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Archives for March 3, 2013

Floyd County bridge expected to be completed in August

After two years of waiting and frustration from residents and county officials, Bridge 23 is expected to be completed in August.

The old iron bridge, at John Pectol and Hamby roads, has been removed and a bid will be accepted by the state Wednesday, March 6. The construction of the new bridge is a federal aid project which means the county will be responsible for 20 percent of the total cost which is expected to be around $1 million.

Don Lopp, director of operations and Floyd County planner, said there have been several issues to solve to get to this point.

“The main thing is there are so many historical requirements to go through,” Lopp said. “There were a lot of regulations and procedures to follow.”

The county has already paved the way for the new bridge to be built by clearing trees. The bridge is 92 feet long.

Floyd County bridges are inspected every two years, and in 2011, a state inspector recommended closing Bridge 23 immediately due to safety reasons Lopp said. He also said about 900 vehicles a day used the bridge before it was closed.

Stormwater manuals approved

The Floyd County Commissioners recently approved two stormwater ordinances which should help spell out maintenance standards and along with the city, put together a new design manual which includes criteria for builders to follow.

“We were able to set our own guidelines and ordinances. The rules and regulations are now in one place,” said Chris Moore, GSI technician for Floyd County. “The design manual also provides specs and design ideas on catch basins.”

Moore said the guidelines were copied from Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District manual, but includes Indiana regulations.

“New Albany and Floyd County worked together on this. We have the same design standards,” Moore said. “This should help us out and give us more oversight. We can show this to people and say this is what is on the books.”

“It will allow folks to have a set of guidelines that everyone is supposed to follow,” Lopp said.

Council must redistrict

The Floyd County Council will soon begin the task of redistricting its four districts prior to the next election. A committee was formed following the February council meeting.

There is a large variation of the number of residents between the four districts represented on the council that needs to be more equal.

Cleanup day planned

Floyd County has planned a cleanup day April 27 near the Edwardsville-Georgetown exit off Interstate 64, which is known as the Edwardsville Gateway area.

Besides picking up trash, some landscaping will be completed that day.

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Reshaping Ettrick: Revitalization ideas focus on turning this historic village …

ETTRICK – Virginia State University and Chesterfield County are considering opportunities for evolving Ettrick into a pededestrian friendly college town complete with retail, housing and other services. A panel of experts shared ideas for revitalization generated from a two-day study of the area.

The plans presented by the Urban Land Institute panel on Tuesday focus on evolving Ettrick into a microcosm of retail, pedestrian friendly areas and housing, with VSU at its core. Central to these plans is the opening of an 8,000-seat convocation center on VSU’s campus by August of next year. Plans were also discussed to increase usage and access to the Petersburg Amtrak station, and to possibly relocate Ettrick Elementary School and Fire Station 12.

The experts in housing, development, traffic and retail, see a convocation center, increased student enrollment; and Chesterfield’s plans to revitalize Ettrick as “central drivers” for revitalizing the area. The 6,000 student university is projected to grow to 10,000 in 2020.

“We have a village and we have a town, but we have don’t have a college town,” panelist Randy Holmes said about Ettrick and VSU’s existing relationship. He stressed fixing Ettrick’s lack of retail and other services for the community and students alike as a key part the vision.  

The panel discussion is not the first mention of these college town visions. A master plan for Chesterfield Avenue written in 2010 mentioned modeling the area after other college towns in Virginia.

“Charlottesville and Blacksburg, Virginia, and Davidson, North Carolina are college towns that have evolved around a distinct university presence. All have become desirable enclaves for a variety of economic and social classes,” planners wrote.

The plan cites VSU’s expansion along Chesterfield Avenue as a main driver, and proposed improvements such as street scaping, more parking areas and signage to help visitors navigate the area.

The businesses in the section of Chesterfield Avenue that spans from Lee Street to the roads’ eastern bend were emphasized as an essential link between the village and VSU.

“This is a logical place for businesses in that Lee Street is a main artery into the village and should serve as a principle link … Development on the northern side of the street should focus on this critical node and the existing presence of commercial use,” planners wrote.

They also envisioned, “mixed use buildings” with retail on the lower floors and residences and offices on the top.

A central driver of these visions – and the only item discussed on the panel’s agenda that is sure to see ground breaking – is a new convocation center.

The center is set to be completed in August and will provide a forum for campus and communitywide events. The 8,000-seat facility – which is much larger than the existing Daniel Gym – will take up 155,000 square feet and will require 1,500 additional parking spaces. Large local events, such as graduations for Chesterfield County Public Schools, could be held at VSU instead of at the Siegal Center in Richmond.

Planners envision the convocation center not only as a large and convenient gathering place, but as a defining north western edge of the campus.

“Every university needs a strong sense of edge, a strong center and consistent texture,” panelist Randy Holmes said about the need to link the convocation center with the rest of campus and Ettrick.

The center, as the “strong edge”, would be linked to the middle of campus, which would be more greatly defined by landscaping details such as a plaza. Planners discussed adding residences and 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail area on the campus’ northeastern edge near Chesterfield Avenue, which would also be linked to VSU via walkways. Much of this retail area would minimize the visual impact on the surrounding community of the proposed 1,500 car parking lot. Planners also hope that the pedestrian friendly retail boulevard would entice students to live closer to campus.

John Keegan, the chair of the panel stated that this area would, “give residents and students the opportunity to walk a short distance to get a sandwich … to shop… and to make this (Ettrick and VSU) a destination.”

Panelists also discussed improving the Petersburg Amtrak station – located in Ettrick off River Road – to make it more accessible and visually appealing. Panelist Craig Amos described the train station, built in 1955 by the Atlantic Coast Railroad, as “pretty uninviting.” He also said that access could be improved to increase usage.

Both Chesterfield and Petersburg officials are vying for a stake in the station’s future. Chesterfield hopes to persuade the state to allow the Amtrak station to remain in Ettrick, while Petersburg wants to build a new station near Interstate 85.

It was also suggested that the spot between the Amtrak station and the Triple Nickel Bridge would be ideal for a hotel.

Plans were discussed to relocate Fire Station 12 on the southern end of Chesterfield Avenue to a more modern building, and to revitalize the current building.

“You could end up with a neat restaurant or retail space,” panelist Chris Corrada said about the building.

Also mentioned was a proposal to relocate Ettrick Elementary, which occupies a 15.8 acre plot. The panel estimates that the area could yield up to 500 housing units. Panelists felt that the areas’ location near the northeastern end of campus, close to the envisioned retail area on the northeastern side of campus, would create more foot traffic.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got a bunch of students walking through this retail sector,” Corrada said.

One potential project VSU has access to now due to its ownership of the building is renovating Simms Hall. Panelists envisioned the space being used as student or alumni housing, a hotel or other facility.

A prime concern of Ettrick residents is the fear that the village is losing its historic character due to VSU’s expansion.

“Soon, it won’t be Ettrick anymore,” Jeff Anderson of the Ettrick Historical Society told The Progress Index last year. “We will just be part of Virginia State University, but the place that we know will be gone.”

In order to construct the convocation center, and structures mentioned in VSU’s 2020 master plan, VSU demolished many of Ettrick’s existing structures. As of Feb. 2012, VSU planned to demolish 171 buildings.

Ettrick sits on the site of an Appomattox Indian village burned to the ground in 1676 during Bacon’s Rebellion. It is also the location of a former plantation that was the boyhood home of John Randolph, a Virginia congressman who was in office in the early 1800s. In the early 19th century it served as a mill town.

The university plans to create an exhibit showing what Ettrick was like before it began its expansion to the surrounding area. VSU engaged The College of William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research to document the history of Ettrick. The center also identified historically significant structures that could be relocated.

The Urban Land Institute will publish a written report of its observations in about 45 days that can be found at

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Greenery inspiration takes root at Biloxi Garden & Patio Show

BILOXI — Regina Pavlov wants to transform her yard’s landscape from drab to fab and hoped she’d find inspiration at the 12th annual Gulf Coast Garden Patio Show.

When she and her daughter Rachal Pavlov walked into the Coast Convention Center, they were met with the smell of the outdoors, bursts of spectacular color from flowering blooms and plenty of trees and shrubs in various hues of green.

“I wish it was all in my yard,” she said.

The three-day event ends today. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $6, and free for children 12 and younger.

Rudolph Hall with the Mississippi Nursery Landscape Association said the garden show has seen good crowds despite the cold weather.

Ted Battley, owner of Gulf Breeze Landscaping of Gautier, is a first-time vendor.

“We’ve heard good things about it,” he said.

Battley, who started his company 32 years ago, saw a good response during the show’s first two days.

Battley said he and his two sons can turn customers’ landscaping ideas into real yards for homeowners and businesses.

Most who stopped by his booth inquired about low-maintenance options.

“A lot of people are talking to us, seeing what we have,” he said.

Many customers at the show took advantage of the free convenient holding area, which was staffed by students from the landscaping department at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Perkingston campus. Customers can send their purchases there to wait for pickup at the rear of the convention center, Hall said.

More than 60 vendors are set up at the show with a variety of merchandise including flowers, plants, trees, equipment, accessories, pools, pottery and even food and jewelry.

Seminars today are “Preparing Your Home for a Wildfire” by the state Forestry Commission at 11:30 a.m., “Powerful Garden Color” by radio personality and author Nellie “Garden Mama” Neal at 12:30 p.m. and “Fearless Entertaining Favorites” by co-author Catherine Strange at 2 p.m.

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg announces landscaping giveaway

The world’s “Most Beautiful Theme Park” announced today (March 1, 2013) that they have plans to make someone’s yard the most beautiful in the neighborhood. Starting today (March 1), Facebook fans of Busch Gardens Williamsburg can submit their yard to be beautified by their award-winning landscaping team. In order to enter, you must submit a photo of your yard and a short explanation of why you need the expert team’s help. On March 11, voting opens for fans to choose the winner. The winner will be notified on March 18.

Despite the park being located in Williamsburg, Virginia, the contest is open in three other states and Washington, D.C. Legal residents of North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware can enter as well. For more information, official rules and to enter, visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s official Facebook fan page.

In addition to the landscaping giveaway, the park is also gearing up to open its gates for the 2013 operating season on March 17. Earlier this year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg shared the return of the Season Street Forest of Fun Preschool Pass, which now also allows entry into Water Country USA. For more information on the preschool pass and how to register, visit 757 Lifestyle.

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These buds for you

Updated: 6:46 AM

Portland Flower Show: These buds for you

This week, the Portland Flower Show will put a spring in your step with loads of fresh blooms, ideas and inspiration.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

You might expect a bidding war over luxury box seats at Fenway Park or a February trip to the Caribbean, but a tree?

Visitors to last year’s Portland Flower Show study a winning display from Jaiden Landscaping.

Gabe Souza/2012 Press Herald File

Environments shows Jackson Fischer of Lisbon Falls how to operate the model train on Paquette’s display at the opening of the show in 2012.

Chris Paquette of Robin’s Nest Swimming

Additional Photos Below


WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday (gala opening); 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 10

WHERE: Portland Co. Complex, 58 Fore St. A free shuttle runs along Commercial Street with stops at Angelo’s Acre, the Fish Pier parking lot, Dimillo’s Restaurant and the Casco Bay Lines Ferry Terminal. For parking information, go to

HOW MUCH: $13 ($12 for ages 65 and older) in advance; $15 at door. Opening gala costs $30 in advance; $45 at door.

INFO: 775-4403;

HERE’S AN OVERVIEW of the lectures that will be given during the Portland Flower Show. For more description and detail, go to: series


10:30 a.m. — Special children’s program, “Encountering Wildlife: The Do’s and Don’ts of Approaching Maine’s Wildlife,” with David Sparks of Sparks Ark and some live animals

Noon — “Feasting from the Garden Year Round,” with Barbara Damrosch of Four Season Farm. Book signing will follow.

1:30 p.m. — “Garden Photography: Tips for Using Your Digital Camera” with Gail Anderson, whose photographs have appeared in Horticulture and other national magazines

3 p.m. — “The Cary Award,” a program to promote outstanding plants for New England gardens, with Jeff O’Donal of O’Donal’s Nursery

4:30 p.m. — “Creating Edible Perennial Gardens the Permaculture Way” with Lisa M. Fernandes of the Portland Permaculture group


10:30 a.m. — Special children’s program, “Encountering Wildlife: The Do’s and Don’ts of Approaching Maine’s Wildlife,” with David Sparks of Sparks Ark and some live animals

Noon — “McLaughlin Garden: Timeless Plants, Timeless History” with Kristin Perry, director of horticulture at McLaughlin Garden and Homestead

1:30 p.m. — “Back to Eden: The Timeline of Plants and Flowers Highlighted in the Bible” with Rev. Dr. Frank M. “Sonny” Gada, regional director of the Biblical Botanical Gardens Society of the USA

3 p.m. — “Long Blooming Perennials” with Cheryl Rich, professor and department chair of the horticulture department at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland

4:30 p.m. — “What Was Learned in the Construction of Phase One of the Arboretum at Fort Williams Park” with Rick Churchill, founder of the horticultural program at SMCC and one of the founders of the Arboretum


10:30 a.m. — “Iron Will: 6 Years Into the Development of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens” with Rodney Eason, director of horticulture and plant curator at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay

Noon — “The Ever Unfolding Journey into the Unique Creative World That Inspires Ted Carter” with Ted Carter, landscape designer, contractor and author

1:30 p.m. — “The Rise of the American Garden” with Terry Hire, fine art photographer, interior designer and member of Maine Photo Alliance

3 p.m. — “The McLaughlin Garden: The Evolution of a Timeless Landscape, 1840-2013” with Lee Dassler, one of the founders of the McLaughlin Foundation and executive director of the Western Foothills Land Trust

4:30 p.m. — “Beware of the Invading Pests” with Tim Lindsay, manager/arborist representative of Bartlett Tree Experts


10:30 a.m. — “Pruning as a Plant Wishes We Would” with Mike Hughes, owner of Hughes Inc. Arbor Land Management in Yarmouth

Noon — “Mrs. Thrift and the Portable Cook’s Herb Garden” with Betsy Williams, teacher, writer and lecturer. A book signing will follow.

1:30 p.m. — “The Eastern Promenade — History With a View!” with Diane Davison, founding member and president of Friends of the Eastern Promenade, and chairperson of the city’s Parks Commission

3 p.m. — “Actively Tending Your Woods” with Kevin Doran, natural science educator with the Maine Forest Service



WHEN: Silent auction 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. March 10; live auction at 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Portland Co. Complex, 58 Fore St., Portland. The silent auction will be held in Building No. 11; the live auction will be held in Building No. 3.

HOW MUCH: Free admission. Benefits the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Demonstration Garden at Tidewater Farm and the Maine Harvest for Hunger Gardens in Cumberland County.

INFO: (800) 287-1471 (in Maine); 781-6099. Visit to view the list of donations.

That’s actually happened at the plant auction that comes at the end of the Portland Flower Show. Last year, the crowd went all “Market Warriors” on a $225 Japanese maple, and a lucky bidder snatched it up for a C-note.

It’s that kind of bargain on everything from lilacs and pansies to lawn mowers and fences that attracts gardeners to the afternoon auction like, well, aphids to a bed of roses.

The Portland Flower Show gets under way Wednesday with its annual opening gala and awards show, followed by fours days of winter-weary Mainers drooling over exhibitors’ lush garden landscapes covered in the cloak of spring.

Little waterfalls cascade down through a wildly colorful display of tulips. Greenery brightens spirits and gets gardeners thinking about what their plantings will look like this year — and how they can they set off their creations with beautiful stonework.

Visitors prowl rows of vendors like Carrie Bradshaw looking for her next pair of Manolos.

There will be 16 gardens at the flower show this year, including three new ones, and close to 90 vendors, said Joanna Sprague, the show’s producer.

The theme this year is “Timeless Gardens,” a concept that exhibitors can take to mean whatever they want it to mean, Sprague said.

“Some of them are doing some garden designing that is a little more traditional and (with) older plants,” she said, “but some are taking it to where it would be a simple garden requiring less time.”

Aronson Stonework in Litchfield is creating a garden called “Old Cellar Hole,” which is the designer’s vision of what a garden would look like in an old cellar hole someone stumbled across in the woods.

Tightlines Landscaping in Brunswick, Sprague said, will be creating a “Garden of the Phoenix” with plants, and will reflect ancient Rome and Victorian England.

Mike Silvia, a landscape designer at Tightlines, has been attending the flower show ever since he moved to Maine 15 years ago, and has participated in it as a designer as well.

“For me personally, I like that we have the opportunity to sort of push the design envelope and give people ideas that, maybe they may not use the whole thing, but they can take a little bit away from it and possibly use it in their yard,” Silvia said. “And for me, it’s the interaction with the public and talking about gardening.”

Silvia thinks one thing that makes gardens timeless is that there are certain elements you can see throughout history. In ancient Rome, gardens had fountains and birds. The gardens at Versaille were designed with aviaries and resting areas.

Modern gardeners can use plants that are popular today, but by incorporating these other features, they can “still keep that feeling of antiquity.”

Silvia’s “Garden of the Phoenix” — which has a double meaning, because Portland’s city seal features a phoenix rising from the ashes — will have an aviary with red golden pheasants. The strong red, gold and auburn colors found on the birds will be reflected in other elements of the design — the flowers, for example, and a piece of garden furniture — tying it all together.

“People are paying good money to come to a show,” Silvia said, “and they should see something that they’re not going to see at the Home Depot display.”

Even if local gardeners probably won’t be running out to buy pheasants for their little plot of land, they can still take something away from the design, Silvia said.

“I think as a culture, we really are losing our connection with natural worlds,” he said. “Even the aviary — you don’t need to have an ornamental pheasant, you could have a few garden chickens and collect some eggs from them. But there’s some living things in your garden. There’s something moving and interacting.”


Other highlights will include a model train exhibit, which will make its second appearance at the show. “Kids love it,” Sprague said. And the book store outside the lecture hall will be back, because Books a Million agreed to sponsor it.

Estabrook’s garden center, a longtime flower show participant, will not be designing a garden this year, Sprague said, but will be decorating the entrance to the flower show and showing off its new line of “Hort Couture” plants.

When it’s all over on March 10, exhibitors will be donating many of the flowers, flowering shrubs and small trees from their gardens to be auctioned live at the Cumberland County Master Gardener Plant Auction that afternoon.

Vendors and businesses from the greater Portland area have also donated a lot of non-gardening-related items for a silent auction, ranging from culinary gift sets to yoga classes.

The auction typically raises $6,000 to $11,000 for a good cause. This year, the proceeds will go to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Demonstration Garden and the Maine Harvest for Hunger Gardens in Cumberland County.

In the market for 500 square feet of sod or a funky-looking garden fence? The plant auction’s got you covered.

The auction list also includes a field-dug Currier McEwen iris (a pop star of the iris world), 7 cubic yards of gravel or soil, a 2-ton boulder and two pick-up truckloads of sheep manure.

“To people that are die-hard gardeners, that’s really primo stuff,” said Amy Witt, a horticulturist at the Cooperative Extension. 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:


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Landscape Now: Organic Landscaping + Taking Care of Soil

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Saturday, March 02, 2013

Can the principles of organic land care be used in your own backyard? From soil care to lawn care and landscaping, Frank Crandall will show you how.

The Green Movement has found new momentum the past few years, especially with the escalation of energy prices, local regulations prohibiting pesticides and chemicals on public athletic fields and school grounds and the increased awareness of the effect that excess nitrogen and phosphorus can have by polluting our fresh and salt water ponds, streams and oceans.

The resulting “Going Green” initiatives include reducing the use of pesticides, using least toxic and non toxic alternatives for insect and pest control, adopting organic lawn care, composting, recycling plastics, bottles and paper, using rain barrels and in-ground cisterns for reusing water runoff, installing landscapes with sustainable plants, brewing and applying compost tea, exploring wind, solar and alternative power sources, expanding use of bio-diesel fuels and building with nontoxic materials.

In a three part Organic Landscape Series, I will examine the basic principles of organic land care, components of an organic lawn care program and steps you can take to become more eco-friendly in your landscape, at home and in your office, and ways you can obtain an organic education through workshops, conferences and land care programs.

Introduction to Organic Land Care

My introduction to organic land care principles began in January, 2005 by attending the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) 5 Day Land Care Training Course in Wellesley, MA. The comprehensive course; taught by experts in the fields of soil health, organic pest and disease control, composting, organic lawn care, native plants, invasive plants and numerous other topics, changed my life. I have adopted many of the Organic Principles into my business and personal life. I teach at the Land Care Courses and serve as Educational Chair of NOFA’s Education Committee. For more information about NOFA’s Educational workshops and courses go to or

Basic Organic Land Care Principles

The four basic principles are:

1. Work to improve the health of water, soil, air, plants, animals, humans and the planet.

2. Ensure that ecology, the relationship between living things; plants, animals and the environment, are in balance and working sustainably.

3. Care for social, ecological affects in our environment by doing no harm and restore and remediate disturbances.

4. Exhibit fairness in our Stewardship of the Planet Earth including our creatures, plants, environment and extending this philosophy to our employees and business philosophy.

Organic landscaping means not using any synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or soil amendments and following standards set forth by NOFA (or other organic organizations) including using only organically approved pesticides, appropriate cultural practices and landscaping for water conservation.

The Basics of Soil Health

Healthy landscapes, gardens and crops begin with fertile soil. Healthy soil is free of compaction, pesticides, toxins or excess salts and possessing a degree of organic matter, humus and balanced, available nutrients. Soil can be nourished with compost, manures, organic fertilizers and cover crops. The first step in the soil improvement process is to conduct a soil test! A basic chemical test will reveal the pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the soil, nutrient levels (phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium), the amount of organic matter and recommendations to improve your soil. For soil testing contact for specific information on how to take a soil test and mail it to UMass for results and recommendations.

Along with the soil chemistry, knowing the level of biological activity in the soil (fungi, bacteria, nematodes and protozoans) is important to understanding the soil food web. The soil food web is the community of organisms that inhabits soil including worms, insects and countless microscopic creatures like bacteria, fungi, flagellates, amoeba and other protozoans that indicate a healthy soil. Bioassay testing for living organisms in the soil is expensive but if the yard is large or the project is a commercial or public property then more detailed biological soil testing may be in order. Contact for detailed information and costs for bioassay testing.

Enhancing Soil Fertility

How do you improve soil health organically? Soil fertility is managed by feeding the soil, not the plant. Carbon, nitrogen and organic matter are added to the soil as rotted manure, finished compost, organic fertilizers and compost teas. The soil food web then breaks down the organic materials into nutrients that plants can use to grow, flower and remain healthy. Horticultural methods that short-cut this natural process by supplying synthetic nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium directly to plants can lead to damaged soils and weak root systems…leading to a greater susceptibility to insects, disease and drought. Repeated application of excessive amounts of synthetic fertilizers may inhibit the development of mycorrhizae…symbiotic fungi that help plant roots gather nutrients in the surrounding soil. (NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care, 5th edition, January 2011.)

Soil Building Program Benefits

A carefully managed soil fertility program that increases soil organic matter and humus can provide numerous benefits: It recycles nutrients, improves water retention, balances minerals, and buffers pH. Your soil is the key to successful gardens, landscapes and lawns! The first step to improving your soil is by taking a soil test and following the recommendations on the test results to enhance your soil fertility and increase your soil food web.

In the second part of the Organic Landscape Series I will detail the steps you can take to transition from a traditional lawn care program into an organic program!

“The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.” Lady Eve Balfour

Frank Crandall is an RI resident specializing in coastal landscaping, organic land care, small business consulting, writing, speaking and photography will be submitting articles about Landscape Solutions. With over 40 years in the horticultural field Frank will write about pertinent, seasonal landscape topics including effective solutions. Comments about Frank’s articles are welcome by contacting him at Crandall, Horticultural Solutions

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Getting started: Organic gardening tips for newbies

If you’re tackling organic vegetable gardening for the first time, here are a few tips to get you started. They’re from organic gardeners and gardening experts around Tucson.

Get rid of your old soil. If you’ve used chemical fertilizers the last few years, your soil has lost beneficial microbes and earthworms, maintains Tucson Organic Gardeners member Rich Johnson.

He suggests removing the top 12 inches of your garden soil. Then fill the basin with water, allowing it to percolate into the ground. Do this three times. This pushes fertilizer salts deep into the ground.

Then replace the topsoil with compost.

“The number one key is to create an environment that worms would want to live in,” Johnson says.

Add organic compost and fertilizer. Create your own compost or shop for officially certified organic amendments at retail garden centers, suggests MarciBeth Phillips, a biocontrol specialist with Arbico Organics.

Also look for sources that follow organic-growing practices. One place she suggests for manure is Hickman’s Family Farms.

You want to use compost from plants without pesticides, herbicides or genetically modified organisms (GMO) and manure from animals raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.

Plant organic seeds and seedlings. These are partly defined as open-pollinated and non-GMO plants, Phillips says.

“We’re very fortunate here,” she says, because there are several local sources of these types of seeds and seedlings. These include Native Seed/SEARCH, Aravaipa Heirlooms and the Pima County Library’s seed library.

Any plant grown organically will yield organic seeds, she says.

Use less-toxic pest- and disease-control methods. Here are some ideas:

• Decide how much damage you’re willing to tolerate, says Peter Warren, director of the Pima County Cooperative Extension. “It’s good to know so you can be prepared to act when necessary,” he says.

• Plant complementary crops. For instance, onions and garlic planted around potatoes discourages insect pests, says Emily Rockey, horticulturist at Tucson Botanical Gardens and an organic gardener.

• Try high-spray water or soapy water to get pests off plants.

• Buy pest-eating insects at places like Arbico Organics.

• Purchase natural or organic pesticides and herbicides.

Many products for organic gardening are now readily available at many gardening centers, Phillips says, because of its growing popularity.

“It has joined the mainstream,” she says.

Learn about organic gardening from these resources:

• Tucson Organic Gardeners’ Spring Fair, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. It’s in the community garden at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, 3809 E. Third St. The group also holds regular meetings.

• Pima County Cooperative Extension demonstration gardens and talks, 626-5161.

• Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona workshops, 882-3303.

• Farmers markets.

• Tucson Botanical Gardens’ compositing demonstrations, 326-9686, Ext. 19.

Whether you practice organic gardening or not, here are some gardening tasks to do in March, according to horticulturists at the Tucson Botanical Gardens:

• Keep covers ready for possible late frost early in the month.

• Spring planting season commences, including herbs, trees, shrubs, corn, tomatoes and peppers.

• Prune perennial herbs.

• Watch for aphids on new plant growth. Use soap and water to remove them.

• Remove caterpillars that can eat up flowering plants.

Contact Tucson freelance writer Elena Acoba at

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Olive Garden Changes Menu, Design To Make Chain More Modern

In the fast-moving world of chain restaurants, Olive Garden has long seemed like an anachronism.

The beige, eggplant and forest green Olive Garden logo, featuring a swirly cursive font and a stylized 3-D grapevine, screams early-’90s graphic design. Its menu is so focused on breadsticks and pasta — not even al dente pasta! — that it seems to have been written in a parallel universe where Robert Atkins never told America about the magic of ketosis. And the ersatz stone-and-terracotta architecture at most outposts looks positively medieval compared with the glassy-industrial styles favored by quick-service chains like Chipotle.

But all that may soon change. After Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, cut its profit outlook for the year last week, executives revealed that they are taking drastic measures to bring Olive Garden into the 21st century — and increase sales. Darden is the world’s biggest casual dining chain. Olive Garden’s 792 restaurants provide 45 percent of sales for Darden, which also owns Red Lobster and Capitol Grille.

“We’re making a transformation to the brand,” Olive Garden spokesman Justin Sikora told The Huffington Post by phone. “We’re moving away from some of the things we’ve done in the past — traditional Tuscan warmth — and embracing a more contemporary Italy.”

Sikora explained that the shift actually began in October, when Olive Garden launched a “Lighter Italian Fare” menu section of entrees with fewer than 575 calories and promoted it with an ad campaign emphasizing health rather than infinite breadsticks.

But just as the Italian Renaissance didn’t really get going until Petrarch came along, Olive Garden’s rebranding was moving slowly until the chain in January named a new CEO, Dave George, who previously headed Darden’s LongHorn Steakhouse chain.

Glimmers of George’s vision for the country’s largest Italian-themed chain started to emerge in early February, when Olive Garden revealed a new all-black uniform for its waitstaff. But the full extent of George’s plans started to become clear on Tuesday, when he unveiled major plans to Darden investors.

Olive Garden has revealed few details of the revamp, but it’s clear it will touch almost every aspect of the dining experience.

That faux-calligraphy logo, for starters, is history. Sikora said the redesign process has only begun, so there’s no telling what direction its replacement might take.

When it comes to architecture, Olive Garden is also abandoning the “Tuscan Farmhouse” template it adopted in 2000 in favor of a more modern, “less Old World” style. Sikora said that the company is delaying renovations of about 400 of its restaurants until after the company refines its new look.

“You’re not going to see stainless steel showing up tomorrow in a Tuscan farmhouse,” George assured investors.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, George said he wants to change the Olive Garden menu. Breadsticks, salad and fettuccine Alfredo are all safe. But they’ll be joined, according to Sikora, by additional small dishes on the “Lighter Italian Fare” menu and “more protein-forward items” — i.e. meaty entrees.

“Going forward, our grill items are going to take much more prominence in the menu,” Sikora said.

The bulk of sales at most restaurants come from regular visitors, so rebranding, which could alienate devout fans, is inherently risky. Shifting away from carbs didn’t save Italian chains Uno Chicago Grill or Spaghetti Warehouse from financial ruin.

But it’s clear from Darden’s awful sales numbers that the brand wasn’t connecting with customers. (Or at least not 60 percent of customers.) So there’s nowhere to go but up.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Hot Artichoke-Spinach Dip

    strongWhat Olive Garden Says:/strong A blend of artichokes, spinach and cream cheese. Served with Tuscan bread.

    strongWhat We Say/strong: Artichoke spinach dip is awesome, but it definitely isn’t an Italian creation. We get why Olive Garden wants it on the menu — who emdoesn’t/em like hot, creamy dips — but this is more of a a href=””chain restaurant staple/a than something you’ll find across the pond.

  • Chicken Gnocchi Soup

    strongWhat Olive Garden Says:/strong A creamy soup made with roasted chicken, traditional Italian dumplings and spinach.

    strongWhat We Say: /strong You can definitely find gnocchi in Italy, but it is usually a standalone dish with sauce and definitely isn’t something served in soup. Gnocchi is pretty rich on its own, so it hardly needs creamy broth and chicken to accompany it.

  • Tour of Italy

    strongWhat Olive Garden Says: /strongHomemade lasagna, lightly breaded chicken parmigiana and creamy fettuccine alfredo.

    strongWhat We Say:/strong You’ll get blank stares if you say the word “fettucine alfredo” to Italian, despite the dish’s popularity, stateside. Likewise, chicken parmigiana is everywhere in the U.S. but not nearly as ubiquitous abroad.

    Flickr: a href=””Casey Florig/a

  • Moscato Peach Chicken

    strongWhat Olive Garden Says:/strong Grilled chicken breasts with a moscato wine and peach glaze served with spinach, tomatoes and curly mafalda pasta in a creamy parmesan sauce with a touch of pancetta bacon.

    strongWhat We Say:/strong Moscato is an Italian sweet wine, so Olive Garden sort of gets some points there, but there’s just way too much going on here to think that this is actually based on an Italian dish.

  • Chicken Shrimp Carbonara

    strongWhat Olive Garden Says:/strong Chicken and shrimp with bucatini pasta in a parmesan cream sauce with pancetta bacon and roasted red peppers, baked and topped with seasoned breadcrumbs.

    strongWhat We Say:/strong Carbonara is typically made with pancetta, egg, cheese and black pepper. While U.S. restaurants will sometimes use a cream sauce in place of raw egg for food safety reasons, we’re not sure where the red peppers come from. Italians probably wouldn’t put additional proteins in a carbonara.

  • Grilled Pork Veneto

    strongWhat Olive Garden Says:/strong Tender boneless pork ribs topped with a sweet red wine glaze, served with tomato and mozzarella ravioli topped with roasted garlic tomato sauce and alfredo.

    strongWhat We Say:/strong We’re not sure why the northeast region of Veneto has been tacked onto this dish title. Grilled pork is hardly a standout of that region, nor is all the other dish accoutrements. But hey, sure, let’s just throw a random Italian region on a dish name. Why not?

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