Just a few windows and a small open space changes everything.

We wanted to share the impact even an small bit of open space has on the inside of a tiny home.  The original developer proposal only had windows in the front because they wanted 100% coverage.  Such a design in our opinion and our experience in one of own rooms, creates a cave effect and the circulation inside the house is so difficult to create.  By just adding a small piece of open space to the design creates so much light and openness inside the house also.

3D Rendering of Impacts on Light without Open Space

I’m so surprised that the Philly ZBA does not require this for all new developments.  It was so easy to create.  The new tech is awesome.  We created a few 3D renderings of the developer’s proposed design of a 3 floor building without open space and then two designs with a small L-shape open space in a 3 floor and then a 2 floor design.  We used www.SketchUp.com a free product for 30 days that also allows you to drop the rendering into Google Earth to get the appropriate shadows through out the year.  Then we used Flashbackrecorder to record the rotating and changing of time through the year.

The first video is of the 3 story version proposed by the developer.  Notice the size in comparison to the house on Manton Street and the garage behind.  The recording and shadows are based on August 30th at about 10:52am for an accurate comparison.

The next video is the 2 story Tiny house that is more appropriate for older residents and people that just want a ting house with a little open space to store trash, bicycles, barbecue or enjoy our giant tree.  Look at the sight lines in the back of the houses.  Just a little bit of open space just 2 to 3 ft just changes everything.

The next video is a capture of the shadow changes for the 3 story no open space design.  What I did was start early in the year and then vary the hours in the day.  After I cycled through the day I then would pick another day a month or two later and cycle through the hours of the day.  I repeated this throughout a standard year.  This is important because the Sun’s angle changes throughout the year and you have to look at more than one day for a good comparison.

Then the same 3 story concept with the small L-Shape open space.  The sight lines and openness really is present even with just a small bit of open space and variation from a plain vanilla box design.

Now here is the same L-shape open space but in a 2 story design.  It is so much better than the 3 story design.  Plus because of building codes for PA, US and international the house can never be more than a one bedroom.  Who wants to travel up 3 flights of stairs to go to the bathroom?

Lastly we create a comparison video of all three designs at the same day and time August 30th at 10:52am.

Drone Video of the Big Old 2 ST Tree – Test flights

Format Video

These are our first test flights at recording the Big Old 2 St Tree with a drone.  I’m still learning how to fly the drone and learned a few tricks after these first test flights.

view from above the big old tree
view from above the big old tree June 4, 2017 – screen shot image from one of the videos

The tree is so tall I worry about losing the video feed.

Here is our 2nd test flight.  In a future flight I’m going to try to get the drone to rotate once it is at the tree height so we can see what the tree sees.


Philly Water Dept and Rain Barrels for your small Garden

The City of Philadelphia’s Water Department has a great program for getting rain barrels to collect water run off from our rain gutters. We have had ours in place for 2 or 3 years now.  They are great for collecting rain water for your small lot gardens.

rain barrel
rain barrel

The rain barrels are delivered and installed free from the Philadelphia Water Department.  Here is their website:


All you have to do is take a Rain Check Workshop. Philadelphia Water and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) offer free Rain Check Workshops in Center City and neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.  At the workshop you schedule a free install.


rain barrel connection
rain barrel connection

There is maintenance required.  Every Fall season you have to disconnect the hose from the down spout as leaf matter will clog the drain.  Just take a hose and wash it out.  The other maintenance is to remove the water from the barrel before the weather freezes in winter.


These things are great for watering your small lot garden, especially for raised garden beds we use in our.

Urban Potato Tower Garden

Attempting an Urban version of a potato tower in our raised Philadelphia small lot veggie garden.  I saw a video on Facebook about building a potato tower and I was hoping to give it a try.  As of May 2017 everything on the zoning challenge front is still in the fight, so I figured why not?  Our Urban experiment of a Potato Tower is documented in this blog post.  Maybe we will make enough potatoes to offset the property taxes.

The really neat thing about this potato tower is that it is above ground and when the potatoes are ready you just take the tower walls away and you have potatoes.

The original article was published in Facebook by Patricia Lynn via shareably.net.  It is a good thing I tried this because as I tried the link to the site, it appears that the original post is now gone.  However, there are plenty of articles out there just search “create-a-potato-tower-for-plentiful-potatoes”.


potato tower by patricia lynn
potato tower by patricia lynn
small green fence
small green fence

My problem was finding straw in the city of Philadelphia and building this tower.  I found substitutes Home Depot had this small green 10 ft in length fence for $6 each and I bought two.  They also had chicken wire for about $11 dollars.  So the cage is covered.

Problem, where do I find straw?

compost bin twigs
compost bin twigs from the Big Old 2st Tree


So I figured why not try a brown paper bag?  Plus we had plenty of tree sticks from our big old tree in our compost bin.

I figure straw won’t last forever, so why not try a few things that anyone would be able to find in an urban city?

I basically made a very simple square box with the small green fence and then created a circle wall with the chicken wire inside the small green square.  The chicken wire comes with extra little pieces of wire which I used to secure to the green fence wire.

Then I lined the inside of the chicken wire with a brown paper bag the I torn in half to cover the wall.  Once the bag looked a little stable I went ahead and lined the sides with twigs from the compost bin.

Here is my 4 year old recording me add the dirt and providing commentary as he is trying to call our Big Dog.  The video is posted in YouTube. It is funny, well at least to me.

The finished potato tower would look like this:

finished potato tower #1
finished potato tower #1

Now you just add the potatoes.  The instructions say cover with about an inch of dirt.  The seeding potatoes I had sat around for a while but some already looked like they were spouting.

I marked my Urban Potato Towers with the pictures from the seed potato bags.

Even though these towers were pretty close to the diy sites, I was worried that the dirt would dry out.  One of the issues of raised beds and flower pots is the dirt drying out.  So today I was shredding old papers and decided to try using the shredded paper to keep the moisture in.

I made about a 1/2 inch layer of shredded paper and covered it with dirt and watered.  I hope this works.  It seemed to work.

This is definitely an Urban Garden Experimental now.  Reusing paper bags, raised garden, compost twigs and now shredded paper.  Oh and I almost forgot our captured rain barrel water from the city of Philly. This will be cool if it all works.

Cheers and Happy Gardening in your Small Urban Garden Lot.

Some of the early May 2017 pictures of our garden.  Crossing our fingers.



Maintaining A Big Old Tree 2010

Maintaining a big Old tree

We had our arborist come out to inspect our for health and safety, as we do just about every year, since 2010.  They examine the tree and this year we got another good grade.  Later, they will come out and give it some vitamins to keep it strong.  In Philadelphia it is difficult to find an arborist, so we would like to Thank www.Giroudtree.com for coming out every year since 2010 to check on our tree.

We meant to create a post a year ago on the tree trimming we did in 2010.  They did a pretty good job as to the tree has survived a few storms (knock on wood).  They turned our giant bush into a giant tree.  And they did it right.

tree view 200909
tree view from 2009 09. Here we can see the limb hanging down to the wall
clearing out the patio
clearing out the patio
tree trimming with bucket truck
tree trimming with bucket truck 2010
tree climber
tree climber
tree climbers getting ready for tree cable - tree safety is important
tree climbers getting ready for tree cable – tree safety is important
bucket and tree climbers
bucket and tree climbers
tree cable install 2010
tree cable install 2010
Tree post trimming 2010
Tree post trimming 2010

Another view post trimming

Tree post trimming 2010
Tree post trimming 2010





Small Gardens Produce a Healthy Soup

How about some Healthy Gazpacho Soup?

It was a great day in the garden.  The cherry tomatoes are growing like crazy as they always do.  We never did cucumbers before, but they are sure producing really well.  So well, that I had to figure out something to make with them, because a simple salad was not enough.


According to wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gazpacho), it is a Spanish dish

One thing about the internet that is nice, is all the different recipes. All the recipes call for

  • Tomatoes (some say tomato juice also but is really only took a few tomatoes to make a good 4 adult servings)
  • Cucumbers
  • Bell peppers (I didn’t have)
  • Onion, usually red (I only had white/yellow)
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • lime juice (that I have because the wife was making margaritas)
  • Worcestershire sauce (warning you have to leave this out if you want it to be vegan or gluten free)
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • cumin
  • basil leaves for a topper
  • stale bread (this I did not have so I guess it will be gluten free) – left over bread from the Italian market works best.
  • Jalapeño (this was my add because we have so many and the spice might work and it did)

I used Alton Brown’s recipe from the food network (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/gazpacho-recipe.html).  He always seems to have good basic recipes.  I did not use as much tomatoes as he suggested and I threw in another cucumber, juts because I had so many.  The blanching of the tomatoes in boiling water worked perfectly to remove the skin.  Also I highly recommend removing the seeds from the tomatoes, cucumbers and Jalapeño, it makes the final product so much better.  Without the seeds, the texture is perfect. In some recipes the mixture is blended really well, but I left it some what choppy on purpose.


So I realized also that Worcestershire (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worcestershire_sauce) will make any recipe non-vegan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veganism) and non-gluten free (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten-free_diet).  The ingredients include barley malt vinegar (barley is not gluten free) and anchovies (not vegan, but I love them).  I don’t know how you all do it.

I tried it after a couple of hours of sitting in the frig, but if you let it sit over night!  The flavors are amazing the next day and you can really taste the cucumber.

We let you all know how this cucumber and avocado dish comes out.

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.


Tree and Green Space Haters in Philly

Tree and Green Space Haters in Philly

We got a kick out of the comments on Facebook and other sites regarding our campaign to maintain open space and a 80 year old tree in South Philadelphia.  Some will make you laugh and others will make you go what?  Please help save open space in development projects and sign and share our petition today.


Here are some of the best:

Hey Suburbanites, welcome to Philly, land of concrete. If you want trees everywhere, move back to the Culdesac!

Want more trees. Move to Jersey! Worried about oxygen. Get rid of the factories. Car exhaust. Ride a bike.

If you’re stupid enough to live in an urban environment you should have to take a bus to see a tree.

Really?! Wildlife?!!!! Rabid pigeons? Rats? Roaches… Progress

Other comments for or against were items that one could discuss and debate.  We have learned a lot from all sides and perspectives.

The land of concrete one inspired the cartoon.

Hey look we missed a green spot...more concrete please
Hey look we missed a green spot…more concrete please

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.


Dating the Tree alongside the Neighborhood

History from 1962 recorded with our Tree

Long before this issue with the tree and the development came along we had found the picture of the tree in a 1962 photo posted by the www.PhillyHistory.org.  Here you can see the tree and even in 1962 it was pretty big and we estimate at least 20 years old.  During our walks around the neighborhood, many older residents have said they remember the tree from when they were kids and they are in their 80’s. Permission was granted by www.PhillyHistory.org to share these images with you.  The picture below can be found at http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/Detail.aspx?assetId=71801

Tree in 1962 on manton and 2nd
Tree in 1962 on Manton and 2nd

Neighbors commented during our petition walk about that they remember swinging on the old tree in the 60’s and landing on old mattresses in the empty lot.  We are hoping to get some stories for another post.

Here are some additional pictures from around the neighborhood in 1962.

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.


The Tree Brings Neighbors Out for a Night Out

Neighbors and Friends Out for a Night Out Under the Tree and a Movie

Trees can be amazing neighborhood builders.  Our efforts to discuss development, open space, zoning, trees and development have brought out the neighbors for a night out.  On Saturday, July 23, 2016 about 30 plus neighbors and friends sat with the tree in the background and had Ice Treats and watched the movie The Lorax.

Everyone loved the movie night and we got more signatures from friends and neighbors for the petition.

A special Thanks goes out to the Friends of Jefferson Park (https://www.facebook.com/groups/FriendsofJeffersonSquarePark/) for loaning the equipment and Chris of D’Emilio’s Old World Ice Treats for stopping by and providing Ice Treats.  It is great when we can support local neighborhood business (https://www.facebook.com/OldWorldIceTreats/)

We learned a lot about holding block parties and getting a permit for the party. We included a link to Philadelphia’s online Block party permitting application


Some key points is that the weekends are easier to get and cost less than weekdays and that the signature for the permit has to live on the block.  Owning the corner property does not count.  Everyone on the block was great and very supportive of the event and pretty much all signed the petition.  We only missed people if they were not home.  We also learned that even the Friends of the Parks have to get permits for their events.  Go figure that one out!

Why the Lorax?

Well, when we were researching the movie “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”, we saw this movie The Lorax and it was a perfect movie.  From Wikiepedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lorax)

The Lorax is a children’s book written by Dr. Seuss. It chronicles the plight of the environment and the Lorax, who speaks for the trees against the Once-ler. As in most Dr. Seuss works, most of the creatures mentioned are original to the book.

The book is commonly recognized as a fable concerning the danger corporate greed poses to nature, using the literary element of personification to give life to industry as the Once-ler and the environment as The Lorax.

This was perfect movie for adults and kids showing how greed and over development can easily wipe all the trees off the neighborhood.

Here is a clip link:

If you are interested in playing movies for public consumption there are basically two places to go to and you have to purchase the movie license for the night.

We got the Lorax license to play the movie from Swank.com (http://www.swank.com/)

We are still thinking about the other movie and that can be licensed from Criterion Pictures USA (http://www.criterionpicusa.com/)

Please don’t forget to sign and share our petition to save small open spaces in new developments in Philadelphia.