Solar Decathlon Home-Building Competition and Energy XPO at the Orange County Great Park

The Solar Decathlon and XPO will be held the weekends of October 3-6 and October 10-13 from 11 am to 7 pm. Entrance is free; parking is $5. The location is the Orange County Great Park. Car, bus, train, and shuttle options are available for getting to the Solar Decathlon.

For more information about Solar Decathlon 2013, see the U.S. Department of Energy site or the City of Irvine site.

September in Southern California Gardens–Time for the Cool Weather Veggies

According to gardening expert and O.C. Register columnist Cindy McNatt, it’s time to think about planting cool weather veggies and herbs in your southern California garden. They include the following.

Cool Weather Veggies

  • celeryArugula
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • radish-crimsoncrunchPeas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Turnips

Mild Winter Herbs

  • Chamomile
  • Chive
  • chives_fine_5470Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Lemon grass
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Thyme

For a more complete southern California fall planting guide, see “A Fall Planting Guide for Orange County…and Some Other Place.”

Graphics courtesy Renee’s Garden

July Vegetable Planting in Southern California

corn_5077According to garden expert Pat Welsh, the best vegetable to plant now in your southern California garden are the heat lover. These include corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers (coastal zones only), and summer squash. (Most likely, it’s too late for winter squash.)

Tomatoes, chard, beets, carrots, and radishes can also be planted.

Green beans can still be planted but with less hearty results than if they were planted in March.

If you know that it gets hot enough, you can still plant cantaloupe, pumpkins, and Crenshaw and honey dew melons early in the month in the inland areas; however, it’s too late to plant these crops on the coast.

Source: Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening: Month by Month

Photo courtesy Renee’s Garden

Have a Cool Drink of Greens

Try this recipe. I think it’s delicious!

Put the following in a blender:

  • 1.5 cups of Trader Joe’s Organic Green Tea Lemonade (or some facsimile)
  • 2 stalks of organic celery
  • a handful of organic greens (a salad mix or spinach, whatever you have on hand)

Now blend, drink, enjoy!

If you use organic ingredient, the health benefits to yourself and our shared environment are greatly increased. (Eventually, I plan on write more on this. For now, see this short, out-of-the-months-of-babes video: My Potato Project: The Importance of “Organic.”)

If you think that you can’t afford organic produce, an inexpensive option does exit: Grow your own. And if you live in an apartment or small space and think that you don’t have the enough room to grow produce, think again!

See this video to see what I mean:

Here are a few more suggestions for growing your own veggies and fruits in small spaces: 66 Things You Can Grow At Home In Containers: Without a Garden and Gardening is for Apartment Dwellers Too!

Note: If your time is more important than your money, businesses exist that will do the planting for you.

U.S. Military, U.S. Department of Energy, and the City of Irvine See Benefits in “Going Green”

Irvine is adding another first: The Great Park in Irvine will be the first site outside of Washington D.C. to host the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon….


Photo courtesy the Orange County Great Park

Social Media Used to Perfect Small-Space Food Gardening and Redefine Business

Ditch the word consumer and just get behind the people doing stuff….We are all still pioneers.–Britta Riley on TED TV

The following video offers a twofer: First, it explains a method for growing your own food garden in small spaces, even inside apartments. Building window farms is the method used to create these vertical gardens. (I wrote about vertical gardens from another angle in a previous post.) Second, the video redefines the word “consumer” as well as redefines how business should and could work.

When you watch the video, you might find a few more categories in which this video could be placed. So watch the video and get some food for thought. Pun intended.

Britta Riley
describes herself as an innovation culture hacker, social entrepreneur and artist who is working “to open up new markets that I think people and nature need now…. [Her] current company, was named one of the top 100 businesses to watch in 2010 by Entrepreneur Magazine. Windowfarms makes vertical hydroponic platforms for food growing in city windows in conjunction with an online citizen science web platform with over 16,000 community members worldwide.”

Learn About Vertical Gardening: Laguna Beach Garden Club Hosts Gardening Book Author Rebecca Sweet


Previously, I wrote about the Phytopod as an example of vertical gardening and an upcoming post will discuss another version, window farms. That post will be about how social media is playing a part in perfecting a particular type of vertical gardening as well as redefining the word “consumer.” In the meantime, you can learn more about vertical gardening at an upcoming talk at the next Laguna Beach Garden Club talk.

Even the narrowest of spots can host a lush garden with careful planning and adaptable plants. Find out how this is done at the next general meeting of the Laguna Beach Garden Club on Friday, December 09. Landscape Designer and “Horticulture” Magazine Contributing Editor Rebecca Sweet talks about ’skinny space’ solutions and the gardening techniques that can reduce the visual impact of unattractive landscape features. Ms. Sweet is the co-author of the best selling book “Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Large and Small Spaces“, blogs on, and contributes to many popular garden magazines such as “Horticulture“, “Women’s Day Gardening“, “Fine Gardening” and “The American Gardener“.–Laguna Beach Information Center

Here are the details in a nutshell:

What: Vertical Gardening for Large and Small Spaces

When: Friday, December 9, 2011; 9:30 am

Where: Presbyterian Church (Tankersley Fellowship Hall), 415 Forest Avenue. Laguna Beach (corner of Forest and 2nd Street)

Cost: Free to first-time visitors

Graphic courtesy Susan Morrison/Rebecca Sweet

A Checklist for Home Solar Panel Installation

solaor-power-dummiesNo fancy writing here or snappy title, just some basic information. So here it is:

If you are planning on installing a solar panel system for your home, some things that you will need to keep in mind are in the following checklist.

This checklist for installing a photovoltaic (PV) system was written by energy consultant, Rik DeGunther, and can be found in his book, Solar Power Your Home for Dummies.

1. Perform an energy audit and take conservation steps.

2. Determine the utility rate structure you’ll qualify for after the equipment is in place.

3. Review the physical installation options. (For example, roof conditions, size and shading.)

4. Decide how much to invest and how to finance it. (Be sure to check for federal, state and local incentives.)

5. Locate contractors and go out for formal bids.

6. Choose the best contractor and write the contract.

7. Wait for equipment to arrive (it’s rarely stock), approvals from building permits, subsidies, tax break and so on.

8. Allow for installation and inspections by the county and utility company.

9. Wait for the utility to put in a new meter and connect to the grid.

10. Get a tutorial on how to operate your system.

11. Submit any paperwork to utilities, states, and so on for final rebate payment.

12. Change your household habits to optimize system payback. (For example: If you’re on a tiered rate structure, or TOU rate structure, you probably need to change some of your consumptions habits in order to capitalize on the system.)

13. Maintain and repair the system.

Note: These steps might seem like a lot to take on, but your utility company or a qualified installer can handle many of these steps for you. In addition, reading the book will break down each step.

Additional information on solar energy that you might find helpful: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Solar Power for Your Home by Dan Ramsey and David Hughes

When Are Batteries an Efficient Addition to Your Solar Panel System?

sunxtender_mainSolar panel installations can be either connected to your utility company’s grid (known as grid tie or on the grid) or standalone (off the grid). Unless you are willing to risk damaging your equipment, the standalone variety requires a battery connection. However, the grid-tie system can be installed either with or without a battery. With that said, a look at the advantages and disadvantages of using batteries with the grid-tie system would be useful.

Up first, the advantages of including batteries with a grid-tie solar power installation:

  • When power from the utility company is down, a grid-tie system without a battery does not provide the energy needed to power your home. So, in this case, you have the solar panels installed, but still no working lights, heat, stove, etc. Addition of batteries can solve this. Therefore, if you live in an area that tends to have many power outages or that tends to have outages that last a long time, battery backup is particularly helpful.
  • If your comfort level in dealing with power loss during an outage is low, batteries use is appealing.
  • If you have health or business equipment in your home that you cannot live without for even a short time, then some type of backup connection (such as batteries) might be essential.

Now, the disadvantages of including batteries with a grid-tie solar power installation:

  • Batteries cost. You can set up your solar panel installation to replace 100% of your energy needs or just power a few appliances. Batteries will add an additional cost to your solar panel installation that is proportional to the size of your home and the amount of energy that you want to provide to your home via solar energy. This could be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
  • A system with batteries requires additional controls and safety devises. This will further add to the cost.
  • Batteries require maintenance and replacement costs.
  • A system with batteries involves a more complex setup.
  • Battery use involves some additional level of danger.
  • Systems with batteries are 2%-4% less efficient.

This information should help you decide if using batteries with a grid-tie solar panel installation is an efficient option for your particular situation.

Photo Courtesy DC Battery Specialists

Get Your Irvine Solar Rebates Before They End on November 18th


Incentives through the City of Irvine for solar installation will end on November 18th. Sullivan Solar Power is holding a free luncheon program at Irvine’s City Hall this Saturday, August 27 that will cover how to take advantage of this program for little to zero upfront costs. The talk will also cover how to make use of California state rebates and federal tax credits. Since these Irvine incentives end on November 18th, time is of the essence. Additional information is available at or 1-800-SULLIVAN.

WHAT: Irvine Solar Program Luncheon

WHEN: Saturday, August 27th, 11 am

WHERE: Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine CA