Death Ray Gardening: Tell Cold Weather To Piss Off, Grow More Food

Through history, it’s become easier to get food. Time was, if I wanted to eat I had to jump onto a bear and bite its jugular off before it tore out my kidneys*. Then for a while it was all about spreading seeds and diverting water, which was laborious but safe for the kidneys. Now I press a button and out pops a diabetes stick, which will destroy my kidneys.

Organs aside, I’m nervous that so many of us don’t know how to grow food. A few generations ago, everyone knew. We’ve forgotten just as climate change is cutting into our food supply (already causing trouble even though climate change has hardly begun), while peak oil may deprive us of the cheap energy on which agriculture now depends.

You don’t want the future that this portends.  If I run out of food, I will eat you.

Anyway, I’ve re-acquainted myself with the agronomic arts. Not only do I feel more equipped for one unsavory future, it’s changed the way I think. Gardening quiets the mind, which is good because this is my mind:

I’ve been growing food long enough that now I’m having ideas about how to do it better. Today I offer one of them: a remedy for nature’s rude habit of making it too cold to grow food.

To be sure, there are already methods for this: greenhouses, hoop houses, and black plastic ground cover to absorb heat. But they have drawbacks: greenhouses are costly to build and heat, and the other methods aren’t effective.

So there may be room for another idea. Mine was inspired by the following boondoggle:

You’re looking at the Vdara hotel in Vegas, better known as the Death Ray Hotel. You’ll notice that it’s reflective and concave. There’s also a swimming pool at its base. As soon as it opened for business, pool-goers were met with extensive 3rd degree burns. Turns out the hotel concentrates sunlight on the pool.

What’s bad for bethonged coeds may be good for plants in cold weather. Here’s my proposition:

  1. Collect old mirrors at Goodwill, Salvation Army, garage sales, on Craigslist, etc. Mirrors are among the world’s most unwanted objects. I’m sure this reveals something profound about the human condition.
  2. Place the mirrors around your garden to direct extra heat and light toward it. It’ll work best if you have a hoop house and direct heat and light into it.
  3. Don’t concentrate all the light in one spot. Make sure it’s distributed evenly over the garden.
  4. Position mirrors so that different mirrors reflect maximal light into the garden at different times through the day, instead of all at once. We’re not looking to recreate Dante’s Inferno.
  5. If you’re ambitious, reposition your mirrors once or more during the day to collect more light. There are systems for doing so automatically, like the kind used in concentrating solar power plants, but here we’re leaving the realm of sustainability and affordability.

There you have it: Death Ray Gardening™. You’re welcome.

From the Sea

*inaccurate characterization of pre-agricultural food.

Posted May 11, 2011 in Smashing Ideas | 9 Comments on Death Ray Gardening: Tell Cold Weather To Piss Off, Grow More Food


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  1. GreenStrong says:

    No need to buy old mirrors, which would be prone to break. Rolls of reflective mylar are available for ten cents per square foot.

    Permaculturists sometimes place a pond in front of a greenhouse so that during winter, when the sun stays low in the sky, light skims off the surface of the water and hits the greenhouse. In summer, hte pond supports a much higher fish population than a sheet of mylar.

  2. Nick B. says:

    Nice tip. Thanks. I’ll try growing some fish on mylar and report on how it turns out.

  3. Paul says:

    Might not be a bad idea, but if I recall, mirrors will generate hot spots of focused light rather than the diffused light that would benefit a garden (mylar is good for that).

  4. Nick B. says:

    Mirrors won’t focus light unless they’re concave. But you don’t want a bunch of mirrors all pointing to the same spot, because then they’ll act like one big effective concave mirror.

  5. Sterkel says:

    This is a stellar idea!

    Great redirection of purpose. You’re a magician! Hell, Vegas needs more like you.

  6. Kelly says:

    Grow edamame. It is the only veggie that is also a complete protein containing all of the amino acid building blocks. It also provides an antioxidant boost from its isoflavones. It will keep you from having to eat people.

  7. Nick Bentley says:

    Thanks Kelly,

    We grew edamame the year before last and I didn’t eat anyone that year. Except as the occasional garnish.

  8. kobyn says:

    first paragraph i read here i bookmarked your webpage, halarious and awesome buddy. lolskates

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