Rss Feed
Tweeter button
Facebook button

Archives for December 3, 2013

Data Sharing Leads to Powerful Tools for Fighting Fire

Once considered a problem for remote western forests, wildfire is now routinely affecting communities. People regularly build homes in wildland areas known to firefighters as “the WUI,” short for wildland-urban interface and pronounced woo-eee. Fire managers must be able to identify and locate homes at risk in the WUI in order to successfully fight fire there. It’s no secret that wildland fires have become larger and more destructive over the last two decades. More than 9 million acres were burned in 2012, and the 10-year average acreage for wildfire stands at 7 million annually. A host of problems are associated with fighting wildfires in this environment. Wildland fires adjacent to populated areas are more expensive to suppress, tend to involve multiple jurisdictions and often damage private property and homes. Readily combustible landscaping and building materials, household hazardous materials, utility lines and limited road access puts firefighters at higher risk in these areas too.

Technology and Information

As fire managers make difficult decisions about how to manage fires, balance resources and expenditures, and keep firefighters safe, new tools are helping to even the odds. The Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) is one such tool. WFDSS is a Web-based application managed by the Wildland Fire Management Research, Development and Application (WFM RDA) program. WFDSS uses geospatial data and predictions of fire spread to inform decisions on wildland fires. Fire spread models generate a predicted footprint showing likely fire spread over a specified time. The model footprint is used to query other spatially registered data including representations of private and public building locations, land ownership, critical infrastructure, and important animal and plant habitat. The resulting values are mapped and displayed to provide strategic situational awareness to incident commanders and agency administrators. An accurate accounting of the number and approximate location of structures near a fire is prerequisite to good decision-making.

Local Roots

The best data on where people live is maintained by local governments in the form of cadastral and situs address data. Cadastral, or tax parcel, data describes land ownership boundaries associated with records detailing the status, value, ownership and other attributes for land. Situs address data describes the physical location of a structure, either through addressing along a street network or using geographic coordinates. Both cadastral and situs data can be used to locate and map values at risk during an emergency incident. Since there are more than 3,000 local and county governments in the United States that create and manage these data, the magnitude of the data acquisition effort led to a partnership between wildland fire management agencies and the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Cadastral Subcommittee. Starting in 2006, this partnership has developed business cases for the use of parcel data in wildland fire applications, applied subcommittee data standards for wildland fire needs, and established producers for aggregating locally maintained data with state coordination. The Cadastral Subcommittee has reached out to local county assessors, planners, natural resources and GIS staffs to acquire and standardize county geospatial records. The subcommittee also worked with state GIS and department of revenue coordinators to establish sustainable data aggregation and standardization procedures.

Collaborating for Success

Using the subcommittee’s best practices (published on the subcommittee’s outreach pages), authoritative local data can be consolidated by trusted state data stewards and provided to WFM RDA staff for incorporation into WFDSS. Using the tax parcel information along with essential attributes, parcel points are constructed for the center of each parcel. Using the improvement value, use codes and other information, the parcels with structures are identified and these points are provided to the WFDSS. These points are known as “building clusters” and represent general structure locations. In situations where local governments have situs address data from GIS-capable E-911, public safety answering point or building footprint data, more precise location of the structures can be identified and attributes on use and owner type can be related to the points from the parcel data. The structure points further improve situational awareness of structure locations. The standardized point data with essential attributes are available for analysis by wildland fire managers through WFDSS.

When the structure and cluster points are displayed with the predicted fire footprint, the local jurisdictions can immediately see the value their data adds in improving decision-making and assessing wildland fire risk to property and homes.

Success during Fire Season

The summer wildfire season of 2012 will be long remembered along the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. A pair of uncharacteristically large and damaging early season wildfires burned in and adjacent to the communities of Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. While structure data was not available to WFDSS at the outset of these fires, quick collaboration between county emergency and tax assessment staff, the Cadastral Subcommittee members and WFM RDA fire data managers ensured that the data could become available quickly. A dispersed team made up of members from government at the local (both city and county), state and federal level as well as private industry were able to mobilize using the protocols and standards built over several years to find, assemble, standardize and load data.

In the case of the High Park fire near Fort Collins, the data were made available to fire managers within two days of fire ignition and began providing situational awareness information for fire managers within hours of receipt. The High Park fire provided the “spark” to initiate collection of other counties in Colorado as well. When the Waldo Canyon fire broke out just a week later west of Colorado Springs, data on values at risk was already loaded and ready for analysis. The data proved useful during the incident for setting management action points, determining fire strategy and planning evacuations. Federal, state and local Colorado Springs emergency managers were able to gain access to the data and tools in WFDSS, seeing homes likely to be impacted by the spreading fire hours ahead of fire arrival.

The relationships built during the 2012 fire season bore fruit the very next year when the Black Forest wildfire threatened communities east of Colorado Springs and the Royal Gorge fire burned outside the community of Canyon City. Agreements were quickly struck and updated county and municipality data were made available in the WFDSS application within 24 hours of the fire’s start. A three-year agreement signed following the incidents will ensure that El Paso County, Colo., data will be updated in the WFDSS application annually, and will be available not just for incident response but for incident pre-planning by the federal land management agencies.

Get Involved

As this summer’s fire season has passed, there’s work to do to prepare for the next one. The growing economic recovery of the past year has led to a resumption of home construction in many WUI areas, which will lead to an increase in the number of homes at risk of wildfire. Cadastral data must be updated to show the new values, and the WFM RDA will work to incorporate that data into WFDSS. There are wildfire-prone areas of the country that still lack cadastral data or lack policies that allow easy sharing of cadastral data with other government agencies. Collaboration among local, state and federal emergency managers is crucial to being prepared when the next wildland fire occurs in or adjacent to a community.

As an emergency manager, take the opportunity to find out if your community shares its cadastral and situs data freely, or is able and willing to share data under agreement with other government agencies for emergency management activities. As a cadastral data manager, assess your data documentation, metadata and sharing policies. Search out your state’s cadastral and situs/addressing working groups and plug in. Getting these data sets before a disaster or incident occurs can mean the difference between informed decision-making and educated guesswork, or natural disaster and tragedy.

Andrew Bailey, Wildland Fire Management Research, Development and Application Program, Department of Interior Office of Wildland Fire, Boise, Idaho.

Nancy von Meyer, Fairview Industries, Pendleton, S.C.

Ben Butler, Wildland Fire Management Research, Development and Application Program, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Boise, Idaho

Article source:

Yuletide at the garden center

Wayne Childers, owner of New Hope Greenhouse in Gastonia and an industry veteran of more than three decades, used to be a mentor for aspiring garden center owners.

Industry groups would send them by the dozens to Childers’ five acres, in the backyard of his parents’ house.

“I’d say, ‘I’m going to tell you what you’re going to face in this business,’” recalls Childers, 60, who started his business in 1978. “You’re going to spend sleepless nights in the greenhouse, worrying about your crop. You’re going to have employee problems. Are you sure you want to be in this business?”

Once they nodded, he’d say: “Well, you’ve got to love it. You’ve got to put your heart and soul into it.

“And,” he’d add, “be creative.”

Creativity is what has kept Childers in business, as big-box stores with garden centers such as Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart, continue to take more and more market share from small-business owners like himself.

These days he does more than sell plants. In fact, landscaping accounts for nearly 80 percent of his business. And in the off-season, Childers supplements poinsettia sales with a full-blown brick-and-mortar Christmas shop, chock-full of gift baskets, ornaments and all things Christmas decor.

He and his eight employees are even being paid to install holiday lights and decorations for businesses and individuals this year.

“You have to change or you won’t stay in business,” said Childers. “My employees know I may come in one morning and say, ‘We’re going to do something different.’”

Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association, said hundreds of independent nurseries around the country have been forced to change their business models and tactics to account for the rapidly changing industry.

Hardware stores and lumber yards were the first small businesses to feel the pain of the big-box stores’ home centers, Butterfield said. Now, the garden centers’ profits are hurting.

Independent garden centers that once boasted of 30 to 40 percent of total market share in the 1990s now account for just 17 percent, Butterfield said.

Big-box home centers and mass merchandisers, on the other hand, have nearly 50 percent of the market on do-it-yourself lawn and garden products, plants, trees and shrubs, Butterfield said.

Many independent nurseries have closed because of it. Others, Butterfield said, are moving toward a niche offering. And others, such as Childers, are diversifying – which is exactly what entrepreneurs hoping to survive and thrive in today’s volatile industry must do.

Survival in the off-season

Though winter is a surprisingly good time to plant trees and shrubs, most people aren’t thinking about landscaping while they’re doing holiday shopping, Childers said. But it’s still important to sustain business in those tough winter months.

And if the weather is an issue during the height of the busiest season ( such as the torrential downpours the Charlotte area saw this spring and summer), it’s even more important to stay alive in the off-season.

“Most garden centers do business for 90 to 100 days of the year, in spring and early summer,” Butterfield said. “That’s when you’re making most of your money for the year. …You get three or four rainy weekends in the spring and you’re in trouble.”

Childers’ Christmas store helps him do that.

Butterfield said garden centers in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, have long embraced the holiday market.

They’re usually the ones selling Christmas trees – live and pre-lit – and they coordinate special offerings for children, including skating rinks.

“They try to be the holiday center, and that’s one way for them to distinguish themselves from the big-box stores,” he said. “You’ve got to have more than ‘Silent Night’ on the sound system to sell Christmas.”

Childers’ shop, which he opened for the first time in 1998, definitely does. Browsing customers get apple cider, coffee and old-fashioned candy.

Evergreen- and cinnamon-scented candles heighten the mood, and a large toy train circles the counter.

“It’s got a whistle and kids love it,” Childers said.

And customers can expect regular door prizes, promotions and a plethora of North Carolina goods, from apple butter to jam.

A special touch needed

But even the Christmas shop has been in a battle with the big-box stores.

When they first opened in 1998, Childers sold poinsettias, artificial trees and ornaments. Then Michaels and Hobby Lobby took most of that market share.

Childers then started cutting live Christmas trees in the mountains and bringing them to the shop to sell alongside the poinsettias.

“Then they built a Food Lion beside us selling for $29.99, what I was selling for $49.”

Back to the drawing board.

“It’s hard for (independent) garden centers to compete on price,” Butterfield said, adding that big-box stores have greater purchasing power and also aren’t afraid to have loss-leaders.

That’s why small businesses have to “go specialty” and do what the big-box retailer cannot do.

So about three years ago, they started phasing in North Carolina products to cater to people who want to give local gifts to loved ones.

They’ve been a big hit, Childers said.

And, he said, there aren’t many big-box stores that are putting up Christmas lights for people.

Foot traffic comes when you get more creative, Childers said: “I can’t do it all. But I’ve got to do what’s different.”

Article source:

Backyard landscapes: Ideas for irregularly shaped yards

If your yard is not the typical square or rectangle, do not panic. There are many ideas for landscaping your irregularly shaped yard!

Not every property comes with the typical square or rectangular yard. If you have one of these non-conforming areas, consider yourself lucky. You have the potential for adding much greater interest more easily than with those boring, typical yards. In landscaping, much effort is devoted to “flow.” This means the rounding off of corners and sharpness so that the yard feels comfortable and unified. In Feng Shui, sharp corners facing toward the passerby send bad “chi” or bad energy.

Backyard landscapes: Ideas for irregularly shaped yards

That being said, you still have many choices ahead. You may choose to enhance the existing shape of the yard or disguise it. There will be a discussion of various shapes and how to “go with the flow.” Alternately, there will be suggestions as to how to hide the real shape of your yard.

The first technique to remedy irregularity is to create a niche containing a focal point using any part of the yard that offers that type of space. Add a statue, a gazing ball, a water feature or some other decoration. The irregular area will look like a frame for the focal point.

The next way to treat an irregularly shaped yard is to make a secret garden. Picture that part that jags out oddly as a different space. Wall that area off with shrubbery or a fence with or without a gate. Leave an entrance that cannot be seen from earlier along the garden path. On the practical side, you can use such an area, screened from view, for storage, garbage cans, woodpiles or other utilitarian things.

Try rejecting the shape of the whole space and instead dividing it into “rooms.” Different rooms have different functions. One “room” might be the dining room and contain a picnic table or outdoor tables and chairs for dining. Add a barbeque or a bar. Another “room” could be the living room. Outdoor seating and loungers arranged into conversational groupings would go here. There would be side tables upon which to place beverages. “Rooms can be separated by a change in the type of walkway, a fence, trellis, or gate, shrubbery, or anything else that stops the eye and indicates change. You can make a “playroom” for sports. The idea is to divide and use each space for a different activity.

There are a few ways to disguise or accent the width or length of a yard without dividing it into rooms. To make an area look like a long vista, use a small focal point and small plantings in the distance. The small size makes things look farther away. Conversely, use larger plantings up close. Also, make the walkway fairly narrow and closely edged by shrubbery or other items at the beginning. Then make the walkway gradually wider and allow more space and openness around the path. To deemphasize a long view, use larger things in the distance and shorter things close up. Make the entry wide and open. Do not put a focal point at the back of the view, but, instead, place it closer to the entry. Build something into the middle of the walkway, like an island of plants, statuary, or whatever. The walkway can go either around one side or both sides, but the island will create a visual stop in the path so the eye does not see the long view beyond.

If your yard is roughly triangular, how it is treated depends upon the location of the entry to the yard. If you enter at a point in the triangle, you view a natural vista in that you are looking at an entire side of the triangle and viewing it from a narrow space. If you like that look, try the ideas to enhance it. If not, cut the far corners off into garden rooms. What is left is a much more manageable space that is much closer to a rectangle. If the entry is through a side of the triangle, you are facing a long, narrow point in the yard. You can divide off that back point into a room so that the yard appears more shallow. On the other hand, choose to enhance that long, narrow view with the techniques mentioned earlier. These techniques also apply to the long, narrow, rectangular yard.

An L-shaped yard is very easy to divide into rooms and begs for a secret garden. If you have an odd spot that juts out or in, you can use it for a focal point or a naturally defined garden room.

Decide what shape your yard is. Examine its different uses and think about rooms. Think about what you want to see: a long vista, or a cozy enclosed space. The choice is all yours!

Article source:

Hiker launches grow-your-own-garden startup

Hiker launches grow-your-own-garden startup


<!–View larger image

Evan Walters, 25, tends to a vegetable garden. Walters is the owner of Garden In A Day, a new Winchester business that helps people grow their own vegetables and fruits. Photo courtesy of Evan Walters (Buy photo)

By Ryan Cornell

WINCHESTER — Evan Walters, 25, went on a long walk and came back with an idea.

That walk was a 600-mile trek on the Appalachian Trail and his idea led to the formation of his new startup company, Garden In A Day.

Garden In A Day helps people grow fruits, herbs and vegetables in their own backyard. Customers have dozens of choices, ranging from kale, tomatoes and grapes to chamomile, chives and basil, and can arrange for Walters to install a raised bed of organic soil and the desired plants.

For people who travel often or those who might be too busy to care for their gardens, Walters can also install an irrigation system or prune and water the plants as part of an added maintenance plan.

A firm believer in the do it yourself movement, Walters has brewed his own beer and made his own kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt. But wasn’t until he was midway through his chemistry coursework at Juniata College in central Pennsylvania that he discovered a love for gardening. That year, in 2010, he decided to hike the Appalachian Trail.

He started in Georgia and figured he would complete the full distance to Maine, but an overnight pit stop kept him longer than expected. A farm in southwestern Virginia near Blacksburg, called the Woods Hole Farm and Hostel turned out to be his source of inspiration.

“Can I just stay here and help you out for a little while?” he remembers asking one of the owners. “I thought what they were doing was really interesting.”

He ended up staying at the farm for a month. Woods Hole, which he described as a “mountain retreat for hikers,” had just entered its second year by the time he arrived.

Last year, he returned to the farm for a few months to help out with gardening. He picked vegetables for salads and dinners for hikers, learned how to graft apple trees and installed raised beds and a perennial plot of fruit trees and cherry bushes.

Since then, he’s visited other Virginia farms as well as ones in Pennsylvania, Vermont and Maine to learn more.

Originally from Ashburn, the Winchester transplant started Garden In A Day about three months ago to “blur the line between urban and rural.” Noticing a trend of more people in the cities and suburbs wanting fresh organic food, Walters said that instead of them driving to farmers markets, he would bring the market to their backyards.

“They get to be a part of the garden and the growing process and they get to see their tomato plant grow and they just pick the tomatoes right there,” he said. “And it’s like a five-second walk instead of driving all the way to a farm and getting fresh produce.

“Or you can get organic produce at Wegmans, but it’s not the same, taste-wise, and for the most part, feeling-wise,” the former store employee said. “There’s not as strong of a connection with the produce department as there is with your own garden.”

Love Carrots is a Washington, D.C., company that’s cashed in on this trend. Describing itself as an “edible landscaping” service, the company has a similar mission to Garden In A Day, to “grow the bounty of the farmers market just outside your kitchen door.”

Unlike the D.C. company’s custom-designed gardens, the “one size fits all” approach utilized by Walters’ raised beds, measuring 7 feet by 3 feet, offers more affordable rates.

Raised beds start at $400 and are $10 per foot for plants, with a $35 base cost.

Because these plants not only return year after year but also multiply, he said it doesn’t take long for the plants to earn back their value.

“It’s like a gift that keeps on giving every month, every year,” he said.

The new Discovery Museum location opening in Winchester next spring will have a rooftop garden that will offer classes to children. Walters said he hopes to partner up with local schools and daycares to install plant beds and teach similar classes about where their food comes from. He said he plans to offer workshops throughout the year to educate people on gardening.

Citing several scientific articles linked on his website, he said gardening helps kids achieve higher science test scores and lowers the chance of osteoporosis in others.

During the winter months, he’s selling a “Garden In A Basket,” which can be purchased as a gift and includes a raised bed and gardening supplies. Customers who order raised beds before Jan. 15 can receive 10 percent off their order. Walters said he will begin installing beds in mid-January.

For more information, including a full list of the plants offered, visit or call Walters at 571-221-4926.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

Article source:

Parks And Gardens Development: The Lagos Example

Parks And Gardens Development: The Lagos Example  print

Published on December 3, 2013 by   ·   No Comments

By Tayo Ogunbiyi

The benefits of parks and gardens, especially in a cosmopolitan city like Lagos, cannot be over- emphasised. From improving our physical and psychological health to making the environment and neighborhoods more beautiful places to live and work, the benefits of parks are endless. Parks and gardens provide a diverse and quantifiable range of benefits that immensely improve the quality of life of the people.

For one, parks offer opportunities to enrich the quality of life for diverse kinds of people. Research has shown that when people have access to parks, they relax and exercise more. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase health and reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes. Physical activity also relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves mood, and enhances psychological well-being. It has also been established that contact with natural habitat improves physical and psychological health. Older adults with access to recreational prospects profit from the social connections and interactions that are fundamental to their well-being.

Parks have long been recognized as key contributors to the aesthetic and physical quality of neighborhoods. Today, we realize that parks are more than recreation and visual assets to communities; they are valuable contributors to larger community policy objectives, such as public health, youth development, job opportunities, social and cultural exchange, and community building.

At the community level parks play a special role, they have something to offer everyone from young children and teens, to families, adults and the elderly; their presence can also be a cohesive force. They are more than places to recreate and relate to nature; parks can also offer a multitude of opportunities to engage in arts and music. A park can be a community focal point, a symbol of its vitality and character, adding to its overall health, well-being and quality of life.

From the ecological perspective, parks reduce energy use and storm water runoff, increase the value of neighboring property, and improve academic performance among teens. Studies have, equally, shown that crime is relatively lesser in places where parks exist. The availability of recreation opportunities and park amenities is also an important  factor for investors in deciding where to invest.

The world is presently faced with enormous challenges that constitute a great danger to the environment. The consequence of global warming has been conspicuous in our environment due to increased temperature, rising sea levels, destruction of forests, flooding, among others. The necessity for a new approach in addressing new environmental challenges has become urgent to the survival of the human race. The degree to which we embrace and maintain natural tendencies in our present world is critical to the survival of the whole world.

Lagos, being a coastal city, has peculiar environmental challenges such as flooding arising from its location on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean and the lagoons, which naturally overflow from time to time during the rainy season. The problem has been compounded by the erection of houses in flood-prone areas, including on the drainages, and further obstruction of water by the dumping of refuse into the drainages.

It is in an attempt to tackle some of these contemporary threats to the environment that the Lagos state government encouraging the establishment of parks and gardens across the state. Presently, there are over 32  parks across the state while work is in advanced stage to establish additional 17 at various locations across the state. The 17 new ones would bring the total number of parks and gardens in the state to 197. The gardens and parks have greatly improved the aesthetic appeal of the environment, contributed to the global war against climate change and boosted tourism as a major revenue earner. But, perhaps, more significantly, the beautification and landscaping of the state has created experienced professionals in the art of gardening, structural design, landscaping.

It is no longer news that Lagos has, in recent years, witnessed a massive landscaping and beautification programme that has literally changed the face of the mega city for the better. The government’s environmental renewal programme has led to the recovery of open spaces from garbage, illegal structures and miscreants who used them as launch pad to unleash terror on innocent citizens and make the state look like one big slum with haphazard development.

This initiative of the state government is meant to beautify and regenerate Lagos environment from the effect of climate change. This cannot be overemphasized as the intensity of global warming is real as a lot of damage is being done to animals, plants and human beings thereby, causing serious threat to the entire ecosystem.

The Lagos State government through its agency, Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency, LASPARK, is committed to consolidating  on the great work done by the state government in changing the face of the environment. It is, principally, in order to sustain the effort that LASPARK was established. Government’s effort at putting in place gardens and parks across the state has placed upon her enormous responsibilities. It is pleasant to note that this effort was recognized when Lagos was mentioned alongside Johannesburg as one of the most improved and green compliant cities during the Environment Summit (RIO 20+) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012.

It is, however, important that Lagosians support this government’s initiative by respecting trees, parks, garden, lawns and railings put in place across the state as they were provided with tax payers money. They should not be abused. Parks should not turned into market places, toilets, refuse dumps or places to where animals graze. Failure to control animals or allowing  their defecation or engaging in an unhygienic use of fountains, pools or water in the parks, gardens and open spaces would be counter- productive and as such must be discouraged.

With natural disasters occurring across the world, as a result of the abuse of the environment, this is the time for everyone to have a rethink about our attitude to the environment.  That we have not experienced monumental environmental tragedy should not be taken for granted as being immune from such . Thus, we must take our destiny into our hands and do all the needful to ward off avoidable natural calamities. Hence, the need for everyone to support the state government in protecting the parks and gardens across the state.

•Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.


Article source:

Organic Landscape and Gardening Services: Why Customers in Pacifica ‘Dig It’

Patch loves supporting local businesses so we’re launching an occasional series profiling homegrown entrepreneurs. To submit your business, fill out this online form. 

Business name: Dig It Landscape Gardening Service, 1444 Adobe Drive, Pacifica

What is your business known for? I’m known for organic landscape and gardening services. I give personal quality service by being the one that does the work with my 1 or 2 helpers, and my dog Celia.

I don’t have a big crew, or do I want or need one. I specialize in sprinkler, and drip irrigation, Garden Coaching, and pruning. Most of my pruning work is done by hand with no power tools.

Sustainable gardening practices, sheet mulching, composting, soil biology, and the use of natural gardening practices, I study and follow the practices of the Soil Food Web, and the Bay Friendly Guidelines, which I explain on my web site.

I use no chemicals in my business — no chemical fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, or herbicides and especially no Round up.  I only use botanical or natural products in my gardens, weather it be maintenance, or landscaping. I can also install a laundry grey water irrigation system.

Why did you choose the town you did to open your business? I was born and raised here, and my roots are here in Pacifica.

When and how did your business get started? In 1982 I graduated from CSM with a Environmental Horticulture Degree. My uncle (which has a very successful electrical company) asked me what I wanted to do with my knowledge, and I told him I wanted to start a gardening business.

My father worked for himself as a barber in town, and I wanted to have my own business like him. He offered to buy me a truck and some tools to get me started, and I ended up working at his house to pay him off. Of course it took 5 years to pay him off.

After my uncle had offered to help me start my business, I needed a catchy name. I bought a six pack of beer and went to a college friends house to tell him the good news, and to help me come up with a name for my new business.

When I arrived at his house, and I told him the good news he said, ” I can Dig It.” I said, “That’s it!” And we cracked a beer open and celebrated.

What’s something interesting about your business your customers might not know? I don’t mow lawns. I make compost tea, and I garden with a microscope to see the microscopic biology of the soil.

For more information: or 650-359-2147

Submitted By: David Martinez

Article source:

How to treat your Christmas tree

You can go as wild as you like when you decorate your Christmas tree, but you have to play by the rules when you’re buying and caring for it, says Hannah Stephenson

Picture the familiar Christmas scene: you arrive home from the garden centre, a tall, bushy tree proudly under your arm. You’re anxious to get it up and show it off in all it’s festive glory – but once it’s actually inside, once you’ve pruned and snipped it into it’s allocated space, the magic seems to have faded.

There’s no need, though, for your tree to be over-hacked, lopsided and backed into a corner, if you just do a little groundwork before you buy.

For instance, measure your floor-to-ceiling space, taking into account the height of any stand below and the fairy or the star which will add extra height to the top.

Then look at the width you have to play with. Will relatives be constantly brushing past the tree to reach a door or a sofa? If so, you’ll need to take that space into account and be prepared for some secateur work.

Of the estimated eight million real Christmas trees bought every year in the UK, according to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, the most popular is the non-drop Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana), originally from south Russia. However, these are quite bushy trees and if you only have a narrow space, it might pay to shop for a smaller type, like the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri), popular in the eastern United States.

If space is really tight, you may opt for a small cypress which you can plant in a pot, then place on a side table or stand and decorate accordingly. Once Christmas is over, provided you have kept it well watered and away from radiators, you should be able to plant it out in the garden when weather and soil conditions permit.

Andrea Blackie, garden designer and horticulturalist at, home to Britain’s biggest online plant selection, says: “If you don’t have the space for a full-size Christmas tree, you can get creative with other plants to make your home look festive this Christmas.”

She recommends small evergreen shrubs that will fit into a small space and can be decorated to look fabulous during the festive season.

Common box (Buxus sempervirens), a shrub with small, glossy green aromatic leaves, can be clipped into cones or even bought in a cone shape then decorated with small baubles and other festive adornments.

Another alternative is a standard, such as a bay or a berried holly, into which you can secure baubles and ribbons to give them a festive look without taking up too much space. They can be planted out once the festive season is over to give year-round enjoyment.

Whatever you choose, remember that evergreens prefer the great outdoors, so don’t put them anywhere near a radiator and keep them well watered in a cool room. If you can, leave it till the last minute to bring them inside.

If you are buying a traditional Christmas tree, saw off the bottom 5cm of trunk to open up its pores before you bring the tree inside and place it in a bucket of water until you are ready to house it. When you bring it in, make sure you can keep it topped up with water, as a tree will drink half a litre a day. Most Christmas tree stands have a space for water, or you could simply wedge it into a bucket.

There’s a few extra tips to remember when buying your tree too. Make sure the tree is fresh – look at the colour; when it dries out it loses some of its green hue. Stroke the needles too, and they should feel moist to the touch. Always put the tree on the ground to assess the size and shape before you buy. If it starts shedding some of its needles when it moves, it’s not the freshest. It’s also wise to shop around – or leave your tree buying to the last minute – if you want a bargain, because prices vary hugely on location.

Once you’ve ticked all these boxes, and your tree is neatly in its place, get the decorations down from the loft, get the baubles on the branches, and enjoy…

Article source:

Gardening Tips: Natural Beauty – Growing Flowers the Organic Way

If you are planning a new garden or refurbishing an existing one, these guidelines will help you create an interesting and abundant garden for every season

There are many ways to make a garden grow, but one of the most fascinating is the organic way. Organic gardening is easy and economical, and an important contribution to the future of our planet. What’s more, organic gardens are dazzling in their endless variety. They also are attract beneficial wildlife, like birds and pollinating insects.

So go ahead, make your fellow gardeners curious about how you grow such a diverse and beautiful garden. Whether your flowers are annuals, perennials, bulbs or shrubs, you will benefit by following organic gardening guidelines for your garden.

Laying the Groundwork

The soil is the most basic building block of any garden. The healthier the soil, the healthier your plants will be. When preparing your plot, take a little extra time to examine the texture and acidity levels of the earth you’ll be working with.

Natural Beauty – Growing Flowers the Organic Way

First, test the pH factor of your soil. The soil’s pH is measured by a numbering system from 0 to 14 — 0 being the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. Most plants prefer a neutral pH. Whatever pH you have in your garden, you can amend it to match the pH your plants prefer. For example, if your soil is too acidic, simply add hydrated garden lime to reduce the level of acidity.

It is always a good idea to add compost to your soil. Compost, the organic gardener’s best friend, will fertilize your soil and make it healthy. Make compost yourself out of vegetable scraps, grass cuttings, wood ashes, coffee grounds, eggshells and disease-free garden foliage, all of which will decompose into nutrient-rich soil. Be careful to never add coal ash, charcoal, animal by-products (including meats, oils, and even droppings) or hair to the pile. These items can be too hard to break down, attract scavengers or introduce diseases to your compost.

In addition to testing the pH and adding compost, you may need to amend your soil type. If your soil is too sandy, dig in up to six inches of compost and add an all-purpose organic fertilizer with humus. If it is claylike, add sand, humus and organic fertilizer, in addition to compost, to the garden bed. Also throw in some gravel or small stones to create better drainage.

Planning Your Plot

As you select a site for a flowerbed, take note of its unique environment — the location of the trees, and the hours of shade and sun the plot receives. This will help you plan the garden’s design. Within any garden there may be several local climates — sunny and dry, shady and moist, semi-shade, or even boglike at a water’s edge. Therefore, you should know your plant’s preferences and place them in the plot accordingly.

Next, think about the colors, heights, textures and bloom times of the plants you are considering. Try to come up with a design that features interesting and creative combinations. Whether your design is simple or complex, pay special attention to planning for sequential flowering. If you place plants that flower at slightly different times around your garden, you are sure to extend your garden’s blooming season.

For example, if you want a flowerbed that features yellow and red blossoms, plant forsythia, yellow daffodils, and red and yellow tulips, which bloom in the spring. For summer blooms, plant yellow and red zinnias, yellow marigolds, red tithonia or yellow coreopsis, red geum and rudbeckia. Finally, plant yellow and maroon chrysanthemums for fall color. This way, you keep the red and yellow theme blossoming through most of the year.

Finally, make sure to keep a garden notebook with the bloom times, performance and any other notes of problems with each plant. If you order your plants by mail, cut its photo from the catalog and paste it in your notebook. Also, you may want to take pictures of your garden during different times of the bloom season. The photos will help you see where holes or problems in your design might be and influence your decisions for next year’s garden.

Picking the Plants

The climate helps determine which plants will thrive in your geographic area. To learn the hardiness of plants in your area, consult a horticultural zone map, found on the Web or in most garden catalogs. Usually, the recommended planting zones will be included in the description of the plant you buy. Also, when picking plants for your garden plot, keep in mind their specific life cycles. Certain plants will last for only one season, while others will return year after year.

Annuals, Perennials and Biennials
Annuals complete their life cycle in one season. The flowers germinate from a seed, mature, and produce flowers and new seeds within one growing season. They do not regenerate for the next season. Annual flowers are mostly summer flowering and are useful fillers in between and around the space when perennials have finished flowering, as well as being attractive on their own.

Perennials also grow and flower in one season; however, they will regenerate each spring. The foliage on most perennials dies back during the cold months when the plant goes dormant, then surfaces again in the spring. Most perennials flower for only a few weeks out of their growing season. In general perennials increase in size and need to be divided in about three years, so give them plenty of space to grow when they are small! Also, try planning your garden with a series of perennials with different bloom times.

Biennial plants complete their life cycle in two growing seasons. Some flower in both the first and second year. Sweet William, foxglove and hollyhock are good examples of common biennial plants.

Roses have the reputation of being temperamental and difficult to grow. Although they do require special pruning and some extra care, they will reward you with bounty as well as beauty. Roses grow as shrubs, climbers and miniatures. Some roses bloom only once a season, while others provide continuous flowers from late spring to late fall.

Plants for Semi-Shade Environments

Pine and holly trees and azalea, mountain laurel and rhododendron shrubs all prefer acidic soil. Plant them together and add an organic fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants to produce beautiful spring-flowering shrubs. Ferns will also thrive in this environment.

Many early spring-blooming bulbs — like snowdrops, crocus and muscari — will also flower in a partially shaded location. Plant the small bulbs two to four inches deep around the shrubs early in the fall. Add organic bulb food or bone meal to the planting hole. Fertilize them again in early spring.

For early summer flowers, grow blue flowering hydrangea shrubs. Perennial astilbes bloom in late summer and early fall and prefer an acidic soil. Their fernlike flowers have a color range of pink to dark red. Pansies, begonia and impatiens are among the annuals that do well in a semi-shade environment.

Plants for Sunny Sites

If you have an area of your garden that receives full sun, there are countless sun-loving annual, biennial and perennial plants to suit your space and taste.

Perennial dianthus, or pinks, are delightful after a long winter. Fall-planted, spring-blooming tulips and daffodils may precede or be interplanted with all spring, sun-loving perennial flowers, such as poppies and peonies.

Some of the many mainstay summer perennials that love the sun are daylily, scabiosa, campanula and potentilla. Many annuals — such as zinnia, cosmos, calendula, marigold and nasturtium — will continue to produce flowers over a long blooming period if you remove the faded flowers promptly.

Rudbeckia, or black-eyed Susans, return every summer and are good companions to many of the summer annuals like sunflowers and tithonia. Perennial chrysanthemums bloom in the fall for late garden color.

Helpful Hints for Organic Flower Gardeners

All organic gardening is based on the philosophy of prevention rather than cure. The healthier your soil and the stronger your plants, the less likely you’ll be to encounter pests or disease as your garden grows. Therefore, if you plan carefully and take the proper precautions, you will be rewarded with a healthy, abundant and beautiful garden.

Here are some more helpful tips:


  • When planting into your garden plot, make a circular channel at the root base of the plant to catch water. This will help it become established in its new home faster.
  • Plant honeysuckle, columbine and bee balm (Monarda) to attract hummingbirds to your garden.
  • Plant flowers grouped in masses instead of rows. This will convey a more natural look to your garden.
  • In order to achieve an effect of a natural flowering pattern in the spring, gently toss bulbs to the ground and plant them in where they have landed.


  • Birdbaths are essential to attract and keep birds in your garden. Birds feed on insects and provide visual delight as well.
  • Butterflies are important as prey for spiders and other predators. They love hot weather and brightly colored flowers.
  • Plant herbs with your flowers for their protective properties. For example, rosemary repels slugs. Basil and tansy repel mosquitoes.
  • Plant chili peppers in the organic flower garden and sprinkle dried pepper flakes on the garden to ward off rabbits, raccoons and other wildlife that disturb your flower beds.
  • It is important to keep the garden clean of weeds and diseased foliage to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • If your roses have aphids, hose them with a jet stream of water. Repeat if you still see them after two days.
  • If you discover lacy leaves, you have Japanese beetles. Pick the bugs off in the morning and drown them in a solution of soap and water.
  • Do not prune roses after Labor Day. This will give the plant time to harden off for the winter.
  • If your roses are plagued by slugs, use a barrier of copper tape wrapped around the base of the plant. You can also use an organic slug deterrent that is sold through catalogs.
  • Spray roses with an organic copper or sulfur fungicide weekly to prevent fungus diseases. Remove and discard all diseased foliage.
  • As a last resort, use a botanical spray such as Soap Shield or Safer Insecticidal Soap for flowers infested with pests like whiteflies, mealybugs and scale. Check the spray’s label to make sure you are choosing the proper formula for your pests.

Article source:

Gardening Tips: The Good Bugs – Hoover Flies, LadyBugs, and Beetles

Think before you squish is the advice here. Many garden bugs are beneficial and aid organic gardening practices.

For years, well-meaning gardeners routinely maimed, swatted, sprayed and squished every bug they could get their hands on. However careful observation of nature and the move to organic practices have shown that encouraging “good” bugs, or beneficial insects (the politically correct name) is one way to give Mother Nature a hand. She was doing a fine job, however the use of pesticides, combined with overzealous tidiness resulted in loss of normal bio-diversity in our gardens.

Just as when you take antibiotics, and your doctor advises yogurt to normalize the flora within your body, the attraction of beneficials back to your garden can restore balance and harmony in your back yard.

Gardening Tips: The Good Bugs – Hoover Flies, LadyBugs, and Beetles

How about “Think before you squish” as your mantra for the new season…? Remember that you may not always know why this creature is climbing the clematis, lurking on the lobelia, or sniffing your snapdragons.

It is generally agreed that aphids are “bad”. They spread disease, and cause problems throughout the garden. However, aphids need to be present on your rose bush for a week or two before the beneficial insects will show up. Recent studies show that injured plant tissue sends out distress signals (!) attracting appropriate predators. Be patient, and keep your spray trigger finger occupied with something else, like knitting.

Beneficial insects are attracted to plants from families including compositae (daisy family); the mint family (all kinds of mints, lemon balm, and more); umbelliferae (carrot family, which includes anything which makes an umbel, or umbrella-like shape in the flower head: parsley, fennel, for instance); and the brassica family, a huge family which includes cabbages, cauliflower (all the “stinky when overcooked” vegetables) oriental greens, arugula, radish and more.

All these produce flowers containing the type of nectar which beneficial insects use as fuel for flight and movement, just as humans use carbohydrates, and “bad” bugs are the protein course. Now a look at three common beneficials, and how to attract them to your garden:


You undoubtedly know these large, fast moving, shiny metallic-blue-black beetles! Their full title is predacious ground beetles. I am always dismayed to see one crushed on the sidewalk, the victim of a shoe whose owner may have had good, but misdirected, intentions. Beetles thrive in deep, loose humusy mulch, like the bouncy kind found in the woods, where leaves, coniferous needles, etc., have formed a soft carpet on the ground. They snooze underneath pieces of rotten logs and stones and are nocturnal, dining ravenously in the dark upon cutworms, root maggots, and slug eggs, miscellaneous larvae and pupae of undesirables, flea beetles, and leaf hoppers.
To attract more beetles, imitate nature. Along a shady edge, away from foot traffic, dig a ditch three to six inches deep, and a foot wide. Plant mint, or lemon balm, or even red or white clover, along the inside edges to prevent erosion and to provide low ground cover. Drop shovels of peat moss, leaf mulch, coniferous needles, whatever, here and there along the slopes, then place a couple of big, flat rocks in the ditch. The beetles will hide under the rocks in the daytime. Beetles are supposed to be attracted to the nectar of evening primrose.

Syrphid Flies

AKA “hover flies”, so named because they can hover in one place, resemble slender black and yellow bees. Syrphids are important pollinators, but there is another reason to attract them: their larvae prey on many undesirable insects, and most especially, aphids. Adult syrphids drink the nectar from the flowers, lay eggs, and the larvae gobble up aphids.
With the naked eye it is possible to see eggs on the undersides of leaves near aphid colonies, laid in two symmetrical rows by the female, a hundred at a time. Once hatched, the larvae decimate aphid families in a hurry. The 1/2″ creature is often mistaken for a nasty “worm” or slug, so if you come across a legless, see-through greenish-beige creature, slightly pointy at one end, do not kill him, but wish him ‘bon appetit’! To attract syrphids, choose plants of the umbelliferae family: fennel, dill, caraway, parsley, coriander, yarrow, or allow carrots to winter over. All produce symmetrical seed-heads called umbels, which are a favourite of many beneficials.

Buckwheat, usually planted as a cover crop, can be sporadically seeded anywhere in the garden, and not only does it enrich the soil when turned in, but according to a recent Oregon State University study, the flowers are maximally attractive to syrphids. (Some people even consume buckwheat “greens” as food – check it out.) Other favourite flowers: cornflowers (bachelor buttons), marigolds, chamomile, coreopsis, and feverfew.

Lady Beetles

AKA “ladybugs”, feed heavily on aphids. If you think about purchasing them, remember…in most cases, the ladybugs go into dormancy or diapause when packaged, and when they are set free their natural instinct is to fly away. Don’t waste your money, instead attract ladybugs by your choices of plant materials. Become familiar with the ladybug in the larval stage. It looks a bit evil, like an elongated grey-black dragon with many little legs, and orange to red markings. The larvae fix themselves onto leaves, trees, or wood surfaces then pupate for about a week, emerging as the familiar round ladybug of our childhood.
All stages of ladybugs from larva to adult feed on aphids. Ladybugs are attracted to cosmos, especially white, and to goldenrod, coreopsis, fennel, yarrow and other umbelliferae. All are easily grown from seed. Lady beetles and other beneficials including the spider (yes, he is beneficial) like to lay their eggs amongst the long grass, so try to leave a strip un-mowed if you can.

It is good manners to provide your insect guests with a drink, in this case water, to wash down the aphids. This can be achieved simply: placing a plastic tray or any kind of pan in your garden and fill it with water. Put rocks in the water for them to stand on while they drink.

Article source:

Gardening Tips: Japanese Garden Ornaments

Garden ornaments have been a big part of Japan’s tradition and history. From water basins, bamboo water hammers to stone lanterns, they have already been one of the icons that speak for Japan’s inclination to both arts and the environment. Originally, Japanese garden ornaments are made to construct a beautiful garden that brings out a peaceful and soothing aura. These traditional Japanese style gardens are usually found in homes, historical landmarks, temples and old castles. These gardens were once an expression of Buddhism and Taoism, two of Japan’s native religions. However, as time went by, these gardens were made simply to be places for ceremonies and contemplation.

Japanese Garden Ornaments

An aesthetic value is indeed an important aspect of a Japanese garden. It gives it its color, ambiance, and meaning. Typically, it is designed with several Japanese garden ornaments such as the following: water, stones, lanterns, a teahouse or a pavilion, and at times a bridge. These ornaments are designed in such a way that it gives the garden a life that is indeed spectacular and beautiful.

An important part of a Japanese garden is the water source. It is placed carefully in the garden to make it look to be a true part of the surrounding environment. This water source is usually made into a stream with detailed curves to make it a calmly scenery to watch. In addition to water, stones are also placed to act as pathways of the garden. These stones are often shaped as mountains which depict the actual ones in the country.

Another commonly placed ornament in a Japanese garden is the stone lantern which was actually used for lighting purposes beforehand but then shifted to a more functional one. Stone lanterns are made to symbolize a perfect symmetry and are mostly placed beside garden paths. A water hammer, usually made of bamboo is also a great part of a Japanese garden. Its main function in the garden is to keep the water in motion; as it is filled from one end, it slowly tips over and spills the water to the other end and into the water basin. A more important feature of a water bamboo hammer is its tendency to have a soothing effect especially from the gentle sound that it makes as it travels from end to end. A water basin, on the other hand, is usually made of granite stone and is placed to catch the water coming from the water hammer.

There are other Japanese garden ornaments which can be placed and designed in a Japanese garden. Plants can definitely be trimmed and designed accordingly to the garden’s appearance. Traditionally, a more peaceful and subtle green is the color for these plants; and at times even flowering trees are planted to surround the garden. In addition, if you Japanese garden is large enough, you can also add a teahouse or a pavilion in it. Not only will it be an additional attraction to the garden but it will serve as a place for you to conduct your tea ceremonies or perhaps contemplations.

A Japanese garden is a tradition that is filled with symbolic meanings and beautiful designs. However it may have changed throughout the centuries, it still remains a depiction of Japan’s wonderful culture and preference to a serene environment. With different Japanese garden ornaments that do tell a story as they are artistically and strategically placed in a garden, it is indeed such a wonderful thing to watch.

Article source: