Earth Day: More Reasons to Drink Craft Beer

28 Apr

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I’ve already extolled the virtues (both green and tasty) of craft beer, but now that you’ve been trying a variety of eco-friendly brews you may have built up a collection of bottle caps. Even if you don’t drink beer at all, you can always find cool root beer or pop bottle tops instead. I had been hoarding collecting bottle caps for year before I finally decided to do something with them.

At craft stores you can usually find small circular magnets. You want to try to find the thickest ones. The edges of the bottle cap will probably be deeper than the width of the magnet anyway. When attaching them to your bottle caps you have at least two options. You can pound out the cap a little so the edges are flatter and your magnet pokes out beyond their depth.

I chose the other option which involves a two-step gluing process. We cut small discs out of a dowel rod that were smaller in diameter than the bottle cap. First, you glue the wooden disc to the back of the bottle cap and then glue the magnet to the disc.

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Here I should put a note on glue. I used an e6000 glue for all my gluing, but there’s probably a better option. It’s been months since this product and about 70% of my magnets are in working order. A stronger glue or gluing system probably would have helped. Next time I’ll visit this site for other options.

Here’s the finished collection! This is a great simple project to reuse a material you’d otherwise throw away and to show off the cool artwork that many of these bottle caps boast. Now I just need to figure out what to do with all the bottles…

~April

Earth Day: Literary Irrigation

27 Apr

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I started to write a long winded step by step explanation of the irrigation system I rigged in my garden to save water during this years drought, but the draft was long, dense, and unforgivably boring. Then I remembered Greg Johnson’s clever treatment of the IPCC assessment report that I posted earlier this month. I like this version better.

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could a veggie patch
planted in a drought be green?
neighbors said “DO IT!”

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“sprinklers waste water
but behold the wonder of…..
drip irrigation.”

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into the unknown
some method, mostly madness,
learn from my mistakes.

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a leaky faucet
nearly killed the project dead,
YouTube saved the day.

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a tough decision,
to buy soaker hose or drip?
ease trumps efficient.

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garden hose costly
numerous short lengths needed
new fave: hose couplings.

Picture 5

take beat up old hose,
cut out crappy part with knife,
screw on new fitting.

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a highway of hose
takes water to the soakers
nestled in their beds

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stop leaks at the joints
gaskets are your new best friends
also, rubber bands.

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water earlier
to slow evaporation
early mornings best….

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Not. Gonna. Happen.
I’m not a morning person.
I bought a timer.

Picture 6

mulch over soakers
traps in water and cools soil,
reuse paper bags!

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one last mulch layer
looks good, keeps paper in place
but cheap mulch stains hands

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sit down in the shade
survey your accomplishment
sip refreshing drink

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In conclusion, this project was challenging for me. I had to learn a lot of new skills, and use quite a bit of trial and error, to make the whole thing come together. Even though I had to buy new soaker hoses I’m proud that I still found ways to repair, repurpose, and reuse other stuff. I was particularly pleased when I successfully MacGyvered a rubber band into a gasket to fix a broken soaker hose coupling. No wonder that dude had so much swagger.

~Robin

Earth Day: Weekend Images

26 Apr

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Chipmunk in Bristlecone Pines

~April

Earth Day: Weekend(ish) Images

25 Apr

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My first harvest from the garden. I did not expect to get to step 5 that quickly!

~Robin

Earth Day: Please Drink Responsibly

24 Apr

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You know how some people get all snobby about wine?  I’m not one of those people.  I know I like dark, dry reds, but whether it’s from Sonoma County or Trader Joe’s, I don’t really care.  When you start talking about beer, it’s a different matter.  I’m pretty sure I have a certain expression reserved solely for when I see someone drinking Coors Light.  And a different one for Budweiser.  I have been known to snub a restaurant simply because it doesn’t meet my beverage requirements.   I can give you an informed opinion on no less than four IPAs brewed with habañeros.  I’m a beer snob.

People who shop, and drink, locally tend to be environmentally minded so it’s no surprise that craft brewers are committed to sustainability.  Balancing the focus on green beers versus good beers can be tricky.  I’ve had my share of beers that I chose because of their environmentally focused label only to be disappointed by the taste, but there definitely doesn’t have to be a conflict.  Many eco-friendly beers don’t put that front and center on their label.   Here are a few of my favorites.

Stone Brewing: Stone is one of the most recognizable names in craft beer.  Before I knew what craft beer was, I knew about their famous Arrogant Bastard Ale.  If you’ve visited Stone’s brewery, you know it not only has amazing beer, it’s also a fantastic place to enjoy an afternoon.  Their sprawling gardens are undoubtably beautiful, but it turns out they’re also sustainable.  With the use of native plants, salvaged materials and onsite food production, they’re able to green their brewery while still creating a peaceful retreat.
Beer of Choice: Enjoy By

Great Lakes Brewing: If you live in Ohio, you know that come December everyone becomes a craft beer aficionado with the release of their Christmas Ale.  You probably also know about the Burning River Fest, an event using the famous Cuyahoga River fire to raise awareness for water quality today.  Great Lakes Brewing supports the event by releasing some of that delicious Christmas Ale from their stores.  Outside of major shindigs, the food for their brewpub is grown at a local organic farm.  They’re also committed to recycling everything from the usual suspects to brewery grain and unsellable beer.
Beer of Choice: Christmas Ale (sorry to be so typical…)

Bear Republic: Whenever I want a good, standard IPA that I know is pretty easy to find, I’ll turn to Bear Republic’s Racer 5 (or Racer X or Racer 15, etc.).  I was happy to discover that one of my favorite beers is doing its part for the environment.  Earlier this year, the brewery installed a system that reuses waste water for power and water needs.  Breweries can use up to 10 times the amount of water for beer produced, so this system will help reduce its impact on an already drought-stricken area.  They are also helping to fund wells for their county.
Beer of Choice: Racer 5

Pizza Port: When I think of pizza these days, I want nothing more than to finish an entire medium by myself from Pizza Port.  Not only are both their in-house and guest beers to die for, their pizza is nectar of the gods.  I cannot wait until they finally decide to build one closer than a half hour away.  Okay, I’m done drooling on my keyboard.  Some of their facilities are powered at least partially by solar panels.  They even have programs to teach their community about the benefits of solar energy.
Beer of Choice: Doctor Brew (if only for the name and TARDIS next to it)

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Eel River: Right after I told Robin I wanted to d a post on green beers, I went to Total Wine and found a beer called Earth Thirst.  I took it as a sign from the gods that I should drink it.  While it falls under the eco-label category, it is also a pretty good double IPA.  Their brewery was the first certified organic brewery in the US and they follow environmentally friendly practices like reusing spent grain and pre-treating their waste water.  They also source 95% of their hops from within a few hundred miles.
Beer of Choice: Earth Thirst is the only one I’ve tried, but it’s recommended

These are only a few of the hundreds of eco-minded breweries out there.  Take a look at your favorite brew and you’ll probably be surprised at their practices.

~ April

Earth Day: Gardening 101

23 Apr

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I decided to re-start the garden in my backyard this year, despite the fact that I haven’t got a clue how to actually do it. After much research and trial and error, I created my own unique course for the first time gardener, which, dear readers, I am going to share with you right here:

Gardening 101: A (Not Terribly Useful) Introductory Course for the Beginning Gardener

Step 1: Learn how to garden.

Step 1.a. Research gardening techniques and design

I took April’s advice and hit up the library for books on gardening. Of all the introductory gardening books I have read so Barbara Pleasant’s Starter Vegetable Gardens has been the most helpful. Although I haven’t been able to use any of her layouts the step by step directions and planning lists have been really useful. I would totally recommend it to a first time gardener. I’ve also gotten a lot of wisdom and advice from a number of my friends and neighbors, some of whom have had their own gardens at my house. Conveniently this leads me to my next step.

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Step 1.b. Take inventory of existing resources

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of love has been put into this garden, but it’s been neglected for the past few years. I needed to take stock of what I had to work with before I could start. I started by weed whacking the hell out of the backyard to excavate the existing garden beds. Several extraordinary things happened during this stage. First, I learned how to use a weed whacker. Second, I discovered some kind of ancient drip irrigation/soaker system that had been lying in a tangled heap hidden by weeds for the past two years.

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In that moment I felt a bit like Howard Carter uncovering the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Step 1.c. Begin planning

I had uncovered a bunch of garden beds, but I didn’t yet know which areas of my garden got full sun, partial sun, or shade. I got out a sketch book and colored pencils and made a little map of my backyard and sat on the porch to draw in the sunny areas at different parts of the day.

Let me tell you friends, I felt so organized and clever as I did this. Little did I know what was in store for me. I started to make my list of plants and planing where I would put them, based on their needs for space, sun, and water.

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I also knew from talking to the other gardeners in my community that installing some kind of drip irrigation system to water efficiently was going to be key to gardening during a drought. I had a bunch of soaker hoses, but I had no idea how to set them up. What’s more, I could see that there were sections of the hose that were damaged, joints where the hose had broken off, and there was this weird valve thing that had rusted shut. I looked all over our shed for spare parts, directions or even a brand name that I could google. Nothing. This led me to step 1.d.

Step 1.d. Get completely and hopelessly overwhelmed

After over two hours messing with the %$@&-ing hoses I still had no idea how they worked or how to fix them. I also couldn’t decide what should go where in the garden. I had two choices at this point, either give up or….

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Step 2. Screw it. Buy a bunch of stuff, stick it in the ground, and hope for the best.

Step 3. Make mistakes

After planting the majority of my plants in the blazing heat I looked at the weather forecast and was horrified to discover that it was predicting snow. Fortunately, it later changed to rain, but the low temperatures have hovered low enough for me to worry about a late season frost. I later found out that most people around here wait until after next weekend to put their plants in the ground.

Step 3.a. Hopefully learn from mistakes

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So, apparently you should look at information about your area’s last frost date before putting plants in the ground?

Step 4. ???????

I don’t know, I haven’t gotten there yet.

Step 5. Success!

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(Hopefully.)

~Robin

Earth Day: In the Cloud

22 Apr

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Yesterday I heard a story on NPR about cloud computing.  I’m a big fan of keeping documents on the cloud.  I use a lot of different computers and I like to be able to access my data from any of them.  I use Evernote, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Flickr and iCloud and that’s not including things like email, social media, and, yes, WordPress.  I knew about the security concerns of these services, but the NPR story was the first time that I heard anything about the environmental impact of cloud computing.

Searching the Planet to Find Power for the Cloud

If you don’t have time to listen to the four-minute story, the gist is that powering one cloud storage facility uses enough energy to power 57,000 homes.  They use millions of computer servers that all need to be constantly cooled by air conditioning.  Facebook actually has a data center near the Arctic Circle so that they can naturally cool their servers.  Apple, Box and Google run their clouds on renewable energies.

Greenpeace is one of the environmental organizations with initiatives to green the cloud.  Their Clean Our Cloud program spotlights companies using green technologies and lobbies for changes in those that don’t (they’re looking at you Microsoft,  Amazon, and, sadly, Pinterest).

After hearing the story, cloud computing seems pretty wasteful, but compared to the alternative it actually cuts energy consumption by up to 87%.  This makes sense when you take into consideration that, like buying in bulk, it’s often easier to streamline energy savings in a fewer large-scale operation rather than in numerous inefficient personal setups.

Many of the studies I found were commissioned by providers of cloud services, so they can only be trusted so far.  They’re trying to acquire cloud customers so these studies intend to negate the impact of data center energy consumption.  I wouldn’t put my money on the exact percentages they report, but the general principles are sound.  I think as wasteful as cloud services seem now, they will become more efficient and greener fairly quickly.  With just financial incentives, companies will be motivated to make more efficient data centers as time passes.  Even if environmental improvements are just a side effect of their cost-saving measures, the benefit still stands.  An article in Forbes also points out the impact that e-commerce in general has had on the environment, citing the rise of telecommuting, online purchasing and the decrease in brick and mortar stores and paper use as benefits of the move to the online economy.

I think that the move toward cloud-based services is a positive direction, but the implications of that still need to be studied and improved.  As  individuals, there isn’t much we can do to improve the efficiency of data centers.  I would suggest using companies that take advantage of renewable resources and demonstrate responsible environmental practices.  You can see a list of the good and bad companies as well as guides for calling them out on social media at Greenpeace’s Click Clean website.

~April

Earth Day: Backyard Garden Adventure

22 Apr

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I adore my house. Ok, so I don’t technically own it, and I can’t take credit for many of it’s charms. I can thank a wonderful facilities team for things like the solar panels on the roof, the tankless water heater, the energy efficient appliances and the many other features that make my house a fantastic planet-friendly crib. Another reason to love my house is for it’s long glorious history, created by the people who lived here before me. It is from these previous occupants that we’ve gotten treasures and traditions like the house journal and the magnetic poetry on the fridge. (Ask Mara if you want to know the story of how Virginia came to live here.)

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Unfortunately one house treasure that has been sadly neglected for the past few years is the garden. When I moved into the house, the backyard was occupied by an orderly little veggie patch. I started to hear little snippets of the garden’s history. How one occupant spent an entire weekend working a huge load of compost into the soil, how another turned the garden into a kale factory, and how the random set of mattress springs came to live here. Unfortunately though, I was never around during the summer, so I took very little interest in maintaining the veggie patch, and it slowly grew from neat rows of perfect beds into a backyard jungle of rocks and miscellaneous junk. The only thing that thrived in our backyard was a surly patch of mint, knee high grass, and a few plucky little poppies.

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Until now.

I’ll be spending this summer here in Yosemite. (I’m secretly terrified that I’m going to melt in the heat but that’s another issue entirely.) I can finally, finally garden in the backyard.

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Step One: Figure out how to garden.

~Robin

P.S. That thing is called a shovel right? Oh, I am going to be so good at this!

P.P.S. Sorry this entry is a bit late. I’m going to try shirking at least some of the blame to April since I spent most of today prepping for her wedding.

Earth Day: Weekend Images

20 Apr

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Itsy Bitsy Spider
Spider at the Austin Botanical Garden

Happy Easter Everyone!

~April

Earth Day: Go Celebrate!

19 Apr

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Since Earth Day falls on a Tuesday this year, lots of events are happening this weekend.  Tonight I’ll be rocking the part of the Lorax for Yosemite’s Earth Day Family Night. If Yosemite’s Earth Day Events are too long of a commute for you, April made a list of ways to celebrate last year. I’m sure a google search for “Earth Day events” with your location will turn up more opportunities.  Go do something awesome  and be on the lookout for greenwashing.

M Mead Quote 2_2_2

~Robin

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