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Posts Tagged ‘ecology’

04garden1-jumbo

Photo: Mark Baldwin
A dense carpet of woodland perennials. Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect, calls plants “social creatures” that thrive in particular networks.

Today we understand that trees and other plants are the lungs of the planet and that we are losing too many every year, so it behooves us to understand them better and do what we can to help the remainder thrive. Even in our yards.

At the New York Times, Margaret Roach offers some tips from a landscape architect.

“Thomas Rainer and I have both been doing the botanical thing for decades,” she writes. “We know, and use, many of the same plants — and even much of the same horticultural vocabulary. But what he and I see when we look at a butterfly weed or a coneflower, or what we mean when we say familiar words like ‘layering’ or ‘ground cover,’ is surprisingly not synonymous.

“It turns out I’ve been missing what the plants were trying to tell me, failing to read botanical body language and behavior that could help me put plants together in combinations that would solve challenges that many of us have: beds that aren’t quite working visually, and garden areas that don’t function without lots of maintenance. … I asked Mr. Rainer, a landscape architect based in Washington, D.C., to lend us his 3-D vision.

“Roach: You visit a lot of gardens, and probably hear from gardeners like me with beds that just aren’t working. What’s the most common cause?

“Rainier: First, we have to understand that plants are social creatures. Our garden plants evolved as members of diverse social networks. Take a butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa, named this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year by the industry group the Perennial Plant Association), for example. The height of its flower is exactly the height of the grasses it grows among. Its narrow leaves hug its stems to efficiently emerge through a crowded mix. It has a taproot that drills through the fibrous roots of grasses. Everything about that plant is a reaction to its social network. And it is these social networks that make plantings so resilient.

“So if we think about the way plants grow in the wild, it helps us understand how different our gardens are. In the wild, every square inch of soil is covered with a mosaic of interlocking plants, but in our gardens, we arrange plants as individual objects in a sea of mulch. We place them in solitary confinement.

“So if you want to add butterfly weed to your garden, you might drift it in beds several feet apart and tuck some low grasses in as companions, like prairie dropseed, blue grama grass or buffalo grass.

“Start by looking for bare soil. It is everywhere in our gardens and landscapes. Even in beds with shrubs in them, there are often large expanses of bare soil underneath. It’s incredibly high-maintenance. It requires multiple applications of bark mulch a year, pre-emergent herbicides and lots and lots of weeding.

“The alternative to mulch is green mulch — that is, plants. This includes a wide range of herbaceous plants that cover soil, like clump-forming sedges, rhizomatous strawberries or golden groundsel, and self-seeding columbine or woodland poppies.

“Roach: If I want to try to do it more as nature does, what am I aiming for? Where do I take my cues?

“Rainier: The big shift in horticulture in the next decade will be a shift from thinking about plants as individual objects to communities of interrelated species. We think it’s possible to create designed plant communities: stylized versions of naturally occurring ones, adapted to work in our gardens and landscapes. This is not ecological restoration, it’s a hybrid of ecology and horticulture. We take inspiration from the layered structure in the wild, but combine it with the legibility and design of horticulture. It is the best of both worlds: the functionality and biodiversity of an ecological approach, but also the focus on beauty, order and color that horticulture has given us. It’s possible to balance diversity with legibility, ecology with aesthetics.

“And it is a shift in how we take care of our gardens: a focus on management, not maintenance. When you plant in communities, you manage the entire plantings, not each individual plant. This is a pretty radical shift. It’s O.K. if a plant self-seeds around a bit, or if one plant becomes more dominant. As long as it fits the aesthetic and functional goals. We can do much less and get more.” More here.

What do you think? I’m not a gardener, but I have a little yard, and I take Rainier’s point about how every patch of bare soil creates problems. I wonder what the Meadowscaping folks might have to say about combining horticulture and ecology in this way.

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I know I’m a broken record talking about what one determined person can accomplish, but I want share another example.

At ecoRI News, Sonya Gurwitt writes about a retired Massachusetts harbormaster who made up his mind to put an end to what was polluting a cove near his home.

Horace Field, says Gurwitt, “has lived only meters from Brandt Island Cove for nearly two decades. The water’s edge is connected to Field’s backyard by a short, grassy path. …

“Field wanders through the grasses along the shoreline, untangling the occasional piece of plastic or bit of Styrofoam from vegetation. … Field pinches a a small piece of dirty Styrofoam between his fingers, examining it. This, he said, is a small reminder of the pollution that used to cover the salt marsh — Styrofoam everywhere. …

“It was during his tenure as harbormaster that he noticed more and more pieces of Styrofoam cropping up on his property and along the rest of the Mattapoisett shoreline, from small beads to large chunks.

“The source of the pollution was no mystery — Field knew that the Leisure Shores Marina used uncovered Styrofoam blocks to keep its docks afloat. These were beginning to break down, allowing pieces of foam to float away. …

“In 2005, Field wrote a letter to the Board of Selectmen. He didn’t receive a response or even an acknowledgement of its receipt. Undeterred, Field kept at it — attending town meetings and talking to various committees and boards. …

“It wasn’t until early 2013, after Field retired from the position of harbormaster, that he began to make progress. Fed up with the lack of response from the town and other government agencies, Field contacted the Buzzards Bay Coalition (BBC), a nonprofit ‘dedicated to the restoration, protection, and sustainable use and enjoyment’ of Buzzards Bay and its watershed.

“Field said the BBC took action immediately, sending a team to examine the problem. …

“With the help of the Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, [Korrin Petersen, senior attorney for the coalition] began to research which laws the pollution might violate. Petersen said they discovered that the saltwater marsh is a protected resource under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. This meant that the Styrofoam debris altering the salt marsh was a violation of that law. …

“Field said the process taught him some important lessons.

Be persistent, and be honest. Have a cause that is bulletproof, and don’t let up on it until you get satisfactory results.

More here.

Photo: Joanna Detz/ecoRI News photos
Horace Field took it upon himself to get Brandt Island Cove in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, cleaned up.

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A “funky, eco-friendly” shop in Providence, Small Point Café, serves wooden cutlery that can be recycled. The only problem is that if you do takeout and want to use the recycling bin at work, wood is not accepted.

Here’s an idea that could solve the problem of takeout-cutlery waste once and for all: utensils you can eat.

Brittany Levine Beckman writes at Mashable, “Tired of seeing mountains of plastic cutlery polluting India’s landfills, Narayana Peesapaty had an idea: What if you could eat your disposable spoon rather than toss it?

“Peesapaty, a researcher and agriculture consultant from Hyderabad, India, developed an edible spoon made of millet, rice and wheat flours, in 2010. Now, after selling 1.5 million spoons for his company Bakeys, he wants to reach even more eaters. Peesapaty knows that means he has to cut the cost of his products to compete with cheaper plastic counterparts. …

“Bakeys plans to use its successful Kickstarter campaign to improve production and expand the product line. Its ‘edible lunch spoon,’ which can last 20 minutes in hot liquid, comes in a variety of flavors: sugar, ginger-cinnamon, ginger-garlic, cumin, celery, black pepper, mint-ginger and carrot-beetroot. The spoons have a shelf life of two to three years.

” ‘You can eat it up. If you don’t want to eat it, you can throw it. It decomposes within four to five days,’ Peesapaty said in a promotional video that has been shared millions of times since posting on March 16. …

” ‘Plastic is very cheap, true. But I can make it as cheap,’ Peesapaty remarks confidently. ‘I can with volumes, and once I get the volumes, I [can go to] the farmers directly and start procuring raw material directly from the farmers, in which case my spoons will be as cheap as the plastic spoons.’ ”

More. Learn how to get a supply of your own.

Photo: Mashable
Edible cutlery is already reducing plastic waste and benefiting the environment.

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Video: PBS NewsHour

Not long ago, Julia Griffin of PBS NewsHour interviewed an artist who has turned plastic trash into sculptures with a message.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: Octavia the octopus, Priscilla the parrot fish, and Flash the marlin, all sculptures now on display at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and all made of trash pulled from the Pacific Ocean. …

“Angela Haseltine Pozzi is the lead artist and executive director of Washed Ashore, a nonprofit seeking to educate the public on the plastics polluting the word’s oceans.

“ANGELA HASELTINE POZZI: We create sculptures that can teach people about the problem. And, as an artist, it is a real challenge to use everything that comes up off the beach.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: In six years, Haseltine Pozzi and her team of volunteers have created 66 sculptures from more than 38,000 pounds of debris collected from a stretch of Oregon’s coastline.

“The countless bottle caps, flip-flops and beach toys are just a fraction of the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic estimated to be in the world’s oceans.

“Such plastics not only pose entanglement threats to Marine animals, but are often mistaken for food. …

“JULIA GRIFFIN: As scientists debate how to clean the water, Haseltine Pozzi hopes her sculptures will inspire visitors to curb pollution in the first place.”

The exhibit can be seen at the zoo until September 16, 2016. More at PBS here. Check out the Smithsonian’s site, too.

Photo: Smithsonian

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When homes are destroyed in disaster zones, the Mobile Factory can turn the rubble into Lego-like building blocks to create new housing. They snap together without mortar.

Stella Dawson of the Thomson Reuters Foundation writes, “In Amsterdam a mobile factory, the size of two shipping containers, ingests rubble at one end, liquifies it into cement, and spurts out Lego-shaped building blocks.

“Call it rubble for the people, converting the deadly debris from disasters into homes and hospitals, cheaply and quickly.

“It’s the brainchild of Gerard Steijn, a 71-year-old sustainable development consultant turned social entrepreneur, who leads the Netherlands-based project to recycle the rubble from natural disasters and wars.

“He plans to create ecologically sound and safe housing by producing 750 building blocks a day from the debris, enough for one home at a cost of less than $20,000 each.

” ‘In disasters, you have piles and piles of rubble, and the rubble is waste. If you are rich, you buy more bricks and rebuild your home,’ Steijn said in a telephone interview.

‘But what happens if you are poor? In disasters it is the poorest people who live in the weakest houses and they loose their homes first. I thought, what if you recycled the rubble to build back better homes for poor people?’

“His rubble-busting Mobile Factory has fired the imagination of a landowner in Haiti and a civil engineer at the University of Delft. They have joined forces to test Steijn’s idea and build the first rubble community in Port au Prince next year. …

“Unskilled people can build the homes with the blocks, which meet demanding Dutch construction standards to ensure they will last for many years. [Hennes de Ridder, an engineering professor at the University of Delft,] expects further stress tests he planned for Peru in a few months will show the homes can withstand temblors of at least 6 on the Richter scale.” Read more here.

Photo: The Mobile Factory
Model homes built from cement rubble are on display at an industrial park in Amsterdam. The brightly painted homes are designed for disaster zones, using technology that creates Lego-style building blocks from cement rubble.

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On my walk this morning I saw an official-looking sign on a fence in a residential neighborhood. The sign read “Certified Wildlife Habitat.”

I had to look it up when I got home. The website of the National Wildlife Federation says, “Wildlife needs our help. … You can invite wildlife back to your own yard and neighborhood by planting a simple garden that provides habitat. …

“Providing a sustainable habitat for wildlife begins with your plants. That’s why we call it  a wildlife habitat ‘garden.’ When you plant the native plant species that wildlife depend on, you create habitat and begin to restore your local environment. Adding water sources, nesting boxes and other habitat features enhances the habitat value of your garden to wildlife. By choosing natural gardening practices, you make your yard a safe place for wildlife. …

“Here is what your wildlife garden should include:

“Food: Native plants provide nectar, seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, foliage, pollen and insects eaten by an exciting variety of wildlife. Feeders can supplement natural food sources.

“Water: All animals need water to survive and some need it for bathing or breeding as well.

“Cover: Wildlife needs places to find shelter from bad weather and places to hide from predators or stalk prey.

“Places to Raise Young: Wildlife needs resources to reproduce and keep their species going. Some species have totally different habitat needs in their juvenile phase than they do as adults.

“Sustainable Practices: How you manage your garden can have an effect on the health of the soil, air, water and habitat for native wildlife as well as the human community.

“Already have all these elements in your wildlife garden? Certify today!” And there’s a box to click on if you think you are ready.

Now I’m wondering if the chipmunk on our back steps today thinks our yard could qualify. It’s a small yard, so not much cover. And we’d need to provide water. Hmm.

More at the National Wildlife Federation, here.

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You haven’t heard the last word on tiny houses from this blog yet. Just check out Treehugger reporter Kimberley Mok’s amazing story about using a 3D printer to create a tiny house and SUV that can create, store, and share energy. Unreal but true.

“Designers from architecture firm SOM, University of Tennessee and researchers from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are cleverly tackling the energy issue by using a concept they call ‘integrated energy.’

“Their innovative design features a 3D printed house, that comes with a 3D printed SUV, which each generate, store and share energy — boosting energy efficiency both ways, while benefiting from the reduced construction waste and quick turnaround that comes with additive manufacturing techniques. …

“The design of both home and car uses carbon-fiber-reinforced ABS plastic (admittedly not the greenest of materials). The home was printed in separate modules that are assembled together and reinforced with steel rods, and insulated with a modified, highly efficient atmosphere insulation panels, resulting in a surprisingly strong and insulated structure.

“Certainly the most intriguing thing about the design is the reciprocal energy relationship that the car has with the house. … The 3D printed SUV is a hybrid that uses both electricity and natural gas to power itself. It’s parked on an inductive charging pad that allows it to send or receive energy from the solar-powered house — thus significantly solving the electricity issue on cloudy days. If there’s no electricity at all from either solar panels or car, the house can still tap into the energy grid. …

“Thanks to the additive manufacturing process, the prototype took only one year to realize from start to finish.” Read more here.

Photo: ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

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