Tag Archives: tree

Friday Linkage 9/6/2019

If you have a Sharpie and you are the President of the United States then anything is possible:


It is an old trope to ask someone what the right wing would have said or done in the wake of President Obama doing the same thing, but can you imagine the cerebral hemorrhage that Sean Hannity would have had in this case?

We live in strange times.

On to the links…

15 Things a President can Actually do to Tackle the Climate Crisis—It’s not like number fifteen on this list is ever going to happen.

Cedar Rapids Electric Bill Could be Slashed in Half from New LED Lighting in Downtown—It’s a small change, but why hasn’t every city in America switched to LED streetlights?

Trump Rolls Back Regulations on Energy-Saving Lightbulbs—Does Donald Trump just sit in his private residence during “executive time” and mumble things like, “LEDs…bad…horrible…old, hot lights…good.”  In a little more than one year and four months someone with half a brain can take the executive pen and reassert some sanity.

Economics of Electric Vehicles Mean Oil’s Days As A Transport Fuel Are Numbered—Anyone who drives an electric vehicle will agree with this hypothesis.  In my case, I spend approximately 2 cents per mile to drive my Nissan Leaf versus approximately 15 cents per mile to drive my Ford F150.  Even if I doubled the mileage of my truck it could not compete.

China’s Very Ambitious Transportation Revolution—China was supposed to be the “swing” consumer for fossil fuels as developed Western economies transitioned to cleaner energy.  Looks like China is going to try and just bypass the whole dependency on fossil fuels stage of economic development.

While ‘Zombie’ Mines Idle, Cleanup and Workers Suffer in Limbo—Coal companies do not care about workers or the communities that they leave behind when they close up shop.  Coal executives fly away on private jets after paying themselves while leaving workers high and dry.

The Feds Tried to Make an Example of a small Washington Coal Mine. It Didn’t Work.—Twenty years later and the job is still not done.  Maybe it would be best if we just left the coal in the ground and found another way to make electricity.

Ireland Will Plant 440 Million Trees By 2040 To Combat Climate Change—If Ireland can plant 440 million trees in a little more than twenty years what could the United States achieve?  Okay, probably nothing in the short term with Republicans and Donald Trump hanging around.

The Disturbing Hypothesis for the Sudden Uptick in Chronic Kidney Disease—Climate change will come for our chocolate and coffee.  Climate change is also coming for our kidneys.

Holy Cross Energy Eyes Complete Decarbonization after Striking New Wind Energy Deal—Big utilities, small utilities, rural electric cooperatives…the list goes on and on but the trend is the same.  The tools to free our electricity production from the tyranny of fossil fuels are available and cost competitive.

The Best Place for Harvesting Solar Energy Is Not Where I Expected It to Be—I remember reading about a French pilot project that combined solar canopies over high value crops like grapes.  That project showed the viability of the idea.

One Very Bad Habit Is Fueling the Global Recycling Meltdown—I see this all the time in my neighborhood where people put all kinds of random crap in the curbside recycling bins.  Styrofoam packaging?  Yep.  Resin chairs?  Yep.  Christmas light strings?  Yep.

Banning Mini Shampoos from Hotels Won’t Really Reduce Plastic or Save the Environment—We are just nibbling around the edges of our problems with promises like these.

Tyson Foods Invests in Plant-Based Shrimp Company—I do not know if plant based shrimp is any good, but I know that plant based foods are a real trend when the people at Tyson Foods are putting their money behind the trend.

Hardscaping for the Future

In my yard I have a lot of trees. At the current count, which is going to change soon as I add a few more in various spots to finish my mini arboretum, I have thirteen trees representing six different species of tree. The downside is that all of the trees “required” some form of hardscaping around the base to provide protection from lawn mowers or string trimmers and to break up the monotony of the grass carpet called a lawn. I know that it is un-American to suggest this but vast landscapes of green grass are just boring.

Building planting beds around a tree also gave me an opportunity to bring some color into my yard and increase the water storage capacity of the soil through amendments. It’s not sexy, but if your soil can hold more water you will be thankful when the late summer temperatures start creeping up and nary a rain cloud is on the horizon.

Not long after we moved into our new house I moved the original street tree, so named because it is a required tree planted between the sidewalk and street, to the backyard. It was a boring autumn blaze elm that had been planted on every other house lot on the street. As if we had not learned from the over reliance on single species of trees with the onset of Dutch elm disease and the invasion of the emerald ash borer.

The maple just kind of got stuck in the backyard:

Tree Ring BeforeBoring. After about four hours of hacking through turfgrass, which had me questioning the logic of mowing my grass so high since the roots extend an equidistant amount below the surface making easy removal impossible, I was able to finally place the heavy rocks that formed the tree ring seen below:

Tree Ring AfterThe soil, which in my backyard is as sandy as a beach when you dig past the layer of top soil, was amended with coconut coir. A lot of people in eastern Iowa use peat moss as a soil amendment, but that comes with a whole host of environmental concerns related to the destruction of peat bogs for our gardens. Not gonna’ happen. Coconut coir is a byproduct of coconut production so it has fewer concerns about sustainability outside of the transportation costs. Regardless, it is a great way to increase the moisture carrying capability of sandy soils.

The real difference maker is the plants. I wanted to create a puzzle of color with low maintenance and drought tolerant plants. In a world potentially impacted by climate change—e.g. hotter and drier summers for those of us in eastern Iowa—we need to be very conscious about what we plant in our landscapes to ensure long term viability and resiliency.

I went with nine plants—three of each variety—to fill in the space. The plants are a “Purrsian Blue” catmint, dianthus “Kahori,” and “Desert Eve” yarrow.

The other benefit of all of these plants is that the pollinators seem to already love the little garden. Just the other day I saw at least three bees buzzing around. Gotta’ help the pollinators.

Outside Projects

It may be the first day of spring, but with temperatures hovering around freezing and the ground being dusted with snow there is hardly the sense that I will be getting my hands dirty anytime soon.  This is the Midwestern United States which means that I could be in shorts tomorrow enjoying the outdoors and not a person would think the change in weather odd.

What that means is that I need to start considering what I want to get done during the warm weather months.  Every year the list is long on projects.

Primarily, the projects start with the desire to plant more trees and shrubs in and around my home.  At the time of construction my wife and I told the builder to not bother with landscaping and leave the beds that encircle the house empty so that we could choose.  As usual we wanted something different than globe arborvitae, daylilies, and an autumn blaze maple.  We ended up with the cliché autumn blaze maple in the front yard, which city code dictates must have one shade tree, which ended up in the backyard and was replaced by a disease resistant elm.

Nonetheless, it is amazing just how much space is around a house for planting.  After two warm weather seasons we have gotten some of the area planted, but it is nowhere as “thick” as we want it.  So, this year’s focus is filling in the beds with lots of plants that are low maintenance and drought hardy.

What does the project list looks like?

  1. Expand butterfly/pollinator garden—On the west side of my home I planted three butterfly bushes last year.  Each plant took to its new site well and flourished.  This year I want to bump out the bed from the foundation of the house a few feet and plant perrenials that are attractive to pollinators and will provide more visual interest.
  2. Prepare a garlic bed—The garlic will actually not be planted until the fall, but I want to prepare an area to grow garlic.
  3. Build homes for mason bees—We have all heard about colony collapse and I want to make my yard even more attractive to pollinators.  Attracting mason bees seems like a pretty easy and low maintenance solution.  I have a couple of ideas for making mason bee houses that I will post later on in the spring.
  4. Improve yard’s drought tolerance—This project is a combination of eliminating as much lawn as possible while still staying in the confines of city code and figuring out ways to make my soil capture more water rather than letting it run down to the street.  Right now, the yard’s soil is very sandy.  Like so sandy it’s a beach once you dig a few inches down.  That is great for drainage, but bad for retaining moisture.  During last year’s drought, which will persist into this year unless Noah starts building another ark, the plants were very stressed because  the soil retained so little of the scant available moisture.  There are a lot of ideas I have percolating in my head on how to improve the situation.
  5. Edible/medicinal/useful perennials—Plants can be ornamental and have great utility at the same time.  It is something that we overlook when picking out garden plants.  I want to incorporate more utility into my landscaping.  It’s one part curiosity and another part the drive for more self-reliance.

If I can accomplish all of these things by the beginning of fall, I will be one happy dude.

Friday Linkage 12/7/2012

It’s December.  If I thought the holiday spirit of crass commercialism, bad songs, and even worse parties was in full gear last week it’s like a double barreled blast of nasty in my face now.

On to the links…

Tim DeChristopher Blocked from Doing Social Justice Work—What a joke.  Considering that he was imprisoned for protesting something that was later ruled invalid is just the beginning of this sordid tale.  At the end of the day the U.S. federal government has appeared to be nothing more than a petty bully.

Cornstalks Everywhere, but Nothing Else—It is sad to drive past acre after acre of corn planted in fields realizing that none of it is really “food” in the traditional sense.  It’s not like I can take an ear of field corn and consume it or get any nutrition from it.  It appears that is true for the natural world as well.

Tree Puts on More Wood at 3,200 Years Old Than Younger Trees–Amazing, simply amazing.  The more we learn about the natural world the more I am convinced that we have not explored the potential that is present.  But, we have managed to produce Honey Boo Boo so humans are doing something right.

Countries Spend Five Times  More on Fossil Fuel Subsidies than Climate Aid—This really should not surprise anyone.  For all the talk about how dynamic the oil and gas sector is in the economy, it truly is one of the most subsidized and supported industries in the modern economy.  About the only thing worse is the military industrial complex.

Will India Surge Ahead of the West in Renewable Energy?—India seems to be the new laboratory for renewable energy because the current infrastructure is so decrepit that the hope is India can leap beyond the step of a centralized system—a la the West—and to a distributed generation model.  Hmmm….

U.S. Energy Outlook: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—With all due apologies to Sergio Leone, the U.S. energy future is a mixed bag.  A lot of this depends on one thing: the price of natural gas and the ability of companies to continue fracking.  If natural gas gets a lot more expensive than renewables become even more attractive vis a vis coal due to the truly brutal negatives for coal generated power.

Chevrolet Volt Owners have Driven 100 Million Electric Miles—The Chevrolet Volt seems like one of the most interesting stories in next generation automobiles.  Every day there is a story about the insane amount of data that is being collected about the driving behaviors of the owners that speaks volumes more than any anecdote ever could.

Good News for Coffee Drinkers: It’s Basically a Nutrient—Essential for my daily life, but a nutrient?  Sweet.  Now all those late nights and early mornings at my “real” job can qualify as wellness improvement.

A New Day is Coming for St. Paul’s Union Depot—The Twin Cities really seem to have it going on lately.  First, the cities are amazing biking destinations even when you factor in the brutal winter.  Second, mass transit is really happening in a lot of places with the light rail expansion, North Star commuter rail, and the reopening of St. Paul’s Union Depot.  Plus, the city is a great destination for beer drinkers.

What is Reclaimed Urban Wood?

On a mission to get my daughter a treat following an excellent swim lesson—until you have spent the better part of a month trying to convince your four year old to dunk herself under water under her own volition you would not understand the sense of achievement—I came across this branded into a table:

What is reclaimed urban wood?  Using the poor man’s market research, i.e. Google, I found a company in Michigan (UrbanWood.org) that is trying to save dead or dying urban trees from a date with the chipper and diverting suitable logs to more enduring use.  Michigan has a major problem with the emerald ash borer, so there are a lot of dead and dying trees to remove from the landscape, but it looks like these guys are diverting everything including on-site red oak trees that got turned into the flooring for a new home.

This concept seems new, but it really harkens back to a time when local building products were what dominated.  If you lived in the Pacific Northwest the wood of choice was fir or spruce and so on.

The table at Starbucks—yes, I have given up the frequent habit as I posted before but this was a special occasion—apparently comes from a different source.  From what I can figure out these tables are made from lumber reclaimed from buildings.  There is a long trend of this as well, especially here in Eastern Iowa, as older buildings, especially barns, get torn down the old growth beams make attractive wood for other projects.

But what is the big deal?  It’s nice that this wood is not the result of some clear cut in the Canadian boreal or Sumatran jungle—those trees are usually destined to be pulped into paper to wipe our asses or wrap our fast food.  It’s sort of annoying that it needs to be branded onto the table’s surface like some badge of honor.

Just add reclaimed urban wood to the landscape of “eco” labels like organic, natural, fair trade, rain forest certified, shade grown, union made…