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health and safety

Are knee pads for softies?

By | health and safety, Reviews | No Comments

Do you need them?

I used to think foam knee pads were for softies. Or, for female gardeners of a certain age, too frail to stay on their knees for more than a few minutes. But now, as my own birthdays pile up, I’m starting to change my mind. Or am I just going soft?

Facing a full day of paver installs, I stopped by the nearest Home Depot to buy the cheapest pair of foam knee pads. In this case, they were Husky foam knee pads, the cheapest pair on the shelf at $8. That’s all I needed because I really only need them for the occasional paver install and annual planting.

The other factor was summer heat. It’s simply too hot in early July on the West Coast for me to give up my shorts. That, of course, leaves my knees exposed. I didn’t find the idea of all day paver installs on my bare knees very appetizing. So, I splurged on a cheap set of knee pads.

They work!

I must say, for a cheap $8 pair, my Husky foam knee pads worked fine. They definitely made paver install and weeding work bearable.

Allegedly they are made of durable EVA foam for extended wear but it’s too soon to comment on that. We’ll see how long they last.

The elastic straps worked fine; and the soft, laminated fabric interior does provide some comfort. Having your skin rubbing against foam would suck; the fabric makes the experience much nicer.

The knee pads come with a limited two-year warranty and you’re welcome to check out Husky’s website for details. At $8, I couldn’t really care less. I won’t be using them that much.

Changed mind

In years past, I openly made fun of landscapers wearing knee pads. They all looked soft, males and females. But, knee pads have their place in landscaping work.

One example is annual flower planting where you have to bend over planted beds all day. That can put stress on your knees.

The other, more extreme case, is paver installs where you have to bend over hard surfaces. Now, in my carpenter pants that might be OK but not in shorts. I happily spent $8 on a cheap pair of foam knee pads to prevent unnecessary suffering.

Get a pair of knee pads if you think you need them. I won’t make fun of you. Not anymore.

Celebrate small wins!

By | gardening, health and safety, Landscaping | No Comments

Celebrating in tough times

As the pandemic continues, it’s important to celebrate small wins. I find that I need to improve my mental health and reading newspapers doesn’t help. I didn’t find anything up-lifting in either The Globe and Mail or the Sunday New York Times today.

So, why not celebrate small, simple wins? It’s good for my own mental health and it might inspire you to celebrate your own personal wins.

Small wins

Carex

I scored small wins with sedges (Carex). In both cases I plugged up empty spaces that would otherwise go weedy. In one case, the plants were free. I salvaged them from another work project. In the other case, the owner paid hefty nursery charges. But in both cases, the sedges are thriving and expanding in their new homes! It’s a win.

Before

After

Cedars

Many B&B (ball and burlap) cedars (Thuja occidentalis) don’t do well long-term in the landscape and people get frustrated. That’s because it costs money to buy and install the cedars; and often, the owners are looking for a privacy screen. Green preferably.

Growers are finding that B&B trees don’t have great roots and some are refusing to purchase them.

This may not look like much, but I planted these two cedars when they were just six feet tall. Except here the owner cares. She waters well and frequently which is exactly what the trees need to establish well in their first year.

Often, cedars don’t get the required watering because people are busy and landscapers aren’t really paid to water new installs. Except, of course, on the day of installation.

This is a huge win.

Rhodos

Rhododendron

This Rhododendron was huge last year. So huge it towered over the rocks. Until my desperate friends called me for help. Now, with rhodos this big, there aren’t any obvious junctions to cut to so you need faith.

Faith in latent buds, that is. Rhododendrons, especially rough barked, have latent buds which pop and produce new foliage. You can see them in the picture because they’re lighter green. Smooth barked Rhododendrons may not respond as well.

I shot this picture last week and it was nice to see the new growth. I’d hate to kill my friend’s shrubs. Another win!

Herbs

This last win is close to home. My teenage daughter loves to cook but she hates touching soil and seeing bugs. That doesn’t sound like a landscaper’s daughter.

But when we got herb seeds she happily planted them on our patio. And it wasn’t just for show. She actually used parsley and cilantro in her dishes. This was another small but significant win.

Balcony herbs

I hope 2021 is going well for you! Leave comments about your own wins. I hope you score many this year.

Do you really need it?

By | health and safety, Seasonal | No Comments

Last week I was doing finesse work with my crew members and the morning was fine, considering it was still winter in mid-February. So, we weeded, cultivated and talked about all sorts of nonsense.

Then, suddenly the weather changed. All of a sudden it got cold and rain fell. Soon I noticed one of my crew mates sporting a different jacket and he seemed to be pressing buttons on his chest, the way you would on a remote control at home.

Do you really need it?

One of my favorite personal finance books by Pierre-Yves McSween is called “Do you really need it?“. I thought about this book when my crew mate told me that his jacket had a heating element in the back. Charged by batteries, it helped him stay warm in the field.

When he pressed the buttons on the front to increase the heat, I had disturbing visions of him self-immolating like a Tibetan monk, and running off screaming into the woods to start a forest fire. Then I came to and asked him how much it cost. $300!! Ouch. At that price, I prefer to layer up; and re-read McSween’s book.

Review

Now, if you think you might want to buy a jacket with a built-in heating element, read on. The dude loves the jacket but, since the arms aren’t heated, he thinks the much-cheaper vest option would be better.

The jacket can be washed but he doesn’t overdo it. This statement was a great source of jokes.

So, do you really need it? Not if it’s just for landscaping. My crew mate loves hiking and wears the jacket when he goes out into nature. Now, that makes more sense. Keeping your back warm as you hike sounds great.

I remember climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan and, upon reaching the top, realizing that I didn’t have any underlayers to change into. All I could do was wait for the sunrise so I bought a can of hot coffee for $10 and held it in my hands.

Conclusion

I had no idea heated jackets even existed. It’s sounds a bit soft and crazy, considering the $300 price tag. But, if you also like to hike in comfort, then save up and buy it. I will layer up at work and use the money I save to feed my kids

Nature prescriptions in BC, first in Canada

By | Education, health and safety | No Comments

Good news! Yes, really

Finally some good news during a pandemic. Nature prescriptions are now officially available in British Columbia, the first province in Canada to pull this off. And it makes perfect sense to launch PaRx in Super, Natural BC. The project is a collaborations between health care providers and the BC Parks Foundation.

I had no idea this was coming to British Columbia. I only found out about it when I opened my Globe and Mail newspaper last week.

Now, I’ve read about US doctors prescribing nature to patients in places like California. This is how it works.

Imagine a chubby boy from a poor neighborhood coming to see his doctor. The doctor could prescribe him pricey pills for his anxiety; and expose him to various side-effects while she pockets her Big Pharma perks. But this is a good news blog post so our doctor prescribes time in nature. Say, two hours per week spent in a local park.

What’s interesting is that patients actually did it when they got a prescription from their doctor. They trusted their doctor who handed them a prescription with a map of the nearest park.

It works!

We know it works. Spending time in nature works for all sorts of ailments and medical conditions. And all side-effects are positive, like longer life and more energy.

This PaRx launch is actually well-timed during a pandemic because many people are stressed out. Many people have lost their jobs and their social connections have been severed. But going outside to your local park is safe and good for you.

I’ve written blog posts about forest bathing and its many benefits. PaRx takes it a step further because your family doctor prescribes time in nature for you. It’s good for you and for the planet.

2021

Let’s hope the PaRx program grows huge as many more health care providers sign on. In the meantime consider making a donation to the BC Parks Foundation. Anything over $20 will get you a tax receipt.

Now get outside and enjoy nature!

Red Seal Vas enjoying mall plants and coffee in Irvine, California.

One bad week

By | health and safety | No Comments

Life is never perfect. It will throw you some curves once in a while. I was thinking about this last week while planting fastigiate cherry laurels at a beautiful city site.

It was a perfect sunny morning and the site was nicely flushed out in new green foliage. One added bonus was that I had eight specimens of Prunus laurocerasus Genolia to plant. I had never planted this fastigiate species.

Broken body

And yet my body was slightly broken. It was almost comical. My right arm was swollen from a wasp sting earlier in the week; my left upper arm was swollen from a tetanus shot and my right shin still had stitches in it from a mid-week pruning accident.  I was extremely happy to take my son to his Friday night soccer tournament, buy coffee at Starbucks and just watch.

Stinging insects

It’s almost impossible to avoid stinging insects when you spend your whole day in the landscape. I was raking up debris after pruning shrubs and, since the leaves were stuck in rocks, I had to use my hands for the final step. And that’s when a nasty wasp sting alerted me to a nest inside wooden steps. That was on Monday.

By Wednesday my arm was nicely swollen and itchy.

 

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Shot soon after the sting, before swelling.

 

And that’s when I started pruning in tight backyards. The only way to access the shrubs was to step on metal grates which separate the houses from the shrubs.

Now, I have some field experience so I visually inspected the grates before stepping on them. Then I got cocky and fully concentrated on pruning.

Bam, the metal grate slipped out from the house side and I plummeted 3-4′ straight down. Luckily, the extendable shears kept the blades away from me.

Unfortunately, as I went straight down my shin hit the edge and created a nasty puncture wound. So, I drove myself to emergency and now I’m recovering. The gash is healing but the shin is sore so planting cherry laurels wasn’t as much fun as it usually is. Planting requires dropping to my knees and using a shovel. I managed.

 

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The new cherry laurel screen is in the back. Prunus laurocerasus Genolia.

 

It’s a long season in the field for landscape professionals. You can expect to work in all kinds of weather and don’t be surprised if one of your weeks goes sideways. But I’m sure you’ll manage.

Why you should never trust metal grates

By | health and safety, landscape maintenance | No Comments

Why you should never trust metal grates

 

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Never trust metal grates on your sites. I found out the hard way today after safely working on top of several sets while pruning shrubs. Then I got cocky by concentrating on my shrub pruning and not testing the grates. And one failed! As they sometimes do.

Luckily, I was using extendable shears so when I plummeted down the moving blades were far away from me. Unfortunately, during the brief fall my right shin met the hard edge causing me immediate discomfort. If I hadn’t been wearing rubber rain pants and long pants my shin would have been much uglier.

I retrieved a first aid kit from one of our work trucks and, after washing the wound and dressing it, I drove myself to my local health clinic. There I was coldly told that the doctors there didn’t do stitches.

Emergency

Aha. So, I walked to emergency nearby and waited.

After two interviews and a check of my vital signs I was moved to a bed inside. And I was ready with a print out of the July issue of the Altucher Report. Emergency doesn’t mean urgency. It takes forever to see a doctor.

Once, when my son was a little baby he wouldn’t stop coughing so I rushed him to the same emergency. By the time the doctor on duty showed up, my son was soundly asleep! Emergency, yeah right.

Dr. Quon checked my puncture wound and confirmed that I would need freezing and two stitches. And everything went well until he left his summer intern in charge of closing the wound. Let’s just say she struggled a little bit.

It also didn’t help that the patient next to me moaned non-stop until she got the medication she begged for.

 

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This is the family friendly photo of my shin puncture wound waiting for two stitches.

 

Conclusion

Let’s review: a) never trust metal grates on site because inevitably one will fail and b) make sure your company vehicles have first aid kits; you will need them one day and it also complies with WCB rules.

And don’t get cocky, stay safe.

Why eating lunch alone is bad for you

By | health and safety, Landscaping | No Comments

My regular work day includes a thirty minute lunch with no other formal breaks. When I first started with my current company, not having morning and afternoon breaks felt weird but there was an upside. I finished early. So, to ease my body into the new schedule, I would take quick micro-breaks to drink and eat a snack without sitting down. Now, in my fourth season, it’s all fine.

Lunches

I normally eat lunches alone because we don’t have huge crews and I need the mental break from physically demanding work. Unless my co-worker Allan is nearby, because I often poach some of his excellent Arabic tea.

Once, completely exhausted by lunch in hot weather, I collapsed in my truck and the workers turned me in to the boss. Vas sleeping, as if! I was meditating. Incredibly, this came up in my work performance review.

Not alone

And according to an article published in the Globe and Mail (“Eating lunch alone at work can have adverse effects“, Friday July 27, 2019) I have plenty of company. Almost half (42%) of working Canadians eat lunch alone every day.

Eating lunch alone isn’t really normal. It happens when people start working. Then, eating with colleagues seems like a gift we can’t afford to accept.

I find that as a supervisor in charge of field production, many workers don’t really want to spend an extra half hour with me. Unless, of course, it’s cold or rainy outside and my company truck is warm.

Adverse effects

I had no idea eating alone came with so many adverse effects. According to research mentioned in the article, “people who eat most meals alone may express feelings of loneliness and social isolation”. “Eating in solitude is more strongly associated with unhappiness than any single factor, other than having a mental illness.”

Benefits

There are many benefits to eating together and scoring free Arabic tea is just one of them. How about improved communication with co-workers, stronger relationships with co-workers, increased happiness, job satisfaction and greater productivity.

Considering the many benefits listed above, I think I will try to eat the odd lunch with our crews.

What happened when I tried organic birch water

By | health and safety, Reviews | No Comments

This blog post is proof that I will do anything to create new content, including the consumption of new products that may or may not be good for me. One such product is Sealand Birk’s new organic birch water imported with love from Denmark.

99 cents

I was cruising the snack aisles at London Drugs recently and my favourite coconut water wasn’t on sale. Then I saw the cool slim cardboard 250 mL cans of Sealand Birk’s organic birch water. It was on sale for 99 cents; regular price $2.99. I tested the original version but there are many other flavours: Elderflower, Ginger & Lime, Blueberry, Raspberry, Lemon/Mint and Rose. London Drugs only offered the original version.

 

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The Nordic birch forest trees get tapped in early spring when the sap starts running but before leaf-out happens.

This is what the Sealand Birk website says:

Discover the qualities and natural taste of delicious birch water, tapped from the tree. Sealand BIRK connects with your body and supplies not only great taste but also the true, organic sweetness of nature’s own hidden treasures.

Harvested from birch trees in Taiga forests of Finland and Lithuania. Birch water is a sweet, healthy and certified organic alternative to artificially sweetened beverages.

Low on Calories
Contains plenty of organic naturally occurring antioxidants, electrolytes, trace minerals, xylitol, fructose and vitamins that is easy for your body to absorb and enjoy. You benefit from nature itself.

Sweetened by Nature
The taste is fresh and you can experience it without any second thoughts: Sealand BIRK is naturally low on calories. The pure birch water is harvested in early spring at the perfect moment to maximize nutritious value. The taste is refreshing packed with nutrients and organically sweet.

Born on Organic
No preservatives, no additives. Sealand BIRK is born organic. There is no point in trying to improve on nature. Sealand BIRK is a new age beverage for the international consumer market

 

Vas survives

The first taste of the original version was interesting. It was like water with a hint of lemon. I wish I could describe it better but I’m a landscape blogger, not a food critic. The second can went down well and the next four were totally fine. At 99 cents per can it’s a steal but not at the regular $2.99. At that price I will buy coconut water again.

If you see Sealand Birk organic birch water on sale anywhere, give it a try. It’s an interesting drink.

Does your mosquito repellent actually work?

By | health and safety, Landscaping | No Comments

The headline above was the actual headline from an article published in the Globe and Mail on Monday, August 6, 2018. In it, writer Wency Leung reports on the results from a New Mexico State University study. But, first, a quick story.

Vas almost dies

The article above came out a few days after I almost died in the field while stump grinding. I was removing two tree stumps close to Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge, British Columbia and I couldn’t believe the number of mosquitoes around me. I kept working but after a while, totally desperate, I called my boss to bring me repellent. Any repellent. I didn’t care. I was suffering.

Because I was alone with a rented stump grinder, I couldn’t really leave my work site. My boss eventually rescued me.

 

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This expensive gas station bottle saved me in the field.

 

 

The study

The study looked at all sorts of products from scented candles, skin patches, wearable devices to sprays containing essential oils. The result? Most of the products were useless except for the ones containing DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

About mosquitoes

One of the study authors explains that “mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, and to the molecules that are created when our skin bacteria break down components of our sweat.” When you stump grind for a few hours you generate a lot of sweat. That’s the way we like our employees to work.

“The insects have odour  receptors and they’re specialized in what they can smell.” The magic of DEET is that it “binds to specific odour  receptors of mosquitoes and over-activates them; and over-activation is as bad as blocking them completely.”

This is the key: “Without smell the insects  can’t switch from host-seeking to biting mode.” Aha.

According to the article, DEET has been used for over 70 years and is considered very safe.

Conclusion

Save your money and stay safe in the landscape by purchasing repellents containing DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Next time I’m sent to work by Kanaka Creek I will be ready.

Close calls in the landscape

By | health and safety | No Comments

I know, safety is not a sexy topic and this blog post will not likely stress Google analytics.  My most read blog posts are about making side-hustle cash from landscaping and about immigrant landscapers. But still, it’s amazing how many close calls there are in the field.

It really doesn’t take much to get injured in landscape maintenance. I witnessed two such events and I want to publish them here as a warning. (Disclaimer: don’t worry, nobody died.)

Hand aeration

We aerate lawns with machines to allow more water and oxygen to reach the root zone. It’s a common spring task built into contracts. But when the lawns are very small or difficult to access, we use hand aerators. It’s a simple tool which punches holes as the worker forces it down into the lawn.

One of my co-workers was rushing and having too much fun at the end of the day and as he furiously punched holes, he slipped and drove the metal tool into his foot. It hit above the steel-toe portion of his rubber boot and he was in serious pain. So much pain, he refused to be photographed for a future safety blog post. It took some time for the bruise to heal.

 

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Weeding

I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone get injured while weeding. But, again, it was late in the day when people are tired and distracted. The young female worker was weeding a nasty tree well full of small weeds. As she bent down to hand pick the weeds, firmly focused on the green mass by her hand, she completely missed a lower tree branch. Then her eye collided with the wooden stub. Sadly, she also declined to be photographed for my future blog on safety.

Luckily, her vision wasn’t affected but it was a close call. Not many workers wear protective goggles on site all day. You would never think of weeding as dangerous.

Conclusion

Stay alert in the landscape and watch out for hazards. Most injuries occur just before lunch when people are tired and their blood sugar levels are low. But as we’ve seen above, the end of the day can be just as bad for injuries. That’s when workers are tired and distracted by their after-work activities. Stay safe!