Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Piece of Land

It looks like a beauty. Don't she? Two acres of city-owned undevelopedness within eight minutes drive from my house. Plus, I got the community buy-in from the WCSBer. Of course as the old adage goes, if it looks too good to be true...

First of all, this property has never been developed residentially, which is another stipulation of the grant. Also apparently, there's a Sears building under those two acres of clover and grass. And every once in a while, someone torches and blows-up a car about 30 feet behind where the picture was taken. KABOOM! Mind you, this is Cleveland, we do what we like.

So the hunt continues. Tomorrow, I will be figuring out how to use the Land Bank map to scout out spots even closer to my house. Also, I did some experimenting with tomato plants last week, and I have some preliminary data that I want to share with you.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Re-Imagining Cleveland

Last Wednesday, I went to a meeting in Cleveland at a church, entitled "Re-Imagining Cleveland." The basic subject of this meeting was a land and money grant that is currently available through the City of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County (this is my first foray into dealing with government entities, and it is already feeling a lil bit hazy). The grants are intended to green-up Cleveland in the broadest sense and ways possible.

The grants are up to $10K to develop a piece of land on one of Cleveland's/Cuyahoga's Land Bank lots. The development can be for community gardens, market gardens, rain gardens, parking with pervious materials, trail building, soil building, etc. Being this is a grant, there are stipulations: 1) Budget, 2)The Community Buy-In, 3)Completion Date, 4) Eight Copies of the Grant, 5) A 50% Personal Matching Contribution (so that's like $5K). The good news is that as an Almost Clevelander I may still apply for the grant with a really strong stipulation #2. The better news is that I learned the standard of a really strong stipulation #2, and it completely seems feasible even by non-bureaucratic standards. Furthermore, the $5K can be matched with my personal contribution of volunteer labor.

So that's like fuggin sweet, right? My project intends to be a landscaped/fenced market garden with a pre-garden goal of extreme soil building/remediation. I would love to hook-up rain barrels to the neighbors' downspouts, but that may be asking a little much from the community. I actually have this WCSB old-timer somewhat initially willing to help me out with stipulation #2. He's got a city-owned vacant lot next to him, and I'm supposed to check it out tomorrow. I'll post pictures of the property tomorrow. I hope this space works out. If not, there's about 3,499 other vacant properties in Cleveland. I'll just need to do some more door-knocking is all.

Today's picture is of Friday's yield. I also pulled up another kohlrabi a small zucchini that day from my community garden plot. Later this week, I intend to post about tomato pruning/cuttings, a moss update (no beds of pure green fuzz yet), and updates on the property hunt.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Saturday's Rain Garden Seminar at Gather Round Farm

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of waking up early to check out a Rain Garden Seminar at Gather Round Farm on 39th and Lorain in the Ohio City part of Cleveland. Cruising down Lorain after blocks of monotone decrepitness, Gather Round Farm stands out like a ray of light with its poppies and lilies in bloom and their anti-billboard marking their location.

Though the event was billed as a Rain Garden Seminar, it was more like a water cycle lecture that had a rain garden workshop at the end. The lecture can be briefly summarized as water is important; waterways are important; minimization of runoff to the lake/ocean is the goal with the intention of restoring the earth's water cycle and the prevention of feces/high nitrogen fert/car oil from going into the lake. Minimization can be done in a variety of ways: rain barrels/containment, gray water re-using, green roofing, and subsequently, rain gardens. As part of the lecture, we learned how to measure a piece of land's water potential, which can be boiled down to this formula:

((length X width of property in feet)/1000) X 683G X waterfall in inches at the property = Gallons of water potential on the property. I have no idea how I remembered that.

So what is a rain garden? In general, a rain garden is anyplace where voluminous rain causes giant puddles/mini-ponds. These areas can then be developed into a more formal pond structure that harbors water-loving plants that basically slow the release of runoff in a controlled manner, while also scrubbing some of the pollutants from the runoff. In wasn't clear to me whether or not these rain gardens can also be used for food production (perhaps rice?). But my guess is that they are not used for food.

I gotta admit that after a couple hours at Gather Round Farms I felt energized. They're doing the urban transformation/agriculture thing exceptionally well with a total DIY mentality. From the street side beautification to their 17 chickens to the transformation of an asphalt lot into a giant raised bed garden with all these cool whimsical structures to the rain barrels to the compost system to the choice plant selection and now the rain garden, Gather Round Farm is an amazing example of sustainability in Cleveland and people in action. I encourage everybody to go to Gather Round in July/Aug/Sept before going to the West Side Market and truly buy the freshest produce available in Cleveland.

Thanks to Meagan, Jean, Kate, the herb lady, and Tony Tomatillo. http://www.gatherroundfarm.webs.com/

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review #1: Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide.

I was introduced to this book through one of my favorite publications, Mother Earth News, who gave this book a thumbs-up. Toolbox is an outpouring of experiences from the Rhizome Collective, an urban sustainability group out of Austin, Texas. Their goal right now (as of book publishing) is a cleanup of a 9.8 acre brownfield. That's incredibly aggressive, and I wish them the best.

After a quick read at work, Toolbox's greatest strength is the sheer number of ideas presented. In that sense, the book is a slam dunk, a Lebron James' alley-oop even. However, Toolbox has a handful of shortcomings. These include the shallow depth of some of the ideas presented, the shock-and-awe impracticalness of some of the ideas, silly illustrations, and a subliminal discouraging tone.

So, what ideas are presented? Cooking with solar ovens, raising chickens, biochar, biodiesel, micro-scale methane production, mushroom horticulture, aquaculture, phyto/myco-remediation, rainbarrels, gray water treatment, small-scale homemade wind turbines out of bike parts, composting, etc. After typing a list like that, I'm thinking, "hell-yeah!" However, Toolbox concludes in 215 short pages.

The chapters on rainbarrels, aquaculture, and raising chickens are the most complete chapters. I feel that I could use this book relatively well in doing any one of those functions with maybe a little more info needed for aquaculture. I could definitely make a solar oven and probably cook with it given these instructions, which I intend to later this summer. The section on phytoremeditation, including plants to use, is straight-forward enough and seems beneficial for a rust belt city like Almost Cleveland. With my scientific background, I'd like to see more formal studies of soil contamination, showing the levels of arsenic/lead before and after using these remediation plants.

I downright dislike the illustrations in this book and find them a complete waste of space. Juan Martinez must be a Rhizome Collective member, as that's the only way his illustrations make any sense in this book. On page 19, there's a whole page illustration of a 'possum-creature harvesting some unidentifiable mushroom from a stack of logs. Total garbage! Give me a real picture of real mushrooms growing on real logs, being harvested by a real person!

Considering the words "Sustainable City Living" are in the title, the Toolbox has some impractical, somewhat "shocking" ideas for city living. I'll present several examples. In the aquaculture section, the Toolbox suggests stringing raw meat above the pond in order to harbor maggots, which eventually fall into the pond for the fish to eat. Another is the outhouse for humanure composting. Last, there's a detailed section on insect cultivation. Maybe, these ideas will fly in Texan cities, a liberal Swiss commune, or in some less-developed countries; however, I can't hang a piece of raw meat to decompose in my city of Almost Cleveland.

I will conclude my gripes with the book's subliminal discouraging tone. I was all amped about aquaculture until I found out Tilapia don't grow in temperatures below 50 Fahrenheit. Native species of clams do not perform well in aquaculture settings (just leave clams out next pressing is my suggestion). The small-scale biogas digester will hardly boil water. The gray water treatment center for laundry water filtration would need to be re-hooked up to city water in the winter months in cities like Almost Cleveland.

In general, I love all the ideas presented in the Toolbox. This is the Toolbox's greatest asset. I'm glad these ideas are becoming more and more mainstream though not necessarily new for readers of Mother Earth News or its redneck cousin, Backwoods Home. I think the Toolbox definitely has its place in the general canon of sustainability. It's usage in a vocational high school/community college/university, coupled with a lab setting where projects are performed and other textbooks read, would be an awesome one-two punch for urban sustainability and general awareness everywhere (Obama listen up).

The other major take-home from this book in a implied way is urban sustainability is all about location. We all have many of the same tools. However, not all these tools are practical for everyone, everywhere.

The rust belt's a bitch with its four seasons, old homes with their lead paint and arsenic fences, and general blight/poorness. Given all these strikes against us, it presents the most opportunity for change/revolution for innovation in the sustainability movement. Here we go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Salad Eaten

A pretty boring post today. Just a picture of a salad. Beets, kohlrabi, and lettuce are from the yard. These posts will be much more exciting when I'm involved in the process of canning escabeche or salsa verde. Those beets do look kinda luscious though you gotta admit.

However, I'm much more excited about that paragraph I just made as part of my ongoing quest to accept technology into my life. Now if anybody knows how to get a paragraph into the "about me" section, please holler. I keep getting a does not allow tag error message.

Tomorrow, I will perform my first book review: "Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A do-it-Ourselves Guide."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Moss Garden

So this is about two weeks into starting a moss garden. The moss was started from specimens collected in Lakeview Cemetery. I started with about a half square foot moss, half gallon buttermilk, 1/4 C sugar, and about as much water. I then put these ingredients in a blender (the blender I make smoothies with) and proceeded to make a sludgy, mossy, green slurry. This was then poured on the rocks. The rocks have been watered every day since.

If I do this again, I'll be sure to double/triple the initial starting moss. And, I will actually use something like a paint brush to more evenly coat the rocks with the moss slurry. The pouring of the slurry caused the moss to go splat in several areas, and thus represented an unequal distribution.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Garden Today, Blog #1, Testing. Testing. 123.

I'm just trying to get the basics here today with a picture and a basic post. This is my garden today. Just look at those tomatillos! Lots of Solanaceaes and Brassicas. The bok choys are already done this year, and the spinach is getting pulled this weekend. Four kohlrabi and a bunch of salads have already been eaten.