A Happy Day: Library + RRFM + ZW Food

Sunday I made my regular monthly trip to East Austin for the Really Really Free Market. I dropped off a couple of items I decided not to keep from my last trip and just a couple of other things I no longer needed. Fortunately, most of the crowd had already been through all the bins to find their treasures so I had plenty of space while looking through the tons of clothing to see if there was anything I wanted to salvage.

This month turned into a fairly large haul and I went home with:

  • a new-to-me pair of jeans that fits me properly (finally!)
  • tshirts for Wheatsville and local bakery Easy Tiger (they make delicious pretzels)
  • a polo-style shirt to try out
  • one extra pair of socks to replace the one I’ve just worn big holes in (the socks aren’t exactly the same length but close enough)
  • some lovely fabric for my yo-yo quilt or another project

The Wheatsville shirt is a cotton-poly blend, and I’ve been trying to stick to natural fibers. But, hey, I’ll take it because Wheatsville is awesome!

Unfortunately, this also means I now own 23 shirts! Sounds like this weekend it’ll be time to pick out a few to get down to my limit of 20 and decide whether they end up going to the next free market or recycled into tshirt yarn. It’ll be nice to get back that little bit of free space in the closet again. A few shirts can make a world of difference.

Also this month, I finally realized that in.gredients is only a 15 minute walk away from Chestnut Pocket Park where the RRFM is held, so I wiped off some of the sweat dripping from my face and headed over for some zero waste and local foods. Another dragon fruit, a canary melon, some walnut bread (from Easy Tiger!), dark chocolate discs from the bulk bins, and more. Total success!

Combined with a stop at the library and some engaging reading on the bus, this was my idea of a divine weekend. This’ll definitely be a monthly zero waste tradition for me now that I know how easy (and satisfying!) it is to do both. Sorry for all the exclamation points in this post, but I had a great day and can’t help it. 🙂

StormWater Wisdom

Every time it rains, a bit more of the soil around my house erodes away. We don’t have any gutters currently and most of the lot slopes down a bit towards the creek. Naturally, I was more than happy to attend a free Green Stormwater Conservation class this weekend to get some ideas on what to do about it.

Before sharing some of what I learned though, I wanted to share a few pics of the beautiful artwork at the Zaragosa Recreation Center. The artwork was all over the classrooms, too. An awesome tribute to our latino background.

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The class itself was led by Staryn Wagner of the Austin Watershed Protection Department. For three hours, he showed us pictures of streams that had been eroded, told us stories of various chemicals and other nasties that get into the water in different parts of Austins, and taught us all about what we could do to prevent excessive flow of water into the streams whenever there’s a storm event with all the impermeable surfaces around. There’s probably no one who loves rain gardens more than Staryn.

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One of the things that I was surprised to learn was just how beneficial ragweed is for streams. The creek by my house is covered with the stuff, and whenever I looked up ragweed online the results were full of much cursing and disdain for the plant. However, it turns out that in addition to the soil improvements that most weeds provide, ragweed is also great for storm management (although there are more aesthetic options if you have the money and time). As soon as the storm water comes, the ragweed bends over so the rush of water can flow over top while protecting the precious soil underneath. I’m thrilled that this means there’s one less thing I need to take care of, and it’s fine to leave the ragweed in place for now.

For landscape design, there’s vegetation, swales, and berms. However, as might be guessed from above, Staryn’s favorite feature to talk about is the rain garden. There are many types of these, but it pretty much amounts to having a depression in the ground designed to hold and slowly absorb water. They’re any shape and size but are generally from 4 to 12 inches deep so they can hold plenty of water but not take more than a couple of days to drain (to prevent mosquito problems). In addition to the info linked above, there are some more examples on the CreekSide Story blog.

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Example of rain tank surrounded by a rain garden

And finally, the part I’d been waiting for–rain catchment systems. Since my roof needs to be replaced soon and I have erosion issues, looking into gutters and rain tanks has been on my list since moving in. I had been thinking of a smaller system, but Staryn said he wanted every home to have a 1,000- to 3,000-gallon system. Yipes! Of course, his perspective wasn’t so much about having the water for use in the landscape but to protect the watershed during storm events. Since I don’t plan on dealing with rain harvesting installation more than once, it’s time to crunch some numbers and see if a larger system actually makes sense for us before getting into the process.

I’d never heard this mentioned before, but as shown above, it’s recommended to have the rain tank surrounded by a rain garden to both filter the first flush water and help handle anything in excess of capacity. That’s something I can totally do on my own, though.

There are three features to keep leaves and gunk from your roof from getting into your water tank.

  • Gutter screens – to keep leaves from entering your gutters. The smaller the filter, the more that will be kept out. The weaker your screens, the more likely stuff will just weight it down and clog the gutters.
  • Downspout filter – to catch any leaves that get through when part of the gutter screen inevitably tears.
  • First flush system – to capture the dirtiest roof-scrubbing water at the start of the storm and direct it away from the main tank. (Pro tips: Have a drainage hole at the bottom of your first flush system and one a little higher up to ensure it will empty on its own. Also, make it easy to remove the first flush system for cleaning.)

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Another pro tip is to have multiple spouts for your tank. After the presentation, Staryn showed us the rain tank he installed at the Zaragosa Recreation Center. This (what looks to me huge) 1250-gallon tank only collects water from just one portion of their roof. This is an interesting system because the first valve will only empty until the tank is half empty. Another valve will empty to a lower level. And the final valve will release any water. Actually, there’s one more valve right near the tank so the flow can be disabled if the other valves need to be maintained or modified.

I didn’t get any pictures of the surrounding area, but there’s a nice little rain garden around this tank with native plants. And across a little walkway, there’s a low area which was then filled up on the down-sloping sides in order to hold water. So whenever there’s a large flow of water, that’ll act as a rain garden to capture it and allow it to seep back into the ground.

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With that in mind, here’s a picture of my own already created rain garden after some of our spring rains. You may not be able to tell because the grass is a bit high, but that’s a pretty huge puddle next to the house. I’m already doing a bit for diverting water from flooding the creek too quickly and allowing more to soak in. Before this class, I was planning on filling it in with some dirt, but now I’m proud of it.

Seriously, though, I’m definitely going to add some dedicated rain features into my yard over time. I’m good with a shovel. 🙂

The Garden After 5 Months

We’re well into July now and the Austin heat means that most days this month have hit the triple-digits. I have a definite tan line on my neck from spending hardly any time outside, and most of the veggies just can’t take the heat. But anyhow here are the highlights of the garden five months after moving in.

Previous months:

Cucumbers

Dead now. But my Straight Eights were producing all through June and even gave me a few in July before they all shrivelled up and were a pain to pull because the vines had entangled themselves with other veggies I planted too close together. I hope to see more in the fall garden, though.

Peppers

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Not even close to growing a bell pepper

The jalapeño pepper is still a tiny little thing and has no hope of growing anything this summer. The bell pepper looks leafy at least but there’s no telling if any of those will wind up in my skillet either.

Tomatoes

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Front yard tomato

The Roma tomato plant I added at the front of my house is just barely leafier than this now. It doesn’t help that I sometimes forget about watering plants that aren’t in the backyard garden. There’s one tomato on it but it’s kind of pathetic.

Of my two Romas planted earlier in the year in the backyard, I pulled one as soon as I got overwhelmed with / sick of tomatoes earlier this month. (I harvested at least 50, which for me is a ton.) The other was butchered mercilessly as I composted it limb by limb before getting tired of the heat and failing to finish the job. A couple of days ago I noticed a new tomato on that plant, it’s a survivor! It hasn’t even been watered all month.

Melons

Melons are amazing. They’re the one plant that still looks really happy with the summer heat.I’ve been watering them only once or twice a week.

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All kinds of melon leaves
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A baby watermelon that wasn’t meant to be

After a few cantaloupes and canary melons, I was excited about finally getting a watermelon. The excitement was short-lived as I soon after saw the growing melon slightly larger than a softball but covered with a huge brown spot on one side. I got that away from the vines as quick as possible, hoping another healthier melon takes its place. Will probably need to get soil tests done in the near future though.

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A new batch of canary melons has sprouted

Watermelons may take too long to grow but I have a good feeling about the canary melons. I created this new garden bed for another round and the baby vines are looking healthy. I’ve already thinned them out a few times, hoping to keep the most vigorous few plants.

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Yes, even smaller melons need support

One of the older canary melon vines crossed over into the former cucumber bed, giving me the first mid-air melon I’ve ever grown. Despite reading and watching much advice about giving your melons proper support, I decided to experiment and see if this melon could hold its own weight. As it turns out, it can’t. I took this photo yesterday morning and then in the afternoon it fell to the ground. Not fully ripe yet because it’s still a bit small and the skin isn’t textured yet, but as what might be the last homegrown melon of the season I’ll savor it as much as possible. (Still, fingers crossed that more melons emerge.)

Chance of Rain

After weeks of dry heat, there’s finally a chance of rain this week (with slightly lower temperatures). To take full advantage, I transplanted my puny little next batch of tomato seedlings outside, stuck some yellow squash seeds into a mound of dirt, and put some cucumber seeds in the ground along with some support. It may not be the best timing to plant any of these things, but with plenty of warmth and water and love, just maybe they’ll make it through. *fingers crossed*

A Visit to Zero Waste Grocery Store in.gredients

The Austin Zero Waste Lifestyle Meetup is all about getting people to try new zero waste activities, and getting food is definitely one of my favorite activies so I was excited to see this as an upcoming meetup. Today we met at the in.gredients grocery store, with the intention of learning more options about buying without packaging waste. Of course, this idea stemmed in part from a recent book club discussion with Josh Blaine, manager of in.gredients.

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Welcoming entrace to in.gredients, with seating for eating 🙂

As we settled in I checked out the grounds and was pleasantly surprised to find a Little Free Library.

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Bonus books at the grocery store

And then had a look around their on-site garden. Maybe one day mine will look similar.

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Groceries in the making

Inside the store, there was plenty of local food stuffs to make your mouth water. And they had bulk options for all the basics like flour and salt and chocolate-covered almonds, laundry detergent (no longer available at Wheatsville unfortunately), pet food, and even a soap log that you could cut your own bar of soap from.

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I still have enough soap for forever but really want to try this next time I need some

Since it was a Saturday afternoon, I was already stocked with groceries but tared one jar by the door for something special.

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Tare sticker. The only packaging waste I took home from this shop.

So, what did I get? They had samples of dragon fruit (so strange! yet delicious), which I was then sure my husband would want to try also. I managed to avoid the chocolate and grabbed some unsweetened coconut flakes to fill my jar. (Not a local option I’m sure, but they’ll come to good use.) Plus, I grabbed some long beans because they looked really good. I was already at the checkout when I spotted the package-free breads behind the register and took home a loaf of sourdough (in what was formerly a shoe bag).

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Groceries from in.gredients without waste packaging

Afterwards, the meetup organizer Melissa shared a bit of her kombucha, which was awesome for two reasons. One, because it was on tap and she was able to get it in her growler with no additional waste. And two, because in.gredients provides real cups to use when dining on-site. (They wash them of course.) This was my first taste of kombucha, and it struck me as tasting a lot like natural ginger ale. I may have to try more of that in the future also.

So all in all a successful meetup. And I’ll be back!

Can “package-free” be sustainable?

This month Josh Blaine, manager of the in.gredients grocery store here in Austin, stopped by at the beginning of our Talk Green to Me book club to discuss zero waste and other efforts. The discussion tied in with many of our read books including this month’s The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones, American Wasteland by Jonathan Bloom, and of course Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free.

in.gredients was launched in 2012 as a package-free neighborhood grocery, which is pretty awesome. Of course, Beth Terry heard about this, and Josh describes her as “like a kid in a candy store” when she came to check out the shop.

I hadn’t heard of the store before reading Plastic-Free as it was nowhere near my neighborhood. When I visited the store about a year and a half ago, I think getting there on the bus took nearly two hours. It was definitely not my neighborhood grocery and visiting was anything but sustainable. It was a bitter-sweet visit too because this was after in.gredients had made the difficult decision to also sell packaged goods.

At times I’ve fantasized about opening up my own neighborhood grocery store (not too seriously) which really is package-free, but after Thursday evening I have a much better understanding of just how difficult that might be. Josh explained that they wouldn’t have been able to stay in business as a package-free grocery. When customers bring in their own containers, they’re less likely to pick up other things. Potential customers may skip a visit to the store or go elsewhere if they don’t have the right supplies on hand. And some things that customers want may not be available package-free, like coconut oil or soymilk.

Package-free food also doesn’t always last as long, which sometimes is irrelevant but sometimes is really important like for beer which is only at really good quality in kegs for a couple of days. That means it has a much shorter time frame to sell within. in.gredients is also a smaller neighborhood store, so having something things packaged like in kegs means that there’s going to be a lot less variety for customers to choose from. Unfortunately, there are so many reasons why packaged goods can be better for business.

To get more customers, in.gredients switched from all package-free to a focus on local foods 18 months after it opened. But that’s not just lipservice. Food sold at this store may be as local as vegetables grown in the garden in their front lot. They also work with many local farms like Urban Roots and Green Gate Farms. After hearing Josh talk about how closely in.gredients works with the vendors I’m more tempted to go back just because I know I’ll be able to pick up anything I see and buy it knowing that some really good people have already done the hard work of finding vendors with earth-friendly and community-friendly processes.

Josh is part of the Austin Zero Waste Alliance, and zero waste is definitely still one of the core values of the store. I don’t remember the specifics, but I think he said that the average amount of trash created by a person per day is five pounds, which is what their store creates in a month! They’re able to do this by making it a priority. They even work closely with local vendors to arrange for deliveries in reusable packaging like buckets of granola that go directly into the bulk bins before being cleaned and swapped out during the next delivery.

There’s so much more that was discussed, like involvement in the community or fair pricing, but my current dream is just to be able to buy what I need without getting a lot of extra trash as part of the deal. They still have a bulk selection filled with good food, though, and fresh local produce free even of stickers. So if you’re in Austin, stop by in.gredients to pick some up or other local goodies.

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The Garden after 4 Months

Yay! Four months after moving in, I’m finally eating more food from the garden. For a short while anyhow. All of May was clouds, rain, and thunderstorms, even into the first week of June. The rain finally cleared a couple of weeks ago, but the plants didn’t get any opportunity to sunbathe without the heat. We’ve had highs in the 90’s almost every day since, and it’s not going to get cooler again for months. (Time to start planning the fall garden!)

Here’s the breakdown for all my food plants:

Tomatoes & onions

I was elated when the first green tomato that I picked and left on the dining table as an experiment actually started turning red after a week or two. Fortunately, after the heavy rains let up several of the tomatoes started turning red on the plant. Unfortunately, with the dry weather, several leaf-footed stink bugs took up residence. I saw some while they were still nymphs, but my collapsed tomato plants are kind of a big leafy mess to pick insects out of and most hid when they saw me coming. I’ve harvested a couple dozen of these tomatoes so far and will probably pick the rest tomorrow. Even if they’re still green, I want them for myself and not for the stinkbugs.

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Roma tomatoes visited by a leaf-footed stink bug

The onions around it never grew very large bulbs, but I’ve been harvesting a couple every week. They’re still full of good oniony flavor.

Cucumbers

I love cucumbers but had to give a couple away this week because they were all coming out at once. Like the tomatoes, they didn’t fruit until the rain stopped and we started getting sunny days. I’m not sure if these plants will make it much longer. That picture was taken just a couple of days ago, and in that time many more leaves have already started curling up and giving in to the summer heat. They probably would have produced more if I had planted them more upright so that I could more easily find the cucumbers at the right time instead of when they had swollen well past the diameter of large supermarket cukes. Lesson learned.

Melons

July should be melon month, so I’m trying to be patient but it’s hard. Every day I go out there to look at this tiny watermelon hoping it will have grown a lot, but I can’t really see any difference day-to-day. There’s one other similar looking melon that I’ve found also. Not sure if they’re from the Crimson Sweet seeds I planted or from one of the bastard melon seeds. I planted them all in the same area and the vines are completely intertwined now.

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Baby watermelon

I just saw this one for the first time a couple of days ago. It’s larger but was in hiding under the foliage. Looks like the cantaloupe seed I planted.

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Here’s hoping that there are others hidden away. 🙂 Also, I really hope a couple of canary melons come out this summer, but I’ll end up picking up a couple from Engel Farms at the farmers market anyhow.

Squash

I think my squash plants are dying already also. They’re certainly less vigorous now. Spoiled by the constant rain but then sudden heat. Even though the yellow squash here hasn’t grown full-size yet, I’ll probably pick it tomorrow to ensure I get some sort of harvest from this crop.

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Squash plants no longer vigorous

Scattered plants

I transplanted this bell pepper a few weeks ago now, and it looks pretty happy although there’s still a ways to go before it’s large enough to produce any fruit.

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Bell pepper

The lemon tree sapling that was starting to look good last month is looking even better now, but the other one is pretty dead. 😦

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Lemon tree – 1 year 8 months old

The tomato plant I recently transplanted into the front garden bed is starting to look pretty happy also.

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Tomato plant in the front yard

The jalapeno pepper that’s in another bed out front is still pretty small, but peppers are supposed to be able to stand up to the Texas heat so it probably still has plenty of time to grow. I obviously didn’t do a very good job of removing grass from this bed.

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Jalapeno Pepper

Not pictured here but yesterday I also stopped by my mom’s to pick some oregano and the garlic that I planted in the garden there last fall. I got five good sized bulbs with nice papery skins so they probably won’t need too long to finish curing. There are still a couple more to harvest, but I’ll do that next week when I go collect seeds from the lettuce plant that bolted a while back.

Free Paint, Recycled Paint

In Austin, anyone can stop off at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off center to pick up some totally free ReBlend paint. Paint isn’t supposed to be thrown out in the trash, so people who have left over paint take it down to the Drop-off center, where it’s blended into one of three color combinations and repackaged for anyone in town to pick up. The blending process releases any VOCs in the paint, so while it may have had VOCs originally at least they won’t be released in your home. And did I mention that this paint is free?

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In April I made my way out there to pick up paint for some ugly walls in our new house. Taking the bus was a bad idea because it was a lot further to the bus stop carrying a few gallons of paint, and my carrying bags weren’t quite right for the job. Fortunately, by walking I had the opportunity to enjoy this railroad to nowhere.

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Nature victorious!

When I visited only the dark beige color was available, but any paint would have suited my needs. While there, I checked out the Reuse Store (free stuff that other people dropped off but still has a lot of use in it) and got a hammer, screws, a nice Italian planter, and possibly other things that I don’t quite remember.

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Recycled paint!

My mom had given me a few paint roller supplies, but I made a trip to the hardware store and picked out a couple of quality brushes that should last the rest of my life–a 1.5″ angled brush for detail work and a 3″ paint-all-the-things brush. (I had been hoping the Habitat ReStore would have some used paintbrushes, but sadly it only sells them brand new.)  Plus, I picked up a short ladder at a yard sale in my neighborhood because I had no other good way to reach near the ceiling. Holding the small amount of paint for each day was simple with a reused plastic container. I’ll probably give away the paint roller supplies on Freecycle in the near future.

(Note: If I had decent carpeting I would probably need to invent a dropcloth also but fortunately, or unfortunately, the carpet that came with the house is permanently stained and at some point in the non-distant future should be removed.)

This is the closet in our guest bedroom before it got its new paint job. It was off-white and doesn’t look too bad there, but the other walls had many spackle spots and smudges which didn’t make it look very friendly. I couldn’t bear to take a picture of them.

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Before

And here’s our happily repainted guest bedroom.

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After. Non-nasty walls!
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With contrasting white trim

My husband was so happy at the improvement. At some point I’ll probably be making another trip to the Reuse Store to pick up a small jar of white paint to touch up the trim. (They have so much free stuff!) But in the meantime I have a half a bucket of paint left and will be working on the hallway and bathroom cabinets, which are the two things that most need it.

At this point, even though I have several other rooms that could benefit from it, I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be getting another large bucket of paint anytime soon. While working with this stuff I’ve realized that I’m pretty much just putting a layer of plastic on my walls. Not sure how I feel about that. The greenest solution is obviously to live with smudgy walls, but nope. This warrants further investigation. Do you know of any good alternatives?

80% of Austin trash isn’t trash

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The city of Austin adopted a Zero Waste plan in 2009 with the goal of diverting 90% of waste from landfill by the year 2040, and they’ve just released the results of the 2015 Community Diversion Study. This is the first study of its kind done here in Austin. I haven’t read the full report yet but wanted to share the overview of findings.

Unfortunately, we didn’t meet the 50% diversion goal for 2015. Only 42% of waste ended up reused, recycled, or composted this year. But it may give us some of the information we need to forge ahead.

“I’m extremely encouraged by the results of this study,” said Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert. “The report has provided us with valuable data that shows us how we are doing and where we need to improve as a community in order to reach Council’s vision of Zero Waste.”

Here’s the breakdown of the material analyzed on its way to be landfilled. 18% could have been recovered and reused as is. 26% could have been recycled. And a whopping 37% could have been composted. Less than one-fifth of the load would have gone to landfill if those resources had been sorted to the right place.

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Fortunately, there are several steps already lined up to help us improve.

  • An ordinance already exists to require recycling for multi-family properties in Austin with at least 10 units, but as of this fall it goes into effect for properties with at least 5 units.
  • Also starting this fall, businesses over 15,000 sq. ft. will be required to divert organics material for composting, and over the next couple of years all food businesses will have to take part.
  • Austin is also hosting the 2016 Zero Waste Business Conference in June, which should both get some much-needed attention on the subject and present more ideas for improvement.

There are also some hopes to roll out curbside organics collection for more than the pilot group of residential customers, but I don’t think there’s any budget allocated yet for it.

Personally, my guess is that at least half (probably much more) of the big number above could be reduced by source reduction–that is, buying less stuff and using less packaging for the stuff that is bought. It’ll be an interesting read to see how reduction is handled in the report.

Book Review: The Big Necessity

A couple of months ago, I was watching the city of Austin’s Dare to Go Zero tv program, which features families competing with each other to create the least amount of waste judged by weighing the bags in their trash bin. Two of the families had diaper-age children, and to to reduce their waste one family switched to reusable diapers. The other switched to flushables. It was shocking to me to see flushable diapers being used as a “green” alternative to the regular disposables. Either way, they’re waste. Isn’t it the same thing?

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Hoping to find out what happens to everything we flush down the toilet I checked out Rose George’s book The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters. She takes us on a tour of the sewers, into water treatment plants, to smart toilet facilities, and to areas where people rely on other methods than flush toilets for handling their wastes. George begins on this happy note:

Ninety percent of the world’s sewage ends up untreated in oceans, rivers, and lakes, and a fair share comes from the sanitary cities supplied with sewers and treatment plants. Sanitation in the Western world is built from pipes and on presumption. Despite the technology, the engineers and the ingenuity of modern sanitary systems, despite the shine of progress and flush toilets, even the richest, best-equipped humans still don’t know what to do with sewage except move it somewhere else and hope no one notices when it’s poured untreated into drinking water sources. And they don’t.

The first stop George takes us on is an inside look at the sewers. Other than the massive blockages caused by grease sent down the drains and random stuff discarded into the sewers (for example a grenade), she doesn’t make it seem all that bad.

This is not a bad odor. It’s musty, cloying, and damp, but it doesn’t stink. It’s diluted after all. Without water, the average human produces 77 pounds of excrement and 132 gallons of urine a year. Add toilet flushes, and the total jumps to 4,000 gallons. Thanks to the WC, the flow is 98 percent water.

Of course, today the human waste is just one part of the equation when it comes to the disgustingness of what goes down our drains.

By the end of the century sludge contained far more than pure human excrement, and hardly any of it good. Anything that gets into the sewers can end up in sludge. U.S. industry is estimated to use 100,000 chemicals, with 1,000 new chemicals being added each year…. Sludge may contain pathogens from all sorts of sources.

And all of this, she explains, eventually comes back to us. The Great Stink of 1858 where the Thames was literally full of crap. Any flooding where the sewers cannot handle the added capacity of rain water draining into them and end up overflowing. Areas where people use the street as a toilet so it gets around with ease. (Most areas you hear about where there’s no clean water, guess why.) Even when the waste has been treated, the result often ends up going right back to our own drinking water source.

After reading about this I had to look it up and sure enough, treated sewage in Austin is returned to the Colorado River, where our drinking water comes from. The sludge goes another route, over to Hornsby Bend, for further treatment and composting together with our yard waste pickup to become Dillo Dirt. This is the good Class A stuff, not the barely processed Class B sludge that winds up on some farms in areas which suspiciously have higher frequencies of many diseases, as discussed in the book. And it’s a good thing too. As a firm believer in not letting things go to waste, I have some Dillo Dirt in a couple of my garden beds right now.

Ever wonder what happens after you flush the toilet? Preparing for a trip somewhere with other toilet customs? Considering a composting toilet for your home? If you have any interest in how to take care of your business, The Big Necessity is a must-read. And if you haven’t checked out your copy from the library, it just might make great material for reading on the john.

Afternote: The book never mentioned flushable diapers as it’s from 2008–almost a decade ago–when flushable diapers had just barely been introduced. After doing a bit more research, though, I was happily surprised to realize that it’s only the liners that are flushed. (Not sure how I thought whole diapers could be flushed, guess the name threw me.) By no means do they break down as easily as toilet paper, but toilets seem to handle them if they’re swished around in the bowl a bit before flushing. And the human waste ends up in the right place. So they may not be perfect, probably aren’t the best things to put in your pipes, and may not be appropriate for areas that experience drought, but they’re definitely not as bad as my first impression.

Gardening With My Fingers Crossed

I have naturally tendencies towards thrift, and that’s what first gave me the idea a couple of years ago to try growing some of my food myself. Since then I’ve discovered many other reasons for growing my own food:

  • experiencing the joy of creating something
  • getting a bit of exercise
  • conserving the soil and getting my hands dirty occasionally
  • knowing exactly where my food came from and how it was grown
  • really appreciating the work farmers put in to grow the food I buy at the market
  • not having to deal with the waste from bagged carrots or stickered cucumbers

Earlier attempts

I started small, with just watermelons that first summer. It was a total failure because I was using seeds from a supermarket watermelon, but I wasn’t deterred.

That winter I grew some carrots and radishes. That first carrot was so tender and sweet that I swore to grow carrots every year from then on. Sadly, when I invited my young cousin to the backyard to harvest a couple of the still-small carrots, she got over-enthused and pulled almost all of them. Only a couple survived to grow to adulthood.

Last summer my watermelon attempt was sad again, even with seeds from a packet. Maintaining a summer garden in Texas is tough. My sunflowers grew tall and beautiful, but attracted too many bugs and ended up not even having any kernels in the seeds. At least I got a few good cucumbers that go round and my purchased oregano plant happily took root and provided for many meals of spaghetti. As it started cooling off a bit, I took a shot at growing some peas but only ate a few before an early frost killed off my plants.

This winter is already off to a decent start, though, with the standard radishes and a couple of carrots eaten early. (They take forever to grow… or maybe I just need to water them more often). Even though my few spinach plants haven’t produced much I’ve picked some of the leaves to eat and am also considering just eating the broccoli leaves as well since I don’t see any indication that a head will ever form on those two broccoli plants. The onion seeds and garlic I planted in the fall are promising long-term success.

Purchases for this year

Last week I took a morning off to visit The Natural Gardener. It’s not at all convenient on public transit but has a great selection of seeds and other goodies. Unlike last year’s visit, this time I was disciplined enough to not buy a fancy new pot. Only things that would go in the ground in my garden (plus paper wrapping and a rubber band for the onions).

Kennebec seed potatoes

So I’m not sure I even have the room to grow potatoes, but there’s a little patch of dirt where I’m going to try it. At least I think there’s enough finished compost to pile on top as the plants start to grow. It was just over a buck for all these seed potatoes so no harm done if I fail this attempt.

Watermelon Radishes

These are for the fall garden but like I said, that garden store is not convenient so I stashed them away now. One bunch of watermelon radishes at the farmers market is $2.75, so $2.99 for the seed packet is a good deal if I grow even just five radishes.

Italian Roma Tomatoes

Some people say tomatoes are easy to grow, but they intimidate me a bit. I hear they can attract the leaf-footed stink bugs that my sunflowers attracted last summer, and those things really freaked me out. But I love so many things with tomato sauce so am already mentally preparing myself for what it will take to have my own source for spaghetti, pizza, chili, red rice, and many other delicious foods. ($2.39)

California Wonder Bell Peppers

A bit of bell pepper goes into almost any entree, and frozen bell pepper would work easily well most of the time. So fingers crossed that we get a decent yield from these. ($1.99)

Tam Jalapeño

I’m not a fan of spicy foods, so this is a mild jalapeño. If this produces a lot and my husband doesn’t gobble them all up, I can prep and freeze some to add a slight kick to winter stews and such. ($2.50)

Italian Large Leaf Parsely

At $3.79 these were the most expensive seeds I picked up this trip, and I kind of have the buyers remorse on this one. But if I can figure out more ways to eat parsley or grow a few parsley plants in pots to give as gifts, maybe it’ll be worthwhile.

Save the Bees Flower Mix

I wanted to get marigolds because I read they’re good companion plants for tomatoes. When they didn’t have any marigold seeds, though, I looked around for any other kind of beneficial flowers. This mix lists basil, cilantro, dill, and other useful herbs as ingredients, so I may get crazy at some point and try to identify and separate the seeds to use to my own design. ($2.69)

1015Y Onion transplants

I planted some onions from seed in October and have probably eight that are growing happily, but they’re scrawny in comparison to these transplants. Just $2.50 for a couple of dozen onion transplants? I couldn’t resist.

Peat Pellets

I saw these little pellets of dirt and thought they must be awesome because they’re zero waste. No price tag or anything. At only 18 cents each, I picked up six of them to give them a try. Sad to say, after some investigation into how to use them it turns out that harvesting from peat bogs is horrible for the environment. Plus, there’s some netting around the peat which is supposed to be biodegradable but is made up of unknown composition. This’ll definitely be a one-time thing.

A Saturday in the Garden

When the weekend came around, it was time to get to work.

Compost

Yesterday was cold but after the sun came out and warmed things up a little I did a bit of weeding, a little raking, and checked out the status of my compost pile. I follow the lazy composting method of throwing it on the ground but have been exceptionally lazy in that I rarely bother to turn it. Much to my delight there was some rich dark crumbly stuff underneath, which you can see just a bit of in this picture. If my shovel wasn’t broken I would’ve turned it more. That’s one thing on my “things to buy” list.

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Backyard compost pile

1015Y Onion Transplants

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Onion success!

This was my primary goal of getting outside this weekend. These babies needed to get in the ground and get some water. Now there are a couple dozen onion transplants scattered about my garden bed, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce

Next up was to use up some of my old seeds that might not make it to next season.

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I’ve tried growing a little bit of this lettuce indoors but wasn’t too impressed. Maybe it’ll work better outdoors. Or maybe it’ll freeze and die. The only reason I bought this last year was because I made the mistake of going into a Walmart where I saw seed packets for 20 cents each. I really need to stay out of those places.

English Peas

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I was a bit surprised to find planting peas on the gardening calendar for this season, but there they were. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of planting the peas without first soaking them in water overnight as the instructions state. There may not be much hope for this year. But fingers crossed anyway and heavy watering for the next couple of days.

By the way, use #238 for t-shirt yarn: substitute for twine in garden trellises.

Danvers Half Long Carrots

There were just a few of these seeds left, so I found room for an extra row in the garden bed. Historically for me these have taken several months to mature so once again I have my fingers crossed that these will turn out okay.

A Sunday Indoors

Okay, so I didn’t spend all of today indoors, but my gardening focus was all indoors as I prepped for the Spring garden.

Four tomato seeds and three pepper seeds are now each nestled into their own pellet container or yogurt pot and all together in a small baking dish in a plastic bag. This should make a nice mini-greenhouse for them. I’m planing to start a few more in a couple of weeks so I have plants ready to transplant at different times.

I also started two mini-pots of thyme from seed. The seed packet they were in had time to harvest listed as 180 days so no holding my breath until those are ready.

Last of all was another packet of lettuce to finish up. This one is a microgreens variety which, although it tastes alright, produces such a small amount of greens and is so annoying to harvest that I probably won’t bother to get any more such seeds again.

It’s two dark to take decent photos now, so in conclusion here are photos taken earlier of my two Meyer lemon plants grown from seed, over a year old but not obvious by looking at them. Poor little guys.

Wish me luck!