Archive for August, 2008

Edible Walls

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Urban Farming, a nonprofit group that plants crops for the needy on rooftops and other unused spaces in cities, has launched a vertical agriculture project at four locations in and around downtown L.A. The four new urban farms employ the green wall system developed by Green Living Technologies, a series of modular, 2 foot by 2 foot by 4 inch, stainless steel panels divided into growing cells that are mounted to a building facade. The four L.A. edible walls are between 24 and 30 feet across and 6 feet high and have been planted with bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatillos, strawberries, spinach, leeks, and a variety of herbs. Members of the community will maintain the gardens and harvest the food.

Olympic Village Earns Gold

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Last week the Olympic Village in Beijing officially earned the LEED Gold award from the U.S. Green Building Council under its pilot LEED for Neighborhood Development program. Among the sustainable design features of the complex, as reported in Inhabitat: rainwater, graywater, and storm water collection systems, lots of green roofs and open space, drought-resistant and native plantings, and a network of bicycle and pedestrian paths.

“Green” Gas Station — A Contradiction in Terms?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Rob Goodspeed describes his vacation encounter with the “greenest gas station in America.” Located near Eugene, Oregon, on a restored brownfield site, it has a green roof, a vegetated bioswale, locally produced biofuels, and racks of organic foods instead of Slurpees and Moon Pies.

Public Garden Trend Alert — Teen Magnets?

Monday, August 18th, 2008

How do you get teenagers to come to public gardens, no less make things interesting once they’re there? These have long been vexing questions.

In the olden (pre texting and Facebook) days, intrepid educators at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden produced an exhibit on plants associated with such teen concerns as birth control and mind-bending substances. (They can do that kind of thing in Merry Ole England without causing bedlam and scaring off funders.)

Now at least two major botanic gardens are betting that GPS technology is just the ticket for this finicky cohort. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has unveiled the “Kew Ranger,” a hand-held GPS unit. The device, which is available for rent, tells teens (as well as technology-averse adults) their exact location in the garden, then displays information about nearby specimens. Meanwhile, in Miami, educators at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden are employing GPS units to get students psyched about plants.

Then there’s the fact that a representative from geocaching.com attended the APGA conference in Pasadena in June. Stay tuned.

The Carbon Footprint of Gourmet Dirt

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

An interesting story by Joel Achenbach in today’s Washington Post is, on its face, about how the price of potting soil has soared in the past year due to the high cost of the fossil fuels used to manufacture, package, and ship the stuff. But read between the lines and the story is really about how a once humble material has been transformed into an upmarket mixture of largely unnecessary components from across the continent and around the globe — and about how gardening (or at least the kind practiced by many Americans), an activity by definition assumed to be “green,” is anything but.

Bob LaGasse, who represents soil and mulch manufacturers as executive director of the Mulch and Soil Council, explains that consumers demand these high-priced designer mixtures, which a South Carolina-based producer calls “potting soil on steroids.” (Bob LaGasse also happens to be executive director of the Garden Writers Association, representing the people who recommend potting soils and other horticultural products to consumers.) 

It’s virtually impossible these days to find a bag of potting soil that isn’t loaded with synthetic fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer, as David Wolfe, professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University, has pointed out, is the typical gardener’s biggest contribution to global warming. The manufacture of synthetic fertilizer is extremely energy intensive. And the use of nitrogen fertilizers (whether synthetic or organic) releases nitrous oxide gas, which in Wolfe’s words “has 300 times more global warming potential per molecule than carbon dioxide.” Yet American gardeners have been hoodwinked into believing that applying fertilizer to their plants, whether in containers or in the ground, is as fundamental as brushing their teeth.

In addition to organic matter, from composted clam shells to pine bark, which could just as easily come from local sources but is often shipped from far away, the typical bag of potting soil is also likely to contain perlite transported from the Greek island of Milos and coconut coir from Vietnam, if not peat moss “vacuum-harvested” from Canadian bogs. Then the concoction is packaged in plastic bags, which are piled up and shrink-wrapped on wooden pallets for shipping to nurseries and superstores. In short, the amount of embodied energy and greenhouse gases associated with a bag of potting mix is mind boggling.

All for a few petunia plants likely to end up in a dump after the first frost.

Hollywood Goes Photosynthetic

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Den of Geek compiles a list of horror films with evil plant protagonists, from “The Thing From Another World” (1951) to “The Happening” (2008).

California Plants and Climate Change — Even Worse Than we Thought?

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

KQED radio has produced an interesting follow-up to the recent Plos One paper predicting that climate change will have a dire impact on redwoods and other plants that are endemic to California, America’s biodiversity hotspot — plants found nowhere else in the world. (My blog on the paper is here.) A KQED reporter interviews the authors and finds they’re even more pessimistic than they were when they wrote the paper. One sobering prediction: Most of California’s endemic plants will die if global warming continues at its present pace. At the end of the century, redwoods could still be growing in California because adult trees are so long-lived. But since no seedlings will be able to survive, these adults will be the last redwoods on earth, a forest of the “living dead.”

On the KQED website you’ll also find an interesting slide show based on the radio interview.

Five Plants That Could Change the World

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

One blogger’s take on five plants that are inspiring sustainable high technology, including algae and the sacred lotus. (More like three — velcro, which was invented by George de Mestral after studying cockleburs, and biodegradable plastics derived from corn are neat but old news.)