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7/18/2014
compost tea 1

When I was first attempting to build a garden at my Ecohut, even though I grew up on a farm, I had no idea how to build soil. I was privileged to grow up on a working farm before chemicals became the norm. We didn't have an organic garden, we had a garden.  

I watched endless videos on YouTube and read many books. Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza is a great book and always Ruth Stout, but there was never a conclusive DO THIS! bit of information in any of the books I read. Yes, composting is vital, but the gardeners on YouTube who were growing amazing gardens were using this home creation called Compost Tea.  

I watched many videos on YouTube about compost tea, but every video had some 'secret' ingredient they were trying to sell, so after watching many videos I started to experiment with materials I had on hand. The secret I came to find out was a magical tea 'activator' for $49.95

water pump

A Recipe for Compost Tea

I have found there is no exact recipe for compost tea. My compost tea recipe is based upon materials readily available, so here is a basic recipe for compost tea, and short of killing your batch with sulphured molasses, there is no wrong answer for my witches brew.   

Water: I use rainwater when available or my awesome well water.  

Oxygen: I started with a small aquarium pump in a 5 gallon bucket. Now I make 40 gallons  at a time and use a large air pump that I bought. An air compressor will do.

Unsulphured Molasses: I use approximately 1/4 cup per 5 gallons. Make sure to use UNsulphured molasses only. The sulphur will kill all the microbes in the tea.

molasses

Manure: Cow, sheep, horse, rabbit, bat guano, whatever you have available.

Hay: Alfalfa, alfalfa or alfalfa is the best. Spoiled or new alfalfa both work great.

That is my basic recipe. Oxygenate the water, add dry ingredients plus molasses. Continue to inject air into your tea for the duration of brewing.

Microbial life grows and feeds on oxygen and carbohydrates (molasses) and will be evident by a frothy head on the batch.  When either of these is eliminated, the tea will go anaerobic very soon. Apply to your garden asap.

Compost tea can be added directly to the soil around your plants, or strained for use as a foliar spray.

I have made many recipes of compost tea, and no two batches are ever the same in terms of the microbial growth which is demonstrated by the frothing action of the tea.  So don't be discouraged, keep brewing.

compost tea



7/17/2014

According to statistics, Americans are responsible for roughly 25 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, which is more than any other nation and on a per capita basis is 6.6 tons of CO2 annually. In the U.S., most carbon dioxide (98 percent) is emitted as the result of burning of fossil fuels.

Surprisingly residences account for as much as 21 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions with 68 per cent of residential emissions coming from the consumption of electricity and 80 per cent of those coming from the burning of coal at coal-fired power plants, which residences use for lighting, air conditioning, heating and other household appliances.

Solar Panels, photo credit: LivingOffGrid

In order to help reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and to achieve the rule put in place to reduce America’s carbon dioxide emissions by 30% from 2005 levels, housing in the US needs to be made more energy efficient through improved insulation.

Although efforts have already been put in place to help reduce CO2 emissions from residences, for example, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is helping buildings save energy, water, resources and money, efforts need to increased considerably further in order to reduce residences carbon emissions by a significant amount.

Much of the existing housing stock in the US is not insulated to the levels it should be today, with older homes in particular, significantly using more energy than they should, which is not only bad for the environment but also leading to higher heating and air-conditioning bills. Newer homes tend to be much more energy efficient because they have been built with ‘being green’ in mind.  However, while some newer housing is being built in the US, a large percentage of US housing is old.

The UK is an example of a country who have put in place a system, called the Green Deal, to help improve energy efficiency in housing and reduce the UK’s carbon emissions from residency. The Green Deal is a new way to pay for energy-saving home improvements. Brits are able to take out Green Deal finance to pay for measures such as loft, cavity or solid wall insulation, glazing, a new boiler or solar panels. Which makes us question, would the U.S. benefit from a similar system? As a lot of U.S. residents may be put off investing in insulation for their home simply because of the costs that are associated with it.

Not only are is the UK government introducing new green government initiatives, they are also cracking down on building new homes that are extremely energy efficient. For example, just one example of a new housing development in the UK are the new homes in Norfolk by Abel Homes. Each home has been fitted with triple glazed windows, ‘Superwall’ insulation, insulated ground floors and lofts, low energy lighting and have Solar PV (meaning that homeowners will enjoy free electricity that it generates as well as benefit from the ‘Feed in Tariff’ payments from the Government for 20 years).

Although newer green housing is being built in the U.S., because of the size of the country, it is not having such a significant effect on reducing the carbon emissions that the U.S. are generating.  And if the U.S. want to reduce the carbon footprint from U.S. housing, government efforts need to be significantly improved.



7/8/2014

Two friends from our last natural building workshop called, "The One-Day Cob House," put together this wonderful ten-minute video of the event. The good folks at House Alive! partnered with us at Be the Change Project for a memorable weekend that resulted in a great cabin and lots of great connections. 

I hope you enjoy watching it!

Contact me at kisacksen@gmail.com to learn about next year's build!



7/3/2014

After finding himself without a home, LaMar Alexander moved onto inherited land and built a 400-square-foot cabin in two weeks for $2,000. Alexander was able to keep costs low by using recycled and salvaged materials. Learn more about how he built his 14-by-14 foot structure by watching the video below, or reading A Solar Cabin in Two Weeks for $2,000.

YouTube video posted by solarcabin


More Videos!

The MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff has been featured in videos covering topics from seed starting to skin toner. Check out our full collection of wiser living videos on our video page.


Amanda Sorell is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. You can find her on .



6/25/2014

The most recent figures reveal that the U.S. releases the most CO2 emissions in the world after China. Texas is the most polluting state, with 2011 figures stating that their annual CO2 emissions total a significant 656 million metric tons, despite California having a larger population than Texas.

The U.S. has already increased efforts to improve their carbon footprint and to become a more environmentally friendly country, with figures revealing that the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy fell 12 percent between 2005 and 2012. However, 2013 figures showed that U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions from energy sources increased back up by 2 percent. Although this means that energy related carbon emissions are still 10 per cent below 2005 levels, which is a significant improvement, efforts need to be increased further in order to make the nation more green. President Obama has already set a goal of achieving 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

In order to reach this goal, more needs to be done to improve the efficiency of U.S. homes. A 2011 study revealed that the average U.S household’s carbon footprint was as much as 48 tons per year with 13 tons being from housing. According to Flir, heat loss can account for up to 50% of total energy consumption in a building with causes ranging from air leakage through chimneys, attics, windows and through lack of insulation.

Using a Thermal Imaging Camera

A thermal imaging camera can be used to detect just how much energy is lost from a home, highlighting the most problematic areas where energy is being lost. For example, there is a new program that has started in Connecticut in which a car with a thermal imaging camera goes around towns and captures pictures of individual homes to see how efficient they are. The program is helping residents to become more energy efficient as when homeowners log in to the company website, they are able to see a thermal imaging photograph of their home. There is no obligation for them to do anything but there is an option for home owners to choose to get a home energy assessment for less than $100.

Not only is the energy that is being lost through housing harmful to our environment, but also to household’s wallets. Many U.S. citizens are overspending on energy bills because they are either losing heat or struggling to keep their home cool because their homes are so poorly insulated. Many people are put off insulating their home, because they associate these solutions with high costs. However, what people need to realise is that in the long term, insulating a home will save homeowners a significant amount of money and is a worthwhile investment. Below are just a few long term solutions to insulate a home that homeowners should consider in order to save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

Wall Insulation

According to figures, roughly 33 percent of energy and heat is lost through walls. Therefore, getting cavity wall insulation is one of the most cost effective energy saving measures that homeowners can carry out. This is supported by research that has found that every square meter of cavity wall insulation will save more than a tonne of CO2 over the average lifetime of a building.

Loft and Roof Insulation

Loft Insulation. Photo credit:moppet65535

It is also very important to insulate the roof and loft of a home as up to quarter of a home’s heat can be lost through the roof. Loft and roof insulation is certainly a worthwhile investment because it is low cost and can last up to 40 years and will repeatedly pay for itself during that time.

Triple Glazing

Double or triple glazing is a great way to trap any energy in and reduce the amount being lost into the atmosphere. Although double or triple glazing can be a little more pricey solution (especially triple glazing which is up to 30-40% more expensive than double glazing), when compared with loft insulation for example, many consider it to be worth the extra expense. Not only will it reduce the amount of air leaking out of the home, but will also will increase security levels of a home and the amount of outside noise.

Underfloor Heating

Underfloor heating has become an increasingly popular choice to improve efficiency of homes. Roughly 8 per cent of heat is lost through floors. Underfloor heating is essentially like having a giant radiator under the floor, creating extreme levels of comfort whilst at the same time significantly contributes to reducing household’s carbon footprint. Obviously investing in an underfloor heating system will depend on where about homeowners live in the U.S. – but for those that live in colder states, it is certainly an investment worth considering. RA Brown a company that specializes in underfloor heating and Ground Source Heat Pumps in Suffolk explains how an underfloor system is eco-friendly – it can depend on natural energy sources and doesn’t emit any harmful gases. And whilst the initial cost of installation may be a high, the running costs are very low.

If more U.S. citizens implemented some of these long-term solutions to improve the efficiency of their homes, we could see a dramatic reduction in the amount of CO2 emissions released by the nation. And for those where the initial costs of installing some of these long term insulation solutions may be too high, in the long term it is worth the investment and will save homeowners money over time. Plus there are funding schemes available to help homeowners pay for insulation solutions.



6/19/2014

When it comes to household goods, the drumbeat of a sustainable lifestyle is longevity; the longer you use an item, the longer it stays out of the landfill, and the longer before a new purchase requires the use of virgin resources. However, there's one item you shouldn't try to push past its natural life cycle for the good of the planet: your refrigerator. When it comes to that most essential of all modern appliances, the best way to be eco-friendly is to stick with the tried and true three R's: reduce, reuse or recycle.

Recycle An Old Refrigerator

Reduce

Reducing the energy use of your refrigerator is one of the single most effective "green" steps you can take in your home. As we all know, reducing energy demand results in reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, and a fridge uses a lot of energy. That food chiller is responsible for an average 13 percent of your household energy use. And that's a modern refrigerator, full of super thin, highly efficient insulation. If your fridge is clocking in at a decade or two, that figure skyrockets.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, replacing an inefficient, 20-year-old refrigerator with an Energy Star-rated appliance saves 700 kWh/year or more. For tips on picking the most energy-efficient fridge for your needs, read this article I wrote for sustainablog.org.

Reuse

Once you've upgraded to an energy-sipping Energy Star refrigerator, you must decide what to do with your old one. Ideally, you want to keep that energy guzzler off the power grid. Yes, I know a second fridge in the garage sounds awfully handy, but not only does that convenience come with a hefty environmental price tag (sucking an extra 1,200 kWh/year), it will also cost you about $120 each year it chills that extra six pack and gallon or two of milk.

Of the 200 million refrigerators and freezers in the United States, the EPA estimates that over 20 million are secondary units sitting in basements or garages. Imagine if all of these were unplugged. The reduction in energy demand, ozone depletion and global climate impacts would be astounding.

But how are you going to reuse a refrigerator if you don't refrigerate things in it? Consider "up-cycling." Try one of these surprisingly useful reuses for your old fridge and its parts, all of which are less deleterious to the planet than actual refrigeration:

1. By its nature, a fridge is an excellent storage space. Unplug it, clean it out, remove the door and place it in your pantry, garage or kitchen for extra dry goods storage, dish storage or as a tool shelf. Then use that door as a wall shelf in your pantry to store the unopened versions of things that, once opened, end up in the fridge door. If you don't have a convenient place in your kitchen for a refrigerator wall shelf, it also works well as an indoor or outdoor wet bar accompaniment.

2.  The properties that make a fridge airtight also make it surprisingly watertight and dirt-resistant. Consider taking your old fridge outdoors and turning it into a pond, a root cellar or an ice-chest. It also makes an ingenious, if a bit extravagant pet shelter, as this stray Chuichui in China discovered.

3.  A particularly ingenious use for an old fridge was dreamed up by Mother Earth News staff members over 30 years ago. Read this article from the archives on repurposing your refrigerator into a solar water heater.

4.  For my own upcycling project, I took a refrigerator I found for $10 at a yard sale and turned it into a unique storage space for my son's growing gaming habit and my penchant for gadgets. The fridge will look perfectly at home in our den, without adding to the clutter, and provides much easier access to these everyday essentials than storing things in boxes or drawers. Plus, it's such fun to watch guests reach for a beverage and come away with a Wii remote.

With any up-cycling project, it's important to safely remove any and all working parts of the refrigerator and responsibly recycle them. Also be sure to either remove or secure the door to make sure children and pets don't become trapped inside and suffocate.

Recycle

If up-cycling is outside of your comfort zone, then recycling is the next best thing. Older fridges probably contain ozone-depleting refrigerants, foam-blowing agents and greenhouse gas-producing substances. Proper recycling prevents these from getting into the atmosphere and limits the potential release of PCBs, mercury and used oil, while also saving landfill space and energy by recycling the plastic, glass and approximately 120 pounds of steel in your typical "vintage" fridge. This in turn reduces energy consumption by eliminating the need to produce virgin materials.

When you recycle your fridge, you need to make sure it is actually recycled and not re-sold as an inefficient, second-hand unit (which currently happens to over 40 percent of "recycled" appliances). One way to do this is to buy your new Energy Star model from a retailer that partners with the EPA's Responsible Appliance Disposal program. By taking this route, you can be sure that your old appliance will be responsibly recycled and not put back into use.

If that's not an option, check with your local utility company or waste management company. Some utility companies offer cash incentives or utility bill credits in exchange for recycling your old appliances, and many municipalities offer heavy trash pick-up and recycling programs for appliances. Just be sure to ask exactly how the appliance is recycled before letting them cart it off into the sunset.

Have you seen an ingenious use for an old fridge? If so, do share it with us in the comments section below.

Jennifer Tuohy writes about appliances and green homes for Home Depot. Jennifer focuses on providing tips to homeowners on energy consumption and recycling of appliances including washers, dryers and refrigerators. A complete selection of refrigerators, including top energy savers, can be viewed on the Home Depot website.

Photo by Jennifer Tuohy. Give an old refrigerator new life with one of these ingenious ideas for up-cycling your appliance.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



6/17/2014

Growing Tomatoes In Drought

Western Oklahoma is, and has been, in a serious drought for several years now and even with some rain over the last few weeks, the outlook is bleak. The farm ponds and large lakes are functionally dry, diminished crop yields, and native grasses are challenged to grow enough to keep the cattle herds fed.

Drought Pod In Arid Climate

Vegetable gardening has suffered severely in this rural community, both from disinterest and the challenges of gardening in a drought. My brother, Rick, has tried to grow a few select vegetables over the last few years, but he has given up due to an inability to keep the garden wet. His garden area is mostly sand, making gardening even more difficult due to lack of rain and lack of organic matter in the soil.

The original Drought Pod I designed and built was for him. My goal was to create an organic mass system that was easy to maintain by providing both moisture and nutrients to his vegetables via this totally passive system. Tomatoes are his main crop of choice.

In my opinion, if one can be successful at growing tomatoes, then you are a real gardener.  It is an indication that soil, nutrients, and moisture are well balanced. Growing any other vegetable will be then easy.

Using available materials from my brothers farm, I created a Drought Pod using a round bale feeder, horse manure, cow manure, spoiled alfalfa and wheat straw hay.

Organic mass is the key to my Drought Pod system. The bigger the organic mass the daily watering requirements are minimized, and all the nutrients are provided from within the organic mass.

How We Built the Original Drought PodTomato Growing With Drought Pod

In Rick's garden we positioned the round bale feeder for easy access around the feeder. We soaked the ground thoroughly with well water before adding organic materials.

Using a Bobcat with a front end loader, I dug out two large loads of muck from the horse corral and two loads from the cow pens where hay has been fed in round bale feeders for years, so it is deep, aged, wet from urine more than rain and very rich.  On top of these 4 loads I added an entire large square bale of spoiled, deteriorating alfalfa hay to act as mulch and more organic material as the bale composts along with the  manure.  

I want this entire organic mass to be thoroughly wet during the construction phase. Ironically, even though they've had minimal rain for the past few years, when I dug into both the horse and cow lots, under this thick packed layer, it was very wet, reinforcing my theory about heavy mulch and moisture accumulation. The animal urine is rich in nitrogen, so that type moisture is a double bonus for the Drought Pod. It speeds up composting process while adding nitrogen for the plants.

At this point the 6 loads of organic material is over the top of the feeder.  I know this wet pile is about to start composting, and that is the goal.  Eventually all the materials inside the round bale feeder will be super rich compost.  To recharge the Drought Pod, just add more loads of manure, old hay, and whatever organic materials are available. Think lasagna gardening.

Planting the Feeder AreaUpdated Drought Pod For Gardening

With the drought pod, the planting area is around the outside of the organic mass, and not in the mass, as it will be too hot.  We used a pitch fork and hand tilled in more spoiled alfalfa into the sand around the feeder to use as the planting area. To that we added about 12" of old wheat straw as much for the planting area once the tomatoes are in the ground.

Timeline

Drought pod constructed on March 15, 2014

Tomatoes planted about April 23, 2014.  No rain, but plants were watered in with garden hose.

April 30, 2014 Rick reported the rabbits had eaten the tomatoes off, so he was about to give up.  At this point the plants had received no supplemental water, other than the day they were planted on March 15.

Now it is the end of May and Rick reports that the tomatoes, WITH NO CARE, had made a miraculous recovery and were actually about 12" tall and vibrant.  I sent my niece to take pictures as proof on June 6, 2014.

Fresh Garden Tomatoes Sliced

Rick says, "I can't believe it".  It works as it's intended:  No care, minimal water after construction with maximum growth.

June 13, I travel to Western Oklahoma for a cattle drive and to see Rick's Drought Pod tomatoes for myself.

While there, I made a 20 gallon batch of very rich compost tea and gave each plant about 1 gallon of tea for a nutrient boost.

By planting directly beside the organic mass, the tomato roots intentionally seek out moisture and nutrients, and both are found in abundance from inside the organic mass inside the Drought Pod.

Through observation of my urban Drought Pod, which is much different in design because of available materials, and use of a moisture probe, I've learned that the ideal soil moisture outside the Drought Pod is low to medium, while the moisture content inside the pod is wet.  The tomatoes never have wet feet, but can get increased moisture and nutrients as they desire by tapping into the organic mass inside the Drought Pod.  I believe that all plant roots are smart like that.

My urban Drought pod tomatoes at 55 days, and I ate my first tomato at 55 days.

My next blog will be about my version of compost tea.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.








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