12 tips for a vibrant spring garden

February 13, 2020 by  
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When the frost begins to thaw and the first signs of spring appear, it’s time to start thinking about your garden. While it’s true that many of your plants won’t fully come to life for another six months, the more you can knock off your list before spring, the better off your plants , lawn, and schedule will be. So even if you’re still enjoying cozy time in front of the fire, consider tackling, or even preparing for, some outdoor chores during breaks in the weather. Weeding If you live in a snow-covered area, this task will have to wait, but if the thaw is on it’s the perfect time to tackle the first round of seasonal weeds. Since the soil is soft before the heat of summer cements it in, pull weeds and invasive grass for a jump start to the  spring weeding. The earlier and more frequently you pull them, the easier they are to control throughout the season. Related: 11 unique edible plants for your garden Building  If the weather outside is still too severe to work the ground, there are still ways to prep your garden from within the cover of your workshop. Plan and build trellises, arbors and raised beds in preparation for the planting season. Fencing If the heavy frost is past, dig into that fence-building project. Your post hole digger will glide through the soil much easier early in the year than it will if you wait until August. Plus, your garden space will be protected from wildlife and domestic animals before you even get the seeds in the ground. Transplanting It’s important to get your plants established before the growing season begins so they are ready to accept nutrients and thrive. Deciduous trees and shrubs still in their dormant season can be moved as long as the ground isn’t too frozen or too wet. Evergreen flowering shrubs such as rhododendrons, myrtles, azaleas and camellias can be moved once the threat of frost has passed. Organizing Even if you can’t check weeding or planting off your list, late winter is the ideal time to care for your lawn and garden supplies. Choose a reasonably agreeable weather day and empty the garden shed or supplies from the garage. Wash planting pots and allow them to dry. Clean and add protectants to tools. Also, sharpen blades and take an inventory of trimmer string and similar supplies that need replacing. Reorganize tools and supplies and donate unneeded or duplicate items to your local Habitat for Humanity reStore. Also, create a planting calendar so you have an idea of the workload in the upcoming months. Organize your seeds in a box in order of when they need planting — whether you’re using indoor starts, a greenhouse, or direct planting. This is also the perfect time to order seeds or plants. Make sure to check out your local extension office for garden plant sales nearby. While you’re in planning mode, make a list of desired projects for the year and create a workable timeline for each, complete with a budget. Edging Lawn edging is another task that is much easier in soft soil so tidy up the edges around all lawns and add a border if it’s in your plans. It will make mowing and other maintenance much easier throughout the season. Deadheading As your plants begin to rise from their winter slumber, deadhead last year’s growth as appropriate for each plant. Trim off spent blooms you may have missed in the fall, including the foliage from  ornamental grasses . Also, remove the faded flowers from winter pansies and other current bloomers to extend their blooming season. Caring for fruit February and March (if this is winter in your area) are the time to get root plants in the ground. This includes blueberries and raspberries. For fruit trees, protect them from the birds by adding netting before the fruit begins to develop. It’s much easier to cover plants and trees before they fill out with a full bloom. If you already have established berries, go ahead and cut them back now as the growing season begins. Pruning trees While we’re discussing trees, late winter is still a dormant time where trees respond well to pruning. It’s also easier to see the growth pattern of the branches so you can select which of them needs to be trimmed back. Avoid pruning spring-blooming trees  until after they have completed their bloom season. Pruning shrubs and climbers Now is also the time to trim back ivy, wisteria and other climbers as well as hearty shrubs like boxwood. Creating a shape now drops care down to a maintenance level for the season , meaning you will just need to monitor its growth, feeding, and watering. Feed the birds Even though the temperatures may be starting to level out or rise, the birds are still foraging for food so give them a handout. Clean and fill bird feeders with quality food to keep them coming back for more. Dig a pond If you have set a goal of putting in a pond or other feature, dust off the design and get digging now. Again, you’ll find it much easier to create a hole in soft soil than rock hard tundra . If it will be a while before you finish the task, make sure the hole is properly covered to avoid accidents. Via Thompson and Morgan Images via Pexels and Pixabay

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12 tips for a vibrant spring garden

myfoods smart greenhouses can grow nearly 900 pounds of produce a year

February 4, 2020 by  
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At CES 2020, French startup myfood presented a smart greenhouse that it says can grow up to 400 kilograms (880 pounds) of organic fruits and vegetables a year with only a few hours of work a week. Combining permaculture principles with smart technology to monitor plant health, the myfood smart greenhouses aim to change people’s relationships with food as a means of reducing the global carbon footprint . The startup has distributed nearly 200 smart greenhouses in 14 countries around the world and hopes to target the North American market next. Based in the French commune of Molsheim, myfood was born as a reaction against the agro-food industry’s intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers that have contributed to the loss of biodiversity and negatively affected human health. To reconnect people with nature, myfood developed a series of compact smart greenhouses to give communities around the world the opportunity to cultivate a healthy and diverse diet with fresh produce year-round from the comfort of their homes. Related: 3-hectare desert farm in Jordan can grow 286,600 pounds of veggies each year myfood currently has three types of smart greenhouses. For urban dwellers, the startup developed the 3.5-square-meter City smart greenhouse that can produce up to 100 kilograms of fruit and vegetables and can fit atop a rooftop, terrace , large balcony or small garden. Single urban dwellers with a very small living footprint can consider the 0.65-square-meter Aerospring Vertical Garden, which can grow up to 40 kilograms of fruit and vegetables a year in a small pot. The largest option, which is best suited for a single-family home with a yard, is the 22-square-meter Family smart greenhouse that can grow up to 400 kilograms of fruit and vegetables a year and is ideal for four people. All myfood structures are designed for easy and quick installation and are equipped with LED lighting and other energy-efficient systems that can be monitored remotely from a smartphone. Buyers also have the option to customize their smart greenhouses to best suit their needs, from off-grid applications to winterizing. “ Climate change requires a profound change in our consumption habits to limit our carbon dioxide emissions,” said Mickaël Gandecki, myfood co-founder. “To easily cultivate in a sustainable and efficient way, we employ both a synergy between fish and plants, as well as an approach inspired by nature and based on cutting-edge agronomic research. The connected and intelligent features enrich the experience by collecting parameters useful for managing the greenhouse. A dedicated social network supports users from the launch of the project, to the first harvests and beyond.” + myfood Images via myfood

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myfoods smart greenhouses can grow nearly 900 pounds of produce a year

These glass vases let you grow your own avocado tree no toothpicks required

November 8, 2019 by  
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While most home gardens tend to conceal the roots within decorated pots, Ilex Studio ‘s new collection of glass vases displays one of the most underrated parts of a plant — the roots. The studio’s transparent glass vases, which can be used to grow avocado and oak trees, feature minimalist silhouettes with spherical bases that showcase the plant’s incredible root systems. Recently unveiled at the London Design Festival , Ilex Studio’s collection was designed to let people skip the prickly process of using toothpicks to grow avocado trees. Additionally, the vases can be used to turn a humble acorn into a magnificent oak tree. Related: AvoSeedo makes growing avocado trees easier than ever Unlike most home gardens , where the plants’ roots are buried deep in the soil, these glass vases let you watch the magical powers of sprouting seeds. The hourglass shape has a small neck, where the avocado seed or acorn sits. The strategic shape lets the seed or avocado stay nice and dry up top while the roots begin to sprout below. Did we mention that there’s no need to stick anything with toothpicks? Over time, the roots begin to spread out into the water. Letting the roots hang freely allows them to become stronger until they are eventually ready to be planted in soil . The bulbous shapes of the vases actually magnify what is going on inside, giving you an up-close view of the roots as they grow. The Avocado Vase is slightly larger than the Acorn Vase, but according to the studio, the growing pattern is similar for the acorn and the avocado tree. The oakling can be left in the vase for up to one year, but growing an avocado tree is a bit more complicated. They both come with instruction booklets to guide you through the process of growing your own trees, straight from the seeds. These playful growing vases cost between £22 and £35 (about $28 to $45), with the larger avocado vase costing a bit more and the vases sans acorns costing less. Each order comes with a 20-page handbook of helpful instructions. + Ilex Studio Via Design Milk Images via Ilex Studio

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These glass vases let you grow your own avocado tree no toothpicks required

Clean your plants and reap the reward of clean air

November 4, 2019 by  
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Although cleaning house plants probably ranks somewhere between wiping down the blades on the ceiling fan and cleaning out the gutters on your to-do list, it’s a chore that’s critical to the plant and, one could argue, to humanity. Let’s go back to science class for a minute in order to understand why a clean plant is a productive plant. Remember that little thing called photosynthesis? Leaves are a central organ in the process. Technically, the stomata, which are small openings all over the surface of the leaves, absorbs carbon dioxide. At the same time, the chlorophyll in the leaves absorb sunlight. The process of photosynthesis then converts the water and CO2 into sugar plants need to grow and oxygen we need to breathe. That’s a long way of saying that dusty, dirty, grimy leaves on your house plants can result in dusty, dirty, grimy air in your home. So bump that chore up your list a bit. Here are a few ideas of how to accomplish the task with spending endless hours wiping down every individual leaf.  Take a shower Your morning shower is likely a rejuvenating ritual and your plants share your affinity. After all, it’s natural for plants to storm the rain, absorb the water and experience a cleansing. Take that concept inside by moving your plants to the shower. You can join them or place plants into the bathtub and use a detachable shower head to do the job. Give each plant a thorough soaking with cool to lukewarm water, allowing the water to both wash the leaves and provide moisture to the soil. Do not use hot or cold water that can be too shocking for the plant. Once saturated, give each plant a gentle shake to remove standing water on the leaves. Allow plants to drain into the empty tub and wipe off any excess water from the pot before placing it back on furniture. If you do not have drain holes in your planter, strain off excess water from the soil to avoid root rot. Related: This self-sustaining planter doesn’t require sunlight for plants to thrive Grab a feather duster Like every other surface in your home, the leaves on your plants will collect dust. It’s best to provide regular dustings rather than trying to deal with a thick layer of dust down the road. When feather dusting, lightly move over the surfaces of the plant , weaving between branches to touch the top and bottom of leaves. Use caution so you don’t disrupt blooms or knock healthy leaves off the plant.  Take them outside Another mess-free way to clean your plants is to take the task outside. Put your plants in a shady spot in the lawn, on your deck or patio. Use a shower setting on your garden hose to wash the plants, give them a gentle shake, and allow them to dry before bringing them back indoors. Often the water pressure from any of these showering techniques causes some of the soil to slop out. By completing the chore outdoors, clean up is a breeze. Just bring your plants indoors and hose the area down.  Use the sink The kitchen sink may or may not be an easier option than the shower, but the concept is the same. Use your faucet nozzle set to spray for a shower effect on each plant. You will likely have to wash plants in a rotation if you have more than two or three. Allow plants to drain and dry off pots before removing them from the sink and then start on a new batch until they are all cleaned.  Use a mister Not all plants can easily be moved to the bathroom or outdoors due to size and other factors. The deep soak isn’t necessary on a regular basis either, so in between showers, give your plants a spit bath with a mister. Any spray bottle set to a mist can provide the moisture, humidity and cleaning your plants need. Keep a spray bottle filled for this purpose. Some plants won’t respond well to showers, like those with spiky or furry leaves. For these plants, use a mixture of dish soap and water on a regular basis to keep the leaves dust free. Cleaning is more than removing dust Once you’ve set aside the time to give your plants the TLC they deserve, make sure to check in on their general health and not just their personal hygiene. Remove any dead leaves from the plant and the soil below it. Dead leaves can contain bacteria and contaminate otherwise healthy soil. Also check the leaves of your houseplants for bugs and insects. Similarly, watch for bugs being flushed away while you wash your plants. If you see insects on your houseplants it might be time to treat them. Sometimes you can only see evidence of very small pests or disease so look for symptoms like black spots, webbing and sticky or curling leaves. Healthy plants provide healthy air, so make the commitment to care for your plants with regular dusting and a cleansing shower every now and then. Breathe in the victory of your efforts.  Via Apartment Therapy Images via Adobe Stock

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Clean your plants and reap the reward of clean air

BREEAM Excellent office building keeps London’s carbon reduction targets in sight

November 4, 2019 by  
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The site of a former petrol station has been given a new lease on life as 1 Valentine Place, an award-winning sustainable office building certified BREEAM Excellent . Completed in March 2013, the seven-story office building was designed by West London architectural practice Stiff + Trevillion , who clad the contemporary structure in anodized aluminum and high-performance, solar-control glazing for a sleek and minimalist appearance. The energy-efficient building was a 2013 NLAwards winner and was shortlisted in the 2014 RIBA London Awards. Located on the corner of Blackfriars Road and Valentine Place, 1 Valentine Place provides grade-A office accommodation across 3,000 square meters within close proximity to the Southwark station. Though undeniably contemporary in design, the building is sensitively scaled and oriented to relate to its more traditional neighbors. For instance, the seven-story office building steps down in mass to match the rooflines of the smaller buildings next door, thus creating space for a large outdoor terrace that overlooks views of the City of London . Related: Railway heat to be repurposed to warm London homes this winter The architects constructed the building with an in situ reinforced concrete frame structure that’s internally exposed to take advantage of passive thermal mass . The exterior is clad in anodized aluminum and energy-efficient glazing as well as solar fins to mitigate unwanted solar heat gain. The glazed, double-height ground floor is protected by an overhang and is designed to engage the pedestrian realm. The reception is lined with wood paneling inspired by the area’s heritage. “Sustainability features such as exposed thermal mass, air-source heat-pump technology and a photovoltaic array far exceed Southwark’s stringent carbon reduction targets,” the architects noted in a project statement. The use of renewable energy and energy-efficient strategies are estimated to provide energy savings of approximately 40 percent. + Stiff + Trevillion Photography by Kilian O’Sullivan via Stiff + Trevillion

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BREEAM Excellent office building keeps London’s carbon reduction targets in sight

Interview: Activist lives off food that he grows and forages for an entire year

October 9, 2019 by  
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Rob Greenfield is a self-described “adventurer, environmental activist, humanitarian and dude making a difference.” Since this Wisconsin native had an eco-epiphany at the age of 24, he’s dedicated himself to spreading a positive environmental message by accomplishing heroic, sustainable deeds. These include things like riding across the U.S. three times on a bamboo bicycle, diving into more than 2,000 dumpsters and traveling internationally with no money. Inhabitat caught up with this pro-humanity, anti-materialism activist to find out about his current foraging project. His answers have been edited for space. Inhabitat: Tell us a little bit about your life right now — where you live and what you do in a typical day. Greenfield: I currently live in Orlando, Florida. I’m spending two years there. My current project is to grow and forage 100 percent of my food for a year. So, no grocery stores, no restaurants. Not even a drink at a bar or going over to a friend’s potluck to eat food from there. Literally growing and foraging everything for an entire year. Related: Incredible edible landscape map shows you where to find free food It’s an extremely immersive project, where I’m diving deep into food and really understanding my connection to it. Largely removing myself from the globalized, industrialized food to explore the alternatives, ways of producing food that work with the environment instead of against it and showing those alternatives to people. My day-to-day right now is very food-oriented. Inhabitat: What are your regular daily activities right now? Greenfield: Well, it does vary a lot. Like today, for example, is a work day, so I’m on the computer and on the phone for much of the day. But I had mostly run out of food, so I had to delay my last call to go for a mile-and-a-half bike ride to go to an apple tree that I know about to go pick a bunch of apples. [Note: Greenfield was in Wisconsin visiting family and friends when we talked — hence the apple tree.] So my life is very much revolving around food this year. But with that being said, I still manage to do a lot of other things, and of course have a social life, and still of course talk and spread the message, because that’s the purpose. Some days are just morning to night going out and gathering food and then processing it, whether it’s fishing or going out and picking fruit and making applesauce and pear sauce, for example, or canning . Other days, when I’ve done really well, I’ve prepared lots of food, I get to be a little more leisurely, and do other work or just spend time with friends. Inhabitat: When did you start your foraging project, and when will it end? Greenfield: I started on November 11, 2018, so today is day 320, which means I have just 45 days left of the year [at the time of the interview]. So it is winding down. I’m in the home stretch, which is feeling great. I wouldn’t say I can let my guard down; I’ve still got to stay on top of things. But I could see a bar of chocolate in the near future. Inhabitat: Is dumpster diving allowed? Greenfield: No dumpster diving at all, because what I’m exploring for this year is living outside of the globalized, industrialized food system. Seeing if I can work with nature , work with the earth to produce my food. So dumpster diving, I’ve proved through my other projects in the past that I can live purely off the waste of our society, and really use that as a way to raise awareness about waste. This is taking it to another step. Now I can show that it’s possible in 2019 for us to actually grow and produce our food and improve our communities at the same time, and take power back from the big food corporations and put that power back into the hands of us, the everyday people. Inhabitat: So, what are some of the things you forage? Greenfield: So far this year, I’ve grown and foraged over 250 different species. I’ve probably foraged 30 or 40 different species of greens. Fruits . There’s many species of cherry: pin cherry, black cherry, sand cherry, just to name a few. Apples, pears, plums. Then, there’s all sorts of new plants that I’m learning. Aronia is a berry that I’ve been foraging over the last couple weeks in Wisconsin. In Florida, one of my favorite things to forage is wild yams. That is an invasive species , so it’s actually beneficial for me to harvest it, which is always nice to be harvesting in a way that actually improves the environment. The biggest one I’ve harvested so far weighed 157 pounds. I had a wheelbarrow and I wheelbarrowed it out chunks at a time to the car to bring it back to my place. Related: An explanation on wild yams I mostly chopped it up into cubes, like you cube up potatoes. Then I froze a lot of it. I make flour from it. I dehydrate it, and then blend the dehydrated chunks to make a powder, and that powder’s a yam flour. Then, I make bread with it. It’s actually a really nice bread. Well, it’s really nice for me. It’s not like a wheat bread or something like that that you’d buy at the store. But I make muffins and tortillas and things like that, and I make sourdough bread. It makes some pretty nice stuff. This project has really taught me to do a lot of things from scratch. Because if I want something, I have to figure out how to grow it or forage it and turn it into that thing that I’m wanting. It’s the opposite of that globalized food system, where we can get anything we want without really having to think about it. Inhabitat: What’s your living situation in Florida? Greenfield: Well in Orlando, I live in a 100-square-foot tiny house that I built out of about 99 percent secondhand materials with the help of a bunch of friends. I have an outdoor kitchen set up, a compost toilet, rainwater shower. I do have electricity there to run my food processor and dehydrator and things like that. But it’s a largely close-looped system, demonstrating how you can live in a more sustainable manner. Inhabitat: Do you have advice for anyone who wants to dumpster dive? Greenfield: Well, it’s pretty easy. You look at the front door. You walk past that, you walk around to the back, you look in the dumpster and you get your food from there instead. It really is not hard or complicated. The main thing is you just have to do it. You have to go to the dumpster and you have to look for the food. Then, what you do is you practice common sense. You should practice common sense wherever you’re getting your food from. So with dumpster diving, a lot of people have these preconceived notions about what’s in a dumpster and what it looks like. At a grocery store, it’s mostly food and is emptied fairly frequently. They’re actually a lot cleaner than people would expect. You just take out the good food. An easy way to start is, for example, bananas have a wrapper on them already. Oranges, also. Whereas strawberries and raspberries, they’re more delicate and more likely to get something spilled on them. But a banana, you can take the peel right off. There’s also packaged, processed food. If you get a bag of potato chips, that is still sealed, or even crackers where there’s a box on the outside and then there’s the crackers inside a plastic bag inside the box. You can start there, with those easy things. One note with dumpster diving is just to make sure that you always leave the place cleaner than you found it, and you’re courteous to everybody that you come across. [Greenfield reiterated that dumpster diving is not a part of his current project.] Inhabitat: Do you have any tips for others to live more sustainably? Greenfield: The good news is you don’t have to do these sort of huge projects that I do by any means. It’s all stuff we can adapt into our daily lives. A big one is to go local. Support local business. Try to get as many of your products produced locally rather than things from big corporate stores and stuff that’s shipped around the world, where you don’t know the people and the impact that it has had or the conditions that they are working in. Shop at the local farmer’s market and support local farmers. Eat more unprocessed foods. You can bring your own container and fill up at the bulk food section. Riding a bike more and driving a car less is a really great way to not only save a lot of money and reduce your impact, but also get good exercise. Most people are a lot happier on a bike than they are driving a car. Bikes make people smile. Related: 7 of the biggest eco-friendly and green living myths Eat your food. The average person wastes about 20 percent of all the food they purchase. Anything that can’t be eaten can be composted. There are hundreds of great changes that we can make. But those are some that are at the top of my list that generally make you happier, healthier and help you live in a way that’s more sustainable. Inhabitat: How can Inhabitat followers get involved with your work? Greenfield: Get involved in other things like community projects, such as the Community Fruit Trees project. That is a project where you can plant fruit trees that are publicly accessible to anyone in their community. Gardens for the People , which is where we build gardens for people that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it or build one on their own. The Free Seed Project is where we send out free seeds to help people start their own organic, healthy gardens. The mission is to get people living happier, healthier and more sustainable lives . We think food is a great place to start. These are all ways people can get involved, and they’d find information about those projects on my website. + Rob Greenfield Images via Rob Greenfield and Sierra Ford

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Interview: Activist lives off food that he grows and forages for an entire year

Green-roofed community center champions sustainable design in London

August 27, 2019 by  
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In the heart of London , the Phoenix Garden — an acclaimed refuge for urban wildlife and greenery — has gained an award-winning beacon for sustainable design. Local architecture practice OFFICE SIAN Architecture + Design designed the Phoenix Garden Community Center to improve accessibility to the park, which is open to the public and commonly used by visitors for a variety of events ranging from student field trips to weddings. In addition to a thriving green roof and a highly contextual design, the new building also features durable, super-insulating materials and air-source heat pumps. Located in London’s Soho area a few meters from Covent Garden and Leicester Square, the 120-square-meter Phoenix Garden Community Center and the adjoining garden were conceived as a green retreat from the stresses of London’s West End. Although the park is just a third of an acre in size, the community garden has become very popular for both residents and urban wildlife alike. In deference to the landscape, the community center was constructed with natural materials, from the timber doors and walls of brick that match the existing low garden walls to the large white limestone lettering that announces the building’s presence and matches the style of the nearby St. Giles Church. Related: IKEA teams up with London artists to upcycle old furniture into funky abodes for birds, bees and bats Because the two-story building would be the first purpose-built, new-build community center in central London for generations, the client, the Phoenix Garden Trust, thought it especially important that the building promote the garden’s values of sustainability. To that end, the architects created a “super-insulating” envelope made from durable materials and topped the structure with a green roof that increases the landscaped area of the garden by 90 square meters. In addition to air-source heat pumps, the building reuses collected rainwater for irrigation. “The design was developed from an early concept of ‘garden walls’ as a metaphor for ideas of enclosure, secrecy and boundaries,” the architects explained. Glazed timber-framed doors fold open to merge the indoor spaces with the outdoor garden. Brick was also used to line the interior floors to blur the boundary between indoors and out. + OFFICE SIAN Architecture + Design Photography by Richard Chivers via OFFICE SIAN Architecture + Design

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Green-roofed community center champions sustainable design in London

Engineers invent origami-inspired self-watering pots that are made from 100% recycled materials

August 26, 2019 by  
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The summer months are a wonderful time to go exploring unknown parts of the world, but traveling for weeks on end means certain death for most house plants, until now. A team of plant-loving engineers have designed an innovative self-watering plant pot. POTR Pots are flat pack plant pots designed to self-water plants and are made from 100% recycled materials . POTR Pots were invented by Scottish designers, Andrew Flynn and Martin Keane, who happen to also be serious plant lovers. According to Flynn and Keane, who have just recently kicked off a Kickstarter campaign featuring their innovative design, the prototype is the plant pot for the 21st century. Related: Recycling can get kids free books in southern Italy The team embarked on their invention by creating an eco-friendly design using 100% recycled materials, which can be recycled at the end of the pots’ life span. All of the materials used in the design, mainly recycled polypropylene , were sourced from nearby locations to reduce the project’s overall carbon footprint. Using recycled polypropylene means that the pots are not only eco-friendly , but incredibly flexible and durable. The pots won’t break into a million bits like regular clay pots if dropped. Additionally, the material allows for folding origami hinges , which enable the product to be flat-packed. To open the pots, just pull on the Bobbiny recycled cotton cord and the pot is ready for use. Before adding in the plant itself, two ends of the cord must be looped under the inner pot stand and  inserted into the plant’s soil. The cotton cord allows the plant to suck up water when thirsty. Besides being incredibly practical and user-friendly, the pots, which come in various sizes, are incredibly eco-friendly. According to the designers, the POTR pots have almost 100 times less CO2 than clay or concrete plant pots, due to the use of recycled materials as well as the flat-pack design which reduces transport costs. + POTR Pots Via BBC Images via POTR Pots

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Engineers invent origami-inspired self-watering pots that are made from 100% recycled materials

Digging deeper for climate solutions: deep-root GMOs could feed world and store carbon

August 15, 2019 by  
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Scientists are experimenting with new genetic modification technology that “supercharges” plants to enhance what they already excel at– sequestering carbon. As the world scrambles to find innovative mitigation solutions, plants have been doing what they quietly perfected over millions and millions of years ago– taking carbon from the atmosphere and converting it into carbohydrates, energy and oxygen. A recent study shows one research institute’s promising progress on the quest to create a patented plant that grows deeper, cork-like roots that store 20 times more carbon than the average plant . The researchers believe these findings can eventually be applied to cash crops at a scale that can truly impact climate change. Related: Scientists confirm tree planting is our best bet against climate change The California-based Salk Institute is leading the way in what they call the Harnessing Plants Initiative. Their goal is to create an enhanced plant that not only stores more carbon but also yields an agricultural product that profits farmers and feeds people. Historically, genetic plant modification has been used to target and enhance specific traits within a plant, such as the size or taste of the fruit or its resistance to pests and disease. Now, Salk’s plant biologists are targeting specific hormones and genes that indicate and increase root biomass. Deep dive: why deep roots matter For centuries, farmers have recognized that deeper roots stabilize the soil and make trees and crops more resilient to heavy winds, floods, hurricanes and erosion. Deep roots also encourage drought resistance because they allow the plant to search for hard to reach water reserves that haven’t been dried out by the sun. But recently, deep roots have become coveted for their ability to sequester , store and stabilize carbon dioxide . The carbon in roots is stored as a complex carbohydrate that is not easily broken down by soil microbes and therefore it is more stable storage than above ground plants, especially for plants that are frequently harvested. The idea behind deep roots is actually very logical– deeper roots store the carbon further from the place we are trying to keep it away from– the atmosphere. Although plants have always sequestered carbon, they can no longer keep up with the rate that humans are pumping it into the atmosphere– at least not naturally. Globally, people emit 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and plants can only capture about half. The idea, according the Salk’s plant biologist, Wolfgang Busch, is to “store carbon in parts of the soil where the carbon is more stable. Change the biochemistry, increase the stability. We’re not trying to get plants to do something they don’t normally do,” says Busch . “We’re just trying to increase the efficiency. Then we can use that to mitigate climate change .” Joanne Chory, also a plant biologist at the Salk Institute echoed Busch’s explanation in an interview with Foreign Policy News. “All we have to do is make them about 2 percent more efficient at redistributing carbon than they are right now, and we can effect a global change,” said Chory . The Salk Ideal Plant Wolfgang Busch, Chory and their team of plant biologists at the Salk Institute recently published their preliminary findings in Cell. Their research focused on a test plant – the thale cress – where they experimented with root hormones and a specific gene found to control the shape of roots. The science behind it: hormones and genes The hormone auxin is the most important hormone that dictates root growth. The biologists at Salk, however, also identified a gene – EXOCYST70A3 – that controls the shape and extent of roots by monitoring how much of the auxin hormone is released. By identifying and isolating these findings, the researchers can now control the size and direction of the roots in their test plants. The EXOCYST70A3 gene is present in all plants, so their research is profoundly scalable if applied to the world’s top grown crops. Indeed, Salk intends to apply their findings to corn , soy, rice, wheat, cotton and rapeseed (canola). Salk’s secret sauce: suberin But the researchers didn’t stop at isolating the hormone and gene, they also identified a specific substance to modify and replicate based on its benefits. According to their website, their ‘secret sauce’ is a substance called suberin . Suberin is a cork material that is carbon-rich, found naturally in plants and resistant to decomposition. It enhances soil, but is also one of the best (meaning most stable) storage vessels for carbon dioxide. Salk’s patented plant, The Ideal Plant, will maximize suberin within its roots. Ultimately, their plants will increase root biomass that is both deeper and higher in suberin. But aren’t GMOs bad for the environment? There is a lot of controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms , including their potentially harmful impacts on human health , ecosystems and farmers’ livelihoods. However, GMO proponents believe they are the answer to feeding the world’s growing population and increasing resilience against a rapidly changing environment. For the Salk Institute, GMO nay-sayers, like the European Union and India, aren’t their biggest concern. Their research continues (and receives millions of dollars of investment) for expected implementation in places where GMOs are not banned. In order to reach their goal of using the Salk Ideal Plant to store half of the carbon that humans emit every year, the researchers claim they would need their patented product in six percent of the world’s agriculturally productive land. While there are natural ways of cross breeding to reach similar results, it would take considerably longer and there simply isn’t enough time. The climate clock is ticking The Salk Institute’s recently published study holds promising breakthroughs, but they are still not ready with a usable product and time is running out. Environmental experts agree that drastic action needs to be taken to mitigate greenhouse gases , so the best time to start planting the yet-to-be-designed Ideal Plant was years ago. Via Vice Images via Salk Institute

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Digging deeper for climate solutions: deep-root GMOs could feed world and store carbon

Energy-efficient home uses recycled heat to reduce C02 emissions

August 15, 2019 by  
Filed under Eco, Green, Recycle

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The Lane End House by PAD studio incorporates natural building material and sustainable solutions to increase energy-efficiency . The resulting design creates a passive home with a smaller environmental footprint and a focus on sustainability.  The exterior of the house contains balcony areas that act as solar shading for the property, complete with thoughtfully-placed openings to create a greater distribution of natural ventilation to rid the home of intense heat during the hot Summer months.  Landscape-wise, the clients wanted to incorporate a natural feel as often as possible, with large windows to connect the inhabitants with the outdoors and a functioning herb garden located on the first floor balcony. The placement of the grand windows creates natural sunlight to light the home during the day while incorporating more profound landscape views. Related: Contemporary barn-inspired home adheres to passive house principles According to the client, “we wanted a house that was big enough to comfortably accommodate the two of us and our lifestyle – and no bigger. For us that meant carefully considered, flexible, multipurpose spaces that created a sense of space whilst retaining a modest footprint .” High quality, insulated timber wood used to create the frame both reduces the need for artificial cooling and heating in the home, and provides an eco-friendly alternative to traditional (and heavy carbon emission-inducing) building materials. Additionally, the timber is locally-produced from renewable sources and the brick used to make the fireplace is hand-made by local vendors. On the ground floor, concrete was inserted to make the structure even more air-tight and regulate interior temperatures even further.  The builders installed a MVHR system designed to recycle heat produced from the kitchen and bathroom and mix it with clean air circulated through the ventilation and naturally colder areas of the house. In addition to completing the standard methods such as SAP calculations and EPS ratings, the impressive home was also built to Passive House ideology. +PAD Studio Images via PAD Studio

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Energy-efficient home uses recycled heat to reduce C02 emissions

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