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Landscape Industry

Landscape horticulture apprentice Branden Dallas

By | Education, Landscape Industry | No Comments

Since I challenged the Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist exam, I missed out on the four winter school sessions all apprentices are required to go through. (I didn’t miss out on the hard work but I did avoid EI collection.)

It was interesting to catch up with Branden Dallas who was putting in his first work day after completing level two of the four year apprenticeship program. I asked him a few questions. His answers are edited but they follow the notes I took during our talk. This might be of interest to workers interested in taking the four year horticulture apprenticeship program. The program is win-win for all parties. The apprentice gains work experience and Red Seal status, the employer gets a decent worker for four years and, hopefully, beyond. Canada gains trained trades people.

 

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Branden Dallas

 

V: Can you tell us about the program set-up?

B: The winter session at Burnaby Continuing Education goes for six weeks starting in early November. My employer sponsored me by employing me during the season, by completing all paperwork and by covering the $1250 school fee. While I’m in school, EI covers 55% of my regular pay. EI application is done by the student. There is a final exam to sit, three hours long. Course passing mark is 75%. Final grades are sent through e-mail.

 

V: What was your typical school day like?

B: The school days are Monday to Friday, 9 to 3:30 pm with one hour for lunch. We had four different instructors. Field trips happened at least once a week and I enjoyed all of them. In class we followed a printed manual and books like “Botany for gardeners“. [ By Brian Capon]

 

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V: What was the best part of the school session?

B: Definitely machines. Machines like backhoes. I wasn’t the best in class at it but it was a fun challenge. We built up soil in a bed close to the school.

 

V: What was the worst part of the school session?

B: Soils! The instructor was a Ph.D. candidate and he crammed a lot of soil science into a few classes. My head was spinning at the end. It was dry.

 

V: What are your future plans?

B: I will work for my employer all year to gain important landscape work experience. Then I will register for level three of the program this winter.

If you are interested in landscape horticulture this is a great program for you and your employer.

 

 

Requiem for a Recycling facility

By | Landscape Industry | No Comments

Only a landscaper would find the long-term closure of a recycling facility distressing. So let’s just say it. It sucks. The Coquitlam Construction Recovery Facility at 995 United Blvd, in Coquitlam, closed last November 30. The actual reasons for the closure by Wastech Services Ltd. are not very clear to me. It’s a long twisted tale that would explode the post length SEO settings for any blog on the internet. It was a mix of decline in construction material recycling volumes and pressure from the land owners of the recovery plant located nearby at 1200 United Blvd. Now we are promised a brand new facility in two years. I hope the workers who lost their jobs found suitable employment for 2017.

Why was the facility beautiful?

  1. It was never really super busy; I don’t recall any extra long wait times.
  2. The green waste dumping area was very large. It made green waste dumping a breeze with a larger one tonne truck. No stress with backing into tight spaces. Washroom nearby.
  3. The location was brilliant, close as it was to both work sites and truck parking.

 

Alternatives

The handout given to all customers showed three of the closest disposal options. So let’s take a look at the two I know. The closest dump is the nearby Coquitlam Resource Recovery Plant at 1200 United Blvd, Coquitlam. Once you clear the scale turn right and follow the blue line into the covered green waste dumping area. It fits 5-6 trucks comfortably. I find the exit a bit tight. The overwhelming smell of garbage is responsible for quick dumping times. Crew helpers are less inclined to milk it.

Getting into the facility can be challenging. This blog post was inspired by a long line-up that spilled over to United Blvd and required traffic controllers to risk their lives. Residents come to dump garbage and recyclables; and big garbage trucks also come in. That’s when I miss the now closed facility.

Meadows Landscape Recycling Center, 17799 Ferry Slip Road, in Pitt Meadows is a bit of a drive. The green waste dumping area is small, good for 3-4 trucks, but it’s much improved over the dump that used to be inside the Meadows Landscape Center. I clearly recall the elderly gentlemen who would park their trucks and trailers parallel to the dump and proceed to empty their garbage bags by hand.

I’m not familiar with Urban Wood Recyclers at 10 Spruce Street, in New Westminster. It’s commercial only.

So for now we dump most of our green waste at 1200 United Blvd and wait for the old facility to re-open. Good luck to all of the workers who lost their jobs. I hope Wastech helped them.

 

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Handout for all customers

 

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My last historic dump run on the last day

Perfect lawn: “American Green” book review

By | Books, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Lawn Care | No Comments

This is a true story about green lawns and how they came to dominate in the United States. Ted Steinberg’s “American Green: the obsessive quest for the perfect lawn” is an excellent book.

 

Steinberg is an environmental historian and it shows. Landscapers, gardeners, and people who love or hate lawns should definitely read it. As a landscape professional I found it fascinating on my second reading.

The book isn’t new. It was published in 2006. I read it and my copy ended up in storage until now. My second reading was better. I recommend buying the softcover edition for your own library.

Steinberg takes you from the Origins, through the Dark Side and into the Future. With global warming and severe droughts in California, the Future chapters would look different if the second edition were to be published now in 2016.

Some things haven’t changed. People still die in ride-on mower accidents and Latinos still dominate the workforce in places like California. The excerpts from Spanish Phrases for Landscaping Professionals alone are worth the book cost. For example, Nosostros no ofrecemos seguro de salud (we don’t offer health insurance.)

In the Origins you will meet the key characters that shaped the landscape industry and made the lawn a key feature. It really is a fascinating question: why should the lawn dominate so much? A huge industry developed around it as landscape turned into landscaping. A father and son would share the lawn care work around their home but eventually a new industry rose up to do the work for them. Fertilizer and pesticide use went up and soon a debate started. Lawn lovers versus detractors.

 

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This client loves his lawns….

 

The case for brown lawns now makes a lot of sense. With water restrictions in the US and Canada, it makes sense to let  lawns go dormant in summer. Unless you are rich and living in a place where brown can’t happen. But that will be the subject of a future blog post based on a recent Harper’s magazine story from California.

You can dive deep into this subject if you follow Steinberg’s notes. I looked up an interesting story from 1983. It was a case where a wife in Massachusetts wanted to surprise her husband with a beautiful lawn. She hired a company but managed to catch a worker urinating on her property. When she confronted him, he assaulted her, choked and strangled her and eventually crushed her skull with pieces from a retaining wall.

Defence lawyers argued that repeated exposure to chemicals made the 23 year old worker unable to decide between right and wrong. The jury disagreed. First degree murder charge carried an automatic life sentence for the recent college graduate. A sad and bizarre story.

If you work in the green industry, this is one must-read book. Likewise if you love or hate lawns. Five stars out of five.

 

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Vas now understands how landscape turned into landscaping

A love letter to my Honda mower

By | Company News, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Landscaping Equipment | No Comments
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My trusted friend, season after season….

 

This Honda mower is incredible! It deserves its own blog post. Every spring it starts without fail. That first puff of exhaust signalling our reunion for yet another season. It always blows me away, considering how little maintenance I perform on it. It must be the combination of shed storage and mild West Coast winters.

When one of my former employers decided to change his entire mower fleet to Lawn boys, I scored this well-used mower for $120. It was well worth it. I use it bi-weekly during the season for side work. It’s a simple machine. It has a choke/speed lever and a pull cord. Dual blade system. No bells or whistles. My trusted friend. Bravo Honda.

Yes, it’s showing its age. The front wheels will have to get replaced; the bag has a slight tear, and one of the pins holding the bag in place tends to come off periodically. The deck below sports blemishes.

I change the air filter, add oil, and stock new pull cords.  Both blades get changed at least once a month. I have two sets. They have seen better days but they will do for now. Sharp blades are critical! Dull blades tear up grass blades. What we want is one clear cut. Always change your blades. Do it carefully by first unplugging your spark plug.

Eventually, I will upgrade to a newer model. I know it. But for now, we work together to satisfy clients and keep my kids fed. It’s a good partnership.

This Honda mower is incredibly reliable. You can not go wrong by purchasing a Honda mower. I would. I might.

 

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The blue number 3 is from my ex-employer’s system; trucks had 3 mowers and we had to keep track

 

(Disclaimer: I am not sponsored, paid or otherwise compensated by Honda. This blog post is my personal review and opinion.)

 

 

01 landscape trucks never die

By | Company News, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Landscaping Equipment | No Comments

Landscape company owners seem to keep their original 01 trucks around forever. They should be retired but somehow there is always some use for them. I was thinking about this when I showed up for work on a recent Saturday at a company we won’t name. I knew this particular 01 beast was nasty. It couldn’t accelerate, nor climb any hills; and it either didn’t brake or the wheels locked. Shifting to 2 on a steep Burnaby uphill still only got you 35-40 km/h speeds and lots of angry motorists behind you. Luckily they were all obscured in clouds of diesel exhaust.

The boss informed me that he had driven it during the week and it was fine. “Just don’t follow anyone closely, drive slowly and pump the brakes before attempting to brake.” Great. Just what I wanted to hear. The truck needs to get serviced but who has the time during a busy week. Can the company even afford to take it out of circulation?

This just leads to stress. Stress I don’t need. Or want.

One night I had a dream. As I stood in the shop, this same boss handed me the keys to a never-used 2017 truck. I smiled. Then I woke up.

Sadly, I’ve experienced many other 01 trucks over the years. One pick-up truck has wobbly steering and door locks that don’t work. The tail gate no longer opens and it’s just as well. The pins holding the tail gate in place are bent so when it’s down, it slips out. Not fun.

Getting it stolen would be a welcome relief to its owner. But there is lots of nostalgia, too. This was the original 01 beast which started everything. It was there in the first trenches. Now it’s mainly used to shuttle mowers. And for how long?

Sometimes driving a 01 beast is a test. One former employer had a 01 pick-up with a heavy metal box on it. It required very frequent gas station visits. I think I wore out the metal strip on my Petro points card. This beast wouldn’t accelerate. I still remember gunning it at the bottom of the snake hill in Port Moody, afraid the truck would slow down to a crawl. When new employees survived their tests, they were in.

I have given up. Landscape workers must get used to having these original 01 antique trucks around. They will never die.

 

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This beast is a piece of work! A 01 truck all-star.

 

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How to easily score education credits (CEUs)

By | Education, Events, Landscape Industry, Resources | No Comments

Hunting for education credits (CEUs) is one of my favorite activities. The idea is to force you to upgrade your skills by continually learning through reading, attending seminars, symposiums and taking quizzes. ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) requires me to collect 30 CEUs in one three year re-certification period. The re-certification renews on the date of your certification. June in my case.

The Landscape Industry Certified program in North America requires 24 CEUs every two years. Certification expires on December 31, every two years. In Canada, the CNLA will send a friendly reminder. There is a form to fill out and mail back.

To re-certify:

a) will cost you money but it’s cash well-spent. If you ask your employer nicely, it won’t cost you anything. The cost of not re-certifying is much higher. Re-certify!

b) normally one hour spent in class or reading equals one credit. By completing my eleven hour audiobook “Lab girl”, I will be eligible to claim eleven hours; a one-page book report is required.

So what does a West Coast landscape pro do to stay certified and up-to-date? Take a look at the picture for clues.

 

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Arborist News

Arborist News magazine is published bi-monthly by the ISA and every issue has one CEU article for you to complete. You can fill in your answers and mail the form in or complete it online. The ISA will automatically add the credits to your file.

The magazine also advertises various books and manuals you can complete for CEUs. Get whatever interests you or where your knowledge is the weakest. There are tons of choices.

Can-West Hort Show

This is the premier horticulture show in British Columbia. I will attend the Urban Forester’s Symposium. Five hours of lectures equals five ISA CEUs. Lunch is included. ISA sign up form will be provided. Bring your certification number.

The CNLA will also credit me with five CEUs for this symposium. Then I have two more seminars on the following day. 1.5 hours x 2= 3 CEUs for a total of 8 towards my CLT.

The best part of this event is the plant ID contest booth. No CEUs are given here but you can win a prize and outscore your friends.

Also, it’s a great event for creating new contacts and maintaining existing ones. Some people I will only see once a year at this horticulture show!

Books

As mentioned above, the CNLA will credit you for every hour spent reading green industry related books. Trees: their natural history by Peter A. Thomas was the one tree book recommended by Dr. Hope Jahren in her book “Lab girl”.I can’t think of a better way to collect CEUs.

Collecting CEUs for re-certification is not a pain. It’s a fun investment of your time and money. Stay current in your field and deliver great value to your company and clients.

 

 

Common landscape maintenance mistakes, vol. 2

By | Education, Landscape Industry, Landscaping, Tips | No Comments

To Continue with our examination of common landscape maintenance mistakes we consider volume 2. Learning from other people’s mistakes is much better than on your own. The hard way. It’s time to work like pros.

 

A) Lawn hazards

Check your assigned mow areas for hazards like rocks, garbage and toys. Collisions with foreign objects can cause damage and injury. Get familiar with lawns you are about to cut for the first time. It’s time well spent.

 

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B) Don’t mow around piles

I know this is a pain. Owner-generated piles on our lawns delay our progress but it’s horrible to ignore them. Don’t mow around them. Stop the mower and tarp the piles. Then continue. The owner will be happy and the grass will thank you for it.

 

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C) No tree stubs

ISA certification is optional but good cuts are not. Never leave stubs. The tree can’t cover up the wound, the stub dies and could serve as an entry point for diseases. Look for the branch collar and make a nice cut. Don’t cut into the collar. That’s where protective cells live.

 

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wrong

 

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correct

 

D) Tree bondage

Discourage tree owners from hanging things on their trees. Wires and ropes are forgotten until it’s too late. The ropes get embedded in the tree and can’t be extracted. Two problems: 1)  girdling eventually starves the upper portion of water and nutrients and leads to death; and 2) breakage occurs at the point of constriction.

 

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A good illustration: everything above the point of constriction is dead, deprived of water and nutrients; life below the point of constriction; This tree owner loves bird feeders.

 

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Clearly there is life below the constriction point; death above it

 

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A dead Pinus contorta, strangled with arbor tie; this was clearly an attempt at staking a leaning tree

Keep these points in mind as you maintain your landscapes. Your boss and clients will thank you for it.

When landscape machines go missing.

By | Landscape Industry, Landscaping Equipment, Security | No Comments

Worst landscape day ever

So I got my lawn care done on a recent Saturday in Burnaby and it was time to blow. I opened up my truck storage compartment and….only the mower was there. Then it hit me. F***. Only steps from a place of worship, I had been robbed. Really robbed. Two backpack blowers and two line edgers. It easily became my worst day ever as a landscaper. I’m used to delivering value and increasing profits. Losing four machines is the very opposite. I hope my anger wears off soon.

All four (4!) machines were well-used. Soon they will most likely show up at a flea market somewhere. The seller will score enough cash to support some nasty habit he or she shouldn’t have formed in the first place.

What kind of degenerate steals a man’s trade tools? I work six and sometimes seven day weeks when it’s busy. It would never occur me to exchange my weekend landscaping work for theft. I feel sorry for these people.

It happens a lot

This actually happens a lot. Landscapers in the Lower Mainland do what they can to protect their equipment. Still, machines go missing. What do you do? Unless there are clear witnesses, the police can’t do much. A few months ago I got to view a security tape. Two guys in a pick-up truck, one landscaper far away from the truck, and a blower goes missing in broad daylight with cameras on. Easy score.

My friend who runs a successful North Shore operation also had huge problems. He went on local news. His security camera videos are on Facebook. There are many degenerates living among us. Instead of stealing trade tools, they should learn how to use them. Sad, sad slaves to their bad habits.

What about insurance? Considering the depreciation on landscape machines it does not make sense to make a claim. You will end up paying more in premiums next year. That hurts.

Clearly, I will have to review my on-site parking arrangement and keep everything locked and closed between tasks. I wonder how many days it will take for the anger to wear off.

Keep your equipment safe!

 

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Tactics: a new Stihl blower spray painted to look unattractive

Million dollar homes

By | gardening, Landscape Industry, Landscaping | No Comments

Multi-million dollar homes have been in the news for a long time. Foreign buyers come in, flush with cash and locals are priced out of the market. Or so one story goes. I am not an expert on real estate. Nor am I in a position to buy one of these Vancouver homes. But, I am qualified to work on them.

When my buddy recently asked me to help him upgrade his Vancouver home, I jumped at the chance. Not only was the compensation generous by BC landscape wage standards, it was also consistent with my personal mission. The mission being to constantly seek out new experiences, both in my personal life and work life.

The goal

The goal was to upgrade the landscaping very quickly so the house could be put on the market. All new flowers had to look good for the next three months or so.

 

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The home is built on a man-made hill

 

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The view! Note Cedrus deodara tree on the left, the topic of an earlier blog; it sports huge upright cones visible from the house

 

 

Basic tasks

 

  1. weed the front garden
  2. prune rhododendrons
  3. remove patio crack weeds
  4. prune plants off upper stairwell
  5. expose house numbers obscured by Cotoneaster
  6. push back ivy from main entrance area
  7. remove dead shrubs
  8. prune Forsythia spikes
  9. install new soil
  10. install new plants
  11. line trim wild looking lawn
  12. cut out cherry suckers
  13. clean up blow

 

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Hebe ‘Hinerua’

 

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Achillea millefolium ‘Strawberry seduction’

 

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Hebe and Yarrow covering what was a bare slope

 

The main entrance beds were planted with three new roses, Dianthus ‘Kahori’, Hemerocallis ‘Scottish fantasy’, petunias and cacti. I helped with the install; not the design and plant selection. The only tricky part was planting the Yarrow because the tall stems can break off.

 

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Fluffy organic garden blend soil Overkill at $50/yard since the home is about to be sold

 

After two work sessions the house looked much better. I can’t wait to see how quickly the house sells and for how much. What’s the chance the new owners will require maintenance help? It would be fun to work here again.

 

 

8 steps to becoming a landscape maintenance professional

By | Education, Landscape Industry, Tips | No Comments

Yes, you can become a landscape maintenance professional. Just consider the following eight steps. I originally published this list in a post on LinkedIn. This is a new, improved version. It came to life as I arrived at a crossroads early in 2016 and had to make a decision. Do I continue with my temporary full-time municipal parks laborer position or accept a better paying, full-time senior supervisor position in the private sector. As I reflected on my own sweaty 16-year journey from rookie at a landscape maintenance corporation to Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist, the list was born. Feel free to add comments or ask for help.

 

Practice, practice

New landscape maintenance workers inevitably mow miles of lawns but the idea is to get it down quickly and then move on to all of the other machines. Edgers, blowers, bedwork and power shears. Ask for training. Face your fears. Gain skills and confidence. Add value to your company. The goal is a quick progression from mowing to all of the other skills.

 

Plant ID

Don’t dismiss this crucial skill. Start on day one. Keep a notebook, take pictures with your smartphone. Learn only botanical names. Some plants have multiple common names so don’t waste your time. All nurseries deal in botanical names. Tests use botanical names.

Plant knowledge is critical for proper care and pruning. To get you started I created an eBook called “Common strata plants, A Guide for West Coast Landscapers“. Message me for a copy.

 

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Get tested

If you live in Canada or the US, you can get tested and become a certified landscape technician. The test validates your skills and shows employers and clients that you have the required minimum skills to do a great job for them. Going through the written and practical tests is a humbling experience. Getting my certificate felt great! It will boost your confidence and your income. Get your employer to cover the fees.

I invite all prospective Lower mainland candidates attempting the ornamental maintenance module to contact me for a private review session at very reasonable rates. Save money and time by not making the same mistakes I did.

 

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Hug trees

You only need two field seasons to qualify to write the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) exam. It’s recognized internationally and prepares you to care for trees in our landscapes. Proper pruning and avoiding conflicts with landscape machines are two critical issues. So is safety. Plus trees are beautiful and provide numerous ecosystem services for free. They deserve a hug!

 

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Mentors

Remember, the goal is quick acquisition of new skills. Get your foreman and senior workers to help you. I spent one season working under a brilliant municipal gardener and I learned a lot. It took one nice comment from her for me to walk into my Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist exam challenge with confidence. I also read the works of brilliant horticulture professionals. Look for mentors from the beginning.

Industrial athletes

Your body is a money-maker so take care of it. Everything is neatly summarized in this ISA article. Read it. Study it. Green workers may not think of themselves as athletes but consider the daily physical output required on the job. I would just add a regular exercise program based on sports you enjoy. I take part in road and trail running races. Find your favorite sport and do it. Regularly.

Seal it with Red

Landscape horticulture is a Red Seal trade in British Columbia. The recommended procedure is to sign up for an apprenticeship with a good company. Learn the trade in the field and complete schooling in winter. Four years; 9700 hours required. This is consistent with the 10,000 hour idea developed by Anders Ericsson and made famous by the writings of Malcolm Gladwell. See the latest book by Ericsson. Make the hours count.

 

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If you possess the required documented hours in the field, you can challenge the exam. I did. It wasn’t easy but with field experience, one day preparation course and some study, I passed. You will too. Journeyman status is critical to your career success. Municipal park departments now demand it. In private industry you separate yourself from other workers and management is a possibility.

Kaizen

Kaizen is a Japanese term for continuous improvement. Never stop learning. Read new books, attend conferences, subscribe to journals and stay in touch with your mentors. Keep reading this blog. The goal is to be better than you were yesterday.

Follow the steps above and enjoy your green career!