Gettin’ wiggly with it - Worm Composting

In my household, we recycle everything – cans, plastic, paper, paperboard, wine corks, batteries, electronics, and other items we no longer want or need that could benefit someone else I donate to local homeless and animal shelters.

On average, we have about 1 13-gallon bag of actual garbage a week. By the look (and smell) of my weekly garbage bag, most of that 13 gallons is filled with food scraps.  Living in a small apartment without a yard, a large scale compost pile for my old leftovers isn’t really an option.  However, a worm bin on my balcony is.

Vermiculture (also known as worm compost, vermicast, worm castings, worm humus or worm manure) is a composting process that uses worms to break down and decompose food waste into fertilizer.

How it works is simple. You let the worms have at your food scraps, they chow down at the all-they-can-eat buffet and then they poop, leaving behind some of most nutrient rich natural fertilizers that your garden will love. It doesn’t sound very elegant (it actually sounds kind of disgusting) but what’s great about this kind of composting is that it’s self-contained (no pile in the backyard that needs turning), is super easy AND (if you’re doing it right) it doesn’t smell – very unlike my garbage.

Getting Started

The beauty of vermiculture is in its simplicity. All you need to compost with worms is a bin, bedding, worms and worm food.

Bins

Worms don’t really care about aesthetics. You can use just about anything for a worm bin so long as it has drainage and air flow. Worms like moderate temps, so it’s a good idea to keep the bin in a shady place that won’t get too hot or cold.

Treehugger.com has a great run-down of the different kinds of bins you can use. Having seen several in practice, I’ve found the “continuous vertical flow” to be the easiest (and least messy). If you’re making your own, make sure the container is wide and shallow for good ventilation and there are air holes in the bottom.

Bedding

Bedding is easy. Again, worms aren’t picky and shredded paper or newspaper is the perfect bedding material, so chances are, you’ve already got what you need lying around.  The bedding should be a little moist, but not dripping wet (worms can drown). An easy way to moisten the bedding is to dunk it by the handful into warm water and then squeeze out the water until it’s barely dripping. Pull it apart to make little pockets and passageways, toss in a few handfuls of dirt and leaves and the bedding is ready for worms.

Worms

Vermiculture does require a certain type of worm. You can’t just go digging around in the backyard for nightcrawlers. Worm bins do best with Red Wigglers or Red Earthworms who are especially adapted to the conditions of rotting vegetation, compost and manure piles.

You can find worms at many garden stores, fishing suppliers, but most people order them online, by the pound. 1 pound of worms will run you about $20 and
should be more than enough to get you started. In addition to eating and pooping, the worms do other things, too. Worm populations double every three months so you can start another worm bin, or share your worms and help your neighbors start their own bin!

Worm Food

Here is where worms can be a little fussy.  No meat, no dairy, and no grease. Also, never give your worms anything salty, spicy, or acidic like lemons, limes or oranges, or anything synthetic.
They do like coffee grounds (which because of its grit is great for the worm’s digestive system) and coffee filters, tea leaves and bags, non-acidic fruits (remember NO oranges, lemons or limes) and veggies (like tomatoes and green peppers but no hot peppers) fruit/veggie peels and cores, leafy greens (sans salad dressing), paper, rice, grits, and cotton are all things worms can eat. Eggshells that have been washed out and ground up are also an excellent source of calcium for the worms.

To feed them, simply bury the food beneath the bedding and leave the rest to the wiggly guys. Start feeding them a little bit at a time (it’s easiest to start burying in one side of the bin so you can tell how much they’ve eaten. Worms easily can eat more than their own weight every day.) After getting to know your worms and their eating habits, you’ll know how much to regularly feed them. If your bin starts to smell, you’re probably feeding them too much or not burying food deep enough – a well balanced bin shouldn’t smell like anything but fresh dirt.

Collecting the Castings

Worm castings (a nice term for worm poop) collects at the bottom of your bin under the bedding. How you collect the castings will likely depend on the type of bin you’re using. The worms are attracted to food, so if you feed your worms on one side of the bin and wait about a week, the worms will concentrate on that side, allowing you to move the bedding from the other side and collect the compost.
Using a sifting device (a colander or chicken wire and wooden frame work well), separate the casting from the other organic matter left behind. Any worms and food remaining can be put back into the bin.
What you’re left with is “black gold” – the most nutrient-packed fertilizer you can find. It’s great for your garden when added to the soil around your plants. You can also mulch the compost into potting soil for your houseplants and other potting mixes.

Composting with worms is easy and will cut down on the amount of garbage you send to the landfills. What’s more, this green practice will help you grow green in no time, too!

For more information on vermiculture, see the following sources:

TreeHugger. Vermicomposting and Vermiculture: Worms, Bins and How To Get Started

How Stuff Works. How Vermicomposting Works.

Environmentally Conscious Print-House

We usually do reviews on specific products, but today I wanted to take a stab at a specific industry and focus on one particular business who is doing their part to make this industry a little greener.

We were asked recently to provide physical brochures, fliers and catalogs to help out our affiliates and partners, at which point we began researching designers as well as printing houses to create these products. While many of the larger, well known print houses kept showing up in the search engine results for catalog printing and brochure printing, we began thinking about how we could minimize our footprint while still providing the needed products.

What we found was a great little website which had a whole section dedicated to green printing. This environmentally conscious print-house prints pretty much anything you need, from business cards and stickers to posters and full catalogs. But, what really caught my eye, was the fact that PSPrint actively recycle their paper waste and only uses soy based ink throughout there facilities. While other companies would charge a premium for “green(soy) ink”, PsPrint just does it because its better for the environment, as soy inks release fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than traditional petroleum based inks.

PSPrint also has two facilities on both the West and East coast, and the print jobs are automatically routed to the print-house closest to the client to reduce shipping distances and subsequently the fuels and emissions associated with the delivery method. And last but not least, they do offer 100% recycled paper stocks for most their printed products.

While we have not yet completed our brochure and catalog designs, we will definitely be giving our print business to PSPrint.com. Considering the positive steps they are taking to help the environment, PSPrint will receive our Neutral Existence Stamp Of Approval.

Fun in the Sun: Powering Your RV with Solar

Living in Portland, Oregon, the sun is not something we take for granted seeing how we average only 144 sunny days a year. When the sun does decide to shine down and grace us with its presence, we get out there and soak it up (with appropriate SPF of course.)

So I’m sure you can imagine the lack of sympathy I have for my friend, a pilot who lives in the Portland area, who due to the economy was recently transferred and is now based out of Los Angeles where they have on average 291 sunny days a year.  Even though he’s living in an RV in the LAX parking lot 3 weeks out of every month, I’m pretty sure I’d trade places with him, at least for a little while.

On his last visit home, we got to talking about life in the RV and the sudden demise of its generator. With a family at home in Portland and a second “household” (RV-hold?) in L.A. to support, he’s been looking into the most cost efficient way to power the RV appliances and miscellaneous gadgets like his computer and cell phone. He asked what I thought about going solar. Given there’s no shortage of sun in Los Angeles, especially on an airport tarmac, it seems like a no-brainer. I told him I thought it was a great idea, and here’s why.

First of all, solar panels are quiet, unlike a generator. Nothing can ruin the peacefulness and tranquility of the great outdoors quite the roar of a generator coming to life as campers start their morning coffee. In the case of my friend who’s living at an airport, I’m not sure the noise factor is as relevant, but if you’re using your RV in a campground, your neighbors will thank you.

In addition, solar panels require little to no maintenance (the occasional removal of bird “bombs” aside) and because there’s no gasoline, diesel or kerosene used as there would be with a generator, there’s no pollution or emissions generated, so mother nature will thank you, too! 

Some people may argue that solar panels are too expensive and noise and pollution benefits aren’t worth the additional cost.  However, today’s solar panels are really cost competitive. If you’re in doubt, consider this: a gas powered generator can run anywhere from $1500 – $3000 (or more depending on the size of your RV and energy needs).

For roughly the same price you can purchase an RV solar kit which comes with everything you need to get started including the panel, charge controller, inverter, roof mounts, and cables. And if you find you have greater energy needs, additional solar panels can easily be added.

Probably the biggest incentive for people considering a switch to solar is the substantial long term cost savings on fuel. Those having already made the switch estimate they save around $500 a year by not buying gas for their generator. So all things considered, assuming an equal life span of 5 years for both a generator and solar panels, you could see a total savings of nearly $2500 by installing solar panels on your RV. If you’re in the market to upgrade or replace your RV’s generator, consider going solar; by going green you can save green, too!

RV Solar Kits

Earth Hour 2009 Is Just Around The Corner

Earth Hour 2009 is just around the corner and it is an important day for you to voice your opinion and show what you stand for. If you are not familiar with Earth Hour, here is a brief history on the event: Earth Hour is an annual international event created by the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature/World Wildlife Fund), held on the last Saturday of March, that asks households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights and electrical appliances for one hour to raise awareness towards the need to take action on climate change. It was pioneered by WWF Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007, and achieved worldwide participation in 2008.

In 2007, over 2.2 million households and businesses participated in the first ever Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia. Then in 2008, over 35 countries around the world participated as official flagship cities and over 400 cities also supported. Earth Hour 2008 was a major success, celebrated on all seven continents. According to a Zogby International online survey 36 million people participated in Earth Hour 2008. The survey also showed there was a 4 percentage point increase in awareness of environmental issues such as climate change, directly after the event.

The way Earth Hour works, is you shut off your non-essential lights and electrical appliances in your home or business for one hour on March 28 at 8:30pm (your local time). The effect will not be noticeable except via satellite, as the night falls across the face of the earth, lights will be switching off and visually casting their vote to take action on climate change and stop global warming. For more information on Earth Hour, check out their website at http://www.earthhourus.org

References: Wikipedia

 

Earth Sheltered Home: Green Building Construction Work Exchange

Do you want to gain valuable hands-on green building experience this summer? Do you want to learn all about building an earth sheltered home and experience life in an intentional community? This year, there are several natural building internship and work exchange opportunities at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeastern Missouri, an off-the-grid intentional community devoted to ecological sustainability.

You can learn all about natural building and earth sheltered homes this summer by helping to build an earthbag dome. Dancing Rabbit member Jeff is currently building an earthbag building, and he’s seeking construction help for the 2009 building season.

You will have the opportunity to experience earthbag construction, cob, earthen plasters, and living roofs. Jeff’s earthbag home will feature all of these natural building materials and techniques.

Work exchangers will also have ample opportunity to experience community life and life off-the-grid at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and basic living expenses and food are all provided for.  Experienced builders and avid learners are welcome to apply.

Check out Jeff’s call for work exchangers at his earth sheltered home and green building construction work exchange page.

Ways to Prevent Global Warming While Traveling

Travel, and the human thirst for it, presents a tough problem to people like you who want to take bold steps to reduce their impact on global warming. Here, we’ll discuss how your long-distance travel contributes to rising global temperatures, and steps you can take to reduce your emissions when traveling.

Traveling is a huge problem because, despite huge leaps in technology and sustainable systems for transportation, none of them exist yet on a large scale. At present, nearly all transportation is powered by fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which spew co2 emissions into the atmosphere and cause it to warm our planet.

In 2006, nearly half of all co2 emissions from fossil fuel were from the transportation sector alone. That’s a pretty important fact about global warming! Whether you travel by train, bus, subway or plane, you are almost guaranteed to be sending emissions into the air with your ticket.

Unfortunately, it seems that we humans need to travel in order for our society to work. How else will we get to that conference half-way across the country by Tuesday?

Luckily, for a lot of circumstances it is possible to eliminate the travel altogether! There are numerous technologies out there right now for live voice- and video-conferencing, designed specifically for businesses in mind.

How To Reduce Your Travel Emissions

Are you traveling for pleasure? Then your best bet is to take the train or bus if your location is far away. One of the absolute worst ways to get yourself there is by driving alone! You should always make sure to carpool if you are using a personal vehicle, and use the most fuel efficient vehicle available. If you think you’ll need more than one vehicle, then pitch in and get a single larger vehicle such as a van. You’ll get more fuel efficiency per person that way.

If you do have a car for any sort of travel, you should definitely check out this simple and amazing fuel saving device. It is guaranteed to increase your mileage by a whopping 10 miles per gallon! Better for you, better for the environment. Also, be sure to check out our other tips on how to green your car .

At all costs, you must avoid taking planes. Their exhaust is heavily laden with greenhouse gases, and worse, they get inserted directly into the most sensitive area of the atmosphere!

The best way to travel long-distances is, hands down, by train. This is also one of the best ways to prevent global warming that you, personally can take. You will get far more fuel for your dollar, and the bonus of having a relaxing, auto-piloted ride to your destination. While train travel in the United States is not up to par with Europe, it is still an inexpensive and enjoyable way to travel to almost anywhere in the nation.

Are you feeling like taking a serious long-distance travel emissions cut? Depending on the area in which you live, and the caliber of your will, you could feasibly hang-glide long distances to your destination. It may sound ridiculous (OK, it probably sounds ridiculous), but with a current record distance of 517 km (321mi.) in one flight and one day, and a few hours of enlightening views, could this be the future of human travel? This author hopes so.

You can find out more about fuel efficiency of various methods of transportation here .

Make sure not to forget about the energy you use at the hotel, campground or wherever you stay. If you plug things in, you are already contributing to further emissions. One great way you can avoid this is to use a solar charger to keep your phone, ipod or computer up and running- and completely emissions free.

Unless you bike to your destination, or take an electric vehicle powered from renewable sources, you will almost certainly have excess carbon emissions. It is important that you off-set these emissions so they do not further contribute to the potentially disastrous effects of global warming in the future.

As always, make sure that you share these helpful tips with your friends and family! It is only when we cooperate and work together to reduce our emissions that we can hope to stop global warming!

More Ways You Can Take Action:

Check our our blog on how to green your travel!

Take advantage of one of the easiest ways to help prevent global warming .
Find out how to green your car to save money and mileage!

 

Passive Solar Design Can Help Stop Global Warming

There are many ways to prevent global warming through building more energy efficient homes. Conventional houses are large, poorly designed, and inefficient, and the manufacturing and construction processes are big contributors to global warming. Perhaps more important is how much energy is spent heating and cooling homes throughout the changing seasons.

However, passive solar design is a home design approach that promotes maximum energy efficiency and can dramatically reduce the amount of energy that goes into maintaining a comfortable living space.

Passive solar design

You can lower your energy bills with a passive solar home that is designed for maximum energy efficiency. One of the most important design elements in efficient natural buildings is passive solar construction. Passive solar homes feature intelligent design considerations that can dramatically decrease the need for active energy heating and cooling systems — or, in other words, you will spend less money on heating and cooling.

In effect, passive solar homes stay cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter with lesser need for air conditioning and heating. First and foremost, passive solar homes are oriented towards the sun (which is the south in the northern hemisphere) and feature large south-facing windows that let in a wealth of sunlight in wintertime (when the angle of the sun is much lower) and help warm up a space. With the proper calculations and other considerations (like large roof overhangs), direct sunlight is prevented from entering in summertime, keeping a room cool and comfortable.

Thermal energy can be stored in a masonry or earthen floor or cob wall, or even in large drums filled with water. After all, concrete, stone, earth, and water are all superior heat storage mediums when compared to air.

You can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint living in an efficient passive solar home. To learn more about passive solar home design, check out this link.

Build Your Own Compost Bin with Shipping Pallets

One of the easiest things you can do to limit the amount of trash you produce is to compost your food waste. It requires little initiative, and you will benefit from the rich compost resulting from the breakdown of your kitchen scraps. The only thing you really need to do is create a suitable bin for your soon-to-be compost. Thankfully, there are alternatives to the overpriced, plastic compost containers that some garden supply stores hawk to customers. You can make your own using recycled shipping pallets for less than $20, or even free if you have some of the few necessary supplies.

How to build a compost bin

Here are two different sets of instructions on how to build your own inexpensive compost bin from reclaimed shipping pallets:
How to build a $15 shipping pallet compost bin
Pallet compost bin

Why to build with shipping pallets

Here are somestatistics about the production and waste associated with shipping pallets:

Approximately 40% of all hardwood harvested in the U.S. is for making shipping pallets
About two-thirds of pallets are used only once before being thrown out
1/4 of all wood in landfills is from used pallets

Why not put some of those shipping pallets headed to the landfill to good use? You can easily find shipping pallets around your town or city—try contacting supermarkets, warehouses, and other businesses that receive regular large shipments.

Happy composting!

 

Save Energy by Cooking with an Insulated Hot Box

You can save on your home energy consumption and a few precious dollars on your monthly bill by integrating a simple insulated hot box into your cooking. A hot box (also known as a hay box) provides an efficient solution to cooking food without the excessive use of your stove top or oven. Best of all, you can make a hot box for free, with very simple, recycled materials that you probably already have lying around your house.

What is a hot box?

Essentially, a hot box is an insulated box. The box can be just that: a cardboard box, or even a large cooler. The more important element is the insulation, which can be anything ranging from polystyrene foam board cutoffs, to straw, to towels, to shredded newspaper, or even sleeping bags.

How to make a hot box

1.) To make a hot box, find a large cardboard box (one that will be large enough to house several inches worth of insulating material on all sides, and your favorite cooking pot).

2.) Next, simply line it with your insulating material. If you’re using straw or foam board, you might consider getting a second, smaller box to put your pot in to keep things dry and tidy.

3.) Finally, put your pot in the fully insulated hot box, and make sure to cover it with some extra towels or insulating material. (If you have some sleeping bags, you don’t even need a box: simply wrap your pot in the middle of a bag or two.) Remember: the more insulation, the better! It’s important to keep the heat in.

How to cook with a hot box

Hot box cooking works best for things that cook slowly over time, like grains or beans, or even soups and stews.

For example, to cook rice, first let the rice boil for five minutes (which is enough time for the heat the fully penetrate the grains) on your stove top, and then throw the pot (covered with lid) in the box. Check back in another two to four hours. Your cooking time may vary (it all depends on how well insulated your box is), but expect your food to finish between two and four hours, depending on the food item.

Hot boxes are no-brainer solutions to cut back on energy consumption, without spending anything extra!

Growing Perennial Vegetables Saves Time and Offers Greater Bounty

Most gardeners are familiar with the yearly toil of creating and mending garden beds, starting seedlings, transplanting, watering, and harvesting their favorite vegetables. It’s a lot of work. But unfamiliar to many gardeners are perennial vegetables—vegetables that do not require annual plantings, and provide fruit, leaf, and shoot year after year without constant replanting effort and energy inputs. Most familiar is perhaps asparagus, but there are dozens of other perennial vegetables, and taking advantage of these varieties will save you time and energy throughout the years, in addition to promoting a healthier garden ecology.

Permaculture: less work and more rewards

Permaculture, or ‘permanent agriculture’ is a design methodology (for gardens and even buildings, too) that mimics the patterns, relationships, and balance found in natural ecosystems. Permacultural gardens stress the use of perennial plants because they do not require constant replanting (which can upset soil), and they take less energy to maintain and provide greater bounty for the effort it takes to get them established. Food forests, an extension of permacultural design, are intelligent gardens that group different layers of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs, designed so that each plant benefits from all of the others.

Gaia’s Garden is an excellent introduction to permaculture theory and gives practical information about how to design your own ecological garden. A more in-depth resource is Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke.

Strawberries, rhubarb, and asparagus are some of the more common perennial plants grown for their edible fruit. However, there are many more than just that. Depending on where you live, you can you grow a bustling array of vegetables that will continue to provide food for your table during their long lifespans. Thankfully, Eric Toensmeier has detailed over 100 different perennial vegetables in his obviously-titled Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, a Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles. This resource gives detailed descriptions of many lesser-known perennials and provides maps for US-based gardeners to determine if their area is appropriate for each variety.