Unseasonable Harvest

Peppers from the Garden - Nov 3rd


Here is a cornucopia of vegetables, mostly green peppers, that would be damaged – make that ruined – by a frost. I gathered them on Nov 3rd, which is really late for this part of the US, Eastern Pennsylvania. Traditionally by now frosts would have put paid to every vegetable that is not snugly still ensconced in the earth. I cannot say unequivocably that this is yet more proof of climate change, but it is certainly good evidence. Gardeners as much as anyone notice how the seasons change. The growing season was certainly longer than ever this year, at both ends.

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Rammed Earth Wall

The  Rammed Earth Wall

Earth wall, side and end


Constructing the wall

Mixing and ramming the earth into the forms

At last I have fulfilled a dream and built an earth wall. This technique is rammed earth and as far as I know this is the first in my area, perhaps in Pennsylvania. It is usually found in drier areas such as Arizona and New Mexico, as well as Australia. It is adaptable to a wide range of soils and has a small percentage of portland cement added to the mix to make it more waterproof and stable.

This will be the side wall of a garden shed, which is sorely needed to keep tools, bicycles and so on out of the weather. It looks very fine. There is quite a difference in texture and appearance as you go up the wall, partly because of slight differences in the soil and the mix, but more because of different workers on the two days we spent building it. It should be smooth and hard, well compacted, as it is at the bottom. But the upper part with a more earthy look is also good. The roof will project to help keep of the rain, and I have linseed oil to coat it with and help preserve it. Let’s hope it can survive our wetter climate.

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Woolly Bear for Winter

Woolly Bear caterpillar in the fall


The Woolly Bear caterpillar is supposed to be able to forecast what kind of winter we will have. This is the common name for the caterpillar of the tiger moth, and it used to be pretty common. The old belief is that if it changes color to black or very dark brown, winter will be cold. If it stays its reddish brown color, then winter will be milder or shorter. As you can see, I spotted one today that is brown in the middle with just a bit of black at each end. So maybe we will have a predominantly mild winter – with colder bits at each end.
Or maybe the caterpillar is in the process of changing color before pupating and didn’t get all the way yet. After all it’s still amazingly mild. Or maybe it’s a fashion statement, I like the way it looks.

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Green Roofs – Residential

A green roof with a real lawn - and great views


A rooftop garden on a new house

The last post about Green Roofs was a bit “off topic” inasmuch as it showed examples of commercial buildings with vegetated roofs. Here is an example from a recent Green Home tour I attended in Philadelphia, in the Manayunk section. This roof is on a townhouse development called Sheldon’s Crossing, with magnificent views from this rooftop terrace and garden. The soil is a bit deeper here, about 6″. As you can see from the photos, it supports a fine lawn, as well as shrubs. The grass is fescue and needs mowing only once a year, we were told.

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Green Roofs

A green roof in West Philadelphia

Modular Green Roof

Green roofs are a neat idea and make environmental sense, at least in the city where they soften the environment and help retain stormwater.  I went on a tour of three roofs in Philadelphia last week (A tour arranged by our excellent Delaware Valley Green Building Council).  This picture is from one using modular trays, the easiest and cheapest solution for a extensive roof.   Extensive means that the planting medium, what would be the soil on the ground is shallow;  the favored type of plants are sedums, as in this example – they can survive a dry spell and are not damaged by the wind.  Intensive roofs are those that have more than 6″ of soil and can sustain more varied vegetation.
At least one of the roofs was making the old claim that vegetated roofs save energy.  They can cool down the air around the roof and thereby save airconditioning in adjacent buildings.  But they do nothing much to insulate the building – insulation can do that much much cheaper.  Their real Green (ie sustainable) benefits are in fact fairly limited but they are better than looking at expanses of bare roof, for sure.
Here is an old post I cam across where someone is confirming the point about thermal insulation:
“I can’t offer you peer reviewed ashrae stuff but everything I have heard/read seems to say that there is virtually no R value to a vegetated roof especially when they are doing their job and holding water- Perhaps when you get to the Chicago City Hall type roof with 4′ of dirt it is a different story but when you have a 4″ extensive type system I don’t think you get much at all.”
Dxxxx Bxxxx, AIA LEED AP
Senior Associate

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DOE halts sales of Air-Con air conditioners for failing energy standards

A news item as reported on Smart Planet

http://www.smartplanet.com/business/blog/smart-takes/doe-halts-sales-of-air-con-air-conditioners-for-failing-energy-standards/10946/

Good to know that energy efficiency does actually mean something and will be upheld in practice.. The standards are ratcheting up – some Green standards are not really ahead of the codes in some areas.

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LED Lighting

LED bulb in standard light fixture

I bought my first LED bulb for the house, at a sustainable energy fair , for $40.00 which is comparable to online prices.  It’s a 6W bulb that gives the equivalent light to a 50W incandescent.  These bulbs are rated for something like 60,000 hours, should last me a while…  This particular light gets turned on a lot, since its in a corner over the dining table where the only window is heavily blocked by trees  (the one area in the house not well lit with daylight).  Also my wife often complained that the previous lamp was too bright and felt like an operating theater, so its the perfect place to try it out.   The payback will be… at 16c a kWh…   actually only about 4 years which is not too bad.

On the left, the lit lamp shows a few of the individual LED bulbs glowing.  On the right, unlit, it is much like a conventional incandescent bulb

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