Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Water Harvesting: Industrial to Residential

It is no accident that Milwaukee is located on three rivers and alongside one of the few fresh water sources in the world.  This location requires that we better understand the impact that we have on the water and, especially, how our urban environment impacts water flow.

The Clock Shadow Building, in addition to housing our beautiful rooftop production garden, is also home to a rainwater harvesting system that collects water from the rooftop, stores it in a 5,000 gallon underground tank, and distributes it throughout the four stories of the building to flush the toilets.  This harvesting system includes multiple filtration steps, as well as a sensor that measure how much water is needed and only pumps what is required to flush the number of toilets in use.  

Storage tank pre-filter.  Photo courtesy of WaterTronics.

Water Control panels located onsite. Photo courtesy of Watertronics

By capturing grey water for toilet flushing, we're able to decrease the amount of rainwater flooding the sewer system after rainfall, resulting in fewer sewage overflow events - each of which release tons of human waste in to the lake. This, along with the green roof which captures 1-2 inches of rain fall in the soil, is an important way our building supports the health of Milwaukee's waterways. 

Interested in water harvesting for your home?  Most people think of rainbarrels, but you can also consider a greywater harvesting system for your home.  Major sources of greywater in your home include your washing machine, bathroom sink, and shower/bathtub.  The most recent edition of Urban Farm magazine shares some tips tricks for utilizing home grey water in your urban farm or backyard garden:
  • Use grey water within 24 hours of harvesting - if left too long the water can breed bacteria and bad smells. 
  • Seedlings should NOT receive your grey water - they can't handle the soaps/detergents that might be present. 
  • Apply your greywater directly to the soil - do not use on root crops or leafy green vegetables where the edible part may come in contact with the water.  Grey water is best for fruiting aboveground vegetables (tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc). 
  • Alternate grey water application with fresh water - the sodium salts from the grey water will raise the pH of the soil over time. 
  • No more than 1/2 gallon per square foot each week - University of Massachusetts Extension Service also recommends shower or bathtub water being best for your garden, followed by bathroom sink and washing machine.  Some sources recommend AGAINST using kitchen sink water because of the food particles and grease residues which can encourage bacterial growth. 
The Enact WI blog also has a great article on grey water irrigation systems for home toilet flushing.  If you're not interested in investing in a large irrigation system, consider using buckets to capture water from your washing machine or bathtub and using it to flush your toilet! 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Foto Friday: Tower Garden Update

The Tower Garden grows!  We'll be getting some grow lights set up in the next few weeks, to make sure growth continues throughout the winter months.  Can't wait for that first February (or sooner!) harvest. 

Tomatoes are slowly starting to 'fill out.' 

Lettuce leaves growing

The TowerGarden sits right outside of CORE's movement studio so all can enjoy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Inexpensive Nitrogen source: Snow

Winter season is upon us. Temperature drops, everyone bundles up, and gardens lay dormant. Fortunately, this also means that there is a very inexpensive source of nitrogen available. SNOW!

            Nitrogen is present in large amounts in the air but it is difficult to get it into the soil. As water falls through the air and freezes, each snowflake forms around airborne particles including soot, dust, and minerals. The snow is capable of picking up substances like nitrates, potassium, and calcium as they fall to the ground. As the snow thaws, the substances are released into the soil raising the total substance content. However, the proportions of theses substances in snow are small and vary from region to region. Snow in particular has been observed to add 5 to 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre in the winter season. Snow has less nitrogen then rain. However, rain tends to saturate the soil and run off, whereas snow tends to melts slower and give the soil enough time to adsorb more over time.

            One more reason to enjoy the season!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Foto Friday: Weather Station

We recently installed a weather station on the rooftop. This will give us a more accurate understanding of the weather around the surrounding area. the weather station measures wind direction, Barometric pressure (in mmHg), Temperature (C or F), rain fall (weekly and monthly), Humidity, and Windchill.
Mounted Weather Station

Handheld component
(wireless data receiver; stores data and works as a USB)
Computer program will graph all measurements individually and on chosen days!
(Temp. in Celsius)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bringing the Bees Indoors

During many of CORE/El Centro's movement classes, the room next to the dance studio is bustling with children, 3-10 years old, who are engaging in creative play, movement activities, crafts, and team building exercises.  This is the Children's Activities room, part of CORE's Children's Wellness program.

The Children's Activities project focuses on building healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and a healthy environment.  This week, our Garden and Nutrition Assistant, Dulay, was in the children's room engaging the youth in activities focused on honeybees.

During the winter, our rooftop honeybees are working hard to keep their Beepod at 90 degrees, helping the queen to survive the winter. So we don't want to give them more work by opening the hive and peeking in on them, especially when the temperature is near freezing.  So instead of bringing the children out to see the bees, we decided to bring some bee-themed activities in to them!  Youth made bee bookmarks, out of plastic spoons that had been bent in half, enjoyed honey with their snack, and learned about honeybees' incredible sense of direction with a 'follow the leader' activity.

As our Garden and Nutrition program continues to grow and expand, we look forward to more intra-program collaborations at CORE/El Centro!

Staff and volunteers help the children create Bee Bookmarks out of plastic spoons.

The spoons were bent, creating a bee body to which head, eyes, antennae and wings were attached.

A felt pipe cleaner in the shape of a "V" makes two antennae.

Some participants made two bees - to share with family/friends.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Foto Friday: Indoor gardening through winter

We recently installed a Tower Garden at CORE/El Centro - an aeroponic growing system that is growing in popularity around the U.S. Stay tuned for updates as our basil, cilantro,  lettuce and tomato plants grow through the winter!