Thursday, August 27, 2009

Electronic Pruning

In an effort to reduce my carbon footprint while growing a market-ready orchard, I am developing a process by which a local pruning expert can digitally advise me (and eventually any homeowner) on proper pruning cuts for any given tree or shrub. The idea grew from the fact that I live out in the "country" and I only have one mature tree in need of pruning. When I used to live in the city, I could easily get a pruning expert to swing by for an estimate, even for one tree. Now it hardly seems worth it for me or for the expert to make the journey. Also, I like to do the work myself, so any estimate would probably not result in any work for the expert. I thought that if I could get the advice for less money out of my pocket, a reduced amount of time travelling for the expert, and still get a healthy tree in the end, why not?

So far I have an expert on board ( Corva Rose, the magic behind Divine Earth Aesthetic Pruning and Restoration; and an experimental Apple Tree. The first thing to do is take pictures of the tree from four directions, i.e., north, west, south, and east.

Looking north...




This will give the expert a sense of walking around the tree to assess it. Next, I will submit additional photos from the same vantage points but taken in winter when the leaves have dropped and the branches are visible. The hope is that the expert can then use a computer program (I am sure one exists already) to overlay arrows and comments on where to prune for the best possible growth and production for the years to come.

My hope is that more people take personal responsibility for their gardens and trees, get out and enjoy their gardens more, understand plant growth and needs, generate business for experts in the horticultural business, and reduce automobile use.

Stay tuned for the next set of photos and an update on progress made toward this innovative new pruning technique.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Permitting Influx

Today, on the way to work, the tule fog was back after several months on hiatus. The cooler weather and moist air even brought a mist over the swimming pool. It evoked a change, in seasons to be sure, but I couldn't help thinking a change in something grander, too.

Not to be overly dramatic, but the change is here. In the last week alone, Soilutions and it's neighbors have been inspected and in some cases fined by: NM Environment Department Ground Water Quality, NMED Hazardous Waste, OSHA, Bernalillo County Fire Department, and the EPA. The way things feel, I am sure the City Dust Abatement Department as well as god knows who all else are on their way.

I don't have any complaints about being compliant. It keeps every Tom, Dick, and Harry from getting into the lucrative composting business. There is a certain validness with ground water protection, employee safety, and fire hazards. But what gets me, or rather one of the things that gets me about the whole thing is that they don't offer alternatives, reasons, or, in some cases, legitimate fire prevention practices. You are supposed to do as they say. If you try to correct the violation, but do so incorrectly (because they don't care to offer any insight into what they mean by "approved" containment, for example,) no credit for trying. In fact, it appears that a failed attempt will get you a fine.

Soilutions has been in operation for over 13 years. Within that time, we have NEVER had a work related injury, NEVER had a fire, have ALWAYS had a certified facility operator on staff. We have NEVER had a customer accident, injury or even an unpleasant experience (well, I shouldn't say never an unpleasant experience. More like overwhelmingly favorable). We are kind, courteous, respectful, and helpful. We play by the rules and expect others to do so as well. When we opened shop, we asked the Bernalillo County Fire Department for an inspection. They did not come for 12 years! When they did finally show up early this year, the fire marshall finished the inspection by handing over a $70 bill to pay for it. I thought that's what taxes paid for!

And the inanity of it all. Because a neighbor had a fire along the ditch bank caused by a burning butt tossed by a passerby, we have to take temperature readings every week. We don't have to file those temperatures with any one at any time, but they do need to be available for review at the whim of the FD. Why? Anyone who knows about combustion, should know that the biological process inside a compost pile is vastly different than the combustion of a carbon source. But the point is, how does temperature readings deter fire hazard in the first place? If my pile is going to spontaneously combust, won't it do that regardless of my temperature readings? And, the pile most likely to burn is the pile of brush that will read ambient all the time. I feel like the boys with badges are just trying to boss us around. Granted, not all the departments coming by to inspect our operations have been adversarial. But "to a hammer, everything looks like a nail" and just by having to host these curious eyes we are risking fines that, in all honesty, even the best of compost companies can ill afford to pay.

So I suggest that we "inspect" some departments of our own. I'll start with the Bernalillo County Road Department. If I have to call one more time to have that pile of illegally dumped tires picked up from down the sreet, I'm gonna pick them up myself and dump them on their front steps. And how about the Sherrif's Department patrolling the road in the first place to stop the illegal dumpers; or the bums stealing copper from our yards every other freaking Tuesday afternoon!

Anybody else have a Department they wnat to put on notice?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Backyard Vegetable Gardening

I ended my last posting with a comment about having a long way to grow before organic growing is properly understood by all, even those practicing it. I think the same can be said for home vegetable gardening.

Check out his article from NPR the other day.

The gist of the article says that somebody planted vegetables in their front yard and that, even though the height was within the stated covenants, they were fined because the plants were vegetables, not ornamentals.

The hulabaloo is mimicked in the outcry earlier this year regarding the Obama's organic vegetable garden. Rumor had it that there was legislation under consideration to hinder the proliferation of back yard vegetable gardens citing potential salmonella/fecal coliform contamination.

While groups quickly embrace "Green Building" Technology in structures, they continue not to embrace the simple notion that to be truly sustainable you must also treat the supporting infrastructures in the same way. In many cases this is the first and least expensive step that should be taken.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Organic vs. Conventional

A customer forwarded this article to me the other day.

I found it interesting that the article made a distinction between conventionally grown food and organically grown food. Up until 70 or so years ago, wasn't the conventional way to grow food similar to organic growing nowadays? Didn't the farmer grow his own food, rotating crops and using chickens as both fertilizer and pest control? If food traveled more than 10 miles from where it was grown it was because one family was visiting another and bringing along homemade pie.

It is only during the last century that food producers have experimented with non-conventional methods: taking all the nutrients from the soil with no thought of replenishment, modifying plants so that they accept only one type of pollen while being immune to the herbicides broadcast randomly, planting mono cultures, tearing down forests to plant crops with no value. As I see it, the organic movement is a trend towards the old ways, not a new fangled idea.

I found it also interesting that the article focused only on the nutrient value of the food from the two types of growing methods. That too, is incompatible with the whole idea of organic growing. Organic growing comprehensively addresses the entire process of growing food. We don't just look at the nutrient value of an individual vegetable; we look and consider where the food was grown, how it was grown, in what it was grown, how it was harvested, where it's sold, farm management...the list continues.

At the compost site I often discuss the "cost" of material. Most frequently it stems from a customer trying to decide between decorative gravel and our organic mulches. After I point out some of the true costs of gravel, i.e., mining (environmental and aesthetic) and it's equipment (diesel fuel and exhaust), transportation costs(including wear and tear on roads and highways), labor to move it, the effects of added heat to the our dry city and its surroundings, a customer begins to see the value in using a recycled product in their landscape.

While it's exciting to see MSN approach the subject of organically grown food (I don't think we would have seen an article like this even five years ago), we still have a long way to go before the subject is addressed fully and comprehensively.