Mar 20, 2010

"Our Future Flies on the Wings of Pollinators"

A night and day scene displaying various pollinators and their plant interactions.Pollinators are responsible for assisting over 80% of the world's flowering plants. Without them, humans and wildlife wouldn't have much to eat or look at! Animals that assist plants in their reproduction as pollinators include species of ants, bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, as well as other unusual animals. Wind and water also play a role in the pollination of many plants.

Craiglook: Craigslist Search

Find items that you need close to you at prices you are willing to pay! Recycle!

Google Maps Mania: eBay on Google Maps

Flippity is a Google Maps mashup of eBay listings. The site allows users to search eBay listing by object and location and view the results on a Google Map. The photographs of the results are displayed beside the map. You are also able to refine your search by price and by distance. Another really nice feature is that when the results of a search are returned Flippity automatically loads subcategories for your search term in a drop down menu, allowing you to refine your search further. Other eBay Google Maps Dude, Where's My Car - eBay Motors & Google Maps MapBid - USA zip code & distance (10-2000 mile radius) searching Lokaliz - France eBay searching (In French). Auction Search Kit - UK eBay search Auctions Near You - search eBay by zipcode or postcode USA eBay Real Estate Auctions

Mar 19, 2010

WoodGas Outdoor Fireplace MEGA Stove Review

The fireplace works on exactly the same principle as the campstove, with a fan drawing air in through the holes round the outside of the base, and injecting a small amount through holes in the base of the combustion chamber:The limited amount of air, combined with the heat of the fire, results in the wood being gasified, to produce a mixture of carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen (known as woodgas), which is then ignited when it reaches the much larger airflow coming in through the holes in the top (don't worry, all the CO is burned, no risk from the woodgas):There are a few small differences between the fireplace and the campstove. The campstove had two power sockets - high and low - and ran from a pair of AA batteries. The fireplace can take a 9-12V supply, so can run directly from a lead-acid battery, or eight smaller batteries in a pack. However, it is supplied with a mains adaptor, as many people will be using it in the garden, hopefully to replace one of the nasty fossil-fuel burning patio heaters! The fan in the stove only uses 2W of power, while the heat from the stove can reach 16kW (55,000 BTU of Heat)! The fireplace also has a knob to vary the airflow, although you'll normally only use anything less than maximum while lighting it.
The fireplace also has handles added to the side. These stayed cool even after an hour of operation, allowing you to move the stove (carefully!) after you've unplugged it without waiting for it to cool down. If you want to buy one, go to

Seed-Starting 101 : Part 5 of 6 : Direct Sowing Hudson Valley Seed Library - Garden Notes for Seedy Folks

Saint Patty’s Day has come and gone, and the growing season has now officially begun. St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional pea-sowing day among Irish-Americans (and many others) in metro New York and the greater Northeast. With the beautiful, warm weather we’ve been having, many gardens are ready for their first direct sown seeds: those seeds that do perfectly well when planted directly in garden soil. TEN TIPS FOR DIRECT SOWING Begin in the late winter or early spring–but not until the soil is ready. Many cool-weather crops, such as spinach, peas, arugula, and hardy salad greens, benefit from being sown as early as possible. Germination may take a bit longer than under warmer conditions, but they’ll be off and running early, which means the plant has the maximum amount of time to grow before summer heat sets in. However, it’s important to wait to sow until the soil has recovered from the winter freeze-up and has returned to a friable, arable state. You’re looking for the top several inches to be dry and crumbly enough that the soil doesn’t stick as you run a tool across the surface but instead falls away in small chunks or crumbles. Clay soils can sometimes take 1-2 weeks longer than sandy soils to become planting-ready. As you continue to add organic matter to your soil over the years, it will become lighter and lighter and more easily worked at the start of the season. Do a thorough, pre-emptive weeding. Direct sown crops produce tiny seedlings that need careful attention to flourish. Among their greatest needs is to be free from crowding by weeds. This is easily accomplished in the greenhouse, where seedlings can be started in a weed-free potting soil. But when direct sowing crops, gardeners must pay careful attention to weeds during the seedling’s early days. Get a head start by doing a thorough, pre-emptive weeding before sowing. Pay special attention to stolon-rooted grasses and other perennial weeds, as it will later become nearly impossible to remove these aggressive growers without disrupting tender young seedlings. If gardening in a new or neglected patch, consider sheet mulching or tilling and raking multiple times to kill lurking weeds. Amend the soil thoroughly. It’s much easier to create a fertile bed for your plants before planting seeds than after they have emerged. An unplanted bed can quickly be thoroughly hoed and raked multiple times to incorporate a big pile of compost; trying to do such a thorough job once the seedlings are up is nearly impossible. So don’t jump the gun: add compost, lime, soybean or alfalfa meal, rock phosphate, kelp, or any complete organic fertilizer before planting. Many plants benefit from later side-dressings as well, but they won’t make up for the first-round big boost to initial fertility accomplished by thoroughly incorporating amendments. Create furrows of the proper depth. As I mentioned a couple posts ago, most seeds germinate and take root best when sowed at a depth of approximately 2-3 times their width. (For mid-summer direct sowings, you can increase this a bit if it’s dry and hot, as the moisture remains lower in the soil.) Figure out the proper spacing for the variety you are planting, then use a stick, a tool handle, or a piece of lumber to press clean furrows into a well-prepared (and therefore loose and friable) garden bed. Space these furrows apart from each other at the spacing recommended for the variety you are sowing. Press the implement into the soil until it reaches the proper depth: for small seeds like arugula and lettuce, this will be an extremely shallow furrow (1/4″ or so), while for beans or peas the furrow will be a good 3/4″ to 1″ deep. Plan for thinnings when possible. Before actually sowing seed, consider if the crop you are sowing can be harvested young for table use. If so, consider sowing more thickly than the plants ultimately need to be spaced in order to harvest tender young thinnings early. This works well for any crop harvested for their leaves, such as spinach, lettuce, arugula, parsley, cilantro, and Asian Greens. Just remember to thin the plants promptly at the 3-4″ tall stage so that the plants you are growing for full maturity are not stressed by overcrowding as they grow. Sow the seed. Once you’ve done all of the above, sowing the seed is easy! Depending on the seed size, either sprinkle or drop the seed at regular spacing into the bottom of your furrow. Don’t be too stingy with the seed–but don’t be too loose, either. Ideally you’d like an evenly spaced succession of seeds in the furrow at a spacing that is closer than recommended (if thinning) or just about what is recommended (if not thinning). It’s best to oversow certain crops–most notably spinach–to make up for the naturally low germination rates. Keep it firm! One mistake often made by new gardeners is to try to keep the soil around the seeds extremely loose. While in general a loose soil is a sign of healthy tilth, most seeds germinate best when they have somewhat firm soil surrounding them. The reason is that firm soil does a better job of pulling moisture from below and transmitting it to the seed, while loose soil dries out quickly under the sun’s rays. So, once you’ve sown your seeds in the furrow, brush soil on top of them and press the soil–either with your open palms or with the flat side of a furrow-making stick–so that it is snug. This isn’t a strength test: save your muscles for turning compost. Just a gentle “tucking in” is all it takes to keep the seeds in a good, well-wrapped state for healthiest germination. Water in, then relax. Always water in your seeds after planting, and continue watering regularly until you see seedling emergence. Make your waterings thorough in order to saturate the soil. Then–unless you have extraordinarily sandy soil–don’t water again for 48 hours. Seeds need a combination of moisture and warmth to germinate, and especially during the first half of spring the heat can be in short supply. Watering too freuqently keeps the soil even cooler, so restrain yourself. It can be difficult when you’re desperate to see a little green appear, but it is the wisest course of action and will hasten germination. Weed and thin promptly during first month. While weeds can inhibit the growth and productivity of all plants, tiny seedlings can be stopped completely in their tracks by weed competition. If you know you’re a lazy weeder, make a resolution with yourself to invest all your weeding energy up front. Let the ripening peppers and tomatoes and squash be weed-choked, but for goodness’ sake keep your young spinach, peas, and beets clear of lambsquarter, spiky amaranth, and horse nettle. A sharp hoe can get the job done quickly, while a thick layer of mulch spread open to allow seedling emergence can keep weeds smothered. However you do it, get it done: a weed-strewn patch will seriously slow down direct-sown seedlings. Consider a seeder to help if sowing on a larger scale. If you’re making the transition from having a small garden to growing all the vegetables you need, you may want to consider a seeder to make direct sowing operations fast and easy. Your bed needs to be loose and very friable for the seeder to operate smoothly, but once you’ve created these conditions it will seriously speed up your sowing time. Popular models are the Earthway seeder and the drool-worthy (and pricey) six-row seeder available from Johnny’s Seeds. Enjoy the weather, folks! Monitor your soil, and as soon as it’s ready, let spring begin!

Seed-Starting 101 : Part 4 of 6 : The Quick-and-Easy Cold Frame Hudson Valley Seed Library - Garden Notes for Seedy Folks

Successful seed-starting takes infrastructure, be it a tricked-out heated glass greenhouse or a fluorescent shop-light setup in your basement. Either extreme–or anywhere in between–can work beautifully. However, in my experience, the solutions that are most likely to be implemented by busy gardeners are those that feel accessible and do-able in occasional spare moments.

This post covers one such solution: a cold frame constructed from easy-to-find, fairly inexpensive materials.

The finished cold frame. Functional and not too shabby-looking!
The finished cold frame. Functional and not too shabby-looking!
I’m a huge fan of cold frames. Not only do they hold miraculous quantities of promising green growth within their simple walls, they also are easy to build and will happily bring through the winter many servings of cold-hardy crops like spinach, scallions, tatsoi, and mache. Here’s a cold frame that a reasonably handy person with some power tools can put together for about $100 with materials from a local lumberyard (or, unfortunately, big box store–see below). In one season alone, you can easily produce several hundred dollars worth of seedlings in this frame’s roomy 32 square feet.

Materials List

2 pieces 8-foot-long, 26-inch-wide SUNTUF polycarbonate panels — $40
2 packs SUNTUF closure strips — $10
1 box SUNTUF screws — $6
roll of tape sealant (often used for metal roof panel overlap joints and similar) or some silicone caulk — $10
2 pieces 8-foot 2×12 SPF lumber — $20
1 piece 8-foot 2×8 SPF lumber — $8
7 pieces 8-foot 2×2 SPF lumber, as straight as you can find — $13
exterior-grade drywall screws: 1-5/8″ and 3″ — $6
Hinges - $6
Tools List

Circular Saw
Drill with 3/16″ drill bit, Philips head driver bit, and 1/4″ hex driver bit
Optional but makes things a little easier: Chop Saw
All of these materials can be obtained from a local lumberyard, with the probable exception of the SUNTUF items, which can be obtained from Home Depot or Lowe’s. I like to give as much of my business as possible to my local lumberyard, Williams Lumber of High Falls, as I appreciate having a locally owned lumberyard so close to home. I want to support them. Unfortunately, they don’t stock clear plastic roof panels of any kind, and since the point of this project was to concoct a quick-and-accessible cold frame, I bit the bullet and braved the strip of sprawl on Route 9W outside Kingston to get the polycarbonate cover. (Note that these panels are lightweight and long–they require a truck to be transported–with some sort of bracing to protect them from blowing away in the wind. Or, you can have the staff at the box store cut them each in half to fit them in your car–see below.)

Once you’ve assembled your materials, here’s what to do:

Cut each SUNTUF panel in half so that you end up with four panels that are each 26″ wide by 48″ tall. This is best accomplished with a circular saw, though tin snips will also do the job.
Arrange the four panels so that they are spread out across a flat surface with the last rib on one panel overlapping the first rib on the next. Try to get them as straight and square as possible.
Measure the distance from the bottom of the first space-between-two-ribs to the bottom of the last space-between-two-ribs. This should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 feet. It won’t be exact, but that’s okay.
Make the Frame for the Lid
The frame for the lid.
The frame for the lid.
Miter cut the ends of two of the 8-foot 2×2s at 45-degree angles, like a picture frame’s corners.
Cut one of the other 2×2s in half. Miter cut the ends so that the long edges are 48″, like a picture frame’s corners.
Attach the 2×2s at the mitered corners by pre-drilling to prevent splitting and then attaching the ends together using 1-5/8″ screws or similar. The result should be a giant picture frame, basically.
Cut another 2×2 to about 93″ in length. Don’t cut it too short! Place it in the center of the frame, centered 24″ from top and bottom corners. This creates a middle horizontal support parallel to the other long sides of the frame; this will prevent the frame from sagging under the weight of adhered interior dew or exterior snow loads.
Finish the Lid
Corner detail. Notice the miter cuts, the tape sealant, and the closure strips.
Corner detail. Notice the miter cuts, the tape sealant, and the closure strips.
Using the drill bit, pre-drill holes in every other “valley” of each panel’s ribbing along the top and bottom edges.

Place strips of tape sealant along the top surface of the short sides of the frame. (Or, use silicone to seal this seam after step four. Place SUNTUF closure strips along the tops of the long sides of the frame.
Line up the panels on the frame so that they are overlapping and cover the entire frame, setting them on top of the closure strips. Set the final “valleys” set so they are resting on the tape sealant (or, again, you can fill this seam with silicone caulk). This won’t be a perfect match–the edges of the valleys will touch the sides of the frames, but they won’t rest on it nicely. This is okay. Just be sure this gap is sealed (it may take a few layers of tape sealant, some applied after the cover is attached.
Attach the panels using the SUNTUF fasteners and the hex-head driver bit.
Make the cold frame box

Cut one of the 8-foot 2×12’s into 2 45″ lengths.
Using a straight edge, draw a line from the top corner of one end of the length to a mark at 7-1/4″ from the bottom corner of the other end. Cutting on this line will create a side to the cold frame that will slope exactly from the rear 2×12 wall to the front 2×8 wall.
Using a circular saw, cut along this line. Be careful–it can be tricky to perform this cut, as it’s something of a ripping cut that sort of follows the grain.
Repeat for other 45″ length.
One sloping side, sandwiched between the longer front and rear walls.
One sloping side, sandwiched between the longer front and rear walls.
Position the pieces of the cold frame. The two 8-foot pieces of lumber are parallel, with the two 45-inch pieces of sloping lumber forming the sides, with the un-ripped side up. These smaller pieces should be “inside” the 8-foot pieces so that, when sandwiched, the entire length of the side is 48″ (including the 1-1/2″ for the ends of both the rear and front walls).

Pre-drill holes and attach all sides of the frame using the 3″ screws.
Half-way down the short sides of the cold frame, attach a spare piece of wood to the inside top edge, flush with the sloping surface of the side.
Flip the cold frame over. Cut one of the three remaining 2×2’s into 2 45″ lengths. Match these up with the undersides of the lumber that makes the frame and attach with the 3″ screws. This will be the “ground floor” of your cold frame that will slowly rot over several years. After it’s rotted, simply detach and replace with a new “ground floor.” The rest of the cold frame will last for about 20 years or so if left out–maybe more if stored well when not in use. (The ground floor is not shown in the accompanying photos.)
Put the Lid on the Cold Frame

Set the lid on the cold frame, matching up the corners with the frame.
Attach to the cold frame using a couple of long rectangular hinges and short screws.
If the lid does not sit squarely on the frame, purchase and install a latch to hold it snug.
Spring's-a-comin'! Happy onions, leeks, scallions, and artichokes gain strength and size and fortitude for spring.
Spring's-a-comin'! Happy onions, leeks, scallions, and artichokes gain strength and size and fortitude for spring.
VOILA! A functional cold frame that can be built in an afternoon for around a hundred bucks. Fill it with trays and go to town! You’ll find endless uses for it.

Seed-Starting 101 : Part 3 of 6 : Sowing Practices Hudson Valley Seed Library - Garden Notes for Seedy Folks

Once your schedule and protected space are set up, it’s time to actually do the deed: stick seeds in dirt, get ‘em wet, and watch ‘em grow. It’s surprisingly easy to succumb to anxiety when the moment arrives: am I burying the seed deeply enough? Too deeply? Is the soil wet enough? Too wet? Did I plant too many tomatoes? Too few?

Step One: RELAX. Take some deep breaths. Until about 100 years ago, nearly every person on the planet came to this moment many times each year. Things often went wrong: for them as they surely will for you. And yet, your presence on the earth today is proof that even when things were done imperfectly they still often worked out. So, approach the task of seed sowing with openness and a sense of adventure: no matter what happens, you’re about to learn a lot about plants, about the natural world, and about your own attitude (I know: not exactly how you wanted to spend your free time, this last.)

Making soil blocks
Making soil blocks
Step Two: CHOOSE A METHOD AND STICK WITH IT FOR A WHILE. There are countless media and containers–and labels and watering cans and gardening gloves–to consider for sowing time. You can start with a sterile soilless mix made almost entirely of peat moss and vermiculite, or one full of compost and rich microbial activity (I prefer the latter). You can start with plastic trays and cells; with tiny cow-manure compost pots; with leftover mini yogurt containers (with drainage holes punched in the bottom–don’t forget!); or with no containers at all when using soil blocks (each has its pros and cons, but we use soil blocks ourselves for most seed-starting). You can place seeds into soil with a tiny little plastic seed dispenser thingy (it looks like a giant comma with a clear lid), an electric vibrating seed dropper (yikes!), a moistened end of a toothpick, or your pinched fingers (I prefer toothpicks and fingers). The options are seemingly endless.

I suggest, however, that you pick one method and stick with it for a season or two until you’ve mastered it, figured out what you like and dislike about it, and are able to make a conscious decision to try out a different approach. In nearly all cases, problems at the seedling stage are less related to containers, soil media, or sowing method than they are to the conditions in which you are growing the plants (see last week’s post for details on this).

If it’s your first year with a garden, the easiest route is to head to a garden center and pick up one of their seed-starting kits and a bag of organic potting soil specifically labeled for seed starting. The kits are fairly inexpensive and include all you need for successful growing of a small quantity of plants; the organic mix will get your seed off and running with plenty of nutritious compost available to feed the young plants. You’ll probably find that these kits don’t make sense as you transition to a larger garden or more encompassing suite of crops, and at that time I would encourage a bit of googling to research seed-starting methods used by small farms and avid gardeners. (For those looking for this information right now, here are some links to get you started:, newspaper seed-starting containers, seed-starting rays and peat pellets, and lots more. Don’t drown in the information! No single method is perfect!)

No matter which system you choose, do be sure to consider that seedlings require fertile soil: if you start with a soilless mix, transplant the young’uns into good, well-composted soil quickly or provide a liquid organic fertilizer until transplant time. (This added consideration is why I prefer a potting soil with compost; McEnroe Farms makes a great one that is available at garden centers throughout the Hudson Valley.)

Step Three: SOW. Once you’ve picked your set-up and gathered materials, begin. Nearly all common vegetable and flower seeds are best sown at a depth that is approximately two to three times their diameter. It’s pretty easy to eyeball this, and once you get the hang of it you’ll do it intuitively. What it means is that tiny seeds, such as those for carrot, lettuce, basil, and most herbs, need only be covered by one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch of soil–or even just a dusting. Brassicas need one-quarter inch to three-eighths inch depending on the seed size. Beans need a good one-half to three-quarters of an inch. And so on. The drier the conditions, the deeper you should plant, as seeds germinate best when they occupy the magical spot where the soil remains fairly moist but oxygen from above ground is able to reach them. When the ground is dry, the moist layer is lower and the oxygen travels easily through the dry layer on top; wet conditions call for the opposite treatment. Once the seeds are in place, water them in: give them a nice good drink to allow the seed coats to soften and the process of germination to begin. (Note that if the mix you begin with is totally dry it will need to be watered before sowing, as a perfectly dry soilless mix will often not moisten easily once in trays–seeds sown into these conditions will often float off once watered.)

Step Four: OVERSOW. It is all too easy for something to go wrong during the seedling stage. An emergency that takes you unexpectedly away from the house and your seedlings to wither; a power outage that zaps your grow light for several days; a curious cat that mistakes your trays for a litter box: all can spell trouble. The best insurance against things going wrong is to sow many more seeds than you actually need. I learned this lesson the hard way early on, and it’s saved me many times over the past few years.

Ready for seeds.
Ready for seeds.
One important method of oversowing is to re-sow everything (or nearly everything) sown on one date a second time two or three weeks later. This may not work for those with tight space restrictions–it’s even hard for us sometimes–but I can report that on many occasions the later plantings have been a happy blessing. One summer a late-sown round of tomatoes staved off an early blight beautifully (young plants are often able to repel disease more easily than fully mature plants), while another spring our second-round of young celeriac seedlings replaced some that perished when we failed to vent a cold frame on a lazy sunny day. Troubles come, and it’s wise to anticipate them. (I told you gardening is a learning adventure.)

The hard part is at transplant time, when, if all actually goes well, you’ll have plenty of extra seedlings that can’t make it into the limited space of your garden. Give ‘em to friends or family, or sell ‘em on craigslist. There’s always demand at transplant time for veggies that folks didn’t start from seed themselves.

Step Five: PROVIDE WARMTH AND MOISTURE. I’ve taken a slightly laissez-faire attitude here in the past: I never cover sown seeds with plastic wrap or anything like that. I do keep them watered if it looks like they are drying out. And I do provide warmth. The warmth is very important: cool pepper seeds can take weeks to germinate, while those kept above 80 degrees will germinated within about five days, usually. See this link for a great summary of the ideal germination temps for different vegetable types.

Achieving these temps can be tricky in a wintery home, but I’ll soon be posting a couple of DIY-themed addenda to this series with more details on this step: one on building the cold frame pictured in last week’s post, and one on tricking out an old fridge as a germination chamber (an idea I’ve swiped from many wise farmers, including Jay and Polly and Erin and Sam at Four Winds Farm / Second Wind CSA and Linda-Brook at Back to Basics).

Step Six: GET RID OF WARMTH AND MOISTURE. Ack! So crazy, isn’t it? Once you see your first flush of germination in any batch of sown seeds, quickly get them out of the warm and moist environment you’ve provided for germination and get them somewhere a bit cooler and a lot drier. Too much moisture brings on the dreaded damping off and is one of the most common mistakes made by new gardeners. If growing seedlings indoors, take them off the heat mat; if growing in a cold frame, move your seedlings in and let them cope–happily! really!–with the slightly cooler temps and the drier air. (The only real exceptions to this rule are peppers and eggplants, which thrive in continued warmth for much of their young lives–not the mid-80s that make them germinate quickly, but definitely the mid-70s, which keeps ‘em happy but does not allow them to remain too pampered and weak. If you can’t provide just the right conditions, don’t sweat it, and err on the side of room temperatures, or use a carefully watched cold frame from mid-April on.)

Oh, and make sure that the young seedlings get plenty of light. See the last post in this series for details. Don’t hate me, but I must say it again: a sunny windowsill is almost never enough light.

Step Seven. RELAX. AGAIN. Once you go through this process a few times you’ll get the swing of it. Behold the young life unfurling by your own efforts. Be grateful for it. Don’t worry to death over it. Taking part in gardening is all about stepping into sync with natural rhythms, which are in constant motion. Seed sowing is just one part of the process, and it is not a zero sum game. Sow some stuff in the coming week or two; so more the weeks after that; more after that. In fact, once you understand when to sow which varieties, you’ll be sowing eight months of the year, along with transplanting, weeding, and–with any luck–harvesting. You give and you wait to receive. You receive and you feel grateful. You always glance ahead and consider what you can sow now for harvest later. Don’t lose sight of the dance and get trapped in the feeling that it’s all or nothing: there is nearly always something to be sown right now to improve your garden prospects, feed you and your loved ones fresh food, and save on your grocery bill several months down the road.

Any specific sowing tips or methods you heartily endorse and would like to share? Any train wrecks to steer others away from? Comment away!

Seed Starting 101: Part 2 of 6 : Starting Seeds Under Protection Hudson Valley Seed Library - Garden Notes for Seedy Folks

Another Wednesday, another snow-covered landscape. But this one is sloppy, with big wet globs of slushy, sticky, snow dropping noisily from tree limbs and roof eaves. More is on the way, they say, but I (like you, too?) am seeing right through winter’s waning days, staring straight into springtime. And I’m bringing a bunch of plants along with me.

Starting seeds early, when done right, is one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening. To see young, green shoots perk up through the soil while winter carries on outside is incredibly gratifying. It’s as if spring begins as soon as the first cotyledons (first leaves) pop open. It’s also an essential part of growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other crops, which otherwise don’t have a long enough season in northern climates to mature much ripe fruit.

For the home gardener lacking a heated greenhouse, there are two main ways to start seeds under protection: indoors or in a cold frame. We’ll take a look at both strategies.


Our friend Kerry Trueman demonstrates her own indoor seed-starting technique–with decopage!–in this great video. Check out for more New York-based food and gardening content.
For many gardeners, starting seeds indoors is the preferred, tried-and-true method. However, despite what most people believe, to be successful requires more than just a sunny windowsill. Successful indoor seed-starting requires the following components.

WARMTH. Most seeds will germinate within a fairly wide range of different temperatures. However, the swiftest germination takes place for most seeds of annual crops when soil temperatures are in the 70-80 degree range. The most notable exception to this is lettuce, which prefers a cooler temperature range of 60-70 degrees. Warmth is usually provided either by locating your seed-starting set-up strategically (near a woodstove or radiator, usually) or using a propagation mat, an electrical device that supplies bottom heat to the undersides of trays. In most cases an interior temperature of 60-70 degrees is not warm enough for quick germination, but seeds usually will germinate eventually (lack of supplemental heat is especially detrimental to peppers and eggplants, both of which are REALLY SLOW to germinate when left at room temperature).
MOISTURE. Seeds sown indoors are easy to water, but be sure to locate the seeds somewhere where you’ll be free to water liberally when needed. Watering can create drips and mess, and if you put the set-up in a pristine living room you risk being too precious about things to get done what has to get done.
LIGHT. For nearly all varieties (except lettuce), a sunny windowsill just doesn’t cut it. There do exist rare, due-south, full-sun, bay windows that just might cut it. But for most situations, extra light is necessary when starting seeds indoors. The most affordable way to provide this is to purchase a shop-light fluorescent fixture and suspend it within 1-2 inches of the emerging seedlings. Run it for 12-14 hours every day. And if you can set it up against a window, so much the better.
HARDENING OFF. Seedlings grown indoors are incredibly tender and sensitive, as they are subjected to neither the temperature swings nor breezes found outdoors. If you were to move them directly from the house to the garden, the shock would severely damage or kill them. Indoor-grown seedlings require full hardening off: a period of about 3-7 days when the seedlings are exposed in increasing doses to the natural elements. Start with a couple hours the first day, and gradually work your way up to 8 or 12 hours before transplanting them. Be sure to take on this process at the correct time for each variety.
Summary: Starting seeds indoors is convenient and accessible to all gardeners. Little time or money needed for infrastructure. Supplemental lighting is almost always necessary: don’t skip it! Seedlings grown indoors are ultra-tender and require careful hardening off.

A homemade cold frame produced from easily obtained materials. Instructions on how to build this cold frame will be posted soon.
A homemade cold frame produced from easily obtained materials. Instructions on how to build this cold frame will be posted soon.
A cold frame is a simple structure placed in the garden that features structural sides (usually made of wood) and a top made of a transparent material such as clear plastic or glass. Starting seeds in a cold frame eliminates several of the difficulties of starting seeds indoors. However, it requires a small investment of time and money in the construction of the cold frame and careful attention on cold nights. Here’s a brief run down of what you need to know for successful cold-frame seed-starting.

WARMTH. From early March on, cold frames warm up significantly almost every day. When unvented, the interior temperature can easily top 90 degrees on a sunny day. The soil in seedling trays or soil blocks absorbs much of the solar radiation and heat, and the soil easily reaches temperatures that initiate seed germination. However, on cold nights the cold frame provides only 10-15 degrees of protection (depending on wind and the previous day’s high), so providing a bit of heat to stave off frost overnight is sometimes necessary. Sometimes throwing some old wool or polyester blankets on top can be enough; sometimes running a light bulb or Christmas lights within the box can do it. Generally some extra heat is wise if the outside temperature is predicted to drop below about 26 degrees and the frame contains frost-sensitive seedlings such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, and certain flowers. (A cold frame with only brassicas and lettuces and greens will need no additional heat.) On sunny or warm days, venting is necessary–anything from cracking the lid to removing it entirely. Keep a thermometer handy: experiment a bit and you’ll get the hang of it.
MOISTURE. Seeds sown in a cold frame can be watered with abandon–no mess to worry about. Do monitor the seedlings at the end of the afternoon, as solar heat and breezes from venting can cause rapid moisture loss on a warm or sunny days.
LIGHT. When you use a cold frame, the mighty sun takes care of your light requirements: no supplementation is necessary. Just be sure to place the cold frame in a spot that gets full sun exposure. (Keep in mind that leafless trees will fill out and shade the cold frame before tender seedlings can be put in the garden.)
HARDENING OFF. Seedlings grown from the start in a cold frame require almost no hardening off, as they are exposed to temperature swings and breezes from a young age. Maybe give them one or two days of resting in a semi-protected spot outside of the cold frame before putting them in the ground; other than that, you’re golden!
Summary: Cold frames provide an ideal environment for seed-starting. Gardeners are assured ample natural light and need not bother with much hardening off before transplanting. Cold nights are an issue: gardeners must monitor for sub-26 temps and provide additional insulation or supplemental heat on those nights if frost-tender crops are in the cold frame.

Seed-Starting 101 : Part 1 of 6 : Crafting a Seed-Starting Schedule � Hudson Valley Seed Library - Garden Notes for Seedy Folks

Nothing welcomes spring like a cold frame full of seedlings.
Hi winter-weary gardeners! We’ve finally had our first really nice snow of the season here in the mid-Hudson Valley–about five inches of fluffy, soft, and brilliant white flaky powder. It’s great and all, but it’s mid-February, and my heart and mind are on spring.

We decided that it’s high-time to put up more general gardening how-to information on the site, and we’ve decided to use the blog to do so.

Our first effort: a six-part series on seed-starting basics, to be posted every Wednesday for the next six weeks.

The first topic is… (drumroll, please)…

Crafting a Seed-Starting Schedule

From the soft comfort of a fireside rocking chair, your garden holds endless possibilities. You can picture–taste, even–the sweet tang of your certain bushels of tomatoes, the crisp crunch of cucumbers, the melting delicateness of a pile of stir-fried snow peas. All of this dreaming is essential–and at least partly true–but luckily February moves along, and wispy garden dreams must solidify into concrete garden plans if you hope to bring your visions to fruition, so to speak.

There are many garden plans to be made–questions of fencing, fertility, and size, among countless others–but one of the most vital is planning your schedule for starting seeds.

The key information to establishing your plan is your last spring frost date. This date is the average last day that gardeners can expect a frost to visit their garden. Here in the Mid-Hudson Valley, this date is about May 10th. However, this date differs significantly throughout the state (see this link from Cornell for an enlightening map), and it is also often refuted by actual fact: in both 2008 and 2009, for example, much of the Hudson Valley experienced a late May frost strong enough to damage frost-tender crops significantly. Still, we need a starting point, and the last frost date is it. (Outside NYS? Check out this link for extremely thorough frost and freeze data from throughout the country.)

Below is a rough schedule of spring seed-starting tasks in our region. For gardeners in the NYC metro area, you can start seeds about two or three weeks earlier than listed; for gardeners north and west of the Hudson Valley, you can start seeds about one week later than listed. Live elsewhere? Modify the chart by figuring out the difference between your frost date and May 10th, then adjust your plantings by that increment in either direction.

This table is a work in progress (it’s also too busy-looking for my taste–but it’ll have to do for now). It is not meant to be prescriptive; it just lists sowing and transplanting opportunities for each of the main spring planting weeks. Many flowers and herbs are not yet included, and probably a few veggies are missing, too. Share your preferred planting dates in the comments, and let me know what’s missing–I’ll update this as much as I can over the next week or two. Enjoy!

“Under Protection” means in a cold frame, greenhouse, or indoors with supplemental lighting.

Week Starting… Seed-Starting Opportunities in the Mid-Hudson Valley (May 10th Frost Date)
Feb 14th Under Protection: Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
Feb 21st Under Protection: Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
Feb 28th Under Protection: Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
March 7th Under Protection: Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
March 14th Under Protection: Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac
Direct Sow: Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
March 21st Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
March 28th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
April 7th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
April 14th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
Transplant:Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
April 21st Under Protection: Chard, Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
Transplant:Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
April 28th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
Transplant: early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 7th Under Protection: Okra, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, main season Cabbage, Tomatoes, Tatsoi, Bok Choy
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula
Transplant: early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 14th Under Protection: Okra, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, main season Cabbage, Tomatoes, Tatsoi, Bok Choy
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring Raab
Transplant: early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 21st Under Protection: Okra, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, main season Cabbage, Tomatoes
Direct Sow: Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Arugula
Transplant: Tomatoes, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 28th Under Protection: Okra, Melons
Direct Sow: Cucumbers, Squash, Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Arugula
Transplant: Cucumbers, Squash, Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Kale Collards, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
June 7th Direct Sow: Okra, Melons, Cucumbers, Squash, Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Arugula
Transplant: Okra, Melons, Cucumbers, Squash, Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatoes, main season Cabbage
Tags: frost date, garden planning, seed starting, seed starting chart

Howe They Farmed

Wonderful historic videos of farming with horse and early farm tractors and machinery. ...

The Tree Couple

"The Tree Couple", Kim and Todd, taking trees down from the top down! I am really impressed with this couple! .... Monte

Mar 17, 2010

Real-Time Ship Tracking on Google Maps

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) requires all vessels over 299GT to carry an AIS transponder on board. The transponder transmits data on position, speed and course, among some other static information, such as the vessel’s name, dimensions and voyage details. Thanks to this AIS data there are now a lot of Google Maps mashups showing the real-time positions of ships around the world.
Being an old retired vessel follower and early implementer, I am always interested in possible improvements that can be made using today's technology. Appears all we need is a few volunteers with AIS receivers to cover inland waterways of the US! --- Monte HinesHere are a few ship tracking maps ... have produced a Google Map showing real-time information about ship movements throughout the world.
NOAA Fleet Map
Google Map tracking the ships of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Entrance of the Loire Estuary

Live ship tracking in the Loire Estuary, France. Includes a nautical map overlay.

Live AIS for Boca Raton, Florida
Portland, Oregon
San Francisco Bay
Seattle Live Ship Tracker
Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe
Live AIS Ship Tracking - Norway
Live AIS data for Kristiansand
Live AIS Stockholm
Northern Baltic (Also Stockholm)
Bay of Botnia, Sweden/Finland
Saltdean (English Channel) Live Ship tracking
Cape Pine Newfoundland

Food Rebellions!


La Vida Locavore:: Book Review: Food Rebellions!
by: Jill Richardson
Tue Mar 16, 2010
The basis for this book was one of the most amazing speeches I've ever heard. You know the type I mean - presentations like Al Gore's powerpoint on global warming that became An Inconvenient Truth. The speaker may have nothing more than a microphone and perhaps a Powerpoint, but the audience is transformed. Suddenly, an idea that the audience did not understand (and perhaps did not even know they were interested in) becomes so clear that everyone in the room feels like they can see it, hear it, and touch it. In this case, that speech was given by Eric Holt-Gimenez of Food First in October 2008 and it was about the global food crisis. I guess I was not the only person who was so deeply touched because Holt-Gimenez went on to turn the speech into an entire book with co-author Raj Patel and help from Annie Shattuck. The full title is Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice.
That said, the book is quite academic, and reading it does not compare to the transformative experience of hearing the authors speak. (Patel and Holt-Gimenez can go head to head in a public speaking contest any day and I really don't know who would win. Both are amazing.) But the book does provide all of the facts underlying the amazing speech in a logical and readable format.

Jill Richardson :: Book Review: Food Rebellions!
The beginning of the speech that turned into the book got my attention for two reasons. First of all, Holt-Gimenez promised to first discuss the proximate causes of world hunger and then discuss the root causes of world hunger. He identified the proximate causes as the ones we hear about in the media, and said that the root causes are not discussed in the media - and yet we can't solve the problem without addressing them. As I listened, I thought I had a pretty good idea why the world had a problem with hunger. But the problems that I would have called "root causes" all made Holt-Gimenez's list of proximate causes. THAT got my attention. I was dying to know what the real root causes could be, if every single one I would have named was not on the list?
The second thing that got my attention was a specific slide showing that per capita food production and hunger both increased at the same time in the past several decades. How could that be? Hunger, said Holt-Gimenez, does not come from scarcity. It comes from overproduction.

In 2008, we had record corn production. We also had record profits for Monsanto, Cargill, and ADM. And we had record hunger. The proximate causes include poor weather, high oil prices, low grain reserves, agrofuels, rising meat consumption, speculation, and depreciation of the U.S. dollar.

So what are the root causes? One is the global food system in which most cropland is devoted to just a few crops (and just a few varieties of those crops). That makes it easy for very few companies to exert a LOT of control on the entire food system worldwide. It also makes our food system vulnerable to economic and environmental shock.

The Green Revolution put the control of seeds and farmers' inputs into the hands of developed world companies. This transformed the production system of the Global South and it favored the larger farmers who could afford the inputs and who had the land and the irrigation to make the seeds work. Other impacts include loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, and salinization, and with those effects, yields began to go down.

Initially, the Green Revolution resulted in a decrease in hunger on average, but in a very unequal way around the world. Ultimately, resources were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and farmers were pushed off the land and they went hungry. In some cases, as soil was depleted, farmers cut down rainforests to use the fertility of the forest. On paper, yields went up - but not because of the Green Revolution.

Next, Holt-Gimenez began to describe the Structural Adjustment Policies of the World Bank. In some cases, the SAP rules were written into treaties. All of this deregulated the Global South in favor of Northern exports. Yet in the U.S. and the E.U., farmers still receive subsidies. Here in the U.S. politicians talk about the safety net for our farmers, but farmers in the Global South do not have that safety net because treaties forbid it.

Another root cause given by Holt-Gimenez is food aid. He called this "a tough one to swallow" because we want to help people. He noted that it's now (as of 2008) at its lowest level since 1961. That's because it's based on the price of grain. When the price of grain is high, we don't want to give it away. We want to sell it. When the price of grain is low, you can't sell the grain so you give it away. And we don't just give it away, we put conditions on it (like you have to accept GMOs). This free food gets dumped on local markets, where farmers cannot compete against free food, so it undermines those farmers. Also, food aid is a business for companies that transport the grain. That requires purchasing food grown here to send it overseas. Politicians who suggest sending money for countries to buy food locally get opposition from the companies that make money on food aid.

What all of this has done is made the South dependent for food on the North. It's also pushed farmers off the land in other countries. And it moves us towards monopolies in each agricultural industry. And, in the face of this most recent spike in world hunger, those companies are making record profits - not helping ensure that all people have access to food. This is not just in other countries but here too, where we've had record highs of people using food stamps. Food banks report less food available, more expensive food, and longer lines waiting to get food.

Next, Holt-Gimenez brought up what happened back in the early 1970's, when we dismantled the farm bill policies that managed supply and instead told farmers to grow as much as possible. U.S. farmers were told that they would feed the world (as they are still told today). But the problem was never that the world needed food. The poor people of the world needed money. Once we grew more food, they still didn't have money and they couldn't buy it. So we had a bust, resulting in many U.S. farmers losing their farms and more consolidation among U.S. farmers. And that, says Holt-Gimenez, is when farmers get feedlots. Because they've got all of this corn sitting around and somebody's got to eat it.

Our next genius move was entering the WTO. The WTO says we can't have subsidies, so we got rid of our subsidies to be WTO compliant. We also removed our price floors and abandoned our grain reserves. Then when we had a crash in the late 1990's (following the Asian financial crisis), we gave our farmers "emergency payments" (since we can't call them subsidies). That was WTO compliant.

So that brings us up to 2008 and the 2008 farm bill. We had some victories but the basic structure of the farm bill remained unchanged... plus a few million in new money for agrofuels. Holt-Gimenez makes a brilliant point about the stupidity of agrofuels, that the idea of solving global warming and peak oil with agrofuels tells people that we can consume our way out of overconsumption. At some point, he says, we're just going to have to consume less fuel.

Then he told a sad but illustrative story about his godson, who is Mexican. His godson's father worked on an organic farm that was beautiful and productive, but the price of food was so low that his son (Holt-Gimenez's godson) had to come to the U.S. to work as a farmworker. He was poisoned by pesticides and he could not afford the same healthy food his family grew on the farm in Mexico. Instead he went to Wal-Mart and bought processed food. He saved every penny he could and sent it back to Mexico, where his family could also only afford to shop at Wal-Mart. And in this way, Holt-Gimenez says, our global food system has not only changed the way we produce our food but also our diets.

Holt-Gimenez says the solution is to reduce vulnerability to economic volatility. We do this by taking back the food system in our own communities. We also need to do this in big ways, by re-establishing our grain reserves, taking agriculture out of the WTO, renegotiating trade agreements to make them more fair. We need to halt agrofuel expansion, re-regulate the financial sector, supporting smallholder farmers, and agroecological farming.

This summary of Holt-Gimenez's speech is also a rough outline of the book. If you want all of the details behind what he said, check out the book. However, be warned that the speech was a rousing call to action and the book is an academic text. But as you read through the dizzying amount of facts thrown at you in the book, you'll get very angry at the state of the global food system and very motivated to change it.

Tags: Food Rebellions!, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Raj Patel, Annie Shattuck, Global Food Crisis, (All Tags)

A Growing Tradition: Building Mini Hoop Houses

From A Growing Tradition Blog some great ideas on building mini hoop houses! Great Work hoop houses 2opening mini hoop housemini hoop house hingesLook how well they held up during March storms!
March Madness

Mar 16, 2010

Our Obsession With Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities and Our Health | Environment | AlterNet

By Annie Leonard, Free Press, Simon & Schuster
Posted on March 16, 2010
This following is an excerpt from The Story Of Stuff: How Our Obsession With Stuff Is Trashing The Planet, Our Communities, And Our Health – And A Vision For Change by Annie Leonard. Excerpted with permission by Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2010 by Annie Leonard.

So here we are. All sorts of stuff is lining the real or virtual shelves of stores, ready to slip into our shopping carts or be assembled and shipped according to our desires. Enter the consumer. Stage left, stage right, storming stores and online shopping portals, armed with credit cards and freshly cashed paychecks. This stage of the game is What It's All For -- at least that's what we're told. For a moment, as the almighty consumer makes her selection from a long menu of choices, the entire world revolves around her. She experiences a surge of power as she trades her hard-earned money for a piece of stuff and becomes its owner, either meeting a need, indulging a whim, shifting a bad mood -- or maybe all three at once. "When things get tough, the tough go shopping," as the bumper stickers used to say.

Lots of our favorite characters and cultural icons surround themselves with signature cool Stuff. Where would 007 be without his latest gadget, his perfectly tailored suit, or his (insert your favorite model of future car here)? What would the Oscars be without the gowns? How could we love Carrie Bradshaw without her outrageous brimmed hats and designer shades and glossy shopping bags full of ruffled dresses and sky-high heels? Would we recognize Holly Golightly without her infatuation with Tiffany's? We're attached to these characters' possessions and obsessions as much as to their personalities; it's all part of our national mythology. It only makes sense that we'd get attached to our own Stuff.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I'm not against all consumption. One irate viewer of The Story of Stuff film e-mailed me and said, "If you're against consumption, where did you get that shirt you're wearing?" Duh. Of course everyone needs to consume to live. We need food to eat, a roof over our head, medicine when we're sick, and clothes to keep us warm and dry. And beyond those survival needs, there's a level of additional consumption that makes life sweeter. I enjoy listening to music, sharing a bottle of wine with friends, and occasionally donning a nice new dress as much as the next person.

What I question is not consumption in the abstract but consumerism and overconsumption. While consumption means acquiring and using goods and services to meet one's needs, consumerism is the particular relationship to consumption in which we seek to meet our emotional and social needs through shopping, and we define and demonstrate our self-worth through the Stuff we own. And overconsumption is when we take far more resources than we need and than the planet can sustain, as is the case in most of the United States as well as a growing number of other countries. Consumerism is about excess, about losing sight of what's important in the quest for Stuff.

Do you remember Jdimytai Damour? In November 2008, on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, the holiday shopping season kicked off. Across the country, people left their Thanksgiving dinners early to sleep in their cars in store parking lots hours before scheduled store openings, which in many places were moved up to 5:00 a.m. Shoppers began gathering in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, New York, at 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening. By 5:00 a.m., when the store was scheduled to open, a crowd of more than two thousand people had gathered.

When the doors opened, a thirty-four-year-old temporary worker from Haiti named Jdimytai Damour -- his friends called him Jimbo -- was overwhelmed by the surging crowd. He was knocked down, and witnesses said people just walked over his body to get to the holiday bargains. Emergency medical technicians who arrived to help were also jostled and stepped on by the shoppers. Damour was pronounced dead just after 6:00 a.m. He died of asphyxiation; he was trampled to death. An employee in the electronics department, who was in the store during the stampede, reportedly commented, "It was crazy . . . The deals weren't even that good."

And this took place in a recession year, against a background of growing economic insecurity, rising gas prices, mounting consumer debt, collapsing mortgages, and increasing unemployment. Retailers had been worried that Black Friday revenues would suffer. Instead, Damour suffered the ultimate loss, and America kept on shopping. We are a society of consumers, we're told. We shrug and nod and accept this as a fundamental truth. It's just human nature, is more or less what we tell ourselves.

And boy do we shop. Globally, personal consumption expenditures (the amount spent on goods and services at the household level) topped $24 trillion in 2005, up from $4.8 trillion (in 1995 dollars) in 1960. In 2004-'05, Americans spent two-thirds of our $11 trillion economy on consumer goods, with more paid for shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion combined) than for higher education ($99 billion). According to the United Nations, in 2003 people worldwide spent $18 billion on cosmetics, while reproductive health care for all women would have come to $12 billion. While eliminating hunger and malnutrition would have cost $19 billion, people spent $17 billion on pet food in the United States and Europe combined. And our tab for ocean cruises came to $14 billion, although it would have cost just $10 billion to provide clean drinking water for everyone.

In 2000, teenagers alone (twelve to nineteen years old) spent $115 billion; the same group controlled $169 billion in 2004. The hundred-acre Mall of America -- the size of seven Yankee Stadiums -- is one of the top visitor attractions in the United States. The average American has 6.5 credit cards. The average U.S. supermarket contains thirty thousand items. As of 2003, the United States had more private cars than licensed drivers.

In the average middle- to upper-middle-class American's 2,000-somesquare-foot home, you'll find: several couches and beds, numerous chairs, tables, and rugs, at least two TVs, at least one computer, printer, and stereo, and countless books, magazines, photos, and CDs (although these last, like vinyl and tapes before them, are a dying species now, destined for the dump); in the kitchen there will be an oven, a stove, a refrigerator, a freezer, a microwave, a coffeemaker, a blender, a toaster, a food processor, and endless utensils, dishes, storage containers, glassware, and linens (or at least paper napkins); in the bathroom, a hairdryer, a razor, combs and brushes, a scale, towels, medicines and ointments, and bottles and tubes of personal care products galore; in the closets, dresses, sweaters, T-shirts, suits, pants, coats, hats, boots, and shoes and everything in between. (In 2002, the average American acquired fifty-two additional pieces of clothing, while the average household was throwing away 1.3 pounds of textiles every week.)

The average house also contains a washer and dryer, bicycles, skis, other sporting equipment, luggage, garden tools, jewelry, knickknacks, and drawer upon drawer of crap both relatively useful (like staplers, Scotch tape, aluminum foil, candles, and pens) and entirely pointless (like novelty key chains, gift wrap, expired gift cards, and retired cell phones). We've got so much Stuff that, according to builders, families often buy a home with a three-car garage so that one-third of that space can be dedicated to storage.

Even so, our homes are overflowing, inspiring a massive increase in personal self-storage facilities. Between 1985 and 2008, the self-storage industry in the United States grew three times faster than the population, with per-capita square feet of storage space increasing 633 percent. And somehow despite this amazing abundance, we find ourselves drawn into stores like moths to flames, on the quest for yet more.

The Sanctity of Shopping

Shopping is a nearly sacred rite in the United States -- in fact, in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, President George W. Bush included shopping in the daily activities that he said were the "ultimate repudiation of terrorism." When our country was in shock and no one was quite sure what would happen next, Bush told us to hang our "America is open for business" signs in the windows and keep shopping.

Not to buy means to fail our workers and stifle the economy, say most economists and politicians; shopping is our duty. Those who dare challenge the ethic of consumerism have been declared unpatriotic or just plain loony. After The Story of Stuff film was highlighted in the New York Times in early 2009 many teachers were using it in classrooms to spark discussion about consumerism and environmental issues, and conservative commentators accused me of threatening the American way of life, terrorizing children, and called me "Marx in a ponytail."

When Colin Beavan, aka No Impact Man, got press for the year-long project in which he reduced his New York City family's consumption to a bare minimum, he received hate mail, including an anonymous death threat! Henry David Thoreau, who in the mid-1800s wrote of living simply and in harmony with nature in Walden, was variously described by critics as "unmanly," "very wicked and heathenish," and an "unsocial being, a troglodyte of sorts."

Even many of the nonprofits and advocacy groups that work on issues related to consumption don't question it on a fundamental level. There are many excellent groups that focus on the quality of the goods we consume—fighting for fair trade chocolate over slavery chocolate, for example, or organic cotton clothing over conventional toxic cotton or PVC-free kids toys. But few look at the issue of quantity and ask that tough question: aren't we consuming too much? That's the question that gets to the heart of the system. I am learning it is not a popular question.

Once upon a time the factors that contributed to our national economic growth included a broader set of activities, especially in extraction of natural resources and production of goods. After World War II, however, the focus shifted to consumption. In the 1950s, the chairman of President Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisers stated, "The American economy's ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods." Really?

Rather than to provide health care, safe communities, solid education for our youngsters, or a good quality of life, the main purpose of our economy is to produce Stuff? By the 1970s, consumption had taken a lead role both culturally and economically. Most of us alive today have been raised on the assumption that a consumption-driven economy is inevitable, sensible, and good. We are supposed to participate in this economic model without question. Nevertheless, it's been questioned and continues to be, by a growing number of people. Myself definitely included.

In the same holiday season as Damour's tragic death, the credit card Discover launched a new ad campaign. On top of the serene soundtrack of a simple tune being plucked out on a guitar, the voiceover says: "We are a nation of consumers. And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, there's a lot of cool stuff out there. The trouble is, there's so much cool stuff, it's easy to get a little carried away. If that happens, this material world of ours can stop being wonderful and start getting stressful. But what if a credit card company recognized that? What if they admitted there was a time to spend and a time to save? . . . We could have less debt and more fun. And this material world could get a whole lot brighter."

A credit card company challenging consumerism—I'd be thrilled if it weren't so obvious a ploy to win more customers during a time when people were anxious about spending and debt. But what really intrigues me about this commercial is the image sequence at the end: a father and son in the middle of a vast green field, then a couple with a dog on a wide-open beach, then a couple flirting on a park bench, and finally, a gaggle of giggling girlfriends pressing into the back of a cab together. What this tells me is that Discover Card, on some level, is perfectly aware of the actual truth: that it's not Stuff (even "cool Stuff") that makes us happy. It's time with our families, partners, and friends and the experience of the beautiful natural world that makes us happy.

Annie Leonard is an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues, with more than 20 years of experience investigating factories and dumps around the world.

Obama Foodorama: First Lady To Corporate Food Giants: Time To Rethink...Everything

From ingredients to marketing, Mrs. Obama asks Big Food to get healthy and get Tuesday was a signal moment in the history of food politics in America, when First Lady Michelle Obama gave the most hard-driving policy remarks she's made to date, to an audience of the biggest corporate food makers in the land. During a keynote address to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Mrs. Obama challenged the food giants to join her child obesity campaign, by dramatically altering the foods they create, and doing their part to change the entrenched American desire for unhealthy foods. The First Lady called for vision, imagination, and rapid action. She called for personal responsibility and increasing public trust. Mrs. Obama spoke as a mother, and as the collective conscience of the older generation, who've put the younger generation at risk for early death. She spoke as a visionary, predicting two futures: One good, one bad, depending on what kind of action is taken. It was an If not now, when? speech, food version. It was a lot of action for a slightly dog-eared hotel ballroom in the middle of DC. There were light moments. The First Lady resembled a frothy candy box, in her fetching L'Wren Scott outfit. She told the food makers she could do for them what she'd done for the hula hoop. She joked about daughter Sasha comparing the food execs to Honey Nut Cheerios. There is perhaps no group more critical to Mrs. Obama's mission to end child obesity than corporate food makers, who control and supply most of America's food chain, no matter how many home gardens and farmers markets are created. The GMA has among its membership Coca Cola, General Mills, Kraft, ConAgra. The execs gave Mrs. Obama a standing ovation when she was done speaking. (Above: Mrs. Obama during her remarks) The First Lady was introduced by Rick Wolford, chairman and CEO of Del Monte Foods Co., who chairs the GMA. "This is a watershed moment in the fight against obesity," Wolford said. "We are willing to do more and we are willing to go the extra mile." After lauding the food giants for their past health initiatives, the First Lady asked for far more than the extra mile. "I’m here today to urge all of you to move faster and to go farther, because the truth is we don’t have a moment to waste," Mrs. Obama said. "We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children." Mrs. Obama was blunt, as she mentioned improving school lunches and the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a Let's Move! project to get supermarkets into underserved areas. Parents, teachers and government officials are all responsible for child health, she said, but the food industry has a special role to play. "Here’s the thing--we can build shiny new supermarkets on every block, but we need those supermarkets to actually provide healthy options at prices people can afford. And we can insist that our schools serve better food, but we need to actually produce that food," Mrs. Obama said. The First Lady called for the food makers to "step it up," to work as fast as possible to lower the levels of fat, salt and sugar in foods, and to add in more of the nutrients children need. "We all need to step up in this country," Mrs. Obama added, and noted that she's already taken her message wide. "This is a shared responsibility." More of the truth...and common ground Mrs. Obama has frequently talked about the need for better labeling, a pillar of the Let's Move! campaign. She asked the industry leaders to work with her on the issue, which she referred to as a "no brainer." "There’s absolutely no reason why we cannot find common ground on this issue," Mrs. Obama said. "This is the bare minimum we should do for our kids to help their parents make good choices. " Everyone in the room was well aware that at the beginning of March, FDA sent warning letters to 17 different food companies that are making false claims on their labels. It's easy to avoid that kind of action, Mrs. Obama maintained. And she's not asking for legislative action. "We can give parents all the information in the world," Mrs. Obama pointed out. "But they still won’t have time to untangle labels filled with 10-syllable words or do long division with these portion sizes." Food addiction... And then she got into the nitty gritty. For the first time in public remarks, Mrs. Obama discussed food addiction, and the food industry's culpability in creating a national appetite for unhealthy products that are not only supersized, but super unhealthy. She didn't say the words, but that's precisely what she was talking about. "We all know that human beings--I, for one, know--are hard-wired to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods," Mrs. Obama said. "And it is temping to take advantage of that–-to create products that are sweeter, richer, and saltier than ever before. But doing so doesn’t just respond to people’s natural inclinations -- it also actually helps to shape them." That's "particularly dangerous" for children, Mrs. Obama said. "The more of these products they have in their diets, the more accustomed they become to those tastes, and then the more deeply embedded these foods become in their eating habits." It's critical that that changes, she said, and it's equally critical that food marketing changes right along with it. "As a mom, I know it is my responsibility--and no one else’s--to raise my kids," Mrs. Obama said. "But what does it mean when so many parents are finding that their best efforts are undermined by an avalanche of advertisements aimed at their kids?" Mrs. Obama urged the food makers to flip the paradigm, and put their decades of marketing expertise and corporate dollars into promoting healthy foods. Up the cool factor, she urged. Stop using celebs and cartoon charatcers to sell junkfoods. "I’m asking you to actively promote healthy foods and healthy habits to our kids," Mrs. Obama said. "Just as we can shape our children’s preferences for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods--with a lot of persistence, we can also turn them on to high-quality, healthier foods as well." "If there is anyone here who can sell food to our kids, it’s you," Mrs. Obama said. She had some hard questions for the group. Mrs. Obama is a former member of the board of directors of a major food company, and she knows what she's talking about. "When you put money into reformulating a product to make it healthier, do you then invest enough in marketing that product to kids and parents?" Mrs. Obama asked. "Or is most of the marketing budget still going to the less healthy versions? In other words, which products are you really selling? And what kinds of messages are your advertisements sending?" The First Lady, in an ultra savvy move, noted the monetary advantage of healthy foods. There will be a market for healthy foods, she said, because she's making it her mission. "As First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion," Mrs. Obama said. "I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition. So if you all create the supply, we know there will be a demand. And if you have any doubt about that, just look at what we did for the hula hoop." Mrs. Obama famously hula hooped on the South Lawn last Fall, during the Healthy Kids Fair. Her last line wasn't so much a threat as a promise. The more the First Lady talks up good food around the country, the more people's awareness will be raised. She's a magnetic presence, and a memorable speaker. And the fact that she willingly admits that French fries are her favorite food--and that she has a husband who now has health problems from his diet--makes her all the more relatable. Plus she tells a good joke, even in the middle of channeling Jonathan Edwards. The First Lady closed simply and poignantly. "Today, with the issue of childhood obesity, we all face a similar opportunity. And you face it not just as food industry leaders, but you face it as parents who love your kids and as citizens who love this nation," Mrs. Obama said. "In the end, I am hopeful that you will choose to make the changes that we need not just because they’re good for your company, but because they’re good for our country." As noted above, Mrs. Obama--and her mission--got a standing ovation when she was done speaking. The transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks is here. Visit the Let's Move! website at _______________________________ This morning, PepsiCo didn't even wait for Mrs. Obama to take the stage at the Hyatt before zooming ahead of the rest conglomerate food crowd and making a policy announcement that not only makes it an industry leader, but which also illustrates Mrs. Obama's wide reach of influence. CEO Indra Nooyi notified the world that her massive corporation is voluntarily adopting a new global policy to stop sales of full-sugar soft drinks to primary and secondary schools by 2012. This is in direct response to the fact that the company has been criticized for sending its unhealthy fare to foreign shores simultaneous with reducing soda sales in America, but it's still a pathbreaker. As noted here before, Nooyi is a White House insider, and serves on a Treasury advisory board. But she's also leading by example. *Since the launch of Let's Move!, Mrs. Obama has taken the campaign to the nation's mayors, to America's governors, to the national PTA, to school food workers, and to Philadelphia and to Mississippi. She's wooed the tech industry. She's played soccer with kids. She's got an Academy Award winning actress promoting her cause. On Monday, she debuted in Newsweek magazine, with her first published essay on Let's Move!. Videos created for Let's Move: A White House video about the launch of Let's Move! is here. The First Lady stars in a White House video about food deserts here. Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! rally in Jackson, Mississippi is featured in this White House video. The White House video of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour praising Mrs. Obama's campaign is here. The White House video of President Obama signing the memo creating a Task Force on Child Obesity is here. A White House video of a mini-summit on child obesity, featuring Mrs. Obama, the Surgeon General, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is here.

Cow Manure, Other Homegrown Energy Powering U.S. Farms

Photo: Cows on a wind farmFrom wind to sun to cow pies, rural regions are full of natural resources that can be used to make renewable energy (above, cattle rest under windmills at a Canadian wind farm). Across the United States, many farmers turning this homegrown electricity into a new crop.Photograph by Steve Winter/NGS Maggie Koerth-Baker National Geographic News

From wind to sun to cow pies, farm-based natural resources are supplying an increasing number of U.S. farmers with homegrown sources of renewable energy.

Farm-based energy can save money and even become a new source of income by powering nearby homes, for instance.

Traditional energy sources are expensive: In 2008 fuel and fertilizers—which are largely made from natural gas—accounted for 12.5 percent of all farm expenses. (Learn more about sustainable agriculture.)

Homegrown energy may also lessen the impact on the environment by avoiding fossil fuels.

Food production—not counting factors such as processing and shipping—accounts for one to 3 percent of U.S. energy consumption and about 7 percent of its direct greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the nonprofit National Center for Appropriate Technology.

(Learn more about what causes global warming.)

Farmers are also drawn to renewable energy because they "like being self-sufficient," said Teresa Bomhoff, rural-energy coordinator for the Iowa office of USDA Rural Development. "They see it as part of their patriotism to reduce dependence on foreign oil."

Bomhoff has gotten 423 applications for USDA's Rural Energy for America grants from Iowa farmers, compared with 10 applications in 2003.

From Waste to Gain

Of course U.S. farms come in an array of sizes, crops, and geographic and environmental profiles, so farmers need to tailor energy programs to their needs.

"There's not really an average American farm," said Ryan Stockwell, director of energy and agriculture for the sustainability nonprofit the Minnesota Project.

The Haubenschild Dairy may be a good model for farmers dreaming of energy independence, experts say. Located near Princeton, Minnesota, this family farm demonstrates the possibilities of farm-energy production.

In 1999, with the help of several large government grants, the Haubenschilds bought an anaerobic digester system that cost about U.S. $460,000. The system works by cutting off oxygen to a big vat of waste—in this case, cow manure—heating it at a constant temperature and allowing bacteria to decompose the manure into a mixture of combustible gas and odorless, environmentally friendly fertilizer. The gas runs an electricity-producing generator, and waste heat from the generator is used to keep the vat warm.

(Related: "Human Waste Used by 200 Million Farmers, Study Says.")

The big investment has paid off for the Haubenschilds. Electricity from the digester powers their dairy, plus 70 other households.

"They have a power purchase agreement with the local utility, and they've reduced their own fertilizer bills considerably," said the Minnesota Project's Ryan Stockwell.

Fewer than seven years after installing the digester, the Haubenschilds recouped their personal investment.

Another cost-saving benefit to installing a digester is selling digestate, the less-polluting manure byproduct that is ideal for gardens, Stockwell added.

"There Are Great Opportunities"

But what worked for the Haubenschild Dairy won't necessarily work for other farms, experts say.

"There's not any one best technology for this," said Leif Kindberg, farm-energy specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

The Haubenschild Dairy has a thousand head of cattle producing manure. A farm with fewer than 500 or so would have a much harder time breaking even on an anaerobic digester, Kindberg said. The Haubenschilds were also fortunate to have a local utility that was willing to buy their electricity.

Individual farms have to look at their own energy needs—as well as what resources they have available—and figure out what technologies make financial sense, he added.

For instance wind turbines can bring in as much as $6,000 a year per megawatt of electric capacity.

Even so some farms aren't right for producing energy for sale. But even these farms can still reap benefits, Kindberg said.

For instance, Bomhoff, the rural-energy coordinator, helped an Iowa farm buy a more efficient grain-drying system that saved $12,000 in energy expenses every year.

Farmers can also save money and fossil fuels by using solar cells to power electric fences and water pumps on remote parts of their land.

"These are all great opportunities," Kindberg said. "But one of the key aspects is figuring out whether, on your farm, a specific opportunity is really there."

Mar 15, 2010

Official Google Blog: A broadband catapult for America

The Official Google Blog - Insights from Googlers into our products, technology and the Google culture
National Broadband Strategy - FINALLY! Monte
3/15/2010 11:57:00 AM
Power. Clean water. The Interstate highway system. It’s easy to forget that the advantages of modern American life result from basic infrastructure investments made by earlier generations.

Tomorrow the FCC will release a national broadband strategy. The plan will set goals for expanding broadband to unserved and under-served areas, promote greater speeds, and drive consumer demand. It will harness this communications technology to urgent national priorities, such as jobs, education, health, energy, and security. In short, the plan will lay the groundwork for investing in America’s future.

Yes, the Internet was invented in the United States. Yes, we once led the world in broadband development. But now, networks in many countries, from Western Europe to East Asia, are faster and more advanced than our own. Long after we recover from this recession, this broadband gap will be a dead weight on American businesses and workers, unless we act now.

As with the space race in the 1960s, America needs a national effort by our scientists, engineers, companies, educational institutions and government agencies. Just like that great national adventure, we need near-term and long-term goals.

Broadband is an essential input to expanding business, education, and healthcare opportunities everywhere. As soon as possible, we need to bring Internet access to every community, from rural America to the inner cities.

But we also need even more ambitious objectives — or “stretch goals” — that test the limits of our ingenuity. When President John F. Kennedy summoned the nation to space exploration, the immediate goal was to send an astronaut in orbit around the earth. But JFK called for “putting a man on the moon” because he knew that dream would inspire Americans to literally reach for the stars.

The private sector has a big job to do, and needs to carry much of the investment. For our part, we plan to build and test an ultra-high-speed broadband network in at least one U.S. community. We are excited by the amount of support our proposed testbed has received from local communities and individuals.

But smart, tailored public policies are critical too. Let’s install broadband fiber as part of every federally-funded infrastructure project, from highways to mass transit. And let’s deploy broadband fiber to every library, school, community health center, and public housing facility in the U.S.

I support a national broadband strategy because ubiquitous broadband connectivity can catapult America into the next level of economic competitiveness, worker productivity, and educational opportunity. But as in the past, we will make this breakthrough by choice, not chance.

Posted by Eric Schmidt, CEO