Recommendations for Books on Sustainable Homes?

December 5, 2008

A question for the experts out there… Christmas is coming, and that usually means I’ll get a few gift certificates to places like Amazon, Borders, etc.   My library has plenty of titles for cooking, homebrewing, gardening and things like that.  Living in Minnesota, one area I think I need to read up on are ways to keep a house warm in the wintertime without relying totally on natural gas and HVAC systems.

I live in a new house that’s pretty tightly constructed… there are a few tweaks here & there that I could do to keep the cold out, but overall I don’t think that’s the big issue.  What I’m wondering about are ways to keep homes warm that make sense in a low energy future.

Anyone have some recommendations for books dealing with this subject?  I’m looking for ideas about retrofitting existing homes as much as new sustainable construction methods.

Thanks in advance…


Happy Earth Day

April 22, 2007

It’s been a pretty quiet week for me. The weather has improved to the point that I can think about my new garden again, and circumstances (namely an injured foot/ankle) have helped me come to the conclusion that a whole lot of digging just isn’t going to get done anytime soon. With that in mind, I’m now looking at putting in a few small raised beds and trying the intensive route ala “Square Foot Gardening” using lots of mulch to give me some instant soil fertility.

I’m modifying the SFG model a bit by not lining the bottoms of the beds with either plywood or landscaping fabric. Doing that seems to make SFG nothing more that container gardening on steroids, which probably works fine for a lot of people but not me. I am planning on removing the sod underneath the beds, forking up the soil to improve drainage and tilth (a little bit, I know), then putting down a layer or two of cardboard to act as a temporary weed/grass barrier, and then put the bed in as normal. The cardboard will break down eventually and allow the plant roots to get into the soil underneath. The beds will be a mix of SFG and sheet mulching I guess. Some instant fertility along with the ability to improve the underlying soil over time.

I celebrated Earth Day by sneaking out in the early morning and planting a few hops rhizomes in the back yard before the rain comes. If everything goes well I should have both Cascade and Kent Goldings hops available in small amounts by the end of summer, with larger crops to come next year.

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Plant a Pollinator Garden… Please!

March 24, 2007

If you haven’t read about the rising wave of problems with crashing bee populations worldwide, get on Google and check it out. In a nutshell, bee colonies are dying off around the world, and no-one really knows why. There are several possible reasons people are talking about:

So, there are a number of possibilities for why this is happening, but it’s bad news regardless of the underlying reason. Did you know that bees are used to commercially pollinate more than $14.6 billion dollars’ worth of fruit, nut and vegetable crops every year in the US alone? Without these incredibly helpful insects, these food stuffs would be much more costly if they were available at all.

There’s plenty of information out there, and most of it is ominous. One of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes is making the rounds lately with regards to this, and it bears repeating here:

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

So, if you have any open space in your yard, plant a pollinator garden. If you don’t, spread the word with friends and family. This affects all of us in the end. I’m doing my part, and I hope you can do yours.

For some links on what to grow, you can consult your local county extension office, or you can check out some of the following links:

NOTE:  I’ve crossposted this to Groovy Green as well.


Ideas for a Maple Guild?

January 30, 2007

So I’ve got this Silver Maple tree standing by itself in the backyard.  It’s a baby, being maybe 14-16 feet tall at the most, and it was put in by the landscapers last spring.   Having read and bought into permaculture, I’d like to put a small guild of companion plants around it.  My pressing need is for soil improvement, so some nitrogen-fixers and soil miners are in order.

Does anyone have some suggestions?   I’ve got the books and will go digging through there for ideas, but I’ve been busy with other things and I’d hope this would start a conversation.


Rich Boy Scouts

January 13, 2007

“Be Prepared” is the Boy Scout motto, right?

As you make your plans for this year, check out this posting by economist Nathan Lewis on a 2007 checklist. It looks like good advice to me. While Lewis is not familiar to me, his bio sounds legitimate:

Nathan Lewis was formerly the Chief International Economist of a firm that provides investment advice to institutional investors. Today, he is part of the investing team at an asset-management company. He has written for the Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, Daily Yomiuri, Japan Times, Pravda, Dow Jones Newswires, and other publications.

Also, as a blast from the past, read this Fortune Magazine story about billionaire investor Richard Rainwater and his plans for the future. T. Boone Pickens is another rich investor who’s gotten on the bandwagon. People who become billionaires don’t do so accidentally.

Then there’s the story about the Bush family buying a huge ranch in Paraguay close to or on top of the world’s largest freshwater aquifer. And the Bush “Western White House’ in Crawford, Texas, home of a scion of a major oil family, uses passive-solar heating, rainwater collection, and geothermal heat pumps.

The country is awash in money, ideas and opinions. The corporate financial game is still going, so so people will continue their mad rush for cash, and the ultra-rich will be happy to help them, since some of them seem to know what’s coming so they might as well make some bucks off the CNBC-watching greedmongers who still think the market is fair and a pretty easy way to make money. A few of them are going public with their concerns about what lies ahead, though it’s hard to say whether this is being done as a public service or as a way to further pump up their holdings before the fall. At any rate, it’s one thing for the mass media and special interests to deride left-ish agrarian anarchists as deluded believers in the bunk theory of peak oil. It’s much harder to go after the mainstays of their society (i.e. the ultra-rich) when they do the same.

How are your preparations going?


The Key to Modern Life is Strategic Ignorance

November 22, 2006

A great quote from an article in the Washington Post magazine about the Earthaven Ecovillage in NC. This is actually a pretty balanced article about how and why people choose to live in intentional communities (don’t you dare call them communes), and how it may shed some light on how future generations may be forced to live.

I must admit that I like having access to ample amounts of electricity and propane at the house, and the thought of lugging my own water from the nearby stream would probably lose it’s anachronistic appeal within a day or two. That said, the life these people live here is a lot better than being in either a dystopian police state or chaotic wasteland. I applaud these folks for volunteering to drop out of society and truly live their beliefs.

Earthaven practices permaculture techniques extensively, and is also active in green building. If it were closer to me, I’d love to visit it just to see what all they’ve been able to accomplish.

Hat Tip to Life After the Oil Crash for highlighting this article.


One Billion Trees

November 11, 2006

Per my referring to starting woodlots in a recent post, I recently stumbled across this new initiative, sponsored by the United Nations:

UNEP One Billion Trees Campaign

If we are to have any worthwhile standard of living in the next century, we will need to plant as many trees as possible and then manage them well.

Hat tip to Aaron at Powering Down.