Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rice is Nice

Rice Is Nice
Especially When Locally Grown
by Carrie Koplinka-Loehr

Rice paddies in Vermont? At 900 feet above sea level? More than 40 skeptics and believers from New England and New York flocked to Earthbridge Farm last July to see, touch, and learn about cold-tolerant varieties at the Sustainable Rice Production for the Northeast workshop.

Rice, a grass known botanically as Oryza sativa, is a tropical plant that has been adapted to temperate areas of the world, such as northern China, northern Italy, Poland, Russia, and Hokkaido, Japan. Until two years ago, paddy rice hadn’t been successfully grown in parts of New England where the last frost occurs in May and the first frost in mid-September. So why the interest now?

Rice production is alluring both to locavores and to growers seeking ways to get production from marginal lands. The paddies diversify the landscape, attracting amphibians, water birds, and beneficial insects, and they buffer nearby wetlands. Most of all, a one-acre paddy will typically yield 2–4 tons of rice, more than twice the average yield of nonirrigated wheat.

So what do you need to grow rice? Sunshine, a reliable source of water, and a soil that will hold it. Takeshi and Linda Akoagi had all three.

The Akaogis evaluated 31 rice varieties for lodging, sterility, shattering, and overall suitability. So far they have no pest problems, but they are careful. To prevent the spread of insects, they freeze the rice for three days before germinating it.

In 2006, with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Akaogis constructed a small rice paddy at their diversified farm in Putney, Vermont. The first year the plants grew well but didn’t produce seed. In 2007 they added two paddies (increasing production to 1/10 of an acre) and received a grant from NE-SARE to determine if rice could be grown commercially. They identified 25 temperate varieties, many from Hokkaido, that produced seed. In 2008 they planted and studied three varieties, which yielded an average of 5,847 pounds of rice per acre.

Now the Akaogis are spreading the word. In the past two years they’ve hosted a series of workshops showcasing their rice paddies and their partners, such as rice breeders from Cornell, NRCS personnel, and Extension educators. Growers from surrounding states come to see the proof that rice can be grown productively in the Northeast and has the potential to become a commercial crop.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some Energy tips for Halloween

"Trick for Heat"
Check your heating system's air filter every month, and change the filter every 3 months. Remove leaves, dirt, and other debris from around outdoor components, such as heat pumps, to improve air flow and efficiency. Have a qualified professional tune up your system with a pre-season maintenance checkup, and if it's time to replace your old system, look for models that have earned the ENERGY STAR.

Protect Yourself from Vampires
"Vampire power," or standby power, refers to the electric power consumed by electronics and appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode. ENERGY STAR qualified electronics and appliances use a lot less energy in standby mode. EPA also recommends that you turn off electronics when they are not in use, such as computers and televisions. Plugging all your electronics into a power strip makes this easy—just flip the switch to power everything down at once!

What's Lurking in Your Attic?
Probably cold air. Seal air leaks around your home to keep the cold out and the warm air in. The biggest air leaks are usually in the attic or basement, but also around doors, windows, vents, pipes, and electrical outlets. Use caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping to seal the leaks. Add more insulation to prevent heat loss and make your home more comfortable this fall.

Don't Be Left in the Dark
Now that daylight savings is upon us, remember to swap out those old incandescent lights with new, energy-efficient ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) that use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer. Also, start preparing for the holiday season with ENERGY STAR qualified decorative light strings, utilizing LED technology for extra savings, long-life, and durability—plus they're just as pretty. You can even get orange ones for Halloween!

Don't Waste Your Heat on Ghosts
By properly using your programmable thermostat you can ensure that you're not unnecessarily heating the home when you're away or asleep. Programming a lower temperature for when you go to work or run errands throughout the week and/or when you go to sleep at night can save you up to $180 a year in energy costs. Check out EPA's new and fun Programmable Thermostat Tool to learn how easy it is to set for savings.

Reduce the Chill with a Ceiling Fan
By switching your ceiling fan to pull air upward versus push air downward, you'll actually be helping circulate the warm air down into living spaces. This will make better use of your heating and allow you to lower the thermostat to save energy while maintaining your comfort.

Don't Be Left Alone
Your pledge may help you save energy this Halloween, but what about your friends and family? Encourage them to take EPA’s ENERGY STAR Pledge before midnight on October 31st to avoid tricks, and get the treats of a better environment for everyone. Plus you'll all save money as it gets colder, too. And if you want to get involved, visit our In Your Community page and learn how you or your family can participate in fall activities that help prevent global warming—either through your local schools or with the Boys & Girls Club of America. Join the movement today and have a Happy Halloween!