Low Oil Prices – Why Worry?

Our Finite World

Most people believe that low oil prices are good for the United States, since the discretionary income of consumers will rise. There is the added benefit that Peak Oil must be far off in the distance, since “Peak Oilers” talked about high oil prices. Thus, low oil prices are viewed as an all around benefit.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Peak Oil story we have been told is wrong. The collapse in oil production comes from oil prices that are too low, not too high. If oil prices or prices of other commodities are too low, production will slow and eventually stop. Growth in the world economy will slow, lowering inflation rates as well as economic growth rates. We encountered this kind of the problem in the 1930s. We seem to be headed in the same direction today. Figure 1, used by Janet…

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8 Reasons to turn your lawn into a farm and help change the world

With interest in the “grow your own” food movement which is gaining ever more traction, Below are eight reasons to become a yardfarmer and join the yardfarming revolution…


1. Lawns are so 1600’s

Much of suburbia takes great pride in growing and cultivating the perfect lawn. It is interesting to note that lawns originated from Europe around the 1600’s. The cool, mild climate of Europe was conducive to growing grasses and various ground covers. The earliest lawns and grasses had practical applications and were used in and around medieval castles in Britain and France. The low ground cover provided guards and watchmen an unobstructed view of any approaching danger. The practical application of being able to ward off hostile enemies does not translate into current western culture.

2. Lawns Account for Significant Water Usage

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that landscaping and the maintenance of lawn account for approximately 30% of all water use in the United States. Considering that lawns serve no practical purpose and are purely aesthetic in nature, it seems extravagant that such a precious resource is wasted on a hangover from the 16th century. It is therefore the perfect time to reduce our lawns and start investing and/or propagating native plants, fruit and nut trees, vegetables, and other edible plants.

3. Yard Farming Could Help Improve Overall Health

Yardfarming could help solve many of the health challenges of the West. With epidemic levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes plaguing many developed countries, backyard farming and yardfarming could significantly help to get people outside growing healthier, more nutrient dense foods. Studies have shown that people who grow their own food tend to eat healthier and share produce with others members of their family and community. Hence, the knock on effect of growing food locally helps reduce reliance on industrially produced and chemically enhanced (pesticides/GMOs) foods.

4. Food Security

A packet of seeds can cost as little as a few dollars, yet this packet of seeds can grow hundreds of plants. With the price of fruit and vegetables increasing and inflation eating away one’s spending power it makes sense to grow as much of your own food as possible. As Ron Finley says, “growing your own food is like printing your own money.” He is right, the more fresh produce one grows the less dependant one becomes on long supply chain and highly industrial food systems.

5. Lawn a Wasted Resource In Every Aspect

It is estimated that in the U.S alone there are approximately 40 million acres of unsustainable lawns. In 2015 the fifth largest crop in the United States by acreage was the turf-grass lawn. These lawns are using valuable resources such as water, fertilizers, energy, fossil fuels, and no less importantly, our time. Each week across North America millions of gallons of gasoline are used in the weekly lawn mowing ritual. It seems a bit crazy when the U.S and Canada are doing everything possible to extract difficult highly polluting oil resources such as tar sands, deep water, and fracking that we are wasting our time and energy on making sure the lawn looks good for the neighbours.

6. Community Building

Like America, many Western countries have squandered resources around a car dependant culture, which has led to the supermarket dependant culture. It wasn’t that long ago (1940’s/50’s) that supermarkets didn’t really exist. People either grew much of their own produce or sourced meat, dairy, and other food items from their local community farmers. Today most of us will jump in the car and drive to our nearest supermarket. Being involved in growing your own food helps build community. As people grow excess produce they tend to share it with neighbours and friends, hence strengthening local networks and local community resilience.

7. Increasing Local Food Production and Efficiency

Some of the benefits of a decentralized food system include: reduced food miles, development of local food security, the adoption and fostering of improved soil quality, reduced waste packaging and storage, supporting small farms and independent grocery store owners, facilitating employment opportunities, increased flow of capital within local and regional areas, higher quality produce not dependent upon global supply chains, and better environmental outcomes in regards to pollution and use of fossil fuels.

8. Know Where Your Food Comes From

Being involved in the local food movement and yardfarming helps reduce the long distances food travels to reach us. It also makes more visible from whom and where our food is coming. Produce grown locally is often fresher than that which is purchased from the supermarket. Many supermarkets use extensive cold storage and distribution centres to hold and process fruit and vegetables. Often goods can be in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks. Without the luxury of large storage and processing facilities small local farmers and growers generally have to pick and distribute fairly rapidly to customers.

Greenhouse Dreams

Greenhouse Dreams: Peppers in December

Peppers in December

A home garden greenhouse may seem like a daunting item on a gardener’s wish list. It comes in the form of a pipe dream or is shuffled into the “one of these days” category.

Greenhouse dreams typically resurface when coming home from a weekend adventure to find freshly emerged seedlings on their deathbeds. Sometimes they can be coaxed back to life and other times they are beyond revival, but these young phyto-children could have been saved with a simple DIY greenhouse.

A greenhouse provides plants with a head start by sheltering them from whatever the weather is up to outside. Greenhouse gardeners can sow seeds weeks before the topsoil is warm enough for outdoor germination. And late-season producers can keep fruiting beyond their outdoor counterparts. With a temperature-controlled environment, a wider variety of species, which would otherwise be intolerant of the climate on site, are available. In addition to supreme growing conditions, herbivory and parasites are less of an issue in a greenhouse, since neighborhood deer or a swarm of locusts can’t get to the protected plants.

When plants are safely inside, frost, windy conditions, pesky rabbits (and everything in between) no longer pose threats. It’s almost like cheating—except when you’re winning, who cares?

Greenhouse Success: The Basic Requirements

A greenhouse is a climate control box for your plants. You can get as simple or as fancy as you’d like, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. This guide will focus on the bare bones method of taking it from foundation to a permanent structure, and then explore some of the many available greenhouse styles.

A greenhouse should have:

  • Proper location
  • Ventilation
  • Air circulation
  • Watering system
  • Temperature control


The location of your greenhouse determines your plants’ success. Do your best to position the greenhouse where it will receive morning sun during the summer and winter months. Afternoon sunlight can be intense on its own, but in a greenhouse the light may be magnified by the glass and in turn burn plants. The ideal effective shading includes deciduous trees to the west to provide dappled shade in the intense summer months, and winter sunlight when the trees drop their leaves. If the ideal shading is unavailable, use an opaque roofing material to help disperse sunlight.


Ventilation provides gas exchange. Plants inhale the carbon dioxide we exhale, and exhale the oxygen we inhale, so provide openings in the house to facilitate these exchanges. Natural ventilation is easy to accomplish with side vents and roof openings at the highest point in the structure. This takes advantage of convection currents, where heated air rises through the top and pulls cool air in through the sides. (This is the same mechanism that explains wind currents on Earth.)

Shoot the Breeze: How to Ventilate Your Greenhouse


Air circulation keeps the gases moving throughout your climate box. Proper circulation helps maintain a consistent temperature throughout the greenhouse; otherwise cool air sits at the bottom near the plants and warm air is trapped at the top of the structure. The best way to mix it up is to install small fans at opposite ends of your greenhouse to create an oval pattern of air circulation.


Plant watering depends on the habits of the overseer. Hand watering crops works well if you are available on demand. However, it only takes a warm weekend of slacking off to put plants under water-stressed conditions. Automatic watering systems, on the other hand, are a plant saver. Whatever plants’ needs are, there is a watering system to meet those requirements.

There are two basic types of watering systems that control the frequency of your watering schedule. One is an automatic timer that turns the water on at a pre-programmed time and duration. The other system is controlled by evaporation sensors that determine when greenhouse conditions are too dry. Water emitters come in all shapes and sizes, from misters to drip, soakers and fog. Whatever conditions plants require, there are watering systems available to emulate everything from an equatorial rainforest or a red rock desert.

Temperature control

All plants have temperature requirements, and if conditions become too warm or cool, they will suffer. A Los Angeles greenhouse in February has much different requirements than the same greenhouse in Denver. Depending on the climate and the parameters of a greenhouse, a heating or cooling system may be beneficial. Your local garden experts can provide more info on this.


Building an affordable greenhouse is pretty doable when it comes to upcycling materials. Cleaning out the garage, dumpster diving the neighborhood, scouring the free section on Craigslist, or visiting the local re-store will reveal the materials available right under our noses.

Prepare the foundation

You will need:

  • Flat head shovel, rake
  • Pressure-treated boards for base frame
  • Landscape fabric
  • Landscape staples
  • Heavy duty staples
  • Pea gravel

Step 1: Determine the location. Create a flat, level surface for your greenhouse. Remove rocks, plants, barbed wire, and other debris from the area. A flathead shovel and rake is typically sufficient.

Step 2: Install a four-inch ABS pipe that allows you to run water or electrical lines from the exterior, underground into the greenhouse. The black ABS used for sewer lines is cheaper than white PVC. Temporarily seal the ends of the pipe to prevent soil from entering. (Duct tape works well for this.)

Step 3: Build a frame at the perimeter of the greenhouse area to hold gravel for drainage. Frame material should be made of something rot-resistant, such as pressure-treated wood.

Step 4: Line the area with polypropylene landscape fabric to suppress weeds. Staple the edges to the frame so the silt fencing does not slip and weeds do not grow in between the frame and the base material. Landscape staples can be used to hold the fabric in place. Fill this area with two to three inches of pea gravel for drainage.

You now have a naturally draining foundation!

Building Your Greenhouse Base: The Foundation

The house

Your greenhouse design can be as creative or utilitarian as you choose.

The upcycled window greenhouse is a permanent structure that puts old windows and doors to good use. The basic idea is to build a sturdy frame and attach windows. Remember to account for the fan, side vents, and roof vent in your design to accommodate ventilation and air circulation. Also, check with your local building codes, which vary from town to town.

Greenhouse Dreams: Peppers in December

Hoop houses are a quick and easy way to protect your plants from the elements. They can take the form of a low-laying tunnel or a large walk-in structure. The hoop house has the benefit of being semi-portable and easy to set up from readily available materials. But using a hoop house means the plastic material has a shorter life span, temperatures are difficult to maintain, and there’s no support for snow. Hoop houses are handy for early-season frost protection as they warm the soil sooner to provide a head start on crop production. (Check out the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s building plan for a simple ground level hoop house design here.)

Greenhouse Dreams: Peppers in December

Funky yet functional

Feel like thinking outside the box? People have built greenhouses out of 2-liter plastic bottles and geodesicdomes, and even created structures heated by chicken coops. There are no structural boundaries to what you can grow your plants in as long as you rely on five principles: location, ventilation, air circulation, irrigation, and temperature control.

Out of the Box Greenhouse

Whichever greenhouse ends up in your yard, it’s hard to regret checking this item off your “someday-maybe” to-do list. Knowing plants are protected from the elements while you are away is worth the time and effort put toward your DIY greenhouse. Impress your friends with freshly harvested arugula and spinach salads during the holidays. Go ahead and make the neighbors jealous of your red peppers in December. Remove the barriers from weather-confined gardening to year-round greenhouse growing.

Planning on building a greenhouse after reading this article? Consider getting one of these garden benches to set your plants on or for you to sit on and enjoy nature. — http://www.custommade.com/gallery/custom-bench/

Greenhouse Dreams: Peppers in December

Sipping Beer & Wine Sustainably

Sipping Sustainably: Green Breweries and Wineries

Green Breweries and Wineries

Americans consume 9.4 billion gallons of alcoholic beverages a year: 87 percent beer, 8 percent wine, and the rest spirits. The environmental impact of producing, packaging, and selling all those beverages could make an environmentalist reach for a drink. Breweries and wineries consume large quantities of water, raw materials, and other natural resources.

But there’s good news: Green beer is no longer something people drink just on Saint Patrick’s Day. With the rise of the craft beer movement and growing consumer interest in local and sustainable food, more breweries and wineries are working to reduce the beverage industry’s environmental footprint. As a result, it’s easier to stock the home bar with sustainable, organic brews.

Moving Toward Sustainability

Sustainability is a buzzword these days, but what does it really mean? Ideally, it indicates a company uses resources in non-depleting ways while fostering the health of the company, workers, planet, and future generations. No beer and wine companies are entirely sustainable—at the moment they all use more resources than they return—but many mitigate environmental damage in several key ways.

Moving Toward Sustainability

  • Slash water use

Beverage companies are particularly reliant on water, one of our most critical natural resources. Conscientious businesses work to be its responsible stewards. According to a 2008 report, viticulturists on California’s North Coast use an average of 75 gallons of water to grow the grapes for just one gallon of wine, and in the state’s drier Central Valley, they use 430 gallons of water per gallon. Turning the grapes into wine uses six more gallons of water. To reduce that footprint, many wineries have installed low-flow nozzles and filtration systems, and reuse gray water from the production process. A minority employ dry farming, which means growing grapes without irrigation, a practice that can save millions of gallons of water a year.

A gallon of beer requires five to 10 gallons of water to produce. Craft brewers are leading a movement to reduce that ratio (Oregon’s Full Sail Brewery boasts a 2.5 to 1 ratio) and even the world’s largest brewers, including Anheuser Busch, MillerCoors, and Heineken, are cutting water usage.

  • Power down

From heating water vats and refrigerating beverages to lighting tasting rooms, the mass production of beverages is energy intensive. Eco-minded companies make their systems more efficient, install solar panels and solar hot water heaters, and utilize technologies such as fuel cells, geothermal heating, and carbon dioxide reclamation.

  • Manage waste streams

The majority of waste in the brewing process is spent grain. Breweries have a long history of passing spent grain on to farmers to feed cattle, chickens, pigs, and other livestock. Some are coming up with otherinnovative ways to use leftover grains, including making bread and composting. One brewery developed a biomass steam boiler that allows them to power brewery operations with spent grain. Conscientious vintners recycle pomace—spent grape seeds, pulp, and skins—in the winemaking process, compost it, or sell it to manufacturers of grape fruit oil, cream of tartar, or spirits. Many beer and wine companies have installed on-site wastewater treatment plants and/or reuse cardboard, pallets, and other packaging waste.

  • Farm sustainably

Beer and wine are agricultural products, so to make a sustainable beverage, the ingredients must be grown in ways that contribute to the health of ecosystems, wildlife, and workers. Unfortunately so far organic beer and wine have constituted a small share of the beverage industry. Brewers cite the expense and shortage of organic hops and barley. And wine consumers have equated organic with low quality. But that seems to be changing. According to a recent study, the organic beer and wine market is expected to grow at a rate of 24.5 percent from 2013 to 2019.

  • Source local ingredients

Wineries have a long history of growing grapes on site. Now a farm-to-pint movement is making waves in the craft beer industry. From Oregon to New York, local economies are springing up around craft beer with a new crop of farmers at the base. By localizing supply chains, beverage companies cut down on the transport of raw ingredients—a large portion of most companies’ carbon footprint. They can also more easily reuse resources that would leave the facility—including water and packaging—in the production process. For instance, they can use gray water to irrigate fields.

  • Reduce packaging

It doesn’t get much greener than a reusable jug, so it’s promising The Wall Street Journal called the warm months of 2013 “the summer of the growler.” Sure enough, grocery, drug, and discount stores in many cities now sport growler stations stocked with local craft beer. Wine growlers are cropping up in some states as well. Many breweries and wineries sell beverages in bottles, cans, or boxes for wider distribution. The mostsustainable of them use lightweight containers with high-recycled-materials content.

In 2011, University of California Davis opened a state-of-the-art center to research and share the best sustainability practices for breweries and wineries in the above areas. It will eventually house the country’s first self-sustaining winery, which will feature a rainwater collection system and will have a cutting-edge filtration and recirculation system as well as a system to sequester carbon dioxide. According to theuniversity, it will be the most “environmentally sophisticated complex of its kind in the world.” But what does stepping toward sustainability look like for companies already involved in the day-to-day business of beverage making?

Rogue Beer Innovators

“Beer begins in the dirt,” Oregon’s Rogue Ales states on its website. That’s why in 2008, when the brewery turned 21, its owners invested in hop yards in the fertile Willamette Valley and a barley farm in the rain shadow of Mount Hood. In addition, they grow rye, wheat, corn, pumpkins, hazelnuts, jalapenos, fruit, roses, and botanicals for their beverages, and raise honeybees, free-range chickens, turkeys, and pot-bellied pigs. They grow about 25 percent of the hops they use, and at least two of their ales contain all company-grown ingredients. They age their beverages in barrels they make from trees harvested from the Oregon Coast, and their bottles are made and screenprinted in state.

Rogue’s ambitious efforts to localize its supply chain stand out, but in the craft beer world, it’s not rogue to commit to sustainability. Breweries compete with each other to see who can be more eco-friendly, with larger companies such as California’s Sierra Nevada leading the movement. Sierra Nevada’s recycling and food composting programs help the company recycle 99.8 percent of waste, which earned the Platinum Zero Waste Certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. They built a brewery in North Carolina to minimize trucking as they expand distribution to the East Coast and continually work to maximize efficiency in their brewery operations. Several breweries, notably Eel River and Wolaver’s, use only certified-organic ingredients.

Leaping Toward Sustainable Wine

In the heart of California’s Napa Valley, Frog’s Leap Winery is a model of sustainable winemaking. In 2005, they installed 1,020 solar panels on a quarter acre of their vineyard, making the operation 100 percent solar powered and reducing their lifetime carbon emissions by an estimated 1,600 tons (equivalent to driving 4 million miles). Their building is LEED certified and outfitted with a geothermic warming and cooling system. They use composting and cover crops to grow their certified-organic grapes—not to mention zero water. Dry farming was common in Napa Valley until the 1970s when drip irrigation was introduced. Now 70 percent of vineyards rely on irrigation. But Frog’s Leap’s owner John Williams insists dry farming makes the plants healthier and the wine tastier. It also saves 10 million gallons of water every year.

California’s Fetzer Vineyards also stands out for its eco-friendly practices. They recycle 96 percent of their waste, get all of their power from renewable resources, and have reduced their carbon emissions by 25 percent since 2005. Frog’s Leap and Fetzer are just two on a long list of domestic wineries committed to improving practices. California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance says 1,800 wineries representing 70 percent of the state’s wine-grape acreage have participated in voluntary self-assessments, and the Alliance has certified 77 wineries and 212 vineyards to be “in a cycle of continuous improvement.”

How to Sip Sustainably

Climate change may pose the most serious threat to the alcoholic beverage industry, according to a number of recent reports. Napa Valley’s grape output is predicted to decline two thirds by 2050 because of temperature increases. Similar losses are projected in France and other prime winemaking regions, according to a 2013 forecast. University of Queensland researchers warn climate change is already affecting barley production abroad and could significantly affect the taste and price of beer worldwide.

The greatest climate impact from the wine supply chain comes from transportation and is primarily accumulated during the final product shipment to the customer. So when it comes to sipping sustainably, local is the way to go.

Beer drinkers will likely have no problem finding local suds. Craft breweries have exploded in the last two decades: The number of breweries jumped from 92 in 1980 to 2,822 in 2012. Many larger towns boast one or more. Wine drinkers may not be as fortunate, since 90 percent of domestic wines are made in California. But researcher Tyler Colman offers a handy way to pick a wine with a lower carbon footprint. He discovered agreen line that runs down the middle of Ohio. “For points to the West of that line, it is more carbon efficient to consume wine trucked from California,” he writes. “To the East of that line, it’s more efficient to consume the same sized bottle of wine from Bordeaux, which has benefited from the efficiencies of container shipping, followed by a shorter truck trip.”

How do you choose the most sustainable local beverage? Beware of greenwashing. Companies know even vague sustainability claims can boost sales. Critically peruse a website or take a tour to see what a company is actually doing. Independent eco-labels and eco-certification can help wine drinkers discover conscientious companies and may soon become more common in the craft beer world.

It’s always a good idea to choose the least packaging when possible. For beer, kegs or growlers are best, and cans may beat bottles. For wine, boxes are better than bottles, and magnums beat smaller bottles. Don’t forget to recycle those containers. And CEOs say consumer preference drives the trend toward more eco-friendly products, so let beer and wine companies know you’re thirsty for sustainable beverages.

How to Decipher Environmental Claims on a Wine Label

How to Decipher Environmental Claims on a Wine Label

Sulfite free – The wine contains no added sulfites, which are used to kill off unwanted wild yeast and bacteria. It may contain naturally occurring sulfites.

100% Organic – The USDA has certified that the viticulturist used no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides and did not add sulfites or chemical clarifiers.

Organic – The USDA has certified that the beverage contains 95 percent organic ingredients (with the rest unknown).

Made with organic ingredients – The USDA has certified that the ingredients were grown with no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides; however the winemaker may have added sulfites and chemical clarifiers.

BiodynamicDemeter, a private company, certified that the grapes were grown using organic methods and the vineyard meets other requirements aimed at making it a diversified, self-sustaining ecosystem. For instance, biodynamic farmers must use wildlife-friendly pest-control management and make their own fertilizer with resources generated on-site. They also use some more esoteric practices, like planning crops based on lunar cycles. Biodynamic wines are fermented with wild yeast, and may contain sulfites, but not synthetic clarifiers.

Made with Biodynamic grapes – The grapes were grown as above, but the winemaking production process was not certified.

Natural – The making of the wine supposedly required minimal human intervention. The term is unregulated.

Sip Sustainably Eco-labels and Eco-certifications

10 Must-Do Steps for Sustainable Homebrewing

10 Must-Do Steps for Sustainable Homebrewing

In the craft beer world, solar panels and ambitious recycling programs have become the norm. Microbreweries from Alaska to Colorado to Massachusetts strive to be sustainable, local, and organic. But there’s an even greener way to drink beer: Make handcrafted ales in the comfort of your own home.

The 1.2 million U.S. homebrewers have some advantages when it comes to sustainability. They brew smaller batches and thus use fewer resources. They almost universally use kegs or reuse bottles, and they have no need for distribution, which is one of the most resource-intensive parts of commercial brewing.

However, many homebrewers still have room for improvement on the sustainability front. Homebrewers tend to be less efficient and more likely to use malt extract and imported ingredients than craft brewers, according to the USDA. But that doesn’t have to be the case. An eco-minded homebrewer can take a number of measures to green their brewing operations.

Homebrewing's History

Never brewed? Check out one of these excellent manuals:

1. Transition to Grains

Beer consists of four primary ingredients: water, barley, hops, and yeast. Most homebrewers begin with kits containing tubs of malted barley extract (barley that’s been malted, mashed, and concentrated into a syrup). Malt kits are a great place to start but, as with all food preparation, using less-processed ingredients gives the brewer more control over the finished product and more ability to purchase sustainably grown, minimally packaged ingredients. Moreover, brewing with grains usually produces better tasting beer, and the better the beer, the more dedicated the homebrewer. Transitioning to grains is a great first step toward sustainability. When using a malt recipe, look for an extract that doesn’t contain additives (most commonly corn syrup).

2. Choose Sustainable Equipment

Go for stainless steel and glass equipment over plastic options, which degrade over time and have a limited lifespan. Even small abrasions or scratches on plastic buckets can harbor bacteria and spoil a batch of beer, so many brewers go through a lot of buckets. Be sure to recycle them when they’re no longer usable. Before buying equipment, check Craigslist and other used sites for gently used carboys, kettles, coolers, and chillers.

3. Go Local and Organic

Today homebrewers have the option to brew with ingredients grown all over the world. For sustainability purposes, domestic usually beats imported, and less packaging is always best.

How local can a homebrew be? It depends on the location. Most barley is grown in Montana, Washington, North Dakota, and Idaho. The Pacific Northwest is home to the majority of commercial hops production. But with new local economies sprouting up to keep pace with the craft beer industry, a hops or barley farm could be nearby. Ask at a local brew shop: Brew-shop employees tend to be friendly, helpful, and responsive to customer concerns. Support them and be sure to express your desire for sustainable ingredients.

Choosing organic ingredients supports healthier ecosystems and helps ensure pesticide residues don’t end up in beer. In one study, beer grown with conventionally grown ingredients had detectable levels of five pesticides, including significant levels of Imidacloprid, an insecticide used heavily on conventional hops. Imidacloprid was recently banned in Europe because it is a threat to honeybees and may be dangerous to the developing nervous systems of children.

Until recently, it was difficult to find organic hops because the USDA didn’t require craft brewers to use them to attain organic certification. The USDA changed its rules in 2013, and organic hops production has already increased exponentially. Sustainably grown options will hopefully be even more readily available in the future.

4. Grow Your Own

It doesn’t get more local or sustainable than a brewer’s backyard. For beer with a truly local flavor, consider growing some ingredients on your own. Gardening enables homebrewers to experiment with unusual ingredients. Growing your own is also a way to remind yourself that, at its heart, beer is an agricultural product. Hops, peppers, and mint are three easy crops to try.

· Hops

The cones of this woody vine give beer its slightly bitter, citrusy flavor, plus it’s relatively easy to grow (depending on the climate). Ideally, hops need six to eight hours of full sunshine a day. They grow in most soil conditions, but require fertilization and good drainage. They are heavy nitrogen feeders. A good support system is crucial, because vines grow more than 30 feet high and can weigh up to 20 pounds. A fence, trellis, or the side of a building works well to support the vines.

It takes a couple of years for hops to get established. They won’t produce many cones the first couple of years as they focus energy on their root system. After that, it’s important to keep them from taking over the garden: They wrap their spiky tendrils around everything in sight.

· Peppers

Green chiles, jalapenos, poblanos, and habaneros can add heat, flavor, or both to a pale ale, IPA, or stout. Many brewers add peppers to the secondary fermentation (like a dry hop) or make a pepper extract and add it just before bottling. Peppers are relatively easy to grow in a home garden, but they are sensitive to cold, so should be planted after the danger of frost has passed. They like plenty of direct sun and fertile, well-drained soil.

· Mint

Like hops, mint is easy to grow once it’s established. It tolerates poor drainage and varying amounts of watering, and it does well in partial sunshine. It’s best to contain mint, because it will happily take over an entire yard if allowed (which makes for aromatic mowing, but may not be desired). Once mint is harvested, it can be made into mint extract and added to the secondary fermentation. As with peppers, experiment with small batches: A little mint goes a long way.

Consider incorporating other garden crops into the home brew. Hopped beer is a relatively modern invention. Before that, brewers made gruit using herbs in place of hops, such as yarrow, marsh rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, aniseed, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Pumpkin and berries can also make tasty ale additions.

The most dedicated DIY homebrewers may want to grow barley. It’s relatively easy to grow, but harvesting and malting are labor-intensive.

5. Reuse spent grains

Once the beer is brewed, a homebrewer has pounds of spent grains. Don’t throw it away! It has all sorts of uses. Add spent grains to garden soil or a compost pile. Feed it to chickens. Or, even better, use it in a bread recipe (like this whole grain version) or to whip up a delicious spent-grain treat invented by the geniuses at the Brooklyn Brew Shop. Try their Spent Grain Peanut Butter Cookies, Spent Grain Brownies, or Spent Grain Waffles.

Homebrewing Popularity

6. Reuse yeast

Rather than purchase new yeast each time, a brewer can reuse the same yeast five to ten times. After the first fermentation, save the yeast that settles on the bottom of the bucket or carboy, wash it, store it, and use it within a few weeks for the next batch. (This practice encourages back-to-back homebrew batches. Since homebrewing is more sustainable, it’s important to keep the inventory stocked.) If stored yeast sits longer than a few months, make a yeast starter to make sure it’s still viable.

7. Chill More Efficiently

Chilling the wort from 160 to 80 degrees is often the most wasteful process in homebrewing. Some brewers put the boiling pot of wort in the sink and run cold water to cool it down, which flushes gallons of clean water down the drain. It’s better to do an ice bath. Or fill recycled soda bottles with water, freeze, and use in place of ice. Afterward, return them to the freezer and reuse.

Try this handy trick when brewing malt kits. Purchase a reusable one-gallon food storage container. Fill it with water and freeze it. Then during the cool down, add the frozen block of ice to the wort in place of a gallon of water. It will help cool the wort quickly. Be careful to lower the ice gently to avoid splashing hot wort.

Immersion wort chillers are popular, because they cool rapidly, but they waste a lot of water. Blogger Chris Jensen devised a way to use his without wasting water. He connects it to an aquarium pump and circulates the water through an ice-filled cooler and back into the chiller. Jensen says he’s cut his water waste by three quarters using this method.

8. Reuse water

No matter the chilling method, there is some wasted water. Water conservation is important, because it takes a lot of energy to treat and deliver. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “letting your faucet run for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt lightbulb run for 22 hours.” Moreover, the EPA says, “With the U.S. population doubling over the past 50 years, our thirst for water tripling, and at least 36 states facing water shortages by 2013, the need to conserve water is becoming more and more critical.” Don’t flush clean water from the brewing process down the drain. Use it on the garden or house plants, or in the washing machine.

9. Downsize Container Waste

Most homebrewers reuse bottles, which is more sustainable than throwing store-bought containers in the recycle bin. To cut down on even more waste, use swing-top bottles. A kegging system eliminates packaging altogether. (However, kegging requires the energy and expense of running a small fridge, so homebrewers should take that into account when deciding which is more sustainable.)

10. Green the Clean

All equipment used in brewing must be clean and free from soap residue, and all equipment used after the boil must be sanitized. When possible, choose biodegradable, environmentally-friendly cleansers andsanitizers. Seven Bridges Cooperative, an online supplier of organic brewing ingredients, recommends using 5-Star PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) or Straight-A to clean and Iodophor to sanitize. Use a refillable spray bottle to save water.

By adopting the above measures, homebrewers can be confident they are good stewards of the environment while making the delicious beverages they love. In the words of Charles Papazian, all that’s left to do is, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.”

Sustainable Homebrewing

If this article has you interested in brewing sustainably, check out these custom bar ideas.—http://www.custommade.com/gallery/custom-bars/

Vertical Gardening

Vertical Gardening

Save Space by Growing Up

Want to multiply the number of plants you can grow in a garden or on a patio or deck? Grow up! Vertical gardening, a technique to cultivate plants up surfaces or supports, is the perfect way to squeeze lots of plants into a small space. Growing up, rather than out, offers countless other benefits beyond higher plant yields.

Vertical Veggies

Vegetable gardeners have plenty to gain by adding vertical supports to the garden, including:

  • Higher plant yields
  • More plant diversity in less space
  • Less weeding
  • Less bending and squatting
  • Easier tending and harvesting
  • Plants have better air circulation and access to sunlight, which means fewer diseases and pests
  • Better access for pollinators
  • Less need for expensive soil and amendments
  • Visual intrigue and the ability to hide unsightly views

Some edibles work better in a vertical garden than others. Look for vining plants instead of bush types. The following are excellent choices:

  • Pole beans
  • Peas
  • Hops
  • Cucumbers
  • Vining summer squash or gourds
  • Grapes
  • Nasturtiums
  • Tomatoes: Choose vining varieties, such as Early Girl or Brandywine for trellises. Bush varieties, such as Roma, work best in cages.
  • Small melons

With a plan, careful pruning, and some patience, fruit trees can be trained to grow up a flat surface or support, a process called espaliering. Common choices include pear, apple, peach, fig, and pomegranate trees. A horizontal espalier pattern works well for fruit trees. Mature forms can produce 30 to 60 pounds of fruit per season.

The ABCs of Garden Supports

Garden supports can be purchased at any garden supply shop. DIY enthusiasts can fashion them out of reclaimed materials such as bamboo, baling twine, untreated wood, netting, fencing, gates, chicken wire, a discarded bed frame, or a ladder.

Lean on Me

Nature offers additional support systems for vining plants. For instance, Native Americans used corn stalks as a sturdy, living support system for beans. To imitate their famous Three Sisters Garden:

  • Pile soil into four-foot wide mounds (do this after the last frost).
  • Sow six kernels of corn one inch deep and about 10 inches apart in a circle.
  • When the corn is five inches tall, plant four bean seeds, evenly spaced, around each stalk. The bean vines naturally coil around the corn without harming the corn plants.
  • A week later, plant six squash seeds, evenly spaced, around the mound. The squash plants not only produce nutritious food; they also suppress weed growth. Another method is to alternate mounds of squash with mounds of beans and corn.

Similarly, sunflowers can serve as sturdy supports for cucumbers. To grow these companion plants together,plant cucumbers around sunflowers when the flowers are about 12 inches tall.

Containing the Vertical Garden

A garden plot isn’t necessary to tap into the space-saving benefits of vertical gardening. With a little creativity, nearly any container with drainage holes can be adapted into a vertical garden. These five container gardens are sure to add intrigue to a balcony, patio, wall, or fence and produce vegetables, herbs, or flowers despite tight quarters.

Pallet Herb Garden

Pallet Herb Garden


  • Reclaimed wood pallet in good condition
  • Small roll of landscape fabric
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Staple gun
  • Staples
  • Sandpaper
  • Two large bags of potting soil
  • Herb plants or seeds

How to construct a pallet garden:

  1. Find a pallet. Ask at grocery stores, home improvement stores, and local recycling centers. Make sure the pallet is marked HT, indicating it was heat-treated without chemicals. (If a heat-treated pallet isn’t available, it’s best to grow ornamentals, such as flowers or succulents, instead of edibles.)
  2. Sand the pallet and pull any loose nails. Wash with soapy water and let dry.
  3. Lay the pallet face down and cover the back and bottom with two layers of landscape fabric. Pull the fabric taut and secure with a staple every two inches on the wooden surface.
  4. Turn the pallet over and fill it with potting soil. It will be heavy, so it’s best to fill it near its permanent location.
  5. Plant a variety of herb starts or seeds. Pack the soil tightly around them.
  6. Leave the pallet flat for several weeks to let plants settle. Water daily.
  7. Get help to lift the pallet, and lean it against the side of a building or fence.
  8. Water daily in hot weather and fertilize regularly.
  9. Enjoy fresh herbs!

Rain Gutter Garden

Rain Gutter Garden


  • Metal gutters
  • Gutter caps
  • Gutter hangers
  • Metal cutters
  • Drill
  • Potting soil
  • Starts or seeds

How to construct a gutter garden:

  1. Buy new gutters or reclaim old ones. (Look on Craigslist, Freecycle, or a local recycling yard.) The quantity and dimensions will vary to suit the fence or building on which they will be mounted.
  2. Wash gutters with soapy water.
  3. Decide how you will arrange the gutters. Try three or four rows and experiment with designs.
  4. Use metal cutters to cut the gutters if necessary and glue on endcaps.
  5. Drill drainage holes every three inches on the bottom of the gutters.
  6. Attach gutters to the fence or wall with gutter hangers.
  7. Fill gutters with potting soil.
  8. Plant starts or seeds. Lettuce, salad mix, greens, or strawberries are good choices.
  9. Water daily in hot weather and fertilize regularly.

Shoe Rack Garden

Shoe Rack Garden


  • Canvas or fabric shoe rack
  • Hangers
  • Screws
  • Screwdriver
  • Potting soil
  • Seeds or starts

How to construct a shoe rack garden:

  1. Buy or reclaim a canvas or fabric shoe rack.
  2. Hang it on a wall or fence.
  3. Plant herbs, strawberries, greens, or ornamentals. Pack potting soil tightly in the pockets.

* You could also try a wooden wine rack or spice rack in the same way.

Tin Can Garden

Tin Can Garden


  • 10 to 12 recycled tin cans
  • Marker
  • Tape measure
  • Screws
  • Electric screwdriver
  • Potting soil
  • Seeds or starts

How to construct a tin can garden:

  1. Decide where to put the garden and how to arrange the cans. Use the tape measure and marker to mark where each can will go.
  2. Wash the cans and remove any labels.
  3. Punch three drainage holes in the bottom of each can with a nail and hammer.
  4. Hang the cans on the fence or wall with screws.
  5. Add potting soil and plant seeds or starts. Herbs or flowers are good options.
  6. Water daily in hot weather and fertilize regularly.
  7. The cans will rust eventually, so plan to replace the garden each season.

* You can also try rain boots, recycled plastic bottles, terra cotta pots (hung with special hangers), and wooden planters in the same way.

Living Wall

Living Wall Garden

Even with no growing space, gardeners can take advantage of vertical gardening by transforming a wall into a living wall. Living walls absorb heat, reduce noise, improve air quality, and can rival beautiful works of art. When installed outdoors, they also create habitat for birds, insects, and butterflies.


  • Vertical garden panels
  • Seeds or starts
  • Potting soil
  • Tools for installation (varies by type of panel)

How to construct a living wall garden:

  1. Choose and purchase the type of panel desired. Several manufacturers make trays of slanted slots that can fit together to make large installations. Some have moisture mats or irrigation systems that help distribute water evenly, some come with mounting brackets, and some are meant for outdoor installation only. They range considerably in price and size so research carefully to find the right panels for the project. They make building, installing, and caring for a living wall a cinch.
  2. Plant starts in each slot and pack potting soil tightly around them. Edibles with small roots, such as greens, lettuce, and strawberries, grow well on living walls. Just be sure to look for panels made of food-safe materials.
  3. Lay the panel flat for several weeks to help the plants get established.
  4. Hang the panel on a wall that is in the sunlight for most of the day. Make sure the planter is mounted on brackets to sit away from the wall or that the wall is protected from moisture.
  5. Water daily in hot weather and fertilize regularly.


With some creativity, gardeners can devise any number of other unusual, beautiful vertical gardens. No matter which garden you construct, you’re sure to benefit from growing upward.

Raising Chickens VS. Ducks

Raising Chickens and Ducks With Old-Style Ingenuity and DIY Hacks

Raising Chickens and Ducks With Ingenuity and DIY Hacks

We’ve only recently become separated from our food sources. Until a few generations ago millions of people lived on farms. Millions more grew vegetables and raised an animal or two in city lots. Those who didn’t were still connected to what they consumed. They had to be: There were few choices other than milk, eggs, meat, and produce

Now we’re learning what our great-grandparents knew to be true: Growing food locally helps communities directly maintain autonomy, cultural integrity, and environmental stewardship.

An important step is bringing back neighborhood livestock. There are logistical and legal issues to solve such as zoning restrictions, nuisance laws, and noise ordinances. But it’s time to re-envision our neighborhoods as including more than our human neighbors. Here are a few helpful tips and convincing reasons to raise the least complicated livestock: chicken and ducks.

Chickens vs. Ducks: Which Is Best for You?

Raising backyard chickens and ducks is increasingly common. More and more urban areas are making it legal to raise backyard poultry, including Chicago, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Ft. Collins, and South Portland, Maine. It’s downright meditative to sit out back and watch chickens peck and cluck and amusing to watch the antics of ducks. These may be reason enough to add them to your life. But there’s nothing like harvesting fresh eggs. But before you take on a flock of your own, make sure to check city ordinances.

Chickens vs. Ducks: Which Is Better For You?

It's All In The Egg: Benefits of Backyard Eggs

Backyard Chicken and Duck Hacks

Coop Hacks

Use repurposed parts

There are two standard options for housing chickens. One is a stationary coop. The other is a moveable coop, commonly called a chicken tractor, which can be situated in different places around the yard. Both types have roosts (necessary for chickens, but not ducks) and nesting boxes, and most have a fenced-in pen attached. Stationary and moveable coops can be made from repurposed partssuch as old sheds, cable spools, and doghouses.

Set up a temporary pen     

If your birds aren’t able to range freely in your yard you may want to set up a temporary pen as well. Such pens are great to move into garden areas before you plant and after you’ve harvested so your poultry can enjoy eating insects and plant waste while aerating the soil as they scratch. A temporary pen is also a good way to let them do the weeding for you in hard-to-weed areas. And giving them access to different parts of the yard keeps them from denuding your grass.

One approach to temporary pens is to make poultry tunnels. To create the tunnels, loop chicken wire or hardware cloth into tunnels temporarily staked into the ground.

There’s no limit to how cheaply you can make chicken and duck pens. You can use cable ties to surround an old plastic patio table with chicken wire for a lightweight, shaded, easily moveablegrazing pen. An equally ingenious and much larger moveable pen can be made from a trampoline frame.

Use a plastic baby pool

Ducks can be raised without a pond but need a reasonably large container of water so they can dip their heads in to take a drink and rinse their eyes. They also need to splash water across their backs to activate an oil gland that waterproofs their feathers. They prefer a container with enough room to climb in and paddle around a bit. Fill a plastic baby pool or low washtub, and rinse regularly to keep it clean.

Feeding Hacks

Set up grazing frames

When you have limited space, another way to give chickens access to fresh forage is to set up grazing frames. (Ducks may enjoy them too.) These are basically boxed gardens for your poultry. You simply grow grass, lettuces, herbs, or other plants. Then cover the grazing frame with chicken wire, weighted or tied down at the sides so the chickens can eat the tops of the plants but can’t reach the soil to uproot them. (Read My Chicken Scratch shows how to build a simple covered frame.) Remember, you can use almost anything that can hold soil and be covered with wire or netting. You can even repurpose a child’s sandbox or wheel rims.

Make a DIY waterer

To cut down on starting costs, put together as much as you can without resorting to pricey accouterments. Instead of buying a waterer, consider making one. You can make a waterer from aglass canning jar and a glass dish, a nifty rail-mounted automatic waterer, or a mess free waterer from PVC pipe and a bucket that fills outside the fence.

Keep in mind that most chicken waterers cannot be used with ducks because duck bills don’t fit into the small spaces chicken beaks can. For ducks, you can modify a five-gallon poultry waterer or set up a reservoir with a float valve to help keep the water clean.

Create a DIY chicken feeder

Instead of buying a feeder, build a feeder out of PVC piping, wood, or a 5-gallon pail. Remember, ducks need a wider opening to reach their food.

Feed on the cheap

There are all sorts of ways to feed your chickens and ducks frugally. Consider allowing them to scratch in the compost pile and keep a vermicomposter in order to add more high-protein worms to their diets. You can also sprout grains, which will turn one pound of barley seeds into 4.3 pounds of fodder in one week. Fresh Eggs Daily offers all sorts of ideas for a more varied poultry diet, plus a list of safe and unsafe foods.

Ducks use their beaks as shovels to get at weeds and insects, but they don’t scratch at the ground as chickens do. That means they do less damage to grass and gardens. Ducks eagerly feast on slugs, snails, and other pests while leaving most garden plants alone (except for lettuces and berries), although their large feet can flatten plants. You can keep the cost of feed down by making sure your ducks have space to forage. They’ll happily dine on insects and weeds, thereby eating less of the commercially prepared duck layer or breeder feed you provide. To supply both chickens and ducks with extra bugs, whip up a DIY solar bug trap.

You can also offer all sorts of kitchen and garden scraps to your ducks, although it’s best to avoid bread, crackers, popcorn, and similar foods. Backyard Chickens offers an extensive list of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and proteins that are good for ducks as well as a list of foods to avoid. While chickens can peck at foods of all sizes, keep in mind that ducks swallow their foods whole, so whatever you share with them should be in small pieces to prevent choking or blocking their digestive tracts.


As we begin to grow more food locally, we are reclaiming the best of old traditions while at the same time incorporating the newest ideas. If you have the time to commit to a backyard coop and flock, consider adding some chickens or ducks for fresh eggs, companionship, and a closer connection to one of your food sources.

If this article has you thinking about raising chickens or ducks on your property, you may be interested in one of these outdoor gardeng gates.

— http://www.custommade.com/gallery/custom-gates-fences-railings/

19 Foods You Can Regrow From Scraps

Want to take your commitment to local foods to the next level? Look no further than your own trashcan or compost bin. While many people think of food scraps—such as carrot tops, onion bottoms, and the tips of romaine hearts or pineapples—as waste (or future fertilizer), these items can be enjoyed all over again. Reduce waste, save money, and build self-sufficiency with this handy guide to growing real food from scraps.



Don’t throw away your avocado pits. Use them to grow an avocado tree. Not every pit will produce roots, so your best bet is to try two or three pits at once. Start by cleaning off the pit, removing any remains by rinsing it under cold water and then toweling it dry. Push four toothpicks into the pit, evenly spaced apart. Use the toothpicks to balance the pit over the top of a glass jar (feel free to salvage a wide-mouthed jar from the recycling bin), making sure the pit is pointy side up. Fill the dish or jar with water, enough that about half of the pit is submerged. Place the dish/jar in a sunlit area and change the water every day or so. After approximately three to six weeks, the top of the pit will begin to split open. Several weeks after that, a stem, leaves, and roots will begin to grow.

A few weeks after this growth occurs, you should see leaves. Be patient. In approximately three months, when your tree is around 7 to 8 inches tall, plant it in a 10-inch pot with adequate drainage. Fill the pot with soil, and press your avocado sapling into it, root-side down (so the top half of the pit remains uncovered). Keep the sapling in a sunny area and water it regularly.

(Instructions via The Hungry Mouse)



Liven up pastas dishes, sauces, and pizzas, all for the price of one basil plant. Select several 4-inch stems from a bunch of basil. Then strip all leaves from about 75 percent of each stem with a sharp knife. Put the stems in a jar of water and place in a sunny (but not too hot) location. Change the water every other day. You’ll soon notice new roots form along the stems.

When the roots grow to about 2 inches in length, plant the individual stems in a 4-inch pot. Keep the pot in an area that gets at least six hours of sunshine each day, and water regularly. Harvest when the plants are full grown, but do not to remove all the leaves at one time.

(Instructions via The Urban Gardener)

Bok Choy

Bok Choy

Cut off the base of a bok choy plant and place it in a bowl bottom-down. Add a small amount of water in the bowl. Cover the whole base with water, but do not add more than 1/4 inch above the base. Replace water every few days. In about one week, you should see regrowth around the center of the base.

Once you see regrowth, transfer the plant to a container or garden. Cover everything except the new growth with soil. Your bok choy should be full grown and ready to harvest in approximately five months.

(Instructions via My Heart Beets)



Grow your very own cabbage patch for cheap. Place leftover leaves in a bowl and add a small amount of water in the bottom. Set the bowl in an area that receives a lot of sunlight. Every couple of days, replace the water and mist the leaves with water.

When roots and new leaves begin to appear, transplant the cabbage into a garden. Harvest when fully grown, then repeat with the new leaves.

(Instructions via DIY & Crafts)

Carrot Greens

Carrot Greens

Instead of defaulting to the compost, use carrot tops to grow healthy carrot greens. Place a carrot top or tops in a bowl, cut side down. Fill the bowl with about an inch of water so the top is halfway covered. Place the dish in a sunny windowsill and change the water every day.

The tops will eventually sprout shoots. When they do, plant the tops in soil, careful not to cover the shoots. Harvest the greens to taste. (Some people prefer the baby greens; others prefer them fully grown.)

(Instructions via Gardening Know-How)



Rinse off the base of a bunch of celery and place it in a small bowl or similar container (any wide-mouthed, glass, or ceramic container should do). Fill the container with warm water, cut stalks facing upright. Place the bowl in a sunny area. Leave the base as-is for about one week and change the water every other day. Use a spray bottle to gently mist the plant every other day. The tiny yellow leaves around the center of the base will grow thicker and turn dark green.

After five to seven days, move the celery base to a planter or garden and cover it with soil, leaving the leaf tips uncovered. Keep the plant well watered. You’ll soon notice celery leaves regenerate from the base, as well as a few small stalks. Harvest when fully grown, then repeat the process.

(Instructions via 17 Apart)



Just like basil, cilantro can regrow roots, and grow new plants once replanted. Simply place cilantro stems in a bowl of water, put the bowl in a sunny area, and change the water every other day.

Once the stems sprout plenty of roots, plant them in a pot. Expect new shoots to come up in a few weeks. In a few months, you’ll have a full-grown plant. Harvest leaves as needed, but be sure not to strip a stem of all its leaves at one time.

(Instructions via Food Hacks)

Garlic Sprouts

Garlic Sprouts

While you may not be able to grow garlic bulbs, you can grow garlic sprouts—also known as garlic greens—from a clove or bulb. Place a budding clove (or even a whole bulb) in a small cup, bowl, or jar. Add water until it covers the bottom of the container and touches the bottom of the cloves. Be careful not to submerge the cloves in order to avoid rot. Change the water every other day and place in a sunny area.

After a few days, the clove or bulb will start to produce roots. Sprouts may grow as long as 10 inches, but snip off the greens once they’re around 3 inches tall. Just be sure not to remove more than one-third of each sprout at one time. They’re tasty on top of baked potatoes, salads, in dips, or as a simple garnish.

(Instructions via Simple Daily Recipes)



Fresh ginger is great to spruce up soups or stir fries, but it can also be pricey. Have your ginger and grow it too from an existing rhizome. Just pull off a piece of ginger from a fresh chunk and place it in potting soil with the smallest buds facing down. Plant ginger in a garden plot or planter that receives only indirect sunlight. The ginger will grow new shoots and roots.

When it’s ready to harvest, pull up the entire plant, including the roots. Remove a piece of the rhizome and re-plant again to continue reaping the rewards.

(Instructions via Wake Up World)

Green Onions, Leeks, and Scallions

Green Onions, Leeks, and Scalions

Instead of tossing the green part of these veggies, use them to grow more. Place the greens in a cup or recycled jar filled with water. Put the cup or jar on a windowsill and change the water every other day. In about a week you should have a new green onion, leek, and/or scallion to add to your supper.Harvest when fullygrown—just make sure to leave the roots in the water.

(Instructions via Living Green Magazine)

Hot Peppers

Hot Peppers

Harvest the seeds from your favorite spicy peppers and plant them in soil in a sunny area. Peppers tend to grow fast, so get your pickling materials ready. Once you have a new crop, save the seeds so you can repeat the process.

(Instructions via Living Green Magazine)



A frequent component of Thai dishes, lemongrass is a great addition to marinades, stir fries, spice rubs, and curry pastes. To grow your own from scraps, cut off the tops of a bunch of lemongrass and place the stalks in water. Change the water every few days. In approximately two or three weeks, you should see new roots.

When the stems have developed strong root growth, plant the stalks in a pot or garden (preferably in an area that receives lots of sun). Because lemongrass needs to stay warm year round, plant the stalks in a container that can be moved inside during the winter months. Harvest lemongrass once it reachesone foot in height; just cut off the amount you need, being careful not to uproot the plant.

(Instructions via Suited to the Seasons)



Be a fungi (or gal) and grow your own mushrooms from scraps. Start by removing the mushroom’s cap; you only need the stalk. Plant the stalks in soil and cover everything except for the very top of the stalks. Harvest your mushrooms when fully grown.

(Instructions via My Heart Beets)



Here’s another simple one. Just place an onion bottom in the ground and it will regenerate its roots. Once roots appear, remove the old onion bottom and allow the roots to grow. Harvest when onions are fully grown.

(Instructions via Lifehacker)



Here’s one for people who aren’t afraid of a long-term commitment. While it can take up to two years for a re-planted pineapple top to bear fruit, the satisfaction of growing your own pineapple is well worth the wait.

Choose a pineapple with green, fresh leaves. Remove the top of the pineapple, ideally by twisting it off (doing so will preserve the parts needed for regrowth). Peel back any leaves around the base so the bottom layers are exposed. Finally, cut off just the tip of the base, being sure to remove any excess fruit.

Next, poke three or four toothpicks into the pineapple base right above the area where you peeled back the leaves. Use the toothpicks to suspend the pineapple top over a glass container. Add enough water to the container to cover the base of the pineapple top. Leave the whole contraption in a sunny area, change the water every few days, and watch for roots to grow.

In about a week, roots should begin to form and the green leaves should be longer and wider. When the roots fully form, plant the pineapple top in a planter (or outdoors if you live in a warm climate). Make sure it is exposed to plenty of sunlight, and water it regularly. Expect a new pineapple grow in a few months.

(Instructions via 17 Apart)



To grow your own potatoes from scraps, cut the potato(s) into two pieces, making sure each half has at least one to two eyes. Let the pieces sit at room temperature overnight or for a few days until they’re dry to the touch. Once the potato halves are dry, plant them about one foot apart in 8 inches of soil. When they’re fully grown, potatoes can be harvested for several months—even after the plants die.

(Instructions via Cooking Stoned)



Plant pumpkin seeds in a garden, spreading out the seeds in a sunny area before covering with soil. Don’t feel like harvesting the seeds? Just plant the entire pumpkin by filling it with soil and burying it in a garden. Harvest pumpkins when fully grown, then repeat the process with the new seeds.

(Instructions via DIY & Crafts)

Romaine Lettuce

Romaine Lettuce

When you chop up hearts of romaine, set aside a few inches from the bottom of the heart. Place in a bowl with about a ½ inch of water. Keep the bowl in a sunny area and change the water every day.

In a few days, you’ll start to notice sprouts. Plant the sprouted hearts directly in the garden. If you like the taste of baby greens, you can pinch off outer leaves as the lettuce grows. Otherwise, harvest romaine when it’s around 6 to 8 inches tall. If you want to continue growing lettuce, cut the romaine heads off right above the soil line with a sharp knife, leaving the base and root system intact. Otherwise, uproot the whole plant.

(Instructions via Lifehacker)



Instead of composting the messy insides of tomatoes, save the seeds and plant them. Rinse the seeds off and allow them to dry thoroughly. Next, plant them in rich potting soil in an indoor planter. Once the sprouts are a few inches tall, transplant them outdoors. Be sure to plant the tomatoes in a sunny area and water a few times a week.

(Instructions via DIY & Crafts)

One person’s trash isn’t necessarily just another’s treasure. In the case of food scraps, it can be the gift of life.

If this article has you interested in regrowing your food scrapes, check out these custom potted plant stands. — http://www.custommade.com/gallery/custom-plant-stands/

Full Infographic

The Aquaponics Solution

Vertical hydroponics systems at Victus Farms.

In Brief 

Our current industrial food system is unsustainable. Demand for food continues to grow while soil erosion, groundwater depletion and climate change are constricting supply. In addition, intensive use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, water, fossil fuels, and genetic engineering are eroding human, community, and environmental health. The rise of local, sustainable food systems present solutions to many of these problems, but these approaches are unable to consistently provide quality food on an annual basis. Aquaponics holds the promise of solving this fundamental problem of local food systems, and does so while requiring far less land, water, fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels, and genetic engineering. This article reports on a novel, sustainable, and economically viable model for aquaponic food production year-round, even in locations with harsh winter climates.

Key Concepts

  • Our current industrial food system is environmentally and socially unsustainable.
  • The rise of local, sustainable food systems presents solutions to many of these environmental and social problems, but most are unable to provide consistent supply on an annual basis.
  • Aquaponics holds the promise of solving this fundamental annual supply problem while requiring far less land, water, energy, fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide inputs than conventional farming.
  • Victus Farms is a large aquaponic facility designed to serve as a research, educational, and proof of concept system that has been operational for two years.
  • Wicked Fin Aquatic Farms has emerged from lessons learned with Victus Farms. It was designed to serve as a small, inexpensive, efficient, and economically viable model of aquaponic production to be duplicated around the world in an effort to strengthen local and sustainable food systems. This replication has already begun.

Global food production is having a hard time keeping up with demand, and trends suggest that it is only going to get more difficult.1 Global demand for food is growing as human and grazing animal populations increase, as more people are changing their diets to include more meat, and as more crops are used for biofuel production. On the other hand, it is getting more difficult to continuously increase annual agricultural yields as the downward pressure of soil erosion/degradation, aquifer depletion, and irrigation water supply complications due to melting glaciers begin to outpace technological advances in agricultural production.2 Many new problems have arisen as producers try to meet these challenging trends by squeezing ever more production from remaining agricultural lands.

The majority of our food and animal feed now comes from large-scale industrial crop production using a mono-cropping approach. This involves growing a single crop over a large area of land. This method became widespread in most industrialized countries in the 1940s and 1950s, at the expense of the small family farm, as farming became more commodity- and less subsistence-based. This approach increases mechanization, and demands the use of fossil fuels, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, irrigation water, and genetic engineering. All of these factors decrease the need for human labor, and ultimately reduce crop prices. While proponents of industrial agriculture claim to have modernized and streamlined the production of food in the United States, such evolution has been at the expense of environmental, human, and community health.3

Industrial farming practices have generated numerous environmental impacts including soil erosion and degradation, water pollution, air pollution, and biodiversity loss. These environmental impacts have led to numerous human health problems, including the ingestion of pesticides, herbicides and hormones, increased allergens and antibiotics-resistant bacteria, infectious disease incubation and dispersal, and a wide range of respiratory problems from exposure to air pollutants (including particulates, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia). Finally, industrial farms typically import most necessary inputs and export products, leading to local economic stagnation. Surrounding property values also decline significantly as the result of odor, pollution, and their associated human health problems. When these local economies degrade, their community infrastructure (schools, parks, etc.) soon deteriorates as well. In this vicious cycle, environmental and human health problems work together to degrade the communities surrounding these large-scale farming operations.4

More sustainable food production techniques offer many solutions to the problems of industrial farming outlined above, but have difficulty generating reliable, adequate production (amount and variety) for a given region over the course of an entire calendar year. This is where the aquaponic solution enters the equation. Aquaponics offers the potential to reliably generate large quantities and varieties of food from very small urban spaces, in any season. If aquaponic food production methods can be made environmentally sustainable and economically viable, this approach could be used in combination with more typical sustainable farming methods to bring us far closer to a more competitive local food system. There are currently many groups in the Midwestern United States attempting to do just that.5



Victus Farms. Four 7,500-gallon troughs support the hydroponic growth of basil, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce as well as algae and duckweed at Victus Farms.

Aquaponics refers to the combined production of fish and plants in what is known as recirculating aquaculture.6 Nutrient-rich wastewater from fish supports plant growth, while plants clean the water so that it can be safely returned to the fish. The concept has grown increasingly popular in the last few decades, and aquaponics is now regarded by many as the future of food production. It holds the promise of becoming an economically viable way to consistently grow sustainable, local, and organic food.

Modern aquaponics dates back to early work at the New Alchemy Institute and three key university projects. The first physical project undertaken by the New Alchemy Institute was a geodesic dome greenhouse that contained fish and plants growing synergistically. William McLarney published a series of articles and, ultimately, a book documenting this pioneering work from 1974-1984.7,8,9,10 Mark McMurtry and Doug Sanders from North Carolina State University began their aquaponics system in the mid-1980s. Their system contained tilapia along with tomatoes and cucumbers growing in a sandy medium which doubles as a reciprocating bio-filter. They have used this system to demonstrate sand culturing of plants on fish wastewater,11 water use efficiency, and the economic improvements of combined fish and plant operations versus either in isolation.12,13 Also in the mid-1980s, Dr. James Rakocy developed a modified aquaponic system at the University of the Virgin Islands. Dr. Rakocy added rotating mechanical bio-filters between the fish tanks and the plant growth troughs to replace the sand medium, and developed the first raft aquaponic system. Raft aquaponics refers to growing plants on floating rafts with roots extending into the water below. Dr. Rakocy has made numerous contributions (fish feed, key scaling metrics, nutrient dynamics, pest/disease control, solids removal, and bio-filtration) to auquaponic knowledge over the past two decades.14,15,16

Dr. Nick Savidov, at the University of Alberta’s Crop Diversification Center in Brooks Alberta, started an aquaponic system in the mid-1990s modeled after Dr. Rakocy’s, but modified for cold-climate applications. Savidov developed a method for recycling all solids in-situ, eliminating the difficulties of sediment removal and disposal, and regenerating more internal nutrient to support plant growth. Savidov also demonstrated that plants grew better on fish wastewater than on conventional hydroponic nutrient solutions, and continues to this day in his search for the ‘missing ingredient.’17 Researchers for the University of Minnesota, Duluth visited Dr. Savidov and his system in the summer of 2011, and designed Victus farms using his as a model.18

In addition, numerous private aquaponic ventures have recently emerged. A few major examples from the Midwestern US include Future Farms, which was started by Steve Meyer, Chad Hebert and John Vrieze in Baldwin, Wisconson.19 As dairy farmers, the three have slowly developed a large and profitable working raft aquaponic system fueled by methane from the farm’s animal waste. More recently, they have begun to make the transition away from aquaponics in favor of hydroponic methods. Garden Fresh Farms was created by Dave and Bryan Roesers in Maplewood, Minnesota.20 The operation is located in an old warehouse, and is totally dependent on artificial light. They have been experimenting with alternative plant growth techniques such as vertical walls and drums rotating around a single tube of light.

Nelson and Pade, Inc. was founded by Rebecca Nelson and John Pade in Motello, Wisconson.21 They have a working aquaponic system and design and sell aquaponic production systems and system components around the world. They also do a great deal of educational training and coordinate an online aquaponics journal.


Victus Farms. The fish tanks at Victus Farms.

Growing Power was founded by Will Allen in Milwaukee, Wisconson.22 Growing Power’s mission is to inspire communities to build sustainable food systems by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach, and technical assistance. Finally, Urban Organics, founded by Dave Haider and Fred Haberman in 2013, is located in an old brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota.23 This operation uses a closed loop, recirculating agriculture system to produce a variety of produce exclusively indoors. Each of these operations has an established track record and all have become major contributors to advancing aquaponics.

Version 1.0: Victus Farms

The University of Minnesota, Duluth’s new aquaponic system located in Silver Bay, Minnesota was modeled after the systems described above, but has several key distinctions.24

The first is the attempt to integrate algae and duckweed into the conventional fish/plant symbiotic relationship. The algae hold the promise of introducing a bio-fuel revenue stream while also serving as a source of valuable oxygen and high protein fish feed. The inclusion of duckweed significantly reduces the need (and thus costs) for external fish feed. Our system is also approximately four times larger, allowing it to better serve as a research, training, and proof of concept facility.

The farm has received over USD $1.7 million in funds to date for project feasibility, design, construction, research, and early operations. The aquaponic production system is housed in a 9,000-square-foot facility. One third of this space contains a well-insulated building to house the fish tanks and filtration equipment, along with a lab, bathroom, utility room, and processing area. The other 6,000 square feet are devoted to an attached greenhouse. The fish are grown in nine 2,000-gallon tanks at high density (up to .5 lbs/gallon). The fish tank water requires constant treatment (60 minute residence time) to prevent oxygen depletion and ammonia toxicity. The fish wastewater flows through four 7,500-gallon troughs to support the hydroponic growth of basil, tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce as well as algae and duckweed.

Together, the plants, algae, and duckweed remove nutrients and add oxygen to the water before it is returned to the fish to complete the cycle. Currently, algae are harvested on only a very small experimental scale, and used to explore various methods of algal harvest, oil separation, and biodiesel production, as well as their use as a potential direct food source for the fish. Duckweed is also grown and harvested on a very small scale to explore its use as a potential feed source for the fish. Suspended sediments resulting from undigested food and fish feces are re-mineralized within the system. This integrated production system contains approximately 30,000 gallons of water.

Victus Farms has three primary project outcomes. The first is to demonstrate a local, job-creating, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable method for producing healthy food and clean bio-fuel. The second is to develop and deliver a range of educational opportunities for a wide variety of potential learners. Educational efforts at the technical college and university level will be aimed at training the workforce required to fuel the anticipated commercial expansion of this concept. The third is to continuously monitor and report system performance, as well as to develop an interdisciplinary research team to attract funds and conduct research aimed at improving system performance, sustainability, and economic viability.


System inputs include heat, electricity, water, fish feed, and solar energy. Two biomass boilers (and a backup natural gas boiler) heat the water to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Electricity use will be offset by a 20-kilowatt wind turbine scheduled for installation in spring 2015. Daily water loss (two percent, or 600 gallons) from evaporation and harvest will be replaced by filtered rainwater stored in large tanks (37,000 gallons) located under the plant and algal troughs. The algal remains (after oil extraction), along with duckweed, are used to offset the use of external organic fish feed. Passive solar energy is used for space/water heating and growing plants and algae. Future research efforts will be aimed at minimizing these heating, electricity, water, and external feed demands, and ensuring renewable energy sources can completely cover these needs. System outputs include only fish, produce, and soil. The system generates no waste other than compostable plant and fish remains after harvest, plus any emissions from our natural gas and biomass boilers.

In more water-scarce environments, any wastewater generated from washing produce could easily be recaptured and treated for use in the system. The system requires no nutrient additives, herbicides, pesticides, or hormones. All produce has been organically certified by the Midwest Organic Services Organization, and is sold and delivered daily to local restaurants, grocery stores, and individuals. The project is truly a model of sustainable community development.

Economic Viability: Capital and Operational Costs


Victus Farms.. The beginning stages of construction for the smaller, more efficient Wicked Fin Aquatic Farm.

The current building/production system requires the following utilities and operational costs: water use currently averages 7,000 gallons of water per month with approximately 70 percent supplied by filtered rainwater. The energy required for heating (using the natural gas boiler) currently averages 1,100 therms per month. In addition, propane is used for supplemental greenhouse heating on an as-needed basis. Propane use averages 600 gallons per month. Current electricity use averages 5,500kwh per month. Finally, fish feed inputs average 400 lbs per month, with 20 percent of this need covered by algae and duckweed produced internally. Therefore, the current building/production system requires the following costs per month in USD: $150 for water, $900 for natural gas heating, $300 for propane heating, $450 for electricity, and $400 for fish feed. This results in total input costs of $2,200 per month. In addition, approximately $600 per month is spent on travel costs to cover the 100 mile round trip from Duluth to Silver Bay five days per week, and $800 per month is required for basic operational maintenance and supplies. Finally, $6,000 per month is spent on labor costs. The average total monthly costs comes to $9,600.

Economic Viability: Production and Sales Revenues

Victus Farms currently produces the following yields, with all costs listed in USD: 2,000 heads (at $1.25/head) and 200 pounds of lettuce (at $4/lb), 100 pounds of basil (at $12/lb), 200 pounds of fish (at $4/lb), 100 pounds of tomatoes (at $3.50/lb), and 100 pounds of cucumbers (at $1.5/lb). This core production is being sold wholesale to local restaurants and grocery stores. Total sales revenue from this core production sums to $5,700 per month.

In addition, a ‘Saturday Morning Market’ sells directly to consumers at retail prices approximately 80 heads of lettuce (at $2.00/head), 40 ounces of basil (at $3/ounce), 40 pounds of fish (at $4/lb), 20 pounds of tomatoes (at $4/lb), and 20 pounds of cucumbers (at $2/lb). Direct consumer sales total $560 per month. Therefore, average total sales revenues from current production systems sum to $6,260 per month, and continue to increase steadily as production is increased. Several research and operational grants now bridge the gap between sales revenues ($6,260/month) and total operational costs ($9,600/month).

Version 2.0: Wicked Fin Aquatic Farms

New Greenhouse and Production System Design

A great deal has been learned from the first two years of operations at Victus Farms, resulting in dramatic improvements in both production system design and the building that contains it. Using horizontal columns instead of the conventional raft approach improves both growth rates and plant quality. This substitution allows for the growth of approximately ten times more plants per square foot of greenhouse space, and enables the relocation of the fish from individual tanks to growth troughs beneath the horizontal plant columns. These simple improvements eliminate the need for large and expensive fish tanks, as well as the associated plumbing. It also allows for a dramatic reduction in water volume for the overall production system, resulting in far less water to circulate and heat. Finally, it reduces the required space for the production system by approximately 75 percent.

In Duluth, a new building was recently designed and constructed to take full advantage of the improvements outlined above.25 This building is far smaller, less expensive, and more efficient than the existing facility in Silver Bay. The installation of the new fish/plant production system described above is currently being completed. The building is a very simple 1,152 square foot greenhouse. In-floor heating is provided with a conventional 40-gallon hot water heater. Additional space heating and de-humidification is provided by a woodstove as needed.

The simplified production system consists of three (10′ x 12′ x 1′) troughs. The troughs will be constructed with two layers of green treated 2″ x 12″ lumber planks and lined with a dense pond liner. Each trough will contain 1,000 gallons of water (to support approximately 200 pounds of fish) and have its own simple filtration system as well as an electric in-line heater. Four PVC horizontal column racks (each containing eight 10-foot-two-inch PVC pipes with 12 plant holes each) will be suspended from the ceiling above each trough for lettuce and basil growth. A single pump running five minutes every hour will feed trough water into the top of the horizontal columns. The water will cascade through the horizontal column racks and return to the trough below by gravity. Another pump supplies water to 80 feet of four-inch PVC lines along the south wall of the greenhouse for tomato, pepper, and cucumber growth.

The production system also contains a 100-square-foot warm room for seedlings, and a 36-square-foot cold room for produce storage. The warm room is heated to 78 degrees Fahrenheit by heat generated from grow lights. The cold room is cooled using a small air conditioner coupled with a ‘cool-bot’ controller. Supplemental lighting, which will only be needed in the four winter months, is provided by LED grow lights. Finally, an 800 gallon rainwater storage tank and associated filtration system provides needed water additions to compensate for evaporation and transpiration losses.

Capital and Operational Costs

The greenhouse and the fish plant production system contained within was constructed on a heated gravel floor for under USD $25,000, plus labor costs. This smaller and far more efficient building/production system will dramatically reduce utility needs and operational costs. Water use will be reduced from 3,500 to 900 gallons of water per month with 80 to 90 percent supplied by filtered rainwater. The energy required for heating will be reduced from an average of 1100 therms to 300 therms per month. Heating will be supplied by a small electric hot water heater and three in-line electric spa heaters running as needed. Electricity will be reduced from 5,500 to 3,000 kwh per month, despite the shift from natural gas and propane to electric heat. Finally, fish feed will be reduced from 400 to 100 lbs per month with an additional 40 pounds per month coming from algae and duckweed produced internally. Therefore, the new building/production system will require only water (USD $50/month), electrical (USD $400/month) and food (USD $100/month) inputs.


Victus Farms. The simplified production system at Wicked Fin consists of three troughs with suspended PVC racks for basil and lettuce growth.

Total utility and feed costs will be reduced from USD $2,200 to $550 per month. In addition, travel costs are reduced from USD $600 to $50 per month, and basic operational maintenance and supply costs are reduced from USD $800 to $400 per month. Finally, the labor requirement is reduced to one full time job at a cost of USD $4,000 per month.

Total costs for our new production system are reduced from USD $9,600 to $5,000 per month.

Production and Sales Revenues

We expect our new production system will generate the following, with all costs listed in USD: 1,200 heads of lettuce (at $2/head), 40 pounds of basil (at $12/lb) and 80 ounces of basil (at $3/ounce), 120 pounds of fish (at $4/lb), 80 pounds of tomatoes (at $4/lb), 80 pounds of cucumbers (at $2/lb), and 80 pounds of peppers (at $3/lb). This core production will be sold mostly to individuals and groups at retail prices. Total sales revenue from this core production sums to $5,040 per month.

A Promising Solution

Therefore, a USD $25,000 capital investment plus approximately USD $25,000 worth of expert labor to design, construct, install, and train new users, generates a facility capable of producing USD $60,000 per year in fish and produce sales revenues. Of this revenue, approximately USD $12,000 per year covers operational costs, leaving USD $48,000 per year for labor costs. These facilities are showing initial promise that may lead to economic viability, based on minimal fish feed, electrical, and water inputs. They generate only rich compost as a waste product. No fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or growth hormones are required. A production facility can be located in any urban or rural setting as long as electricity, water, and sunlight are available. In the cold Midwest region, demand for these small-scale, local production systems is rapidly intensifying. Similar systems are already being installed for individuals, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and community groups in Northern Minnesota. If it works in Northern Minnesota, it can work anywhere!


The authors would like to thank the following organizations for providing significant project funding: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA); Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB); Minnesota State Legislature; Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (MN DEED); Minnesota Lake Superior Coastal Program; the University of Minnesota’s Northeast Region Sustainable Development Partnership (NMSDP), Healthy Foods Healthy Lives Institute (HFHL) and the Institute for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE); University of Minnesota, Duluth’s College of Liberal Arts; Lake County, Minnesota; Silver Bay, Minnesota; and the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation. We would also like to thank our project partners from Silver Bay, Minnesota for their continuous project efforts: Lana Fralich, City Administrator; Bruce Carmen, City Project Consultant; and, Mayor Joanne Johnson. Finally, we would like to thank all the students from the University of Minnesota Duluth that have worked at Victus Farms.


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Published by Solutions Journal on 2015-07-31
Original article: http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/237355 by Michael T. Mageau , Baylor Radtke , Jake Fazendin , Tony Ledin