All posts by Rex Pechler

I build internet-connected garden devices at foodclouds
leafpile

Use Your Leaves!

Leaves in front of our house

I grew up thinking that these piles of leaves everywhere in the fall were essentially a nuisance. They attracted dog poop and were therefore potentially dangerous to play in. Yet fresh piles of leaves were definitely played in. And otherwise, that they just looked messy, and you had to spend all this time raking and sweeping them up just to have them hauled away by the street cleaner. No more!

As I’ve grown and watched more and more seasons pass with each trip around the sun, I have come to recognize the inherent value of leaves. In particular, they are possibly the best building block for making garden soil at home. Sure, plenty of people are composting their kitchen scraps nowadays, but how many people are actually using all of the leaves in their yard to make soil? I’d guess it’s less than 10%. (That’s a lot of trucking and hauling around of leaves that can be stopped!) Leaves contain a massive amount of captured energy, that most of us are letting go to waste. Composting piles can even be used for heating water!

I’ll recommend two or three methods for the soil conversion process today, depending on the volume of leaves you’re dealing with:

1. Small Amount of Leaves
If you only have a small amount of leaves, I recommend mixing them into your compost bin, which you should be doing already if you want good, fast decomposing compost. This is very easy and only takes as long as collecting your leaves and dumping them and mixing them in. Use compost as normal in your garden (as a natural fertilizer and microbiological booster)

2. Medium Amount of Leaves
With this method, you’ll use large plastic bags, like garbage bags will work, although I’ve seen clear plastic bags recommended so it doesn’t get too hot in the sun. The trick to making the leaves decompose even faster is adding a compost accelerant like EM-1 or Bokashi, which you can also make yourself. If you don’t have this, you can make something similar just by letting fruit and vegetable scraps ferment in a bucket, and then straining off the liquid. You dilute and spray the liquid into the bags onto the leaves, just enough to kickstart the decomposition process. After the bags have lost 50% of their volume, mix with additional soil in your garden and you’re ready to plant! More info here: http://bokashiworld.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/bokashi-leaves-a-bucket-full-of-soil/

3. Large Amount of Leaves
If you have a massive amount of leaves, it may not make sense to use so many plastic bags. I would recommend making a single huge pile of the leaves, which you can contain inside a wooden fence, or chicken wire, or just in the middle of a cleared area, and then cover it with a tarp. This will help the pile to heat up considerably, and the leaves will break down over a few months, although you may have to stir it up and wait a little into the spring if you get snow in the winter.

Additional options:
You may want to consider adding mycorhizal innoculant (mushroom spore powder, essentially) to the leaves as well, as this will help both break down the leaves as well as deliver nutritients to your plant roots once the compost makes it into your garden.

Made Something Cool At The Food Hackathon This Weekend

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This past weekend I had a good time meeting like-minded people at the first Food Hackathon here in San Francisco. The organizers billed it as “the first of its kind”, however I’m familiar with Food+Tech Connect in New York City so I’m not sure they can make that claim (see: 2010 eventbrite. Note the almost free ticket prices. Can’t quite say the same for the event we just went to… Paid hackathons? Not sure this is how it’s supposed to work…) Anyway, we still had a lot of fun participating in the madness.

My co-founder and I went to this event together with the idea of building a simple local foodsharing, fresh fruit and vegetable barter marketplace to help create a more accessible sustainable alternative to the very money-dependent food system we all primarily rely on every day to feed ourselves. However in the process of brainstorming a name for our fruit and vegetable exchange we actually found at least two pre-existing websites that we hadn’t found before and were the exact same thing we had been trying to find, and ended up deciding to try using those sites first and reconsider what to build for the Hackathon.

We teamed up with Luke Iseman of Growerbot (Kickstarter) and Garduino (Project), along with his girlfriend Heather to work on his idea for building an online game similar to the mega-popular FarmVille (Facebook game by Zynga) but In Real Life. So like, you earn points (“Seeds”) for actually planting plants in your garden, and earn more points for uploading pictures and checking on your plants and posting measured growth values regularly. It’s called “Seed Mogul” and the goal is to encourage more local, independent, and distributed food production with an addictive and truly rewarding game. One of the parts of the idea that I really liked was his plan to actually allow users to “cash in” their “Seed” points for actual heirloom seeds that they would receive in the mail and use in their garden.

You can see what we built here (You just sign in with Facebook, just like FarmVille). Unfortunately we did not win any of the competition categories at the Hackathon. We probably could have made it a little more polished. But a lot of the key functionality is there. I’m realizing now that we could have also made a stronger case in our final pitch presentation for how this fits into the larger picture of the food sustainability movement and the efficacy of hyper-local fruit and vegetable production as a truly viable alternative food system model. In any case, feel free to sign up and check out our game! We’re hoping to see if anyone’s interested before working further on it. Most of all, James and I are very happy to have met Luke and Heather, and foodclouds is looking forward to possibly working together with Luke more in some fashion in the near future.

How To Pair Samsung 3D Glasses to TV When They Don’t Want To Pair

So we just bought a bunch of replacement 3D glasses for the TV we got on craigslist. I followed all the instructions I could find, which all pretty much said the same thing:

Turn the TV on.
Start playing something 3D or turn the 3D mode on.
Press the Power button on the glasses, and wait for them to connect.

Well, that wasn’t working for me. After about an hour of research, I came across the solution! You have to unplug the television from the wall for at least 40 seconds (wait for the red TV power light to go off in the front), and plug the TV back in and retry the above procedure.

Apparently this resets the bluetooth(?) receiver in the TV. Good luck!