Phytoremediation of Heavy Metals

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Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Us city slickers have fouled the sandboxes we play in. Find an open field in a big city like Los Angeles or New York and the odds are that it’s a former toxic waste dump. Here in our neighborhood we’ve got a lot of lead and zinc–lead from paint and gasoline and zinc from brake linings.

These heavy metals don’t magically go away. They are elements, and short of an alchemical transformation you have to physically remove them, cover them up, or apply phosphate so that plants don’t take them up as readily.

One promising strategy is phytoremediation, the use of plants to uptake heavy metals. City Atlas youarethecity, in New York, is experimenting with Indian mustard, mugwort, basket willow and sunflowers to remediate a contaminated garden. The results are promising with some metals down 50% in a year. Mugwort (Artimesia vulgaris) did an especially good job with a wide range of contaminants.

I should note that Garm Wallace, who runs Wallace Labs, a soil testing service, says that phytoremediation can take many years to get heavy metals down to a safe level. That being said, breeding plants specifically for heavy metal hyperaccumulation is a technology that could make up for our past transgressions.

Thanks to Michael Tortorello for the tip.

How to Search for Science-Based Gardening Advice

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Agricola’s search page.

In the course of writing our books and this blog we’ve had to deal with a lot of thorny gardening questions such as the effectiveness of double digging, the toxicity of persimmons, compost tea, lasagna gardening and how to mulch to name just a few. While the internet is an amazing tool, the number of conflicting commercial interests, biases and crazy talk in the eGardening world can make it difficult to, as Mark Twain put it, “corral the truth.” And I have to confess to promulgating some of the questionable advice that’s out there.

In the interest of not spreading more bad information Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor at Washington State University, did a webinar (archived online here) with a lot of great advice on how you can evaluate gardening advice as well as do your own searches of peer reviewed literature.

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Saturday Linkages: Rammed Earth, Vanilla Ice and Moonshine

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Best idea of the week. Image: Natural Building Blog

Smokeless Rammed Earth Stove http://feedly.com/e/3e4xRBr8 

Ice Goes Amish: http://modernfarmer.com/2014/02/vanilla-ice-amish-farmer/ …

Plastic debris for brains http://www.honeybeesuite.com/plastic-debris-for-brains/ …

RiYL podcast 041: Colin Spoelman, moonshine maker: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/20/riyl-podcast-041-colin-spoelm.html …

Brazil’s new dietary guidelines: food-based! http://feedly.com/e/xL8TJUJf 

Austrian Designer Upcycles Bike Parts into Faux Hunting Trophy Bicycle Mounts http://inhabitat.com/austrian-design-upcycles-bike-parts-into-faux-hunting-trophy-bicycle-mounts/ …

How Would You Drive If Your Child Was Crossing the Street in Front of You? http://feedly.com/e/6MzdiI4- 

Meet the Miller: Nan Kohler http://feedly.com/e/oWHthiZg 

Meet the Baker: Dave Miller http://www.farine-mc.com/2014/02/meet-baker-dave-miller.html?spref=tw …

Flower Mandalas: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/17/flower-mandalas.html …

Fallout shelter originally installed in 1955 for a family of three in Fort Wayne, Indiana. http://feedly.com/e/1vhqFO23 

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening

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The new hexagonal raised beds. More on the design in another post.

Due to contaminated Los Angeles soil, we’ve got to grow our veggies in raised beds. There’s just too much lead and zinc in the ground, according to our local soil lab. Putting together three new beds recently got me to thinking about the ups and downs of gardening in raised beds. I thought I’d list off the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Keeps roots away from contaminated soil.
  • Good for disabled or elderly gardeners.
  • Neat.
  • If high enough, can keep out some critters–and keep veggies above the dog pee zone.
  • Plug and play–no need to build or improve soil.
  • Keeps roots from getting waterlogged in a wet climate.

Cons

  • Requires materials to construct.
  • Might need to buy soil–gardening in the ground is free.
  • Roots dry out quicker in a hot climate.
  • Lack of mineral content in bagged soils.
  • Use of peat moss in bagged products.
  • Unable to truly embrace the “no dig” philosophy: despite best efforts to the contrary, it seems the soil needs to be swapped out every few years. It’s container gardening, really.

Going through that list of pros and cons, if it weren’t for our contaminated soil it would be better for us to grow in the ground. From a water use perspective, in Mediterranean climates such as ours, it’s better to garden at ground level. Less evaporation.  In dry desert climates such as New Mexico it’s often better to garden slightly below grade to take advantage of summer rains. Conversely, in soggy climates raised beds have some advantages.

Another factor is cost.  A bulk soil order doesn’t start to make sense until you’ve got a lot of raised beds to fill or neighbors to split the order with. This leaves me stuck with bagged products. I’m testing out a variation on Mel’s mix: one part coconut coir, one part vermiculite, one part compost. It’s still expensive, but at least I’m weaning myself from peat moss, an unsustainable product. Unfortunately, all those bags have to be hauled up thirty steps.

As a whole, what we’ve done with our garden is a compromise. Most of the yard is permaculturish: lots of small fruit trees, some native plants, ornamental flowering plants for the wildlife and a whole lot of mulch. But I like to have a few Italian veggies so we’ve got five small raised beds.

Did I leave anything off this list of raised bed pros and cons? What are you growing your veggies in? Leave a comment!

How To Force Carbonate at Home

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There are as many ways to force carbonate as there are paths up the holy mountain. I wanted to avoid both the SodaStream’s loss-leader economic model (expensive refills) as well as hacked systems that use non-food grade materials. One trip to my local home brew shop, and I had all the equipment I needed to safely and economically carbonate any liquid. Here’s how I put it all together.

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Land Shark!

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This stunning garden sculpture is by an Australian artist, Brett Martin. I love the way it hovers over the grass and, best of all, swivels in the wind. Martin says,

I try to use as much recycled materials as possible. I used salvaged timber from building sites, a swivel chair, old table base, many hundreds of tin cans collected from neighbours and 5000 pot rivets. I live at Congo, the south coast of New South Wales and based this 3.5m beauty on a sighting about 4 months ago. I just had to immortalize it.

You can like the artist in Facebook and see some of his other pieces here.

Picture Sunday: Chicken Coop Art Cars

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Artist Benedetto Bufalino re-purposed a vintage police car for his piece, “la voiture de police poulailler.”

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Back in 1999 Atelier van Lieshout reused an Alfa Romeo for an installation called “Alfa Alfa.”

I should note that the art school damaged Mrs. Homegrown gets queasy when livestock end up in art projects. I’ll just ask if these two examples mean we’re witnessing an entire new genre of chicken art?

Saturday Linkages: Fire Plows, Kite Fishing and Roundup-Ready Turfgrass

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Tell Me You Wouldn’t Buy This Snow-Fighting Fire Plow http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/tell-me-you-wouldnt-buy-this-snow-fighting-fire-plow-1519897386 …

Tear Down These 10 Freeways! (And Then Tear Down Some More) http://feedly.com/e/5TEe4eBI 

Mineral waters à la carte http://shar.es/QRHOf 

Google hangout with Lloyd Kahn, master urban homesteader: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/12/google-hangout-with-lloyd-kahn.html …

3 MAKE projects to help you fight for your online privacy: http://boingboing.net/2014/02/11/3-make-projects-to-help-you-fi.html …

Frugal Digital: Repairing, Hacking, and Repurposing Electronics http://feedly.com/e/x1zb0NgL 

Low-Tech Kite-Fishing in the Indo-Pacific http://feedly.com/e/vKNPtHlq 

The Public Food Forest: Clever Solution or Future Flop? by Evelyn Hadden http://feedly.com/e/6x1OCfMz 

Coming soon – Roundup-Ready Turfgrass | Garden Rant http://gardenrant.com/2014/02/coming-soon-round-up-ready-turfgrass.html …

Author Builds Tiny Solar-Powered Off Grid Cabin for Under 2000 http://inhabitat.com/author-builds-tiny-solar-powered-off-grid-cabin-for-under-2000/lamar-alexander-off-grid-cabin-2/ …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

Los Angeles is One Step Closer to Legalizing Bees

Los Angeles bee legalization

Hats off to the folks at HoneyLove for the hard work they are doing to legalize beekeeping in Los Angeles. This Wednesday they got a unanimous vote out of the city council to ask city staff to come up with a way to legalize beekeeping in residential areas as well as ways to encourage humane bee removal. While much hard work is ahead, HoneyLove’s strategy should serve as a model to people everywhere who are taking a look at our overly restrictive municipal codes as they relate to urban agriculture.

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