Archive for May, 2008

Roots of Eco-Landcare Theory

Monday, May 26th, 2008

The idea of Mass production and centralized processing is a given in the United States. The great industrial age of   America was founded on the idea that it is more efficient to produce and process centrally than it is in small batches. This idea has been applied to every facet of American life including the care of the  landscape.



   We mass produce and bag soils and fertilizers, than we transport them in, we remove leaves and lawn “waste”, and ship them out, and in our minds it all makes sense. It’s theoretically cheaper and easier to do things in large batches. Except that means transporting, storing, large machinery for processing. The larger the machine, the more frequently it has to be used for maximum efficiency and payback. After a while we are looking for ways to use our machines more efficiently and the machines drive us.



 This piece is not a resurgence of Taylorism by a long shot, but rather a demand that we re-examine process. Toyota if not already the number one auto manufacturer in the world soon will be because they abandoned mass production as we know it post world war two.

Toyota manufactures their products on the theory of “Just In Time” and meet demand for product instead of producing cars and hoping they get sold. Through JIT production,

Toyota abandoned mass production as Americans know it, using simpler machines and greater employee involvement to produce cars in the quantities that the public was willing to purchase and to the specifications and needs of their clients.



  Toyota consciously or not, has adopted models from nature in their production system. The principles behind the production system, the mode of production, the elimination of stockpiling and return to local batch production all mimic natural process.





 Landcare, in order to be eco-friendly, must abandon mass production and do its best to mimic natural process. It means less specialization, minimal centralized production, more on site activities like mulching, composting, water recycling.

Property is a manmade idea, but is applicable in the sense that while we “own” a piece of land, we are the primary caregiver of this property and must strive as self sufficient as possible within it. This is how ecosystems work, cells within larger cells. The more diversity of interacting cells, the less reliance on any one particular system. The less reliance on a particular system, the stronger the eco-system.



   The same is true for landcare practices. The less centralized and more site specific our practices, the stronger each individual property/system is and the less dependent on a larger system of care it becomes.

Should We Ever Use Chemical Fertilizers?

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

 Should We Ever Use Chemical Fertilizers? Our basic stand on chemical fertilizers has two legs. The first is that chemically produced nitrogen comes from oil and has a tremendous carbon footprint-6.7 pounds of carbon go into the atmosphere for every pound manufactured. The second is that chemical fertilizers kill microbes that breakdown organic material in the soil, basically rendering topsoil dead and inert. Kind of like bypassing the human stomach and intestine  if people were chemically fed.


Those seem like two excellent reasons to never use chemically produced nitrogen, except when one considers potted plants. Potted plants are not really part of an ecosystem when you consider how they are used. Larger pots that contain trees and shrubs may be the exception, but generally potted plants are either plants adapted to interiors, or filled with annuals that wont survive the year.


In the case of interior plants, none of thee plants are grown organically to begin with. As seedlings they are raised and managed with chemicals in Florida, Hawaii, California, South America, and Africa. They are not even grown in soil as we know it, but instead are raised in “growing medium”, often mixes of mulch, pearlite, vermiculite, and some sand. Then they arrive eventually in our homes and or offices pumped up with fertilizer and pesticides. Converting them to organic fertilizers takes a year of intensive work and often means smelling up the home with fish emulsion, manure, and the like.


In the case of annuals, again, just like interior plants, these are chemically raised, fed, and maintained. Since they won’t last the year, is it worth it to convert them from chemical to organic soils? On the other hand, we will have no oil, and therefore no chemical fertilizers in the next forty years, so we better wrap our minds around this one. Now it is arguable, that one can keep a stock of live organic soil on hand at all times, particularly if one is composting, and convert these poor chemically addicted waifs over with intensive therapy. The question is, is there value in this approach?


The Trouble With Leaf Blowers

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

I did a presentation on basic elements of eco-friendly garden design and maintenance at town hall the other day and after the presentation, a woman from Yonkers, NY came up to me and proudly introduced herself as the driving force behind the recent Yonkers leaf blower ban. I have said for years that I thought leaf blowers were over rated but upon being confronted with such passion, I did a little homework and here is what I found:

1) On leaf blower noise: A blower measuring 70-75 dB at 50 feet can reach 90-100 dB at the operator’s ear. OSHA requires hearing protection for noise over 85, and Deafness caused by noise is irreversible. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, half the wearers of hearing protectors do not get the expected benefit, due to improper fit or failure to wear them continuously. According to Dr. Alice Suter, in a 1994 report to the OSHA Standards Planning Committee, there is recent evidence “that high levels of noise and the resulting hearing losses contribute to industrial accidents” and “hearing protection devices…may actually impair work safety under certain conditions…In addition, there is growing evidence that noise adversely affects general health, and the cardiovascular system in particular.”

2) On air pollution contributed by leaf blowers: Emissions from the two-stroke combustion engine include PM as well as gaseous carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons (CO, NOx, and HC). Leaf blowers also raise (entrain) dust from the ground. Leaf blower motors are inordinately large emitters of CO, NOx, HC, and PM. Two-stroke engine fuel is a gasoline-oil mixture, thus especially toxic. Particles from combustion are virtually all smaller than PM2.5. According to the Lung Association, a leaf blower causes as much smog as 17 cars. Finally, there is the damage to the plants and the soil itself, leaf blowers generate wnd speeds in excess of 180 mph, ripping leaves from branches, new growth and developing flowers are damaged and precious topsoil is blown away. Nurseries and Extension Agents are receiving more plant samples from gardeners indicating a tornado or hurricane devastated their landscape plants. In most instances the winds are unnatural in origin. Leaf blowers are producing wind speeds with greater force than a hurricane. They are having devastating effects.

3) Blower winds stress plants causing dehydration, burned leaves, and the suspension of photosynthesis and other natural plant functions. Overall growth is slowed. Natural openings in the leaves that allow for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide are sealed shut. Disease spores laying dormant on the soil or fallen debris are blown back onto plants where a little moisture can renew their cycle of infestation and damage. The severity of damage corresponds to the training of leaf blower operators. Blowers effectively distribute disease spores, weed seeds and insect eggs throughout the landscape (as well as to neighboring landscapes). Blowers create a disposal problem for many landscape managers gathering up a tremendous amount of organic debris. Instead of utilizing it appropriately on site it is generally hauled away for disposal.

4) Another hidden cost of leaf blowers is that they deprive flowers, shrubs, and trees of life-giving mulch. Without this natural blanket, erosion, water evaporation and the spread of disease all become problems. Mulch, when not blown away, creates a favorable growing environment for plants and beneficial organisms both above and below ground while adding nutrients to the plants root zone. When mulch is removed to the compost and renewed annually many soil borne diseases are kept to a minimum.

In response to these issues, landscape professionals who use leaf blowers have stated that leaf blowers are great labor savers. However, several tests, including a public demonstration by Diane Wolfberg, a grandmother in her late fifties show otherwise

In three tests involving gas powered leaf blowers and battery powered leaf blowers, Diane cleaned the areas using rakes or brooms faster than any of the battery powered blowers and almost as fast as the gas powered leaf blowers and she did a better job in cleaning up the areas. For more information on leaf blower issues, the site where the bulk of the facts and some text on leaf blower risks was pulled from is: