Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Something stinks!

And it's really, really amazing!! The gentleman who lives the apartment in front of my office has been growing this Dracunculus vulgaris, or Voodoo Lily. Today it finally bloomed! The flies love it, it truly smells like nauseating rotting garbage. And it's not like you have to get up close to smell it... stinks up the entire courtyard and drifts into our windows. Remarkable! I've been bringing my camera to work for 2 weeks now, and the one day I leave it at home, the darn thing decides to open up. These were taken with my crappy phone camera... oh well. Enjoy!

Update: On the second day the smell, and the flies, have completely gone. I guess it only get one day of mad stinky fly sex to get itself pollinated!
By day 3 it's all over... Whew that was a fast and furious display. Some plants are so funny in how they have their sexual encounters arranged. One day of a reeking pollination furry and it's done. Ah nature!
Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Of Mermaids and Stucco

Well, finally a year of my Saturday landscape construction classes has come to an end. And although I will be incredibly happy to have my weekends back, it's kind of sad, because I have learned such a tremendous amount in this class, and made great friends over the past year'. Hard to believe we won't be spending our Saturdays building together.... I'll really miss everyone!

Here is the redwood gate that Chris, Bill and I made. It marks the entrance into the formal garden. I'm very proud of the work we did.

Dana and Jen working on stucco.

I love the color! These wall looks much better now that the stucco is all done. It used to be bare concrete blocks..

And here is our mermaid. She's been stuck underneath some overgrown trees for about 25 years, and now she's out in the open, with her very own pool to frolic in every day. Just, please, don't call her Ariel!!!! ;)

My classmates overlooking the fruits of our year's work. There's still more lot's work to be done on the pools, but alas, that's up to next year's crew.

Our instructor, Robert, looks like a proud Papa!

Robert christens the pools...

Class photo for our last day.

My good friends; Dana, Kate and Bill


Other construction class posts:
here and here

Monday, May 7, 2007

What happens to all that stuff we put in the green bins?

Last week our Soils class took a trip to Jepson Prairie Organics way out in Vacaville. Jepson Prairie is a landfill where the people in charge decided that there must be something else they could do with all the food waste they saw going into the landfill. They started an innovative composting program and are today the largest food waste compost facility in the country.
So what happens to all the food that gets thrown into those green bins? The majority of the bulk comes from restaurants in San Francisco, then from homes, and they get some from Oakland and a prison that is near Vacaville. It is trucked to Jepson Prairie, then it has to be sorted out. The biggest problem to their operation is the amount of trash- specifically plastic bags and film, that gets dumped into those bins. It has to be removed, and a big part of it is done by hand.
Here's one big stinky pile of waste from our kitchens and restaurants... and let me tell you, it is smelly, disgusting and nauseating. Let's just say we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the folks who can do this work!

It goes into this Trommel Screen, in which everything less than 4" falls through and the rest is conveyed to a platform where 4-8 human beings pull out anything plastic, glass or otherwise non-compostable. It's a gross job, for sure, but the workers get a decent pay, sick time and are fully covered for their families health care, which is a real bonus out here where most the unskilled jobs are working the farms, and we all know those jobs don't provide any sort of health care benefits.

At the ends of the process there is always a pile of trash which then gets put into the landfill. This is their biggest headache. There's no way to filter out 100% of the plastic and glass, so until people stop putting trash into their green bins, it will be a problem.

Here is a big pile of green waste (yard trimmings). Green waste and food waste are composted differently. Food waste is super high in energy, gives off volatile organic compounds (VOC's) that make methane gas. It also has to be raised to high temperatures to kill contaminants and bacteria.

So it all gets loaded into these Ag-bags, where it cooks up for 30 days, I believe. The bad thing about these bags is that the VOC's really build up and when they are opened it releases into the environment. So they have developed a Gortex tarp that works to raise the temperature to the required levels, but allow the VOC's to escape as they are produced.

Then the tarps are removed and the rows are left open to the air to finish composting for another 30 days. These are called windrows and must be turned (aerated) every 3 days.

This is the big machine that turns the windrows. That's all steam coming from the compost. These piles produce very high temperatures as the decompose. The piles have to kept under 12 feet or fires start up. They keep a night watchman there to watch for these fires, which typically start up around 3:00 AM, for some reason. The way they stop the fire is to drive bulldozers into the piles to release the gases and lower the temperature.

Here we are by a pile of finished product, which is finely textured and does not smell at all. they sell the compost to farmers, vineyards and if you want, you can drive up there and load up a bag for free.

They make 3 or four grades of compost. They also make custom blends, according to the soil analysis, but this is for large scale buyers only. The folks here at Jepson Prairie Organics dream of a future where food waste is decomposed at a facility near San Francisco, where the VOC's are used to produce methane gas which in turn is harnessed and used to power generators. Oakland is already doing this on an experimental scale. then the solids, minus the 70% water, can be transported to the landfill and composted cleanly, without all that methane being released uselessly into the environment. It a growing field, a promising future and beneficial for our environment.
Kudos and sincere gratitude to the men and women who do this work!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Broken Flowers

Update on Chukka: She's still in the induced coma until she can be taken off the respirator. But she has stabilized and her mom and sister are there. Hurry up and come back to us Fishy!!!!!

Why oh why do bad things happen to such good people? God, yesterday was one crappy ass day, but all my petty gripes and complaints pale to the news I got... A friend of mine, who is travelling around in the Slavic countries to visit where her grandparents came from, was jumping on a train in Insbruck and somehow fell under the train and now lies in a hospital in a coma, with both legs amputated, in critical condition. This happened on the 27th, but her sister just now found out how to contact us. Her name is Chukka. She is a Burning Sister, a member of BED and a generous and loving friend. It was only a year ago that her husband, an EMT, stopped to help someone who had skidded off the road in Marin Co. and was hit and killed by a speeding motorist. It's just not fair, just not fair. My heart is broken. Please keep my friend Chukka in your prayers and thoughts, if you would. Life is so random. It's just not fair that one person has to feel so much pain. I'm just left asking "Why?"

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

DOTA on the Beach

My fabulous Burning Man campmates met at Ocean Beach to fly kites, build fires and enjoy the gorgeous day. I love my DOTA family and every minute we spend together reminds me of how lucky and blessed I truly am. <3
Thanks to Biz for the photos!