Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Local green events list by HCM

Instead of trying to round up every green event in the Baltimore area myself, I'd like to share the extensive list assembled by Lisa Ferretto of Hord Coplan Macht. Thanks to Lisa for creating and sharing this resource!

The October list is posted here:

You can sign up for the monthly email newsletter at HCM's website here:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 Solar Decathlon report

Final results: Germany won again. California (beautiful architecture winner) and Illinois (gable house, passive house, American vernacular barn-like) rounded out the top three.

Personally, I really liked the houses by Penn State and Minnesota.

Penn State's house featured a row of glass doors along the length of the living space. A water reservoir below the living/dining/kitchen room helped maintain radiant heat despite the cold rainy day, and the living wall in the kitchen contained all the herbs a budding gardener could want for cooking. The deck (of most of the solar houses, actually) included a space for a small kitchen gardening - the ones I saw seemed to follow the square foot gardening method.

The first thing I noticed about Minnesota's entry was its height, and the steel frame - kudos to their civil engineering students for employing visible structure. I imagine the steep roof slope was designed to encourage northern snowfalls to slide off the solar panels, but it also resulted in a cozy alpine feel on the inside of the home. Sleeping nook, bathroom, and closets were nestled along one long side, with a living/dining great space that merged into the end kitchen with large windows overlooking a picnic table and potting area under the roof peak. I could totally live in that house.

Since the entries were limited to 800 square feet, students had to get creative with storage options. Murphy beds were very popular (I heard that under-floor beds were the norm last time). Germany's house had a few twin beds that slid out from a raised floor, and the attached stair steps hinged open to reveal hidden drawers. The Ohio team built its entertainment center into a pullout drawer on one living room wall that stored a futon, dining chairs, and tabletops.

The southern entries tended to feature a breezeway separating living area from kitchen - some of these layouts were set up to transform into one large enclosed space in winter. Iowa used a stacking glass door system to enclose a south-facing sunroom that could be completely opened in summertime.

I wish I'd had time to tour California, Cornell, and Virginia Tech, but the mall was crowded despite the cold rain and mud, so I was happy to keep the day short!

Read consumer information provided from the DOE at this event here http://www.solardecathlon.org/for_consumers.cfm

Link to my photos on Flickr.

B2B Green Forum in Baltimore

Last week I attended the Baltimore B2B Green Forum organized by TerraChord. This event gathered many prominent members of the local green business community for idea exchange and networking.

Slides from presentations are available at the B2B website here.

Here's a sampling of what I learned at the forum...

Baltimore City is launching a new sustainability website in November at www.baltimoresustainability.com

Zipcar is planning to expand its Baltimore network in the near future.

Green buildings no longer cost more to build than traditional construction, yet the spaces rent and sell for higher prices than those in non-green buildings? Check the green real estate resources on Stuart Kaplow's website, or join his e-newsletter for legal briefs on local green building developments.

The National Aquarium at Baltimore has several conservation outreach programs, as well as a green roof and progressive recycling campaigns with at their Inner Harbor facilities.

Geoff Stack of STACK Coordination shared ideas about sustainable business strategies from his work with Natural Step and from Bob Willard's website

You can attend free online training for EPA's Energy Star programs at https://energystar.webex.com/mw0305l/mywebex/default.do?siteurl=energystar

Johns Hopkins University is continuing their sustainability work on campus with a carbon footprint inventory, green building projects, and sustainable transportation.

The Green Building Institute in Jessup offers courses in all aspects of green building and living.


Putting up for winter

This weekend I made like a squirrel and stocked up for winter.

My friend MS and I chopped, peeled, and cooked about half a bushel of golden delicious apples into sauce one morning: no sugar required, even. The maiden voyage of my new canner went off without a hitch, but I have new respect for farm women who do this on a regular basis!

Later I worked on packing up the garden and took a critical look at the compost tumbler: too many food scraps and not enough dry brown stuff has resulted in a lumpy mass of dark slime. Eww. Luckily, there's a great supply of dry leaves on the ground right now to help remedy the situation. In fact, as I hiked around the neighborhood this afternoon I acquired a bunch of already-bagged leaves from neighbors - will keep these under the deck to feed the trash heap.

Incidentally, leaves make a great compost all by themselves: fallen leaves break down into what garden centers sell as leaf mold. It's easy to make (just abandon a pile of leaves for a year or two and they'll decompose) and rich in nutrients that benefit your garden soil.
Photo credit: an ode to Fraggle Rock.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The garden year in review

Inspired by a fellow garden blogger, here's my synopsis of what worked and what didn't in this year's backyard garden:

Herbs: yes!

1. Basil thrived between tomatoes. I made enough pesto to freeze and share with friends. My basil bush is still going even now, woody at the bottom and leaves turning yellow!

2. Parsley (flat leaf)also did well near the tomatoes, although the leaves got tough and pithy toward the end of summer. Perhaps harvesting more often would keep tender new leaves coming? The curly-leaf parsley got lost under marigolds and lettuce, which might explain why the leaves yellowed, making it look less appetizing.

3. Cilantro was lovely while it lasted, but in mid-summer it bolted and produced queen-anne's-lace-like flowers, then the leaves went ferny. Still smelled and tasted good (and looked nice in wildflower arrangements), but not ideal for recipes.

4. Chives got lost under the butterfly bush - but thrived in early summer. This was the year I discovered that the flowers are edible.


1. Tomatoes. Grape & Cherry: had trouble picking them all before they fell. Grape plants from the market developed sunscorch, but the cherry volunteers remained healthy. Heirloom: Prudens purple & Brandywine both produced despite yellow/brown crispy leaves. The Goliath hybrid did pretty well too, and all three large tomato varieties make store-bought tomatoes pale in comparison... but that's to be expected.

2. Peppers. Jalapeno was lonely, yielded one or two all summer. Sweet didn't produce much either until I read that they cross-pollinate better in pairs, so I brushed the flowers a bit to spread pollen and a few weeks later there are enough peppers that I hate to cut the plant down!

3. Eggplant: did well as a pair. A bit sparse in the warmer months, but I picked enough (one a week?) in September that it was becoming a challenge to work them into new recipes. I like that the leaves remind me of moose antlers.

4. Beans: scarlet emperor, beautiful twining up the bean strings I strung up under the deck, and location made for easy snacking!

5. Peas: not a good year. Or maybe the seeds left over from last year didn't keep well.

6. Onion & garlic: I tend to forget about root vegetables because there's so much happening above the dirt... I did plant a few of these though. Got a few beets also.

7. Lettuce: salad bowl blend. These leaves are soft, and the plants bolt after a few months, but it did well under the shade of tomato plants. I'd prefer a crispier lettuce next year.

8. Zucchini again fell prey to squash vine borers, despite several grub extraction surgeries, but not before I got enough to fry, steam, bake, boil, freeze, and generally get tired of. My housemate invented a delicious zucchini soup incorporating the blossoms - a new favorite.

9. Pumpkin vine promptly came down with something grey and moldy, but managed to produce one gourd that I'm watching carefully for Halloween carving.


1. Marigolds flourished under the tomatoes - I didn't expect them to grow as tall as they did! Naughty Marietta is my favorite, with the dark/light color blend, but Petite yellow & mixed varieties did well too (although they weren't so much petite).

2. Zinnias and Cosmos were tall and leggy, not so many flowers, perhaps dwarfed by nearby

3. Sunflowers. Wow, this was my first year with them and they were huge! Unfortunately the squirrels got to the seeds before I did, grrr. I swear, squirrel is just a rat with a better suit.

4. Nasturtiums: first year with these also. They started out pretty, and edible as advertised, but the long, slender stems got all tangled up and bug-ridden in August... might not plant these again.

5. Xeriscaping wildflower blend went crazy. Not sure if the giant flowerless stalks were weeds or part of the mix, but the orange cosmos-type petals and celosia paintbrushes added character.

Plans for next year:

1. Better tomato cages. Bamboo tripods didn't cut it this year.

2. Get a watering timer that works. My Nelson model from last year refused to work, even after a few troubleshooting exchanges with Watson's, so I gave up and watered manually with soaker hose.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Go solar!

College students from around the world are in DC this month competing in the Solar Decathlon: a solar house design competition. Check out the official US Dept of Energy website, Popular Mechanics coverage, and this photostream on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/solar_decathlon

Monday, October 12, 2009

Packing up the garden

Autumn is a sad time for the backyard garden: the flowers are mostly spent, beans have gone bust, and any remaining tomatoes drop to the ground, forgotten.

This was a particularly bad year for tomatoes, thanks to the blight. My neighbors at the Rodgers Forge Farm Initiative blogged about it earlier this summer, citing the same NY Times article I'd stumbled upon while searching for an explanation for the withered leaves and sunscorched fruits in my yard. Confirming the blight: only the heirloom tomato plants I purchased were affected. Volunteer cherry tomato plants remained healthy.

Already I'm plotting my seed-starting operation for next spring... but first, I still have a few eggplants to pick, one lonely green pumpkin, and a mess of marigolds to clean up. The UMd home & garden center website has fall garden cleanup tips posted now.

Also thinking about canning some applesauce, since I never found the time to can more than one batch of salsa at a friend's house all summer. Apparently canning is trendy among backyard gardeners and urban homesteaders these days, but I wouldn't have guessed it by the blank looks I got at the supermarket when I asked where to find the canning jars.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Carbon and energy in the news

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) sent out a few news bulletins recently:

They're forecasting lower US heating costs this winter due to warmer temperatures and higher natural gas inventories.

Also, projected US carbon emissions from fossil fuels are down almost 6%, mostly due to the economic downturn.

The EIA has also posted a new website for consumers, described as follows:

Energy fuels cars, furnaces, national economies. It also costs money, affects our lives, and sometimes makes headlines. If you want to understand where your gasoline comes from, what determines the price of electricity, or how much renewable energy the United States uses, then you are not alone. Energy Explained from the U.S. Energy Information Administration tells you all of this and more at www.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained.

In other energy news,

A Renewable Energy Markets conference was held in September: presentations and whitepapers are available online at http://www.renewableenergymarkets.com/