[I was reminded of this old article of mine after seeing John Robb’s recent post about cold frames. I’m sure there are better DIY instructions out there, but some people found this helpful and maybe a repost will be useful to some more.  (EDIT: Added comments at the bottom about angles and sourcing materials that I also posted on Robb’s G+ article about this.)

This was an article I wrote several years ago for Green Options, and was probably one of my most popular pieces. (GO eventually turned into a number of different blogs, including Green Building Elements, where I wrote for a couple years, and you can find the original there.)  It’s a longish piece, as well, since it’s DIY instructions, so I’m tucking it behind a cut. The links didn’t copy over (and are probably out of date, for the most part), but I’m tracking down a couple of the images and adding them back in. I had a nice hand-drawn diagram illustrating the construction, and I need to see if I still have a copy of that somewhere that I can add in here to help make this more useful.]

Weekly DIY: Cold Frame

This weekend we got the first tantalizing taste of spring as the weather was clear and bright and temperatures rose well above freezing for the first time in months. Snow melted (though not entirely yet), and started the thoughts of summer gardens in mind. But nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing, and it’s far too early to put plants in the ground, unless you provide a little assistance.

If your garden has a spot with good access to the sun throughout the day, you can use a cold frame to start your plants earlier in the year than you would otherwise. A cold frame is a very simple item. It is really just a small greenhouse. Daytime sun will warm the air and the ground inside, making it easier for plants to start growing. Nighttime temperatures inside the cold frame may fall back close to outdoor ambient temperature, but the extra heat gained during the day and the wind protection the enclosure provides will help keep the plants alive even if there is an overnight frost.

Building a cold frame should be a simple project. An elaborate structure is not required. It should cost little or nothing to build and nothing to operate. Plants can be started close together while they are small, and then, as they get bigger and the weather gets nicer, they can be moved out of the frame and put into the garden. (more…)

It’s our season of hosting and domain renewals (and our DSL provider is also ending service, so we’re also having to migrate that service now, as well). So there’s a temporary (and hopefully only short term) problem with the domain for web hosting and for email. If you’re trying to get in touch with me through those channels, things will be back in order shortly, but, in the meantime, you can also use my Gmail address (you know how it goes: psproefrock [at] gmail etc.) to contact me until normal services are restored.

[Originally posted at EcoGeek. This was adapted from the Remembrance of Ernest Callenbach that I posted yesterday. It also incorporates the fragment of an interview I had started doing with him for an EcoGeek of the Week profile that never happened. Since the interview is included in this version, I’m re-posting it here, as well, although some of what I’ve written repeats what I had in my first article. But for those unfamiliar with Ernest Callenbach, this may be a better introduction to his work.]

Ernest Callenbach died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 83. You may not recognize his name, but his book, ‘Ecotopia’ was an extremely influential early novel of environmentalism. It has been translated into a dozen languages and has sold nearly a million copies since it was first self-published in 1975. I would have to say that I am the EcoGeek that I am because of Ernest Callenbach.

Ecotopia‘ presents an alternative future where Northern California, Oregon, and Washington State have seceded from a collapsing United States that is choked with pollution. The new country has isolated itself from its parent country, and the book is presented as the journal of the first reporter from the US to visit, some 20 years after secession, to see how Ecotopians live. The Ecotopian lifestyle was more connected to the land, more interpersonal, and more conscious of environmental effects. It may not be a realistic possibility, but it offers a compelling vision for what could be aspired to.

I had a brief email correspondence with Ernest Callenbach for a possible interview for EcoGeek (to be part of the EcoGeek of the Week series). I had only done a few of these interviews; a couple of them went well; a couple others less so (and never got published). Ernest Callenbach was a hero to me, and I didn’t want to screw that one up, and I wanted to ask good questions. I have the first part of that discussion, but things telescoped and other things came up and the interview was never finished. What follows is that interview segment.

I would have to say that I am the EcoGeek that I am because of Ernest Callenbach.

Ernest Callenbach died a couple of weeks ago. His name isn’t necessarily all that recognizable, although I understand that more than a million copies of his book, ‘Ecotopia‘ have been published, and in more than a dozen languages. This is not so much an obituary as it is a remembrance of what Ernest Callenbach meant to me.

It may not all have started with him, I’m sure there are other influences, maybe some of them have been stronger than his. But, his book – ‘Ecotopia’ – sparked my imagination powerfully at the time that I read it, and it was certainly an important early influence on me and my development, and it helped steer me toward being the environmentally-oriented person I am today.

Mostly off-topic for an architect, I know, but it’s this odd odd appendage that has developed as a part of my sideline as a writer about green technology (and living close to Detroit). Two things coming up:

I’ve been invited to come to Penguicon again this year, and to be on a panel with some other automotive and transportation folks to talk about the future of automotive technology. While I am still only accidentally a “car guy,” it has become an area of interest for me as part of my involvement with EcoGeek. I’m not in the industry the way the other panelists are, so hopefully I can provide some wider perspective. I also expect I will be acquainted with a number of blue-sky concepts that the others are less familiar with.

I’m not sure about other presentations or programming for Penguicon, yet. I’ve offered a possible presentation on ‘Alternative Alternative Power Generation,’ looking at the fringe ideas and explorations that make wind and solar look mainstream (which they certainly are becoming).

Secondly, I’ve been invited to visit a Volkswagen research facility in a couple weeks to learn more about what they are up to (as well as to have a chance to drive a bunch of their upcoming models). It’s one of the more incongruous parts of my life. Look for some stories coming out of that in a couple weeks.

I used to be a space colony proponent, years ago, when Gerard O’Neill was in his heyday. There were attractive images of what these cities of the future might look like, as idealized and unreal as any other grandiose project. I was recently reminded of this when SF author Charles Stross pointed out an article by a professor at UCSD that concluded that they were not likely to be viable, at least in the near term, and the considerable outcry that came from those who still hold to the posibility.

Space colonies seemed to be a natural extension of the program of venturing into space in the 60s and 70s. Astronauts led the way, and the rest of us would follow in a few decades. Maybe there was some good rationale for having thousands of people living in space. New manufacturing processes were one concept. But what can you make better in space than you can elsewhere? And where would you get the materials to make it with?

The same thing is going on with vertical farming. A lovely rendering seems full of possibility and allure, but the fundamental reality is that it would be enormously expensive way of providing a very tiny fraction of the farming space needed.

I still love space colonies and vertical farms, but in the same way that I love science fiction movies, not as something I think has a serious place in policy discussion, as much as I might love for it to be otherwise.

[This piece was written for the Ann Arbor getDowntown Commuter Challenge blog. I will probably work up a revised version of it for EcoGeek in the next few days, as well. Although I talk about local things, the larger point of it is still relevant, even if the Ann Arbor Commuter Challenge doesn’t matter to you.]

Right now, midway through the month, Workantile Exchange, the coworking space I am affiliated with, is leading the 50-100 employees segment of the 2011 Commuter Challenge and has avoided about 1/2 ton of CO2 emissions from the logged commutes. We use a ‘ton’ to mean a lot, but what does that mean for CO2?

A car weighs a ton or two (a current model Ford Focus has a curb weight of about a ton and a half), but it’s made from much heavier materials. But CO2 is a gas. It is much harder to have an image of what it means to have a ton of CO2.

A little research and some calculation shows that a ton of CO2 will fill a volume of about 17,850 cubic feet at standard atmospheric pressure. To help visualize it, this is roughly the volume of a two story house about 2,000 square feet in size. (25 feet deep x 40 feet wide x 17.86 feet tall) If you know of a house that is about that size, then think of that volume filled with pure carbon dioxide; that’s what one ton of CO2 is.

Add up all the participants and the amount of CO2 they are not putting into the atmosphere with their commutes this month, and there’s a subdivision’s worth of CO2 that has been offset already.

Another way to look at it is to think about how long it takes for you to put a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere. The EPA uses the figure of 19.4 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gas. So, roughly speaking, every 100 gallons of gas you use puts a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere.

And that’s just the carbon dioxide. If we are talking about automobile emissions, then there are all kinds of nitrogen oxides, uncombusted hydrocarbons, soot, and other pollutants that are being put into the atmosphere, as well.

4 printers in series I saw this article on BoingBoing about a book being produced by using four printers linked together, and I had a flashback to a project of mine almost 20 years ago. The project in the article used stencil duplicator, spirit duplicator, laser printer, and inkjet printer each printing a single color to produce full-color output. And the idea of combining technologies in an ahistoric fashion was what I was interested in with my project, as well.

I took some printmaking classes while I was an undergraduate, but I never did anything with lithography. So, although I was an MFA graduate, I took an evening class at the Toledo Museum of Art to learn lithography. I did a couple pieces with drawing and working on stones, but I also did some photolithography. At the time, I had an Amiga computer which I was using to do some image construction and manipulation. For this project, I created a digital collage and, since I didn’t own a printer myself, I had to take it to an Amiga store and print out the image as a set of 4 color-separated pages. Then, I took those dot-matrix pages to a copy store and had them copied onto transparency material. With those transparencies, I burned a set of photolithographic plates. At last, I printed the four plates in succession with their appropriate colors (magenta, cyan, yellow, and black) in order to produce a kind of four color final image.

The final images from this installation were fuzzy and imperfectly registered, like my own prints. Mostly though, I’m intrigued to find someone else doing a similar kind of project and playing with different levels of technology in an unusual way.