Reskill, Retool and Readjust

October 8, 2012

The other night at the Palouse Transition meeting (a group trying to launch a Transition Town for the Palouse Bioregion) there was discussion about Reskilling — the idea of learning skills of our grandparents, such as gardening and canning.

It got me thinking about my experience reskilling with a clothes line. The Peterson Barn Guesthouse needs to launder a steady stream of sheets and towels. About a year ago I hung a clothes line in the greenhouse attached to the Barn and began drying things there. The reskilling amounted to hanging stuff with clothes pins — the clothes line and clothes pins were the (fairly simple) retooling.

The readjusting was the hard part. It takes anywhere from 1 hour to 1 day to dry a load of laundry, depending on the season and clouds (basically how warm the greenhouse gets). Unlike the clothes dryer that gets the job done in a predictable amount of time – and always quickly enough to fit in the rhythm of the rest of the cleaning tasks. Also, towels dried on the line come out wrinkly and stiff, which guests don’t like. So I modified the process to (hopefully) catch things almost dry and toss them in the dryer to finish and soften.

And while I’ve been doing the Barn laundry this way for most of a year, there is no thought of drying the family laundry on a line.  For one thing there are lots more small items, socks, shirts, etc rather than a few towels and sheets. For another, the whole timing thing. And, a big one, the house laundry is not near the clothes line and packing wet laundry to another building just ain’t happening.

I’m now reflecting on these ideas as they apply to our food canning, freezing, and drying work this fall. Again, its more about readjusting how we schedule our lives, make priorities, and what we value as entertainment in an evening at home than it is about the skills or the tools involved.

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Local Pizza

September 16, 2012

Pizza ready to bake. The more local half is garlic, tomato, jalapeno, roasted sweet pepper and two kinds of cheese.

I’ve been looking for a new food challenge. My previous one – eating from the garden every month – pushed my gardening, freezing, canning, drying cold-cellaring and my thinking.

My new challenge: by Sept 2013, make a pizza with local ingredients. Bonus, make the pizza with commercial local ingredients. Why pizza? Its popular. It is mainstream. Its flexible with the seasons.

Aiming for using commercial ingredients will demonstrate that our food system is well enough developed to be able provide local pizza ingredients to anyone. It also opens the door for a local pizzeria to make local pizza.

Defining local will be fun — and will perhaps provide some insights. As a first cut, I’ll just track the distance the product travels on the last leg of its journey. But ultimately, the ingredient needs to be local from its origin through any manufacturing. And what is “local?” The real issue I think is more than “food miles” but I’m not sure how to put a handle on it yet.

Year Round Food

September 2, 2012

Shortly after we bought our place in Moscow I read an article about world agriculture that reported the average amount of arable land per person. It turned out that our 1.3 acres for 2 people was average.

Thinking about that fact made me begin to feel a responsibility to try to raise a portion of my food (since, on average, I had all the land needed). I’d gardened as far back as high school, raising a few veggies for summer eating. I decided I needed a goal to push my gardening — eat something from the garden in each of 12 months.

As I recall, Krista met that goal first with raspberry freezer jam. The people before us had quite a big row of raspberries started and freezer jam was a great way to preserve the harvest for 12 months. At that same time we also tried making several canned jellies, the best was red currant but we’ve never really gotten into canning.

Life has intervened, but I have inched my way toward the goal, learning to use the cold cellar to keep garlic and potatoes till March. We added a food dryer which allows us to manage more of our fruit and makes a favorite mid-winter Swedish Fruit Soup more affordable.

The “something from the garden each month” goal pushed a much more thoughtful approach to my gardening. But now we’re long past it.

Last fall/winter I experimented with winter gardening to have some greens and this weekend I will start a small fall  garden. This year we will have a big crop of pie pumpkin and butternut squash for the cellar. Those are the two squash the family will eat. Krista has been making/freezing apple sauce with fruit from the new orchard.

Last winter I started a recipe blog to track foods I’m cooking that could be made with local ingredients. It was an attempt to explore how rich and varied my diet could be — IF the ingredients were actually produced in our local food shed.

One thing the blog was intended to do was help identify missing local ingredients. One of them is cooking oil, so I was excited today at Farmer’s Market I saw a new booth selling oil. I couldn’t stop today but I will go back.

I’m musing about a new goal of one meal a month that could be local, or perhaps all three meals in one day per month. Or perhaps the meal needs one ingredient I grew, several that are local, and the rest that could be local. Of course, overlaid on picking this new goal is remembering what my family will actually eat so I need to tinker my way a goal where we can all succeed.

Vision Statement for Co-op GM Job App

August 31, 2012

I’m applying for the Co-op GM position again. They ask for a vision statement.

UPDATE 9/1: I realized that my letter of application contained the section on experience that has interested several people. I have added the application letter  with that information below the vision statement.

My vision is that, working together, our Co-op will meet its mission during a period of unprecedented change by helping members meet their food security needs and by helping local producers thrive.

To explain my vision, I must digress. It is unusual to have an opportunity to apply for the same job twice and to have a year to think about unfolding changes to the world and how I can better to articulate what is important about them. I’m convinced that climate change poses, by far, the greatest risk to humanity. And the failure of essential US leadership in the international community is already having devastating consequences, including impacts on our local food security.

I believe climate change is real and caused by human activity. I think a lot of people share the belief, but they don’t understand what to do next or why we are stuck on the Business-as-Usual trajectory.

We have all heard about Peak Oil and seen the graphs of world oil production peaking about 2005 and drifting slowly downward for the next century. We have not been talking about Peak Oil per Capita — the amount of oil available per person. That graph is declining much faster because the number of people in the developing world using oil is growing. If several billion Chinese and Indians each wish to use only 5% as much oil as Americans use, our per capita supply must become less. If oil-exporting nations decide to meet their internal needs rather than sell to the US, our supplies could decline more precipitously. I’m going to focus on oil because it’s such a wonderful, potent, easily handled and transported fuel. The rest of the fuels could be woven into a longer version of this story.

Time is important in this story because with lots of time there is opportunity to adapt and innovate. Climate scientists call for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 — 8 years away. To get there we need both innovation and lots of capital investment to replace existing infrastructure.

But we all seem to be stuck in Business-as-Usual. The challenge is, presently we are in a recession, and there is less money available for investment in energy conversions. And, more challenging, as energy availability declines then money (a measure of everything produced with energy) goes away. Wealth is disappearing by many mechanisms such as lost work or lost value of investments (think underwater home mortgages). Climate catastrophes (hurricane, tornado, wildfire and flood) are destroying wealth as well. Less energy per capita means there are fewer resources available to rebuild wealth so we struggle along trapped in our high carbon lifestyles. (More about these ideas in Kunstler’s books The Long Emergency and Too Much Magic.)

The Moscow Food Co-op cannot significantly impact any of these global processes. The Co-op is important, however, and I believe that its greatest asset is that it exists as an organization who’s raison d’être to serve the owners’ mutual benefit. The Co-op is our resource, as owners, to make intelligent choices that help us (and our community) manage through the impending energy/economic decline.

My vision is that, working together, our Co-op will meet its mission during a period of unprecedented change by helping members meet their food security needs and by helping local producers thrive.

Price is an important consideration. Over the last year as I have sought the role of GM, people have come to me sharing concerns about prices. Some of those members have lost their jobs in the past year which has made food costs a more acutely felt issue. For a variety of reasons, the real costs of food are likely to rise and the Co-op must pass those costs along. Even while saying so, I recognize that high prices, even the perception of them, makes the Co-op vulnerable to loss of business and to our local competitors. The GM is charged with increasing sales and must navigate these retail challenges as part of a long-term strategy. I will collaborate with the department managers to contain costs and margins while offering the best products and prices to customers.

I’ve spent time over the last year looking at our other local grocery stores, trying to pinpoint what makes the Co-op special. It’s not the friendly staff (though they are) or the natural and organic foods. I think what distinguishes the Co-op, in ways you sense when you walk in the door, is that “we” are doing “this” together.

Daniel Pink influences my management style. I’ve used his collaborative and empowering ideas in the past and I know they will make the Co-op both a best workplace and create a welcoming environment for new shoppers and returning members.

Pink focuses on a view of management that is contrary to popular beliefs and typical practice. He says, “For simple straightforward tasks monetary rewards improve performance, but once you get above rudimentary cognitive skill and mechanical tasks, rewards don’t work as incentives.” For a summary of Pink’s book Drive see this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Pink is clear about pay, he says “pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table,” but beyond that point three other factors lead to better work performance and personal satisfaction: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.

Autonomy – employees need autonomy in aspects of their job. Management often runs afoul of this goal. Management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement with the job and attention to solving novel emerging challenges, self-direction is better.

Mastery – the urge we all have to get better at stuff. Its why people play musical instruments or undertake other personal challenges during their free time.

Purpose – the chance to make a meaningful contribution. The reward is intrinsic, it stems from making a personally important contribution and having the opportunity to make that the best contribution possible. In his TED talk, Pink gives an extended example of these ideas using Wikipedia vs. Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia project.

I see evidence of Pink’s ideas already in place at the Co-op (among employees, volunteers and members) and intend to lead in ways that continues and extends this successful culture. Much as the Tuesday Growers Market (invite your competitors to sell in your parking lot) functions in wonderful and counter-intuitive ways, I believe that with some autonomy and opportunity to strive toward mastery, our Co-op community can invent more ways to leverage our collective resources to meet each of the Co-op’s strategic goals:  Strengthen Co-op community; Create and maintain the best working environment in Moscow; Develop and support the local, organic and sustainable goods economy; Incorporate values of environmental sustainability into facility; and Increase community engagement, outreach, and education.

I will find ways to help the Co-op meet its mission by supporting sound retail practices and by creating and supporting the flowering of more community food resources. I’ll continue the various ways the Co-op organizes and cooperates with the web of resources in our community to — local growers, home gardeners, and food professionals. I believe it will contribute to creating the best workplace and the intelligent response that will be needed as the Co-op and its members adapt to the changing energy and climate times ahead.

It is this idea of “we together” that is the other important consideration in my vision. The Co-op is more than a grocery store. What other grocery runs a newspaper, invites competitors to sell from its parking lot, or organizes social awareness events? We (the members) want to do this and we do it with money that other grocery stores call “profit.” The GM is the agent of the Board, the “face” of and for the Co-op. Attending to the “Triple Bottom Line” (people, planet, profit) is essential to weathering coming changes and I will collaborate with the Board, members and staff as together we prioritize our Co-op’s activities and look out for our wider collective economic benefit.

Addition 9/1

841 Travois Way
Moscow, ID 83843

August 31, 2012

GM Search Committee

%Colette DePhelps, Chair, GM Search Committee

Moscow Food Co-op

PO Box 9485

Moscow, ID 83843

I’m excited to be applying for the position of General Manager of the Moscow Food Co-op. It’s an unusual event to apply for the same position twice and to have a year to reflect and further prepare. Last year I spoke about being invited to apply by members of the search committee and how that prompted me to reflect on the role of the Co-op in our community and why I found the job of GM an important thing for me to do. In the application process last year I became aware of a community need that was outside the scope of the Co-op, but contributes to our developing local food systems: Moscow lacks sufficient commercial kitchen space to serve food entrepreneurs and the value-added processing needs of growers. Over the course of the past year I have located financing and designed and am now building a shared use commercial kitchen, an expansion of our very successful Peterson Barn Guesthouse. More on my reflections this past year appear later in this letter and in my vision statement.

As you will see in my resume, I’ve done a diverse range of things in the last 35 years, from running companies that design physiology software and timber frame buildings to managing teams of IT and instructional professionals and building community around shared purposes. The most complex business I’ve started is Palouse Prairie School.

I appreciate that the Co-op must be a business first, that it needs to keep costs low, maintain reasonable margins on the goods its sells, maintain a cash reserve and strive to retain some earnings each year for capital developments. It is these sound business practices that have allowed the organization to flourish. Retained earnings are the resource that can support the Co-op’s strategic outreach and sustainability initiatives. I have four years experience with the Palouse Prairie School budget, creating the first ones to gain the school’s charter and then overseeing three years of operations as Board Chair. The budget at the school is nearly $1 million for the coming school year. My reference BJ Swanson consulted with me several times in the process creating the budget for the launch of Palouse Prairie School and more recently the financing for the commercial kitchen. She can speak to you more about my understandings of successful operation of a complex business. The School’s architect Jerry Brotnov can speak to my can-do abilities during the critical steps of remodeling the building and opening the school.

Further bottom-line accountability experience comes from my other business experiences. My second largest business experience was From the Heart Software from 1989-93. The company developed software funded by a series of Federal grants. This gave me an introduction to balance sheets, accounting practices and labor management. The software sold to a very limited market in medical education. That venture closed shortly after we moved to Moscow. The experience taught me about the revenue needed to sustain a business operation (as opposed to capital to launch it). Peterson Barn Guesthouse that I run with my wife Krista, is my longest running venture. We built the Barn over several years, paying cash to capitalize it. That allowed us to manage with low revenues during the first several years of operation. The Barn rented over 180 days in 2011, and its success is allowing us to expand.

I am interested in your position because I see that the goals, strategic plans and policies of the Moscow Food Co-op are working on issues that I find increasingly urgent. What is important to me is focusing on local sustainability. I care about wider environmental issues, but I can’t do much to solve them. I believe I can contribute to Moscow’s successful transition through these changing economic/energy/climate times.

Central to my concerns for our community’s sustainability are issues of food security. There are two aspects to this concern. As fuel prices rise, people in our community will be faced with hard choices and knowing how to use bulk and local fresh foods could be important to achieving good nutrition. Local food production may also help buffer our community from prices and shocks inherent in global markets and our long supply lines.

One of the things that I admire about the Co-op, more as organization than store, is the way it leverages its resources for the community. Dime-in-Time and Impulse Giving are examples — by identifying worthy activities in the community and creating a donation mechanism, the Co-op has allowed micro fund raising to help new small initiatives, leveraging its members and shoppers without significant costs to itself. The Co-op’s charitable giving, aligned with its policy goals is also an important contribution to the community. This philanthropy is even more important now with the City of Moscow’s elimination of its small community grants program. My reference Tom Lamar can share his understandings of the ways in which I have helped organize in the community for local projects and to foster civil dialog and community engagement.

The General Manager of the Co-op needs to work within a complex ecology, responding to a Board and serving as a representative of the organization to multiple communities, among them, active members and shoppers. My reference Nathan Alford can speak to these ideas. We have discussed his paper’s front-page coverage of the Co-op GM search, and how that is very different from the way they treat managerial changes at other grocery stores. This difference is further evidence that the Co-op is more than a grocery store, and of the important role the GM has within the larger Moscow community.

In the creation of Palouse Prairie School, I have served in the role of Board chair both on the founding board, and in the transition to a governing board. It was a context in which I needed to navigate a various of Moscow’s communities seeking allies, resources and support. The Board’s transition from Founders to governing was also a very important lesson in roles, which leads me to have a deep appreciation of the importance of the Co-op’s policy governance model. Palouse Prairie is striving to implement a similar model.

While your job description does not state retail experience is a minimum requirement, in the GM search last year, some expressed concern that I lack retail experience.

First, I am open to admitting what I don’t know and have a management style that anticipates trusting and learning from the current (clearly successful) staff. Previously the Co-op hired an interim store manager and it may be that the store has reached the size where such a position should be permanent. I will seek the advice of the staff regarding such a move, or additional training that would allow them and me to be more effective.

Second, the job is much wider in scope than managing the daily retail decisions. I have subscribed to the CGIN email list to see what Co-op managers discuss. The issues have ranged from choosing Point-of-Sale software, to unplanned capital expenses, to navigating a change from senior citizen discounts to SNAP benefits, to disposal of property left at the store by a bankrupt supplier. The “How to start a Food Co-op” tutorial on the CGIN site has given me insights into rules of thumb for the balance sheet and the role of member capital in the mix of Co-op assets.

Finally, I expect to get more training both from the current staff and from the Co-op’s network of consultants and resources.

I have a range of other managerial experiences spanning two decades. During the 90’s in the College of Education, I implemented the transition of an organization that did not use much technology for productivity to one that explored the Internet for extended teaching and learning opportunities. That job required me to direct a staff of graduate students in daily tasks and to translate the Dean’s goals into practical implementations.

Those managerial experiences continued when I moved to the Center for Teaching Learning and Technology, but with a university-wide scope and with professional staff under my direction. My role of Assistant Director was to facilitate our unit collaborating with staff in other units. It also involved me more directly in HR activities, hiring, termination and performance evaluation.  My reference Doug Baker can speak to my imagination, critical and creative thinking and skills working in these managerial roles. Doug can give you a broad overview of my leadership and management. You are also welcome to speak with my former Director in CTLT, Gary Brown for a closer look.

The work with Expeditionary Learning and its emphasis on collaboration as a strategy for learning and working had introduced me to a language about decision-making. They call it the ABCD model:

  • A-type decisions. Only the leader makes the decision.
  • B-type decisions. The leader makes the decision after gathering input and perspectives, especially from key stakeholders.
  • C-type decisions. The decision is collaboratively made; the leader frames the context and decision-making process.
  • D-type decisions. The leader delegates the decision to another group, while remaining accountable for the outcome.

What I find important about this language is that it helps everyone talk (at a meta-level) about how decisions are made and gives clarity about the way the leader will be treating advice and input. In my approach as GM of the Co-op I will seek mostly to use the other forms of decisions whenever possible, but I recognize there will necessarily be some A-type decisions.

References

Obviously, since I have been a member of the community for 20+ years there are many people who can share perspectives on my abilities. The people below represent a cross-section of perspectives and have agreed to speak with the committee

  • Doug Baker, UI Provost (208) 885-6448 dougbaker@uidaho.edu
  • Nathan Alford, Publisher, Daily News (208) 882-5561 alford@dnews.com
  • Tom Lamar, PCEI Executive Director, (208) 882-1444 lamar@pcei.org
  • BJ Swanson, Director LEDC (208) 301-1221 bjswanson@gmail.com
  • Gary Brown, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Excellence, Portland State Univ. (503) 725-9149 browng@pdx.edu
  • Jerry Brotnov, Brotnov Architecture and Planning  (509) 758-2512 brotarch@clearwire.net

Salary Requirements

My salary at WSU was $65,763 for the 12 months ending December 2010. If the committee is interested in my application, I would not want that salary to be a barrier to opening a conversation.

Thank you for your consideration,

Nils Peterson

Attachments:

Vision Statement

Curriculum Vita

Something’s Different

August 13, 2012

I went out to Elk City, ID on Friday in mid-July. The weather service had red posted flag warnings for the weekend for the whole Payette and Nez Perce National Forests. I was mentally prepared for high winds and dry lightening and to leave on short notice.

I left Grangeville about 8PM. It had been a sunny and hot day, but when I got down to the South Fork of the Clearwater it was cool and I opened the car windows to enjoy an evening drive 50 miles to Elk City. Above Golden, ID, there was fog halfway down the hillsides. It was quite, calm and cool. The road showed signs of a recent rain.

At the cabin everything was wet from rain, it was sprinkling and just 65 degrees. The morning broke clear and cool. I did fire suppression and firewood gathering on the hill near the cabin. The day was sunny but the temperature pleasant for the work. At 4PM the wind got gusty and a few fat rain drops fell. I cleaned up my tools and was on the porch with a beer when the power went out. Before I could decide to BBQ dinner the power was back and it started lightly raining. There was regular thunder and lightening. Counting the time from flash to boom it was not nearby, but the sounds were intense and long. All told we got maybe 1/4 inch of rain, there were puddles everywhere. The rain quit and it started clearing by 6PM.

By 8:30 I headed to bed and shortly after it started to rain hard. I fell asleep to the sound. I awoke at 6AM, the valley was quiet, fog hung a few hundred feet up. The temp was in the 50s. Then BOOM. I didn’t see the lightening, but the thunder was loud. I’ve never seen morning lightening on a cool foggy day. Where does the energy come from? Must be upper level winds. By 7AM a light rain had started again.

GMO Foods – what’s the problem?

August 9, 2012

Cara Santa Maria just posted an item in her Talk Nerdy to Me Huffington Post column purporting to explore the question of why there is opposition to GMO foods. On one side she has a university researcher and on the other she refers to ‘extremests.’ His argument, that she appears to endorse, is humans have altered the genetics of organisms for 1000’s of years by doing breeding and trans-genetric manipulation is just another way to alter the genetics. In fact, he suggests it it much better controlled — rather than mix the whole genome of two organisms by breeding them, these techniques.move specific genes with known functions. More precise, he implies.

This AM I got to thinking about the piece and generating a list of questions that were not addressed and might be sources of concern. Its just a list, not prioritized, and no attempt is made to answer the questions here.

Who owns the resulting organism, and what are the implications if it is private property? For example, can a person freely save, share and replant seed?

Can the organsim readily transmit its new genetic endowment to related non-endowed organisms? Ie, can pollen from one field pollute the genetics of a nearby field? If so, can the farmer who has a practice of saving his non-GMO seed continue to do that, or is the cross-pollenated seed now private property? Has this infringed on the practices of the non-GMO grower?

Given the tendency of industrial agriculture to focus on a few varieties, how is genetic diversity maintained and who controls the gene bank of non-GMO varieties?

What are the effects (and side effects) of the protein that the new gene codes for? On who or what? Consider gluten, an allergen for some people. What if the gluten gene were added to corn and rice because of some benefit it conferred on the plant?

What if we don’t know that the new organism is a problem, but discover that later (for example, dawning recognition of gluten intolerance), can we back the GMO organism out of the ecosystem if it turns out not to be a good thing?

Are there other questions I’ve missed? Are there resources that are addressing these questions?

Recycle Less

February 7, 2012

Latah Recycling does not actually recycle glass, they take our offerings to the landfill, crush them with a dozer, and use them as fill over the demolition wastes. This has the dual cost-savings for them of keeping the glass out of the waste stream they truck to Oregon and reducing their need for gravel. This practice may keep people in the habit of recycling glass so Latah Recycling could return to selling it if market conditions improve.

BUT, this dumping has been their practice for a decade and it is leading me to rethink recycling glass.

Last spring, I decided to stop drinking Diet Pepsi. It was a cost saving move. Then I noticed that my choice reduced my recycling stream. From the perspective of my carbon footprint, reduced Pepsi and reduced recycling represent only a small improvement. More interesting, the observation got me exploring the landscape of “refuse” in the hierarchy “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle.” Now I’m noticing that my glass waste stream contains a number of beer bottles. Hmm….

Winter Salad 2012

February 6, 2012

Back at the New Year I posted about several Fall/Winter gardening experiments, including a Greenhouse Crop that I was re-seeding much more densely and a Cold Greenhouse Crop that I had planted.

The new planting in the greenhouse, under lights only, no soil heat, is doing very well. After a month I was able to harvest enough greens (leaf and romaine lettuce, beet greens and spinach) for salad for 4 people. Parts of the planting are not dense (a result of the November initial seeding). Had it been more intensive it would have been better. I cut individual leaves from each of the plants with the hope that they would grow back. It a couple cases I pulled the plant because things are very (over)-crowded and harvesting is difficult.

The Cold Greenhouse suffered a structural failure in late January after a very heavy snowfall and rains. I examined the inner cloche and row cover and can find a couple seeds just starting to break ground. Can’t identify the plant yet.

The salad from the greenhouse was tasty with Huckleberry Vinaigrette dressing.

 

Experiments in Winter Gardening

January 3, 2012

This is an update on my three winter gardening explorations:

Digging fall carrots Nov 13

Fall crop. This experiment was to plant carrots, beets and chard in late July for fall harvest. I had old seed, so I over-seeded and became challenged to thin and weed effectively. Nonetheless I got all three crops to produce. I gambled with the weather leaving the crop in the ground (unmulched) into November. Animals ate the beet leaves in October and the chard leaves after that. The ground froze before I got all the beets and carrots pulled, I assume the chard is lost, the beets and carrots are an open question.

Digging fall beets Nov 13

LESSONS: The usual challenge of other activities keeping me from weeding and thinning; mulching with leaves or straw and a light row cover would probably have extended the harvest and kept away animals; the harvest needs to be finished before the freeze (or better protection is needed).

Greenhouse crop. November 1, inspired by Square Foot Gardening, I planted a 2×4 foot bed to carrots, leaf and romaine lettuce, beets, chard and spinach.  Individual seeds were planted at recommended their spacing.

The bed is on a bench in my (poorly insulated) greenhouse, a 2×6 frame filled with amended soil sitting on a heating pad set for 70F.  Four full spectrum fluorescent lights were 6 inches above the soil on a timer from 5AM to 7PM. Carrots and leaf lettuce came up fine. The romaine and chard did not germinate, and the spinach only poorly. I replanted spinach mid-November (no more chard seed). One spinach from the first planting seemed to be doing OK and then about Thanksgiving got wilty.

December 1 I raised the lights to 18 inches, and wrapped a plastic curtain around the lights making a terrarium of the bed and lights. The spinach recovered, perhaps due to the increased air temp and humidity.  Three leaf lettuce plants were coming along slowly.  The carrots continued slowly.

Mid-December, after reading Coleman’s 4-season gardening, I replanted spinach, romaine and leaf lettuce at Coleman’s 1” row spacing. One of the original leaf lettuce failed after Christmas due to lack of water (its hard to water in the confines of the terrarium).

January 3 I harvested 3-4 spinach and 3-4 leaf lettuce leaves to start an experiment in regeneration. Lights and heating pad draw (on average) 0.110 KW, lights only draw 0.062 KW (measured by WattMeter). So, my energy cost Nov 1 – Jan 1 was   0.11KW * 24hrs/day * 61day * $0.07689/kwhr = $12.38 (An interesting experiment but spendy for a handful of lettuce leaves.)

I’ve now turned off the heater to see how things grow with the light (and its heat) only.

Dec 2 (31 days since planting)

Dec 14 (looking west)

Dec 31 (looking east)

LESSONS: Heated growing space is costly and plants need to be planted densely and then thinned for eating as they grow. Carrots at 3” spacings need to be interplanted with something faster growing. The goal is to cover every square inch of soil with edible leaves as quickly and completely as possible, then retreat the number of plants as the plant size increases.

Cold Greenhouse crop. Based on more Coleman reading, on January 1 I planted in my hoop house under a cloche and a wire frame covered with row covering. Spinach, leaf and romaine lettuce, and beets and carrots. The first question will be can I get germination.

New Year’s Resolution: Reducing my carbon footprint

January 3, 2012

Making my Resolution was pretty easy, figuring out how to implement and assess it, not so much.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading over the holidays, Bernstein’s Aquaponic Gardening, Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses and some of the blogsphere including Roberts’ Brutal Logic posts here  and here as well as some discussion about the “marketing” of climate change with scare tactics like Roberts vs. a gentler approach to reach the electorate, see two sides here and here.  I’ve also glanced into some alternate perspectives including Worstall at Forbes arguing that delay in addressing climate change can save money (I think his logic is faulty). Also supporting the go-slow path a friend recently wrote me “But considering that 50% of American’s make less then $26,000 a year [what with] buying food and paying rent…well there isn’t money for those high end [climate saving] purchases. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”

I’ve got my monthly utility bills from Avista for gas and electricity in 2010 and 2011 which gives me some baseline. Avista’s electricity comes from a mix of fuels, including coal, gas and nuclear. They give information that should let me adjust my KWH to the fraction that is carbon-based. I don’t have records of gallons of gasoline purchased. My house is heated with wood, which raises some different issues about pollution and I have no handle on the amount of wood I use or its carbon content. And then there is the issue of adjusting my use of heating energy to account for the weather in the 2011 and 2012 heating seasons. Avista gives degree days in its bills but with a wood stove, there are days when you just don’t heat because you are not around to stoke the stove.

So, I am going to make my Resolution more specific:

Regarding gasoline – I will track how many miles I drive and how much gas I use and return to this challenge in 2013.  I put log books in each vehicle to begin tracking miles and gallons purchased. I can use these logs to also record gas purchases for lawnmower, chain saw and the like.

I previously challenged myself to buy only one tank of gas a month, but that challenge is complicated by having multiple vehicles and by using the in-laws’ vehicles at times. To give me something I can assess for 2012, I will aim to buy no more that 150 gallons of gas for the white car and blue truck I drive and for my various gas powered tools. Bicycling around Moscow has shaved my waistline, this is a path to continue.

Regarding electricity and natural gas – Last January I was thinking about these issues in terms of “buy local” and how to shift my purchases from Avista to spending locally. I have experimented enough with a clothesline in the greenhouse that I can see some reduction in electricity use. I need to build on this effort to reduce our footprint with Avista.

Sharon Cousins has advocated solar ovens enough to get me to try one and to build one, but I’ve not lived with them enough to make any claims that I am substituting solar energy for Avista energy. This is a path to continue. I’ve played with a mud oven and retained heat cooking, again not enough to make any claims about substituting wood as my baking fuel. Recently I found a hybrid idea, retained heat solar oven. Something to explore designing into the shared use commercial kitchen I am building.

In the Peterson Barn Guesthouse, my next steps are probably to use solar to supplement space heating and in our house, I’m working on pre-heating our hot water with solar. Both projects are low budget, a fan and ducting to blow excess warm air from the greenhouse and a homebrew rooftop solar collector.