Archive for the ‘Green@Home’ Category

Two Gardens

By Liz Bloomhardt

Published August 26, 2011


Last spring I decided it was time to get my hands dirty and plant a garden. A proper garden, in the ground.

For several years I’ve achieved what I considered moderate success with a tomato plant or two on the porch. Add to that the hop vines, grown in whiskey barrels, that did nicely in their third year, rewarding us with enough hops for a batch of homebrew, and I felt ready for the big time.

To set the mood: the poetically mouth watering pages of prose describing asparagus, for one, in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and a timely article in the New York Times suggesting several online seed retailers. A peek outside at the unsightly new retaining wall on a seemingly abandoned worksite in the backyard plus the history of two years of cursory attention by the landscapers and it’s no wonder my patience for progress had worn thin. I was eager with anticipation to start digging, cultivating, nurturing … or at least to just start by ripping out the damn hedges that were half dead anyway!

But before I ever picked up a shovel, I busted out the graph paper and a pencil and I walked around the house in April with my sketch pad and measuring tape. I jotted notes and made lists. I consulted the online catalogues of seeds while visions of terraces and stone paths and lush greenery danced into being in my mind.

As with any beginning gardener (if I can call myself that) my imagination was brimming with possibility, nevermind the lack of know-how needed to get there.

And yet, already, this vision I had created on paper and in my mind was my first garden. Let me explain.

In his book “Second Nature,” Michael Pollan describes his own garden as “actually two, one more or less imaginary, the other insistently real. The first is the garden of books and memories, that dreamed-of outdoor utopia. … The second garden is an actual place. … Much separates these two gardens, though every year I bring them a little more closely into alignment.”

My beautiful, magical, well-behaved, bug free, gorgeously edible, imaginary garden (with NO mosquitos) is not what happened this year. Despite watering and weeding and careful if clumsy cultivation, some of my seeds just never came up. Rather than failures, I’m calling these endeavors educational, because at the same time, a few of my plant selections, some with fantastic flowers and fruits, have taken over!

As in the garden, also in life. Nature, wild or cultivated, is often an apt metaphor if one takes the time to consider it as such, and as the summer wore on, this seemed especially true.

Again, let me explain. Several years ago, I embarked on a path through graduate school, but let’s call it life for generality’s sake. I did my homework, completed applications, talked to professors, students and mentors and became increasingly excited about returning to the academe for a professionally transformative experience, all the while cultivating in my mind the shape of my future.

When I got here, to Duke, I embraced my new environment, explored subjects I wanted to learn more about and got involved in ways I had never been involved before. I was, if you will, planting seeds of possibility. Some of those seeds have germinated and flourished, both in my mind and my work. Others have underperformed my expectations. Of the underachievers, I can speculate on the cause: too much sun, not enough, an intolerable pH balance … but regardless of the reason, what’s important is that I recognized the time to record the results, and iterate toward the future. Each new year, a new opportunity to plant anew.

Completely tearing up the roots of last year’s plantings that didn’t quite work is a near impossible task in the garden and in life. I got most of the root ball of that awful hedge out of the ground but only after much sweating and hacking. And after filling in the crater it left, I’m certain that shrub has left a deeper history in that spot than I will ever fully appreciate.

The same is true in life, although at times it seems easier to collect the blooms, or in my case a masters degree, create a meal, and till the stalks and roots back into the soil to nourish the next endeavor. Memory serving as the soil, a foundation made richer by experience.

It’s safe to say that both of my gardens, vegetative and professional, are still very much a work in progress. However, even though it will certainly take two years before the asparagus is ready for its first real harvest, I already feel confident I’m moving closer into alignment with that future self I hold in my mind.

Lix Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering.


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Water World

By Liz Bloomhardt

Published September 10, 2010

Welp, Earl was a dud, but we sure could’ve used the rain.

All that sunshine and hot weather that was inescapable the last two weeks have been hanging around most of the summer while many students were off saving the world and being interns. Too much sunshine hardly seems like a bad thing until a lack of rain equals drought.

And I hate to say it, but we are experiencing a low-level drought.

Surprised? You probably shouldn’t be.

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published July 1, 2010

Since this is the send home edition of The Chronicle, it seems appropriate for the ‘green devil’ column to go home, too.

Most of the year I use this space to explore ways in which Duke is making progress toward its climate neutrality goal. Using the University’s Climate Action Plan as a road map, I’ve covered issues relating to energy, transportation and carbon offsets.

Why does it make sense to focus on what happens off campus? Of the four end-use consumption sectors measured by the Annual Energy Review 2008: Energy Consumption, a report published by the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, transportation and residential energy use make up the second and third largest sectors in the U.S. respectively. So what Duke thinks about and does on campus, you can think about and do at home too.

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Constructing the Ecomposter was not a lot like death, despite the warnings.

It came in a box.

The box came from China.

There were lots of pieces in the box, and they went together one by one. First there was one half…

Then there were two.

Two World Cup games after it started, the Death Star… er… Ecomposter, was ready to fill.

What’s going in? From left to right, wood ashes (a “brown”), directions (not going in, but useful), a weekend’s worth of vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells (the “greens”), and fallen leaves (another “brown”).

The idea here is to mix greens and browns in a 1:1 ratio to start, then to keep a happy moisture level thereafter. Load, then spin, daily. And, keep adding until full. Then let finish.

I will admit that it does not look delicious or nutritious right now. It looks like a mold pile waiting to happen, and it’s likely to get gross before it’s finished. But, provided this whole natural process works as advertised, once it’s done, my plants are going to love this stuff!

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The first post in the new green@home category comes straight from woot.com.

Today’s podcast on the site advertises a death star-esqe composter, and well, we got a little excited about that, and couldn’t help but put in an order!

Here’s the full story: for nearly two years, I’ve been on the verge of starting some sort of composting pile. In fact, just yesterday, I was perusing this site for information on composting and vermicomposting (worms). It’s chalk full of great information from the NC Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance.

I even had a bin picked out for the vermicompost bin (which I may still start). I just needed to get worms, but where? And that’s when the project was just about to get pushed aside, just like last year when I only got as far as collecting pamphlets. The lesson here is that there are many, many ways to get started, so just do it. In our case, it took a death star.

Ok, to be perfectly honest the Eco Composter is not a death star, but it sure looks like one. Of course, once we get the box, we may change our minds. An Amazon.com reviewer had this to say: “This composter should come with a warning: ‘Be prepared to abandon your life for the foreseeable future before committing to assembly.'”

“The Death Star wasn’t built overnight!” responds my boyfriend.

We are engineers. This is only a challenge to our skills.

Check back for more, I’ll have a report once we get the thing into action!

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I’ve created a new category, it’s Green@Home. While not directly contributing to Duke’s carbon footprint, what I do at home has an impact on the world too, and all this thinking about sustainability in the work place tends to bleed over into thinking about life at home as well.

During every interview I have conducted, one of the questions I always ask is: “What do you do to be more sustainable or green in your own life?”

In this new category, we’ll parse through what others are doing, and I’ll do some of them myself.

Here’s to being green, at home!

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CSA Starts Today!

Today was the first day of the 2010 farm share season!

For the past two years I have participated in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Every week, I get a box of vegetables that have been grown in North Carolina by the farmer I signed up with at the beginning of the season. Several of the participating farms drop off at locations around the triangle but I get mine at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a drop-off location organized through the benefits program of Duke employees. The program, though, is open to anyone.

The idea is that you pay a flat rate at the beginning of the season, and get a weekly cut of the produce the farm harvests. Duke’s program has several farms to choose from at a range of price points and usually two or three share sizes.

Farm shares are especially advantageous in a state like North Carolina which has a long growing season and a healthy agricultural tradition. We like it because we’re not only developing a relationship with the farmer, but we hardly have to think about vegetables all summer. Shopping lists get shorter and the volume of veggies in the diet goes up. We also get fruit, and that’s probably the best part.

Well, I guess this means it’s probably time to break out the recipe book and get cooking!

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