Monthly Archives

January 2017

Aspen fuel dreams

By | Landscaping Equipment | No Comments

Aspen 2 full range technology

I rarely get excited about machine fuel but Aspen fuel for landscape machines is a great invention! The new Aspen 2 full range technology fuel is designed for engines that work hard, like chainsaws.

High combustion temperature machines get the right lubrication to cope with high temperatures. There is increased torque and acceleration.

Machines with lower combustion temperatures, like leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, are easier to start, air filters stay clean longer, and there is 6% improvement in engine acceleration.





Aspen fuel comes pre-mixed. No need to stock oil. No more spills behind the truck or incorrect ratios. It’s completely synthetic with 60% renewable content, biodegradable, and free from ash and solvents.

One of my previous employers used the older Aspen 2 fuel and it worked fine. The company mechanic told me that my line edger could be started in my kitchen! With little kids at home, that would have been extreme blog content creation. I passed on the test. But I did witness a demo at the 2015 Can-West horticulture show. Two beakers, one with conventional gasoline and one with Aspen fuel. A piece of Styrofoam is floating in each beaker. The gas just erases the foam in no time; Aspen ignores it. It just floats there. I took in the test result and then helped myself to free Stihl candy.

I believe our machines worked fine. There was an issue with re-fuelling time since we went through a lot of the orange containers in one week. This is unconfirmed information from friends, but the City of Coquitlam gave up on using Aspen 2 this year after too many containers piled up in the works yard. What do you do with them? They should consider the same drum refuelling idea. Good on the city to at least attempt the switch.

Biggest drawback

Cost! Piles of used containers are nothing compared to the retail cost. It runs anywhere from $2-3/L. Most small landscape companies won’t even consider that. My ex-employer had the advantage of being a distributor. The boss loved the fact that Aspen fuel use would lead to lower repair costs.

I thought about my work mates. Gasoline machines generate unhealthy exhaust. What if we had cleaner burning fuel to use all year in the field? That would be a bonus. Considering the retail price, it’ll be a while. But I can dream my Aspen 2 fuel dreams.



Landscape maintenance in Japanese Alps

By | Edging, Landscaping | No Comments


This past August we made a trip to Western Japan to celebrate my father-in-law’s medal. He received his Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor for his contribution to Japanese construction industry. That required a formal party and full family attendance. Thus the two week visit.

The one trip we made out of town was to Yuzawa kogen, a ski area in the alps. It used to be a huge playground for people in Tokyo looking for some weekend skiing fun. Then, a new bullet train line was built to Nagano and people stopped coming. The snow is better in Nagano! Ouch.

Unlike Vancouver, you can buy an apartment in Yuzawa for $20,000. Some people from Tokyo jumped on it. Fathers commute to Tokyo by bullet train and the family lives mortgage-free.

A quick seven-minute gondola ride took us up into the alpine area. As you walk out, you notice a huge beech tree (Fagus) to your left. It turns out, at 350 years old, it’s on the Japanese top 100 oldest trees.

Alpine area landscape maintenance

As my kids enjoyed free play and overpriced ice cream, I stopped Kosuke from line edging the walkway in the alpine botanical garden. I introduced myself and asked him what he did in winter. Skiing, of course. Note the protective apron and shield. His machine says Kioritz, which is one of three names manufactured by Yamabiko Corporation. In BC, we know the other two names well. Echo and Shindaiwa. I personally own Echo machines and couldn’t be happier. My company uses Stihl.

On the other side, to my left, his older work mates were taking a break in the shade. It was late August and temperatures were approaching 30 degrees Celsius. Their job was to clean up and weed between plants after the line edger had gone through. This technique totally works in this setting. In BC you will see landscape companies fall behind on finesse work and then, in desperation, the line edger will enter planted beds. Beds it wasn’t designed for. Then you get the usual plant carnage.

Once we got back down the hill, we enjoyed hot spring baths at our hotel. The swimming pool was extra charge (major fail). No tattoos allowed! Now you know.



7 minute ride, cabin attendants were cute





Kosuke, note protective apron and shield



Alpine botanical garden





Busy at work, in the shade; clean up after line edging



Break time!



Best farmer trucks in the world!


If you ever take the super-express bullet train from Tokyo to Niigata, stop at Yuzawa.

Abandoned Japanese garden

By | gardening | One Comment

What happens to private gardens when the owners pass on and they get abandoned? I was thinking about this on my vacation this past August. The Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) at the house next door to my in-laws in Niigata City, Japan, was sticking out into the lane. So I took my mother-in-law’s ancient pruning tool and removed all shoots poking out into the lane.

I still remember the couple who lived in the house. They would sit in their kotatsu and look out into the lane through their garden. I lived next door for five years in the 1990s. Eventually the shock wore off as they got used to seeing a white gaijin. I recall only brief small-talk exchanges. I never learned their names.

Then one day, six years ago, I got a phone call from my wife who happened to be visiting at home with our little kids. The man from next door knocked on the sliding door with some urgency. Would my wife help him cut down his wife? Huh? She was still hanging on the side of the house, having committed suicide. To this day, I’m not sure why. Illness leading to money issues? Old age? Panicked and home alone with little kids, my wife sent him to the family construction office. Two office ladies helped him with his unpleasant task. My wife eventually calmed down.

Sadly, the man next door survived his wife by barely a year or two. And as he declined, so did the garden. The family now visits the house periodically but the garden stays untouched.

The Wisteria floribunda is growing through the Acer palmatum. The driveway is weedy. Inside the gate, there is Lavender that requires pruning; the weeds are very tall. Give me one hour or two and it will be good as new. But I wouldn’t even dare step inside the gate. The lady ended her life just around the corner. I think the space between the wall and house was used for drying clothes. The vibe isn’t good. May they both rest in peace.



Wild Wisteria floribunda; I cut it back off the lane, the only work I did in two weeks off



Abandoned garden!



Massive weeds; note the sad Aucuba japonica on the right. The poor lady ended her life around the corner.











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.



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]




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.



Allright ladder fun

By | gardening, Landscaping Equipment, Strata Maintenance, Tips | No Comments

Tripod ladders rule

Japanese-style tripod ladders are excellent landscape and garden tools! Out in the field helping one of our strata maintenance crews with pruning, I took my lunch and opened up the Vancouver Sun. There, on page B3 was an article on ladders by Steve Whysall. Happy coincidence!

Let’s get to the best part right away. The single peg on the ladder is brilliant because you can position it almost anywhere. It will fit through hedges and you can punch it into your soil for stability. The most common size is ten feet. Since I was pruning small hedges in tight entrances, the small six foot ladder was perfect. It’s light to carry and maneuver and it got me just high enough to perform my cedar shearing. Lifting the extendable shears above my shoulders is tiring and leads to needless exhaust sucking. Why do that? Always position yourself for maximum output and comfort.



6 ft ladder is easy to maneuver in tight entrances and gets you just high enough to shear the cedars nicely



Obviously, the bigger the ladder and the higher you are, the bigger the dangers. Always think about safety. Don’t rush. My only serious injury in seventeen seasons of landscaping happened while I was descending one of the bigger ladders. It was a 12 or 14 foot “widow-maker”. I started descending before my power shears were completely stopped. Yeah, I know, this was early in my career. Then my thumb met the steel blades. If it hadn’t been for my nail, the top of my thumb would have been missing. I still recall my helper down below, horrified by my blood dripping on her.

Incidentally, this was also the first- and I hope only- time when I jumped the line at a walk-in medical clinic. I remember an older gentleman probably waiting for his cough syrup, objecting to my line jump. I couldn’t care less.

The Allright Ladder Company is based in Vancouver and it is the oldest ladder company in Canada. They’ve been making them since 1921. Visit their website for safety information or read the Vancouver Sun article sidebar.

As the fall and winter pruning seasons come, I will use these Japanese-style tripod pruning ladders often. Consider getting one for your garden. Most landscape companies have them on their trucks.



6 ft is the smallest available ladder from Allright

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.



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.



Handout for all customers



My last historic dump run on the last day

Winter failure of co-dominant stems on maples

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

It was yet another snow day. Just before Christmas.  En route to a snow clearing session, we got a call to check out a damaged tree. So we turned around. Only the one damaged tree turned out to be eighteen. Mostly maples (Acer). It was shocking to see the trees fall apart after snowfall, overnight freezing and morning rain. The damage was recent and branches were snapping as we spoke to the garden liaison. She was clearly distressed and eager to speak to an arborist. I didn’t have good news for her.

Let’s examine the Acers on site. They clearly had lots of co-dominant stems with included bark. Why is that so bad?

  1. C0-dominant stems are not proper branches. Proper branches have several layers of overlapping wood a their junction points. Some of this wood is produced by the trunk and some of it by the branch. This means that the point of attachment is very strong!
  2. Included bark is a problem. Imagine two stems growing as if they were the leaders. They grow by producing bark, cambium, phloem and xylem. As the two stems grow bigger, some of their bark gets buried inside the junction. This only weakens the junction point and increases the chance of failure.
  3. Normal branches have bark protection zones. These are areas inside the wood, near the branch-trunk junction. They are rich in protective chemicals that help to prevent pathogens from reaching inside the trunk. So, when kids snap a branch on the way from school, the protection zone does its job of sealing the trunk from pathogens. Co-dominant stems lack these protection areas so diseases can travel down to the trunk. This also makes it difficult to remove one stem because the wound won’t get help with keeping disease out. Normally it would be good if you could prune one of the co-dominant stems right out.
  4. Trees with damaged co-dominant stems often die. The wounds are horrific and because they lack bark protection zones, pathogens, fungi and pests get in.

It turns out, maples are known for co-dominant stems. The site we were on looks very different after the costly removal of eighteen trees. What can you do? Port Moody hasn’t seen this much snow in a long time.

Day of failure pictures



Two co-dominant stems. One is gone. The wound is large. The tree got removed.



There is no comeback from this wound, even if you had a bark protection zone.



Always consider safety! This Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) branch came down five minutes after we arrived.


Post-removal picture