  Within a matter of seconds, one half of the city’s population perished and 70,000 buildings were destroyed.  Wood houses ignited, steel twisted, and stone glowed.  However, in the very epicenter, a thicket of bamboo stood through the blast suffering only scorching on one side.  A portion of the thicket remains alive today at the Memorial Museum for Peace in Hiroshima, Japan.[4]

Bamboo is truly amazing!


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poaceae

[2] Bamboo: The Gift of The Gods by Oscar Hidalgo Lopez, 2003, page III

[3] Bamboo: The Gift of The Gods by Oscar Hidalgo Lopez, 2003, page 6

[4] Bamboo: The Gift of The Gods by Oscar Hidalgo Lopez, 2003, page 75

Sustainability is more than just a home that provides shelter, warmth, and power.  Sustainability is good, nutrient rich, organic food.  Secure your families local organic food by investing in Edible Landscaping.  It’s easy, long-lasting, with minimal maintenance.

Edible Landscapes can be created in innumerable combinations of annuals and perennials.  Annual plants are herbaceous and live one, sometimes two, seasons.  Perennial plants live for more than two seasons and are perpetual growers’ season after season.  Many perennials are deciduous, meaning they are woody stemmed plants that shed their leaves annually; while some perennials are herbaceous, meaning they have the texture, color, and resemblance of foliage leaves.  Herbaceous perennials die back to their roots in the winter and re-grow new foliage every season. 

I have been planting edible landscapes for seven years now.  I have found that both perennials and annuals will practically maintain themselves when planted and grown under three key guidelines. 

1. Heirloom, Organically Grown Plants

The first key is to always plant heirloom, organically grown plants, whether annuals or perennials.  You want gardening to be easy, fun, and long-lasting.  The best way to cause yourself intense yearly work and expense is by planting poisoned plants that produce no viable seeds, are genetically modified, or have synthetic pesticide or fertilizer contaminates. 

Heirlooms have no genetic modifications and produce viable healthy seed season after season; replanting and re-growing themselves God’s way.  Organically grown plants contain no dangerous contaminates that poison you, your water, and soil; but are nutrient rich, healthy and delicious. 

A great source for heirloom vegetable, flower, and herbaceous seeds is www.HeirloomSeeds.com.  For deciduous heirloom fruit baring perennials, check out www.TreesofAntiquity.com.  I’ve personally purchased seeds and plants from both company’s and have found them to be of excellent quality and reasonable priced.

2. Companion Planting

Using only heirloom and organic plants, the next key is to companion plant.  Companion planting is when you arrange your desired selections so that plants that are highly susceptible to certain bugs are planted in the area of a plant that either repels the harmful insect or attracts a beneficial insect that likes to eat the harmful one.  These plants are then called “companions”. 

Companion planting takes forethought, but is one of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy, vibrant, productive garden.  From my own experience, every cause a synthetic pesticide drug pusher tries selling you dangerous contaminates for, there is a companion planting arrangement that will solve the same problem cheaply and perpetually.  The trick is finding and knowing the right companion plant.  A great book for finding your companion plants is Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte.

3. Fertility Cultivation

In order to choose the right edible plants, everything depends on your soil.  Whether your grow-able area is sandy, clayey, or rocky; you can grow an organic edible landscape.  Your goal is to create pH balanced, nutrient rich, water-retentive soil.  The key is fertility cultivation.

You do not create fertility by fertilization, but by cultivation.  Cultivating fertility is creating an environment where the fertility of the soil increases perpetually.  This can be done by feeding your soil microorganisms, which then grow and produce all the nutrients needed for your healthy, vigorous plants. 

You feed your soil microorganisms by composting and mulching.  In the beginning, you will need to compost and mulch twice a season while your seedlings or transplants are getting established.  Compost and mulch before the trees begin to bud and after the first winter frost; mulch midseason or as needed to control weeds.  By the third season of growth, mulching becomes all that’s necessary for maintaining your soil’s fertility.

Composting:

You can make your own compost with a simple, no-turn, no-fuss, no-smell backyard composting bin by doing Layer Composting.  Layer Composting, also called Continuous Composting, is exactly how it sounds.  All year, you layer your nitrate-rich manure between layers of carbon-rich foliage in one bin.  At the end of the first year, you begin another bin the same way as the first.  By the end of the second year, the first bin is completely composted and ready for use.  After emptying the first bin, you begin the third year’s layering in the first bin while the second bin is composting; going back and forth, from bin to bin, year after year.

Manure can be sourced by using your own manure, manure from a local animal farm, and right from your kitchen with all your leftover meat, dairy, and veggie scraps.  Foliage can be sourced by using fallen tree leaves, the dead tops of herbaceous plants, straw, hay, sawdust, and soft wooded woodchips.  The ideal ratio for composting is one part manure to thirty parts foliage.  In the beginning, you might have to source your composting foliage from outside your garden; but once your plants begin to grow, you’ll have an abundance of yearly foliage. 

Mulching:

For mature plants that only require yearly mulching, when the plant drops its leaves or the foliage tops die, breakup and pile the dead foliage right around the dormant plants.  The dead foliage will provide adequate mulching for water retention while giving back all the nutrients contained in the foliage.

I’ve been Layer Composting for ten years and have never turned a pile.  With adequate covering material (carbon-rich foliage), decomposing manure never smells or attracts animals.  I’ve purposely walked guests by my composting bins and asked them to breathe as deeply as they can.  They always say the same thing: no noxious smells.

Where to Begin:

Start with one area at a time.  Decide what you want to eat, smell, see, and attract to your garden.  Choose the companions needed for those plants.  Cultivate the soil’s fertility with composting and mulching.  After the first area, plan and plant one area after another until your entire grow-able land is filled with healthy, vigorous, productive plants baring delicious food.

Materials:

4 Blue, Food-Grade, 55-Gallon Barrels – $8 each from local honey and vanilla manufacturing company

1 Metal, Male Threaded Spigot – $5 from local hardware store

6 Metal, 5/8 In. Male Threaded Coupler with Tightening Clamp – $2 each from local hardware store

8 In. Tube, Fast-drying Silicon Caulk – $4 from local hardware store

3 Ft., ¾ In. Diameter Garden Hose – Had on hand: $5 value.

8 Ft., Flexible, Downspout – Had on hand: $10 value

8 Cinder Blocks – Had on Hand: $10 value

6 In. Square Window Screen – Had on Hand: $10 value

Tools:

Garden Snipers for Cutting Garden Hose

Lock-in Pliers for Tightening Spigots

Flathead Screw Driver for Tightening Clamp around Coupler and Hose

¾ In. Drill Bit with Drill for Drilling Holes in Barrels

Shovel for Leveling Ground

Step 2 – Drill Holes

Drill seven holes using a drill bit that’s slightly smaller than the coupling and spigot.  Drill the holes to create a flow from the first barrel, which attaches to the downspout, to the last barrel, with the spigot.  Drill 3 inches from the bottom in order to drill straight holes.  Once drilled, set the barrels in a sunny location to heat and expand.  

Step 3 – Attach Couplers & Spigot

 

When the barrels are warm to the touch, put silicon caulk around each threaded section and screw on couplers and spigot with lock-in pliers till tight.  Let dry for 20 minutes.

Step 4 – Cut & Attach Garden Hose

 

With the snipers, cut the garden hose into three, one foot sections.  Put silicon caulk around the exposed portion of one coupler on each of the first three barrels; then attach a section of hose to each of the three couplers.  Fit the hose snuggly against the barrel and tighten the clamp thoroughly with a screw driver.  Caulk again around the clamp.  Allow to dry for 20 minutes.
Step 5 – Preparing the Location

Using a shovel if necessary, level the ground where the barrels will be placed.  Place two cinder blocks where each barrel will set.  Putting the barrels on cinder blocks makes it easier to attach hoses and fill containers under the spigot.  Level the ground so that the first barrel is slightly higher than the second barrel; the second is slightly higher than the third; the third is slightly higher than the fourth; with the fourth lower than all.  This forces the water through each barrel, using the water on the bottom first.

Step 6 – Attaching the Barrels Together

 

Place the barrels on the cinder blocks and repeat step 4 on the three remaining exposed couplings.  Once the connections are made, with extra silicon caulk applied, open the spigot and remove the caps on the barrels.  The caps are easily removed with a pair of pliers opened inside the lip edge of the cap.  Let dry and vent for 4 hours.

Step 7 – Attach Downspout

Press the end of the downspout together, and push it into one of the cap openings.  First insert a screen over the end of the downspout, where it attaches to the guttering and where it fits into the barrel cap. 

Step 8 – Wait for a Rainy Day

During the first rain, the barrels filled halfway.    Because I tightened the caps, the first two barrels filled completely, and the last two barrels were mostly empty.  As soon as I loosened the cap on the last barrel, the air pressure released and the water equalized in each barrel.  Loosen the cap on the last barrel for overflow.   

Step 9 – Dispense Water

Dispense rainwater into a container or attach a hose.

Step 10 – Use Water

My cat drank the first glass, lapping it up faster than her usual well water.  My potato patch than received a thorough watering.

If you’re an existing home owner and are considering energy-efficient improvements this year, there are several options that you may want to consider.  

The three major tax credits are listed below.  Before making your purchases, remember to research the specific product and make sure the manufacturer qualifies for the energy-efficiency rating under the IRS specifications.

  1. The IRC 25C credit for non-business property expands from 10% to 30% of qualifying improvements in 2010, with a lifetime cap per taxpayer of $1,500. Qualifying improvements include installing insulation materials; exterior windows and doors; central air conditioners; natural gas, propane, or oil water heaters or furnaces; hot water boilers; electric heat pump water heaters; certain metal roofs and stoves; and advanced main air circulating fans. These improvements only qualify if they are made to existing homes.
  2. An IRC 25D credit is also available for qualified fuel cell systems installed in the taxpayer’s primary residence. Unlike other residential energy efficient systems, fuel cells are limited to $500 per half-kilowatt of capacity.
  3. A 30% credit is available for geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, solar water heaters, and small wind energy systems. This credit applies to the cost of labor and installation, as well as the cost of the equipment in connection with any residence used by the taxpayer.

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