Copyright © 1997-2009 Demand Media. All rights reserved.
Once upon a time, long long ago, near a city called Buffalo, was a
place where honeymooners go to see the massive water falls. In the
city of Niagara Falls was an industrialist named Hooker who had a
chemical and plastics factory. This factory produced some very nasty
toxic wastes and they had to have some place to dispose of them.
Near the factory was the partially completed transit and utility canal started by Mr. Love in the gay 90's. In 1942 Mr. Hooker arranged to use the canal for a waste storage facility. He lined it with cement and clay to contain the chemicals, at the behest of his industrial engineers who said the wastes were very dangerous and might be a time bomb. Eventually Hooker bought the land outright, and in 1947, commenced filling it to capacity. By 1952 there were 22,000 tons of waste including many forms of benzene, a lot of chemicals with "hexa" and "chloro" in their names. There was even enough dioxin to kill over 693 million people, about 3 times the population of the U.S. at that time. These chemicals were in steel drums inside the lined dump, the best practices known at the time for chemical containment. Mr Hooker listened to his engineers and stopped filling the chemical dump. He had the waste facility back-filled and capped with cement, "impermeable" clay and soil to entomb the toxic wastes "forever". The "vacant" lot was used for baseball diamonds and soccer fields.
All of this was happening at a very sexy time when the population was growing fast. School boards scrambled to build classrooms for all of the children in the baby boom. Development grew around the toxic waste site, so the school board began eying the wide open space for an elementary school building site. The Hooker Chemical and Plastics people protested and refused to sell the land to the district telling them that there were huge potential problems with having children on the site. The Niagara Falls school board would not be cowed. They threatened Eminent Domain to seize the property. Not knowing exactly how to handle this, the Hooker Chemical people sold the property for $1 with a 17 line disclaimer of liability for the consequences. The school was built on the site. During construction of the school, and later by a city utility crew upgrading sewer service to the area, the tomb for the chemicals was breached. This allowed water into the pit. The drums rusted through. The pit filled with water. The chemical soup overflowed into the groundwater on all sides of the dump. Neighbors began smelling awful smells.
Residents of the area began to notice that children and pets playing in the field around the school has skin irritations. By the 70's a high rate of birth defects, and adults with cancer were reported in the area. By 1978, under President Jimmy Carter, the area was named the first environmental Super Fund cleanup site The government began buying houses and moving families out of the neighborhood. Eventually, more than 800 families were re-located out of the neighborhood. Hooker Chemical and Plastic had been bought out by Occidental Chemical Corporation. Occidental was sued and eventually paid more than $220 million to state and federal governments to clean up the site. To this day the area is, as it should have been since 1952, a no man's land.
Lessons learned: Listen to the engineers, and make the legal department write more than 17 lines.
Who is responsible for this? Do you know how much toxic waste is generated in the production of a bottle of shampoo? Do you ever think about things like this? I can't tell you exact numbers, but the answer is not "none." Every product we buy has an impact on the environment. Care of the environment must be part of the cost of every product.
Consider this: burning a gallon of gas in your car puts 20 pounds of carbon into the air. A gallon of gasoline weighs only 7.8 pounds. Does the math make sense? Yes, numbers never lie. You have to include also the fuel costs of extracting the crude oil from the ground, pumping it to a transit terminal, shipping it across the ocean, refining it, and transporting it to the gasoline station in the equation. All of this energy intensive activity means that the gallon you use costs many gallons to get to your filling station.
What to do:
>Drive less, use public transportation more. Combine shopping and errands trips and plan a route that saves on mileage and left turns.
>Buy everything in the largest size available. The ratio of packaging to content will be lower. Carefully divide and store large packages of foods in re-usable packaging at home or you will eat more.
>Buy refillable containers and refill pouches whenever possible.
>Use personal care products and cleaning supplies sparingly.
>Choose re-usable micro fiber cloths and rags over paper towels for cleaning. Wash in energy star appliances.
>Use fewer products.
>Freecycle the remains of products you try and don't care for.
>Discard unused medications in tightly closed containers in the trash. Do not flush medications as they will go through the treatment plants unaffected and will end up in the waterways and aquifers.
>Take re-usable containers with you if you eat out. Take leftovers home in these instead of the styrofoam containers provided by the restaurant.
>Take your re-usable canvas shopping bags with you when you shop.
>Buy local products even if they cost more. The real cost may be less in the long run.
The order of the r's is: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle
I am celebratring my 39th Earth Day. The first, in 1970 was held just after a group in my home town of Rolla Missouri started a club called CURE, Citizens United to Restore the Environment.
CURE started a recycling program in Rolla that year. When I was married and moved to Cedar Rapids, I had to learn to throw away recycleables. At first I saved them up, thinking it couldn't take too long to get recycling going here. It took years, so I did end up throwing a lot of cans, bottles and newspapers in the trash. We, like much of the country, now have curbside recycling. We must remember that if we so not buy products made from recycled materials, much of that also ends up in the landfill.
I not only recycle, but I work really hard at re-purposing and re-using. I also compost much and started worm composting to make winters as productive as summers with the compost. I also established a relationship with a cafe a few blocks away and I get all of their coffee in unbleached coffee filters, and I can have their fruit and vegetable trimmings any time I want to. If I get much of that, I am going to have to get my neighbors to save all of their papers for me so I can use that as brown material.
I use glass jars and bottles from foods I buy to save leftovers, store grains and legumes, oils, etc. I am eliminating plastics from my kitchen. I feel sure that heat and plastic do not mix safely and plastic used for food will be proven not to be 100% safe. I also use unbleached waxed paper and parchment and find "If You Care" products the best and their muffin papers do not stick to anything!
I Freecycle, but I am highly selective of how far I drive to pick things up. I tell people my range of pick-up distances when I post my requests. I got the 200 canning jars I will need this year from Freecycle, and also plastic cat litter pails to use for my worm farm.
Earth Day has brought on awareness of our impact on the environment. Since the first Earth Day, the endangered species lists have been established and has graduates, the American Bald Eagle as a bold symbol not only for our nation, but now also for our environmental efforts.
And today, Earth Day 2008, I have the privilege of giving a tour and garden talk to a group of High School Seniors. I hope some of the concepts I share sink in to some of them.
Everyone knows the value of raising garden beds to increase
productivity of vegetable gardens. And everyone knows there are many
ways to build raised beds at various costs and with various aesthetic
appeal. Quite frankly, I have seen beautiful tailored poured cement
beds, stacked stone walls around beds, beds made of just mounded soil,
and beds made from scrap lumber and stakes. All worked fine. Some
would fit nicely into rural settings, some in urban. My problem was
what to do in my cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood that would meet
the neighbor's expectations without breaking my back or my bank
account. I found the Frame-It-All concept appealing, though I was
concerned about the cost of their composite engineered planks for the
side boards. I figured cedar 2x6's would fit the brackets, would both
look good for years and would meet my organic gardening requirements at
half the cash outlay for the composite planks.
I decided to use 2x6 cedar planks 4' long. I ordered 44 of 8 footers along with some other lumber for the base of the plastic shed and had it delivered. I though Scooter could easily and quickly cut the 8' planks in half. Turns out Scooter is not that handy. He cut 12 of the planks, then insisted that I had to use them up before he would cut more. That was in November.
Two weeks ago we spent a day fitting the plastic brackets onto the planks. We got an assembly line going and banged them out pretty quickly. Then I commenced stacking the planks and laying out the beds. I found they would not fit together. That is when I discovered that the planks were different lengths from 47 3/4" to 48 1/2" long. That does not even make mathematical sense. Shouldn't it be 47 1/2" to 48 1/2"? Back to the drawing board. Scooter spent a week engineering a jig for spacing the brackets on the shorter planks. So I removed one bracket from one end of each plank and Scooter went to work on them. Sure enough, that did not work out perfectly either. Seems his jig had a little wiggle room in four places that added up to 3/16" of difference, out of the tolerances allowed by the angle brackets. I had to remove the two screws from those brackets. The cedar planks fit pretty snugly into the brackets, so I think it will hold until I can get out there and re-insert the screws. Scooter is still working on the jig for cutting the excess off of the longer boards. In retrospect, I see that it would have been better to spend $12.99 each on their composite boards which come pre-cut to 44.5" so the finished length of a plank with brackets attached is 48" from peg center to peg center. I could have done the whole project without bothering Scooter. I really don't think Scooter would feel left out.
Now, Frame-It-All shows all of their raised bed kits set up on what might well be astro-turf in a warehouse. It would be perfectly easy to set up a bed on perfectly flat, even ground. Their directions show setting up the bed with the pegs pointed up, then turn pegs over and pound them in. Than would work for the shorter "stacking joint" model. In the real world, on sloping ground, you want to use the longer "anchor joints" which pegs go 11" into the ground . These also have wide wings on the peg, so one must pound them in place and then put the planks down. What I do is set the plank where it needs to go, then use the stacking joint peg to ream a hole in the ground through the bracket, swing the plank aside, pound the anchor peg in the spot I marked, and replace the plank onto this peg. To add to the complication of this, I have soil stockpiled on my garden beds, so I have to scoop the soil out of the way to start the raised bed walls.
I have a good start now on the first bed, and have plans for another seven beds. This is going to be quite the process. And I am officially missing out on prime growing season here.
If you are interested, I bought the anchor and stacking joints direct from Scenery Solutions, manufacturers of Frame-It-All. In some gardening catalogs they sell for $17 a pair and I bought them for $12 a pair. Scenery Solutions does not charge shipping on orders of $250 or more. http://www.frameitall.com/
After starting the straw bale gardens and setting up my rain barrels, I found that keeping the soil on top of the straw moist was a challenge, and watering with only the gravity pressure in the water from the barrels took FOREVER. I tried to mulch with damp shredded newspaper, and that helped. Before long, the roots of plants invaded the straw massively and it was easier to keep them watered properly. I also installed soaker hoses on most of the beds. These were attached to overflow ports on the rain barrels. When it rained too much, excess water would just run out onto the beds.
Straw bales worked very well for onions, greens, beans and peas, all of the brassicas, tomatoes, peppers, and squash. Pretty much anything but root crops which need deeper soil, and corn which needs more support than is provided by the bales.
In my photo gallery you can see one straw bed at the base of the ancient T-bar swing set. Scooter put that thing in so much cement it is going nowhere, so I am putting it to use as a plant support. Last year it supported cucumbers. I did not get a picture, but in July the swing set was not visible. This year, pole beans and peas . Next year, Melons and gourds.
By season's end, I found that much of the oat straw had broken down. A few bales of wheat straw I added later fared much better. I will this year buy wheat straw bales, though they are 50% higher in price, they should last a full two years, so that will be a better value.
I also bought a little transfer pump to move more water from the rain barrels more quickly.
We learn as we go!
The weekend of February 24-25 we got slammed. Ice, snow, wind, we got them all. Over 1000 power poles snapped in Iowa just west of where we live by 40 miles. We were among the lucky ones. We lost power for only 6 1/2 hours. Others were without power for 10 days. Everything shut down and even church was cancelled for the weekend. There was nothing to do but think warm sunny thoughts. I dreamed of summer and gardening and eating a warm ripe tomato fresh off the vine. I dreamed of picking my own safely grown vegetables from my own garden in my yard. Ahhh...
What a dream. In the 20 years we have lived here I have
had nothing from my yard but a few herbs and tomatoes. I have no
soil. I have clay. Besides clay, I have a smallish suburban yard that
is criss-crossed with underground utilities. We have a storm sewer
easement down the west side yard and another across the back, both with
buried culverts. The culvert across the back is under a 10 foot wide
low area that is an overflow for the storm sewer system. In a heavy
rain, it becomes a raging river. No place to grow anything there! And
the sun is not too good as the majority of the yard slopes to the north
when south slopes are preferable. For 20 years I have wished there was
a fairly inexpensive way to build up beds and grow things in the yard.
during that 20 years I gained weight and developed arthritis, so
bending and stooping became difficult, and getting up from the ground
is nearly impossible.
In my summer reverie I started surfing for vegetable seed
sites. I wanted to learn about heirloom seeds and their availability.
I wanted to build a library of gardening websites and seed purveyors.
So I was happily surfing through Nichols Garden Nursery's site, http://www.nicholsgardennurse
ry.com/strawbales.htm ,and found the most wonderful idea: You can plant vegetables in 3" of soil on top of straw bales. Wow. This would mean the small strip of south facing land north of the sewer overflow would be usable as the straw bales would raise the plants above the high water mark. Furthermore, the places where we have utility lines underground would all be usable. I would not have to dig up grass to start the beds. I could have an almost instant garden. Wow, I could even garden that year.
First things first, I spent the rest of the weekend
ordering seed. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, chards and kales, beans,
peas, cukes and squash, herbs. I ordered salad mixes of seeds. Then I
thought it would be awfully nice to grow some carrots, radishes and
beets, even if it means digging some ground. When I went looking for
the recommended wheat straw bales, I found they cost 50% more than oat
straw. We grow precious little wheat in Iowa. I have been purchasing
oat straw from a local garden center for years. I have not noticed
many weed seeds, but this is a concern much more so with oat than wheat
straw. It is also more likely that I will get seeds from perennial
weeds in the bales. But I took the plunge and ordered the bales, 42 of
I arranged the bales so the straws ran up and down, with the 36" long sides of the bales touching to form 3'x15' wide rows. After placing the bale where it will stay for at least two years, the next step is to wet the bales. This triggers a strong exothermic activity of microbes on the straw. I covered the bales with black plastic as soon as I wet them to contain the heat for a while in hopes that any weed seeds present will either overheat and die, or be forced into sprouting so I could pull them before the next step.
I found an not too costly portable greenhouse that held 8 flats. I started to grow plants. I had a large load of good compost delivered as soon as the piles thawed and could be worked. That was late April. As soon as the compost was piled on the hay bale beds, I had plantlets ready to go. We were eating lettuces and baby bok choy by the second week of May.
It is amazing what an ice storm can achieve!
Copyright © 1997-2009 Demand Media. All rights reserved.