Backyard Chicken 101


Packaging Design

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Good packaging design is probably the answer to eliminating packaging waste.

creative-convertable-television-stand-designThe Japanese can definitely teach us in the “West” a lesson or two in respect to good packaging design and how it should be, especially with reuse in mind more often than not.

In Japan products bought are, in many stores, wrapped up in reusable cloth wraps more often than not – eliminating the plastic carrier – and other things come in reusable, often wooden, boxes – especially gift products – that can and will be used for a variety of purposes afterwards.

It is true that even in Japan not every item of packaging is designed in such a way but the multitude of existing examples can and must be used as a guide to develop packaging design further in such a way that each and every piece is either reusable, with an obvious reuse, or compostable (at home). Recyclability should only be considered if other options are out of the question.

Wooden cigar boxes were, in Europe and elsewhere, once sought after for reuse and for materials from which to make other things, such as fretwork picture frames, and are a good example of good packaging design. The same must be said for the once sturdy orange and apple crates and wine boxes, both of which were and are used from which to make a variety of things by those with the right mindset.

Plastic, aside from the use and toss grocery bags that should be designed to history, accounts for the largest quantity of packaging waste, last almost for ever but is designed to be thrown away. It is here where reuse design could come very much into its own by creating – if it has to be plastic at all – any plastic packaging with a direct and obvious reuse in mind.

It is possible, no two ways about it, and with simply applying one's mind reuse can be found. Good design, however, can lead the way even more towards eliminating plastic and other packaging waste by creating packaging, when packaging is needed, and often it is not, in such a way that a second use for the packaging is immediately obvious to everyone.

While our ancestors could see the reuse potential in many items of packaging that people today see only as waste. This skill and mindset has today gotten almost entirely lost among most people, with the exception of a few, reuse indications and instructions may be required and especially a second use of packaging made obvious without the need to actually think as to what it could be reused.

It can be done of that I have no doubt and we, the people, as consumers, must pressure companies and designers to create packaging in this and other sustainable ways.

Where packaging is a must – if there is such a thing – and a reuse cannot be designed in, though I doubt that there are many of this kind if designers but think the right thoughts and have the right kind of ideas, then the packaging to use must be of natural sources such as plain paper and card, wood or other natural materials. Biodegradable plastic does not cut the ice here as it is still plastic and very rarely does biodegradable equal breaking down harmlessly in the environment, such as by way of composting (in a domestic compost heap) and that includes so-called compostable plastic. It is not compostable in a domestic compost heap and not even a domestic composter. It requires hot composting and the same goes for “compostable” grocery bags and similar. But a hot composting with temperatures that even a backyard hot composting system – which is possible – cannot reach. So, only possible in commercial operations.

© 2014

Use Cold Frames to Grow More Food

Sow seeds in simple frames to add more than a month to your spring garden season.

Garden-KnowHow1Gardening guru Eliot Coleman asserts that “the basic cold frame is the most dependable, least exploited aid for the four-season harvest.” We couldn’t agree more. Last winter, my humble box built of 2-by-4s topped with an old shower door added a month to the front end of salad season, but the best part was being able to sow some of my spring seeds directly into the frame. This made more space available under lights indoors for tomatoes and other crops that don’t like chilly conditions, and eliminated the hassle and setbacks involved with hardening off seedlings and then transplanting them. Best of all, seedlings get a nice head start in real sun so they never get stretched out and leggy as they often do when started indoors. (Indoor grow lights are vastly less intense than real sunlight.)

What can you sow in a cold frame? In spring you get a boost with virtually any crop by sowing into frames. The list of “Top 12 Winter Cold Frame Crops” (below) can get you started, and as days get longer and warmer in spring you can try your hand at framing up peas, bulb onions, potatoes or even tomatoes. When a cold frame is no longer needed for a crop that is up and growing, simply move it to a new location and plant more seeds.

Traditionally, gardeners have used cold frames to harden off seedlings started indoors, and you should have a frame suited to this purpose. But one cold frame is not enough. In addition to direct seeding some vegetables right where they are to grow, you can use a cold frame to winter-sow onions, cabbage or other hardy crops that are easily lifted and transplanted into rows.

A cold frame can be a wood box with a recycled window (or shower door) top, a hay bale enclosure covered with plastic, or you might build one with bricks or concrete blocks and top it with translucent corrugated fiberglass (see “Anatomy of a Cold Frame,” below). Your frames need not be all alike, though having two of the same size makes it possible to stack them for added height. I like frames I can move around by myself without straining, so size and weight are important considerations. If you live north of Zone 6, you may want to create frames that are large enough to accommodate black, water-filled containers for solar heat storage, and insulate the sides by adding a snug berm of soil or mulch. In climates with chronic winter cloud cover, you can maximize available light by painting the interior walls of your frames bright white, or by covering them with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

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How to Install a Zipper

Learn the basics of how to install a zipper for dresses and skirts.

Install-Zippers jpgProject Runway contestant Buffi Jashanmal shows fashion design fans how to sew their own custom-fitted dresses from start to finish in Buffi’s Dress Design (Storey Publishing, 2014). Beginning sewists will learn industry secrets to basic patternmaking and sewing for unique, wearable pieces. The following excerpt, found in the illustrated glossary, explains how to install a zipper using the two most common types found in dresses.

How to Install a Zipper

There are many different types of zippers and the type you use will depend on the style of the dress and the weight of the fabric. For instance, metal zippers are heavy and best suited for jeans and heavier fabrics. Separating zippers open at the bottom and top and are used in jackets and coats. However, we won’t be using any of those. For the most part, dresses, made in medium-weight fabrics, require a nylon coil zipper.

Nylon coil zippers are available as regular zippers and invisible zippers. The regular zippers, sometimes called “self-healing,” are easy to use and the first choice for most dresses. If the zipper teeth come apart, you simply open and close the zipper to realign the teeth. The teeth of the invisible zipper are behind the zipper tape, so when the zipper is in place, the teeth do not show on the outside of the dress.

There are a number of ways to install zippers, but the dress projects that require a zipper will use either a regular coil zipper or an invisible zipper and a centered application. The application method is different for the regular and invisible zippers and you will need different zipper feet. However, regardless of the zipper style, they all have the same basic construction:

Zipper tape
This is the fabric part of the zipper and it is sewn to the garment seam allowance.

Zipper teeth
The teeth, in the center of the zipper, are also called coils and they are what opens and closes the zipper.

The slider is the metal piece on the zipper that actually zips and unzips the teeth. It has a pull tab on it to make it easier to manipulate.

Metal stops on the top and bottom of the zipper keep the slider from sliding right off the zipper ends.

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DIY Fence and Wall Repair

DIY Fence and Wall Repair made easy with simple diagrams and clear, concise instructions.

Landscaping (Skills Institute Press, 2011) is a comprehensive reference that provides practical tips for any homeowner looking to create a more attractive yard. Compiled by a number of landscaping experts and professionals, each selection features time-tested and easy-to-follow instructions useful for designing and cultivating an effective landscape plan. This excerpt offers DIY fence and wall repair instructions with colorful illustrations and clear steps.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Landscaping.

book cover

Even the best-made fence will eventually need repairs. The effects of traffic, weather, and time all take their toll. A few simple fixes, however, can add years to the life of a fence. The commonest problem is rotten wood. Often, most of the board is still sound with only the ends decayed. A quick solution is to support the damaged board with a small block of wood. A board with more extensive deterioration can be supported by a sister rail. To ensure your repairs are long-lived, buy pressure-treated wood.

Problematic Posts

A loose post set in soil can often be stabilized by pressing down around the post with a tamping bar. If the post needs added support, bolt on 2-by-4 sister post. For a badly damaged post set in soil or concrete, remove and replace the post.

Brick Wall Repairs

Bricks occasionally need replacement when mortar joints crack or bricks are damaged. A loose brick can usually be worked out of the wall with a pry bar or the end of a cold chisel. A dam­aged brick may be removed with a cold chisel and a maul. First break the mortar around the brick, then split it into pieces small enough to free with a pry bar.

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Why Are Billions of Dollars in Precious Metals Wasting Away in Landfills Around the World?

plastics-from-e-waste-from-national-geographic-photographer-702x336Mining for precious metals like gold, silver, and copper is extremely costly. Not only does it require a huge amount of energy and have a devastating impact on the environment, it also puts human life at risk.

Still, these metals are what enable our precious smartphones and tablets to work so efficiently, so we have to get them from somewhere. But what if that somewhere was old gadgets we no longer want instead of deep within the Earth?

E-waste often contains more rare metals than mined ores. Studies show e-waste has 10 to 50 times the copper content than copper ore, and a phone contains 5 to 10 times the gold content than gold ore. Harvesting these precious metals from unwanted or broken gadgets is called urban mining, and it’s growing in popularity.

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Urban farming film depends on public’s vote to air on PBS

Omaha, Neb.—Tues., June 24, 2014—Crowdfunding has been called the future for film, but a new documentary brings a whole different meaning to the phrase, “made possible by viewers like you.”

The film Growing Cities was created almost exclusively through crowdfunding. Now its filmmakers are reaching out to the public once more. This time, they’re seeking funding to broadcast nationally on PBS this fall.

“We’ve been accepted by American Public Television to reach a guaranteed 80% of PBS markets,” said the film’s director, Dan Susman. “But we’re responsible to secure all funding for the broadcast, including all the editing and conforming the film to PBS standards.”

With additional marketing made possible by a successful campaign, the film could reach nearly 100 percent of PBS viewers across the country.

“It would be millions of homes—essentially every home in the country that has a television,” Susman said.

Growing Cities is the first documentary about urban farming across America. In it, Susman and his co-producer, Andrew Monbouquette, travel the country, visiting everything from rooftop farms to backyard chicken coops. The film has a distinctly positive approach, focusing on what these urban farmers are doing to answer the growing need for sustainable food sources, and on the sense of community that grows hand-in-hand with these gardens.

An official selection at more than 25 film festivals both nationally and abroad, Growing Cities has also screened in more than 200 communities worldwide.

“Obviously we’d love to see the film on public television,” Susman said. “We’d love to have folks of all ages catch it while flipping channels, and maybe get inspired to start a garden—or even just plant one seed.”

But ultimately, Susman said, the public decides. Since Kickstarter is all or nothing, the project must meet its goal of $30,000 by July 9 for the filmmakers to receive any of the funds pledged.

“If this Kickstarter is successful,” he said, “we believe this is the chance to spread the good food movement further than ever.”

Learn more and support their Kickstarter at


KS-digitalpostcard: © Growing Cities. Caption: Growing Cities must raise $30,000 by July 9th to air on PBS this fall.

KS17: © Growing Cities. Caption: Chicago’s City Farm grows on vacant lots in the city and provides fresh produce to local residents.

KS16: © Growing Cities. Caption: A truck farm in Portland shows just one of the many urban farmers featured in Growing Cities.

Website : Nebraska Independent Film Project: Growing Cities

Go places cars can't, take routes that cars can’t

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

There are some spectacular places where two wheels can take you but where four wheels cannot, even 4x4 vehicles, and that is also good so in all of those cases.

bicycle01_smlBesides the healthier and more engaging commute to work, I truly believe that there is greater excitement and fulfillment to be had from traveling by bike. But then I would say that considering that I do not drive and only use the bike (or walk or travel, when necessary, by public transport).

Cycling opens possibilities that allow you to carve your own path, either through a busy city, or in the countryside where discovering new and hidden places becomes a regular desire and where you can also stop, without having to think as to whether you may, to look at things.

When in town and city with a bicycle you also do not have to think as to whether there will be a parking space available somewhere and whether you have the right amount of money for the meter; you don't need it.

Driving you can often feel detached, and in fact you are detached, from the world which you are moving through, whereas cycling provides a tactile connection to the environment that is hard to replicate. It also makes the likes of law officers and park rangers, forest rangers and the like more approachable by members of the public than as when they drive around in vehicles.

Riding a bike can take you to places that cars cannot reach, or would never see, to the secluded gems that become private hangouts and provide memories that never fade.

In towns and cities, as well as the countryside, with a bicycle you can take routes that are out of bounds to cars, in general, but where bikes are allowed, and thus you can also ride at times well away from busy roads and traffic, but still reach your destination, and often quicker.

And, in general, for short journeys, in town and countryside alike, in my opinion, the bicycle is quicker, in most cases if not all, and with the right kit you can do quite a lot with a bike in places were you could never take a car.

A bicycle is also a great deal cheaper to run than a car. It requires no fuel, no road tax of any king and not even – at least not so far – any kind of insurance and car be repaired easily and the simplest kind, without sophisticated gear change mechanism, even the non-tech minded user can repair those.

© 2014

Homemade Cough Drops With Horehound and Marshmallow

As an editor for Mother Earth News, I’m constantly surrounded by inspiring recipes and DIY projects.  It can be a serious challenge to narrow down which ones to try, and which ones to simply accept as fodder for my Pinterest board. One of our natural health recipes, however, caught my attention from the first time I saw it. I craved the day I could throw down my red pen and replace it with a bag of fresh herbs — I simply had to test the Homemade Horehound Cough Drops Recipe before my eyes.

Horehound-and-marshmallow-h jpgThe stars aligned last spring when our Editor-in-Chief, Cheryl, developed a nagging cough. She casually mentioned that the horehound in her garden was doing well, and before I knew it I had volunteered to test the Horehound Cough Drops Recipe that had caught my eye. The very next morning a GIANT bag of fresh horehound appeared on my desk. I didn’t have much experience with horehound at the time, and I was surprised to see that the leaves are fuzzy and they feel super soft, kind of like sage. In the picture above, marshmallow is on the left and horehound is on the right.

I’m lucky enough to be an apprentice in an intensive local program that teaches how to grow herbs and process them for medicine. A few days after receiving the horehound, I was at my teacher’s home and she recommended that I add some marshmallow leaves to the cough drops; this is because marshmallow leaves help reduce inflammation in the mucus membranes and they also thin the mucus for easy expulsion from the body (more on that, here).  This is a great benefit for someone with a nagging cough and deeply lodged phlegm. I plucked fresh marshmallow leaves from my teacher’s expansive herbal medicine garden, and I had all the fresh ingredients I needed to make the cough drops.

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Gardening plots at train stations let you raise veggies while you commute

tokyo-train-station-gardenNo one hangs out at a train station for fun. But Tokyo is apparently changing that. With community garden plots atop train stations, the city is solving two seemingly unrelated problems: Transit hubs can be ugly and industrial-looking, and city-dwellers often don’t have space to garden.

For about $82 a month, Tokyo residents can grow veggies, flowers, and herbs at one of five train station gardens, or “Soradofarms.” Those with thumbs more black than green can get advice, help looking for pests, and weeding assistance. Tools and seeds are provided too.

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Survival Of The Nicest? A New Theory Of Our Origins Says Cooperation-Not Competition-Is Instinctive

54c2cf0c-d9bd-4d1d-89f9-d9abda9cb0aaA century ago, industrialists like Andrew Carnegie believed that Darwin’s theories justified an economy of vicious competition and inequality. They left us with an ideological legacy that says the corporate economy, in which wealth concentrates in the hands of a few, produces the best for humanity. This was always a distortion of Darwin’s ideas. His 1871 book The Descent of Man argued that the human species had succeeded because of traits like sharing and compassion. “Those communities,” he wrote, “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Darwin was no economist, but wealth-sharing and cooperation have always looked more consistent with his observations about human survival than the elitism and hierarchy that dominates contemporary corporate life.

Nearly 150 years later, modern science has verified Darwin’s early insights with direct implications for how we do business in our society. New peer-reviewed research by Michael Tomasello, an American psychologist and co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has synthesized three decades of research to develop a comprehensive evolutionary theory of human cooperation. What can we learn about sharing as a result?

Tomasello holds that there were two key steps that led to humans’ unique form of interdependence. The first was all about who was coming to dinner. Approximately two million years ago, a fledgling species known as Homo habilis emerged on the great plains of Africa. At the same time that these four-foot-tall, bipedal apes appeared, a period of global cooling produced vast, open environments. This climate change event ultimately forced our hominid ancestors to adapt to a new way of life or perish entirely. Since they lacked the ability to take down large game, like the ferocious carnivores of the early Pleistocene, the solution they hit upon was scavenging the carcasses of recently killed large mammals. The analysis of fossil bones from this period has revealed evidence of stone-tool cut marks overlaid on top of carnivore teeth marks. The precursors of modern humans had a habit of arriving late to the feast.

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The language of social change is shifting

The increasing number of voices articulating a positive vision of the future – including Russell Brand’s call for “a peaceful, effortless, joyous revolution” at London’s march against austerity – are a welcome antidote to the ‘anti’ approach, says Lucy Purdy

RussellBrand-anti-austerity2-crop-385x250Beardy, dressed in skin-tight grey and barely pausing for breath, Russell Brand addressed the crowd at the People’s Assembly march on Saturday with customary rock star zeal.

Striding onto the stage, charmingly flirtatious and studiously dishevelled, it was difficult to gauge what reception he might get. Because among the estimated 50,000 people who had turned up were families I spoke to who can’t afford to spend any time together, people who told me they were making choices between paying for heating or food; men and women feeling worn out, afraid and fed up.

The day felt engaged, but largely ‘anti’. This was about anti-austerity and angry placards. Music and togetherness yes – but against something, not for something. Last to speak on a line-up of mainly trade union bosses and stalwarts, it was uncertain how Brand would relate to this crowd. But he did.

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Former state health employees say they were silenced on drilling

cabot_drill_site01a-620x356Two retirees from the Pennsylvania Department of Health say its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling.

One veteran employee says she was instructed not to return phone calls from residents who expressed health concerns about natural gas development.

“We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” said Tammi Stuck, who worked as a community health nurse in Fayette County for nearly 36 years.

Another retired employee, Marshall P. Deasy III, confirmed that.

Deasy, a former program specialist with the Bureau of Epidemiology, said the department also began requiring field staff to get permission to attend any meetings outside the department. This happened, he said, after an agency consultant made comments about drilling at a community meeting.

In the more than 20 years he worked for the department, Deasy said, “community health wasn’t told to be silent on any other topic that I can think of.”

Companies have drilled more than 6,000 wells into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale over the last six years, making it the fastest-growing state for natural gas production in America.

Amid the record-breaking development, public health advocates have expressed concern that Pennsylvania has not funded research to examine the potential health impacts of the shale boom.

Doctors have said that some people who live near natural gas development sites – including well pads and compressor stations – have suffered from skin rashes, nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments. Some residents believe their ill health is linked to drilling, but doctors say they simply don’t have the data or research – from the state or other sources – to confirm that.

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Food Growing: The real Homeland Security

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Hands Holding VegetablesThe security of the homeland is not brought about by the military and by special police units but by people's resilience and the like of growing food in gardens, on allotments, and in other places.

While militias, minutemen, can be the defenders, real security lies in the department of food security, but not a single one of the so-called developed countries, especially such as the USA and more so even the UK, do take food security serious enough.

A British politician some while ago even went so far to actually state that we do not need farms and farmers at home as we can get all the food we need from abroad. It, once again, shows how far removed from reality and from history those people actually are. I presume he never heard of the blockades of both World War One and World War Two when Britain was nearly brought to its knees because of the fact that the U-Boats prevented vital supplies, including and especially food getting to the British Isles. Help!

National food security is not guaranteed when reliance is placed on importing food stuffs, from abroad, as the already indicated blockages of the British Isles in the two world wars have shown.

It was for that very reason that victory gardening was run as a program and everyone was encouraged – nay compelled – to grow as much food as possible.

True homeland security is food security and, if possible, energy security, and food security requires that enough food to supply every need is grown at home and not imported from abroad.

Energy security also is possible to create at home but you can't grow it, in general, except for wood. However, having seen the amount of electricity that was generated by the photo-voltaic cells on the roof of the Vauxhall Interchange on a very foggy day – 3.4KW sustained – proves that, if all buildings were covered with panels there would be no need for any other kind of generating plants especially if small wind turbines would be added to the equation. Not that the powers-that-be would go along with that as the power companies would have a fit. But back to growing food.

The gardening for victory approach is needed again today for reasons of food security of individuals, families and the nation and this approach is also good for the Planet in that we ship less food about over long distances.

The growing of food in our gardens at home, at allotments and in community gardens is the real homeland security that we needs and not para-military police forces and such like.

The treat to our food security and our energy security, as people and as nations is greater than any threat from the outside and both can be dealt with, totally or to a large extent, by growing things at home and by using renewables such as solar and small wind on every building and every property. But back to the growing of food.

Growing food wherever possible in the community is creating true security of the homeland and this we must do in every part of our respective countries in order to secure the food supply of the country and also to reduce our impact on the Planet.

Climate change stops not at any country's frontiers and will affect us all and to mitigate some of it growing more of our food, ideally all of it, and learning to cook and eat seasonally, will help here to a large extent, combined with other methods, such as those of energy security by means of using renewables and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

Cooking and eating seasonally means that we don't have strawberries all year round or asparagus or other vegetables that are not in season at that time. We never did in the not so distant past either, preserved the harvest by proper storage, by drying, curing, canning (bottling) and later freezing also. It is not rocket science and it will make for true food security.

Do we really have to have green beans shipped all the way from Kenya where they are grown – in a country where people are starving – for the Western markets as the Kenyans do not eat those? I do not think so. It is not sustainable and also not ethical, even though they are claimed to be organic. And having those arrive still in Britain when those same beans are in season and then those Kenyan beans being way cheaper that local produce, I am afraid, does not compute.

We need to get some sense into our food again and growing our own as individuals, families and communities will do just that. And to ensure true food security that way we also must bring back the knowledge and the skills of pickling (I forgot that preserving method earlier), canning, and such like, as well as how to store the likes of root crops and fruit like apples and pears for the long term properly.

All around the developed world especially we are beginning to see a move to what is beginning to be called Agrihoods, that is to say neighborhoods with local farms and community gardens at the center. In addition to that we are seeing a burgeoning of food gardening, even in from yards and not just the back ones and this is the way we must go.

A secure food supply, created by ourselves, is the most important homeland security that we can establish.

© 2014

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science

2013-11-11-happinessHappiness is so interesting, because we all have different ideas about what it is and how to get it. It's also no surprise that it's the Nr.1 value for Buffer's culture, if you see our slidedeckabout it. So naturally we are obsessed with it.

I would love to be happier, as I'm sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.

1. Exercise more - 7 minutes might be enough
You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn't have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.

Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it's actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression. In a study cited in Shawn Achor's book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with either medication, exercise, or a combination of the two. The results of this study really surprised me. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different:

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Protein packed lentils: An ancient crop that packs a punch

lentilsProtein packed lentils are one of the most ancient crops known to have been cultivated. It crops up in history 8,500 years ago likely because it is a plant that grows easily in arid or cool regions. Loads of varieties are available and they are cheap and easily found at any grocery store.

They are one of the few beans that don’t require soaking or any other preparation which makes them a perfect and affordable family food.

Some of the more common varieties include:

  • Puy lentils: Small blackish green, lower-starch variety. Great for creamy side dishes.
  • Green lentils: Firm, larger pods great for cold salads.
  • Red lentils: Actually the hulled inside of other lentils. Great for soups as they disintegrate when cooked.

All lentils rank very highly on the protein scale and, when paired with cheese and/or nuts make a complete protein just as effective as animal protein at building muscle. They are also one of the best forms of fibre, with one cup serving up just over half of your day’s needs.

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Nonprofit Creates Roofs From Plastic Bottles, Reducing Waste And Creating Jobs At Same Time

petNot all roofs are created equal.

The material hanging over rural Ecuadorians' homes, for example, is typically built from either grasses -- which attract insects, leak horribly and collapse when water-logged -- or corrugated tin -- which, in a country that averages 86 degrees, transforms homes into ovens.

Fortunately, one far-too-common material is coming to the rescue for the people of Ecuador, creating green jobs and reducing waste along the way: plastic bottles.

Carnegie Mellon's Engineers Without Borders has teamed up with eco-nonprofit Reuse Everything Institute to turn material that once was used to hold drinks into housing material for poverty-stricken communities. According to a video promoting the partnership, 110 million tons of plastic is used each year -- 7.86 trillion plastic bottles, give or take -- and the discarded material can be transformed into a product that dramatically improves everyday life for Ecuadorians.

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Thanks to shrinking sea ice, National Geographic puts global warming on the map

arctic-sea-ice-ponds-flickr-nasa7Every once in awhile, we reach a moment in history that so radically changes our concept of the world it forces us to redraw our maps — events like Columbus rediscovering America or the Soviet Union collapsing. Now we can add global warming to the list.

For the upcoming 10th edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World, its cartographers say they have made one of the most visible changes in the publication’s history: it’ll show a lot less Arctic ice.

The loss of Arctic sea ice has been a glaring sign of climate change for the last thirty-some years. Rising temperatures have caused the ice to retreat by 12 percent per decade since the 1970s, with particularly notable setbacks in 2007 and 2012. Arctic sea ice is so responsive to climate change because of a positive feedback loop: As the ice melts it gets thinner, and because thin ice reflects less sun than thick ice, the ocean absorbs more of that heat – which weakens the ice even more.

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US bike boom strongest with people over 55 (not hipsters)

older_ladies_bikes.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scaleThe age group with the highest rate of bicycling is the 18-24 age group, but the 55+ age group is the one that has been increasing its rate fastest (by far), and it is quickly gaining ground on the young.

When we think of the "bicycling boom," I think that most of us visualize young hipsters and urbanites. However, recent data from the US Department of Transportation's National Household Travel Survey show that the age group that is increasing its bicycle rate most quickly is the elderly (75 to 84), or more broadly the overall retiree group. Here are a couple of charts on this:

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Growing food in hanging baskets

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many, if not indeed the majority of, gardeners think that hanging baskets are just for flowers and such. However, hanging baskets can be great for growing of a variety of vegetables and fruit, and that away from pesky slugs and it also, if mixed with some flowers, confuses the birds, especially as far as strawberries are concerned.

lettuce_basketYou can do the same with lettuce and leafy greens and many of them are not just green but have rather many different hues of green, over olive to nearly brown and if you have Swiss Chard the better still as that is really one helluva colorful leaf vegetable.

Now don't just hang those baskets at the back of the house and such but, like any good any born and bred suburbanite would do and hang them out front too. Not only will it confuse the birds, it will also confuse the neighbors many of who may never have seen what a lettuce looks like except for with their heads lopped off in a grocery produce shelf.

You can think of such vegetable planters, and they don't all have to be hanging baskets, as your "gateway drug" for the neighborhood to get into urban farming.

Soon, you may also have all of the neighbors tucking lettuce in here, carrots in there, and kohlrabi next to the Japanese maples or kale in the perennial bed.

Look at it as a sinister plan to transform suburbia into little micro-farms.

If you are growing what is often referred to as micro-greens, that is to say, cut and come again salad vegetables, such as spinach, chard, rocket, etc., where you but cut the leaves when they are still very small, then hanging baskets and such like planters are a great way of doing it without taking up space in the rest of your garden and you only need to step out onto the front or back porch and harvest the leaves you want.

Why not give it a try? I grew some strawberries, as a trial, in a hanging basket last year, mixed with some flowers and no slug or bird got any that way. It worked a treat. This year I will transfer all of my strawberries into hanging baskets and am also looking to get some more hanging planters and hooks to have other vegetables also away from hungry beaks and slug and snail mouths.

© 2014

9 tips for Zero Waste entertaining this summer

Simply_Straws.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scaleSummer is the season for outdoor entertaining. Unfortunately, this can result in excessive amounts of waste, as many hosts set out piles of Styrofoam plates, plastic cutlery, and plastic cups in order to reduce the amount of cleanup and broken glasses in the backyard. It might be convenient and easy to entertain in this way, but it’s unsustainable.

Consider the following zero-waste options when planning your next party. It does take more effort to use reusable items – you have to wash and store them till next time – but there won’t be a plastic garbage bag full of trash at the end of the night, which is a pretty great feeling. Reusable items add a touch of class and decoration to a party, making it more memorable for your guests. Here are some ideas:

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10 things you need to know about the circular economy

A working circular economy could be a practical solution to the planet's emerging resource problems. Here's 10 facts you should know.

A circular economy would decouple economic growth from resource consumption1. Why do we need one?
The circular economy is touted as a practical solution to the planet's emerging resource crunch. Reserves of key resources such as rare earth metals and minerals are diminishing, while exploration and material extraction costs are rising. The current 'take-make-dispose' linear economy approach results in massive waste - according to Richard Girling's book Rubbish! published in 2005, 90% of the raw materials used in manufacturing become waste before the product leaves the factory while 80% of products made get thrown away within the first six months of their life. This, coupled with growing tensions around geopolitics and supply risk, are contributing to volatile commodity prices. A circular economy could help stabilise some of these issues by decoupling economic growth from resource consumption.

2. It is more than just recycling
While substituting secondary materials for primary materials can offer a part solution, recycling offers limited appeal as its processes are energy-intensive and generally downgrade materials, leading to continuing high demand for virgin materials. The circular economy goes beyond recycling as it is based around a restorative industrial system geared towards designing out waste. This graphic from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation shows how recycling is an 'outer circle' of the circular economy, requiring more energy input than the 'inner circles' of repair, reuse and remanufacture. The goal is not just to design for better end-of-life recovery, but to minimise energy use.

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I have often hesitated to write something like this for fear that my credentials weren’t that of a traditional environmentalist, but I do want to speak to you about what I hope will be a growing trend.

As we look at the challenges facing our world, from poverty to climate change, it’s clear that these problems are interconnected. The good news is that our society is striving to be more aware of our natural surroundings, and how we’re all connected through nature.


Now it’s time to incorporate the concept of cross pollination into our everyday lives, including our current jobs and future careers.

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Saving energy is not an option but a duty

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Saving energy is not simply an option, it is a duty. The global mega-trend of “energy use and climate change” has meanwhile also arrived in the daily routine of business.

med_eh_save-energy_249x267Some countries, driven by political climate targets, via tax deals puts businesses in at times difficult positions. On top of that comes the price development of primary energy driven by increasing scarcity of fossil raw materials such as oil and gas and the increase in global demand.

This means that saving energy is high on the agenda for businesses everywhere, as it should be. However, looking at the City of London and the banks and other businesses there the message does not seem to have gotten through again and CEOs do not seem to have gotten the memo, and even government offices are lit up like Christmas trees even when there is no one home.

While they – the government that is – keep riling at households and small businesses to reduce their energy consumption and to turn off lights in rooms not in use and to ensure that the business premises have all appliances turned off no one seems to dare tell the banks and big offices and the government departments to do the same.

Saving energy is not an option, neither for use as individuals and households nor for businesses or government, it is a duty. A duty to the Planet and to future generations and we all have the duty to reduce energy usage and also use of water and other resources.

Do, however, compact fluorescent light bulbs, aka CFLs, really save energy in use, compared to the old, now sadly, and I mean that, phased out old-fashioned Edison light bulbs?

I must say that all my tests with power consumption meters and such, and also as regards to lifespan of CFLs vs. the incandescent, the Edison, bulbs, none have been discovered. I have found that the power consumption of a supposed 7Watt CFL (supposedly giving the same light as a 60W incandescent) is at least 30+ watts and as to lifespan... well, they do not live as long, in my judgment, as did the old style ones. Sorry, but someone seems to have applied green paint or soap suds somewhere here.

It would appear that our governments have been sold a dud there somehow on both counts as far as CFLs are concerned. LEDs are a different kettle of fish altogether but on both counts, ,CFLs and LEDs, the light is harsh bright white which is not very beneficial to people's well-being.

The best option is and was ever to turn off the lights in a room or an area where the light is not required at the time. In the case of CFLs, however, turning them on and then after a few minutes back off seems to reduce their lifespan rather dramatically. Who, I would like to ask and know, was the recipient of brown envelopes with contents again in the EU and elsewhere for the law about CFLs having been brought in?

We must save energy and resources, and it is the duty of all of us, but CFLs do not appear to be much of a help here and their costs are still high compared to the few cents that incandescent light bulbs could be had for a couple of years before they were, basically, banned.

In addition to that the talk about the “phantom power” drawn by cell phone chargers and such like is also to a great extent humbug. The current is so minimal that is does not even register on the scale of things.

On the other hand there are things we can do to save energy and, at the same time money, that really have an impact and make a difference, such as not boiling a full, freshly drawn, kettle of water each and every time that we make a cup of tea or coffee. Also add to this the turning off of lights that don't have to be on and use lower wattage lamps and more direct lighting than 100W overhead lamps, the light of which is but wasted to a great extent.

© 2014

Free Webinar on Climate Change Solutions

Gaia Education are holding a free webinar on climate change solutions.

Catalyzing-CO-Consciousness-Flyer.standard 460x345Gaia Education are an international NGO who are helping people to understand how we can design much lower impact communities, in the city and in rural situations. They offer a tried and tested Ecovillage Design Education course in many countries in Europe, South America and Africa.

Their next project is to launch a series of free webinars with the first one exploring Climate Change Solutions.

Conducted by Daniel Greenberg, founder of Earth Deeds and co-founder of Gaia Education, the webinar will look at how to mitigate our carbon footprint, raise funds for community projects, move way beyond carbon offsetting and catalyze carbon consciousness.

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This Texas man is fighting the drought one tank of rainwater at a time

tank-townHow do you get to be the mayor of Tank Town? Practice, practice, practice! Or else, wait. I’m confused.

Richard Heinichen became the mayor of Tank Town by building one rainwater storage tank in central Texas in 1994. Back then you could still get groundwater from a well, but apparently it smelled gross. He started out as a rainwater evangelist for the supplemental, sulfur-free benefits, but ended up as deus ex machina during Texas’ crippling droughts.

Heinichen helped neighbors build their own rainwater tanks at first, then decided to turn the whole thing into a business. He built 16 tanks on his own property and sold some 1,300 others. He consults with hundreds of people a year about installing their own rainwater tanks. (Perplexingly, he’s also started bottling and selling his rainwater, Cloud Juice, but we hope he is at least using recycled bottles.)

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Cargo ships carry a lot of climate baggage

mc3a6rsk_mc-kinney_mc3b8llerBuying local has become a bit of a mantra. We understand that it takes a heck of a lot of climate-killing carbon to get that hula hoop from China to Chicago, but it’s easy to let the details slip. Here’s some perspective: Maersk Triple E’s, the world’s largest container ships, measure 1,312 feet from stem to stern and contain 55,000 tons of steel alone. To put that into more relatable terms, that’s 196 LeBron James long and more than a million Rottweilers in weight.

These giant vessels are giant polluters. The largest vessels burn around 16 tons of low-grade, high-sulphur diesel fuel per hour as they ceaselessly plow the world’s oceans at over 25 knots. One studyestimates just one of these gigantic ships spews out as much cancer-causing pollutants as 50 million cars every year, and there are an estimated 90,000 cargo ships around the world. Unfortunately, pending legislation aimed at cleaning up these ships focuses exclusively on sulfur emissions and misses the boat on CO2, one of the driving causes of climate change.

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The right to drive, the right to fly

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

no-fly1Many people seriously believe it to be their (human) right to drive a car or to fly and while they insist upon this “right” they, invariably, deny the very right to life to those now or soon affected by climate change though they may never have driven a car or flown in an airplane.

Neither driving nor flying are a (human) right and no one should believe that they are and that they are entitled to drive or fly. Considering that in the not so distant future cheap oil, or even oil per se, may be history and alternatives either are worse for the Planet by way of pollution or simply not available I certainly would not bank on this “right” to drive or fly.

It is more than high time that everyone woke up to this fact and rather than stamping their feet like little children in a tantrum demanding their (human) right to drive and fly thought about and found some real alternatives. They do exist. That is alternatives to driving and flying, that is.

First and foremost there are your feet and then there is the humble bicycle.

In most developed countries, bar maybe one or two that are geared almost exclusively towards the car, we have good public transport in the form of buses, trams, and trains, both underground and overground.

Unfortunately even in the UK many local bus services, especially in rural and semi-rural areas, have been axed in favor of the car. This has to be reversed and we also need to have many of the train routes back that Beeching destroyed. The latter, however, will only happen if and when the railroads in Britain are taken back into public ownership.

In most countries of Europe the railroads are still state-owned and -operated and thus are cheaper than those in the UK and, amazingly, cleaner and more reliable.

As far as bicycle infrastructure is concerned Britain is lagging far behind most countries of the European mainland such as the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland, all of which, more or less, have a countrywide bicycle route network and as far as the Netherlands and Denmark are concerned, cycling – the non-sports variety – is a passion and the way it functions in those two countries is all but amazing.

Driving and flying are not (human) rights; they are privileges and this is something that we must get into our heads. And no, no, don't stamp your feet, it makes no difference. It is and remains the truth and a fact.

Even if you can afford it to own and drive a car and to fly to this and that destination for vacation or shopping or business it still is but a privilege and not a right. Period!

Flying is the greatest contributor to pollution and emissions and driving a car is not far down the list. Flying is the worst simply because the pollution stays in the upper atmosphere where it has effects on climate and weather in ways that ground generated pollution does not.

You only have to look at the contrails of the airplanes at certain altitudes and under certain conditions and the way that they spread out over the sky – contrail cirrus clouds they are referred to by meteorologists – and cause a hazy cloud cover. Those are the soot particles and others that are covered by ice, basically, and where they are they basically remain, only afterwards invisible to the eye.

So, every time that you fly you are part of the problem and not part of the solution and your flying and driving – which you claim as a right, a human right, almost – restricts the right to life of others. Think about it.

© 2014

An Inexpensive, Earth-Sheltered, Passive Solar House

The Kalmers’ earth-sheltered, passive solar house is made out of many free and inexpensive materials, and cost less than $10 per square foot.

Kalmer-Household jpgReading MOTHER EARTH NEWS for years gave me ideas on energy-efficient home building. I used a few of these ideas on a 100-year-old run-down home I bought and remodeled. This enabled me to acquire tools and skills, learn about solar, and build equity.

I sold the home in 1982 for a profit after spending five years fixing it up, and bought rural land to build my dream home — an earth-sheltered, passive solar house I built using several techniques MOTHER EARTH NEWS had taught me about. The land had an old trailer on it that we lived in during the house-building process, and then we sold it when we moved into the house. We used locally available, free or inexpensive materials whenever possible. My wife and I gathered local stones to slipform walls, borrowed an old concrete mixer, built forms, and used the forms to build our east, west and north walls. We then externally insulated them before backfilling. I cut logs from my newly acquired 31 acres to make a post and beam frame, infilled with cedar cordwood. I traded some of my time with friends in exchange for them helping us when we needed it, such as when pouring concrete. Because of the sale of our remodeled home, we had enough money to support ourselves while we built, which took about 18 months. We did all the carpentry, cabinet making, electrical and plumbing, only hiring out the excavation for our recessed earth-sheltered home. We added an attached greenhouse, and later solar hot water and solar electricity, all without any sort of loan.

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SCOTUS Further Weakens EPA Power to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

Ruling issued Monday cuts back already 'soft' regulatory measures under the Clean Air Act

Pollution in Joliet, Illinois (Photo: Eric Schmuttenmaer / Flickr Creative Commons)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday placed further limits on the Environmental Protection Agency's already-modest power to regulate power plant and factory emissions of greenhouse gases.

SCOTUS ruled in a 2007 case that greenhouse gases emitted by new motor vehicles constitute pollution that is subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. Under this act, any polluter that emits more than 250 tons of a recognized pollutant must acquire a permit before expanding or modernizing.

The EPA interpreted the 2007 ruling to mean that greenhouse gases emitted by stationary facilities—including power plants and factories—are also subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act. The agency raised the threshold for regulation of stationary facilities to 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year—a move it said was designed to avoid excessive permitting processes, given how prevalent CO2 pollution is.

The SCOTUS ruling on Monday determined that, contrary to the EPA's interpretation, the 2007 ruling on automobiles does not automatically trigger regulations for stationary greenhouse gas emitters. Furthermore, the court ruled that the EPA did not have the authority to rewrite this threshold without congressional approval.

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Norway's Military Does "Meatless Mondays" for the Climate

Signs of change are appearing in the United States military as well.

Girls eat at Norwegian Military Girl's Camp, 2013. Photo by Metziker / Flickr.

The “Meatless Mondays” campaign was originally thought up to support the war effort during World War I, but now a modern army is using it to fight an even bigger battle—the one against climate change.

Last fall, the Norwegian army announced their plan to join the campaign by preparing their soldiers (both at home and overseas) a meat-free breakfast, lunch, and dinner once a week.

It's not just Norway where the military is concerned about climate change.

"It's not about saving money," said navy commander and nutritionist Pal Stenberg, who runs the catering department. "It's about being more concerned for our climate, more ecologically responsible, and also healthier."

According to the United Nations, the livestock industry contributes almost 15 percent to the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans. And a study released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the global livestock business takes up 30 percent of the earth's ice-free land and 30 percent of fresh water.

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A key factor in any product’s sustainability is its durability

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Tools_repairA key factor in any product’s sustainability is its durability. Maybe we should even be saying that it is THE key factor. If something lasts a long time and is made with quality, there is no need for you ever to replace it, recycle it or upcycle it.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

However, that is the very reason why industry, nowadays, has decided to built obsolescence into each and every product that they make so that we will have to buy the came products again, and again, and again, after a year or so, as it is designed to break after that time and so made that it cannot, in most cases, be repaired or repair is made so prohibitively expensive that we have no other choice to buy new.

In fact this decision was taken by capitalists in the US around 1950 as they had made such nice profits during the war they were looking for a way to keep those profits going after the war. During the war things were getting broken and destroyed all the time by enemy action and replacements had to be made and sold and they realized that, with the war over, their profits would be going down if they kept making things that last and so the decision was made to build in an obsolescence reducing the lifespan of products to but a few years and also making them non-repairable.

Once upon a time, and no, this is no fairy tale, things were made in such a way and the only time most people ever bought that product new was if there really was no way to fix it again or if they really wanted a newer, maybe better, one.

Industry had to innovate in those days and bring out real new things if they wanted to keep selling things or find new markets for the things they already made and that meant a lot of R&D and marketing. With built-in obsolescence there is no need for either and you can just go on selling the same thing over and over again in your “normal” market. And that is the aim, and to make as much profit, from such sales, as possible.

As consumers, however, we have the power, and don't believe that you don't, by means of our spending power, such as it may be, to demand stuff again that is made well, by using quality materials, and designed and made to last, and that can be repaired should something go wrong with them. The same goes for stuff that is “Made in England” or “Made in Britain”, “Made in USA” or “Made in Germany”, if you wish to buy products from the home country and not stuff that is made in the Far East or such. This also applies to ethically produced goods. Use your spending power and use it wisely.

What the capitalists designed with the built-in obsolescence is for them to extract ever more money from us, the customer, the consumer, without having to do much for it by way of research and development (R&D), as we have to buy the same product time and again. Or they go so far as to make products obsolete, bring new ones to the market that we then have to buy, where neither charger nor anything else previously used fit, as we see time and again with computer printers for instance and also and especially computers. The software that works fine on a previous installation no longer works on the new one or the updated software no longer works on the operating system that we have at present, forcing us to get a new operating system installed, which often needs a new computer, in fact.

And, even if a product can, theoretically, be repaired repair is either several times more expensive than a new product or, in the case I experience with a pair of boots which, although well made with the upper actually sewn to a leather mid-sole so-called shoe and boot menders could not repair a small section of seam that had come undone as they did not have “a machine to do it”. All that would have been required were two bent needles, thread and five minutes work. The repair skills have also gone out of the window and repair shops can only repair something if they have a machine that can do the repair. Help!

In days gone by there was a cobbler in almost any village and several on the high street of every town and the same goes for alteration and repair tailors. There were shops that could mend a wireless set (radio receiver to those not familiar with the British English) and televisions when they came about and not so long ago there were even shops still that could and would repair computers. Most of them have now gone also because PCs have become cheaper to buy new than to get them fixed.

An entire sector of the economy, the repair economy, has been destroyed or rendered unprofitable by the fact that products can no longer be repaired or are made too expensive to repair as specialist tools and parts are required. But we, as consumers, can change this by changing our buying habits. You and I have the power. Let's use it and hit them where it hurts them, their profits.

© 2014

Try a Wood Pallet Project

A couple in Vermont has created potting sheds, a greenhouse and more from repurposed wood pallets.

Wood-Pallet-Garden-Shed jpgWooden pallets can be reassembled into a number of different structures, such as this charming potting shed. ~ Photo by Kitty Werner

My husband has been collecting discarded wood pallets and shipping crates for years. Businesses that receive pallets and shipping crates include hardware and appliance stores, building supply outlets, and manufacturing businesses. The pallets are usually stacked next to dumpsters and are free for the taking. Discarded wood pallets and shipping crates are everywhere; you just have to know where to look!

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How we can fight back against herbicide-resistant superweeds

A field dominated by palmer amaranth, or pigweedDelaware Agriculture

A field dominated by palmer amaranth, or pigweed, one of the plants that has gained glyphosate resistance.

There’s a clear scientific consensus that heavy use of glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup and other brands of herbicide — has sped up the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds. And it’s reasonable to assume that crops genetically engineered to work hand in glove with glyphosate (like Roundup-resistant soy) are part of the problem, contributing to the popularity of the weed killer.

Now crops genetically engineered to work with other herbicides — such as dicamba and 2,4-D — look like they will soon come on line. The seed companies’ answer to the Roundup-resistance problem is: Let’s just fall back on older herbicides. An editorial published by the journal Nature recently criticized this plan. If we do the same thing with dicamba and 2,4-D that we did with glyphosate, the editorial argued, history is likely to repeat itself.

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