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December 2018

Six stunning books for green professionals

By | Books, Education | No Comments

This past weekend I opened up the New York Times and saw a huge spread about the best books from 2018. But there was nothing for green professionals so let’s correct that omission here. I present to you six books well-worth reading with brief notes. I would say they’re all “must read” books. Who knows, they might inspire you to give someone a great gift this Christmas.

 

1. Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown

This is a very important book because Gabe Brown took his conventionally farmed land and regenerated its soils. He did it without tilling, with cover crops and eventually without all fertilizer and chemical use on his North Dakota ranch. He also diversified his operation.

So, YES, you can have great, healthy soil and make great money as a farmer in North America WITHOUT chemical inputs. Read the details in the book. It’s fascinating. The key is encouraging the life in your soil. You can search “regenerative agriculture” for more.

 

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Photo courtesy of http://brownsranch.us/

 

 

2. A soil owner’s manual by Jon Stika

Stika is a soil scientist but it took him years to realize that his training wasn’t the best. Eventually he comes to understand that soil biology is crucial for healthy soils. It’s not just the soil components that matter, the life in the soil is critical.

 

3. The One-Straw revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuoka was a “do-nothing” farming revolutionary in Japan. He showed that you CAN have great rice yields without tilling the soil and using costly fertilizers and chemicals. Do-nothing is a bit misleading because farming is a lot of work but the soil wasn’t tilled and cover crops were used. The details are amazing.

It’s possible that Fukuoka’s work inspired Gabe Brown above.

 

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A practice rice field at a Niigata-City, Japan public school.

 

4. Braiding sweet grass: Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This is THE book on native American plant use. I often hear about indigenous wisdom and this book spells it out in detail. Kimmerer did a fantastic job with this book; she opened my eyes. You will learn lots about plants. I also purchased her new book on Mosses.

 

5. The plant messiah by Carlos Magdalena

Two key points: One, Magdalena goes from Spain to study at the famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (I’m jealous) and becomes a plant researcher there. Then he travels the world studying plants and clearly his native Spanish helped. His love of plants is infectious.

Two, at the beginning of the book he shows the reader why plants are important. Our very survival depends on plants. We derive food and medicines from plants plus much more. After reading this book you will appreciate plants much more.

 

6. Whitewash: the story of a weed killer, cancer and the corruption of science by Carey Gillam

My geography professor at the University of Saskatchewan openly discouraged me from using sources written by journalists. But in the case of Monsanto’s (now Bayer) glyphosate and other chemicals it can’t be done because many scientists have been bought by industry. I know that this debate is polarizing and the book isn’t full of good news. It’s the hardest book to read on this list.

Before you dismiss this book, recall that Health Canada is re-evaluating its recommendations; it now concedes that many of the studies the government agency relied on were sponsored by the chemical industry.

It’s much worse in the United States and the details will make your head spin. I think this book is very important.

 

Summary

Here are the key ideas.

Yes, you can make good money as a farmer without fertilizers and chemicals; stop tilling and use cover crops; and diversify your operation.

The life in your soil is the key to healthy soil.

We depend on plants for our survival. They’re also amazing.

Indigenous plant knowledge is fantastic and now we have a great book showing us the details.

Scientists can be bought so be careful when you read scientific studies. Carefully check who sponsored them.

 

How to pull off your first bare root tree planting

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

Bare root tree planting is recommended by my mentor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott but in strata maintenance we rarely have time for it. There is often pressure to dig holes and plug the trees in.

I got my first taste of bare root tree planting when I worked at a municipal parks department in the fall of 2014. And I’ve been waiting for a chance to do it again solo. Patiently.

Lucky Vas

Then I got lucky this past October when a strata owner approached me about transplanting her Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). The poor tree had some problems. It had dead wood in the top leader and the roots had penetrated the lawn from the bottom of the pot. The lucky part was that the maple was planted in fluffy potting mix media, not in decent soil. So when I finally liberated the tree from its pot, the potting mix stayed in the pot and I was left holding a bare root tree! Brilliant!

 

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Before: roots penetrated the lawn and the tree sat in fluffy potting media.

 

Why bare root?

So what’s the advantage of bare root planting? First, the roots can be examined, pruned and rearranged. They should look like spokes on a wheel, not circling the way they do in pots. Second, nothing else is added to the planting hole. No burlap, strings or wires; and no clay bombs.

 

Lawn home

The new tree location was in the lawn which isn’t ideal because lawn grasses compete with trees for water and nutrients. I’m sure the new tree well will help channel water down to the root zone.

I did some minor root pruning on the tree and I forced the fibrous roots to stick out like spokes on a wheel.

 

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The ideal root arrangement looks like spokes on a wheel.

 

 

Stability

 

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Mudding in.

 

 

I always wondered how bare root planted trees stay upright in the hole without staking. Some large trees do require staking; just don’t forget to remove the stakes after one year.

The procedure is called ‘mud-in‘. You take the parent soil material and you add some to the hole. Then you water it in to create mud. Wait for a bit and repeat the same steps, until you reach the root flare. Then we stop because the root flare has to stay above the soil.

I gently tested my maple and it felt solid. I watered the tree again with a slow soak and instructed the owner to do the same going forward. Now we wait and see if the tree lives. It should be happier in the soil.

 

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All done! Hopefully the maple feels happier in its new home.

How landscapers crush winter

By | Landscaping, Mulch, Seasonal | No Comments

I’m often asked what landscapers do exactly in winter. So let’s take a look at one example from today. Incidentally, today was a beautiful sunny December day and I’m hoping it stays like this until Christmas.

Materials

First, I had to dump green waste because I didn’t get to it on Friday. Normally it’s a routine task but since temperatures dipped over the weekend, I was worried about my green waste load freezing to the truck deck. Luckily it went well.

Second, I picked up three yards of 3/4 crush rock. Yes, installing rock is a great winter task because it can be done on colder days when soils aren’t really workable; and pruning brittle plants could ruin them.

 

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3/4 crush.

 

Community garden

The goal was easy: replenish pathways in a community garden. The pathways did look tired and there were some big weeds so I spent some time on weeding.

 

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Note the weeds and depleted crush levels.

 

Then I wheelbarrowed the crush in. Simple work.

 

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All done, for now. There will be more crush brought in here this week to make sure we have an adequate layer of crush. This should help to keep weeds down.

 

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This looks much better.

 

Preparations continued

Pathway preparation isn’t super exciting to read about but I want to point out that not all landscape tasks are sexy. Sadly, some workers attempt to “cherry-pick” their tasks, preferring to do easier stuff. I personally hate this approach. As a landscape supervisor I do everything, without any “cherry-picking” and I’m hoping it will rub off on our employees.

I recommend to all of our apprentices that they do all tasks and do them well. That’s the best preparation for their Red Seal exams.

 

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Scuffling weeds out of pathways is a lot of labour but it has to get done.

 

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All prepared for new crush install.

 

Conclusion

West Coast winter landscaping can be a challenge but there are tasks that can be done in lower temperatures. Installing crush and weeding pathways are two decent winter landscape tasks.

Plant ID eBook dream

By | Education, Plant Species Information | No Comments

One of my earlier blogs showcased my plant ID picture book specifically targeting strata landscape plants. New workers would come on and they would ask me the same plant identification questions over and over. Now, as a landscape supervisor, I’m paid well to help out as much as I can. But it does get repetitive. So I self-published an eBook on Amazon’s KDP with 100+ of the most common strata landscape plants.

Practice

It took a while but the whole thing finally clicked with a new worker last week. She stared at a Viburnum davidii shrub and asked me if it was a Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica). No, it wasn’t. Then she sighed and expressed her frustration with plant identification.

And I was ready! Why get frustrated when I put together an eBook for people like her. It’s nothing special. It’s just a simple picture collection of the most common plants we see on our strata (multi-family) sites. For the price of one regular Starbucks coffee you get a list of plants you’re guaranteed to see on your work sites. No tropical plants or vegetables, no fluff to waste your time.

Once you cover the basic 100+ plants, you should be good to go. Yes, the plants don’t repeat completely but I can handle questions about beautiful Ligularias. Viburnum davidii are fairly common.

 

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Viburnum davidii

Amazon

So the girl went home and bought a copy of my eBook. It’s a simple process and it’s extremely cheap. And every sale boosts my Amazon ranking, which is updated hourly. That’s why my Facebook post was called “#1 for an hour”.

 

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Why plant ID?

Plant ID is a critical skill for landscapers. Knowing plants speeds things up on site and avoids many embarrassing mistakes. It’s also something bosses expect you to have. After all, this worker wants to be in a foreman position next year which will lead to better pay. I will help her as much as I can, now that she’s my “client”.

I’m really happy that this whole thing worked out the way I envisioned it.