Tag Archives: soil

Five Trees in the Ground

My goal for the year was to plant an additional five trees in my yard.  Before spring the yard contained thirteen trees (1 elm, 1 sycamore, 1 maple, 3 yellow poplars, 3 Norway spruce, and 4 red oaks).  Over the years I have drawn out several plans to add to my trees.

However, the nursery stock this year was harsh.  I rarely saw a shade tree worth a second look and the conifers were wicked expensive.  Early in the season I was able to find a pair of Norway spruce for about $65 each.  This was an easy choice since I had a spot picked out:

IMG_20190917_171320646_HDR

Both trees really took to being planted and put on a thrush of new growth within weeks.  The weather this summer has been amenable to trees as well with well-spaced moisture and not too many blistering hot days.  Even the days that were hot lacked the combination of heat and sun that really seems to knock the stuffing out of plants.

Hopefully before the end of fall I can trim around the trees like the maple in the foreground of the picture above.  The surrounding mulched bed will not be planted with perennials like the maple.  Over the years the branches will spread to encompass the entirety of the mulched bed.  Also, this is just the start of what I have planned for this side of my yard.  See the disastrous “sport” court in the neighbors’ back yard?  Yeah, I do not want to see it either.  Next year is going to be a heavy year for trees.

Just this weekend I ran across a store doing a fall sale of container grown conifers for just $15 each.  Normally, I am not a fan of Colorado blue spruce as the species is over planted in eastern Iowa.  I could not turn down relatively good looking trees at a low, low price.  I picked up three and got to work finishing another planting bed where I am trying to take out all of the turf grass:

IMG_20190917_171347548_HDR

This part of my lawn is almost entirely sand.  The only soil, so to speak, is what came on the rolls of sod that were laid down and what I have added when planting trees.  The area has little soil fertility and retains very little moisture.  It is like a thin layer of soil, compacted, and sitting on a jelly roll pan.  If you pour out a bucket of water you can watch it flow downhill without really penetrating the soil.  While the rest of the yard can handle a period of drought—mowing the grass extra high and allowing clover to spread helps—this little corner dries out and dies.  I had considered top dressing the lawn in this area, but felt that it was a better use of space to plant trees and perennials, edge the area, amend the soil, and deeply mulch.  I will get to the edging, amending, and mulching next year.  I promise.

The only downside of all of this planting is that I have used up the contents of one of my compost bins.  There is some compost left and a few things that did not break down over the years, like the muslin bags used to steep grains during my homebrewing days, which will go into a mixture to improve soil health in the areas where I remove turf.  The other bin is fairly full, so in a year or so I should have a lot of nutrient dense compost to amend my sandy soil.

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Friday Linkage 5/3/2019

A while ago I permanently deleted my Facebook account because I felt that the company was a blight on this planet.  Now, Facebook is trying to improve its image by partnering with fact checking organizations to conduct reviews of the news that it features.  Too bad Facebook chose to work with a partisan hack factory funded by the Koch Brothers.

Seriously, this is how Facebook thinks it is going to repair its image.  Good luck with that Zuck.

On to the links…

Iowa State Board Allows Sale of Electric Vehicle Energy by the Kilowatt-Hour—One of the impediments to more publicly available chargers and a reasonable scheme to charge for power is going to be removed in the state of Iowa.  Granted, our retrograde legislature that is a Fox News wet dream right now is going to charge fees on solar power and EVs because…reasons.

Renewables Set To Top Coal Power In The U.S.—The worm has turned.  It is now cheaper to build new solar and wind than it is to operate coal and some natural gas.  Imagine a world where the price of energy increases because of a global shock.  If people are already flocking to renewables what will that future look like?

Solar Power Doubled In Most American Cities In Last 6 Years—I believe it.  In my little slice of the world there were no visible solar systems on anyone’s roof a few years ago.  Now there are several within view of my driveway.  Every time I drive somewhere in town I notice a new system.  Bring it on.

$13.6B Record-Breaking Solar Park Rises from Dubai Desert—This project is just massive.

Japanese Utilities Turn Away from Coal Plans Amid Green Energy Boom—Where is all the coal going to go that Trump wants to dig?

RWE Abandons All Present & Future Coal Plans—It is not going to Germany.

‘Wonder Material’ Phosphorene Could Revolutionize Batteries—I have read about more so called wonder materials than I want to remember.  I am holding out hope that one of these pans out and we get lower cost batteries with excellent range.

New Type of Plastic is a Recycling Dream—Maybe the answer is less plastic as opposed to a better kind of plastic.  Sure, we need to use plastic in some use cases.

Want a Happy Commute? Researchers Point to Travel by Bicycle—It’s better than going by car, but I would not say that all of my days commuting via bicycle are happy.

‘It’s a groundswell’: The Farmers Fighting to Save the Earth’s Soil—We have the solutions.  We just need the will to implement the solutions on a broad scale.

The Case for Carbon Farming in California—What if we looked at the land we use for agriculture as a giant opportunity to capture carbon?  It is my contention that this would be a better paradigm for rural communities than the current economic model of industrial agriculture.

Why You Should Turn Your Lawn into a Meadow—Lawns are the worst.  This is why I have decided to just mow a lot less this summer.

The Surprising Science of Fighting Crime With…Trees—You mean to tell me that if people are not living in a brutalist landscape dominated by concrete and steel that people might actually act more civilized?  Wow, mind blown.  Or not.

Burger King Plans to Roll Out Impossible Whopper across the United States—Well that was quick.  It seems like only yesterday that this was just a test in the St. Louis metro.  Now it is going to be nationwide.

Mission Actually Impossible—People really like the Impossible Burger.  Now, the company just needs to be able to dramatically increase production without sacrificing quality or alienating customers.  I am scared that this is the moment when Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, which is going public, are going to run into a lot of trouble.  Fingers crossed.

Clover is a Good Thing

“Are you going to do something about that clover?”

It was an offhand question from a neighbor which was asked while we watched our kids run around like mad people in the warm glow of an early autumn day when the temperature still allowed for shorts and sandals.

But, it forms the central line of thought about suburban lawns in most of the United States. Certain species of ornamental grass are good and everything else is an interloper. Even worse, there is a social pressure in some neighborhoods to maintain a certain type of grass in order to “keep up with the Joneses.” Whatever.

In my opinion this is one of the most destructive impulses in modern America. In order to keep a thick carpet of Kentucky bluegrass we will pour water on our lawns when a drought is ongoing. We will coat our landscape in chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides in order to maintain an artificial monoculture that can barely withstand the daily onslaught on children’s activities without looking threadbare. It is insane.

Which brings me back to the spreading patches of clover that I have nurtured in my lawn over the past couple of years. Dutch white clover is an amazing little plant that should not be wiped off the face of your landscape with an indiscriminate application of the latest miracle lawn chemical hawked by some guy in a Tyvek jumpsuit.

First, it fixes nitrogen in the soil. Like legumes and other “green manures” that people use in their vegetable gardens to put nitrogen back into the soil for healthy plants, clover can do this job for a lawn. So, instead of pouring bag after bag of synthetically derived fertilizer onto your lawn just let clover do the work of feeding your grass.

Second, it withstands close and repeated mowing. This means that it will survive and outcompete other non-grass plants that find it difficult to thrive when you keep lopping off the top portion of growth. It is amazing to see the kind of grass “mat” that is made when clover and turf intertwine. No crabgrass or lawn weeds seem able to penetrate the green fortress.

Third, in this era of climate change and weird weather clover will help the soil retain moisture, like a mulch, and it is relatively drought tolerant. If you are like me and you let your lawn go brown as the rainfall fails to appear, much to the chagrin of my sprinkler loving neighbors, patches of clover will maintain their green hue for a week or more after turf grasses start to go dormant.

About the only “downside” is that bees love the white flowers that rise from thick patches of clover. However, given the state of pollinators in the United States I think creating a little bit of bee friendly lawn is a good thing.

Sure, my lawn does not look like a golf course. But, who wants to maintain such an artificial environment steps away from their home on which their children play? Not this father.

Friday Linkage 8/8/2014

A little light on links this week. Not a lot of stories seemed super interesting.

On to the links…

Big Oil Companies Pay Just A 11.7 Percent Tax Rate, Report Finds—Modern oil companies are some of the most profitable companies in the history of the world. Not the most profitable of the past few years or decades. These are historically profitable companies compared to any other in human history. The fact these companies pay so little in taxes, as a percentage of income, is disgusting.

We’re Moving Beyond Energy Efficiency Into ‘Demand Destruction’—Demand destruction is a big deal. It means that consumers disappear from the marketplace entirely. You cannot induce a missing consumer to buy more because you are no longer in their consideration set. It’s essentially a death spiral.

Shattering Myths to Help the Climate—Finally, there seems to be a growing consensus that the risk of climate change is so much more costly than any mitigation that to do nothing is a fool’s choice. No wonder certain members of the GOP are still advocating a climate change denier’s stance.

Gear Companies Go Local—Local is the buzz word for the foods we eat and the beers we drink, but the gear we use in the backcountry is often made in far off places. I remember a time when people were fiercely loyal to bikes made in particular places—I was a Bontrager guy before Keith sold to Trek—but that is all but gone as a lot of production has moved offshore.

Should We Return The Nutrients In Our Pee Back To The Farm?—I am big proponent of returning nutrients to the soil and a promoter of using your household urine around the house. The question is not whether we should be returning our urine back to the soil, but how quickly can we get more people to take part.

Group Earns Oil Income Despite Pledge on Drilling—It’s always disappointing when an organization notionally dedicated to conservation chooses an easy money fix over a hard choice. Oh well, that’s life.

The Virtues of Old-School Car Camping—Not everyone wants to have an ultralight backcountry experience. There is something to be said for getting out into nature any freaking way that you can.

Behind Toledo’s Water Crisis, a Long-Troubled Lake Erie—Lake Erie may be the troubled body of water that the Cuyahoga River was in the 1970s—c’mon it was on fire—but the history of one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world is disheartening.

I Spoke to Soon about the Yard

Just as I thought my yard was rounding into shape before the heat of July and August arrived, we got hit with a derecho. What is a derecho? Basically, it’s about as nasty as a rainstorm gets in the Midwest United States without it being a full-on tornado. We are talking about winds in excess of 80 miles per hour and a lot of rain. Like inches of rain in the matter of a few hours. Combined with our already saturated soil and you get some nice flash flooding. My backyard looked like a swamp.

The aftermath was pretty ugly. My yard and home escaped major damage unlike some of my neighbors who completely lost trees or saw wooden playsets crumpled on the ground like bonfire piles:

Playground Down

My newly plants London planetree was on its side having bobbed out of its hole like a cork as the water level rose higher than the surrounding grass for much of the evening. This morning I was able to secure it back into place, but I am guessing that the stress might make its survival suspect. Here’s to hoping.

Even more concern to me is the damage to established trees. My autumn blaze maple, replanted from the front yard and thriving in its new location, now has a pretty nice bend:

Bent Maple

The tree might grow straight again, but it might require some staking to regain its formally upright habit. There is some damage to the bark. Hopefully nothing is ultimately fatal. I would hate to lose another tree especially one as large and vigorous as this particular maple.

The red oaks and Norway spruces that guard the property line to the north seem relatively unscathed, but like the maple some of the oaks seem to have a different bent than prior to the storm:

Bent Oak

As things dry out and the sun shines there is a good chance that the trees will straighten on their own. If this is climate change I am on record as thinking it sucks.

Friday Linkage 3/7/2014

Vacation is so close that I can almost taste it.  Which means that I am totally unproductive at work and I am trying to get creative with dinners so that there are no groceries left in the refrigerator over the course of the week we will not be home.

On to the links…

U.S. Lets 141 Trillion Calories Of Food Go To Waste Each Year—People might quibble with the math of 141 trillion calories, but regardless the number is going to be huge and it is a damn shame.  Wasted food in a country where millions of people go hungry is a moral crime.  Wasted food is also an ecological crime because of the resources used to produce food.

E.P.A. Set to Reveal Tough New Sulfur Emissions Rule—One of those boring, but very important stories.  Congress may not be able to act on any environmental protection legislation, but the President and his appointees do have agencies through which to act.  These rules will make the air cleaner, period.

How Europe Could Get 16 Percent Of Its Road Fuel From Garbage By 2030—Just imagine filling up with liquid fuel from garbage?  Or, you could just not make the waste in the first place.  Baby steps.

First Electric School Bus Hits The Road In California—Who does not remember the plume of black smoke coming from a school bus’ exhaust as a kid?  You never wanted to be behind one of those yellow smog machines back in the day.  Now there might not even be an exhaust pipe.  Sweet.

Solar Power Just Had Its Biggest Quarter Ever—Solar had a huge 2013, but I think when you look at the numbers you realize that wind got punched in the gut.

Hawaii Taps On-Bill Repayment Program for Clean Energy Financing and Job Creation—On-Bill Repayment (OBR) is a big deal because it is a financing vehicle for renewable energy at the consumer level.  Do not take this lightly.

Former Dolphin Trainer Speaks Out on the Horrors of Captivity—Is there any reason why, besides money, that we should keep healthy marine mammals in captivity?  All the evidence points to a system that is broken and harmful to the animals.

SeaWorld Has a New PR Nightmare: This Girl Who Was Bitten by a Dolphin—As if SeaWorld needed another blitz of bad PR, a girl was bitten or “mouthed” to use the politically correct animal captivity lingo.  Free these animals now.

Sea Turtles Are Endangered, But 42,000 Were Killed Legally Last Year—Just counting the legally captured sea turtles, it adds up to 42,000.  It’s probably a lot higher number when you count the illegally caught and by-catch deaths.  Ugh.

Idaho ‘Ag Gag’ Bill Signed Into Law By Gov. Otter—I cannot tell what the impact of these ag gag laws is going to be across the country.  I wonder if animal welfare activists will be motivated to push the envelope in hopes of using a court case to expose not just the cruelty but the machinations of industry to muzzle critics as well.

Deforestation of Kalimantan Rainforest – In Pictures—Remember, these forests were felled for palm oil plantations.  That’s it.

First Legally Sanctioned Grows of Hemp in Colorado—Legal grows of hemp will not get the attention that a line of people waiting for a bag of Bubba Kush, but it is a significant thing because it is another option for farmers to make money.  It is also a very versatile crop.

Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight?—Soil has an amazing capacity to sequester carbon.  Degraded and marginal soils the world over are an amazing opportunity to improve the condition of the soil and help the climate.

Wendell Berry: A Strong Voice For Local Farming and the Land—Wendell Berry is a legend.  Anytime you get a chance to read or hear his thoughts on farming and sustainability you need to take the opportunity to listen.

EPA Moves To Block Massive Alaskan Gold And Copper Mine–The Pebble Mine in Alaska may not be dead quite yet, but with major investors pulling out and government regulators leery of the environmental cost the odds do not look good.  Then again, mines don’t make a lot of sense in a lot of places.

Sea Otters In Prince William Sound Back to Pre-Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Numbers—Finally, almost twenty five years after the Exxon Valdez oil disaster, sea otters are returning to their pre-spill levels in Prince William Sound.  So, naturally, the petro lobby will probably start the howls of drill baby drill at CPAC.

The GOP’s Unregulated Business-Climate Nirvana, in China—A friend of mine always used to say that a free market ideologue’s dream was a slum in Africa because there were no rules.  Maybe China is a better example because it is big business and its attendant government cronies run amok with no consideration for the wellbeing of the people or the environment.

Friday Linkage 1/3/2014

Man, writing 2014 is a trip.  It happens every year, but the first few weeks of putting down a new year always throws me for a loop.  I digress.

On to the links…

California Installed More Rooftop Solar In 2013 Than Previous 30 Years Combined—What do you follow that up with?  Think about the acceleration of rooftop photovoltaics over the past couple of years.  Even better, think about what this means in cumulative terms as more PV arrays come on line in 2014.

Massive Minnesota Solar Project gets Legal Boost—It’s important to remember that solar is not just important in California.  In Minnesota, not exactly known for sunny days on end, solar is getting to be a big deal.

Fossil Fuel Industry and Koch Brothers Align to Kill Extension of Wind Energy Tax Credits—Anytime you read a story about some group opposed to renewables it always seems to come back around to the Koch Brothers.  Do these guys like anything besides money and Fox News?  Heck, they probably do not even like Fox News that much.  Just money.

We Want You for the Repair Resolution—Repairing things has become a lost art and skill in our modern society.  Devices become “obsolete” so quickly that replacement just seems like a better option.  It’s a pretty tired story, but committing to repair is maybe the greenest thing you could do in 2014.

World’s Smallest Laptop Adapter could Lead to More Efficient Electronics— How many laptops are out there sucking electricity right now through under-engineered power bricks?  Millions?  Tens of millions?  More?  Like inefficient cable boxes this is one of those unseen vampires of power.

The United Watershed States of America—I love alternative maps that do away with current political boundaries.  We are so wedded to the boundaries of states in our minds that it colors our decisions on issues that have absolutely no regard for where people in Washington D.C. though borders should be.

California Gripped By Driest Year Ever—Drought is just nasty because it is so persistent.  Granted, any historian of the American west will tell you that California is a state defined by extreme weather and natural events so to judge anything over a short period of time is just asking for trouble.  Nonetheless, I do not want to be someone counting on rain in the Golden State.

Hawaiian Garden Being Brought Back to Paradise—Hawaii is a strange place botanically.  A lot of the plants that we identify with the islands are non-native and/or invasive.  A vision of a pre-invasive species Hawaii is interesting.

The Easiest Way to Tell if You Have Healthy Soil—Sometimes we become too enamored with fancy tests.  Just open your eyes and nature may provide you the answers in a relatively easy to understand format.

Millions Of Acres Of Chinese Farmland Too Polluted To Grow Food—China’s list of problems keeps growing and many of them are self-inflicted.  The air is just awful.  The land is so polluted in some spots that it is no longer capable of growing food safely.  If there is a place headed for a nasty ecological crash, it has to be China.

The Mysterious Story of the Battery Startup that Promised GM a 200-mile EV—This story is just fascinating and as it made the rounds over the break everyone said it should be used as a primer on startups.  I think it speaks to a lot of issues involving startups, mature industries, the government, etc.  Enjoy it.