Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bamboo and Paper Homes

From Re-Nest, beautiful shelter proto- types made of folded paper and bamboo. Designer Ming Tang created these serene structures to meet the needs of earthquake victims in China. Read more.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Easy Food Gardening

Sign on at One Million Gardens' web site and receive a packet of heirloom seeds, free!
...enough, they say, to grow 100's of pounds of food. The site provides a 52 week course in organic backyard food production and features online videos of gardening techniques.

Read's entry to learn the 10 easiest food crops to grow, specific soil ph and tips for planting and growing each.

I'd add:

  • Remember to give your seeds and plants loose, organically amended soil. Manure, mushroom compost, household compost are all fine amendments. Add liberally!! Green sand is a mined mineral, available at garden centers, that provides the soil with potassium (for disease resistance and overall plant vitality), loosens clay and binds sand. Raised beds offer best control of soil quality.
  • If you have rabbits, groundhogs, squirrels or other guests squatting on your property, be sure to fence your garden. Apply wire netting to the fence, and dig it into the ground at least six inches straight down and then a good six inches perpendicular, into the garden area. Planting marigolds at the perimeter of your garden will further discourage munchers. Bird netting over berries and grapes will keep birds from taking your entire crop. Leave a few for the birds, though! And check often to ensure that no animal has become entangled in the net.
  • Fertilize, if you must (a rich, well-amended garden bed does away with the need for fertilizer) with fish emulsion, sea kelp (both available at area garden centers) or manure tea, which is made by filling a potato sack or other porous material with manure, placing it in an old trash can, adding water and letting it sit for a few days...then applying the liquid to plants. If your garden is planted in less than wonderful soil, apply any of the aforementioned weekly.
  • Create sturdier support systems than you initially think you'll need for climbers and tall plants. Purchase or make your own. Be diligent to attach new growth, regularly.
  • Hang banana peels near plants to control aphids.
  • Provide lots of sunlight, water as needed and weed around the plants every so often.
  • Harvest and enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Arvo Part

Arvo Part, Minimalist Estonian composer, 1935 - present. His work is otherworldly, with emphasis on the space between the notes. This quiet piece, "Mirror in Mirror", has been adapted to the scores of several films and may be the most familiar. His body of work is extensive, ranging from the secular to, more recently, soaring sacred compositions.

Having lately come upon him, his work speaks to me profoundly. If you enjoy this piece, I urge you to check out other aspects of his music.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Build a Fountain

This Old House's web site offers a simple tutorial for turning any old thing into a fountain. Figure a $100 to $200 investment, but it can be done for a lot less if you repurpose something you already have, such as a fabulous urn or an old ornament. Just about anything...or any gathering of things, really!

The plan can be adjusted to include a submersible solar pump, for the energy-conscious. Here's a good one, for under $20, that comes with an array of nozzle heads.

Speaking of fabulous urns, consider this plan for turning one into a fountain. Check out our site, Look East: traders in asian style for a selection of exceptional, handmade Southeast Asian water jars, well-suited to this project. Some are one-of-a kind. We sell to the trade, so contact us if you have interest and we'll direct you to a local retailer or sell directly if one is not nearby.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Conserve Energy...Plant a Tree!

Did you know that you can conserve energy by:

  • Planting deciduous trees on the South side of the house to shade it in summer and let the sun in during winter months. Air conditioning costs can be cut from 10 to 50%.

  • Planting evergreen trees on the North side to act as a windbreak in winter as well as in summer when hot breezes can permeate your home.

  • Siting your air conditioning system in a shady spot or on the North side of your home.

  • Locating a trellis and vine on the South side of the house.
  • Planting shrubs in close proximity to the house to create a lower windbreak in winter, keep out heat in summer.

  • Making gardens...plants release moisture which cools the air as it evaporates.

  • Installing a solar powered fountain, for the same cooling effect.

From the National Academy of Sciences...

The NAS estimates that urban America has 100 million potential tree spaces (places where trees could be planted). It further estimates that filling these spaces with trees and lightening the color of dark, urban surfaces would result in annual energy savings of 50 billion kilowatt-hours...25% of the 200 billion killowatt-hours consumed each year by air conditioners in the U.S. This would reduce electric power plant emissions of carbon dioxide by 3.5 million tons (32 metric tons) annually and save users of utility-supplied electricity 3.5 billion dollars each year.

Photo from

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Colony Collapse Disorder

Here's an informative article on the demise of honeybees. Israeli Acute Paralytic Virus is thought to have been imported with seemingly healthy Australian bees by American beekeepers in 2004. A healthy bee population is essential to pollinization of food crops as well as ornamental plants, so the problem is being aggressively researched. Pesticide exposure, environmental stress, bacterial and fungal diseases and a parasitic mite are also thought to have contributed to what has affected from 50 to 90% of U.S. commercial honey bee colonies over the past several years.

In the meantime, there are other bee species that are effective pollinators, and there are ways to encourage them to make their hives in your garden areas. I've been researching the topic and will address it further in the fall, when orders are taken for spring delivery of the bees. I'll include resources and also links to makers of the most effective types of bee houses.

For this spring, be sure plenty of early-blooming plants are located in the vicinity of your fruit trees when they come into flower, to ensure good yield. Funded by the Haagen Daz Corporation (which credits honey bees for almost half of their 60 ice cream flavors!) The Penn State University Master Gardeners Program offers homeowners and professionals their guidelines for creating bee-friendly environments.

Note: Honey bees are NOT aggressive stingers.