Garden week 7 & 8

Week 7. My uncle Sam visited this weekend and assured me that we could save most of the house from the wrath of the garden. Together we built A-frames out of dead tree branches and nylon string. He gave me a hard time about the nylon string because its expensive as compared to other string. My thinking is that I've had this stuff in my basement forever it was on the verge of decomposing it was so old. I promised to use cheap string next year.

We propped the tomato plants back up and then trimmed back a bunch of the tomato branches that weren't going to produce tomatoes. Then we put down some fertilizer and Epsom salt which is supposed to make plants flower more and thus produce more to eat. It was a lot of fun hanging out with Uncle Sam.

Week 8. Everything is flowering! We saw our first red chili pepper and there are tuns of green tomatoes. I have nylon string guilt. The A-frames are holding up nicely and the garden seems to have switched from attempting to take over my house to producing fruit. I think we'll have some tomatoes to eat soon.

The latest garden photos are on Flickr here and on Flickr Slideshow lite (for slower internet connections).

Plug In Electric Cars

This is one post in a series, describing what I've learned while attempting to understand my ecological footprint.

By far one of the coolest green technologies I've learned about lately is the electric car. Until recently I didn't even know they existed! I was surprised to discover that compared to combustion engine cars, plug in cars, accelerate faster, cost less to fuel (the equivalent of ~70 cents per gallon) and can reduce the output of CO2 and other greenhouse gases by 100%. That reduction in greenhouse gases depends on how you generate the electricity you use to charge the car. Solar panels installed on your house get you to the %100 reduction in greenhouse gases but even using electricity from standard coal fired power plants you get a huge reduction. Sources at the end of the post...

I first learned about electric cars when I rented the 2006 documentary "Who Killed The Electric Car". More important than the story of how the cars came to be on the roads in the 1990s is the description of the cars features. These electric cars are amazing! They are silent, use no gasoline, have no emissions, accelerate fast, have almost no need for maintenance and charge while you sleep. Before I saw the movie I had no idea such a technology was possible, let alone existed. This is definitely a documentary worth seeing. This is the trailer:

Tesla Roadster
The Tesla Roadster is a plug in electric sports car being released this year that does 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds and has a 250 mile range on a single charge. There is a great uncut (video) interview with Tesla CEO Martin Eberhard on I've included a few other Tesla videos below, but the video is my favorite because it's the raw interview video. You get to hear a really interesting perspective on electric cars that you can't get from typical news show sound bites.

Hydrogen and Bio-Fuels
There is a lot of marketing effort going into bio-fuels (currently corn based in the US) and hydrogen fuel cells. In my opinion neither of these has the short or long term potential of the plug in electric car and both have some very serious down sides. Each of these technologies and the questions around them are worthy of its own focus so I'll save them for future posts.

Plug In Sources, Answers & More Information
The discussion of plug in cars brings up a lot of good questions about battery life, comparisons to the combustion engine, well to wheel emissions, the ability of our power grid to support electric cars and safety, to name a few.

Fortunately, I was not the first to ask these questions and there already exist well written and accurate answers. So here's where you can learn more.
  • Plug In America FAQ: This page contains a list of common questions and answers related to plug in cars, their practicality and environmental impact.
  • WELL-TO-WHEELS EMISSIONS DATA FOR PLUG-IN HYBRIDS AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES: AN OVERVIEW - a dense 12 page summary of 30 studies comparing different types of automotive technology compared to plug in electric cars. The summary is written by Sherry Boschert a medical journalist for 30 years and author of Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that Will Recharge America. I searched for a publication contradicting her Well to Wheel paper and couldn't find a single one. Not even a blog! It's not the easiest read as it is littered with acronyms, but it does appear to be accurate and it paints a compelling argument for electric cars.
  • Plugs and Cars Blog - A blog that tracks plug in car technology, politics, and current events.
  • Below is a compilation of some educational and entertaining videos about plug in cars.

Garden Week 6

Its official, the garden is out of control. In the process of attacking each other the tomato plants have pulled their support stakes out of the ground. The pumpkins are growing so fast they are trying to get hold of the cats. I'm guessing for sustenance.

The tomatoes and pumpkin plants continue to attack each other as well. In the middle the peppers are taking the brunt of assault as they were completely cut off from the sun. I attempted to lean the tomatoes and pumpkins away from each other to give the peppers some light.

Credit for this weeks photo goes to Alex who was thrilled to use the camera and not risk getting tangled in the garden. I kept Conner on my shoulders where the pumpkins couldn't reach him. Next week we may have to stand on the other side of the yard.

Keeping Tabs on Congress

Late last year I started using OpenCongress. As with anything politics related I was initially skeptical, but after 8 months I can comfortably say that this is an excellent resource for staying current on the activities in Congress. It's become part of my daily reading to follow the OpenCongress blog (via Google Reader) and frequently I'll use the website to learn more about a specific issue.

There is a profound difference between the watered down, politically motivated newscasts I see on TV, and the thoughtful, bipartisan access to the details of congressional activities that is provided by OpenCongress. After 8 months it is clear to me that if you get your news about Congress from TV you are watching some of the most comprehensive fiction ever put on the air waves. The devil is in the details and TV leaves out the details and frequently makes up all the rest.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying that what goes on in Congress is rational, but instead that the reporting on those events, as done by OpenCongress, is superb in comparison to TV news.

So what is OpenCongress? Here's a quote from their about page:
OpenCongress brings together official government information with news and blog coverage to give you the real story behind what's happening in Congress.

For most people, finding out what's really happening in Congress is a daunting and time-consuming task. The legislative process is frequently arcane and closed-off from the public, resulting in frustration with Congress and apathy about politics.


OpenCongress is a free, open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan web resource with a mission to help make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement. OpenCongress is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation.

In my opinion OpenCongress is an invaluable tool that provides citizens the information necessary to have a rational, non-sound bite based, debate on the current issues being covered by Congress. I specifically avoid the phrase "being debated by Congress" because there hasn't been any debate in the 8 months I've been following. Of course, if I still got my news from TV, I wouldn't know that.

I highly recommend subscribing to the OpenCongress Blog and taking a tour of the OpenCongress website.

Garden Week 5

Garden Week 5 I may have underestimated the amount of land each plant was going to require. The tomatoes are violating any reasonable measure of personal space and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are being overwhelmed by the Smashing Pumpkins.

This weekend I did some modest weeding and adjusted the twine we used to anchor the tomato plants to the stakes. Everything looks very crowded but so far healthy.

Garden Week 5


Conner the Ornithologist

Conner sat contentedly for 20 minutes while he watched birds on our bird feeder and flipped through the bird watching guide. He and Christine identified one of the birds as a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Youth Isn't Always Wasted on the Young

alex_at_the_farmjpg Alex and I had an interesting conversation while I was putting Conner and him to bed the other night. I wrote it down shortly after it happened so I'm pretty sure I got his exact words.

"Daddy, Why do I have to grow up to be big and strong?" I was a little confused by his question but I just answered honestly. "You don't have to, but its kinda nice to be big and strong."

After a short pause he responded "I don't want to. I want to stay little because its fun being little."

I barley got through thinking "Wow that's pretty deep for a 3 year old!" when he finishes by saying "But its taking a long time to grow up so I guess I don't have to worry about it right now."

It got me thinking... Have people who say "Youth is wasted on the Young" forgotten what it's like to be a kid?