Posts Tagged ‘Ecological’

Seed Starting Ideas – Commercialism Vs. DIY in Gardening

It’s sunny, it’s warm, it’s a season that inspire all gardener to go all out. Even containers ones like me.

So, as of a few days ago, I found myself rumbling through my boxes for seeds. The questions though, is how I should grow them? The plant nursery has so many different seed starter kits, sparkling in front of me and tempting me. So, what are someway to start seeds indoor?

Hmm… how about the good old jiffy pots? The compressed soil tend to led to sterile soil that will develop a moldy surface. I want to use my own, healthy soil. Besides, my chives has never successfully seeded in a jiffy pot – and I plan to plant some chives seeds.

Plastic container? They don’t have it, and transplanting is going to be nightmare for the seeds I have in mind.

Oh, what’s that? Biodegradable Coco-fiber pot? And it looks shiny too. But nope – bigger than what I want, pricier than other products in store, and don’t look that biodegradable. Maybe it will degrade outdoor, but I am not so confidence about indoor without all the bacteria and rain. I want something with thinner surfaces, like paper.

…No cowpot, pulp pot, or other paper-like pots on store shelf.

In the end, I ended up buying only a bag of all-purpose “Natural Plotting Soil” from a nearby succulent shop named Succulence (Yep, they sell not only succulent soil, but also natural and occasionally organic soil, all for a lovely $2 per bag. Oh, and they have Renee seeds and… wait, wrong post! Shall shut up now).

At home, I mentally debated on which seed starter products I should use. I mindlessly took some paper out for recycling. Lo and behold, I saw a egg carton. My mindless haze cleared up, and the wheel in my brain started cranking as ideas popped into my head. I was so busy thinking about what to BUY to solve my problem, I totally forgot my Eco Crafty side! The scariness of consumerism culture.

I make a quick, sneaky gaze around the apartment trash room. Area clear. I grabbed the carton and checked for a clean condition. Good. I chucked my papers-to-be-recycle and stealthy transport my egg cartoon without any neighbors seeing me.

Once I got home, I renewed my research, now with a new mindset and a new weapon idea. Excitingly, I googled about egg carton seed starter. I immediately learned that it is too small and not very biodegradable. Fortunately, I came across other solutions – homemade paper rolls, eggshell, and newspaper containers. I didn’t had any eggshell and paper roll prepared, so newspaper it was.

I decided to forgo the tape that several blog uses, and relied on my origami folding  skill. Then I rumbled through the cabinet for something to put it in. To my luck, I found a take-out rice box with a clear plastic cover – perfect for a greenhouse. All the seeds are edible plants. A lunchbox of edible garden – yummy.

From left to right, there is two strawberry, chives, nasturtium seeds.

The nasturtiums outgrown the box pretty quickly though. So I took it, and it’s now arrange symmetrically with two other baby aloe. One of the chives have also popped up. Strawberry will take a while, but I think it is a pretty successful experience so far.

Point one to DIY.


Glasshouse Orchard: The SF Conservatory of Flowers

With the summer and Green Festival ending, and then the sky darkening early and thunder roaring in the distant (ok, maybe not that part), my plant-loving side had taken a hit by the clouds. As such, my exploration side decided to visit the Conservatory of Flower:

 I had always know what the Conservatory building look like since I had a sketchbook field trip there when I was young, but now that I look at it, the world “Britain. Prefab. Kids on giant lotus. Industrial age glasshouse architecture. 18th century.” would always pop up.

I blame this on my architecture history professor. Not that they would mind – I can hear them chuckling in the background of my mental sphere of thought.

I knew that I was a bit late for the tour though (found out last minute), and so I rushed over inside… wait, the ticket booth is outside the building? *Rushed over to the booth outside.*

Luckily, the tour just started and was still near the entrance. I happily skittered over there. Before I knew it, my eyeglasses fogged up as I was greeting the tour docent and the group.

Uh, I can’t see!

Lowland Tropics

The main area resembled the climate of a tropical forest. There were a lot of moisture. and they had gutters all the way around the interior premises. Which by the way, shows some very elegant detail:

The area is, in fact, the area right below the central circular… atrium?

This parts raised above the other arms of the building, allowing the trees native to tropical climate to grow. According to the docent, at least one of the tree can protrude the building if given the chance.

My favorite tropical plant is, naturally, the coffee tree:

Sadly, there was only one. So, no, the Conservatory will not have their own private brand of coffee. Nor would they have their own private banana, chocolate, and jasmine perfume, though they do have the plants. The docents also showed this little gem:

It was how greenhouse first started. Back in the exploration age, plant collectors/scientists wanted to bring tropical plants back, but those plants would wither and die as they left their native forest. So someone thought of this brilliant idea – a glassbox to keep the heat and moisture in. With it, the age of glass conservatory soon arrives to Britain. A beautiful combination of orchids grown  in this particular box. In fact, there were other orchards in hanging basket. Ah, I would love one in a basket (daydreams…):

Highland Tropics

“This gallery provides an intimate glimpse of life in the cloud forests of the tropics, where the high elevations of 3,000 feet or more bring refreshingly cool temperatures.”

-by Conservatory of Flowers brochure

Yes, cool indeed. I can feel it when the docent pushed open the doors. I immediately put on my jacket, then my jaw dropped when a giant tree structure at the center  popped up in my view line:

Then the docent told me it is actually a concrete structure.

It’s concrete.


Whoever crafted all the concrete tree trunks and fake boulders did a fine job.  The structure enclosed by metal railing (another beautiful detail…) with its trunks growing from below the floor. The entire “tree” is decorated with different combination of tropical moss, orchards, and other plants. No wonder people are so addicted to orchard (the cult of Orchard is rather famous, especially after the book “Orchard Thieve”), the variation are amazing. There are hanging orchard, miniature orchards, orchards that grows on tree like moss, orchard where the buds hangs, and orchards that looks nothing like orchard. Here’s one example that I like:


They are the same plant. Amazing. Here another one, with special effect:

The highland tropics preference also means many orchard grow well indoor. Adapted to the conditions of tropical, its roots can be shallow, making it great for pots. The Conservatory had several of them on some shelves, which is another beautiful structure in the building:

They have the same shelves with orchards in the Aquatic Plants section as well. There are really orchard species for everywhere.

Aquatic Plants

Ah, the famous lotus leaves.

My architecture professors should arrange a field trip whenever they talked about the industrial age.

The leaves here weren’t so big that a kid can sit on it, but it was a beautiful sight, especially since water always enchants me. My love of water expands to my love of plants, and my favorite flower has always been the lotus:

There were also some algae that I initially thought was a relative to the lotus plant… can you believe algae could be so elegant looking?

The carnivores flowers was strange yet eye-catching, and, respite eating rice almost everyday of my life, today is actually the first time I had ever saw a rice plant in real life. Nope, the Conservatory didn’t have their own brand of rice either.

A sectional view of the pond:

The Conservatory cheated a bit by using pots underwater. Now that I look at the photo, I wonder how the Conservatory worker prevented the pots from growing moss and eroding?

For the next part, there were even more pot plant. Let us move from the British design to a more Asian one, shall we?

Potted Plants


An Japanese pavilion placed at the center of the entrance. Hmm, the designer do love making a grand entrance. I loved how the bright yellow orchard expanded into the lower parts of the central circular frame, forming a lower visual support with the pale poinsettia below and brings the eyes to the serene central circle.

Oh! Tiny glasshouse. I wonder if I can buy one?

This flower is name Bleeding Heart. Another flower that I love on first sight.

The pavilion frames the ending element of the Potted Plants home, which is a sculptural stone container (or I think its stone, could be concrete now that I think about it.) and a benched space with plant overhang. After this wall would be another different space, though I can hear the voice before I even enter.

Store and Exhibition

Conservatory is doing an exhibition right now on the Playland that used to be a famous seaside amusement park. To my regret, they just did an exhibition based on the book Wicked Plant, which I started reading. Right now, a miniature version of Playland sits in the room of Poinsettia:

Cute and very festival with lots of music, though I wished I arrived a few weeks ago so I can see the Wicked Plant exhibition as well.

The store was tempting. They had miniature pots with seeds and even coffee bean starter kit. They also had the seeds for the plant Money Tree. The egg-shaped container are difficult to resist. It was probably a good thing I had around ten different packages of seeds that I still needed to grow, and that the box of egg-shaped container with seed was way too expensive. If they are just selling the egg-shaped container for a single digit price, I would probably caved and brought something.

For a Conservatory though, the store is smaller than I expected. I guess being a Conservatory, selling plants was probably not the focus.


Eventually I pulled myself away from the store area with my wallet intact and unharmed. As I left, I noticed the model at the entrance is a donation box.

I love models… I wonder how they made it?


The Conservatory was nice to visit as a tourist. The way that plants grow in different climate is definitely intriguing. The Conservatory was an essentially a museum. It was different from Golden Gate park, where I can sit down and read outdoor while watching ducks swimming in the ponds.

I would go to the Conservatory for exhibition and education, but not for relaxing and getting in touch with nature. The is something so serene and powerful about standing outdoor with trees after trees encircling me and expanding upward into the sky. It is a different atmosphere from the Conservatory.

Would I return to the Conservatory? I will, especially if there is an exhibition on Wicked Plants again. It is one thing to read book on plants, but seeing it makes it real and alive in my mind.

The next exhibition is… let me google…

They are doing an exhibition of dinosaurs in April!


Oh yea, I am returning. (<— archeology fan).

San Francisco Water Conservation Conference 2011

As some of you reader may know, I went to the San Francisco Water Conservation Conference (… now, trying saying that 3 times very fast :D) during Spring Break. For those who don’t know, the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) hosted a Water Conservation Conference at the San Francisco PG&E center on March 22. Registration is free for students (which is the same most of the time when something happens at Pacific Energy Center. They host a lot of classes on energy education. So if you are ever at San Francisco as a student, check it out!)

The summary can be found here: 2011 Showcase Theme: Saving Water in Existing Buildings

While I had looked forward to getting into the conference early in the morning, the San Francisco public transportation (which can take forever if you live far from the city central. Say… from Bayview) and rainy weather (which make me slightly groomy about getting up early on a Spring Break) made me tired like a cat on a rainy day. In the end, I decided to skip the first two sessions. I did, however, arrived to the later sessions

It makes me wish I had attended the first 2 sessions – the presentations were wonderful! I would say that my favorite was the talks about blackwater and greywater. I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting (in fact, it sounds somewhat depressing, with all the gloomy color references), but for an architecture student interest in landscaping and passionate about gardening, it was very fascinating.

In addition, there is free lunch! As a college student, free food is always welcome. Not to mention, it’s pretty good food (sandwich, salad, brownie, etc). Though, as always, I wish I had been more talkative. Being surrounded by a large group of older adults, all of which dress office-style and taller than me (I am so glad I had the foresight to dress formally myself, though I wish I had a wedged shoe stored at my home at SF. Must everyone be taller than me?), tend to be a bit awkward for me. Not to mention talking to the exhibitors knowing that they are looking for current workers who can actually use their products. (Oh, there is a lot of exhibitor. The different booths are just great! I feel like a little bee as I went back and forth between the 2 floors.)

There is a official lunch break time though, and that really help me to talk up. I strike up some conversations while I was eating in the 2nd floor lunch room. I am getting better and better at this as I went to more and more conferences and exhibitions. In fact, a few weeks after the conference, I was pretty in place at the Career Fairs. Learning to converse, meeting new people, talking about topic that I am passionate in… it makes experience like this even more fun and exciting.

But, onto the actual presentation!

The first presentation I went to is the “Business Case Study for Water Conservation in a Commercial High Rise.” Speakers are Jennifer Karol from Prudential, Jose Guevara from Cushman & Wakefield, and Alex Spilger from BCCI builders/Green Step. The presentation focused on mostly bathroom facilities, mainly faucets. There were a lot of statistics, so I am very happy that USGBC is offering the powerpoints online at a later date – taking notes like that the whole day is tiresome. Other than statistics, there is a lot to bathroom facilities. Just faucet wise, there is the choice of battery powered and hydro powered ones – and each have its pros and cons. There is pint-flush urinal, flow restrictor, and more. Designer has to take into how often the bathroom is use, the environment it is in (public or private?), the energy use in comparison to energy saved, baseline flush, flow rate, etc.

The second one was “Case Studies in Water Conservation” by Zorana Bosnic at HOK and Aaron Majors at Cagwin & Dorward. The presentation started with the soil regeneration project at Habor Bay. After that, HOK brought up 3 different case studies. Since it is mostly case studies, I will let the curious readers here visit the USGBC powerpoint page instead (link at the end of blog entry), since all the images are over there.

The third conference was “Decentralized Blackwater Reuse: A Case for Smart Growth” by Will Kirksey at Worrell Water Technologies and Mark Meredith at PHOENIX Process Equipment Co. Kirksey talked about the use of sludge and wetland. Turns out there is 2 different type of wetland – Constructed and Engineered. In particular, he talked about Membrane Bioreactor.

Meredith’s title was very catch: “The New Black”. Blackwater is harder to use than greywater – it’s mainly for flushing, irrigation, and cooling tower. As such, it is regulated to a degree. But it has quite a bit of benefits, some of it includes conserving up 90% outside water demands!

The last conference is “Greywater and Rainwater System Design, Implementation and Lessons Learned” by Brent Bucknum at Hyphae Design Laboratory and John Russel at WaterSprout. Russel started with water system. It turns out while there is not an official codes, there are plenty of references to look into. He recommened 3: “Rainwater Catchment Design & Installation Guideline” by ARCSA, “Guidelines for Rainwater Harvesting” by City of Berekley, and City of SF’s rain barrel rebates. After that, he went into greywater system.

Bucknum is more about case studies. He talked about the 5 main types of building/project that water-designers has to deal with the most: Multifamily, Neighborhood, Institutional, Industrial, and Municipal-scale projects. I was particularly fasinated by the Green Meme design his firm did over at LA.

The longer I stayed, the more intriguing every presentatino becomes. I am really tempted to just type up all my notes, but alas, it will take way too long. In addition, the USGBC offers all the powerpoint on their web site in a much better organization, so I highly recommend everyone to go over there instead – especially for those of us taking the LEED exam. It is such amazing information, no one should miss it!

Here is the link: 2011 Showcase Program

To my own disappointment, I had to leave early and miss the final part, Keynotes presentation. I just discovered the day before that the Amtrak online system no longer let me purchase the type of ticket I need. Since I am getting my wisdom teeth pull the next day before I return to Cal Poly, it’s best if I order before… well, before I can’t talk because I look like a hamster.

But alas, that’s a story for another time. Meanwhile, I really need to think about green elements in my architecture thesis project. :D

Happy Earth Day, 2011!

Love, love Earth Day!

This year, for the first time since I came to San Luis Obispo four years ago, Earth Day festival was held at the El Chorro Regional Park near Cuesta College. It was very disturbing for me at first, because I don’t have a car. Then, to my happiness, I found out that there is RTA shuttle and SLO transit bus running all day to the park for free during the festival!

Go SLO public transit!!!

I took the bus at 10:00 AM, when I found another bonus to the free bus day during Earth Day – guarantee double decker! I got to ride at the top front sits all the way to Cuesta. The scenery was beautiful, as the Central Coast has always been. I was rather pleased, and so was the little kid sitting next to me. Everyone on the car was just having a very peaceful day, and they all started talking as soon as they got on the bus. I joined in for a while, but as most of the rider were the elder local residences, I slowly recede to quiet listening. It was very peaceful and calming that way.

We switched to a shuttle when we got to Cuesta. The lady sitting next to me wore a hat decorated with jasmine. We somehow struck up a conversation about it. Before I know it, I was at the festival. There were so many booth! No wonder it is not hold at the Mission Plaza this time. The area had a lot of wild grasses though, so it was a good thing I wore jeans and sketchers shoe (which also help me struck up a cute conversation with the little child at the bus when I was waiting for the Cuesta shuttle :D).

I took a quick walk around first – or I intended to. I wouldn’t deny that I got distracted a couple of times… *cough* Ummm… I was surprised to realize that I gotten quite into the SLO nature society. I saw several people that I know – Wendy from Bali Isle (she’s finally getting a booth during Farmers!) , a gardener I know from Growing Ground (We started talking about a plant that I suspected to be edible), three people from Growing Ground (one which I met once a year ago, which I recalled because of her necklace, to her surprise – and mine. Memory is an amazing thing…), and two people whom I know frequents the library (I didn’t know them personally though, just saw them around). In addition, I found three of guys from my year of architecture just hanging out at the festival.

Around mid-day, I visited the Botanical Garden for the first time. After walking back and forth to for a while (they were very busy, and I asked very specialized questions regarding gardening and culinary. I also visited the library.), I got their memebership (50% off due to Earth Day, and comes with a free subscription of Better Homes and Gardens!), a pot of French Lavender (which I got with a $7 coupon for new member, resulting in a total payment of only $2), and a magnetic tin box containing Nastutuim seeds (Can’t resist…). I am hoping to make some lavender cake and nasturtium butter once they’ve grown.

I was also planning to buy a new shirt from Morro Coast Audubon Society since their shirt was somewhat cute, but they don’t have the size I want (Extra small, of course). I wanted to take a free tree from One Cool Earth too, but I don’t have a garden to grow a tree.

Finally, I finish the the day off with a Strawberry Banana Smooth – made using solar powered blender. The bus came right when I was ready, so I ran over and hope onto the bus. It is a bit sad that the day is finally over – I would say that this is one of the best Earth Day festival I have had so far! I am looking forward toward next year already!

Second Trip to Academy of Science

Apparently, this never got posted because I saved it as a draft, but here is a sequel of my Academy of Science visit.

Being a perfect sunny, third Wednesday at San Francisco, I headed over to the Academy of Science this afternoon (Third Wednesday means free entry). I spend the first half hour getting a Pomegranate Paradise at Jumbo Juice (They were having a one dollar sale for “Superfruit Smoothie”. It’s a long, long line.) I got a very creamy and spongy coffee cake at a nearby Chinese bakery (in a Chinese bakery, when they say coffee cake, they mean “coffee” and “cake” separately. It is rectangular and soft coffee-flavored sponge cake with whipped cream layer – not the cake that people eat with coffee.)

The entry is crowded with people, but the line is fairly quick. Meanwhile, I took a look at the DeYoung. The skin’s getting darker, I think… (the copper skin, which is supposed to change color with time)

When I entered, I was greeted by Mr. Dinosaur. Cute.

This time I am smarter, and I went straight to the green roof:

It’s so lovely! You can see the rock that serves as drainage guide, creating the grey crossing. The entire roof is covered by seas of purple flowers and green grass. Flowers are blooming, birds are chipping – they even have a little machine you can turn to hear the sound records of different birds. Very fun.

The roof look like it is really alive and breathing, especially with the rooftop openings.

Solar panel, the perfect resting places for pigeons. They seems to enjoy sitting at the edge and hanging out with their friends. The kids like to run around too. It’s pretty safe though. Behind the railing is solar panels and a lot more fields of green. Climbing over it would already draw attention. The parents have to be really air-headed to not notice it.

I took some picture, but it was too far to see in a photo. Being on the roof give you a really nice view of the landscape and the Classical building at the left. DeYoung is just right in front. I like this rooftop more than the tower of DeYoung, since I am in the air instead of tower building. My last visit to the DeYoung tower feels more restricted, where as this one is fresh and airy. But then, DeYoung is a art museum, not that the tower have any art work back then. It certainly could in the future.

Lovely view walking back down. I like the openness, which make it welcoming to even though its jam-packed with people. The waving pattern slides around the central glass sphere in a rather nice fashion. Combine with the sky light, it creates quite a stunning effect.

It’s nice how the light plays with the flowing structure….

After that, as always, I went to the aquarium. I wanted to go to the tropical forest part and the planetarium, but I missed them again because they are packed on free days like this. Next time, I should just set up an alarm clock to come in at 8 in the morning….

But then, I don’t think I can ever get bored with visiting the aquarium. Looking at them is always fun, and they have some new collection.

The turtle is still there though. It moves so slowly everyone though it may be just a statue for a moment. Until it begins to eat paper.

No, seriously, it was eating paper.  Apparently, someone dropped their brochure. The turtle tear it up and shared it with his fellow fishy friends.

I was tempted to contact an employee, but they are no where in sight. I hope they are ok…

They got more jelly fish now! Love jelly fish. (And dolphin, even though they don’t have it here.) They would be perfect for Halloween, with their glow-in-the-dark feature. They just have a small problem of being a bit deadly poisonous, but they are cute, aren’t they?

Giant fish! It’s as big as a kid! Couldn’t tell the scale from a photo shot, but it was amazing to watch.

I also got to touch a starfish later. There is always something to do in the Academy……. Hopefully, I can go there soon again!

Merry Christmas!

Lesson of the year: Prepare Xmas a month ahead! It makes Christmas a lot stressful.

Well, at least with the internet, I can send everything through ecards. No paper wasting! Yes!

When I was younger, I always grimace at my cards, because I don’t know what to do with them. I can’t keep all my Christmas card – it piles up pretty quickly. Decoration? For one month. I like my decorations to be mostly all season. I feel bad for dumping them, both because someone went through the effort of buying it, and because I hate creating waste.

I can try recycling them, but that is annoying too. Music cards are fun, but they are the hardest one to recycle. The sparkly ones too. They scatter all around, and also get on my cloths.

I am very thankful for the efforts, but I really wish there is a better way to express Christmas spirit. I am not exactly keen on thinking about trees chopping-death on holidays.

Which is why I love the current trend of Christmas ecards and gift cards. Ecards wastes no papers, and they make it easy to reply and have conversations. You can just click a button to say thank you for the cards, instead of thinking “No! She celebrates Christmas by sending cards. I should send one too, but it’s too late!”

Gift card are great in that you give a gift, and you send a Christmas card with a very tiny paper. Traditionally, you give a box of gift that you are not sure that they like, and you attach a giant piece of Christmas card that just says Merry Christmas because a small card look so unimpressive with your giant box of Christmas red. It is a really ineffective use of paper. Gift card changes all that.
Christmas has really came a long way, doesn’t it?

Well, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Free Day at California Academy of Sciences

Most of you have heard about Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Science, right? The one with the green roof over in Golden Gate park at San Francisco? Right across from the DeYoung Muesum by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron?

If not, check it out! It’s a wonderful building. Modern, eco, user friendly all in one. It’s sleek with its steel frame and large glass facade, but with its monumental design and its green roof, it still manage to fit within the Golden Gate park and Classical dome renovated to its front-right.

As a local San Francisco, who have seen the place back when it was not even in construction, the raise of DeYoung Museum, the center park’s redesign, and the construction of Academy…… it really is a wonderful feeling. The Academy with its surrounding creates a really elegant touch to the park. Photos don’t do it justice – not even when I went on a rainy day, which is what happened when I went in for free! Yes, the museum is open for free every third Wednesday of the month.

I really want to go on a normal day, though. There are always school field trips on those days, so the Academy was packed. They have less activities as well. But still, I am poor right now, so……

For this trip, I focused on the aquarium, because I love water and marine animals. I like plants too, but the aquarium is more impressive here. For plants, I am planning to take a tour guide in the SF Botanic Garden. But that’s a story for another time.

I first went to penguin feeding. It was a very interesting presentation, and the presentators made the penguin really come to life.


Then I went to the Aquarium. They still kept the old alligator pond! It really brought back memories. They even keep the railings, which has this elegant and delicate carvings on it. I love the aquarium! With the light filtering into the giant tank, colored by hundred of brilliant colored fish…



It was one of the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. The sad thing is that I got in too late (I didn’t realize it was a free day), so I never have time to go up the ramp. Since it is raining, going to the roof is probably not a good idea either.

Next time, on a sunny day. Next time……