Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Ruth Stout's Garden" an endearing insight into a gentle iconoclastic organic gardener

Here is a lovely documentary interview with Ruth Stout the long time advocate of organic, no till gardening.   It was produced by Arthur Mokin in 1977, three years before Ruth's death at the age of 96. This is not a how to video. Instead it is an appreciation of her personality. In it we learn of her surprising background and temperament. The complete film is on You Tube but you can order a vhs copy of it from

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meatless Monday Recipe-Himalayan Red Rice Salad with Cranberries

Himalayan Red Rice Salad with Cranberries

Water or vegetable broth for cooking rice
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup red rice, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons toasted nuts (chopped pine nuts, almonds or walnuts)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari

Preparation: Follow instructions on red rice package-with addition of the bay leaves. Due to the various types of red rice available, cooking times will vary between 25 and 45 minutes-although any type of red rice is suitable for this recipe.

1. Bring water or broth to a boil, along with bay leaves. Sprinkle in the red rice. Bring to a boil again. Turn down heat and cover pot, simmering without stirring until grains are tender and water is absorbed. Remove bay leaves.

2. To toast nuts, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking pan (preferably one with walls). Heat for several minutes or until the nuts start to turn golden. Shake the halfway through toasting.

3. In a saute pan over medium heat, cook the garlic and ginger in oil about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Combine raw vegetables with rice, toasted nuts, cranberries, vinegar and tamari in a bowl. Mix well. Allow to sit for 15 minutes. Serve.

Found: Friends of Animals-The Best of Vegan Cooking

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In honor of Arbor Day: The Man Who Planted Trees

There is a power in stories.  After this tale has engraved itself on your heart be sure to visit this site to learn more. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Meatless Monday Recipe-Vegan Caesar Salad

Vegan Caesar Salad

2 Tbsp. capers
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
1/2 cup croutons, optional

1. In a food processor, pulse the capers and garlic until minced. Add the lemon juice and mayonnaise and pulse a few times to blend. While the food processor is on, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

2. Place the lettuce in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the lettuce, add the croutons (if desired) and toss thoroughly.

3. Season with salt and pepper.

Found: Animal Times-Spring 2010 (PETA)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Absolutely the best book concerning sustainable living I have ever read: Little House on a Small Planet

By Shay Salomon, with photos by Nigel Valdez, Little House on a Small Planet is by far the most inspiring and deeply useful books on sustainable living I have ever read.  I'm am so overwhelmed by the beauty of the photography and the author's insight that I'm not even going to try to explain my feelings about the book.  I just hope that as many people as possible will read it.

The San Antonio Public Library doesn't have a copy but it can be borrowed via the free Inter-library loan system.  Here's some information you'll need:  The Lyons Press (September 1, 2006) ISBN-10: 1592288685, ISBN-13: 978-1592288687.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Copyright Treaty to limit how information on sustainable technology is shared and raise the stakes for those who share it

Sharing of information is at the core of San Antonio Sustainable Living.  Sharing of information about products, methods and technology is critical for sustainable ways of building and living to be spread.  Many people believe that the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement will hinder the free exchange of information in many ways.

This video of Michael Geist's keynote address at the PublicACTA conference in Wellington, New Zealand on April 9, 2010.   provides an education about the ACTA and its projected effects on people throughout the world and will help you make up your mind.

Compressed Earth Block Workshop

Once every year or two in Central Texas, there’s a premier opportunity to learn all about compressed earthen block (CEB) construction, lime stabilization, and natural finishes. That opportunity returns for three days in May (20-22) here in San Antonio. Jim Hallock and Jeff Rottler from Tierra y Cal, from San Miguel de Allende will offer a very comprehensive class in CEB covering all aspects to consider. If you are thinking green building, building a durable, healthy, high-performance structure doesn’t get any greener than using the earth. Partnering again with Laurence Jetter of Advanced Earthen Construction Technology (AECT), here in San Antonio, Jim and Jeff will be incorporating the best technology in compressed earth blocks available. For more information regarding the agenda and registration details, contact Tierra y Cal directly at their website.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Visit San Antonio's own permaculture farm: Santuario Sisterfarm

 header-green-a 2
Santuario Sisterfarm Open Farm Day: April 17, 2010!
Tours will be given at 10:00 am and 12:00 noon.

 Greenhouse seedlings 2 On the tour, you will see and learn about:
Organic growing methods
Water conservation

Permaculture ethics and practices
Renewable energy/conservation
Green building
Non-toxic/biodegradable household products

Contact us for directions and to reserve your place: or 830.537.4327

Tour Fee: $10/person, $5/child.
Pack a picnic lunch, if you wish to eat by the creek or one of our small ponds. Wear comfortable shoes.

Please check our website for other dates in 2010!

Meatless Monday Recipe-Sicilian Collard Greens with Pine Nuts and Raisins

Sicilian Collard Greens With Pine Nuts and Raisins

Beyond being incredibly yummy, this dish is also a sneaky way to introduce people to the glory of collard greens. Tip: Try substituting the balsamic vinegar for shoyu and the pine nuts for pumpkin seeds.

1 bunch collard greens
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Use a sharp knife to cut out the central rib and stem from each collard leaf. Rinse the leaves in a sink of cool water, lifting them into a colander to drain a bit (you want some water to remain on the leaves).
2. Toast the pine nuts over medium heat in a dry skillet for about 5 minutes or until golden. Shake the pan often to keep the pine nuts from burning. Transfer to a plate, and set aside.
3. Place the garlic and oil in a large skillet, and saute over medium heat for 1 minute or until the garlic is fragrant. Add the damp collards and stir, then cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes longer.
4. Add the raisins and pine nuts to the collard greens, and stir. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, cover, and continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Note: The stems of the collard greens are full of minerals, so if you want to use them, chop them into 1 inch pieces and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the collard greens.


From The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Great "good examples" of small space living abound in Apartment Therapy's annual contest

One of the highlights of Spring is the Apartment Therapy "Small Cool " spaces contest.   The 2010 contest is in its earliest stages right now where entries can be voted into later rounds.

The contest is divided into 5 categories: Tiniest (400 square feet and under), Tiny (401 to 600 square feet), Little (601-800 square feet), Small (801 to 1,000 square feet) and International (outside the USA under 1,000 square feet and under).

Apartment Therapy features some of the best virtual tours of smaller homes and apartments year round but the cream of the crop comes out in force during their annual contest.  Unlike their usual photo tours which feature a dozen or more photos, each entrant in the Small Cool contest is limited to four photos and a layout of their space.

The entrants are a font of inspiration no matter what size of home or apartment you inhabit or dream of.

So far here are my favorites: Ben's Creative Transformations in Portland Maine (535 sq feet), Shelbey's Itty Bitty Abode in Chicago (450 sq feet),  Yael's Vintage Treasure in Chicago (545 sq feet), Meredith's Well Considered Space also in Chicago (575 sq feet) and Chris's Furniture Tetris in Houston (450 sq feet).

The contest is a reminder that small homes aren't limited to cob cottages in the country and have a place in the big city.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

With San Antonio's Earth Day coming up let's look at the 7 R's (and recycling is dead last)

If you are on the San Antonio Environment Meetup list (and why aren't you), you might have caught a link Stephen posted to this Treehugger slide show on the 7 R's (Reuse, Rot, Repurpose, Repair, Return, Refill, Refuse and finally if all else fails Recycle). 

For a number of reasons recycling is promoted ahead of the rest.  It may be more convenient.  It may be in the interests of manufactures of new stuff.  It may be in the interest of recyclers and industries that depend on cheap supplies (Trex for example depends on plastic bags).

With San Antonio's 2010 Fiesta Earth Day coming up April 17 in Woodlawn Lake Park from 10 to 4 pm it will be interesting how well the other R's are represented and encouraged compared to Recycling.  You can RSVP for Earth Day on the San Antonio Environment Meetup event page.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Meatless Monday Recipe-Mediterranean Barley with Tofu, Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Capers

Mediterranean Barley with Tofu, Olives, Sun-dried Tomatoes and Capers

Using the ingredient list as a stepping off point you can add or subtract to it as you like, and it doesn't get any easier. You can make as little or as much as you like...

barley, cooked
tofu, diced
small black olives
sun-dried tomatoes, soaked and finely chopped
capers in salt, soaked and drained of their excess salt
chili pepper, ground or in flakes
lemon juice
extra-virgin olive oil

Fry the tofu slowly in olive oil with chili pepper and lemon juice until crispy.

Mix olives, capers and tomatoes with the barley and stir.

Add tofu, mix and serve.

From the website Lucullian Delights.

Posted by: Kelly Rossiter from

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sologen Systems avoids hype as high potential geothermal electrical generation project moves forward

Frank Smith, the president of Sologen Systems Inc has a secret of sorts, not a complete secret but a kind of lets not talk about this too much too soon secret.  He did put out a press release on December 31, 2009.  He speaks openly with potential investors and is working through numerous levels of regulators. He even spoke to the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club, and those people really do like to blab about what interests them. But he speaks conservatively.  He chooses numbers from the low end of the ranges that the engineers and oil and gas geologists have developed.  He doesn't oversell. 

Smith's semi-secret is that Sologen with Green Well Power LLC and Free Green Energy LLC propose to harness the high temperatures and pressure found at the bottom of some abandoned natural gas wells which are deeper than 10,000 feet to produce kinetic energy which will power a linear drive engine to produce electricity. 

When the number of appropriate wells in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi is multiplied by the conservatively stated potential electrical production of each well, the mind boggles.  The numbers and the implications of the numbers are just too big to grasp and to accept, until they become fact, and that is why the Mr. Smith prefers to keep things quiet for now.

It isn't just the amount of electricity that is hard to grasp.  It is how ideal the project is in other aspects.  In our nation’s energy debates we often discuss environmental trade-offs but the Sologen project seems to involve no such trade-offs.

For instance, this energy production produces no significant greenhouse gases.  Its visual impact is minimal.  It produces power in dispersed locations which is in line with the direction our electrical grid is moving.  It blocks no rivers.  It disturbs no migrating birds and no more wild life than the wells themselves did during their producing years.

The estimated cost of these geothermal generators is far below almost any other source of renewable power (except conservation of course).   It is cheaper than any other widely dispersed geothermal energy source in part because they utilize abandoned wells.  These wells cost millions to drill but are now worthless environmental liabilities.  So this energy producing project can mitigate a potential for contamination that has been known for decades.

The power producing wells require no trainloads of fuel.  No mountains need to be removed, no streams are filled in, no air is polluted.  No radioactivity is utilized.  No great lakes of water are needed to cool them.  No army of technicians and security standby to monitor and prevent disaster.

Perhaps best of all the wells produce baseload power, which means it produces whether or not the sun shines or the winds blow and it is a black start source of power which means it is able to be restarted to produce power without relying on power from the electrical grid.  These two characteristics alone make it superior from a utility point of view. 

The project faces hurdles.  Regulators of oil and gas, underground water, environmental issues, electrical production, landowners, oil and and gas rights holders and all the regulators involved in long term investments must be satisfied.

We may see the first fruits of the Sologen project very soon.   If it comes to fruition it will upend a lot of assumptions about renewable energy put forward by the nuclear, coal and gas industries.  It will be a boon to those of us lucky enough to have the right kind of abandoned well  in our region, and will perhaps become the bedrock of power hungry industry.  If it comes to fruition it will be big.  It will be cover of Time Magazine big.  It will be senators claiming they are responsible for it big.

But for now let's keep it our sort of secret and help Frank Smith avoid the hype.

(Frank Smith spoke briefly at our March 2010 San Antonio Sustainable Living meeting.  My earlier SASL article includes the Sologen press release and a video of the linear drive engine and demonstrates an almost complete lack of understanding of the project on my part.)

Photo by Clearly Ambiguous via Flickr (creative commons).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paul Stamets' Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

This TED talk by Paul Stamets is more than two years old but it is a classic. He has found ways that mushrooms can produce energy, fight our common pathogens (bacteria and viruses), fertilize, sequester carbon, kill and then repel carpenter ants and termites and remediate toxic chemicals in the environment.

Friday, April 2, 2010

DIY Compost Bin ideas from has an extensive collection of  do it yourself projects. Some are pretty far out, some would fit in better a dorm room than in a mansion.  But they all provide ideas to build on.

Here are links to some compost bin ideas that may be just what you are looking for:

First there's an Overview of Compost Bins on  followed by a Compost tumbler on a stand, a compost tumbler that is not on a stand, a different version of a compost tumbler on a stand that uses a standard garbage can , a double deck tumbling compost bin and finally a classic compost bin made from pallets.

Wayne Haese's Grayscaping Inc allows homeowners or whole sub-divisions to maintain lush lawns and landscaping with rain and gray water

Wayne Haese 's systems allow homeowners to keep their lush grassy lawns in drought prone South Texas.   If they want to use chemicals on their landscape he allows them to do so easily and at a depth of 6 inches so that they are less likely to run off.   His code compliant systems enable the homeowner to use rainwater and re-use graywater with little or no effort or change in lifestyle.

Wayne’s company, Grayscaping Inc, offers turnkey graywater, rainwater and hydroponic systems for both edible and non-edible plants that are somewhat more complex than other such systems.  He is extremely careful to create fool proof systems that alleviate the fears of the most risk averse regulator.

He says that he helped educate Texas Natural Resources Commission on gray water and to have asked that they used the term “gray water” rather than “grey water”.  His interest in words also shows in his fondness for trademarked coinages including: Grayscaping™ (gray water collection), Rainscaping™ (rainwater collection),  and Rainponics™ and Grayponics™ which refer to hydroponic growing systems for edible and non-edible plants respectively.

He has systems for individual homes and for whole subdivisions. If you have an existing home on a concrete slab he cannot help you with either rainwater or graywater collection, though he will sell you a hydroponic unit.

His system is predicated on plumbing in a way that separates gray water sources from black water and with an existing slab the pipes just cannot be re-routed.  He can look at houses with pier and beam foundations to see if they can be adapted but primarily though he works with new construction.

His graywater systems include settling tanks and filtration of the graywater.  He always routes a line to feed filtered graywater to the perimeter of the foundation to prevent it from drying out.  (Of course being thorough his system has monitoring that prevents water being routed their when it is not needed.)

He includes a patented access point to allow the injection of pesticides, herbicide and fertilizer into the gray water distribution system. (US Patent 6132138)

In his system the graywater is delivered six inches below the surface through a grid of pipes and valves.  He offers an automatic feed to landscaping hydroponic planters.

He addresses a possible pitfall of graywater diversion by providing an automatic surge of graywater into the sewer line from time to time to make sure that the sewage makes it all the way to the sewer.

Grayscaping Inc also offers rainwater collection systems for individual homes.  In their systems the rainwater can be supplemented by other water sources as needed.  The system can also be used to provide water for edible landscaping or hydroponic units used for growing edible plants.

On a subdivision level Wayne Haese has developed detailed plans for central collection, filtration and redistribution of both rainwater and graywater.  His innovations include specialized designs for trenches and trench liners to prevent cross contamination.

Wayne and his team were the featured speaker at the San Antonio Sustainable Living March 2010 meeting. He previously spoke to our group in 2001 or 2002.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Meatless Monday Recipe-Polenta Casserole With Seitan

Polenta Casserole With Seitan

This dish is elegant, delicious, and satisfying–great for brunch. Because it incorporates a grain, vegetables, and seitan, it’s a complete meal. A nice side of greens would make it absolutely perfect.

1 1/2 cups polenta or cornmeal or 1 cup millet1 medium-size head cauliflower cut in large pieces1 cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed2 pinches fine sea salt1 (8-ounce) package seitan, slicedKernels from 2 ears corn or 1 cup thawed frozen kernels6 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces1 1/2 teaspoons roasted sesame tahini1/3cup soy milk1 1/2 tablespoons shoyu plus more for sprinkling on top2 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar1/4 cup chopped fresh parsleyFresh basil leaves for garnish

1. Place the polenta or millet in a large pot. Add the cauliflower, peas (if using fresh), salt, and 5 cups water (add just 3 cups if using the millet). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer the polenta for 30 minutes (cook for 25 minutes if using the millet). Polenta must be stirred frequently as it cooks to prevent it from sticking or becoming lumpy, but you don’t need to stir millet.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8×8 casserole dish.

3. While the cauliflower mixture cooks, arrange the sliced seitan in the casserole dish. Layer the corn kernels on top, and then add the asparagus.

4. Remove the polenta mixture from the heat. Add the tahini, soy milk, shoyu, and umeboshi vinegar, and mash with a potato masher or fork until the mixture resembles mashed potatoes. Add the chopped parsley and peas (if using frozen) and mix well.

5. Spoon the mashed mixture into the casserole dish over the vegetables, and smooth the top. Poke a few small holes in the surface, and sprinkle with a little extra shoyu (this makes the top crispy).

6. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Let the casserole cool for 15 minutes before cutting into squares. Garnish with the basil, and serve.


From The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone