Friday, December 31, 2010

New year, new font

In case you didn't hear about this in 2010, switching your font to Century Gothic can save you big bucks on printer ink.  If, that is, you're still old school enough to be printing at all.  Read about this in a GreenBiz article that features the fax machine beatdown from a film classic.
And don't forget the Dutch Ecofont...
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sorry but I can't hear you over this (compostable) SunChips bag

Let me start this post by saying I love SunChips.  And I loved them even more when I saw their 100% compostable bag in my local market.  But this new sustainable packaging of theirs doesn't seem to be playing well to consumers... Read the GreenBiz article (which made their 2010 top 20 list) here.  There's even a Facebook community page about this issue.

Having recently bought a compostable bag of SunChips, I can attest that yes, it's the loudest food packaging I've ever handled.

Never fear, SunChips lovers, the folks at Frito Lay are all over it:

"...Why are we making the change? - While there was a huge amount of enthusiasm surrounding the launch of our compostable SunChips® bag, we've also received feedback regarding how the new packaging has affected the consumer experience, including its noise. In response, we’re taking steps to improve our 100% compostable bag in order to address your concerns. We have several new compostable package options in the works that look promising and look forward to introducing the next generation compostable bag to consumers in the near future..."

The website mentions that this bag is certified for industrial composting by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI). 

"BPI is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the use of compostable plastics. They have teamed up with the United States Composting Council to develop a labeling program for plastics that biodegrade in an industrial compost environment (in accordance with ASTM D6400 “Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics”).
To learn more about BPI visit
To find a compost facility in your area check out "
Looking forward to the next (quieter) generation of compostable bag, and hoping that other food companies follow this lead!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm also on The Twitter!

Dear blog readers, now you can follow my green adventures on Twitter also!  Watch for articles and other brief bits @amymussen

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Buy local this holiday season

Don't forget to patronize your small, locally-owned businesses as you shop for the holidays!

The Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance website is searchable by category or neighborhood, and with a $10 member card you're eligible for the specials mentioned on the "merchant discounts" page.

Personally, I use this guide to plan out my shopping attack on Hampden:  you can park anywhere along the Avenue (36th street, that is) and walk to about 17 of these locally-owned stores.  Much better than driving between big box stores or fighting crowds at the mall!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Eco-home improvement: Low-VOC paint

When I repainted my basement recently, I wanted to use one of these new low-VOC paints I'd been hearing about.  Found a good one at Home Depot that was labeled as an eco-option:  this labeling system can also help you find energy- and water-efficient products throughout the store and website.

Here's the paint I chose:

The FreshAire Choice
The FreshAire Choice is a revolution in paint, inspired by the need to improve air quality. It’s the first-ever and only tinted paint to contain no VOCs, harsh chemicals that make paint smell like paint and contribute to poor indoor air quality. FreshAire environmentally friendly paint offers premium colors in four inspiring collections that enthuse the beauty and serenity of nature in your home.

* Premium performance paint without the harsh paint odor
* Awarded the Greenguard's Certification For Children and Schools
* Contains zero VOCs in paint or colorant
* Four different collections - 65 color choices
* Lifetime warranty

And here's some more information about low-VOC paint...

Green Paint Standards Protect IAQ and Occupants Green product watch: best low-VOC paints and stains 9/10

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sustainability for Structural Engineers

I wish I'd written this book: Sustainability Guidelines for the Structural Engineer

Here's the description from the ASCE online store:

Sponsored by the Sustainability Committee of the Structural Engineering Institute of ASCE.
This report presents guidelines that are intended to advance the understanding of sustainability in the structural community and to incorporate concepts of sustainability into structural engineering standards and practices.

The guidelines are organized into five sections:
Sustainable Design and Construction,
Sustainable Strategies,
Building Materials,
Infrastructure, and
Case Studies.
Although many of the subjects are related, each section—and the related subsections—have been written to stand alone, allowing this report to be used as a practical reference. Infrastructure gets particular attention because many of the concepts and ideas in this guide that relate to infrastructure can also be applied to design and construction.
This report was written for structural engineers, but related disciplines will also benefit from the contents. This book will help structural engineers as they meet the challenge to design and construct a sustainable built environment

Shop for it here:
Also available on

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Meet kohlrabi

As my Thanksgiving food offering this year, I arranged a raw veggie tray that included sliced kohlrabi.  More than one of the dinner guests had never seen it or heard of it before, so as a public service, here's some information about the humble kohlrabi.

Ever since kohlrabi first appeared in a CSA delivery from our local One Straw Farm, I've been a fan.  It looks like a UFO with leaves and tastes like raw peas.  A quick Google search tells me that yes, you can eat the leaves, and stems too.

Excerpted from the FarmgirlFare blog link below:

Kohlrabi, from the German words kohl (cabbage) and rabi (turnip), is not actually a cabbage or a turnip. Cultivated in Europe since at least the mid 1500's, this cold loving member of the brassica (cabbage) family is low in calories, high in fiber, and a good source of several vitamins and minerals. Although kohlrabi has been grown the U.S. since at least the early 1800's, it still has yet to become very popular.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nissan Leaf gets 99mpg

Nissan Leaf Runs Equivalent Of 99 Miles Per Gallon
by The Associated Press
The Associated Press - November 22, 2010
The Nissan Leaf, an electric car aimed at attracting environmentally conscious motorists, will get the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, based on government testing.
Nissan Motor Corp. said Monday the Environmental Protection Agency's fuel efficiency window sticker, which provides information about the car's energy use, would estimate the electric car will achieve the equivalent of 106 mpg in city driving and 92 mpg on the highway.
EPA's tests estimate the Leaf can travel 73 miles on a fully charged battery and will cost $561 a year in electricity. Nissan has said the Leaf can travel 100 miles on a full charge, based on tests used by Californiaregulators.
Nissan and General Motors Co. are both releasing electric cars within weeks in the auto industry's most prominent attempt at mass-producing vehicles that shift away from petroleum. The Leaf does not have a gas engine and must be recharged once its battery is depleted.
The tests show equivalent fuel efficiency of nearly twice the Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg in combined driving.
GM's entry, the Chevrolet Volt, uses an electric battery for the first 25 to 50 miles and a small gasoline engine to generate electricity once the battery runs down. The gasoline engine can generate power to run the car another 300 miles. GM has not yet revealed the mileage rating for the Volt.
Mark Perry, Nissan North America's director of product planning and strategy, said the vehicle's range would vary based on driving conditions. Tests conducted by the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising claims, had estimated a range of 96 to 110 miles per full charge and the company's internal tests had found a broader range of 64 to 138 miles, Perry said. The California Air Resources Board estimated a range of 100 miles.
"As we've said all along, your range varies on driving conditions, temperature, terrain and we've talked about, very openly, this idea of a range of ranges," Perry said in an interview.
The Leaf's label will indicate the vehicle is the best in class in fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions.
Nissan will start selling the Leaf in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and Tennessee in December with a sticker price of $32,780. The Leaf will go on sale in other markets through 2011 and be available nationwide by the end of next year.
The Volt will have a sticker price of $41,000 and GM will sell it first in California, then make it available inNew YorkNew JerseyConnecticut; Washington, D.C.; Michigan and Texas. The car will be sold nationwide in 12 to 18 months.
Both vehicles qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Some states and communities are offering additional tax breaks that will lower the price further.
GM spokesman Greg Martin said the automaker was working with EPA and expected to announce details of the Volt's mileage estimates soon.
EPA calculated the Leaf's fuel economy based on a formula that says 33.7 kilowatts per hour holds the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline. The label estimates a charging time of 7 hours on a 240-volt charge. Cost estimates were based on 15,000 miles per year at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. [Copyright 2010 The Associated Press]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Swap your stuff online

Today's news from Debt Proof Living (see below) reminded me of a swap event I heard about in Philly:

Swap till you drop!  Enjoy the article...

You can shop online without spending a dime. No, I’m not talking about some kind of devious Internet rip-off scam. A quasi-cashless society has grown up on the Internet over the past couple of years where you can swap for all kinds of great goods. If you're willing to pay for shipping, you can find almost anything, all brand new or gently used, and all completely free. Talk about recycling! is a reliable website where you can swap the DVDs you no longer want for ones you do. Register for a free account on this site and decide which of your DVDs you want to swap. You must have the original cases; simply list your DVDs by UPC Code. Full descriptions and cover art are supplied by the SwapaDVD database so you don’t have to upload or scan anything.

When someone wants one of your DVDs, you mail it out (postage averages about $2 per package via first class mail; SwapaDVD members can print postage and a combo mailing label and wrapper for sending movies). When the other person indicates receipt of your DVD, you get one credit per disc deposited into your account. List 10 DVDs that you're willing to send out, and you can immediately request a complimentary DVD. With a library of nearly 200,000 DVDs currently available to be sent to your mailbox, think of the possibilities: Cancel your cable TV service, cancel your NetFlix account. lets members trade books, movies, music, and video games for free. With about 3.5 million items up for swapping, this site offers “shopping” opportunities galore! Unlike other sites, where you have to earn points in order to start trading, at you make one-for-one trades or three-way trades, and can start as soon as you sign up. When you join, you list "Items I Have" and "Items I Want." Then the site does its matchmaking to find you a trading partner, saving you hours of potential Web-surfing time. is a swapping site in its infancy, with currently about 1,000 listings from brand-new items to gently used. is set up for one-to-one swaps (you find someone who has something you want and who wants something you have). Then, you can regularly swap clothing for coupons and other things as your collective kids outgrow. is a virtual mall jam-packed with stuff for kids, like Game Boy cartridges, Old Navy clothes, Stride Rite shoes and more. Here is how it works: You use "zoints" as your currency. You get 25 zoints for joining the site, and more as you send off your unwanted gear. The site includes an integrated FedEx and U.S. Postal Service shipping tool that lets you print out a prepaid and preaddressed shipping label, and schedule a pickup. That makes it so much easier than schlepping to the post office.

Monday, November 8, 2010

TV news: watch your energy

FTC Will Require EnergyGuide Labels for Televisions

Televisions manufactured after May 10, 2011 must display EnergyGuide labels, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on October 27. A recent amendment to the FTC's Appliance Labeling Rule will require the familiar yellow-and-black labels on new TVs. The removable labels, which have long been used on home appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators, are designed to provide energy cost information.

In March 2009, the FTC sought comments on whether EnergyGuide labels should be required on a range of consumer electronics, including televisions. Based on the response, in March 2010, the agency proposed requiring the labels on televisions sold in the United States. The FTC is requiring a label with two main disclosures on new TVs: the television set's estimated annual energy cost and a comparison with the annual energy cost of other televisions with similar screen sizes. The new rule requires that the new labels be visible from the front of the televisions. Beginning in July 11, 2011, the amended rule will require Web sites that sell televisions to display an image of the full EnergyGuide label. See the FTC press release, the Federal Register Final Rule notice, and examples of the FTC labels.

Also, the FTC is proposing revisions to the guidance it gives marketers to help them avoid misleading environmental claims about their products. The agency announced on October 6 that it is seeking public comments about changes to the Green Guides on such topics as renewable energy and carbon offset claims. The FTC, in its proposed revisions, notes that general "eco-friendly" claims are difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate. The agency will accept public input until December 10, 2010, after which it will decide what final changes it will make to the guidelines. See the FTC press release, which includes an electronic link for comment submissions, the summary of proposed Green Guides changes, and the full list of proposed changes.

More info at

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

ASES National Solar Tour

Just because 2010 is an off-year for the biennial Solar Decathlon doesn't mean you can't get your solar fix. The nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is coordinating a grassroots tour of homes and buildings across the country: check out their website to find a tour near you. Most tours are taking place on the first Saturday in October, but other events will spill over into the rest of National Energy Awareness month.

I braved the rain and mud at the Solar Decathlon on the mall in DC last year, and glad I did!  The 2011 Solar Decathlon will be held Sept 23 - Oct 2, here's the website: and the EERE announcement from the Department of Energy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Go Mountaineers!

EPA Welcomes West Virginia University as Newest Partner in Regional Sustainability Initiative

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - - September 21, 2010 Today, West Virginia University became the latest organization to join the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Sustainability Partnership Program (SPP) in a signing ceremony held at the University President’s Office. EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin joined Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) in recognizing West Virginia University (WVU).

University President James P. Clements signed the agreement on behalf of the school, formalizing the new working partnership.

“WVU has already taken many progressive steps to reduce the overall environmental footprint of the campus, and EPA is pleased to support and further those efforts” said EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, Shawn M. Garvin. “Through our partnership we expect that both sides will benefit as we build on current successes and then share those practices with other colleges and organizations.”

The Sustainability Partnership is an innovative program developed by EPA’s mid-Atlantic region to create a one-stop shopping approach for organizations that use large quantities of energy, water, and natural resources and want to go green. Instead of dealing with each of EPA's voluntary programs individually, EPA staff will work out a comprehensive ‘green’ plan for organizations that often saves money and makes good business sense. The overall goal of the SPP is to minimize the use of energy, resources and waste generation in the mid-Atlantic states.

The centerpiece of West Virginia University's sustainability effort is a performance contract to make existing buildings energy efficient. By 2016, the university expects to spend $50 million on updating equipment and installing energy saving upgrades in all of its campuses, including WVU Tech, Potomac State College and WVU-Parkersburg. So far the Evansdale campus has been completed, and the university has already spent about $20 million.

Following this project, the university is expected to reach a carbon dioxide emission level that is 31.5 percent less than a typical educational complex its size.

"We are pleased to partner with the EPA as part of our commitment to a sustainable campus," said WVU President James P. Clements. "We have integrated sustainability practices throughout the University - from buildings to our transportation systems, to the cleaning products we use. I would like to thank Clement Solomon, WVU's director of sustainability, and all those throughout the University who demonstrate this commitment daily."

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has entered into an agreement with EPA and is helping to promote the SPP throughout the state.

“It is a great day for West Virginia University with the signing of the Sustainability Partnership Agreement,” said WVDEP Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman. “West Virginia University’s commitment to developing sustainable energy, water, and waste conservation practices in harmony with preserving West Virginia’s economy, environment, and communities for future generations speaks volumes of the many contributions already made to create a sustainable school. By signing this agreement, West Virginia University is well on their way to preparing our young people for generations of sustainable living, through its education, its fabric, and its daily practices.”

For information on the Sustainability Partnership go to: or call, 215-814-3110.

More links:
Individual Sustainability Partnership Programs Mid-Atlantic Sustainability Partnership US EPA

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Living in Mesh

Good book review from about Mesh - the living network of sharing

The Mesh website sums it up best...

The Mesh is the new way of doing business. Mesh businesses leverage data and social networks to enable people to share goods and services efficiently and conveniently—to gain superior access to what they need without the burdens or expense of ownership. There are already thousands of these businesses—in transportation, fashion, food, real estate, travel, finance, entertainment and many other categories—with more starting every day.The Mesh has emerged as the best new creative engine for getting more of what we want, exactly when we want it, at less cost to ourselves and the planet.

Check it out:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weatherize now!

Tis the season to weatherize your home for winter!

Here's a link to a comparison-shopping guide for weatherstripping on the DOE website:

Also, now is the best time to get your furnace serviced, chimney swept, and all that jazz before heating season is upon us.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rising temperatures, lower electric bills

Here's another little gem from the CNN Money e-newsletter, this time about saving energy:  enjoy!

Rising temperatures, lower electric bills

Triple-digit temperatures are roasting the Northeast. If you're trying to cool down without increasing your electricity bill, try out some of these strategies.

Take a look at heat sources in your home. Replace any incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs produce the same light, but use a fraction of the heat and energy.

You should also try to avoid using your dishwasher, oven or clothes drier at peak heat time during the day. Remember to wash only full loads of dishes and clothes. In fact, you may want to consider letting your clothes dry on a clothesline.

Also, using smaller appliances like microwaves or toaster ovens whenever possible will both save energy and keep the heat out of the kitchen.

Don't place lamps or TVs near your air conditioning thermostat. The heat from these appliances will cause the air conditioner to run longer.

During the day, close your curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day so the sun can't beat in through your windows. And try to place your air conditioner in shaded locations too. If an air conditioner has been in direct sunlight all day, it's going to have to work that much harder to cool the air inside your home.

And think shade! Deciduous trees -- these are trees that produce leaves in the spring and then lose them in the fall -- shade your house from the sun during warmer days and let the sun warm your house on cooler days. Shading your home could save up to 8% on cooling costs.

You may also consider plugging your TVs and computer or stereo into power strips, and then turning those power strips off when equipment is not in use.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Maintain your car!

A few weeks ago I had a slow leak in one of my car tires caused by a dryrot crack in the sidewall... which has got me paying more attention to auto maintenance in general.  Have you hugged your car lately?  If not, here's another installment on car maintenance, some green and some about saving you green, from the CNN Money newsletter...
1. Check the tires
When your tires are inflated properly your tires will last longer and you'll get better gas mileage. Because of summertime's higher temperatures, the air pressure in a warm tire rises. So make sure you check the tire pressure when its cooler out.
Set the tire pressure to the manufacturer's recommendations. You can generally find this figure on a sticker on the door or inside the glove box. You should also check your owner's manual.
You'll also want to do a visual once-over to make sure your tires are in good condition. If you see a bulge or blister on the sidewall, you'll want to replace that tire immediately. These weak spots could lead to tire failure, according to Consumer Reports.  (ALM note:  sometimes trouble areas are invisible to the untrained eye!  Watch for lower-than-usual inflation:  do at least a visual check every time you put gas in the car.  My tires were relatively new, but the mechanic who replaced the problem tire told me that it could've been sitting on an autoshop shelf for a few years beforehand, which would explain how an age-related dryrot crack occurred.)
You should also take a look at the tread. Here's a simple way to test the treat. Put a penny into the tire groove -- make sure Lincoln's head is toward the tire. If you can still see the top of Abe's head, the tread is too worn.
2. Get the right price for repairs
Did you ever wonder if that $300 mechanic bill was way out of line? Check out This free website gives price ranges for common repairs, like brake shoe replacement or wheel alignment. You can search by model, year and where you live. You may also consider going to an independent shop to get your car repaired instead of going to your dealership.
3. Keep your car hydrated
Check the level of all of your vehicle's vital fluids. We're talking about your car's engine oil, brake fluid and windshield washer fluid. Your engine oil will be near the front of the engine, close to you, and sometimes has a brightly colored handle. If the engine oil is below the hash mark on the dipstick, you'll want to add more oil. If you have an older vehicle and have been running a lighter "winter" oil, now is the time to switch to an oil designed for hot weather.
4. Check the battery
A battery gives little warning before it goes dead. And it'll likely do so when you least expect it. Hot weather can put additional strain on a battery. I
lf your vehicle battery is more than three years old, have it tested and check for corrosion. If you're thinking about a road trip this summer, you may just want to replace the battery if you're not sure how old it is. It's good insurance.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How to pump gas

Thanks to my friend Ellen for sharing this forward...


Only fill up your car or truck in the early morning when the ground temperature is still cold. Remember that all service stations have their storage tanks buried below ground. The colder the ground, the more dense the gasoline; when it gets warmer gasoline expands, so when buying in the afternoon or in the evening....your gallon is not exactly a gallon. In the petroleum business, the specific gravity and the temperature of the gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, ethanol and other petroleum products plays an important role.

A 1-degree rise in temperature is a big deal for this business. But the service stations do not have temperature compensation at the pumps.

When you're filling up do not squeeze the trigger of the nozzle to a fast mode. If you look you will see that the trigger has three (3) stages: low, middle, and high. In slow mode you should be pumping on low
speed, thereby minimizing the vapors that are created while you are pumping. All hoses at the pump have a vapor return. If you are pumping on the fast rate, some other liquid that goes to your tank becomes vapor. Those vapors are being sucked up and back into the underground storage tank so you're getting less worth for your money. 

One of the most important tips is to fill up when your gas tank is HALF FULL or HALF EMPTY. The reason for this is, the more gas you have in your tank the less air occupying its empty space. Gasoline evaporates faster than you can imagine. Gasoline storage tanks have an internal floating roof. This roof serves as zero clearance between the gas and the atmosphere, so it minimizes the evaporation. Unlike service stations, here where I work, every truck that we load is temperature compensated so that every gallon is actually the exact amount.

Another reminder, if there is a gasoline truck pumping into the storage tanks when you stop to buy gas, DO NOT fill up--most likely the gasoline is being stirred up as the gas is being delivered, and you
might pick up some of the dirt that normally settles on the bottom.

ALM note:  In case you've seen this forward, you'll notice that I omitted the end part about buying gas from certain companies rather than others in order to avoid supporting Middle East oil companies.  I looked it up on and learned that the information was out of date, if not inaccurate to begin with.

Here's a link to the US Energy Information Administration website, which has current data on petroleum, natural gas, and other energy sources:

P.S. Just today was poring over some GHG data and found this pdf with information about petroleum imports and exports per country, among other factoids, from the International Energy Agency:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Baltimore farmers market days and locations

From the Johns Hopkins University's sustainability listserv, here's a list of farmers markets in the Baltimore area.  You can subscribe to this listerv here:

Or contact the authors at:
The Johns Hopkins Sustainability Office
3001 Remington Ave
Baltimore, MD 21211

Our Mission:  To make Johns Hopkins University a showpiece of environmental leadership by demonstrating smart, sensible and creative actions that promote the vision of sustainability.

The farmers markets, by day:

Baltimore City Farmers’ Markets: Eat Sustainably!
Sunday Markets:

Baltimore Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 8:00am- 12:00pmNoon (May 2 - December 19)
Location: Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay Streets
Tuesday Markets:

Village of Cross Keys Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 10:00am- 2:00pm (June 1 - October 26)
Location: 5100 Falls Road, Parking Lot
University Farmers' Market
Dates/Times: 10:30am- 2:30pm (May 11 - November 23)
Location: Plaza Park, Paca Street
Wednesday Markets:

Park Heights Community Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 9:30am- 2:30pm (June 2 - November 24)
Location: 5201 Park Heights Avenue (Pimlico Race Course Parking Lot)

State Center Community Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 10:00am- 2:00pm (June 2 - October 27)
Location: 201 West Preston Street

Mt. Washington Whole Foods Market Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 4:00pm- 6:30pm (June 9 - November 17)
Location: 5800 Cottonworth Avenue

Thursday Markets:

John Hopkins Hospital Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 10:00am- 2:00pm (May 6 – November)
Location: Jefferson Street pathway near Cancer Research Buildings

Saturday Markets:

32nd Street/Waverly Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 7:00am- 12:00pm (All Year)
Location: 400 block of E. 32nd Street

Howard Park Community Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 7:30am- 3:00pm (May 22 - December 18)
Location: 4700 Block of Liberty Heights Ave

Highlandtown Farmers' Market
Date/Time: 8:00am- 12:00pm (July 10 - October 9)
Location: The corner of Bank St. and S. Conkling St.
Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI) Farmers' Market
Dates/Time: 9:00am- 1:00pm (June 5 - September 25)
Location: 1415 Key Highway

Monday, August 2, 2010

Garden update

The usual July jungle season is passing in our garden.  Sunflowers are dying off (aided by the nibbling squirrels) and the tomatoes are hitting full force.  Anybody want some cherry tomatoes??

We planted some extra basil last month, and it's coming in handy to accompany all those cherry tomatoes in salads.  Still got plenty of rainbow chard and kale in the shadow of the fence, but ripped out the red sail lettuce last month when it bolted and got slimy around the edges.  This type of lettuce is very soft and succumbs to slime quickly:  will not plant that one next year.  I just read an article in an old issue of House and Garden mag that profiled different lettuce varieties:  recognized mache from one of my favorite dishes at Miss Shirley's in Roland Park... that's what I'll plant next year!

My okra experiment is going well.  Over the past few weeks, the two okra plants have grown about a foot, and are now producing huge pods that curl like elf shoes.  Note it's better to pick them when they're less than 4" or so:  more tender and tasty when small.

The eggplant and pepper plants have also shot up, but no fruits yet to be seen.  Got jalapeno peppers but no bells, not sure why.  Overshadowed by the giant flowers nearby, perhaps?  I planted an extra pepper, testing the old Italian school of thought that peppers like to be "so close that their roots touch," but this doesn't seem to have helped.

I thought it would be another sad cucumber year, but boy was I wrong!  Apparently they just needed some loftier architecture to climb:  a four-foot-tall black obelisk in the middle of the garden is proving much better than last year's fence-mounted trellis.  The surrounding marigolds might be helping too, who knows.  Picked up some back issues of Mother Earth magazine last month, one of which contained an article that suggested companion planting isn't so much based in science as in folklore.  I guess it doesn't matter what it's based in as long as it works!

Also growing brussel sprouts and pole beans, which aren't doing much yet, unlike the crabgrass and clover weeds that keep popping up.  A gardener's work is never done.

So it's time to start thinking about fall plantings:  lettuce, peas, maybe some squash and garlic?  What I thought was a zucchini plant turned out to be a pumpkin, so we have one big orange gourd to show for the 20-foot vine that wound its way through everything for a few months there.  Wish it had been a zucchini instead.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Drafts from the archives...

Wow, long time no blog!  I've been traveling so much this summer there hasn't been much time to write.  Just in case anybody is still reading this, I give you a spring cleaning of my previously unpublished blog post archives for now...

How to build an insulating attic stair box (January 2010)
Spring green events to watch for every year (April 2010)
Garden updates (May 2010)
Locavore dining in Baltimore (May 2010)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How my garden grows

It's beginning to look like summer in my backyard:  the garden is in full swing, and food is starting to roll in...

We had a bunch of volunteers in the garden this year:  tomatoes everywhere, one zucchini, a mess of sunflowers, and some other little flowers sprinkled around.  Mint and cilantro too.  Planted some Roma seedlings, along with sweet peppers, eggplant, okra (an experiment), brussel sprouts (another experiment - picked by a young friend, believe it or not), cucumber, and basil.  Got a black metal tower for the cukes to grow on, it adds nice architectural interest.

Strawberries were going well for awhile there, but now they seem to have tapered off... turns out they were May-bearing instead of June-bearing.  Also in May, we caught a bunch of slugs in the beer traps in the strawberry patch.  The grapevine I put in a few years ago seems to be blooming, and it's going crazy - not sure what to do with it, beyond trying to keep it on the trellis.  I put seeds for lettuce, kale, and chard in beside the fence, which is probably too shady because they aren't growing so fast.  Put in beans just the other day, and another zucchini for when the vine borers get the first one.

Despite all this backyard food, we did still buy a CSA share from One Straw Farm again this year.  Their strawberries came early too, got a shipment before Memorial Day.

Getting taken to the cleaners

Dry-cleaning is one of my pet peeves.  It's expensive, produces a pile of wire hangers (which can be returned) and plastic bags (which can't be returned), and the chemicals are nasty.  Now that I've been doing life cycle assessments and ROI studies at work, I detest dry-clean-only clothes even more:  considering that a $100 suit will cost you $10 per cleaning for the rest of its life, is that really such a good deal?

Diatribe over.  Awhile back I blogged about green dry-cleaners; since then I've discovered organic cleaning at Belvedere Dry Cleaners at 6306 York Road near Rodgers Forge.  They're fast, reliable, and they also do alterations.

But what got me thinking about dry-cleaning today was this NYTimes article about the Green Garmento:  a reusable dry-cleaning bag.  It will take a sea change in dry-cleaning protocol for this to succeed, but I really hope this type of thing becomes the norm.  Check it out, and ask your dry-cleaner to do the same!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Local farm-to-table dining spots

Here's an Urbanite article about where to eat local in Baltimore:
as written by the author of this blog

A few of the restaurants mentioned...
Joe Squared
Chameleon Cafe
Woodberry Kitchen
Dogwood Deli

I also read an article in the Sun supplement about several Baltimore restaurants that are growing produce on their rooftops:  can't get much more locavore than that!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gardening goes corporate

Backyard gardens are getting so popular that they're even popping up at corporate offices, according to the NY Times.

This week we put in tomato and eggplant seedlings in my yard.  We're looking at a bumper crop of cilantro and mint already, and the strawberries are starting to blush.  Here's hoping for a better tomato summer than last year!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Earth Day cuteness

Now posted online:  winners of an Earth Day poster contest sponsored by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mid-Atlantic region and the Philadelphia Zoo.

The contest was for students in kindergarten through grade 12 in EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, which includes Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Students submitted hand-created drawings in three categories.  Winning entries and others were displayed at the Philadelphia Zoo for EPA’s 40th anniversary Earth Day celebration.  Many posters continue to be displayed at the EPA’s Public Information Center in Philadelphia.  

Pretty cute!

Mid-Atlantic (region 3) EPA website:

Friday, April 30, 2010

Energy Star appliance shopping

This past month Consumer Reports published their reviews of home appliances like refrigerators, freezers, and washing machines, including a good amount of information about Energy Star along the way.  One of the articles points out that appliance energy guides and ratings often over-promise the product's efficiency (like in this Frigidaire ad from 1933?).  Currently there is no third party certification for Energy Star claims, but I've heard that this will soon change:  sorry, no more gas-powered alarm clocks!  In the meantime, take any appliance's energy guide numbers with a grain of salt.  Whether the Energy Star rating on my new Maytag fridge is accurate or not, I'll definitely use fewer kWh than the ~1000 per year my 20+ year old Whirlpool was burning.

If you're in the market for a new appliance, cash in on these rebates offered by BGE's Smart Energy Savers program:

Get $50 rebate for buying an Energy Star appliance

Get $50 for recycling your old refrigerator

The main Energy Star website is here:
Did you know that clothes dryers are not rated by Energy Star?  here's why
Calculate how much you could save by recycling your old refrigerator and getting a new Energy Star model here 

When it comes to modern refrigeration, we've come a long way, baby... here's an interesting article from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers about the history of refrigeration and cooling.

Thanks to Liza at Pine Street Art Works for the Frigidaire ad image and ASME article used in this post.  Check out her lovely blog here

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring green event roundup

Lots of green events every spring in Baltimore... watch for these and similar events next year too:

This Saturday is the Baltimore County compost bin and rain barrel sale:  take advantage of the great discounts!

Check the Baltimore Green Works event calendar

Herring Run Watershed Association native plant sales, rain barrel workshops, etc.

Our local chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGBC)

Feeling the urge to bike around Baltimore?  Here's a map of bike lanes and trails from CityPaper... 

Happy Earth Day! Hope for the future...

This poem, entitled "Lost Generation," is a palindrome:  enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Building a castle, old school

This may not count as "green building" exactly, but it is cool:  a bunch of French expats are building a castle in Arkansas using medieval construction techniques.  It's scheduled for completion in 2030, but will be opening for public tours as early as May 2010.  They are accepting applications for interns, volunteers, and artisans to help with the project.

Despite the project's dedication to medieval techniques, their communications team is decidedly modern:  check out their website to read the blog, get to know the team, follow them on Twitter, etc... 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Car sharing with RelayRides

I just signed up for a program called RelayRides:  watch the short intro video at their website for a summary of how it works.

If you'd be so kind as to list me as a referral (which could earn me money!), send me a message in the comment field and I'll give you my info.  Much obliged!

Here's more back story from MotorWeek by way of YouTube...

Relay Rides is launching in your area soon!

Have a car? Need a car? Either way, we can help!

Have a car? Earn cash by renting it out when you're not using it. Our technology and insurance make the rental safe and convenient!

Need a car? Get convenient, affordable access to one by the hour or the day. Gas and insurance are included!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Earth Hour

Earth Hour is this Saturday, March 27th.  Join millions of people around the world in turning off your lights for just one hour in a call to action against global warming!

Watch this year's Earth Hour video here.

Read more at the official USA website 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Alex Wilson at NESEA on green building

Here's an interview transcript from the recent Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) convention in Boston.  Alex Wilson wrote Your Green Home:  A Guide to Planning a Healthy, Environmentally Friendly New Home, a reference book I like, in addition to his other accomplishments listed below...

Interview with Alex Wilson, NESEA Thought Leader and Lifetime Member

March 1, 2010
Today we’re talking to Alex Wilson, a lifetime NESEA member and Executive Editor of Environmental Building News (the nation’s first newsletter dedicated to environmentally responsible design and construction). The company he founded in 1985, BuildingGreen, is based in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Q:  How did you come up with the idea of creating the BuildingGreen Top Ten Products? Has your list made an impact on the companies/products selected?
A: This is America – the land of “Top 10 lists.” That's not something we should be proud of, but it's a reality. We realized nine years ago at BuildingGreen that naming the "Top 10" products would be a way to get exposure for some of the many very exciting products that are being introduced each year. Along with calling attention to cool products, the most exciting thing about this list has been how much it's helped those companies. In some cases, this recognition has put fledgling companies on the map – really jump-started their futures.

Q:  Do you have a favorite green product? What is it, and why do you like it?
A: That's a tough question. I guess it has to be TimberSil, a treated-wood product produced by infusing sodium silicate into wood then heating the wood to create an amorphous glass that surrounds wood cells, rendering it unrecognizable as a food source for decay organisms. The stuff is non-corrosive, imparts fire resistance, and contains no VOCs. As an added bonus, I recently learned that the sodium silicate TimberSil Products’ use is derived from rice hulls, a waste agricultural product.

Q: How long have you been affiliated with NESEA and the BuildingEnergy conference and trade show? What do you get out of the relationship?
A: A long time. I was hired by NESEA as executive director in 1980, and in 1983 I organized a conference at Mount Snow in Vermont that became the first of the BuildingEnergy conferences. Not long after starting at NESEA, Ronald Reagan was elected and promptly eliminated the DOE program that had been providing about half of NESEA's funding. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it forced us to expand our focus away from just solar energy (we were at the time the New England Solar Energy Association) to cover energy-efficient construction, quality construction, and broader issues of sustainability.  The BuildingEnergy conferences emerged through those efforts. As a result, NESEA became a stronger organization.

My connection with NESEA also helped to launch my next career – as a publisher. When Nadav Malin and I came up with the idea of Environmental Building News in early 1992, we tested the idea on the NESEA membership, and a remarkable 14% of them signed up as paying subscribers. We were off and running. I've maintained a strong connection with NESEA throughout these last three decades, serving two terms on the board and attending dozens of conferences.

Q: As a member of the media, you are a gatekeeper when it comes to publicizing sustainable products and projects.  Is the competition for coverage intensifying in the green category?
A: Oh, sure. When we started EBN in 1992, we were the only publication focusing on green building. It's now a fairly crowded field – though we continue to be the only publication in the field that does not carry advertising. This policy allows us to be totally objective in writing about products and technologies.

Q: How would you like to see NESEA evolve over the coming years?
A: A lot of people say they like NESEA just the way it is, and they don't want it to change. But the strength of NESEA has been its ability to evolve to meet new needs. NESEA started out as a solar energy organization 35 years ago, and it has broadened and shifted its focus time and again over its history. To succeed, I think NESEA needs to continue being an organization that evolves – a "learning organization," if you will.

Q: How would you like BuildingEnergy to evolve?
A: By reporting on the cutting edge in energy design and construction, BuildingEnergy will by its very nature evolve. It is often the first place I learn about new ideas and new technologies. With the slow-down in new construction, I expect that BuildingEnergy will be focusing more on renovation than new construction over the next couple years.

Q: Who should come to BuildingEnergy, and why?
A: People who need to know where building practices are heading, people who want to be ahead of the curve, people who want to be leaders rather than followers. For me, BuildingEnergy is also the place where I reconnect with friends and associates – the networking opportunities are invaluable.

For more information, visit