Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dump the Habit, Not the Bag

Shredded cheese bags, bread bags, and bagel bags. Sugar bags, sandwich bags, and cereal bags. Toilet paper bags, the occasional paper towel bag... even the trash bags come in bags. Is seems to me that there's more attention in America to remove the bags under our eye's than there is to remove bags from the landfill. I feel like I’m drowning in bags!

I’ve developed a pet peeve as of late. It centers around a very simple thing that anyone can change if they just stopped for a second and actually thought about what they were doing before continuing on. In the last few years some U.S. cities (San Francisco being the first in 2007) have banned single use plastic bags at grocery checkout stands. It appears the state of California as a whole is about to pass a bill that will ban plastic bags in grocery stores and will institute a 5 cent fee on every paper bag used – hopefully greatly reducing the amount taken out of the store. Of course there are differing arguments about the pros and cons of a bill such as this, but in general I am all for it. I would love to see more states joining this bandwagon. Are you listening, Texas?

But there is something in the same realm that you don’t hear about as much – what about the plastic bags you put in the plastic grocery store bags??? I’m talking about the bags people put their produce in so it can be counted and/or weighed. I’ve developed a kind of rule for myself that if a cashier can pick up a single variety of fruit or veggie in two hands or less, it does not go into a bag. For example, a cashier can usually pick up 4-5 apples easily (2 or 3 in each hand) and place them on the scale at the same time without difficulty. Yes, it does take me 5 seconds longer to group like items on the conveyor belt; and yes, this does mean that I have loose fruit or vegetables at the bottom of my cart (the horror!), but that is a small price to pay for not having the privilege of bringing yet another plastic bag into my home.

I am not saying I never use a produce bag. I might put a wet head of lettuce in one (though in reality the outer leaves could be taken off and composted if you were worried that much about bacteria or the like). Delicate items like mushrooms or grapes, for example, probably need to be contained in some way. I also bag up things like oranges when they are on sale 20 for $1 (not an uncommon price around here!) – but I put them in 1 or 2 bags – not 5 or 6. You truly do not need produce bags for most items, especially those that grow with their own protective covering which will be discarded (composted!) anyway – and specifically when you are only buying one or two. I am routinely amazed at the number of people I see actually bagging a bunch of bananas. Even before we were on this sustainable journey it never even crossed my mind to do this. Perhaps it is a Texas thing? Rest assured, when those bagless bananas get to your house they will be just as sweet as they would have been in a bag for the 15 minute ride home.

So I say all that to say this: Be conscious of your consumption and try to lessen it. This should be true of many things in life. If you must use produce bags, try to reuse them when you can. They will last for numerous shopping trips. Pack them in your reusable bag on your way out the door. You could even purchase (or make) reusable, thin muslin bags for this purpose (a la No Impact Man). I just found a website called that has every type of reusable bag your little heart has ever desired. Seriously take stock for the next week or month of how many bags you have saved from a landfill by implementing some of the ideas above. I will do the same and promise to get back to you one month from today. – Carrie

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two Peas in a Pod

I was coming home at sundown the other night and made a short detour down a street I never take. That’s when I spotted them – beautiful, original (1930s?), and in perfect condition. A homeowner replacing windows on his newly purchased abode had left the old ones on the parkway atop a large pile of brush. I thought the windows would be perfect made into cold frames for some beds in the backyard. I knew bulk trash pickup would be the next day, plus it was almost dark, so I had to move fast. Seeing as how I was only about 300 feet from our house, I figured I would stop there first and make sure Jason wanted them, too. We’re trying to de-clutter, both inside and out, and since I wouldn’t be making the frames for a few months I didn’t want to get them if he wasn’t up for it. So – I bounce into the house, with a little glimmer in my eyes and a smile on my face and say “You’re never going to guess what I just found!” He smiles too and replies “Go look in the back of the van…” And wouldn’t you know it – there were 4 windows - beautiful, original, and in perfect condition. We headed out and grabbed 4 more. How awesome that we are both on this journey with the same “frame” of mind. We were meant for each other! - Carrie

Super Bowl Ad

This ad came out during the Superbowl, but I just revisited it and got a good chuckle out of it. Enjoy. -Jason

Audi Clean Diesel Green Police.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Life Begets Life

As a landscape designer and consultant, I often get asked questions about why plants won’t grow in certain parts of a property. The short and skinny answer that resolves 90% of the problems is the soil is as dead as Bush’s bid to write Obama’s budget. There’s nothing growing, creeping, propagating, or crawling around in the garden. Life begets life and death begets death. If you want a garden that’s full of life, you must first make an environment where life wants to be. When asked if he should sell his hay or keep it for other purposes on his farm, farmer Joel Salatin chose to keep the hay because exporting life from his farm didn’t make sense to him. It was as simple as keeping the calories on his farm knowing that somehow, someway, the land would metabolize them. Another noteworthy thought from Joel which lends itself to this article is that death and disease in an ecosystem is mother nature's way of telling you something's wrong which needs to be corrected.

As human beings, we long for association with other living things. We love to touch the plants, pet our dogs, and interact with other members of society. Plants and bugs of the garden are very similar in nature. For plants to want to live somewhere, they must be members of an ecosystem, a community. If the plants and bugs are members of the community, the soil is the neighborhood. The soil, if it doesn’t have it already, should be fortified with compost. This is the neighborhood cantina. I cannot overstate the power of compost. It’s food. Period. Plants draw from it as well as the little buggies. I’ve found that the blacker the soil, the better the growth.

The second point I want to harp on (because I like beating dead horses into the ground) is using mulch. Again, the same people who can’t get their plants to grow don’t know the benefits of mulch. This is the roof to the house. The shelter. It blocks the sun thus keeping the roots cool, provides a moisture barrier, breaks down and feeds the plants, and prevents weed populations from getting too wild too fast. It’s like putting almost all of the change in the coke machine but holding back five cents. You won’t get what you really want.

Here’s a tip if you need a lot of mulch for your property. Call up a local tree company and tell them they can dump for free on your property so long as they don’t give you any diseased material. You get the mulch, they usually have to pay to make the dump, so you both make out. A typical dump could range from 6 to 10 pick-ups worth of material.

In a former life, I worked as a jet mechanic for a private jet company. I can’t count how many times they had me interact with nature for the benefit of the business (because it never happened). It was an artificial environment which begot more artificial stuff. About a year after starting the landscape business, I noticed something amazing. The need to use allergy blockers disappeared. I honestly believe that interacting with nature cured my allergy problem. I believe that a person’s involvement in their garden is as beneficial to the plants as it is to the tender. It not only relaxes and lowers stress, but I believe there are beneficial microbes that could be gained, which is why I advocate for not wearing protection (i.e. gloves)! That’s just the kind of nature boy I’ve become... -Jason

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is Your Yard a Looker or a Feeder?

My brother (a self-taught gardener) and his wife recently purchased a home, and have spent the past few months turning the entire backyard into a feeding machine. In his small backyard they have planted a variety of both vegetables and fruiting trees/shrubs including (but not limited to) five 4' x 8' raised beds loaded with 8 types of heirloom tomatoes, 4 varieties of heirloom peppers, cucumbers, purple bush beans, basil, chives, and borage (companion plant for tomatoes with edible flowers), 1 peach tree, 1 pomegranate tree, 3 blueberry bushes, 3 blackberries, 3 red raspberries, 1 gold raspberry, 3 potted citrus (lime, lemon, & calamondin [which I’ve never even heard of!]), 5 figs of different varieties, and 1 fig espaliered against a shed. This is what he wrote in an email to me a week ago –

“I'm sending along an updated yard pic. Please disregard the weeds and tall grass. Grass is my enemy and will be dealt with accordingly this weekend. The yard is not supposed to be a looker; it is supposed to be a feeder. Hopefully that'll be the case in the months and years down the road.”

The yard is not supposed to be a looker; it is supposed to be a feeder. I love that line. It really resonates with me. How many people could be fed if instead of ornamental plants and trees we all started to plant edibles? Every year our old neighborhood has a day in November when they plant trees in the parkway donated by the city. This is a great program. But what if instead of Bald Cypress, for example (that while they do grow quickly some say are better suited to a marsh/lake-type environment), they planted numerous varieties of fruit or nut trees?

We’ve only been living in our current house for about a year and a half. While we do have a “looker” section – mainly along the sidewalk and planted before we became so interested in self-sufficiency & knowing where our food comes from – the majority of our property I would classify as being “feeder” or is currently being worked towards that purpose. In our front yard alone, we have a strawberry pot, cucumbers growing up our porch posts, and a variety of peppers (hot & sweet) in homemade “Topsy Turvy”-type planters along our porch where ornamental planters would traditionally hang. We just cut down a dying Cherry Laurel and will replace it with a dwarf fruit tree, though we’re still trying to decide what type. We have rain barrels to collect the rain and water the plants. We also have a long bed for veggies along our property line but the shade from the 80+ year old pecan really cuts down on our production. I’m toying with the idea of replanting that area in the Fall with some fruiting shrubs/trees that can take a bit of shade. I guess what I am getting at is this – the next time you are considering doing or having work done to your landscape, seriously think about adding some edible items. You don’t have to start out like my brother. He’s been doing this for years. But there is great satisfaction that comes from walking out onto your porch and picking off a warm cucumber that YOU grew. No going to the store, no chemical residue to speak of. Give it a shot! - Carrie

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Cure

Change is not coming fast enough in our culture (or the world for that matter.) My catalyst for change was a realization that our cheap food is fueled literally by fossil fuels ('Omnivore’s Dilemma' - Michael Pollan). Folks, when the fuels run out, the wheels of transportation will come to a grinding halt and so will our food supply… I see wide spread famine at worst and hard times, very hard times at best.

I’ve been trying to write an entry for the past hour and can’t seem to get the words out without making it into a lecture. How do you tell someone that what they are doing is killing themselves and their loved ones? How do you say that you have the cure, but it involves taking away all that they think is most important to them. Most of all, how do you transmit the cure when your voice is small like a whisper in a hurricane? -Jason

My Grandma Doesn't Even Recognize Me!

I got a call from my grandparents (a.k.a Nana & Gamps) last week. Apparently my mother called them to tell them about a recent article in the Dallas Morning News featuring a water-wise landscape that Jason designed and installed. Dallas Morning News: Water Wise Landscaping

Well, my mom also told them about our new blog. Nana said, and I quote, “Your mom told us about some blog – Pigs Don’t Know – but I didn’t see anything on there about you, honey….” I exclaimed (kind of laughing), “Nana! That IS me!” Have we changed so much that my own grandmother does not recognize us? While it has been a slow progression over the last year or two, it does seem like we have stepped things up a notch in the last six months or so. I’m sure one of my best friends from college will probably turn over in her Manhattan fashion office when she reads some of the sustainable-type things that we are passionate about now (out of 5 college roomies – three down, two to go!). ;) Love you! It’s just where we are in our lives right now. Doesn’t make us any better or worse than anyone else. But we feel a need to document what we are doing. If it inspires one person to do something as simple as compost, then we are better off than we were had we not written anything. - Carrie

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pecans go down, tomatoes go up.

We live on a challenging lot to say the least. Some people curse their hills and others rocky ground. Our’s to curse is a group of pecan trees. Well, a blessing and a curse, though if you talk to Carrie, you’ll be led to believe it’s worth the time to curse them.

First let me tell you some things about pecans that every self-respecting long time Oak Cliff resident would be able to tell you. They love to drop things. Lots of things. They drop their lovely pecans in the fall (that is if you’re lucky enough to get a good decent pecan variety coupled with a good production year!) Score one for the tree! They drop their crappy flowers in the spring. Tree 1 Carrie 1. They drop their leaves in the fall. Tree 1 Carrie 2. When they aren’t dropping their flowers or their fruit, they are dropping their limbs, and more limbs, and more limbs… Pecans are self-pruners. Tree 1 Carrie 3. Not looking good for my woody friend here if you know what I mean.

It’s worth mentioning the span of a healthy pecan will reach into the next zip code. They are big trees and I mean some of the biggest we have in the region. On our little 50 by 125 foot lot, we live under the canopy of 4 of these monsters… and I love it! A deciduous tree will provide shelter from the sun in the summer and lets light pass through in the winter. The result for us is a $45 electric bill in the month of May (with the use of fans for cooling) when the rest of our area suffers assaults of $150 or more for a house our size. How many points does the tree get for allowing you to hold on to an extra Ben Franklin every month?

Carrie still curses the tree because she likes to nurture stuff. Give her something living and she’ll love it and hug it. Problem is, tomatoes don’t grow on hugs and all of the good real estate was claimed by the other species she was lovin’ on. By the time we got around to the tomatoes, the only part of the property left which got enough sun to work with was on the north side of the house against the fence which is more of a pass through area, so we purchased three special bags which allowed us to grow the tomatoes upside down and hung them on the fence. I liked the idea of growing the little guys that way because everything I do challenges the norm in the quest for efficiency. Because of the way the space is situated between two houses and the surrounding trees, I joked with Carrie when we put them there that we could give them some extra light if they were 10’ or so higher. She smiled at me when I told her that before the season was over these tomatoes would have their airborne wings.

I love it when I’m right.

This weekend while at a garage sale, I found a little pulley which I attached to a braced arm. I’m happy to report that today my tomatoes did in fact earn their airborne wings! Whether or not they grow any better remains to be seen, but I’m more interested in pushing the envelope and seeing what could be. -Jason

Canning: A Blast from the Past

One month ago Jason and I decided to “take the plunge,” so to speak, and learn how to can. While I was initially a bit wary to try – thinking it would be too hard, there were too many steps, etc., etc. (how sad is that?) – it ended up being relatively simple. We are now canning fools! Well, let me rephrase that, Jason is a canning fool. Seeing as how it is usually fairly hot in our house these days, the last thing I want to do it “slave” over a hot stove. But since Jason is basically unphased by the heat, he has come to embrace this long lost (though seeing a resurgence) art. So far we’ve canned salsa (using Jason’s grandfather’s recipe), mulberry jelly, and apple mint jelly. And this is just the tiny tip of the iceberg, folks.

We haven’t had any of the official equipment one may need in order to can, and we’ve gotten along just fine. However, we did want to purchase a pressure canner second-hand. We’ve been keeping an eye on craigslist and garage sales, but this weekend Jason finally had luck at a local estate sale! We are now the proud owners of a vintage 1958 Deluxe Mirro-Matic 4Qt. Pressure Cooker. Being newbies, I have no idea if this is a good brand or not, but it has the Good Housekeeping seal, so it can’t be too bad! And it only cost $9.00, which I thought was reasonable. The most amazing thing to me about this purchase is that it included the original 80 page booklet complete with cool 1950s graphics, directions on use, recipes, and an entire section on pressure canning. As it was just bought yesterday we haven’t had a chance to test it out, but we’ll be sure to post about it when we do. - Carrie

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Change we can believe in...

An airplane wing works by one great concept which at its simplest is this: The pressure under the wing must be greater than the pressure on top of the wing to induce a change in altitude. As a mechanically inclined person, I understand this without much thought. The wind moves over both sides of the wing at the same time. The wing, also called an airfoil, has a different shape on the top half which makes the speed different which lowers the pressure. A greater pressure on the bottom lifts the airfoil much like your hand under any object you hold. To change the height of the plane, we simply change the pressures on the wing.

This concept is universal. A hydraulic piston in a construction backhoe must experience a "pressure difference" in order to actuate the assembly. A car engine works by combusting a fossil fuel which in turn applies pressure to its piston. Water comes out of your faucet because the pressure on the pipes is greater than the pressure on the sink side. There must be a "pressure difference" to induce a movement.

So why all of this talk about pressure? There’s a saying: People won’t change unless the pressure of change can overcome the pressure of staying the same. That’s right. People hate change. In order to INVOKE change in another human being, you must change the physical circumstances OR MORE SPECIFICALLY change the way that person perceives the circumstances to actually be.

I write this piece in the midst of the Gulf Oil Crisis. I hear both sides of the congressional isle hammering away at the BP executives accusing them of destroying this environment. Fur is flying in the halls of congress and for what? Folks, they’re badgering the wrong people. It’s US. WE are the reason that BP is down there in the first place drilling for that oil. WE are the ones who choose to buy a home 15 miles from where we work. We are the ones who import our produce and groceries 1000 miles or more from where we live. We are the only creature lazy enough to drive to the gym so we can claim to work out.

I’m sick and tired of people pointing at each other and arguing over what the best course of action for our environment or that Congress should do this or that. I put as much faith in Congress to fix the problems with the environment as I do the companies sponsoring the people in Congress. I will make the change in my house and I will lead my family on this course. I have no faith in my government anymore to put the needs of the people above their own.

The question now is... will we change because the pain of change is coming in the form of higher gas prices and famine, or because we perceive the pain of change is already here in the form of what we're doing to our environment. Change is coming, better to make it on your terms. -Jason

UPDATE: Not 24 hours after I made this post, an article came out in CNN which was in line with what I was saying.

Oil Reality Check