Low-Tech Garden Tilling

Tillinggarden1_1 I recently tilled most of the raised beds in our garden with a garden digger (the red tool in the middle of the photos).

Even though we have a gasoline-powered tiller, we decided to till manually. It was hard work — to till, I had to lift it vertically as high as possible (the tiller weighs 21 lbs), plunge it into the soil, step onto the crossbar, jump up and down until it went all the way into the the soil, and then step back and pull it to me until it was almost horizontal. Then raise it to vertical, step back six inches, and do it again.

Fortunately, it was a cool day in early March with a steady wind that kept me from overheating (no way I’d do this in the humid Summer). Even with the cool temperatures and the wind, sweat was dripping off my chin. It was very satisfying to get down and dirty. E. F. Schumacher (author of Small Is Beautiful) would have approved.

Why did I do this manually when we have a power tiller?

The blades of power tillers kill earthworms. Why do we care about worms?Tillinggarden2

Biological: The earthworm is essential to composting; the process of converting dead organic matter into rich humus, a medium vital to the growth of healthy plants, and thus ensuring the continuance of the cycle of fertility.

Chemical: As well as dead organic matter, the earthworm also ingests any other soil particles that are small enough (including stones up to one-twentieth of an inch across) into its ‘crop’ wherein minute fragments of grit grind everything into a fine paste which is then digested in the stomach. When the worm excretes this in the form of casts which are deposited on the surface or deeper in the soil, a perfectly balanced selection of minerals and plant nutrients is made available in an accessible form.

Physical: By its burrowing actions the earthworm is of great value in keeping the soil structure open, creating a multitude of channels which allow the processes of both aeration and drainage to occur. Permaculture co-founder Bill Mollison points out that by sliding in their tunnels, earthworms "act as an innumerable army of pistons pumping air in and out of the soils on a 24 hour cycle (more rapidly at night)" (Permaculture- A Designer’s Manual, Tagari Press, 1988)- thus the earthworm not only creates passages for air and water to traverse, but is itself a vital component in the living biosystem that is healthy soil.

Note: The application of chemical fertilizers, sprays and dusts can have a disastrous effect on earthworm populations. Nitrogenous fertilizers tend to create acid conditions, which are fatal to the worms, and often dead specimens are to be found on the surface following the application of substances like DDT, lime sulfur and lead arsenate.

Source: Wikipedia

Modern farming ignores the lowly earthworm, depending instead on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow the food that most Americans consume. I don’t see how food grown commercially can be as healthful as the organic vegetables we get from our garden. Perhaps the rising price of oil will force large agricultural companies to start taking better care of the soil because the most of the chemical additives are oil-based. Time will tell.

Solar-Integrated Roofing System

Solar Roofing Systems (SRS) of Canada has launched SolarSave, which is a waterproof; solar-integrated roofing system specifically designed for commercial, industrial and institutional flat or sloped roof applications. SolarSave modules are adhered to a single-ply roofing membrane and don’t require installers to puncture the roof to attach them or reinforce the roof to support extra weight. SunPower A-300 cells are used in the modules, which can generate 480 watts of power per module or 15 watts per square foot of useable roof space. SRS is in the process of launching SolarSave through regional roofing contractors and solar integrators.

Link: RenewableEnergyAccess.com | SolarSave from SRS Hits the Market.

Exxon Still Ignores Problems Created By Valdez Oil Spill

One of the most profitable companies in the world, ExxonMobil, still does not take responsibility for the damage caused by their oil tanker spill. Here’s a resident expert describing their ongoing denial of the impact of their mistakes.

Source: Author and oil-spill expert Riki Ott answers questions | Grist Magazine | InterActivist | 14 Mar 2005.

Not just because of the oil spill, but primarily because of its corporate actions after the spill. For example, dividing communities and families with its money spill (the so-called "cleanup") to silence the voices of the ones most affected. Cleanup contracts contained a clause stating there would be no communication with press.

Exxon forged ahead with pressurized hot water wash on beaches despite evidence from its own scientists and NOAA scientists that the cleanup was doing more harm than good.

Exxon didn’t warn cleanup workers that the symptoms of chemical poisoning from inhalation of oil vapors, mists, and aerosols mimic cold and flu-like symptoms. It didn’t report 6,722 respiratory distress claims to Occupational and Safety Health Administration officials. It paid workers to sign a waiver releasing Exxon from any and all health claims from cleanup operations. It discontinued manufacturing a cleanup product, Inipol, which contains an OSHA Human Health Hazard, 2-butoxyethanol, with no notice to its former workers of potential health problems.

Exxon denies global climate change and publicly fights to downplay this phenomenon. I consider global warming to be the greatest threat facing civilization today. Exxon aggressively demands rights to drill the planet for fossil fuels as our future energy path.

Exxon has yet to order double-hull tankers for service in Prince William Sound, despite a mandate in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Most other oil companies have ordered double-hull tankers without dire consequences to their bottom line.

Exxon endlessly appeals the $5 billion punitive damage award in The Exxon Valdez Case, while at the same time funding university professors to write scholarly treatises arguing that punitive damages should be capped — papers that Exxon then uses in court to try to knock down the award to $25 million. Exxon has not been forthright with taxpayers and the press. They should confess that while the Exxon Valdez cleanup may have cost the company $2.2 billion, at least half of that (and probably more) was recouped through taxes as a cost of doing business. It hides behind a shield of lawyers, financial wealth, and taxpayer dollars to fight its public-health and environmental indiscretions.

Remote Cameras Track Tigers

What a great publicity opportunity! A camera manufacturer designs more reliable cameras for capturing the images of these tigers and Tiger Woods promotes the effort.Tiger_1

World Wildlife Fund scientists are using camera traps to help conduct presence/absence surveys that will provide a range map for tigers in Sumatra’s lowland rainforest. The cameras will also help provide a density estimate of tigers in various habitat types and determine whether there are adequate prey species for tigers to subsist. The results could have significant implications for species and forest preservation here and around the world.

"Sumatran tigers are critically endangered, with as few as 400 left in the wild," said Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, lead scientist for WWF’s tiger program. "We’re racing to find out as much about them and where they live as we can, before more of their natural habitat is converted to commercial plantations growing pulp wood and palm oil trees."

This is the first time WWF has used camera traps to study tigers in Indonesia. In July 2004, field staff began handing out questionnaires to find out if local people had seen any tigers. Scientists then conducted a track survey, in which they attempted to find evidence of the animals in a specific area. This information was used to determine where to set up camera traps, armed with infrared sensors triggered by movement.

WWF put 30 camera traps in the forests — one per tiger home range (about 40 square miles) — and checks them every 3-4 weeks. Because the cameras have been placed in remote locations, it takes at least a day to hike to each (the team can check all 30 within a month). Cameras must be moved occasionally because the flash often alerts animals to their presence, causing those animals to avoid the area in the future.

Due to the moist, hot climate of Sumatran forests, the cameras often malfunction, so scientists will be lucky if two-thirds of the pictures are of any animals. Because they had conducted thorough research to determine likely tiger habitat, WWF scientists got their first tiger photo within 10 days of setting the traps.

Source: Camera Traps Catch Eye of the Tiger | Science Blog.

Paper Trade Group Forms Alliance to Cut Down Illegal Logging

Source: GreenBiz News | Paper Trade Group Forms Alliance to Cut Down Illegal Logging.

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 7, 2005 – The American Forest & Paper Association and Conservation International have joined forces to create the new Alliance to Combat Illegal Logging. The group will work to put a stop to illegal logging in protected areas in regions of global environmental significance or where a significant proportion of global illegal logging is currently carried out.

The alliance will support priorities in the President’s Initiative Against Illegal Logging (PIAIL), which emphasizes identifying and reducing threats to protected forest areas through good governance (including effective enforcement), community-based actions, technology transfer and harnessing market forces.

As part of its strategy, the alliance has identified a number of key areas in which it intends to work including:

  • Harnessing remote sensing technology to combat commercial scale illegal logging in globally significant national parks and protected areas
  • Strengthening enforcement to suppress commercial scale illegal logging in protected areas and develop effective deterrents
  • Building support in producer countries among responsible, local forest sector companies and other interested parties to promote good governance in the forest sector
  • Reducing illegal logging pressure by encouraging legal reform and targeting of development assistance to create livelihood alternatives

Basketball Humor

Frank Layden, Utah Jazz president, on a former player: "I told him, ‘Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?’"

He said, "Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care."

Oily fish helps cut inflammation

Scientists have discovered why a diet high in oily fish like salmon and mackerel may help improve inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

They have found a key anti-inflammatory fat in humans is derived from a fatty acid found in fish oil.

The researchers, from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found the diet worked best when combined with low aspirin doses.

The inflammatory response protects the body against infection and injury, but when it goes wrong it can lead to conditions such as arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

The Harvard team identified a new class of fats in the human body, called resolvins, which they showed can control inflammation.

They do this both by stopping the migration of inflammatory cells to sites of inflammation, and the turning on of other inflammatory cells.

Resolvins are made from the omega-3 fatty acids, found in high concentration in oily fish.

Their production also appears to be stimulated by taking aspirin.

One form of resolvin – E1 – is thought to play a particularly significant role in controlling inflammation.

The researchers identified this specific fat in blood plasma samples taken from volunteers given omega-3 fatty acids and aspirin.

Source: BBC NEWS | Health | Oily fish helps cut inflammation.

Solar Power Market Potential is on the Roof

I have been asking why more homes and building don’t generate their electricity from the sun. Maybe a new study signals that we’re approaching the tipping point.

The study, PV Grid Connected Market Potential in 2010 Under a Cost Breakthrough Scenario, provides an estimate of the market for PV systems in the United States based on available rooftop space for residential and commercial solar PV. Navigant Consulting was contracted to create the report. After compiling information from a state-by-state analysis, Navigant concluded that the potential U.S. market for grid-connected solar rooftop PV could reach 2,900 MW per year by 2010. That goal assumes that the solar industry can achieve a "breakthrough" price of $2 to $2.50 per installed watt — as opposed to the average $6 per watt installed where the industry is today.

This would be enough new electricity, brought online in just one year, to power more than 500,000 average U.S. homes, according to the report. Moreover, the study found there is enough suitable rooftop space on residential and commercial buildings to sustain this annual level of growth.

"Solar energy has seen impressive expansion — 36 percent compounded annual growth for the global solar industry since 1999 — but it has far, far greater potential," said David Wooley, Vice President at the Energy Foundation. "This new report illustrates that PV could make a significant contribution to future electricity supply in this country. This potential justifies state and federal support in the near term to stimulate new PV manufacturing investment, accelerate growth in system sales, and help reduce the cost of PV systems."

Projections in the report don’t include possible state subsidies, Navigant Director Lisa Frantzis said. Federal incentives, net metering agreements and green power markets were included in the projections, but the goal of the report was to think of creative business models and ways to bring PV technology to the market.

"The whole point was trying to get investors to understand that if they put money into this business the market is there," Frantzis said.

Key findings from the study show that in 2010:

– At $2 to $2.50 per installed watt, the annual market potential for grid-connected residential and commercial building PV applications is estimated at 2,900 MW, representing an annual market of about $6.6 billion, including equipment and installations.

– Rooftop space is not a constraining factor for solar development. Residential and commercial rooftop space in the U.S. could accommodate up to 710,000 MW of solar electric power, if all rooftops were fully utilized, taking into account proper orientation of buildings, shading from trees, HVAC equipment, and other solar access factors. For comparison, total electricity-generating capacity in the U.S. today is about 950,000 MW.

– The Pacific and Mid-Atlantic regions together would account for 52 percent of the potential residential and commercial sector demand.

– California alone has the potential for about 40 percent of the total building rooftop market potential–through a combination of favorable sunlight levels and high retail energy prices.

– Other distributed forms of PV electric generation, including ground-mounted PV, carports, curtain walls (a type of commercial building window), and awnings could further add to the potential identified by Navigant Consulting.

"Unlike most other power generation technologies, PV can be installed on the existing building infrastructure," said Frantzis. "This study shows that the available rooftop area can provide enough space to power a significant portion of U.S. electricity needs."

Source: RenewableEnergyAccess.com | Solar Power Market Potential is on the Roof.

Source: Navigant Consulting Helps Energy Foundation Describe Vast Market Potential for U.S. Rooftop Solar Photovoltaic Systems

Monitoring the Earth’s Vegetation from Space

Source: EO DAAC Study: Perspective on Plants.

With the launch of the Terra spacecraft in December 1999 … the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) monitors the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and land, measuring both visible and invisible light at high resolution, and producing better quality data and images than earlier instruments. A crucial part of MODIS Land Science is vegetation monitoring, and NTSG uses MODIS data to develop plant productivity maps. These maps include croplands, temperate and tropical forests, deserts, and tundra.

Why study vegetation so closely? "Since vegetation is the cornerstone of all biospheric development — all animals eat plants directly or indirectly — it’s the fundamental measure of the Earth’s habitability. So the most important thing our products can do is quantify whether global vegetation is declining in magnitude or vigor."

NTSG uses infrared and red channels on the MODIS sensor to calculate the proportion of ground surface covered by vegetation.

To determine how much sunlight is being absorbed, NTSG adds daily surface weather data from NASA’s Data Assimilation Office to its own data. By isolating the cloud-free pixels from each orbit, NTSG algorithms piece together an artificially cloudless image, or at least an image as free from clouds as possible. NTSG uses this data to calculate a refined measurement of photosynthesis. This, combined with a measurement of how much carbon dioxide is absorbed from the atmosphere, is used to calculate plant growth, or NPP.

NTSG does not yet have enough data to predict long-term trends.

Huey Lewis lectures on heart of ’60s music

Link: Missoulian: Huey Lewis lectures.

There’s history in a book and then there’s living history.

University of Montana students in a class on the history of rock ‘n’ roll got a little of the latter Monday morning when Bitterroot Valley/San Francisco rocker Huey Lewis came to town.

Lewis, who had a string of major hits in the mid-1980s, lived and breathed rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s, growing up in San Francisco and going to shows at the Fillmore, where he saw Cream, the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead.

Most of the students who listened to the 54-year-old Lewis’ rambling, illuminating lecture Monday weren’t around in the 1960s – or the ’70s, for that matter – but they listened attentively as he spun tales from the old days.

"You know what they say: If you pretend to remember anything from the ’60s, you weren’t there," Lewis told professor Robert Ledbetter’s class.

The reference, of course, was to drugs, and Lewis didn’t shy from describing how marijuana and LSD helped define rock’s psychedelic era, particularly in the Bay Area.

"The cultural movement of the 1960s may have been the last social movement the music business really had to react to," Lewis said. "Since then, it’s essentially co-opted cultural change rather than be changed by it, and that would include punk and rap as well."

But Lewis wasn’t just telling old war stories. He has a scholar’s appreciation of rock’s history, the beginnings of which he traced to the cultural soup of New Orleans and the blues.

"It’s really the blues amped up," he said.

Rock history isn’t a straight line by any means, and Lewis dissected the threads that led to soul, rhythm and blues, psychedelic rock, funk, punk and ska.

He also linked rock inextricably with commerce, noting that the pioneering Chuck Berry wrote specifically with the idea of selling his music.

"He was the first songwriter ever to write for kids, and for white kids at that," he said. "Rock ‘n’ roll and commerciality are inseparable."

Lewis marveled for a moment at the way that music, unlike some other art forms, is packaged – same size, same price for everything.

"All paintings aren’t the same," he said. "They’re different sizes and different prices. Same with books."

In any case, Lewis said, those who today decry the corporatization of rock really should just look to the past.

"There’s a little corporate pig in those early music lovers," he said with a laugh. "Yeah, it’s corporate, but it’s always been about commerce."

Curiously, one of the commercially successful aspects of rock was the way the music broke down racial barriers. Bands like Sly and the Family Stone had an eye turned to bridging the racial divide, and Sly always insisted on having a few white musicians in his band, Lewis said.

And no one reached back into rock’s blues roots and extended that line into the culture of the 1960s quite like Jimi Hendrix, Lewis said.

"He turned the blues up to 11 and it became hard rock," Lewis said.

Lewis’ lecture was punctuated by music from the ’60s, and Hendrix’s "Voodoo Child" seemed as familiar to the students as the opening line of the Dead’s "Friend of the Devil," which set toes to tapping.