My Backyard Farming Adventure

Last summer I explored the idea of an organic farm in my backyard. I had Green City Growers come out and give me a quote, but just couldn’t justify the expense.

This year, a colleague told me about Square Foot Gardening.  This is the approach that the Green City Growers use.  Each raised bed is divided into a grid of 1 foot squares.  Each square has a different crop, and can be replanted several times throughout the year.  This approach takes very little space and is very easy to maintain.

I built 2 2×3 planters and planted with:

  • mixed salad greens
  • sumer squash
  • cucumbers
  • green beans
  • cherry tomatoes
  • big boy tomatoes
  • parsley
  • oregano
  • dill
  • basil

So far so good! I love going outside in the morning before work to water the garden and pick salad greens to bring to work for lunch.  It makes me feel really grounded and relaxed.

There have been some downsides lessons learned, but I’ll save those for another post…

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Good Jeans

As I mentioned in my New Year post, last fall I had denim insulation installed between my basement and first floor.  I made the choice to go with denim because it is:

  • non-toxic
  • made from recycled materials
  • a better insulator than fiberglass (according to Bill Nye the Science Guy)

There are a couple of  downsides, however, including:

  • the expense, which is significantly more than fiberglass
  • the blue fuzz that has covered my basement

Overall the benefits outway the downsides.  Government rebates and tax credits help offset the increased cost.  The blue fuzz is annoying but easily remedied by vacuuming.  When I get motivated I will put a layer of Tyvek, which will not only contain the fuzz but also add another insulating layer.

The best part, however, is how much more even the temperature in my house was this past winter.  My house is about 100 years old, and was very drafty.  When sitting in the living room, you could feel a breeze coming through the windows, even when they were closed and locked. The combination of the insulation in the basement, airsealing the foundation of the house and caulking around the windows almost completely eliminated drafts.  This allowed me to use less heat and overall made the house much more comfortable.  I would definitely recommend these energy efficiency improvements to anyone, especially while the government rebates and tax credits are in place!

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Happy New Year (and back to blogging!)

I’m off from work this week and am trying to catch up on my life, and my blog.  I can’t believe that my last post was at the end of July!  It’s not because I’ve abandoned my goal of making my life more sustainable, but because I’ve been failing a bit on the personal sustainability side of things.  I started a new job, which has consumed most of my time.  When I’m not working, I’ve been catching up with friends and family.  Unfortunately in the struggle for work-life balance, blogging has taken a back seat.

There has been a lot going on on the sustainability front though. Since August,  I’ve changed my old steam heating system with a high efficiency, hot air system.  I got insulation installed, and caulking done around my windows.  These changes have resulted in HUGE savings on my gas bills.  I’ll try to be better about blogging in the new year and write about all of these changes in more detail, as they each deserve their own post.

In the meantime, Happy New Year!

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An Energy Audit Saved My Life

A couple of weeks ago I had an energy audit.  For those of you who have never gone through the process, one of the things they do during an audit is to use a big fan to suck all of the air out of your house to see where the air leaks are located.  Before they get started, they test the CO (Carbon Monoxide) levels in your furnace.  Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that is a by product of the use of fossil fuels for cooking and heating.  While some CO is acceptable, high levels can be deadly. People die in their homes every year, without ever realizing that they are in danger.  The levels in my furnace were high, very high.  In fact they were ~200 times what would be considered acceptable!

The energy audit guys were great. They explained that the levels were dangerously high and that they had to call the gas company.  They waited until the gas company arrived and investigated the problem.  They gas company did an inspection and found that because the CO was located only in the furnace that it was not an emergency, but we still could not proceed with the complete energy audit until the CO levels could be lowered.

I had the gas company come out again to try to fix the furnace, but unfortunately they could not get the CO levels to a point that was acceptable.  Looks like I’ll be spending several thousand dollars on a new furnace, but at least I’m alive!  The other benefit is that whatever boiler I install is guaranteed to be more energy efficient than what I have, lowering my bills and energy usage.  I guess every cloud has a silver lining …

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The Urban Farm

I met with the guys from Green City Growers  and was super impressed.  (As I mentioned in my post last week, they are the guys who installed a roof-top organic farm for B.Good burgers.)  They arrived for the appointment on time and we took a quick walk around my yard.  They analyzed the amount of light and shade in each area, and we discussed how to fit the raised beds into the existing landscaping.  We then sat down to talk about the different options they offer.

Different Bed Sizes:

They offer different bed sizes with small being 4×4, medium 4×8 and large 4×12.  They can also do custom shapes.  For example, in my yard a 2×8 box will work better than the 4×4 but will cost the same because the total square footage is the same.  Regardless of size, however, the price for the bed includes the following:

  • set up
  • irrigation system with timers
  • growing medium
  • plants

Maintenance Plans:

Sample farm plan (used with permisiion from Green City Growers)

Sample farm plan (used with permission from Green City Growers)

Once you decide to move forward with your new farm, you have several different options for maintenance:

  • Weekly maintenance: For a weekly fee which varies depending on the size of the bed you have chosen, Green City will come to your house every week and water, prune, harvest or whatever else needs to be done.  This is a good option for people who like the idea of a vegetable garden, but don’t have the time or skill to take care of it properly.
  • Monthly consults: For $85, the guys will come in once a month to check in on your garden.  They will help you fix any problems that may have cropped up and do some maintenance on the garden if needed.  This is a good option if you like gardening and don’t mind doing most of the work yourself, but could still use a professional consult once in a while to make sure you are doing things right.
  • Self farming: If you are a pretty skilled gardener and feel you can go it alone, for $175 Green City will provide a 1 time consultation and tutorial on how to maintin your garden.  They will also come by for a visit one month later to see how you and your farm are doing.

This seems like a really intriguing option.  I’ve been using Boston Organics and have not been entirely happy.  The idea of being able to harvest vegetables from my own backyard is really appealing.  Now I just need to run the numbers…

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Un-Sustainably Me: True Confession 1

Tonight I was faced with a green dilemma.  I left an event and was was going to head to a nearby restaurant with a friend for a quick bite to eat.  While it was warm outside during the day, it had cooled  down quite a bit since the sun went down.  My friend and I were both freezing and dreading the five minute walk to the restaurant.  Walking over was clearly the best choice.  I would have gotten a bit of exercise and reduced my carbon footprint.   Unfortunately, in a weak moment, I caved.  My car was parked close by and rather than walking to the restaurant and then walking back after,  I drove to the restaurant and parked out front.

I guess going green can be kind of like going on a diet.  To do it successfully it requires a total lifestyle shift.  Most of the time this is ok for me, but sometimes it just feels like deprivation and I give in to my old ways.  I’m not proud of it, but I am human.  I guess I’ll just pick myself up, dust myself off and get back on the green wagon tomorrow!

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An organic farm in your own backyard

Newly Installed Farm in Brookline (Courtesy of the Green City Growers stream on Flickr)

Newly Installed Farm in Brookline (Courtesy of the Green City Growers stream on Flickr)

I found out last week that B.Good, one of my favorite Boston area food establishments, has done something that makes me love them even more.  In addition to their delicious mango smoothies and baked sweet potato fries, they have installed an organic rooftop farm at their Brookline location!  Yes, that’s right, an organic rooftop farm!

The farm was installed and maintained by a Somerville company called Green City Growers.  This innovative company installs raised-bed organic farms in urban areas.  They can use a space as small as 4 ft by 4 ft.  They will either teach you how to care for your farm yourself, or they will come and tend it for you.  It’s a great alternative to a CSA, and I’ve decided to look into it for my own backyard.  I have a consult set up with Gabe next week and will keep you posted as I find out more!

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