Attempting to Live a Sustainable Lifestyle in St. Louis

Environmentally friendly decisions are tough

Rain barrels should be mandatory July 16, 2009

For my birthday last year my parents sent me a rain barrel. The barrel was a pretty ugly orange and I always got grief about it from my wife.  Not long after we moved into the finished house, I altered the gutter and put the rain barrel into action.

From the first rain fall til today, I’ve never needed to use tap water on the yard plants. The 60 gallons has been sufficient thus far.   There was a dry spell where I went thru all of the water and got worried, but soon after we had a light rain and I was back in business.

One alteration I had to make was the exterior color. As I mentioned, my wife didn’t like the orange and neighbors frequently asked what the orange barrel was (I’m painting the gutter too btw).

rain barrel

My next modification is to buy another rain barrel to catch the overflow of this first one and give myself 120 gallons.  The River des Peres Watershed Coalition offers rain barrels for $60/each.  They’re made from old Pepsi syrup containers and are fitted w/ all the hardware.   I just need to submit my order form.

My conclusion thus far is that everyone should have a rain barrel, as this could significantly cut down on using good tap water for outdoor plants/lawns.  Even if you don’t like the look of mine, retailers offer better looking ones such as this one at Sam’s Club which looks like a giant Terracota pot.

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the modern house I use to hate March 18, 2009

Filed under: Design,Landscaping,St Louis,The hood — budint @ 1:43 am

modern house on juniata

Back in 2002-03 (can’t remember), I was a big fan of the old architecture in St Louis and still am.  My neighborhood, which is the same one I’m back in today, was full of brick shotgun homes, 2 families and a street of bungalows.  I was really proud of living in an area with such original architecture that when this house was built several blocks away, I was appalled.

Like any new home on a lot in an old neighborhood, it looked out of place.  Just by the fact it was a new structure on an empty lot, it looked odd.   Add to the fact that it was a crazy looking, modern home and folks in the hood (including myself) thought it was a real mistake.  Not sure how much grief the guy took or if he even cared, but I heard about it frequently and saw ppl on the neighborhood chat board mentioning it.

So 5-6yrs later what do i think of the house?

imodern house fitting in

Firstly, I’ve realized that it takes some time for a new house to fit in.  The trees must grow back, the landscaping takes place, the weathering of materials, etc.

Secondly, the owner did a decent job w/ the landscaping that really helped to fill around the large white mass.  The thin and see thru wooden fence also does well to tie the modern structure to more natural surroundings.

Lastly, I’ve come to appreciate a mixture of design styles within a modern urban setting. I personally chose to be a bit more discrete and not disrupt the curb appeal of my street, but I don’t think that option was here for this house.   So if you’re going to go new, then challenge the current preconceptions of new homes and that’s what this guy did.

Only thing I know (or I’ve been told) about the owner is that he’s an architecture teacher at Washington University, here in St Louis.

 

Landscaping the backyard; currently ideating March 12, 2009

Filed under: Landscaping,Live Green 2.0 — budint @ 2:07 pm
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The back yard is a post construction disaster and now it’s time to do something.  Not only does it look horrible, but my dog is treating it like a mud wrestling pit and I’m sick of bathing her after every outing.  The short-term solution has been to throw down a bunch of straw until i can come up with the master plan.   Like with the front yard, we’ll focus on drought resistant and native plants, plus try to reuse any rock, brick or wood that we can.  The idea would be to use my rain barrel to collect water from the gutter and have that be the only source of watering the backyard.   Still on a serious budget though, so it’ll have to be a balance.

backyard

Resources:

I looked online briefly, but then immediately turned to my local library.  Picked up 2 books:

Modern Garden Design, by Thames and Hudson – partway through the book.  Takes a nice historical perspective and ties in alot of the thinking of the well known modern architects.  Enjoying this book thus far, though the pictures are a bit lacking for generating ideas.

Making the Modern Garden , by Christopher Bradley-Hole – This one had nice pictures, but lacked in historical substance i was kind of looking for.  Much of the focus of the book is on the author’s own landscape architecture work.

Let me know if you have any good online resources that aren’t for the uber-wealthy.

 

Recycled our pile of plastic plant containers last week August 21, 2008

I’m always impressed when I run across an organization who’s doing something really good for the environment.  Thus, when I finally broke down and took our plastic containers (from the plants we installed last year) over to the botanical gardens I was really surprised by the setup.   It was actually the recycling containers I was most impressed with.   They were some mash-up of a dumpster, trailer and moving truck.   I suppose the advantage is that when they’re filled a large garbage truck isn’t required to haul away the goods.  See pics below (camera phone pic):

The location is a bit difficult to find if you’re not familiar w/ the area, but it’s right across the street from the big monsanto building near the botanical gardens (see link).  And maybe in the end, you can purchase some landscaping timbers made from your plastic pots, though I’d rather just see nurseries re-use plastic pots.

 

Dilemma: Dog vs. Buckeye Tree January 2, 2008

Filed under: General Green 2.0,Landscaping,Live Green 2.0 — budint @ 4:59 pm
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As previously mentioned we got this new puppy, which will be a great addition to our house once it’s complete. One issue though is that our house has a buckeye tree behind it and Buckeyes are poisonous to dogs. Our initial reaction was that we needed to cut the tree down and plant a non-toxic replacement tree. Especially since our puppy seems to eat anything and everything.

However, after talking w/ my uncle and seeing how our vet downplayed the threat, we’ve decided to keep the tree. Especially since it’s such a beautiful tree. See pic below from wikipedia since ours doesn’t currently have leaves.

buckeye

Guess our puppy will just have to learn to not eat everything. And I’ll probably have to rake up all of the fallen buckeyes in the fall.

 

Green roofs aren’t impossible. Who knew? December 9, 2007

Filed under: Exterior,General Green 2.0,Landscaping,Live Green 2.0 — budint @ 10:43 pm
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I didn’t know.

Not until a couple weeks ago when I started doing some research and uncovered so much information that I felt like I just learned about TIVO. And I don’t believe that I’m the only one; who really knows someone with a green roof or has even seen a green roof installation? If you live in St. Louis or nearly anywhere in the U.S. then the chances are nil.

Couple facts and benefits:

  • 12% of the roofs in Germany are Green Roofs. (That’s Amazing)
  • Green Roofs can be designed with no/low maintenance plants or with nice, higher maintenance vegetation.
  • Green Roofs can be installed on slopes. (Pure Genius)
  • Green Roofs cost btwn $10-15 per sq foot. (Cheaper than I thought)
  • The City Government of Chicago has a Green Roofing and rooftop garden program
  • Green Roofs protect the sun from beating down on the roof in the summer and provide insulation in the winter.
  • Green Roofs help to control storm run-off and protect city storm sewers from becoming overwhelmed.
  • Green Roofs help roofs last 2-3 times longer.
  • Green Roofs provide a space for wild life (mainly birds)
  • Green Roofs look better than black tar roofs. (Unless you’re a black tar roofer I suppose)
  • Green Roofs help reduce carbon dioxide.

Now if you’re as amazed as I am, then continue reading.

There are lots of manufacturers in the green roof industry. Some provide the materials needed for integrating the green roof right into your roof just like what you’d think. Other provide a more plug and play system which basically allows you to set deep trays of vegetation just an inch above your existing roof. Each application has benefits/drawbacks and should be considered per situation. The #1 factor to think about is the strength of the existing roof.

Don’t think this is the end of my green roof ambitions. I’ll do a project at some point. In the meantime, check out these additional resources:

1. The city of Chicago is an AWESOME resource. Tons of down loadable guides and useful resources at the bottom of the page.

2. The Live Roof system is a plug n play system similar to Green Blocks.

3. 3 page decent overview of Green Roofs.

4. Michigan State is doing some research on green roofs

Now that I’ve uncovered this new world, I’ll share more info if I find it.

 

We really wanted to go Native, I promise. September 27, 2007

Filed under: Landscaping,Live Green 2.0 — budint @ 1:38 am

So the xeriscape development continues.  Within this landscaping project our goal was to use native plants, or plants which are indigenous to Missouri. The idea is that these plants are naturally more resilient, have less fungal problems and require less maintenance (including less water).

We did some extensive online research to find a list of native plants that would work for our front yard landscaping. This area of our yard is very shaded and is partially on a slope. With our list in hand we made a trip to home depot so as to develop of baseline of native plant availability and general landscaping pricing. As expected, HD had few of the plants on the list, but they were running some nice end of season sales.

Next we visited Bayers nursery on Hampton and Bowood Farms Nursery in the Central West End. Bayer was a bit of a let down, but Bowood had a tremendous selection and even a section for Native plants. The trouble we encountered though was that the majority of the natives (talking non-shrubs) were intended for sunny areas. The guy in shrubs however gave us a good education on which shrubs would work well in our shaded area and which required little maintenance/water. With his advice and a good sense for the price difference between a local nursery and Home Depot’s sale prices we headed back to Home Depot.  This time we hit an HD in the burbs where the garden section was much more comprehensive.

In the end we didn’t get all native missouri plants, we did however get plants which are recommended for growth in our region for their hardiness and drought resistance. Additionally, we were able to get the majority of our landscaping (shrubs, ground cover, mulch, garden soil, etc) for around $250. At the local nurseys (w/o the sales) this same purchase was guaranteed to be between $500-$600.

Some might see this as a setback, but we see it as a compromise. And when you don’t have money growing on trees (green thumb joke), that’s what you have to do.

(will include pics later in the week)