Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Soil Tests for the Real World

Posted on: September 6th, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Did you ever wonder about what the tests proved that you took in school? I know I have! If soil tests seem as elusive in results as your past test scores; this article is for you!

A recent client had submitted soil samples from their small farm for analysis. When they got the lab report back, they were unsure of the next steps and contacted me.

This fall planting of daikon radish on our property provides food for people, discourages weeds, can be tilled in for added organic material and the foot-long roots aerate the soil

After reviewing the lab report, I performed a site assessment. A site assessment looks at other factors that are not included in a normal soil test. Visually apparent attributes of the site like slope, exposure, existing vegetation and actual use of the property are things that I consider in a site assessment. The site assessment provided me with information that in conjunction with the soil test, gave the whole picture of what was happening.

In this case the soil test results recommended applying a hundred pounds or more of nitrogen per acre, depending on the desired crop. However, I found a dense stand of clover in one field. The clover will provide all of the nitrogen the site will need when it is plowed in. In the interim, the clover can be cut and used for feed without reducing the nitrogen potential because clover is a naturally nitrogen fixing plant.

Even ants can improve the soil. The ants that formed this large ant hill in our tree nursery are loosening and incorporating organic mater into the soil. Note how the grasses are greener closer to the mound as the ants have helped release nutrients and increased water holding capacity of the soil

The soil test results indicated a high level of phosphorus. During the assessment I noted that there is a pond on this property. Because of this, special attention to reducing water runoff that can contain high levels of phosphorus is warranted. Phosphorus is the main ingredient that leads to algae and plant growth in bodies of water and the client desires good water quality in the pond.

According the the lab report, soil samples also contained about 2% organic mater. The client told me their goal is to have a farm that uses limited amounts of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.  While 2% organic material might be viewed as “good” for conventional farms; increasing the amount of organic material in the soil on this farm will reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers, water and other inputs.

Because healthy soil is such an important part of sustainable property management; look for more articles to follow on how you can take advantage of existing soil conditions, what you can do to build soil and how site assessments are the key to understanding your property. All of this without taking a test!

 

This thriving sunflower crop is being used to convert a mound of landscape debris that includes sod, branch trimmings and other organic materials into usable soil at Eco-Building & Forestry.

Creating a Sustainable Pond or Water Feature

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Plants near ponds can create beauty and provide habitat for wildlife

Many people like the idea of the sight and sound of water. And why wouldn’t they!? Water is a basic need for life and is hard-wired into our conscience-ness.

You can create a long lasting water feature for your home and property and do it in a way that benefits you and the environment. You can have something as small as a bird bath for your feathered friends or all the way up to a small lake! You get to choose!

The key to success in a water feature is sustainability. Will the benefits it creates be greater than the cost and work to build it and will it continue to be an important part of your life so that you are willing to maintain it?

Here are some things to keep in mind for a sustainable water feature or pond:
  

  • Size it according to your budget
  • Build it with the end goal of low-maintenance
  • Design it in a way that you don’t need to use pesticides and other chemicals in the water
  • Place the pond or water feature in a place that you will see and use daily
  • Add habitat and plants around the water feature for birds and other wildlife that you like to see

A water feature can be a great addition to your sustainable property design. And you can create one that you will enjoy and use as part of your outdoor lifestyle.

Eco-Friendly Concrete Repair

Posted on: April 26th, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Concrete is damaged by salt most often at joints or cracks

Magnesium cements offer a permanent repair to concrete that uses less energy in production and use than traditional Portland cement.

We are seeing increased failures in concrete sidewalks and driveways. Most early degradation of concrete is only caused by two basic forces; improper installation of the concrete and uses of deicing agents in cold climates.

Poor installation techniques can be remedied by following basic standards for concrete installation. However, there does not appear to be an easy remedy to reducing the use of salts for ice removal. Property managers are using more salt in a belief that they will be sued by injured parties if they don’t keep parking lots and sidewalks clear of ice. Salt usage causes damage to concrete through the freeze
and thaw action that it creates.

Our experience is that Portland cement patches only last about a year

Once this process begins, concrete degrades rapidly. Usually, damaged concrete sections are cut out and removed or entire surfaces are replaced. This is a costly endeavor and there is no guarantee that the new concrete will last any longer than what it replaced. Most Portland cement patching mixes for concrete, simply do not last more than a year or two in this climate.

Magnesium oxide and magnesium phosphate cements were the primary mortars for over two thousand years.  If you see a standing ancient building or wall, it was probably constructed using magnesium cement mortar. Magnesium patching mixes are available today at some concrete outlets so you can use this ancient technology to save your concrete.

BASF makes a type of magnesium patching material

It can be difficult to determine which mixes are magnesium and which are not, so reading the ingredient list is important.  Plan to pay about $50 for a 50 pound bag of mix.  That is a steep price, but since you can add 60% additional aggregate, this makes the purchase more reasonable.

We have tested magnesium cement and found it to perform better than any other patching material.  Something that lasts is indeed green and helps keep the “green” in your wallet.

 

 

Magnesium cement hardens in only about 10 minutes. So, it is best to have a helper other than your spouse when you start yelling!

Coating the existing edges of the repair with magnesium cement helps seal the patch

60% aggregate can be added to the mix without significant lose of strength

Green Space On A Diet

Posted on: March 2nd, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Low maintenance structures and seating are important design elements in a green space.

We “supersize” nearly everything in America including the food we order, the vehicles we drive and the houses we build. So why not go overboard with our landscapes, parks and green spaces? In many cases, we can no longer afford to build large parks with massive high maintenance lawn areas, lots of manmade features that need upkeep and clutter that produces no benefits. We do need more, not less, green areas nearly everywhere as people, buildings and roads take up more real estate. The way to reach that destination is through interconnected green spaces.

Well designed green spaces that provide people-scale surroundings to immerse people in nature, even for a few minutes, can provide many benefits at relatively low costs. Taking a clue from nature; animals use many different habitats during the course of the day and season. Small green spaces can serve people in the same way, offering the ability to reconnect to nature in their normal daily routine.

Sustainable design in green spaces include:

Perennial edible plants, like this strawberry ground cover, can easily be added to green spaces.

  • Human sized spaces
  • Niches for different personalities, time of day and seasons
  • “Smart” landscapes that engage people’s intellect and curiosity
  • Reduced maintenance and inputs
  • An emphasis on growing the landscape instead of building it
  • Opportunities to improve the environment

In many urban areas there are small and even, very small parcels of land that have been neglected and could be put to better use. Green spaces, when properly designed, can actually reduce the maintenance that was required for the original vacant space. In addition, neighbors and businesses often help to take ownership in policing them and in maintenance.

Are you ready to help build or maintain a green space in your own community?

 

 

 

 

Indoor Plants Bugging You?

Posted on: March 2nd, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Fungus gnat adults got stuck on the sticky trap and this allowed the lettuce to flourish after being stunted by the feeding gnats.

I occasionally hear people expound about the virtues of growing plants in greenhouses and inside other structures. “There are no weeds, insects or diseases to deal with” is a universal message from novice greenhouse growers. That could not be further from the truth! The reality is that growing plants indoor amplifies those problems and they are difficult to control, especially insects.

It is almost impossible to limit the introduction of insects to the indoors. Plants that we bring in every winter, carry with them eggs, larvae and adult forms of insects just waiting for the right conditions to flourish. Even special potting soil mixes that are purchased can contain some insects. Many tomato and pepper growers know that cool temperatures and over watering encourages damping off, a stem disease of seedlings. Certain insects help exasperate this problem by spreading the disease and weakening the plants by feeding on the roots.

A pesticide-free method that may help you reduce flying insects associated with indoor plants are sticky insect traps. Many varieties of flying insects found around indoor plants spend some of their time in the soil as dormant insects, eggs and larvae.

Sticky insect traps come in many shapes and sizes. You can hang them or stake them in place. They are very sticky, so it is easiest to handle them with the protective paper on until you have them set.

You may see these as aphids and gnats feeding on the leaves of plants and leaving behind a sticky residue as plant sap goes through their gut. However the real damage might be unseen damage done to root systems of the plants by immature insects or larvae in the soil.

Sticky insect traps that act like flypaper can catch these insects in their adult form. This reduces the number of breeding adults. You can also use sticky insect traps to monitor for insects by simply checking the traps to see if any bugs are stuck to them.

Sticky insect traps are available on-line and in some garden centers. I think this is a solution to your indoor insect problems that you can get stuck on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do You Do All Winter?

Posted on: January 18th, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

I put on my fuzzy slippers and eat bonbons all day! Not quite! Landscapes that create measurable benefits for others aren’t created overnight. While other landscapers are out plowing snow during the winter, I’ll spend the coldest months planning out the details for upcoming projects. Sustainable property design requires forethought in planning, material/plant selection and attention to detail in execution.

While I can create a concept for a property and install the project in a very short time, it is imperative that the customer be engaged and involved in the process and that takes time. Spending time with customers during the winter helps to create the unique property features that in turn creates the multiple benefits that are part of a sustainable yard.

Keeping up with these winter tasks has really streamlined the work and has allowed me to plunge right into the installation phase very early in spring. This has turned out to work well for customers too. The decisions are all made and they can enjoy the early warm weather!

So enjoy winter! And give me a call and we can meet up to discuss your future project.

 

 

 

EPS Foam: The Gift that Keeps on Giving . . . . . . Sigh!

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

Don’t you hate the waste regarding packaging? While cardboard and some wrapping paper is reusable and recyclable in many ways, foam is often not so easy. Most foam and plastic packing materials end up in the landfill or worse yet in our oceans.

Part of a sustainable property is finding ways to reuse things that you end up with. Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) is one of those things that show up in abundance, especially around the holidays. It is used for packing many things, is light and cheap to produce. You can recognize EPS by the small balls of compressed foam that make up this material. EPS takes up space in landfills, lasts forever and is not easy to re-use on your own property.

If you live in central Wisconsin and want to recycle it you are in luck. A local company accepts clean, used EPS and it turns it into new products almost immediately. Styrene Products Inc. is located in Schofield, Wisconsin and you can get more information on drop-off times at styreneproducts.com

 

Our friend Eric reused our EPS wine shipping carton to fly these jack fruit trees to Cameroon.

Our friend Eric reused our EPS wine shipping carton to fly these jack fruit trees to Cameroon.

EPS foam can be recognized by its white color and composition of compressed, small beads of foam

EPS foam can be recognized by its white color and composition of compressed, small beads of foam

 

 

 

Weather Forecasting: Is it All About the Money?

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments
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An aster blooming on December 2, 2016 in central Wisconsin.

AccuWeather’s Advertising Sales team is based out of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. This is not a low-rent district and a testament to how much money changes hands in the weather forecasting business. Not only are there private and government weather forecasters, but there are also companies such as, ForecastWatch, that sell services related to tracking accuracies of the forecasters.

Weather forecasting is big business because even small changes in temperature, for instance, can have dramatic financial effects on businesses, government operations and individuals. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Cloudy with a Chance of Swimsuit Sales, illustrates how fashion designers and clothing retailers were blindsided by the warm fall and early winter weather this year. The result; cold weather apparel didn’t sell well.

People ask me all the time for long-term weather predictions. Usually they will ask; “Is it going to be a dry summer?” or “Will it be a cold winter?”. Part of my job is identifying weather trends to help me  position my services and schedule customers for optimal results. The office phone starts ringing or the emails pour in with the first warm day in late winter from potential customers. However, long before that, my work schedule was created to take advantage of the weather averages and to benefit by anticipating day-to-day, atypical weather during the current weather trend.

In sustainable property design, instead of trying to design around weather reports, we design for the extreme. It has become obvious that weather seems to be more erratic. By incorporating features in the landscape that takes advantage of and actually produces benefits from what ever the weather brings, you can be more in control of the outcome. Here is one of my past articles about using excess precipitation.

So if you want 100% accuracy in weather; look out the window, put your coat and mittens on (or swimsuit) and let’s go out and play!

 

Putting Plants to Bed and Other Fairy Tales

Posted on: October 19th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo No Comments
Planting the right plants in the right place eliminates having to have your home look like this for months.

Planting the right plants in the right place eliminates having to have your home look like this for months.

Have you ever noticed around Halloween that some properties look just plain scary? Over night big, white styrofoam barrels appear, shrubs are wrapped in tattered burlap and straw is strewn about. Sometimes you even see elaborately constructed “gallows” built around plants with lots of small pieces of wood, baling wire, metal stakes and all manner of materials.

Well, this isn’t holiday decorating! It is instead what gardeners and hobbyists have bought into when they read one book or another on gardening that had a section on putting plants “to bed” for their winter “sleep”.

Installing plants that are not hardy in our climate zone, installing plants in the wrong location or placing plants where physical damage can occur are some of the reasons gardeners and gardening authors spend so much time on the subject of preparing plants for the winter. Sometimes these measures actually cause more damage, like when straw or other coverings provides a great location for mice to hang out in a cozy spot and eat the “protected” plants.

The elaborate ritual of covering, wrapping and mulching plants in late fall is not necessary when property owners adopt sustainable landscape methods. Starting out with sustainable property design means that plants and other features will be chosen based on the climate and site conditions. Good design and good plant choices significantly reduce all maintenance needs including at the end of the growing season.

It is time to put to bed the notion of “putting plants to bed”.

 

 

Easy Fall Weeding

Posted on: August 30th, 2016 by Tom Girolamo 1 Comment

By this time of year, most gardeners are ready to fall in their tracks, exhausted from months of weeding.

I see many people pull weeds up by the roots, stuff them into plastic bags and put them out in the garbage-permanently banning these invaders from their property. So, if this is a successful method, why do you have to do it again next week? Is this the most environmentally friendly way of getting rid of weeds by using a plastic bag and taking up landfill space? The simple answer is “no”!

A scuffle hoe can cut off weeds at the soil surface minimizing soil disturbance

A scuffle hoe can cut off weeds at the soil surface minimizing soil disturbance

There is a method that makes weeding easier, takes less time and makes the gardener a better steward of the environment. This weeding method is called chop and drop. The basics of this method is that you cut the weed off at the base of the plant and cut the upper portion of the weed into small sections leaving it in the garden. What!!!!? Isn’t this garden hearsay!!! Well, let’s look at the science and biology of weeds.

This type of scuffle hoe was made with sickle mower blades

This type of scuffle hoe was made with sickle mower blades

Most weeds that we battle in the garden and landscape are annuals. This means that they only live for one year, sprouting next year from seeds that can lay dormant for decades. Many annuals grow best in disturbed soil. Deep cultivating, pulling weeds up by their roots, digging dogs, and rototilling all create perfect conditions for weeds to germinate. It is true that annual weeds that are cut off at the soil surface can regrow from the roots during the growing

You can purchase many types of long-handled or short handled scuffle hoes

You can purchase many types of long-handled or short-handled scuffle hoes

season. However, pulling them out just opens a fresh wound in the soil that is soon taken over by new weeds. The existing weed root system that is left in place by the chop and drop method actually discourages new weeds from sprouting.

Weeds can create benefits in their initial growth and in their demise.  Since weeds concentrate micro-nutrients that might be missing in your soil, finding a way to incorporate them into the surface of the garden or landscape is essential.

Leaving weed roots in the ground allows them to die at the end of the growing season releasing the nutrients they process. The cut-off top of the plant will also decompose returning it’s nutrients to the soil. Weed stems and roots also contribute a significant amount of organic material to the soil.

Chop and drop is not magic. Just like other weeding methods, chop and drop needs to be periodically repeated during the growing season. However with chop and drop you are going to do a lot less work which leaves time for everything else you want to do!