Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Use Leaves; Don’t Lose Them

Black Walnut in a bank parking lot.  A good street tree, apart from its nuts, but they are better than plums.

The Grants Pass City Council has finally decided to get out of the cheap compost and wood waste disposal business and save about $200,000 a year.  Our sewage solids will be trucked to Dry Creek Landfill to become methane and make electricity.  The Jo Gro property will be leased to Republic Waste Services, where they will continue under that name, accepting wood waste and yard waste and making compost with the latter, but it will be without bio-solids or city subsidy, at prices Republic chooses.  This means that the City will also not be picking up bagged leaves for free this year.  It is unlikely that Republic will either, since they have to compete with Southern Oregon Compost, which certainly doesn’t pick stuff up for free.
Since the City will not be picking up leaves for free, this gardener will be not be either, but I will pick up loads for $1 per bag, 40 lbs or less, to use on my customers’ properties for weed control.  But I’d really rather that you use them on your own property to keep the weeds down.
Leaves make superior mulch for weed control because the top layers dry out quickly, and do not make a good seed bed until they become compost or worm castings.  Worms love leaves for food, and they and the soil are sheltered by them from freezing, drying, wind, and rain.  Two inches can stop most small plants and small seeds.  More can stop bigger plants and seeds.  But bulbs and established perennials will generally work their way through several inches of leaves. 
A foot of leaves will decompose more quickly when covered with an inch of compost, and allow vegetable seeds that are sprinkled or poked into the compost to grow into huge plants.
There are no leaves in this area that are not good for mulch.  The ones that people question, oak, pine and black walnut, are the best for weed control. 
Oak and pine are said to be too acid, but they are not acid themselves; they just take a full year to decompose.  Shade and summer watering cause acid soil by leaching away calcium; evaporation brings calcium back to the surface.  These leaves shade the soil longer than most other leaves.  But when they are piled deep, the worms eat them and sweeten the soil with their castings, resulting in good soil.
Walnut leaves, especially black walnut, are said to be herbicidal and kill plants.  But they are actually a pre-emergent herbicide that stops any seed smaller than a nut from coming up.  Starts and established plants are not affected.  Black walnut leaves are quickly eaten by worms and are generally gone by the end of spring, except for their long petioles.  But their pre-emergent effect sticks around all season.  To sprout seeds on black walnut soil, lay down an inch of compost and sprinkle them on.   To sprout larger seeds, spread another inch of compost on top of them.

9/20/2013  Published in News-You-Can-Use-by-Rycke.blogspot.com, and GardenGrantsPass.blogspot.com.
 Join Garden Grants Pass in free gardening classes at Greenwood and Schroeder Dog Parks; contact 
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040      rycke@gardener.com
Gardening is easy, if you do it naturally.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Petition to the Grants Pass City Council: Change our water rate structure to promote irrigation.

A major goal of the City of Grants Pass is to “be a city that looks safe and is safe.”  Well-watered, well-maintained properties are pleasing to the eye and orderly, which looks safe.  Watered yards, plants, and misters also cool and humidify the area, and feed the water cycle through evaporation and transpiration, causing rain.
Unwatered yards are ugly even when mowed, and they too often are not mowed, because no one likes to maintain ugly.  They encourage litter, vandalism, and other crime.  They are hot and dusty in summer.  They are often a fire hazard as well.
Grants Pass once had unmetered water, and nearly everyone watered their yards and maintained them.  But now we have meters and tiered water rates that discourage water use, charging little per unit for a very low base and more per unit for greater use, in several tiers.  This has discouraged watering and gardening of residential, commercial, and public landscapes, and has likewise discouraged landscape maintenance. 
The vast majority of the cost of providing clean water is overhead in plant and people; very little of it is unit cost for cleaning and pumping.  Discouraging watering of yards has made the City raise rates several times to cover the loss of income from lower water use; the last time the city raised rates, you raised the base rate to stop making the water plant’s bad financial situation worse.
Gardening in Grants Pass has become a privilege of the middle class, the rich, and those willing to bear the cost of the water plant, which is borne by fewer people as more people stop watering their yards.  One can tell now, as we could not before, who is poor or cheap.
          Many poor people, especially our elderly poor, would like to better care for their yards, but it is hard to maintain a dry yard, even for those who know how, and even harder to make it pretty.  All of us would also like predictable, even monthly billing for water.
          THEREFORE, we, the undersigned voters of Grants Pass, respectfully request that the Grants Pass City Council change our water rate structure: Charge each household a flat rate based on the average household’s winter water use, sufficient to cover Water Department overhead; price the second tier at a lower unit cost sufficient to cover the City’s unit costs of providing water; and provide the third and top tier, presumed to be used for irrigation, cooling, and washing, at no cost.  Charge businesses an individual base rate based on each business’ average winter water use, as you do for sewer, accounting for much greater size differences and water use.

This is an advisory petition
You may sign this petition on Saturday at the Growers Market between 10:00 and 1:00 PM or contact:
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040      rycke@gardener.com

Monday, September 16, 2013

Worse than Competition

I knew gardening was in real trouble when the Mayor proclaimed National Garden Week, to honor gardening.  It’s like a week to honor housekeeping.  But housekeeping is harder to do without.
There is a worse thing than a lot of competition: not enough competition.  It shows in our local gardening business.  There are not enough people willing to pull weeds for other people for money.  There are so few of them that most landscape maintenance companies cannot find them and have stopped looking. 
They mulch, spray, mow, hedge, and blow, but don’t pull weeds.  They plant color annuals in blocks of potting soil and boxes.  Some spread “weed barrier” cloth and cover it with bark or rocks, in a vain attempt to stop weeds from growing.  It doesn’t work very long, and the cloth eventually shows and is ugly.  They mow over goatheads with riding mowers, spreading them from one property to the next on their tires.
When a necessary service is hard to find and expensive when one finds it, then people start to think of it as a luxury.  After all, few of one’s neighbors are gardening, and good weeding is definitely more expensive when you find someone willing to do it, being detail work that takes more time than whacking weeds. 
But God is in the details, and the Devil lies in ignoring those details.  Expensive lawns fill with weeds like nutsedge, which can only be controlled by pulling.  Proper maintenance is always better than the alternative.  But if one can’t find the workers, one can’t do it.
Nor does a business necessarily want to stand out from the norm.  When government and most businesses are content with mediocrity or even downright ugliness, it is safer to blend in.  People might look on a beautifully maintained landscape as conspicuous consumption.  Nor do most businesses want to spend more money than they have to.
Likewise, large, out of town corporations find it safer and cheaper to blend in to local mediocrity, and do not budget for full maintenance, or in many cases, any maintenance.  This happened to Cascade Block when they were bought out by Willamette Graystone. 
Banks don’t do any maintenance on foreclosed properties that the police don’t make them do.  The police cannot demand that which the City does not do itself, though our code demands gardening every square foot of the City, since it forbids mature and seeding weeds.  But it can’t be done if the City can’t find enough workers willing to do it on a regular basis.
In the face of all this, gardening is endangered, and a gardener has a hard time finding people willing to pay for proper landscape maintenance, because one does not have enough competition.

When the Poor Can’t Garden

It has been difficult to hire real gardeners in Grants Pass, and throughout the dry interior of the West, for more than a decade.  There are many people who will mow, hedge, spray and blow, but few willing to pull weeds.  That’s because the cities have cut off the supply of poor gardeners who are not intimidated by weeds and weeding, who know the work from their youth up.
My favorite kind of sprinkler, a copper water spinner.  The blue tubes are misters.
They didn’t do it on purpose; they were trying to save water.  In Grants Pass, they were probably trying to not have to build a new water plant, not trying to save water for the fish in the river, which are not endangered in our river.  Oregon mandated metered water, and Grants Pass and many other cities went further, charging higher rates for higher tiers of use, with the lowest rate covering just enough water for one person’s household use, which made the rates lowest for single people on small lots.

This is hardest on poor working families, who have to live several or more to a house, and have to pay higher rates for household use with each additional person in the household.  When people have to spend every dollar carefully, they prioritize their spending to the things that matter the most to them, and the yard that they spend relatively little time in is the first casualty.  That saves, not only the cost of the water, but the time it takes to use it, and the time one would spend mowing the grass that stops growing without watering.

That last bit of saving time and energy is temporary; in a dry climate, dry land weeds move in and take over the yard within a few years, and one has to mow even more frequently to keep the weeds down. 

A dry lawn is ugly, and no one likes to maintain ugly, so many dry lawns do not get mowed at all after a while, and send their weed seeds around the neighborhood.  Many back yards are not maintained at all; some people also disown the areas outside their fences, or areas that can’t be mowed, leaving the rest to be a nuisance to the neighbors.

This has been going on for decades.  After a generation, we no longer have many youngsters among the poor who have gardened and are not afraid to pull and dig weeds for money.  Most landscape maintenance companies don’t employ them because they cannot find them.  The notable exceptions are Mexicans who pull every plant that is not a tree or shrub.  I’ve been hearing this from customers and seeing this for the 13 years I have been gardening in this town.

To turn this around, we have to change our water rates to promote, not discourage, irrigation.  And then we have to enforce our weed and litter nuisance codes, which essentially mandate gardening, forbidding litter and mature and seeding weeds.  With a little nudging from our public nags, police and firemen, all of our residents will again learn to garden, and retirees and businesses will have once again have gardeners to pull their weeds.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to Get Rid of Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass is one of the most feared perennial weeds around, even in the areas where it is considered a good lawn grass.  It greens up easily in summer with good watering, but it goes dormant for the colder half of the year in our climate, so in this area it is a weed.  It can travel up to 18 inches deep and easily travel under 6 feet of sidewalk to come up on the other side. 

Bermuda grass, traveling over 4 x 8 sand.
But its large, strong rhizomes (traveling storage roots) are also its greatest weakness.  They are fat and shiny, 1/8 to ¼ inch thick, easy to see and sort out from loosened soil.  Their feeder roots are thin and wiry, with no food storage.  
Dug Bermuda, showing its shiny rhizomes.

Like crabgrass, its annual, or considering it lives until frost, tender perennial, relative, they don’t re-grow from feeder roots.  We know they are related because they have the same seed stalk, with four arms and small seeds. Crabgrass grows in a clump; Bermuda grows out of the ground. Cut a crabgrass crown off its roots and it is gone; get all of the shiny Bermuda grass rhizomes out of the soil and it also is gone.  That is except for their seeds, which are small and easy to smother with mulch.
Bermuda grass with seed stalks

Mature crab grass; note the clumping growth and fat leaves.

While those rhizomes can travel deep, they don’t go any deeper than they need to travel, which is generally within a few inches of the surface. 

They can be dug and sorted out of the soil.  Push a shovel in the ground, and loosen the soil.  Pull on the grass stems.  Shake the soil off the roots, and put them in a bucket.  Get all the rhizomes out of that shovel-full; move the shovel back a few inches; loosen the soil; pull the roots.  Keep going until you get all of it.

It isn’t as easy as spraying Roundup (glyphosate salts).  But killing those fat roots with glyphosate takes all summer, and you will still have to dig the stubborn bits that insist on growing back.  They are too small to suck up enough glyphosate to kill the remainder, and those pieces may be resistant to glyphosate. 

But after killing a lawn with glyphosate, you will have thereby fertilized the ground for broadleaf plants and annual grass, not perennial grass, and lawn grass won’t grow well.  This is okay if you would rather weed a ground cover than mow.  
 Creeping Jenny, with 4 x 8 sand path

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia) is a great soft green ground cover that doesn’t need mowing.  It travels in a mass over ground, about a foot per month, at which point it starts to root.  To stop its advance, keep pulling it as it moves into the area you don’t want it; it has soft stems that pull easily and don’t need cutting; it roots only about 2” deep.  It is water dependent, and will warn one that it is getting dry by getting dull and flattening to the ground; the next step is to brown out.  It can be brought back by watering, but not quickly.

8/31/13  Published in Yahoo Contributor Network.
Join Garden Grants Pass in free gardening classes at Greenwood and Schroeder Dog Parks; contact 
Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener        541-955-9040      rycke@gardener.com