i salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. for when you are at that centre within you and i am at that place within me, we shall be one. - chief crazy horse, oglala sioux, 1877

Saturday, September 18, 2010

the living building challenge


What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place? What if every intervention resulted in greater biodiversity; increased soil health; additional outlets for beauty and personal expression; a deeper understanding of climate, culture and place; a realignment of our food and transportation systems; and a more profound sense of what it means to be a citizen of a planet where resources and opportunities are provided fairly and equitably?

[indeed this is what the living building institute is creating. they've developed a standard by which we can measure our development choices.]

Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council, the Pacific Northwest's leading green building and sustainable development organization (a chapter of both the U.S. and Canadian Green Building Councils), is: the creator of the international green building program-the Living Building Challenge; co-creator of Pharos, the most advanced building material rating system in North America; and founder/CEO of Ecotone Publishing. He is the author of The Ecological Engineer and The Philosophy of Sustainable Design (currently used as a textbook in over 40 universities internationally), and is a former principal at BNIM Architects, one of the pioneering firms in the green design movement in the U.S.

Here is a very basic introduction to the standards set by the living building challenge:

1. Projects may only be built on greyfields or brownfields – previously developed sites

2. All projects must integrate opportunities for agriculture20 appropriate to the scale and density of the project

3. For each hectare of development, an equal amount of land must be set-aside in perpetuity as part of a habitat exchange

4. Each new project should contribute towards the creation of walkable, pedestrian-oriented communities

5. One hundred percent of occupants’ water use must come from captured precipitation or closed loop water systems that account for downstream ecosystem impacts and that are appropriately purified without the use of chemicals

6. One hundred percent of storm water and building water discharge must be managed onsite to feed the project’s internal water demands or released onto adjacent sites for management through acceptable natural time-scale surface flow, groundwater recharge, agricultural use or adjacent building needs.

7. One hundred percent of the project’s energy needs33 must be supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis.

8. Every occupiable space must have operable windows that provide access to fresh air and daylight

9. To promote good indoor air quality, Renovations, Buildings, and buildings completed as part of Neighborhood projects must meet the following criteria:
• Entryways must have an external dirt track-in system and an internal dirt track-in system contained
within a separate entry space.37
• All kitchens, bathrooms, copy rooms, janitorial closets and chemical storage spaces must be
separately ventilated and exhaust directly to outside air.
• Ventilation rates must be designed to comply with ASHRAE 62 and equipment must be installed to
monitor levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and humidity.
• Smoking must be prohibited within the project boundary.

10. The project must be designed to include elements that nurture the innate human attraction to natural systems and processes. Each of the six established Biophilic Design Elements must be represented for every 2,000 m2 of the project:
• Environmental features
• Natural shapes and forms
• Natural patterns and processes
• Light and space
• Place-based relationships
• Evolved human-nature relationships

11. The project cannot contain any of the following Red List materials or chemicals.
• Asbestos
• Cadmium
• Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene43
• Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
• Chloroprene (Neoprene)
• Formaldehyde (added)
• Halogenated Flame Retardants44
• Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
• Lead (added)
• Mercury
• Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides45
• Phthalates
• Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
• Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol
There are temporary exceptions for numerous Red List items due to current limitations in the materials economy.

12. The project must account for the total footprint of embodied carbon (tCO2e) from its construction and projected replacement parts through a one-time carbon offset tied to the project boundary

13. The project must advocate for the creation and adoption of third-party certified standards for sustainable resource extraction and fair labor practices.

14. The project must incorporate place-based solutions and contribute to the expansion of a regional economy rooted in sustainable practices, products and services.

15. All projects teams must strive to reduce or eliminate the production of waste during design, construction, operation, and end of life in order to conserve natural resources.

16. The project must be designed to create human-scaled rather than automobile-scaled places, so that the experience brings out the best in humanity and promotes culture and interaction.

17. All primary transportation, roads and non-building infrastructure that are considered externally focused must be equally accessible to all members of the public regardless of background, age and socioeconomic class including the homeless, with reasonable steps taken to ensure that all people can benefit from the project’s creation

18. The project may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments.

19. The project must contain design features intended solely for human delight and the celebration of culture, spirit and place appropriate to its function.

20. Educational materials about the performance and operation of the project must be provided to the public to share successful solutions and to motivate others to make change. Non-sensitive areas of Building, Landscape + Infrastructure and Neighborhood projects must be open to the public at least one day per year to facilitate direct contact with the Living Building Challenge.

living machines...

i learned about this during our PDC. it was to be incorporated into our final project. most of what follows was picked up from their website. http://www.livingmachines.com

Worrell Water Technologies' Living Machine® system uses living plants and beneficial microorganisms to turn wastewater into clean water. They say their patented technologies produce water that is cleaner and greener than conventional water treatment methods — and with huge savings in energy and infrastructure costs.

[waste water goes directly from the system into this machine - with no interaction with the municipal water or sewage systems!! and it comes out clean!!]

Indoor Living Machine, Norder Zoo, Emmen, The Netherlands

Living Machines® require only a small amount of space. They work indoors or outdoors, and each is tailored to the needs of the client. We build them to conform to the demands of the location and of the local climate. As a result, each Living Machine® installation is different. But most share a number of common features.

■Settling Tank: Before the water can enter the system, it must be gathered in a tank where the flow is equalized and solids are allowed to settle. Larger installations will use a filter for the same purpose.

■Control System: The flow of water through the system is managed by a central control system, which also monitors system performance. Our control system is the best in the industry, and it uses a web-based interface to track water levels and control flow rates through the system. At the same time it monitors water quality and can send alerts to remote locations if it senses a problem with the system.

■Wetlands Installations: At the heart of the Living Machine® are the wetland beds which contain gravel aggregate, specially engineered films of beneficial microorganisms, and plants working together in a living, highly complex, ecosystem. The newest generation of Living Machine® uses three patented wetland designs. Depending on the needs of the project, one or all of these wetlands types can be used in a Living Machine.
--Tidal Flow Wetland: This proprietary design developed by Worrell Water Technologies has a smaller footprint than other conventional constructed wetlands. It also provides superior removal of nitrogen, a key step in treating wastewater. The system consists of a series of tidal cells which drain and flood many times per day. The tidal cycles bring oxygen to the beneficial microorganisms that do most of the work.
--Horizontal Subsurface Flow Wetland: This simple, extremely low energy, wetland provides good initial treatment and equalizes the flow of water entering a Tidal Flow Wetland. The presence of this initial treatment stage allows for greater flow rates, energy efficiency, and capacity for the entire system.
--Vertical Flow Wetland: This wetland design provides the ideal final, or "polishing," stage of water treatment. Water enters near the surface of the wetland, and passes through two zones containing beneficial microorganisms as it trickles down through the system. If the wastewater has been previously treated by another wetland type, the Vertical Flow Wetland is extremely efficient at final removal of nitrogen and solids.

■Disinfection System: This optional step can use ozone, ultraviolet, or chlorine (alone or in combination) to kill any pathogens that are left in the water. Depending on the types of wastewater being treated, disinfection systems may be required before water can be reused or discharged into the environment.

■Reuse System: Clean, treated water is gathered in a storage tank, and distributed for reuse. Uses for water recycled by the Living Machine® can include: toilet flushing, animal and pen cleaning, irrigation, decorative surface features such as ponds or waterfalls, or return directly to the environment.

building an herb spiral

i completed my permaculture desgn course in april of this year. i was so excited to actually do, something, anything, permaculture but i was also sooooo afraid of spending a bunch of money and messing up. so we decided to do an herb spiral - a one day project that uses space very effectively. (above is a photo of our herb spiral on day 2, after we had transplanted some herbs.)

we had a giant rose bush right beside the house that i've wanted to dispose of ever since we moved here 2 years ago.
1. so we cut it down with hand saws and then used the chain saw to cut it off as close to the ground as possible.
2. then we laid down three layers of cardboard, which we soaked. they measured 5 feet across in a circle.
3. next we piled a cone of sand in the centre 3 feet. (we had left-over sand from some poor decisions last year)
4. next we began to lay out some stones, starting with the largest for the base circle and using smaller ones as we moved up the spiral.
5. we added soil (50% topsoil/50% sand) that we were re-using from raised beds we had done the year before.
6. then we watered it throughly and transplanted some herbs from the garden and yard. we tried to go for all the strong smelling/tasting ones, like mint, lavender, chives, rosemary, and sage, etc. that the deer don't like so much. and we planted seeds for things we didn't have, like cilantro, dill, oregano, thyme, fennel, and stevia.

i love it!! now, apparently some herbs don't grow well in a sandy soil but i planted some in our garden too. so we have all these fresh herbs growing right beside the house, while our garden is about 60 feet away (due to the septic tank and prior to us decisions). so i can grab the fresh goodness so easily!!

we did the herb spiral in may so next year the annual herbs will have had a much longer time to grow. here is a pic of our herb spiral today...

community self-reliance is the key...

in the modern western world there's no such thing as independence. people talk about the idea of being independent or self-sustaining, but this is impossible. who actually grows/collects ALL their own food, including their grains? who grows/collects all the materials for creating clothing? heck, who in the modern western world even fixes their own car, boat, bicycle, and computer? because if you're reading this, you're using a computer!

interdependence or community self-reliance is necessary and, as luck would bless us, it builds community. we know we can depend on the people around us: family, friends, or neighbours. sometimes the situations are very specific, for example there is a man on my tiny rural island who i know will be here within the hour if i am trapped by snow and can't get my car out, but i don't know if he'll help with anything else.

community self-reliance means that i can depend on my community and they can rely on me. this can be in times of disaster or simply everyday happenings. so i can grow vegetables but ralph is raising cows and don is raising laying hens. i need to find someone who makes cheese. so i can trade or buy/sell products from my neighbours.

this summer 3 deer got into my garden for two days while we were away. i had turnips left, which is good, but i had no other vegetables until my friends dropped off some and invited me into their gardens. now the beans, peas, cabbages, corn, beets, carrots, and parsnips are unrecoverable, but my mizuna, chard and kale are coming back!!! and i planted some fall/winter crops!!!

i can depend on people, not corporations. will wal-mart come and dig out my driveway or send over beets? NO!!

Freedom Ahead - the trailer

this movie looks absolutely inspiring!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

how to sheet mulch...

i love sheet mulching. i sheet mulched my whole garden this summer and will keep doing so until all of everything is growing food!!! i'll tell you about how i would do it next time, because i messed up a bit. so... if i were you i would start by identifying ALL the area you want to mulch and cover all of that (including the paths) with 2 layers of cardboard. if it ends up with some 3 or even 4 layer areas that is ok.

and then you basically go green, brown, green, brown, etc. you want to have approximately 1:3 ratio of green/nitrogen : brown/carbon. so i used twice rinsed seaweed (green), fluffed hay or straw (brown) [if you use hay, you MUST cover it all with the future layers or you'll end up with grains growing like grass in your garden.] grass cuttings (green, if dried out - they still count as green), i used peat moss but i wouldn't again - expensive environmental impact. chicken or other manure counts as green because it's so high in nitrogen. slashed vegetation from that spot or another counts as green of course. dried leaves are brown. etc. sometimes i would have two layers of hay seperated by seaweed for example - you just keep going because you want it to be at 12 - 24 inches thick for good root space for root veg. Please note that root vegetables do NOT grow in this the first year - the roots hit a nitrogen layer and stop growing - you end up with great tops but no carrots for example!

Be sure to SOAK each layer as you go with water - it needs the water to break down - and it will save water later. if you have top soil or finished compost from previous years, use that for the top layer.

some people then use straw on top of that for mulch (keep weeds down and moisture up) but i like a living mulch like clover, which traditionally we've been taught to keep out of our gardens. it maintains a nice moist ground and you just pull out a clump for a seedling to replace the clump or pull out small strips for planting seeds and then the dutch white clover (perennial) is there to keep everything moist. now my land is quite dry so from june through september i am worried about water - you may be in a wetter situation, even if it has been too wet - you now basically have raised beds so they will be dryer than your normal.

one thing i forgot to tell you - imagine your paths as really wide - like plan for 2 foot wide paths if you want 12 inch paths - because the rate of fall for the ingredients will create an angle that falls into the pathway.

i cardboard everything now for a few reasons: 1. the elements of the layers will fall onto the path - so if there's no cardboard on the path but there is a growing medium - there will be grass and weeds coming up. 2. you may change the design/pattern at some point and it's a hassel to have to move the layers to re-cardboard an area - this way you can just push it over to a cardboarded area - the cardboard will break down under whatever you cover the path with. 3. it's easier to ensure full coverage - especially with rhizome plants like grass - they sneak underground to start new plants. it may still happen because the layer ingredients may have grass seeds in them but if you pull the grass out throughout the first year, you'll have very little problem later - because the grass deals with root fatigue (the roots need the nutrients and energy harvested by their leaves - no leaves no energy!)

groundcover and a living mulch are the same thing except that usually people think of groundcover as temporary like through the winter, which is good too. however using it as a living mulch is cool because that plant (i'm using white clover (4-6 inches high) so it's a perennial and nitrogen fixing like beans) will shade the ground (keeping it moist), will nourish the ground year-round, the flowers attract beneficial insects, and it suppresses weeds! all good - a no weed garden, a japanese man, masanobu fukuoka, called it a do-nothing garden!!

if you're looking at doing this in the fall - that would be great - you don't have to water so much because it'll be raining/snowing and then in our neck of the woods, you can plant garlic right away for next september and an annual ground cover so you have time to plan what you want to do: like perennial live mulch vs. annual?, what plants where?

remember to allow space for permanent plants like rhubarb or asparagus or artichokes for example. also remember other plants should all be rotated to avoid bug problems.

The Food and Climate Connection

Thursday, September 16, 2010

joel salatin is coming to my neighbourhood!!

this is a fantastic story from australian broadcasting corp. on joel salatin from polyface farms in the shenandoah montains in virginia.


this man is a hard-working genius who lives everything he talks about. you'll want to allow 15 minutes for it.

new sheet mulch garden this year!

our piece of land is a lovely soil specimen, filled with clay, clay, and more clay!! so, last year (summer of 2009), on the advice of someone who shall remain nameless, we spent hundreds of dollars to buy top soil and sand, and to build raised beds that allowed for 120 sq feet of growing space. we had allowed for two feet of space around each bed - for a wheelbarrow - this accomplished soooo much wasted space!!

so this year we lengthened the garden by 6 feet and removed the raised beds. we sheet mulched the entire space except pathways to get around. this is called a keyhole design. theoretically nothing is further than 2.5 feet from a path - an arm's reach - except that our inexperience led us to forget about the angle of fall of the sheet mulch layers - like dirt. so next spring we will need to widen the paths - by piling up some of the fallen layers on top. next time i would build the sheet mulch so that it is 3.5 - 4 feet wide and then allow 2 feet width for each path. then when the soil shifted and some fell towards the path, i would still have a nice wide path and be able to reach the middle of the bed!

so this is what the first end of the garden looked like when we finished the sheet mulch, but before planting. the one plant that is in there is a lemon balm that we mulched around.

starhawk on permaculture

i have been curious and excited by starhawk's variety of work and teachings for twenty years. here again, she and i "meet" in understanding the importance of this complex system of designing and using biodiversity!!


Ollas (pronounced “oy-yahs”) are unglazed clay/terra-cotta pots with a bottle or tapered shape that are buried in the ground with the top/neck exposed above the soil surface and filled with water for sub-surface irrigation of plants. This irrigation technology is an ancient method, thought to have originated in Northern Africa with evidence of use in China for over 4000 years and still practiced today in several countries, notably India, Iran, Brazil (Bulten, 2006; Power, 1985; Yadav, 1974; Anon, 1978 and 1983) and Burkina Faso (Laker, 2000; AE Daka, 2001).

Ollas may be the most efficient method of local plant irrigation in drylands known to humanity due to the microporous (unglazed) walls that do “not allow water to flow freely from the pot, but guides water seepage from it in the direction where suction develops. When buried neck deep into the ground, filled with water, and crops planted adjacent to it, the clay pot effects sub-surface irrigation as water oozes out of it due to the suction force which attracts water molecules to the plant roots. The suction force is created by soil moisture tension and/or plant roots themselves.” (AE Daka – 2001.) The plant roots grow around the pots and only “pull” moisture when needed, never wasting a single drop. “Ollas virtually eliminate the runoff and evaporation common in modern irrigation systems, allowing the plant to absorb nearly 100 percent of water.” (City of Austin Water Conservation, 2006.)

To use ollas in a garden or farm, one buries the olla in the soil leaving the top slightly protruding from the soil (ideally the neck of the olla is glazed to prevent evaporation or it should be reasonable to apply a surface mulch that covers the neck of the olla without spilling into the opening). The olla is filled with water and the opening is then capped (with a rock, clay plate or other available material to prevent mosquito breeding, soil intrusion and evaporation).

this is picked up from:


Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Permaculture is the art and science of consciously designing human systems to increase quality of life and enhance and regenerate ecosystems - by following the patterns of nature, we can all experience abundance.

LIP (living in permaculture)

living in permaculture - i spent the last week wanting to go to australia to do an internship in permaculture at milkwood or tagari or elsewhere. to go anywhere i could learn more about permaculture - seeing it in action. it has been quite a process - budgeting and trying to arrange my responsibilities. it would mean at least a two month committment, $2500 flight, lost wages (possibly a lost job), dog care for two months, missing planting season here on the west coast of canada, etc.

the upside would have been exchanging canada's winter for australia's summer and learning SO MUCH!!! one major down side would be to have spent $4500 (all told) so i could work on someone else's property instead of spending that money here, on our 5 acres!!! i have taken the permaculture desgn course and yes, in all likelihood i will make mistakes, but they'll be my mistakes and whatever infrastructure - like fencing - will still be there. and I WILL LEARN!!!!!!!!!!

thus i am setting a budget to get as much as i can out of the money - first things first would be a plan including a topographical map of our land and home!!!