Friday, December 13, 2013

Touring Philadelphia's green buildings

A few notes from the green building tour I took at the Greenbuild 2013 conference in Philadelphia recently...

This tour (TF06)was called "Rebirth of a Neighborhood: Going Green in Northern Liberties and Kensington," and included residences constructed by Onion Flats (Rag Flats and The Twins), Kensington CAPA school, and Postgreen rowhouses (100k and Skinny). 

Rowhouses in Philadelphia's working-class neighborhoods are often of bandbox or trinity type, constructed with a central staircase.  The residences we visited incorporated sustainable features such as pervious paving, plyboo (bamboo plywood), rain chains, intensive green roofs, SIPs, induction cooktops, radiant floor slab heating, ERV Ultimate Air RecoupAerator fans, skylights for minimal electric lighting, HVAC hydronic distribution, and mini-split heat pumps.  It was noted that the use of SIPs allowed builders to avoid thermal bridging by hanging joists on the inside face of SIP walls as with rimboard deck construction.  In-floor storage and no second floor heating contributed to overall efficiency.

The Kensington High School for Creative And Performing Arts (CAPA) features large windows and sawtooth roof construction to allow for maximum daylight, along with solar panels, geothermal wells, and heat pumps for optimal energy efficiency.  Much attention was given to community revitalization in this transitional neighborhood:  for instance, the 500-foot deep rainwater tank was buried onsite lest it be punctured by drive-by shootings.  The school was constructed on a remediated brownfield with special considerations for stormwater management and public transportation access.

See more photos here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's raining persimmon

One sunny yet crisp weekend in October, I joined a group of persimmon-hunting friends on a farm in West Virginia.  Following a string of warm days and cool nights, it was almost the perfect time to harvest these cheery little orange fruits... almost.  The first one I picked was not quite ripe, and I quickly learned why people talk about the Hachiya persimmon's Pucker Power!  After this I only ate the fruits so obviously ripe that their sticky jam-like flesh oozed out from wrinkled skins - yum.  As for the not-so-ripe ones, we carted a bag of them home to ripen on the counter for a persimmon pudding.

Really the best way to pick persimmons is to gather the fallen from the ground after the first frosts - if you can find them before the local wildlife do.  The other best way, as we discovered, is to shake the tree while singing "It's raining persimMEN!"

More persimmon facts, including history and growth habits, plus recipes here:

Also in season right now:
Osage orange
Winter squash

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June in the garden

"It is the month of June
the month of leaves and roses
when pleasant sights salute the eyes
and pleasant scents the noses."
~N P Willis

Despite cold weather and soaking thunderstorms in May, the June garden is still going strong.  Starting to harvest things, and continuing to plant more...

Now harvesting:
Garlic scapes


The first potatoes are ready!  Very easy to harvest if you grow them in bags.

Also ready now:  other spring root veg (turnips, beets, kohlrabi) and the first of the greens...

And a trip to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania for inspiration:  living walls, Florida weave tomatoes, and solar flowers!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

May in the garden: a time to sow

Planting time:  this year black weedblock covers the newspaper-laden pathways.  Also experimenting with floating row cover over the greens.

Misc seedlings hardening off and containers on the deck, plus the first strawberry of the year!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Garden flair

This year's garden flair:  Little Jerry Seinfeld, Jerome the Gnome, and Mary the protector of potatoes.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Gardening in the cruellest month

April really is the cruellest month to a gardener:  teasing us with more sun, but still cold temperatures.  Time to till the beds, plant some root vegetables, and watch the baby garlic come up.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bleak midwinter gardening

February and March in the garden:  a little snow and a lot of daydreaming over seed catalogs.  This year I bought a seed-starter tray to fit the Aerogarden.  Tomatoes and snapdragons took to it well, but the eggplant not so much.

And then... crocus!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Infill Philadelphia: Soak it Up!

“It’s about the water… but it’s not only about the water.”

In the aftermath of events like Hurricane Sandy, the public is more conscious of the devastating effects that stormwater can have on our communities.  But to paraphrase one of the presenters at the Infill Philadelphia:  Soak It Up! stormwater design competition last week:  stormwater is a problem; rainwater is an opportunity.

The nine finalists illustrated a number of innovative and elegant solutions that turn the problem of urban stormwater into an opportunity.  By integrating stormwater control infrastructure into the existing community fabric of three disparate settings – industrial, commercial, and neighborhood – these talented designers showed the way for others to follow as Philadelphia makes the transition from a city with a stormwater problem to a green city with clean waters.

The Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters 25-year plan for a sustainable future includes streets, schools, parks, parking, and much more than just the water. 

And watch the video channel here:

As a member of the awards jury, I was impressed by the designers' creativity in incorporating unique site elements into their designs.  For example, one team built trellis supports with the metal mesh produced by the owner of the industrial warehouse.

Congratulations to the winners:

Industrial: Warehouse Watershed | Leveraging Water + Plants in Zero Lot Sites
Roofmeadow, In Posse, m2 Architecture, Meliora Environmental Design, SED Design, Sere Ltd

Commercial: Retail Retrofit| Stormwater reStore
Urban Engineers, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, Spiezle Architectural Group

Neighborhood: Greening the Grid | Meeting Green
OLIN, Gilmore & Associates, International Consultants, MM Partners, Penn Praxis, SMP Architects

Want to see the winning presentations in person?  You’re in luck:  they will be presenting again at the Academy of Natural Sciences on March 21stClick here for details.

Event partners and sponsors included CH2M Hill, City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Community Design Collaborative, EPA Region 3, McCormick & Taylor, Michael Baker Corporation, Philadelphia Water Department, and Urban Engineers.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Squirrels for supper

I ate a squirrel once.  While it's nothing to brag about in my West Virginia hometown, eating wild animals will win you an eco-foodie audience in a major metropolitan area.

Just this week, City Paper posted an article about cooking and eating squirrel [Give Squirrel a Whirl], with links to a brown gravy recipe that'll make your mouth water.

Then there's the Girl Hunter book a friend gave me last Christmas, which weaves recipes for wild delicacies like boar and pheasant in between adventure stories of hunting them.  Many of these recipes call for gourmet or game ingredients that haven't yet arrived at the Baltimore food markets I frequent, but my trusty old Simply In Season cookbook recommends easily-found staples to concoct probably the Best Marinade Recipe Ever - designed for grilling venison, or just about anything, for that matter.

But I digress.

In case you need more environmental or health reasons to try squirrel, here are a few from Michelle's article:

  • As a food source, squirrels are a locavore’s dream: abundant, sustainable, free-range
  • Squirrel meat is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids
  • 80% of squirrels don't make it to their first birthday... i.e. something is going to eat a squirrel so it might as well be us!
While some say a squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit - I say it's what's for dinner.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

January in the garden

Winter in Maryland is a good time to get your hardscaping done:  last year it was the retaining wall.  This year it was a new path and a trashcan pad.

Jerome the Gnome for scale.