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.

Pitfalls Of Pond Advice Over The Phone

Posted on: April 26th, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments
Many animals rely on ponds for reproduction. Can you spot the tree frog in this picture>

Many animals and beneficial insects rely on ponds that don’t contain harmful chemicals for reproduction. Can you  spot the tree frog in this picture?

I get quite a few calls about what can be done with ponds that have problems. In many cases a hole was just dug in the ground and allowed to fill with water. The property owner’s expectation of a crystal clear spring has turned into a muddy mess! The next mistake made is trying solutions in a hit or miss fashion that can end up to be frustrating and expensive.

There are real pitfalls for both the professional and the consumer with getting advice over the phone, through the internet or through other media. For instance some pond owners plan to use toxic pesticides in their pond, have set up some aeration that really isn’t working or want to put a species of fish in their pond that might not do well.

Because of all the variables, it is difficult for me to diagnose problems over the phone and it is very difficult for consumers read an article and think they have found a solution for their specific situation.

The good news is there is an alternative that achieves a high level of success with pond management. Start with a sustainable pond on-site assessment! An assessment will uncover the biological reasons and the supporting science to solve the the problems that you might have with your pond.

A visit by a knowledgeable professional that includes interviewing the customer, checking on the pond and deciding the next step of action is the essential ingredient to reaching your goals in successful management of your pond.

How Aeration Effects Fish

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

 

You can use fountains in shallow ponds to improve oxygen levels

You can use fountains in shallow ponds to improve oxygen levels

Small ponds are difficult to manage. Lakes have dynamic forces of wind, water currents, stratification changes and biota that help maintain physical and chemical characteristics of water. Ponds are often too small to have all of the natural processes that occur in larger bodies of water. As users we often expect more from our ponds than other bodies of water-we want to swim, fish and enjoy crystal clear water!

As ponds age, organic mater builds up, aquatic plants decay and soil can wash into ponds. All of these thing can lead to depleting the oxygen level in a pond. Just as a healthy compost pile needs to be turned to add oxygen to assist in break down of materials, so does a pond.

It is very easy to increase oxygen levels in an existing pond to improve water quality and fish health. There is a variety of aeration equipment that we regularly install that is produced by Kasco Marine. There are different products for types, sizes and depths of ponds that increase oxygen levels in the water by circulating, de-stratification and mixing.

There is a lot to know about this subject. You can contact Eco-Building & Forestry at 715-344-2817 for more information on aeration that is right for you and your pond.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do it Yourself: Landscape Planning

Posted on: February 1st, 2017 by Tom Girolamo No Comments

The Property Owner Questionnaire is easy and fun to fill out.

Many gardeners spend the winter pouring over seed catalogs for spring planting. For many, gardening involves planting a crop that grows for only one season and then is replaced the following year. Gardening requires constant repetition that produces temporary results in the landscape.

In sustainable landscapes the idea is to plant and do once and then move on to the next part of the project. Every year sees not only your work taking the shape of an expanded landscape but also the natural increase in plant size and numbers that creates landscape features. In sustainable property design, instead of choosing seeds that you buy every year, you can use this time to plan permanent improvements to your yard.

Where do you start though? Understanding your needs, your personality and your lifestyle are pivotal to success in sustainable design. You can also consider the needs of others in your household. Sometimes this can be a touchy subject with significant others and lead to disagreement. Usually conflict occurs because one person can not “see” what the other envisions.

Your Eco-Friendly Yard is a good read to find out how your individual lifestyle and personality can be planned into the landscape.

You can use the Property Owner Questionnaire (POQ) we developed to help survey decision makers for your property. The POQ is a way to collect basic information about needs, wants, budget, personality and lifestyle without stressing about it. It is easy to fill out and provides a permanent record of things relevant to your project, even the colors a person prefers!

Download your Eco-Building & Forestry Property Owner Questionnaire today. Use it how ever you want, there is no commitment.

So, buy a few garden seeds this winter and start planning your own permanent, sustainable landscape too!

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