Mysterious seeds from China arriving in mail across America

July 30, 2020 by  
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Agricultural officials from several states have expressed alarm over unsolicited packages of seeds delivered to residents. The packages appear to come from China, as they feature China Post labeling. Agricultural officers advise farmers not to plant the seeds, in case they are harmful or invasive. Warnings sent out to farmers and residents follow reports of unsolicited seed packages being delivered in residents’ mail. Several people reported receiving seeds in white pouches that featured Chinese writing and the words “China Post.” Another concerning detail is that the seed packages were not labeled as food or agricultural products. Envelopes included misleading labels, with some listing the contents as jewelry, toys or earbuds. States that have released public notices against planting the unsolicited seeds include Washington, Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Dakota, Texas, Alabama and Florida. Kentucky , one of the first states to receive reports of unsolicited seeds, issued warnings to residents. As Ryan Quarles, Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner, wrote on Twitter, residents should “put the package and seeds in a zip lock bag and wash your hands immediately.” Residents must also send any seeds they receive to the Department of Agriculture. Following the reports, several other states, including Arkansas, Michigan , Oregon and New Jersey, issued warnings to residents. Such measures may help prevent farmers from planting harmful, contaminated seeds. The Chinese Embassy in Washington claims these China Post packages “to be fake ones with erroneous layouts and entries.” Cecilia Sequeira, spokesperson for the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, says the department is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop illegal importation of prohibited seeds. Should you receive any mysterious seeds in the mail, report it to the nearest Agriculture Office. + NY Times Image via Pexels

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Mysterious seeds from China arriving in mail across America

A socially distanced vacation in eastern Oregon

July 13, 2020 by  
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A close-up view of an elk. The feeling of a lake rippling beneath your paddle board. The experience of huddling under a tree, waiting for an afternoon thunderstorm to pass while staring at snow-capped mountains . These are the sorts of summer activities nature lovers miss after being stuck inside for too long. As we move into the heart of summer and pandemic-fatigue has well set in, many folks are pondering how to travel safely. This means minimal contact with people outside of those you already live with. So forget airplanes, resorts and crowded beaches. This is the summer for road-tripping to natural and wilderness areas, bringing your own food and camping or renting a cabin. <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/Eagle-Cap-Chalets-img1-889×667.jpg" alt="log cabin in the woods" class="wp-image-2274790" Off to eastern Oregon For my husband, dog and me, who live in Portland, Oregon, east is the natural direction to get away from crowds. We booked a dog -friendly cabin with a kitchen near Wallowa Lake, about six hours east of Portland and close to the Idaho border. Then we packed up everything we could think of to create as self-sufficient a vacation as possible — two bags and a cooler full of food, hiking gear, my new inflatable stand-up paddle board (SUP), dog treats and, of course, masks. Related: An eco-travel guide to Bend, Oregon We were conscious of going from a big city into a rural area. Neither Portland nor Wallowa County had many COVID-19 cases at the time of our trip. But we weren’t sure if locals would welcome us. When we checked into our cabin at the Eagle Cap Chalets , I was the only person in the lobby wearing a mask. The young woman behind the desk said, “It’s a personal choice. Whatever you feel comfortable with.” It turned out they were more worried about a lack of tourists than contracting COVID-19 . “We have so many doctors per capita,” she told me. During our four days in the area, we saw more Trump/Pence signs than masks. Fortunately, we were able to maintain a good social distance the whole time. <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/Wallowa-Lake-img2-889×663.jpg" alt="lake in the foreground and mountains in the distance" class="wp-image-2274789" Wallowa Lake Wallowa Lake is one of those places where you feel like you walked into a postcard. The snow-topped Wallowa Mountains loom over the glacial lake , which is about 3.7 miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide. There’s a beach on each end with suitable shallow places for family swimming. But if you venture into the middle, you’ll be nearly 300 feet from the bottom. This means the water is pretty chilly, with the swim season limited to July and August for most people, except for the hardiest souls. You can tent or RV camp in Wallowa Lake State Park , get up early and enjoy the lake at its quietest. When we visited in June, I only got knee-deep in the water — just enough to launch my SUP. Good paddlers can spend the day paddling the lake’s circumference. Amateurs, like myself, can hug the edges, peering into the clear glacial water for fish and taking breaks to lie on your back and cloud-gaze. When the wind suddenly whipped up and I had to work to get back to shore, I was glad I hadn’t ventured into the middle. Weather can change quickly here, so bring a life jacket and know your limits. The Wallowa Lake Marina offers watercraft rentals, ranging from paddle boards to 22-foot pontoon boats that hold 10 people (at least in non-pandemic times). JO Paddle rents glass-bottomed kayaks for the ultimate lake views. The company also offers full moon tours, crescent moon tours and one focused on searching for Wally, the Wallowa Lake Monster. No, Wally wasn’t just made up for the tourists. Local Native Americans tell a tragic tale of a wedding that united the Nez Perce and Blackfeet tribes. When the newlyweds rowed off into the lake, a sea serpent shot up from the depths and gulped them down. I’m glad I didn’t hear this story until after my solo SUP excursions. Several hiking trails start close to the lake. We followed the West Fork Wallowa River Trail, which ventures into the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  We took in mountain and river views and looked for treasures, like the tiny hot pink calypso orchids that grow out of the conifer forest floor. An unexpected evening thunderstorm drenched us and frightened our dog. Again, the predictably unpredictable weather. A little rain jacket folded up in a backpack sure comes in handy when hiking in Oregon. <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/Wallowa-West-Fork-Trail-img3-889×667.jpg" alt="fallen logs on either side of a forest trail" class="wp-image-2274788" Nez Perce Country Long before European explorers came into North America, the Nez Perce lived in eastern Oregon and Idaho. When you visit Wallowa Lake, stop by the Old Chief Joseph burial site and pay your respects. This Nez Perce leader refused to sign an 1863 treaty that would sell out his homeland. He died in 1871, warning the younger Chief Joseph, “My son, never forget my dying words, this country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and mother.” The cemetery that holds Old Chief Joseph’s remains is a national historic landmark and is sacred to the Nez Perce people. So if you visit, act with decorum. Travel a half-mile north to visit Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site , 62 acres of land set aside in 2009 by the Nez Perce and other local people. You’ll find easy graveled trails for walking or running, meadows, a stream and lots of wildlife. The Nez Perce call this part of the Wallowa Lake basin Iwetemlaykin. <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/Hells-Canyon-img4-889×667.jpg" alt="person looking out at Hells Canyon" class="wp-image-2274786" Hells Canyon This was my second visit to Hells Canyon. The first time was via jetboat from Lewiston, Idaho, which is the easiest and most relaxing way to see the area. All you have to do is sit back and look for big-horned sheep and admire the steep volcanic cliffs along the Snake River. But this time, we traveled by car — and a hair-rising time it was. Starting at Wallowa Lake you go northeast to Imnaha — so far, so good, so paved — but soon you reach the entrance to Hells Canyon National Recreation Area along with signs warning against passenger cars as the road turns to gravel. We have an SUV and my husband is a professional light rail operator, but I still spent much of the scenic drive with my eyes shut, hoping we wouldn’t meet a car coming the other way. We crept along a one-lane gravel road on high cliffs, sometimes slowing to seven miles an hour on steeper downhill stretches, sometimes facing obstacles in the road like a single chukar running along in front of the car before launching itself off the cliff and taking flight. Very few people live out here. We saw some ranches, four Forest Service workers and what might have been a remote gold mining operation on the Imnaha River. We stopped for a couple of short hikes. There are few trails out here, and they’re barely maintained, so you really feel the natural state of the land. We followed a cow trail up one steep hill, putting our feet in the small earthy stairs carved out by hooves. Once we reached the top, we had incredible mountain views of more of the same in every direction. We stayed a little late. The day turned to dusk and we were still on the treacherous, windy gravel roads. More animals appeared — elk, a herd of cows, bulls and calves on both sides of the road, all standing still and staring at us sternly, a flock of wild turkeys running in front of us. When we finally reached the pavement near Imnaha, it really felt like we’d been somewhere drastically removed from our daily lives — lives that had been completely overwhelmed by the constant stress of the pandemic. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat Editor’s Note: Like the author, we recommend taking the utmost care to keep those around you safe if you choose to travel. You can find more advice on travel precautions from the CDC and WHO .

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A socially distanced vacation in eastern Oregon

Right Whales now ranked as critically endangered species

July 13, 2020 by  
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The International Union for Conservation (IUCN) has uplisted the North Atlantic Right Whales from endangered to critically endangered . This move now raises concern about the possible extinction of these whales. The Right Whales have for a long time been listed as an endangered species in a bid to lobby authorities for protection. However, the state of care for the whales has not changed, pushing the species to the brink of extinction. The uplisting follows the sad news concerning the death of a Right Whale calf. The calf was one of the only 10 Right Whale calves born during the last calving season. According to NOAA, the calf was killed by a vessel strike on the coast of New Jersey . Related: Federal agencies propose designated marine habitat to help protect Pacific humpback whales IUCN updates its Red List of threatened species every year. According to the organization, overwhelming scientific evidence now shows that the Right Whales are dying at an alarming rate because of humans. The main causes of death include vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. Despite the listing of these Right Whales as endangered species previously, they have continued to be killed by human actions. IUCN now hopes that by listing the whales as critically endangered, more efforts will be geared toward their protection. Since 2017, over 31 deaths of Right Whales were reported. Additionally, more than 10 Right Whales were reported as having serious injuries. Such a large number of dead and injured whales brought a sharp focus on the declining population of the Right Whales. Today, there are less than 400 existing right whales, and conservation groups are sounding an alarm over the state of this endangered species. Scientists warn that if the Right Whales are not protected, the situation will be irreversible within a decade. Conservationists are now lobbying governments to enhance the protection of the remaining whales. The NRDC has proposed establishing a Right Whales conservation act and advises that governments put in place legislation that will end the killing of the whales by vessel strikes . + IUCN Via NRDC Image via Allison Henry/NOAA

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Right Whales now ranked as critically endangered species

How TerraCycle’s safety and cleaning practices can be adopted across industries

May 22, 2020 by  
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How TerraCycle’s safety and cleaning practices can be adopted across industries Deonna Anderson Fri, 05/22/2020 – 00:05 The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the safety of reuse into question. But Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, thinks when the crisis is over there will be even more opportunity for reusable packaging and containers to become more commonplace, if done right. “Recycling is going to take a real punch to the face, to be quite fair,” Szaky said during GreenBiz Group’s Circularity 20 Digital event this week, pointing to the continued decrease in oil prices and the pressure that’s putting on the economics of using recycled plastics. “That’s disastrous for the recycling industry, which creates its revenue by selling recycled plastics, which are hedged against, in many ways, the price of oil.” Many recycling activities have been paused as the pandemic has raised health and safety concerns, which could lead to a waste crisis post-pandemic, he said. Recycling centers have closed temporarily or indefinitely, across California and in parts of Ohio, Oregon and Alabama. “That, I think, will benefit waste innovations,” said Szaky, whose company is in the business of recycling and eliminating waste. “It will especially benefit the reuse movement because that is sort of the next step up in waste innovation.” Szaky acknowledged that reuse is not a silver bullet solution to addressing the waste problem, but if life cycle assessment is considered , he said that reuse can be better than single-use options in a significant number of cases. It plays a role in reducing waste and TerraCycle’s e-commerce program Loop  — which features items in reusable containers — plans to be part of that, while being affordable and convenient. We’re still very focused on trying to create a reusable system that has the same convenience as disposability … “We’re still very focused on trying to create a reusable system that has the same convenience as disposability because [while] disposability has a lot of negatives, it is the gold standard, by far, for convenience,” he said. “That is our holy grail, to get to the exact same convenience you get when you throw something in the garbage, with no thinking, no thought and off you go.” While Loop is still working toward the convenience factor, it’s also working toward building trust with consumers outside of its core following. As Szaky wrote in a piece for GreenBiz recently, “Reusable packaging is faced with proving its trustworthiness alongside disposables in a world that is standing six feet apart in the grocery aisle.” In the time that comes after COVID-19, TerraCycle’s Loop and other companies that are working on launching or improving their reuse models must do it right. That means consumers need to be able to know that the reusable packaging they are using was thoroughly cleaned and doesn’t pose a health risk to them. During the Circularity 20 Digital conversation, Szaky described the cleaning process for the packaging in the Loop program, between when it leaves one consumer’s possession and ends up with another. First, the customer either will drop off their Loop tote at a retailer or have it picked up and shipped. (TerraCycle recently announced that it would expand its reuse platform Loop across the contiguous United States including in physical retail stores.) Earlier this year, the company announced partnerships with Walgreens and Kroger that would allow consumers to drop off totes in bins within their stores, starting this fall.  Once the tote reaches a Loop distribution center, it is checked in and the packages inside it are sorted based on the contents and type of packaging material. Then each type of packages is stored until there are enough to start cleaning, which takes place in a proper cleanroom where people are in full gear. “The process to clean — which is what chemistry is used, dwell times both in drying and washing and temperatures, and all those different types of knobs and dials on the cleaning protocol — are set to be specific to that content and the type of material that content was in,” said Szaky, noting that both factors have meaningful effects on the cleaning process. Once the packages are cleaned, it is immediately shipped to the manufacturer, which has protocols for maintaining cleanliness for the packaging. Szaky noted that each time the cleanroom is used it is reset — pipes flushed for potential allergens and air vented — for the next batch of cleaning. Lauren Phipps, GreenBiz Group’s director and senior analyst for the circular economy, who led the conversation with Szaky, asked if there was an opportunity for retailers and restaurants to implement similar practices for their reusable items and how they could communicate their practices with consumers. Szaky responded by sharing that he’s been working with the group Consumers Beyond Disposability — which is housed under the World Economic Forum and includes the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, City of Paris and PepsiCo — to develop guidelines for companies that want to put reuse in play. The group plans to share those guidelines during the Davos gathering in January. But for now, Szaky gave an example of how safe reuse could work in a coffee shop. “I would recommend that there’s some process that when you give your cup to the barista, maybe the barista looks at the cup and only accepts certain types of cups … then has some process that is consumer-facing, that you can see and that you can be proud that that process is strong and you can trust it,” he said. “Trust is a critical commodity that we have to build with individuals right now, or in fact almost re-earn.” Pull Quote We’re still very focused on trying to create a reusable system that has the same convenience as disposability … Topics Circular Economy Circularity 20 Circular Packaging Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock warut pothikit Close Authorship

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How TerraCycle’s safety and cleaning practices can be adopted across industries

The robotic, hybrid-electric future of agriculture

May 12, 2020 by  
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The robotic, hybrid-electric future of agriculture Shane Downing Tue, 05/12/2020 – 00:15 While many around the world, ordered indoors amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, are coming up with innovative ways to plant small victory gardens in, around and on top of their homes, plenty of change is afoot in big ag — much of it driven by new technologies. A recent IDTechEx webcast, “Electric Vehicles and Robotics in Agriculture: $50 Billion Market Soon,” provided a brief overview of a 215-page report , “Electric Vehicles and Robotics in Agriculture 2020-2030,” that the research firm published in February. According to IDTEchEx Chairman Peter Harrop, agriculture’s forthcoming shift to both electrification and robotics is a result of three overarching trends: looming labor shortages; the need for precision farming; and advancements in automation. First, Harrop talked about how labor shortages in places such as the United Kingdom and Japan will require robots to be used to keep up with production demands. “The United Kingdom is seriously moving into more labor shortages and more pressure for automation because of leaving the European Union,” he said. “[That makes] it much easier for high-skilled people to move to Britain and almost impossible for low-skilled people to move to Britain.” Harrop compared that to what’s going on in Japan, where the average age of a farmer is about 70 years old. Young people’s “refusal” to live and farm in rural communities is a “serious problem,” Harrop said, but it’s not unique to Japan. Across the world, farmers are aging. Rather than following in their footsteps to the fields, younger generations are instead choosing to flock to cities. Giants of the agricultural [industry], such as John Deere, are saying that electric power gives far better controllability and opportunities for automation and precision seeding and other things like that. To help address the void being created by demographic trends, Harrop highlighted a number of enabling technologies that will help the agriculture industry continue to feed a growing world population, despite a lack of willing or available human workers. Those technology advancements pertain to powertrains, vectored traction, battery systems, supercapacitors, power electronics, solar body work and transportable zero-emission microgrids. However, one technology looms above the rest: electrification. “Giants of the agricultural [industry], such as John Deere, are saying that electric power gives far better controllability and opportunities for automation and precision seeding and other things like that,” Harrop said. “[Those technologies are] not going to be possible without the precision of electric vehicles.” Whereas the IDTechEx report includes and analyzes dozens of cutting-edge technologies, prototypes and farm vehicles, Harrop touched on these companies during the webcast: Small Robot Company : The England-based technology company is developing three farmbots — Tom, Dick and Harry — that autonomously will plant, feed and weed arable crops. More so, they’ll be controlled and directed by Wilma, the artificial intelligent (AI) “brain” behind the operation that’s capable of recording exact locations of each plant. Kubota : The Japanese company unveiled its so-called “dream tractor” in January. Although it isn’t for sale yet, the fully autonomous X Tractor prototype has four tread-covered wheels individually equipped with in-wheel motors, giving the tractor both an acute turning radius and the ability to travel over various terrains, including rice paddies. eWind : Based in Oregon, eWind has developed an airborne wind energy system (AWES) called Tethered Energy Device (TED). According to the company, TED will produce enough energy to power an entire farming operation (or roughly five American homes) on a device small enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck. The technology is still in the testing stages; however, Harrop said that it’s “a company that’s specializing in the needs of farmers.” (Image: Kubota’s “dream tractor” prototype) Harrop says that smaller electric farm vehicles, including pure electric and plug-in hybrid options, will enter mainstream markets before larger vehicles, because smaller pieces of equipment can more easily achieve parity with existing diesel options. In places such as California that have stricter limitations on diesel emissions, however, electric farm vehicles might replace diesel-burning equipment regardless of price points in order to stay compliant with local environmental and health regulations. Whereas many enabling technologies and agtech vehicles that Harrop covered in his webcast will be put into practice within the next decade, he stressed that the industry’s all-electric, fully automated robotic future remains decades away. Although he said that agtech’s leap to automation will be easier than the commercial car industry’s leap to automation, for example, he said it will still be “very expensive.” “But later,” he continued, “it’s going to come down in price. It really is not going to be widely possible to do full automation, full robotics, until about 2030.” Pull Quote Giants of the agricultural [industry], such as John Deere, are saying that electric power gives far better controllability and opportunities for automation and precision seeding and other things like that. Topics Transportation & Mobility Food & Agriculture Electric Vehicles Robotics Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Small Robot Company is developing three farmbots — Tom, Dick and Harry — that will autonomously plant, feed and weed arable crops. Close Authorship

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The robotic, hybrid-electric future of agriculture

Portland welcomes first Living Building Challenge project

May 8, 2020 by  
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Pacific Northwest architecture firm  Mahlum  has made history with the certification of its new architecture studio as Portland’s first Living Building Challenge ( LBC ) project. As an LBC-certified workspace, Mahlum’s new studio meets rigorous sustainability targets including net-zero embodied carbon emissions and the diversion of almost all construction waste from the landfill. The project is the 48th LBC-certified project in the United States and 57th in the world.  Located in a renovated 1930s structure that once served as a Custom Stamping facility, Mahlum’s newly minted 7,500-square-foot  office  in Portland meets the LBC guidelines for the Materials Petal, the Place, Equity and Beauty Petals, and the Health & Happiness Petal. As a result, workplace health and wellness have been emphasized alongside environmentally friendly design and construction. All products used were screened to comply with VOC emission restrictions.  Local materials and labor were also key to the office’s design. Nearly all of the wood used was sourced from the state of Oregon and 100% of all the wood is either  FSC-certified  or salvaged. Working with partners such as Sustainable Northwest Wood and Salvage Works, the architects also used over a dozen unique salvaged products, including Douglas fir wood reclaimed from the nearby National Historic site of Fort Vancouver. Moreover, local artist Paige Wright was commissioned to create nature-inspired ceramic vessels used as planters in the office. Materials have also been vetted to ensure compliance with the Red List, which screens for “worst-in-class” chemicals and environmentally harmful materials. Related: Glumac’s pioneering net-zero Shanghai office paves the way to greener buildings in China Mahlum will receive recognition for their LBC certification at the Living Future Conference, which will be digitally hosted in May 2020. The firm also plans to participate in Design Week Portland , currently expected to take place at the beginning of August, to welcome visitors as part of an Open House event.  + Mahlum Images by Lincoln Barbour

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Portland welcomes first Living Building Challenge project

Planning a low-water garden with expert Guy Banner

April 28, 2020 by  
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For those fortunate enough to have some outdoor space, gardening has become a top  pandemic  activity. It gets people outdoors doing something constructive while maintaining social distancing. You might even grow something to eat. But as all eco-conscious people know, gardening requires water. Sometimes a lot of water. For low-water gardening tips, we asked horticulturalist Guy Banner of  Red Butte Garden  in Salt Lake City for some tips. Banner worked as a field botanist for federal agencies like the U.S. Geological Service and the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon before going back home to Utah. He now co-owns  Grand Prismatic Seed , which specializes in hardy organic seeds, and works as the assistant horticulturalist in Red Butte’s Water Conservation Garden. Red Butte is a gorgeous 100-acre botanical garden with display gardens, hiking  trails , walking paths, talks, outdoor concerts, flower shows and lots of educational displays for home gardeners. It’s definitely worth a trip once we can leave our houses again. Inhabitat: Could you tell us a little bit about the history and inspiration behind Red Butte’s Water Conservation Garden? Banner: The  Water Conservation Garden (WCG) had been a long-term goal for the garden as a response to our arid climate and regional projected population growth as well as an opportunity to create a garden space with a different feel and plant palette. Ten years of planning and preparation came before the grand opening in the spring of 2017. The hope was to create a water conservation garden that demonstrated low to no water use through design,  plant selection and gardening techniques without sacrificing high aesthetic value. I believe it has been a success. The WCG hosts plants from similar climates across the globe but there is a special emphasis on housing many examples of the beautiful and well-adapted native flora of the western U.S. Inhabitat: Any tips for people planning a low-water garden at home? Banner: There are many lovely dry shade plants, but the majority of the most colorful and structural low-water plants need full sun and warmth. They are great for sunny south and west facing garden beds.  Rocks , slopes, windbreaks, evergreens and structures can be used to create warmer sheltered spaces for more cold-sensitive plants. Low-water plants tend to need good drainage in the  soil , especially in non-arid climates. You can find out your soil’s drainage by doing a simple DIY soil percolation test, like this one from Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension:  Soil Perc. Test. To improve drainage, plant on a slope, use rock, gravel, sharp sand and coarse organic material to amend heavy clay soils and/or use plants adapted to those conditions. You can also build mounded beds with large rocks, cobble, cinder blocks, etc. inside to give height and good drainage. If you are lucky enough to have a naturally moist and/or cool garden site, ‘low-water’ plants for you can have higher water needs. Draw inspiration from your native upland flora . Those plants will indicate plant types that can thrive in your area without extra water. Newly planted and transplanted plants will have to be watered regularly until their roots can establish. Establishment can take between one and three years, depending on how slow-growing the plant is. Only the most low-water plants can establish with little to no water after initial planting. Rainfall should be considered. Plants that grow from seed or seedlings in your beds will create the best root systems most quickly, because the roots are free to grow to their fullest potential while seeking out the nutrients and moisture in your garden soil. Mulch is a great way to improve soil texture, moderate temperature, reduce weeds and retain moisture. Use well-draining inorganic rock or gravel mulches around very xeric plants that are prone to rot if their stems and crowns are surrounded by excess moisture. The spongy organic material, beneficial bacteria and fungi of healthy living soils help plants to better utilize available water and nutrients. The natural symbiosis of roots with beneficial fungi (mycorrhiza) in upwards of 90% of studied plant families help plant roots access much more of the soil’s water and nutrients than they can on their own. To improve sterile and impoverished soils use healthy compost or beneficial soil life inoculants. Be minimal and cautious with pesticides, toxic materials and repeated heavy tillage. Visit and support your local nurseries, botanical gardens, university extension programs and gardening clubs. They can be excellent resources. Inhabitat: What are the biggest water-related mistakes people make when planting a garden? Banner: One of the biggest mistakes in low-water gardening is to mix plants with high and low water needs in the same irrigation zones. This creates a lot of hand watering or drowned low-water plants. The key is to create ‘hydrozones’ of plants with similar water needs that receive the same irrigation. Another water-related mistake is to not maximize the water that naturally falls on your garden area. Unless you live in a heavy rainfall area, slow, spread and sink the water you receive by integrating passive rainwater harvesting into your landscaping . It can be particularly useful to integrate your rain gutter downspouts, create swales and basins and then hydrozone the plantings based on how much water is retained. Be mindful of rainfall patterns, leaks and potential flooding in your designs. Inhabitat: What have you learned from working at the Water Conservation Garden? Banner: It’s always teaching me new things of course but here are some of the most poignant lessons that I have learned. The amount of water used to establish many of our garden’s low-water plants is more than some of the most xeric or sandy soil adapted plants can handle; they establish better now with the lower water scheduling. The natural slopes of our foothill garden have helped significantly with drainage of our rocky, clay soils. The use of native annuals and summer drought-adapted bulbs in the garden can create a wonderfully lush landscape by taking advantage of natural seasonal moisture. People are very excited and often surprised to see the wide range of possibilities in low water gardening that we display, and it inspires me to continue to make the garden botanically interesting, aesthetic and approachable. Inhabitat: Can you recommend some low-water plants? Banner:  My current favorite low-water plants are Northern Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii), Shasta Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum), Long trunked Spanish Dagger (Yucca gloriosa), Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri), Smoothstem blazingstar (Mentzelia laevicaulis), Pale stonecrop (Sedum sediforme), Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides), Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium), Texas beargrass (Nolina texana),  Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica), New Mexico Agave (Agave parryii var. neomexicana), ‘Frazier Park’ Big Berry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca ‘Frazier Park’), Canyon Liveforever (Dudleya cymosa), Saint John’s Chamomile (Anthemis sancti-johannis) Inhabitat: Anything else our readers should know about water conservation and gardening? Banner: There is a lot to explore in finding the best water- conserving garden for your unique situation. While there are many general guidelines and recommendations you will find special opportunities as you dig deeper in your gardening practice (pun intended). Don’t be afraid to experiment and make some mistakes. Have fun with it! For more information on what to plant for your climate zone, check out this EPA site . + Guy Banner, Red Butte Garden Images via Teresa Bergen

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Planning a low-water garden with expert Guy Banner

Megadrought grips Western states, new study says

April 21, 2020 by  
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As if we weren’t in enough of a pickle, a new study claims that the western U.S.  is in the midst of a megadrought affected by climate change. “We now have enough observations of current drought and tree-ring records of past drought to say that we’re on the same trajectory as the worst  prehistoric  droughts,” the study’s lead author Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said in a statement. “We’re no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now.” Researchers say the 19-year drought the region has experienced since 2000 is as bad as any in the past 1,200 years. The study, published in the journal  Science , looked at part of northern Mexico and the U.S. states of California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico. So far, the only earlier drought that rivals the current one was one in the Medieval period that began in 1575. The researchers used tree ring data to estimate annual soil moisture for pre-modern data. They found four multi-decade droughts, aka megadroughts, dating back to 800 A.D. Natural variables play a role in drought. But studying the current drought, scientists put almost half the blame, or 47%, on  global warming . “There is no reason to believe that the sort of natural variability documented in the paleoclimatic record will not continue into the future, but the difference is that droughts will occur under warmer temperatures,” said Connie Woodhouse, a University of Arizona climate scientist. Woodhouse was not involved in the study. “These warmer conditions will exacerbate droughts, making them more severe, longer, and more widespread than they would have been otherwise.” The 20th century could also be blamed for giving humans false optimism. It was the wettest century in the whole 1200-year study, which helped the population boom. “The 20th century gave us an overly optimistic view of how much water is potentially available,” said co-author Benjamin Cook of Lamont and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The 21st century looks like it will be bringing drier decades. + Common Dreams Via Earth Institute Images via Pixabay

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Megadrought grips Western states, new study says

A pair of industrial buildings are reborn as a creative office in Portland

April 20, 2020 by  
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In Northwest Portland, two former industrial structures have been given a new lease on life as Redfox Commons, a light-filled campus for creative, tech and retail workspaces. Local design practice LEVER Architecture led the adaptive reuse project that spans 60,000 square feet and is split between a west wing and a larger east wing across two floors. The architects reclaimed over 6,500 linear feet of timber and combined the salvaged material with new industrial-inspired elements — such as weathering steel cladding and ribbon windows — to pay homage to the building’s history.  Located in the up-and-coming neighborhood Slabtown, Redfox Commons comprises two repurposed industrial buildings that were originally built in the 1940s for J.A. Freeman & Sons, a manufacturer for hay baling and hay handling equipment. The new adaptive reuse development, completed in 2019, helps to catalyze neighborhood growth while highlighting the historic and environmental significance of the old growth wood used in the local architecture. New, 80-foot-wide clerestory windows draw light deep into the building and bring the eyes upward to the preserved wooden framework. Related: A heritage industrial site becomes a dreamy wilderness retreat in Australia The original lumber has been preserved and restored throughout the renovation process. Existing trusses were sand-blasted and left exposed to add to the industrial interior design. Wood from an overbuilt mezzanine that was torn down was repurposed in a new timber and glass entrance structure that connects the campus’ east and west wings. “The reclaimed boards were fasted around a new glulam member using large wood screws to create the entrance structure’s distinctive columns and beams,” the architects noted in a project statement. “Innovative use of wood salvaged on-site creates a welcoming entry to the campus that is expressive of the project’s heritage and of environmentally conscious design.” + LEVER Architecture Photography by Jeremy Bitterman via LEVER Architecture

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A pair of industrial buildings are reborn as a creative office in Portland

How to volunteer during COVID-19

April 14, 2020 by  
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In times of crisis, many people feel the desire to help their communities. But the current stay-at-home orders prevent taking action. Right now, unless you are an essential worker, the most helpful thing to do is stand down. Still, everyday heroes are finding social distancing-approved ways to be of service to their communities . If you are inspired to help, here are some safe ways to volunteer your time and skills to those in need during COVID-19. Deliver groceries Everybody needs food , but a trip to a grocery store has suddenly become dangerous, especially for older folks or those with underlying health conditions. In Portland, Oregon, Meals on Wheels closed its dining centers last month, increasing the need for drivers to deliver meals to seniors. In CEO Ellie Hollander’s April 9 newsletter, she reported the local Meals on Wheels branch was serving 1,396 more people than it had the month before. But because more than 1,800 new volunteers answered the pandemic-related call, the meals will go on. Many cities might not be so fortunate, so check with your local branch to see if you’re able to donate time or money. In Washington, Kirkland Nourishing Network (KNN) has been providing food boxes to families in need for 7 years. This month, it expanded to provide gift cards. “We’ve solicited donations and then purchased and handed out 500-plus Safeway gift cards to families with school kids,” said Lynette Erickson Apley, KNN’s north site manager. “We’ve done two rounds and are slated for a third round in a few weeks.” More informal grocery services are also popping up. In my own neighborhood, I’ve seen flyers tacked up to telephone poles recruiting volunteers to go shop for groceries and deliver them to people in the area. This is happening around the country. Of course, if you know neighbors who are older, have illnesses or have weakened immune systems, you could offer to pick up a few items when you brave the trip to the store and leave some groceries on their porches. Make masks for essential workers Crafters have already been busy sewing masks for essential workers since March. But because the CDC issued new guidelines recommending everyone to wear a mask when venturing out in public, home seamstresses have upped their efforts to protect their communities. Related: How to make your own face masks “I got involved with Mask Match after my classmate heard about it on a podcast,” said Briana Corkill, a medical student in Phoenix. Mask Match solicits donations of filtration, surgical and homemade masks for healthcare workers. “It seemed like a great way to be helpful from home. For me, volunteering comes with the territory of learning to be a doctor, but it’s especially important now, while humans figure out how to support each other through this pandemic.” Corkill found the process easy and fast. “Zero skill was needed, they teach you how to do everything and it’s super straightforward and easy! The time from my friend telling me about it to me actually matching healthcare providers with equipment was less than a day.” Provide mental health support Those with proper training can offer mental health support over the phone. Erica Aten, an Oregon-based licensed clinical psychologist, is volunteering her services with the national group Reloveution as part of its pandemic response. “This volunteer program matches mental health providers with emergency personnel, first responders and health professionals nationwide,” she said. “The purpose of this program is to support professionals dealing with stress associated with COVID-19.” Volunteers can give what they are able to, whether that’s a single support session or multiple sessions per week. “Mental health providers are in a unique situation given we are holding others’ anxiety, crises and pain while also experiencing similar emotions and circumstances ourselves,” Aten said. “When it comes to volunteering during a time of crisis, I think people should be mindful of their own mental health and well-being before over-extending themselves to help others.” If you don’t have the training to volunteer with mental health support services, you can still provide wellness checks for friends, family and neighbors just by calling and checking on them. Miscellaneous volunteer efforts People are finding creative ways to help others during the pandemic. In Seattle, Megan Delany’s rugby team is using the time off from their sport to help stuff care bags for Lifelong , which supports people who have HIV. In Kirkland, chef Dave Holthus and his wife, Laura, started a Lunch to the Rescue campaign on GoFundMe. The idea is to deliver delicious, chef-made lunches for employees at Evergreen Hospital. They have far exceeded their fundraising goal. “They are not part of a larger organization,” said Virginia Andreotti, a family friend. “[They are] just a couple good people who wanted to do a nice thing.” Several skills can be of help right now. If you have experience writing grants, many organizations could use your assistance to stay afloat. Love animals? I met one man who walks his neighbor’s dog three times a week while the neighbor works overtime at a hospital. Additional opportunities include donating blood; donating time, money or food to food banks; and creating hygiene kits for people experiencing homelessness in your community. Volunteering is good for morale and helps people feel more connected and optimistic. “Basically tons of people need help with tons of things right now,” Corkill said. “So if you can think of a way to get involved, you should do it.” Images via Pixabay and Adobe Stock

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How to volunteer during COVID-19

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