The SENS Program spent much its time this week preparing for the Keystone XL Pipeline protest. As I’m writing this, a group of our own is on its way back from Washington DC where they spent their morning listening to the likes of Bill McKibben and Michael Brune.
Sadly, not all of us were able to attend the protest, so we made the best of our situation by working to educate the Berea community about the issues.
I met with Carol Brobeck, SENS student extraordinaire, and we figured the best way to reach people at this time of year was through a short, informative event that would inform the Berea community (we will update you soon with more details).
For now, please take the time to inform yourself about the tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline.
TED Talk on the Pipeline: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84zIj_EdQdM
Global movement on Climate Crisis: http://350.org/
Forward on Climate website: http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=forwardonclimate
Protest article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/17/forward-on-climate-rally_n_2702575.html
Bill McKibben’s article on Global Warming: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719
In my ecological design class, I am working with a group of other students to design and construct a miniature aquaponics system to be displayed in the window of the Berea bookstore. Aquaponics makes a great demonstration for sustainable systems, and also exemplifies really cool engineering. The idea is that fish and vegetables can both be grown in one system using the same water, using the fish poop to fertilize the water for the plants’ benefit and the plants to purify the water so it can be used by the fish again. With the target date quickly coming up, my partners and I are anxious with anticipation for the final assembly and installation. We’ve received much expert help from Brittany and Kaleb, who manage the aquaponics at the SENS house. Our setup is much smaller, just a modest 40”x 36” raft for plants and about 24,000 cubic inches for the fish. We’ll use tilapia and possibly grow basil. I think that our curious machine will draw much attention from Berea citizens who pass by the bookstore, and will provide much opportunity to explain its cool design.
During the last week, we completely removed the coleus from the floating raft units. We originally planted them with the idea of giving them away during Christmas as a gift to different staff members. However, we did not give them away before Christmas break. When we came back they had grown quite a bit. Eventually, they became too large to give away. Since they grew so large they were absorbing too many nutrients and other plants were beginning to suffer. So the decision was made to compose the coleus to prevent hindered growth of other plants.
An important part of maintaining the aquaponics facility is harvesting and removing plants whenever the need arises. Due to the amount of nutrients in the water, this must occur once a month or more. This prevents the plants from becoming woody, allows for faster growth, and prevents the larger plants from absorbing too many nutrients. During this past week, I conducted a basil harvest. The growth of the plants from last month’s harvest was tremendous. We harvested nearly sixteen pounds of Genovese basil. Furthermore, only 75% of the plants were harvested. The Thai basil, lettuce, mint, oregano, and rest of the Genovese basil still need to be harvested. I speculate that there is still four to five pounds of plant matter that needs to be harvested. What is even more impressive is that we are only operating at 50% the minimum nutrient levels, and still we are yielding these results. Whenever summer rolls around, the outdoor units can come online and the second suspended raft unit will be operational. This could double to triple our plant production if the right conditions are met. However, we will need more fish to produce more nutrients for the plants. So if you are ever in the area, stop by the facility and we can give you some free basil, oregano, mint, and lettuce. Soon we will also have kale and spinach ripe and ready to harvest.
Energy—it’s hard to think of life without energy these days. Phones, internet, cars, and the dozens of appliances within our house all consume energy. The purpose of these devices is often a simple one—to save our own energy; or rather, make our lives easier although more sedentary. We have come to value comfort, convenience, and time so much that our lives have become entirely dependent upon energy, energy that most often comes from fossil fuels at a price that affects both our wallets and our environmental health. At the SENS House, everyone is conscious of energy consumption. Though the house was built to conserve energy, without energy minded inhabitants, the house could easily become as inefficient as any other household in the nation. In many cases saving energy means changing the way we do things while realizing that a little bit of personal inconvenience can go a long long way towards fixing many of the problems our society faces today, problems such as but not limited to: global climate change, water and air pollution, economic dependency on energy, and increasing energy rates. There are also many positives to such changes including: helping us to regain a bit of resiliency during energy disruptions, it will help us to save money each month, and I think we can all agree that clean water and air are very important, not only to us, but for future generations. Continue reading →
Here at the SENS Department I work in Edible Landscape Management, one of my many duties is to help collect compost around the Ecovillage. The Ecovillage is a sustainable non- trad housing complex for Berea College students. Many families reside in the Ecovillage and naturally since there are families there are children. Some of the children have bestowed the name “Bucket Lady” to me because we ask the residents to put their compostable scraps in buckets provided. As the “Bucket Lady” I see what everyone puts in their compost and there have been times I find things that should never go in a compost pile/container. So today I’m here to tell you some common do’s and don’ts of composting so you can have healthy compost!
- Vegetable/ Fruit Scraps
- Coffee grinds/filters
- Plant Trimmings
- Grass clippings
- Sawdust (from untreated wood)
- Egg/nut shells
- Paper products
- Dairy products
- Oils/Oily foods/Grease
- Cat/Dog/ waste
- Diseased plants
- Anything treated with pesticides/chemicals
The Bucket Lady
There’s a new batch of kale in the garden! A couple of weeks ago I took a bunch of baby kale plants that were planted in the SENS House greenhouse a bit too close together and popped them in one of the raised beds, and put some row cover over them. I wasn’t sure if they were going to survive because just a day later the temperature dropped into the teens, but they did! It really shows how resilient cold crops are, and how a little bit of row cover can make a big difference. There are a lot of different sources that say when to plant things, and what temperatures plants can survive at (the KY Gardener’s PDF file available via the UK Extension office is a great one) but once you know the guidelines for timing, it is fun to experiment. Eliot Coleman has a great book that inspired me to try growing more crops through the winter called “The Winter Harvest Handbook”. It describes in detail how in cold frames (unheated greenhouses) in Maine he grows greens and vegetables through the winter, supplying farmers markets, restaurants, and a CSA with fresh veggies almost year round. Being familiar with the correct planting times and seasons for crops is an important part of being a good gardener, but once you are, having fun with testing out what limits can be pushed is what can make it interesting. This week I think I will put up some cold frames and direct seed some beets, radishes, and lettuce!
I believe I can speak for everyone that works for this program, as well as this college, when I say, “I want a job after college.” Not only do I want a good job, but I want a job that reflects my beliefs and values. In other words, I want a job that reflects my love affair with sustainability. Granted, I do not yet have a clear definition of what sustainability is for me, but I am working on it. Maybe I’ll reflect upon that in a later blog. For now, I’m going to reflect on my most recent visit to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Continue reading →
It’s time for the greenhouse to get growing. I’ve been working on putting together a garden plan for the greenhouse bed and learning as I go. I started with internet research—figuring out what spring crops grow in zone 6a, which is Berea’s hardiness zone (the different zones correspond to climate). The UK college of Agriculture “Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky” pdf document was very helpful. Aside from that, I drew many of my ideas from Carrots Love Tomatoes, a book about companion planting. Different vegetables get along better growing next to some and worse with others; incorporating this knowledge into the garden bed plans is companion planting. The Lettuce and onions I put next to each other. The peas, carrots, and turnips I placed together because they’re friendly, but I made sure to separate them from the onions because peas and onions are bad for each other. There was some strawberry already growing in one spot, and I read that spinach loves strawberry so I planted that there. If I can get kohlrabi and beets I’ll plant those alternately beside each other because they occupy different soil strata (higher up and deeper down) and so use space efficiently. The kale likes beets so they’ll be near. Figuring out the garden this way is like putting together a puzzle; I had fun doing it. I got started adding organic matter to the soil. There was a full trash bucket full of leaves I’d raked up during the fall so I added these along with compost from the ecovillage to the bed. There are many, many worms in the bed already so I expect that they’ll be enough to eat up all that organic matter and convert it to plant food.
Aside from that project I’ve been constructing a miniature aquaponics system to go in the display window of the Berea bookstore, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry in two weeks.
Last week I traveled to Stillwater, Oklahoma to talk with students, faculty, and administrators at Oklahoma State University about my experience in the SENS House and Ecovillage at Berea. Through the interdisciplinary Wake Up and Dream Project, a core design team of 100 stakeholders at OSU is working on the development of a plan for an Ecovillage on their campus. Challenges they face include educating the campus and community about the value of sustainable housing, and deciding what form it will take: whether they will build from the ground up in a more rural area or whether they will renovate existing housing, for example. Continue reading →
When I became a part of the SENS labor department last semester my surroundings altered dramatically. Instead of serving students food I am now serving tilapia and catfish their daily meals. I am also cleaning floating raft units instead of dishes. It was a well needed change of scenery. I am now enjoying my work. Over the course of the semester I learned the basics of the facility. At first it was a daunting task and I feared that I would make a huge mistake and kill all the fish and plants. However, thanks to some miracle nothing horrible happened. All the plant and fish harvests went well and I learned a great deal, but now I have a new challenge to overcome. This semester I am overseeing the facility without supervision because the Brittany, the experienced aquaponics manager, is busy writing the operations manual for the facility. Everything that needs to be done in the facility is done by me. Last semester Brittany was there to make sure everything was running smoothly, so I was not as terrified. Though I am fearful, I am also excited for my new tasks. I feel as though I will learn much faster and know how to handle anything that is thrown at me. Furthermore, I now get to do water chemistry and write weekly aqualogs to see how well the facility is running. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the semester holds and what else I will learn. Eventually, I will have to pass on my knowledge to a new student, and I am sure they will have the same overwhelmed face I had the first day on the job.