Thursday, September 6, 2007

647 Looking toward Zootopia

Message no. 647[Branch from no. 642] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Sunday, March 18, 2007 4:42pm Subject: Looking toward Zootopia.

Glad the NWF's concept ispires you Pat! I also was very taken by how simple it is to invite our animal friends back into our lives! I did a presentation in Belgium in 2003 for the Association of Planners called "Looking toward Zootopia" in which I presented evidence that other animals are not going extinct because of human habitat modification per se, but because we actively refuse to let them live with us. It is certainly true that without the plants the animals can not survive well, but they don't resent our "intrusion" so much -- they find our attics and basements and yards and awnings and roofs and drains and sewers just another environment to inhabit. Often, as in the case of the parrots of Chicago and Los Angeles, they prefer our cities to the so called "countryside" which doesn't offer much more than endless rows of poisonous monocrop hell. Since our cities are so diverse in topography and affordances, other animals seek the city too! In Chicago I watched a flock of parrots fly around the South Side (where I grew up -- you know, "the baddest part of town - Bad Bad LeRoy Brown" town, if you remember the song!) -- they spent the winter in heating ducts from buildings. Normally parrots could never survive in the Midwest of North America, but the city provides everything they need.

While we have a prejudice against "uninvited animals", they don't have a similar prejudice against us. We are taught in so many television programs and in schools that it is "human encroachment" that is driving animals extinct. My observation is that other animals would do well in human modified environments if we allowed them to, and if we diversified the amounts of plants available.

My wife and I spent a marvelous day in January watching the seals on the beach in La Jolla Cove, San Diego. If people don't hassle them, they love basking in front of the crowds of tourists. In San Francisco at Pier 39, the sea lions living on the man made pier are a huge tourist attraction and I love bringing people to watch them when I visit my cousins there.

As Urbanization proceeds the amount of wild land is getting so small and so degraded that the only way animals stand a chance is living with us. In Cairo, as picture 0201 shows, 30,000 hectares (74,100 acres!) of agricultural land are converted into city slums every year!! Now shepherds graze their sheep on fields of garbage! Fortunately, sheep and goats and pigs CAN turn garbage into wool and leather and meat and milk. We just have to be sure the garbage doesn't contain any toxic wastes that will poison them or us!! As you can see from the picture, these are the new pastoral fields of the shepherds made famous in the Bible. I often think, having visited all the places that the Holy Family visited in Egypt when they fled King Herod, of what it would be like if Jesus came back to Egypt again today. How would His ministry be phrased when the shepherd and his flock are now feeding on garbage? Like it or not, we are now faced with the fact that all our flocks now must live within the context of concrete and waste. The question is how to safely turn these materials back into a pastoral symphony of beauty and health. Plants, of course, are part of the answer!

You can indeed turn your concrete patio into a veritable paradise for wildlife by just putting micro habitats there. Start with plants that are easy to maintain, and put in a bird feeder. Then start experimenting with plants that attract ladybugs and hummingbirds (your nursery will tell you what to get). Flowering plants, of course, are the best, as they provide pollen and nectar for the birds and the bees. Don't be afraid of the bees -- especially Mr. Bumble. They won't bother you if you don't bother them! There are also butterly flowers you can plant to attract them.

As you get more into this, you will learn that you can use your soapy dishwater to irrigate some of your plants -- particularly if it has organic material washed off from the plates. If you get radical like I got, you will start pumping your used bath and shower water and sink water and even a mix of urine and water into your patio garden so the oils and soaps and nitrogen can nutrify the plants. But I suspect that is for later in your journey as you get more confident. There are lots of gardeners who can give you recipes for a mix of detergent, beer and urine for making plants flourish.

On the roof in Cairo where I am working with the poor they have built a hydroponic drip irrigation system and are growing strawberries and lettuce. Now the birds are all over the place!

We use "drip irrigation" up there, with a basin of water covered with styrofoam to prevent evaporation losses. The basin is just a wooden crate lined with thick black plastic. A small aquarium pump on a timer pumps water up to the top of the hydroponic tubes several times a day and it drips down onto the plants and runs down a plastic gutter back into the basin. This way we never have to water the plants. The pump does it automatically. We just have to add to the water in the basin every few days because of evaporation.

The system works even better if you put fish in the basin (or use a fish tank instead of the basin). The fish excreta and urine fertilize the plants which, in turn, clean the water like a great filter for the fish. Picture 0930 shows the rooftop garden system. In the background is our first home built solar hot water heater.

If you would like more details about how to set up a drip irrigation system for your patio, let me know! The key is to use technology and materials that make it low maintainance and cost over the long run. You spend the money and time up front making a good design, then sit back and enjoy the results!

Once you start you will find lots of friends in hidden places eager to help.

Check out the field of "hydroponics" and check out the book Solviva! the woman who wrote it, Anna Edey, can teach us all alot about how a single Mom was able to cope with divorce and sudden poverty and build an empire based on ingenuity using plants and animals in her home.


Captain T

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