Tag Archives: soil

Friday Linkage 3/20/2020

My family was supposed to be on vacation this week, but COVID-19 got in the way.  Our loss of days on the mountain skiing is nothing compared with the people who are dealing with sickness and loss of income.

The world has gotten scary again.  For those of us who were old enough to remember the days and weeks after September 11th, 2001 this has some of the same feeling.  However, there is something inherently more frightening about a virus that you cannot see.  It leaves you feeling a little helpless and hopeless.

Stay safe out there.

On to the links…

How the GOP’s War on Government Paved the Way for Trump’s Deadly Incompetence—Part of the reason for the incompetent response is that the right wing in the United States has spent the better part of nearly forty years telling anyone who would listen that government was the root of their problems.  Well, when you count on people to respond to a crisis who happen to think they are the problem this is the result.

‘Tip of the iceberg’: Is Our Destruction of Nature Responsible for Covid-19?—Did we “let the cat out of the bag” by paying no attention to our impact on the planet’s natural world?  This idea frightens me.

Will the Coronavirus Kill Globalization?—It will not kill the idea, but it will force us to rethink our relationship with the concept.

Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Reduction in Global Air Pollution—Unintended consequence for sure, but it goes to show just how much of a difference our daily activities make in the production or reduction of emissions.  This before and after of nitrogen oxide emissions in China is all over the internet:


We’re All Living a 1.5 Degree Lifestyle Now—Welcome to the future.

Social Distancing Is Also Helping the Climate—Again, unintended consequences.

Want to Jump-Start The Economy? Include A Green New Deal In The Stimulus Package—This is an opportunity for us to shape the future for decades to come.  Imagine a stimulus bill that funnels money toward wind and solar projects all across the country.  Just imagine…

Public Transit Is the Way to a Green New Deal—We should not build a single mile of new highway in the United States until we fully fund an expansion and modernization of public transit.

Solar Accounted For 40% Of New US Electricity Generation Capacity In 2019—The fact that caught my eye was that the U.S. now has 76 GW of solar generating capacity installed which is up from just 1 GW of installed capacity at the end of 2009.  How much more could we do?

Republicans Push through Indiana’s Coal Bill, which Now Heads to Governor’s Desk—The same state that gave us Mike Pence is also the same state that is pushing retrograde energy bills like this particular piece of crap legislation.  Nothing like the invisible hand of the free market being manipulated by legislator’s for the benefit of a few companies at the expense of every rate payer in the state.  Crony capitalism at its finest.

Restoring Soils could Remove up to ‘5.5bn tonnes’ of Greenhouse Gases Every Year—The soil can save us.

The Future of Plant-Based Meat—Right now, considering coronavirus and all, it is hard to think about the future of anything.  However, plant-based “meat” products are part of the future.

How Toyota Uses Static Electricity to Make Painting Cars Greener—I was shocked to learn how much impact, in terms of emissions, that just painting a car could have.

Friday Linkage 1/17/2020

It’s a little more than two weeks away from the Iowa caucus and things are getting testy.  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are feuding about electability.  Tom Steyer is being Tom Steyer.  For some reason people actually think Joe Biden would make a good president.

All of this must be placed against the backdrop of the ultimate goal—defeating Donald Trump in such a demonstrative way that the MAGA hats become just as toxic as Confederate battle flags and white hoods.

On to the links…

Good News, Even in Darkness—It is easy to be pessimistic and it is hard to be optimistic in today’s world, but we must address things in a positive way.  We are in a dark valley.  There is light on the horizon.  We must keep pushing forward.

Negative Carbon Dioxide Emissions—This is the goal.  Not net zero, but net negative.

BlackRock’s Larry Fink: Risks from Climate Change are Bigger than the 2008 Financial Crisis with no Fed to Save Us—When the manager of a massive fund—over $7 trillion dollars in assets managed—says that the investment community better be prepared for climate change I am hoping that the markets listen.

The Solution to the Plastic Waste Crisis? It isn’t Recycling—The solution is to stop buying plastic stuff.  Actually, the answer is to just stop buying so much stuff.  Don’t worry about being a savage minimalist who excises the material demons from their home.  Just stop buying stuff and the space will naturally open up through attrition.

The Dark Side of ‘Compostable’ Take-Out Containers—Even if it is compostable, it is probably ending up in the trash.  If it is not reusable, it is probably ending up in the trash.  Plus, it’s really only compostable in specialized facilities as opposed to the black plastic bin in your backyard.  Trust me, I put one of those corn based forks in my bin as an experiment.  Two years later it still looked pretty much the same.

US Electricity: Solar Up 15%, Wind Up 9%–Now, imagine that these trends keep happening year after year.  The back of the envelope calculations show that solar would double every 4.8 years and wind would double every 8 years.

Iceland Reaches 25% EV Market Share! When Will The World Follow?—The world will follow when we price gasoline according to its impact on the climate.  Once all the externalities are accounted for there is no way people are going to pay a per gallon price for gasoline that is orders of magnitude higher than what we see at the pump today.  Just imagine if the United States figured out how much we spend on military adventures in the Middle East and applied that to each gallon of gasoline sold in the country?

Soil Health Hits the Big Time!—The dirt under our feet is full of possibilities.

Can New Bus Lines Chart a Course to Better Travel Options in the West?—The United States is never going to have the passenger rail network like Europe.  That is a good and a bad thing.  It is good when you consider that Europe will never have the heavy rail cargo network of the United States.  It is bad when you consider that transportation emissions from personal vehicles is such a big part of our climate change puzzle.  Maybe modern bus lines could help fill the gap.

Your $14 Salad’s Not as Eco-Friendly as Advertised — but Sweetgreen’s Trying—The key thing is that the company is trying.  We all need to keep trying.  BTW, who buys a $14 take out salad?

Panera Is Making Its Menu More Plant-Based to Become More Sustainable—The more mainstream vegetarian and vegan options become the better off we are as a society.  There is no reason why every fast food hamburger should not be some version of a Beyond Burger or Impossible Burger.  Why?  These are not the pinnacle of taste and texture.  Plus, the volumes of beef that would be replaced are tremendous.

Skiing is Better Without Performance Trackers—Apps that track our performance on the hill are killing the vibe.  I spent this Christmas break skiing without the Epic Mix app telling me how many vertical feet I had skied or what “badges” I had acquired.  It was freaking glorious.  Do you know what I thought about the whole trip?  Skiing.

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:


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:


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.

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.