Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Global Carbon

On the note of global tree recycling: I have been watching "How it's made" as my standard after-dinner-with-a-drink TV show. In two episodes, one on printer paper, and another on toilet paper, it describes part of the process. Printer paper is made from mostly trees, where it gets chopped, boiled, bleached, dehydrated, sold and eventually printed on. Toilet paper is made from mostly recycled paper, where it is boiled, removed of ink, re-bleached, dried and put on cardboard rolls. In my favorite issue of Science everan article describes how Washington DC is going to upgrade its sewage treatment facilities to turn half of our carbon sewage into fertilizer (the other half will burn the methane by-product to run the plant). So if you think about it, carbon gets emitted from the temperate zones, where all the cities are, where it gets sequestered by the forests of Canada  which get turned into trees, which get turned into paper, which get turned into toilet paper, which get turned into sewage, which get turned into fertilizer which gets turned into food in the temperate zones. The food obviously gets turned into crap, which gets wiped by the toilet paper. It makes me hopeful about the future. The systems we have in place can already accommodate the cycling of nutrients for a global economy, except for the fossil fuels. The less we rely on fossil fuels, the more the carbon loop becomes closed, in which case nature will take care of herself.

A Garden in January

Its always a bit tough to occupy yourself in the garden in the winter. It's even more frustrating here in Maryland where it can get up to 50 degrees in January and February. On those days I feel like screaming "Its warm enough for me, why not you?! Grow damn you, grow!" But, predictably, there is nothing to be gained by such talk.

One thing I have found that does make me feel good about doing something in the garden is composting the Christmas tree. After we take off the ornaments indoors, we move the tree outdoors to the grass and strip off the lights. This is better because then you can walk around the tree with more space than in a living room with a 7 foot tree and two couches in it.

So after the lights and ornaments are off the tree, I take it to the back of the yard where I have a big stuff mulch pile. Any big sticks, branches, dead plants, root balls, etc. go there. Every time I pull out the lawn mower, I mulch whatever has accumulated there. So I stand the tree up there and start hacking away branches with garden clippers. Once the Trunk is a bare stalk, Throw it on the firewood pile to dry out for a while. In a few months it will make some very sweet smelling firewood (that will not gum up a blade that tries to chop it into logs).

The branches just get mowed down...pretty efficiently too.

I'm unsure if it's carbon neutral to do so. Basically what I am doing is burying carbon that got sequestered in Canada. So my lawn mower emits fossil fuel into the atmosphere, which gets sequestered in the arboreal forests of Canada. Those same trees get chopped down t get turned into Christmas trees, Which I then chop up and sequester in my garden. Of course 10% of the gasoline is ethanol from Iowa, which in turn used fossil fuels to fertilize the corn crop (via the Haber Bosch process which basically turns coal into ammonia - sort of).

Other things I like to do in January:

  • Trim the last of the rose seed pods
  • Cut back the mint stalks
  • Cut back the lavender flower stems
  • Try my damndest to keep the compost bin above ambient temperature
  • Try to figure out what to do with all the shredded paper that isn't being used by the pathetically under-active composter
As you can see, the first three things take about an afternoon...if you were in a wheelchair. Which makes the rest of January rather dull.